Vatican II and the Hermeneutic of Continuity

Vatican II and the Hermeneutic of Continuity August 5, 2020

It’s becoming more common for conservative Catholics to criticize Vatican II. Most recently, Anthony Esolen has written a piece for Inside the Vatican calling for Catholics to ignore Vatican II and “move on.” Esolen refers to an earlier piece by Archbishop Vigano, also published in Inside the Vatican. Vigano, in turn, alludes to criticisms of Vatican II made by Khazakh bishop Athanasius Schneider published on the LifeSiteNews website. The three pieces have their differences. Schneider’s is by far the most thorough and coherent in its argument. Esolen’s is the most moderate. Vigano is the least coherent and also comes the closest to rejecting the Council outright. But all three agree that the “hermeneutic of continuity” promoted by Pope Benedict XVI and other mainstream conservative Catholics runs into problems rooted in the texts of Vatican II themselves and in the intentions of the Fathers of that Council.

Getting the Council right

The person who first seriously set out to convert me to Catholicism, a former Scott Hahn student named Tim Gray who is now a professor of Biblical studies at the seminary in Denver, presented this hermeneutic of continuity to me as the correct way to understand Vatican II. I was a first-year Ph.D. student at Duke studying church history, but very ignorant of modern Catholicism. Tim was doing a second master’s degree after having earned one at Steubenville. Tim was devout, intelligent, and very evangelistic. I was still very much under the influence of my Holiness background, and very wary of the possibility that Catholicism might turn into the One World Church of dispensationalist eschatology.

Catholicism as I was experiencing it in the Diocese of Raleigh in 1995 was very different from my medievalist dreams. It seemed to be a bland, timid, dumbed-down caricature of the religion of Aquinas and Dante and Chesterton and Tolkien and Flannery O’Connor. Tim explained that liberals had distorted the true meaning of Vatican II but that John Paul II was restoring what Vatican II was supposed to be. (I may be oversimplifying the message, but that was the central idea as I remember it.)

As I read ressourcement theologians such as Bouyer and De Lubac, I found this interpretation convincing. These theologians had a vision for the Catholic Church that I found utterly compelling. It was deeply patristic, deeply Biblical, and free from the legalism and authoritarianism that have so often beset Western Catholicism. And I was willing to believe that this was the trajectory the Catholic Church was on: one that would implement the true vision of the Council as found in the ressourcement theologians.

Ratzinger and the hermeneutic of continuity

In particular, I found Cardinal Ratzinger, eventually Pope Benedict XVI, to be the champion of this kind of “conservative ressourcement” theology. I found–and still find–him to be one of the most profound and richly orthodox theologians of our time. While I had my disagreements with some specific things he said or did, I rejected the claims that he was trying to “undo Vatican II.” I agreed, fundamentally, with his argument for a “hermeneutic of continuity.” He took Vatican II seriously as part of the Church’s Tradition, but not as a radical new beginning.

Over and over again, I found those who argued for discontinuity making what seemed to me profoundly silly arguments. There was the woman who explained to me at a Chrism Mass in 1999 that the Franciscan parish where the Mass was being held didn’t have kneelers because “Vatican II forbade kneeling.” There was the young priest who assured me that Gaudium et Spes contradicted Trent and got rid of the doctrine of original sin. (This was the same priest who said that Jesus wasn’t either fully human or fully divine to begin with, but grew into both.) Liberal Catholics seemed not to care about the nuances of either history or theology. They seemed to be following a shallow religion that was more about feel-good cliches than about careful thinking or deep spirituality.

Be careful what you ask for

Then I moved to northern Indiana in 2006, after a few years in New Jersey. This coincided, of course, with Pope Benedict’s pontificate. Now I was living in an area with a strong Catholic heritage. Down the road from me were two Catholic parishes with large, beautiful buildings. (There were two, a couple of blocks from each other, because the Irish in the 19th century had demanded a separate parish from the Germans.) Not far from my house, too, was the former Capuchin convent where Venerable Solanus Casey had lived for a time. (It was a Protestant church when I came to town, but while I was there the Protestants sold it back and it became a novice house for a very conservative order of Dominican sisters.) The headquarters of Our Sunday Visitor were in town as well. And finally, the town contained the mother house of the (quite liberal) missionary order “Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters.”

So that adds up to two parishes, two convents, and one of the leading Catholic periodicals in America, all in a small Indiana town of about 18,000 people. I had never lived in such a Catholic environment in my life. For someone with my longstanding attraction to Catholicism, it should have been paradise.

But it wasn’t. On the personal side, I was teaching for an evangelical college and had reason to think I would lose my job if I became Catholic. But more to the point here, living in that environment helped me understand the deep problems with traditional Catholicism in a way that nothing else really had.

Sundown town

For one thing, alongside its piety the town had a long history of racism. It had been a “sundown town” for decades, excluding all African-Americans after dark. During the 2012 presidential campaign, a local resident posted a sign outside his house saying “Get the Muslim monkey off my back.” And while all of this certainly wasn’t the fault of the Catholics exclusively, they had been part of the problem much of the time. (I think the person with the racist sign in 2012 was Catholic, but I’m not sure.)

In my own time there, I met the viciously anti-Jewish Catholic author E. Michael Jones, who was the guest of honor at an “Epiphany party” I attended at the home of a local Catholic laywoman who wrote sacred music and talked a lot about restoring the beauty of Catholic worship. (And yes, I was drawn in by those things, and while I argued with Jones vigorously, I went to the party knowing he was the guest of honor.)

My closest Catholic friends in that town were people who were deeply disillusioned with the Church and not in good standing, though they continued to see themselves as Catholic and to raise their children as Catholic. I’d run into plenty of disillusioned Catholics before, and I knew a lot, in theory, about the twisted forms Catholic culture can take. But this was the first time it was brought home to me.

I don’t want to make it sound as if my experience of Catholicism in this town was altogether bad. I knew many fine Catholics there. I liked the priests insofar as I got to know them. And there was something beautiful about being able to walk a few blocks and go to daily Mass or Adoration, and about the matter-of-fact reverence with which people practiced their faith. But the vibrant, counter-cultural, deeply orthodox and sacramental faith for which I yearned was only visible, much of the time, through a thick veil of cultural inertia. And at the same time, my acquaintance with Sister Roseanne made me realize that my youthful scorn for “liberal nuns” had been arrogant and misguided.

The Republican party at prayer?

At the same time, I was very involved in online discussion on Catholic forums, particularly the forum run by Catholic Answers. (My alias was “Contarini” in case anyone wants to read some of my posts on that forum.) Later on, I became more involved in Facebook and eventually stopped posting on the CA forums. All these discussions cemented both my sense that I would never really be content as a Protestant and my growing discomfort with what conservative Catholicism was turning into. Mark Shea, whom I had always regarded as one of the finest of the popular apologists, was alienating more and more of the self-professed orthodox not by any doctrinal heresy but by his insistence on defending Catholic moral teaching where that teaching fit uneasily with right-wing Republican sensibilities. More and more, it seemed to me that American Catholicism under Pope Benedict was turning into a spiritual justification for conservative Republican politics and had just as little genuinely counter-cultural power as Episcopalianism.

In the end, three years after moving from Indiana to Kentucky, I did become Catholic. (The election of Pope Francis helped, even though I remain a deep admirer of Pope Benedict as a theologian and think he has been unfairly denigrated as Pope, and often served very poorly by his loudest admirers.) But by that time I had a much more complicated picture of Catholicism than I had had when Tim first ignited my desire to convert. I no longer thought of the conservative, “hermeneutic of continuity” wing of Catholicism as automatically the good guys. I realized that continuity could sometimes mean continuing things that were unhealthy.

The paradoxes of continuity

I now see continuity and discontinuity, like so many things, in terms of Barfield’s concept of polarity. They are opposites that depend on one another, in Catholicism as in other aspects of life.

And so I think Archbishop Vigano and his fellow critics of Vatican II have a point. There is something unconvincing about the effort many Catholics have put into proving that Vatican II really didn’t change anything much and that the progressives are just misinterpreting it. Obviously I disagree with them that this makes Vatican II something that needs to be “ignored” or rejected. It does no doubt need to be “corrected” in the sense that its interpretations of the Tradition will themselves, eventually, be reinterpreted. But no more so than any other Council.

So it’s not that I reject the “hermeneutic of continuity” entirely. If it means that Vatican II is just one among many Councils, not some unique work of the Spirit that nullifies what went before, I remain entirely committed to continuity. But every Council has its particular charism. And the charism of Vatican II was to wake up a Church that had too often rested smugly on its laurels, confident that it had a well-constructed, well-armored, perennial system to offer to the confused modern world. Much that is silly and sometimes profoundly harmful has resulted from the cracks that Vatican II opened in the armor of the Church Militant. But much of that armor was not, in fact, the armor of God, but rather like the armor Saul gave to David, burdening the Church down rather than protecting it.

The Church of 2020 is an obviously weakened and wounded Church in a way that the Church of 1960 was not. It is not, for that reason, necessarily a less apt instrument of the Spirit. In fact, we have the assurance of the Apostle Paul that it often works the other way round.

 

Image by Alberico Bartoccini, from https://unsplash.com/


Browse Our Archives



TRENDING AT PATHEOS Catholic
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment

113 responses to “Vatican II and the Hermeneutic of Continuity”

  1. I have read several just right stuff here. Definitely worth bookmarking for revisiting. I surprise how much attempt you place to make this sort of fantastic informative website.

  2. I do not even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was great. I do not know who you are but certainly you’re going to a famous blogger if you aren’t already 😉 Cheers!

  3. My coder is trying to persuade me to move to .net from PHP. I have always disliked the idea because of the expenses. But he’s tryiong none the less. I’ve been using Movable-type on various websites for about a year and am concerned about switching to another platform. I have heard very good things about blogengine.net. Is there a way I can import all my wordpress posts into it? Any kind of help would be greatly appreciated!

  4. Can I just say what a relief to find someone who actually knows what theyre talking about on the internet. You definitely know how to bring an issue to light and make it important. More people need to read this and understand this side of the story. I cant believe youre not more popular because you definitely have the gift.

  5. Simply wanna comment on few general things, The website layout is perfect, the written content is rattling superb. “Earn but don’t burn.” by B. J. Gupta.

  6. Wow! This could be one particular of the most useful blogs We’ve ever arrive across on this subject. Basically Wonderful. I’m also a specialist in this topic therefore I can understand your effort.

  7. I haven’t checked in here for some time because I thought it was getting boring, but the last few posts are great quality so I guess I will add you back to my daily bloglist. You deserve it my friend 🙂

  8. magnificent submit, very informative. I’m wondering why the opposite specialists of this sector do not notice this. You should proceed your writing. I’m sure, you have a huge readers’ base already!

  9. Thank you for sharing superb informations. Your site is very cool. I’m impressed by the details that you have on this site. It reveals how nicely you understand this subject. Bookmarked this web page, will come back for more articles. You, my friend, ROCK! I found just the information I already searched everywhere and simply couldn’t come across. What a perfect web-site.

  10. Please let me know if you’re looking for a article author for your weblog. You have some really good posts and I feel I would be a good asset. If you ever want to take some of the load off, I’d absolutely love to write some articles for your blog in exchange for a link back to mine. Please blast me an email if interested. Cheers!

  11. I have been absent for a while, but now I remember why I used to love this blog. Thanks, I?¦ll try and check back more frequently. How frequently you update your site?

  12. I think this is among the most important info for me. And i am glad reading your article. But wanna remark on some general things, The web site style is great, the articles is really nice : D. Good job, cheers

  13. Hello would you mind letting me know which webhost you’re utilizing? I’ve loaded your blog in 3 completely different web browsers and I must say this blog loads a lot faster then most. Can you suggest a good internet hosting provider at a fair price? Thanks, I appreciate it!

  14. I in addition to my friends were actually checking out the great strategies found on your site then quickly came up with a horrible feeling I never thanked the website owner for those tips. The guys became absolutely warmed to study all of them and have now certainly been taking pleasure in them. Appreciate your truly being so helpful and then for finding this sort of magnificent resources most people are really needing to know about. My personal sincere apologies for not expressing appreciation to you earlier.

  15. You actually make it seem really easy together with your presentation however I to find this matter to be actually one thing that I think I’d never understand. It sort of feels too complex and very large for me. I’m looking forward in your next publish, I will attempt to get the hang of it!

  16. Generally I do not learn article on blogs, however I wish to say that this write-up very compelled me to check out and do so! Your writing style has been amazed me. Thanks, quite great post.

  17. hey there and thank you for your information – I’ve definitely picked up anything new from right here. I did however expertise a few technical issues using this site, since I experienced to reload the web site lots of times previous to I could get it to load correctly. I had been wondering if your hosting is OK? Not that I’m complaining, but slow loading instances times will very frequently affect your placement in google and can damage your high-quality score if ads and marketing with Adwords. Well I am adding this RSS to my email and can look out for a lot more of your respective exciting content. Ensure that you update this again soon..

  18. My coder is trying to convince me to move to .net from PHP. I have always disliked the idea because of the costs. But he’s tryiong none the less. I’ve been using Movable-type on a number of websites for about a year and am concerned about switching to another platform. I have heard fantastic things about blogengine.net. Is there a way I can transfer all my wordpress posts into it? Any help would be really appreciated!

  19. I loved as much as you will receive carried out right here. The sketch is tasteful, your authored material stylish. nonetheless, you command get got an shakiness over that you wish be delivering the following. unwell unquestionably come more formerly again since exactly the same nearly a lot often inside case you shield this increase.

  20. Hi, I think your site might be having browser compatibility issues. When I look at your website in Safari, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up! Other then that, fantastic blog!

  21. When I originally commented I clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get four emails with the same comment. Is there any way you can remove me from that service? Thanks!

  22. Wow! This can be one particular of the most useful blogs We’ve ever arrive across on this subject. Actually Wonderful. I’m also an expert in this topic so I can understand your effort.

  23. Hello! I could have sworn I’ve been to this blog before but after browsing through some of the post I realized it’s new to me. Anyways, I’m definitely happy I found it and I’ll be book-marking and checking back frequently!

  24. Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on the video to make your point. You definitely know what youre talking about, why waste your intelligence on just posting videos to your site when you could be giving us something informative to read?

  25. hi!,I really like your writing very so much! proportion we be in contact more about your article on AOL? I require a specialist on this house to resolve my problem. May be that’s you! Looking ahead to peer you.

  26. Thanks for every other informative site. The place else may just I am getting that kind of info written in such a perfect manner? I’ve a venture that I am simply now operating on, and I’ve been at the look out for such info.

  27. Great items from you, man. I’ve take into accout your stuff prior to and you are simply too fantastic. I really like what you’ve acquired here, really like what you are saying and the best way during which you assert it. You’re making it entertaining and you still care for to keep it smart. I cant wait to read far more from you. That is actually a tremendous website.

  28. Hi there! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my previous room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this article to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!

  29. Thanks so much for giving everyone an extremely wonderful opportunity to read in detail from this web site. It’s usually so kind and full of fun for me personally and my office co-workers to visit your site no less than thrice in 7 days to read the newest issues you have. Of course, I’m usually contented with your staggering opinions served by you. Selected 2 tips on this page are without a doubt the most efficient I have had.

  30. Thanks for your whole efforts on this web page. My niece really loves managing internet research and it is simple to grasp why. My partner and i learn all regarding the compelling form you present invaluable ideas on this website and even recommend participation from website visitors about this situation then our own princess has always been starting to learn a lot of things. Take advantage of the remaining portion of the new year. You are performing a very good job.

  31. Definitely believe that which you stated. Your favorite reason appeared to be on the internet the simplest thing to be aware of. I say to you, I definitely get annoyed while people consider worries that they plainly don’t know about. You managed to hit the nail upon the top as well as defined out the whole thing without having side-effects , people can take a signal. Will likely be back to get more. Thanks

  32. Thank you for some other informative site. Where else may just I get that type of information written in such an ideal means? I have a challenge that I’m just now working on, and I’ve been at the look out for such information.

  33. Magnificent items from you, man. I have remember your stuff previous to and you’re just too fantastic. I actually like what you’ve acquired right here, certainly like what you are saying and the best way wherein you assert it. You’re making it enjoyable and you continue to take care of to stay it smart. I cant wait to learn far more from you. That is really a tremendous website.

  34. The very heart of your writing whilst sounding agreeable initially, did not really work well with me after some time. Someplace within the paragraphs you managed to make me a believer unfortunately just for a while. I still have got a problem with your leaps in assumptions and you might do nicely to fill in all those gaps. In the event that you actually can accomplish that, I will undoubtedly be amazed.

  35. That is really attention-grabbing, You’re an excessively professional blogger. I’ve joined your feed and sit up for seeking extra of your wonderful post. Additionally, I have shared your site in my social networks!

  36. What i don’t realize is in truth how you are now not really much more smartly-liked than you might be right now. You are so intelligent. You recognize thus considerably in the case of this subject, produced me personally believe it from a lot of various angles. Its like women and men aren’t interested unless it’s something to accomplish with Woman gaga! Your individual stuffs nice. All the time maintain it up!

  37. Heya i’m for the primary time here. I came across this board and I in finding It really useful & it helped me out much. I’m hoping to provide something again and help others such as you helped me.

  38. Hello! I could have sworn I’ve been to this blog before but after browsing through some of the post I realized it’s new to me. Anyways, I’m definitely happy I found it and I’ll be book-marking and checking back frequently!

  39. Spot on with this write-up, I really suppose this website wants way more consideration. I’ll most likely be again to learn much more, thanks for that info.

  40. I?¦ll right away seize your rss as I can not find your e-mail subscription link or e-newsletter service. Do you’ve any? Please let me recognise so that I could subscribe. Thanks.

  41. Hi my friend! I want to say that this post is amazing, great written and include almost all significant infos. I’d like to look extra posts like this.

  42. I used to be very pleased to seek out this internet-site.I needed to thanks to your time for this wonderful read!! I undoubtedly enjoying every little little bit of it and I’ve you bookmarked to take a look at new stuff you weblog post. BTW I used GetResponse 30 days free and liked it. Free trial is a must before buy. Here it is: https://www.no1geekfun.com/getresponse

  43. I as well as my friends appeared to be looking through the nice guides located on your website and suddenly got an awful feeling I never expressed respect to the website owner for those techniques. These young boys ended up for this reason excited to read through all of them and have undoubtedly been having fun with those things. Thank you for getting indeed accommodating and then for making a choice on this sort of really good information most people are really desirous to discover. My very own honest regret for not expressing gratitude to you sooner.

  44. Hi there, just turned into aware of your weblog thru Google, and found that it’s really informative. I am gonna be careful for brussels. I will be grateful in the event you continue this in future. A lot of folks might be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

  45. My partner and I stumbled over here from a different page and thought I should check things out. I like what I see so i am just following you. Look forward to going over your web page for a second time.

  46. Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on the video to make your point. You definitely know what youre talking about, why waste your intelligence on just posting videos to your blog when you could be giving us something enlightening to read?

  47. Good write-up, I’m normal visitor of one’s web site, maintain up the excellent operate, and It is going to be a regular visitor for a lengthy time.

  48. It’s not as extreme as “movie” poker, but there’s nonetheless a degree of viciousness required to play. Then, select a user name and password, and you’re ready to begin! You don’t have to deposit money into your account to get the reward.

  49. Sometimes it is the excess weight of the chip that attracts you to purchase that particular established. This is due to how poker is portrayed in movies and the media. Also, winning a pot generally isn’t very hard.

  50. Slot Online Slot Online Slot Online Slot Online Slot Online Slot Online Slot Online Slot Online Slot Online Slot Online Slot Online Slot Online Slot Online Slot Online Slot Online Slot Online Slot Online Slot Online

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.