26 September 2013

Vatican II is irreversible!!! GET ON WITH IT!!

If I had to say what it was about Francis' interview in Thinking Faith (or America) that was so stunning to me, what made it so completely overwhelming, I would point to all the individual points he made which reflected the clear and unambiguous influence of Vatican II. When I look back over my own reading of those 12,000 words I see someone stumbling upon piece after piece of the Pope's comments as though she had discovered a treasure only to find that there was another treasure further on, and yet again after that. It took me two days to read the entire interview and when I finished it I was both energized and exhausted with joy and gratitude and hope.

But eventually I would need to point to one piece of the interview which was stupefying to me (it transcends and unites all the other stunning moments!), namely, what Pope Francis said clearly and unambiguously about Vatican II and the whole "hermeneutics of rupture (or discontinuity) vs continuity" business. In one single sentence Francis told the entire Church that, the hermeneutics of rupture and continuity aside, (especially to the degree they are played off against one another and become dominant and divisive), Vatican II and its way of approaching reality in light of the Gospel (and vice versa) is irreversible so (he strongly implied) GET ON WITH IT!

Here is the passage with the critical sentence emphasized. [[Vatican II was a rereading of the Gospel in light of contemporary culture, " says the pope. "Vatican II produced a renewal movement that simply comes from the same Gospel. Its fruits are enormous. Just recall the liturgy. The work of liturgical reform has been a service to the people as a re-reading of the Gospel from a concrete historical situation. Yes, there are hermeneutics of continuity and discontinuity, but one thing is clear, the dynamic of reading the Gospel, actualizing its message for today --- which was typical of Vatican II --- is absolutely irreversible.]]

To a certain extent casting the story of the inter-pretation of Vatican II into that of continuity vs discon-tinuity or rupture has been a red herring since no competent theologian ever interpreted Vatican II as a rupture with the Church's Tradition. Instead they recognized that it involved reNEWing of the Church in terms of a deeper continuity --- that of the Gospel from which the Church's life stems and by which it is nourished and ordered.

Renewing the Church in terms of the Gospel did indeed make all things new, but at the same time there was a profound continuity preserved and fostered. No progressive theologian spoke of Vatican II as ONLY a rupture with Tradition, but they certainly looked carefully at that which was truly new, as well as sometimes contrary to accretions to and distortions of Tradition. Over time those alarmed with the momentum Vatican II had in parishes, dioceses, and lives everywhere stressed the continuity of Vatican II with the Tradition --- and over stressed it so that again and again what we heard was "nothing new" happened at Vatican II, or, "one cannot speak of a Spirit of Vatican II; one can only read the documents of Vatican II literally in a way which precludes any discontinuity with the Church's Tradition." Anything new was seen as a betrayal of the Tradition while Tradition came to be identified with the merely old. Newness was identified with simple novelty (neos, new in time) and Tradition with that which was incapable of genuine newness (kainotes, qualitatively new). Notes From Stillsong Hermitage: New because EternalNotes From Stillsong: Always Beginners.

The  deepest problem here was that when Tradition was looked at in this way proclamation of the Gospel and the implementation of Vatican II was crippled and the Gospel's  power to address and continually remake reality in a way consonant with the ever-new and eternal life of God was blocked.  However, this approach also produced unnecessary division. Catholics who desired to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak, were always really relatively few in  number, but were insultingly portrayed as though they reflected the unCatholic and destructive agenda of progressive theologians; this in turn made it difficult for these professionals to speak of the work of the Holy Spirit in our world (much less in the Council) if that required or led to anything new at all.  Meanwhile, those who reacted to this cartoon version of things and who embraced the idea of continuity without ANY discontinuity were hardened in their embrace of the past (not of Tradition itself which is a living reality) as norm of all truth. Both positions are heretical; both caricature Vatican II and what was achieved (and attempted) there. Both prevent God from drawing us into the absolute future of his life where all is truly new.

It is this entire situation that Francis has addressed with his statement quoted above. Here Francis affirms the existence of the hermeneutic of continuity and discontinuity (extremists do exist on either side of the interpretative divide and too, substantive conversations over difficult points of interpretation must continue to take place) but he says very clearly that the basic reform nature of the Council was rooted in the Gospel and he clearly affirmed we need to continue to hear the Gospel in terms of the contemporary situation. This essential focus and momentum of the Council is irreversible. It is the teaching of the Church, indeed the highest teaching of the Church binding Popes and People, and we must act in light of it.

At any number of points in this interview Francis helps the Church to move beyond division, pettiness, and ideology so that the Gospel of God's mercy can be proclaimed. More, again and again he turns to the Gospel to overcome (and to demand we ourselves overcome) the division, pettiness, and ideological impulses that taint our faith and lead us to neglect the real struggles of our time. But it seems to me that it is here in his comments on Vatican II that these marching orders are most far-reaching and  are most profoundly articulated. Many people have been waiting "for the other shoe to drop" and for Francis to show us who he REALLY is --- thinking that would be a doctrinal hardliner who belonged in the CDF rather than the seat of chief shepherd. Well, in this interview I think the other shoe HAS dropped and what we have been shown is a man who is the one we have seen right along since his election as Bishop of Rome.

Already we are hearing traditionalists denying anything new is coming out of Rome these days. "What NEW tone?" says one online commentator. "A new tone? REALLY?" says another. (The more honest tradionalists are decrying Francis as a liberal traitor. Some are asking (seriously) if the Pope is Catholic or if the Church will be standing at the end of his papacy.)  On the other side of the extremist spectrum we have folks suggesting anything goes, Church dogma and sexual morality will fundamentally change or be jettisoned. In truth what Francis has done is more radical than either of these extremes for it transcends and corrects them in light of the Gospel of God in Christ. He speaks continually of the Good news of God's love and justice-making mercy, which, as I said in Religious are Prophets, MAKES ALL THINGS NEW.

But for theologians long-hampered by some of the hierarchy's resistance to the idea of anything new being introduced by Vatican II, by the effective invalidation of the term "the Spirit of Vatican II", and disheartened by apparent sustained attempts to roll VII back to Trent by folks within the highest levels of the Church, Francis' affirmation is a staggeringly clear and unambiguous commission to renew their work with the vigor of their theological youth and the shrewdness and wisdom of their current experience and age. For the rest of the Church it signals a call to revisit and reclaim the hope, enthusiasm, and promise occasioned by the Council 50 years ago while we all work towards the day VII is fully received by the Church. Vatican II and its way of approaching reality in light of the Gospel and all that demands is irreversible. We must GET ON WITH IT!