Monday, August 24, 2009

Timing of the Council: Accident or Design?

Some Catholic commentators, when discussing the plague of liturgical abuses that spread throughout the Church following the Second Vatican Council, attempt to explain this phenomenon by pointing out the fact that Vatican II occurred during the 1960's, and thus though it was noble in intention, was swept up in the mood of the time and the general spirit of rebelliousness in the acsent during that vile decade, and that this is a sufficient explanation for the chaos that innundated the Church in the subsequent years.

I whole-heartedly agree with the above estimation - the Council was sabotaged precisely because it did have the misfortune to take place during one of the worst decades in history. But when examining the Council in light of its historical context, we must ask the following question:

Knowing that the 1960's was rife with a widespread revolutionary spirit, was the timing of the Second Vatican Council an ignorant "accident" by a Magisterium that was unaware of the times, or was it intentionally scheduled during the 60's in order to most effectively harness the revolutionary spirit?

Conservative apologists, by rule of thumb, are usually desirous of preserving the integrity of the Council itself while casting all of the blame for the subsequent disorders solely on the shoulders of the periti and diocesan institutions that arose in the post-Conciliar years to implement the decrees of the Council. These apologists have tended to take the former view, that it was just sort of a crummy accident of history that the Council was scheduled from 1962-1965. According to this view, the Council was needed (in order to "prevent worse disorders", which is another argument) and it just was the Church's poor luck that it happened to be in the sixties. Pope John and the bishops thought it was going to be another routine Council, but the spirit of the age overtook them.

I certainly can agree that the Council was overtaken by a spirit, but can we really be so naive as to think that the Pope and bishops gave no thought to the spirit of the age and what might happen if they convoked a council? Can it really be that such a momentous event as an Ecumenical Council was just "accidentally" scheduled during a particularly crappy time in history? Can it be the case that the Pope, bishops and periti had no clue that such a spirit of revolution was in the air and would be likely to infect the Council? Or could it be that the timing of the Council was chosen precisely to take advantage of this spirit?

If one reads the statements of Pope John XXIII, various periti involved in the Council, as well as the secular news reports and statements coming out during the conciliar period, it is obvious to all but the most ignorant that it was precisely because of the revolutionary spirit of the times that the Council had been convoked. This is what Pope John was referring to when he made those statements about opening the windows of the Church - it was precisely because a new openness was pervading the world that Pope John thought it a fitting time to "reconcile" the world to the Church and open the Church's "windows." At least at the outset, the zeitgeist of the 1960's was certainly taken into account when the Council was scheduled, and was seen as something positive.

I do not know to what degree the Pope or the bishops thought the spirit of the times would end up influencing the Council - some of the rank and file bishops did not seem to have much of an idea. The periti certainly did, however, and it was precisely because the times were so wicked and full of revolutionary fervor that they knew they could get away with what they did.

I would say that the historical timing of Vatican II, far from being a "whoops" moment on the part of the Pope, should be scene as the fundamental, overarching reason why all of the abuses crept in after the Council. If somebody says, Why did the Council for awry?" the best answer is "because it happened in the 1960's."

Sorry if this is kind of scattered, but I am writing off the top of my head in reaction to a popular priest I heard on the radio who was asserting that the Church just kind of slipped up when it timed the Council. There was no slip up. The Council was intentionally called when it was in order to harness the zeitgeist of the 1960's and ram through all sorts of progressive ideas, just like Obama took advantage of the Obama-mania after his election to ram through the stimulus bill. No different.


Kris R said...

Thanks for this posting.
I've always had a nagging feeling that the timing of the council was all "part of it" but I couldn't quite articulate why. I remember reading about a previous pope (was it Pope Pius XII?) who was urged to not call a council because the Modernists were very strong and had positioned themselves so well in high places within the Church. But a council was called very shortly after, anyway.

The church is always connected to every Age, but is not a part of the Age. It's not the Age that is supposed to bring the church "up to date," but then that seems to be just what happened in the 20th century. You seem to be right when you say the timing was no accident

I hope you keep refining your ideas if more thoughts come to you!

Jack said...

Good Pope John....... why did you do it?

Anonymous said...

Either way, you have it backwards, it was the council that pushed the culture to the left.

Most councils are called during a "crappy" time in history, this council however wasn't very clear in many of it's teachings. It gave the appearance to many Catholics, that everything they had been taught to believe could never change, was suddenly up for grabs. This mentality came from the Church to society.

Boniface said...

The Council certainly was instrumental in pushing the Church to the left, but the broader culture (ie, the secular world) was already moving left at the time. The Council just allowed what was happening in the world to infect the Church.

While most Councils are called during "crappy times" , the times are crappy for different reasons. Obviously, Nicea and Trent were trying times for the Church, but there was little danger that the whole Magisterium would be taken over from within - even in Nicea, the vast majority of Bishops condemned Arianism - contrast this with the 1960's, when there was a great (and justified) fear that calling a Council would usher in the revolutionary spirit of the 1960's wholescale into the Church.

Unknown said...

But it could have been worse and have been scheduled for 66-69 or afterward when things were even more crazy.

Anonymous said...

Dear Young People:

I just came across this post. If you were not around during that time, you may not realize that the '60's did not turn "crazy" until toward the end. Life in the early '60's was quite conservative. So I don't think anyone without benefit of hindsight could have known that the changes of Vatican II would be taking place during such a tumultuous time.


Boniface said...

Thanks Robin. I know what you say has some truth to it, but at least within the Catholic Church, these progressive elements were already working in the early 60's, and even as far back as the 40's. It was only in the 60's that they became mainstream, and I think a similar phenomenon could be the case in the secular culture. Althought these things didn't break upon us until 67-68, they were under the surface earlier. Those in the Church certainly knew about them - also remember, the Council came out of Europe, which was experiencing a lot of this stuff earlier than the US.

Anonymous said...

I have never accepted all of Vatican II, I believe it was not necessary to even call a Council. Much less a pastoral. I have always asked myself what was the crisis? I keep coming up with the only answer that the progressive 'periti's' in the Church and Hierarchy simply wanted it to pass their modern agendas. How ironic, as all who attened had taken the 'Oath against Modernism' before thier ordinations. I also believe that it has been the worst mistake the Churh as ever made, and the results is the crisis we have today. The fruits of Vatican II,loss of tradition,disbelief, chaos, confusion, disunity, distruction, ambiguity, disorder, devaluing of the most holy, dumming down of catholics of thier catholic faith. What of our catholic culture that we hear so much about these days. We lost our catholic culture and the truth that this is the Church that Christ left to his apostles,at Vatican II. We have become just another denomination.