If We Stop Talking About Vatican II

If we, traditional Catholics, stop talking about the Second Vatican Council, will the liberals? How about the neo-Catholics? I don’t mean “never mention the Council again.” Rather, I mean going on almost endlessly — and negatively — about this-or-that ambiguity in the conciliar texts or this-or-that problematic interpretation, implementation, or downright imposition in the name of the “Spirit of the Council.” Despite the hopes of some traditionalists, Vatican II is not simply going to go away. I suspect that most would prefer that, given present realities, our current Pope refrain from calling another council to “update,” “discuss,” or “clarify” Vatican II. Let it rest. It has only been 50 years. And while there may be a good argument out there that the last five decades has sucked dry the Council’s relevancy, that doesn’t mean it needs an official point-by-point overhaul either. To attempt one now would likely lead to further, not less, ambiguities. Moreover, it seems as if the present leadership of the Church is even more divided and, in some instances, doctrinally suspect than the body of fathers who came together in October 1962 to inaugurate a new “springtime for the Church.”

None of this is to say that serious critical-historical work shouldn’t be continued for the purpose of clarifying what exactly happened at Vatican II, why it happened, and what the consequences have been. Roberto de Mattei’s The Second Vatican Council: An Unwritten Story is, to say the least, a breath of fresh air for those of us who have been choking on the fumes of the triumphalistic narrative of the Council that the neo-Catholic apologetics machine has been emitting for decades. As more private journals, letters, official notes, and other relevant documents come to light, I suspect that the portrait of the Council, as unedifying as it already is, will become even more disturbing — and that’s a good thing. Contrary to the claims of some, there is nothing intrinsically irreverent, spiritually dangerous, or — gosh — sinful about casting light on the Council and its aftermath. Hopefully the results of this research will serve as a warning to a future Pontiff who might, for good reasons or ill, get it into his head that what the Church needs is another round of rethinking. Factionalism, media manipulation, and procedural incursions ruled the day at Vatican II. It would be a great shame if they weren’t addressed before any new council is convened. (Let me stress again that such a convocation should not occur now nor, perhaps, for another century.)

So what do I mean when I say that traditional Catholics probably shouldn’t go on about the Council? What I mean is that we should stop complaining about it. It happened; it has been a real disaster; but the council itself (not the crisis it engendered) is over. So let’s work with it. Instead of leaving the Council’s dogmatic documents open to the freewheeling interpretation of liberals and other renovationists, shouldn’t traditional Catholics actually do what they want officials in the Church to do, namely read the Vatican II texts in a traditional manner? Where ambiguities exist, clarify them in the light of tradition and where clearly orthodoxy abides, let that orthodoxy be known. The “hermeneutic of continuity,” so far at least, has been used to cover over Vatican II’s problems while absolutizing that council; that needs to stop. Traditional Catholics, many of whom often have a steadier eye toward the pre-1962 magisterium, can work to establish an authentically continuous interpretation of the Second Vatican Council. Perhaps traditionalists cannot complete that work, but if not, then wouldn’t it be prudent to turn to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) to ask for clarification? If there are tensions between the pre- and post-conciliar magisterium (and there are), then traditional Catholics should feel emboldened enough to ask the CDF for answers. That’s its job after all. If, however, we choose to continue lamenting the Council and wishing it had never occurred, then who controls the Council’s interpretation? Who develops this “spirit of the Council” which, so the story goes, mandated theological anarchy, disciplinary laxity, and liturgical banality? Certainly not us. 



  1. bernardbrandt
    August 25, 2014

    For my part, I have actually READ the documents of the Second Vatican Council. As a faithful Catholic (Eastern, not Roman, however), I believe that those documents, as other documents of the Magisterium, are inspired of, by, and through, the Holy Spirit, but, like Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, I have to say, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

    I’ve read Musicam Sacram, for example. It clearly says that Gregorian Chant, sacred polyphony, and the whole treasury of Church music is to be preserved and cultivated. Furthermore, it says that when music and chant are to be introduced into Masses, the dialogue between priest, deacon, choir, and congregation are to be introduced first, then the Ordinary of the Mass, and then the chants of the day, along with modern hymnography. But all I’ve heard at Roman masses, for the last two score years, has been the usual Haagen-Haas frogen youzert, of non-traditional hymns like “Kumbaya” and “Gather us in”.

    I’ve also read Optatam Totius. It calls for priest candidates to be well read in Latin, and encourages them to become familiar with the languages of Scripture and Tradition. It calls for priest candidates to have the humanistic and scientific education which is proper for those going on to professions such as medicine, law, or philosophy. It calls for a total revision in philosophical and theological education, with at least two years devoted to the former, and four years to the latter.

    I could go on with many other examples, but my point is that I see a profound difference between what the Council documents actually say, and what our alleged hierarchy and periti have been saying that it says. His Holiness, Benedict XVI, has charitably called this a “hermaneutic of rupture”. I, being neither as politic nor as charitable as His Holiness, prefer to call it a trahison des clercs. And (unlike Julian Benda) by clercs, I mean clerics.

    1. modestinus
      August 26, 2014


      I assume you have read this installment from Fr. Hunwicke?


      I agree with you that more care could be invested in reading the documents of and surrounding Vatican II, and not just the passages that seem to get everyone up in arms. (This is not to say that there aren’t eyebrow-raising passages in some of the V2 documents; it’s just a shame that they get almost all of the play.) I tend to think, however, that by over-emphasiszing the more disconcerting elements of the Council, they are given greater import than what they deserve. Other documents, of course, get passed over completely in silence and are never heard about again. Musicam Sacram is an excellent example.

      1. bernardbrandt
        August 27, 2014


        It was with Fr. Hunwicke’s excellent article in mind that I wrote my comment to you; I thank you for your discernment in noticing.

        Perhaps I am riding my hobby horse once more in saying this, but I think much of the problem after the Second Vatican Council is that its documents were written by the Council Fathers with the whole of Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium in mind.

        Because of inadequacies in the philosophical and theological education of priests, however, (e.g. ‘small Latin and less Greek’, a post-Scholastic philosophical framework which most priests had rejected, and a manualist approach concentrating on the manual and not on the data of Scripture, Tradition and Magisterium upon which the manual was based), most priests and bishops implementing the Council’s decrees mostly lacked that understanding which would have made a Catholic interpretation of the Council possible. It didn’t help that they chose also to ignore the Council’s reform of seminary education which would have made that understanding possible.

        I believe the rest of the mess followed inevitably from that sacerdotal ignorance. Nemo dat quod non habet: no one can give what they do not have.

  2. Nate C
    August 26, 2014

    “We shall become aware, perhaps with some feeling of annoyance, that the ceremonies at the altar are no longer being carried out with the same words and gestures to which we were accustomed… We must prepare for this many-sided inconvenience, it is the kind of upset caused by every novelty that breaks in on our habits. We shall notice that pious persons are disturbed most, because they have their own respectable way of hearing Mass, and they will feel shaken out of their usual thoughts and obliged to follow those of others. Even priests may feel some annoyance in this respect… we must prepare ourselves. This novelty is no small thing. We will lose a great part of that stupendous and incomparable artistic and spiritual thing, the Gregorian chant. We have reason indeed for regret, reason almost for bewilderment”.

    – Pope Paul VI, General Audience, November 26, 1969

  3. brennan555
    August 27, 2014

    The quote from Pope Paul VI that Nate C referenced is certainly apropos and it reminds me of Christopher Ferrara’s article about the loopholes in the Vatican II document Sacrosanctum Concilium. The article is good to read when you hear well-meaning assertions that Vatican II really meant to keep the liturgy primarily in Latin and Gregorian chant was to be the main form of music for the Mass. Here’s a quote:

    “A lawyer knows that the dangers in a contract from his client’s perspective lie not so much in what the terms of the contract provide as in what they permit the other party to do. The danger is in the loopholes. Quite simply, SC permits all manner of drastic things to be done to the Roman liturgy. It is one long collection of loopholes. If a lawyer entrusted with the task of protecting the Roman liturgy from harmful innovation had drafted this document, he would be guilty of gross malpractice.

    It is amazing that anyone who claims to have read SC thoroughly could still maintain that its “true” interpretation precludes the liturgical innovations which have been inflicted upon us. Paul VI and John Paul II certainly did not think so.”



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