Sandro Magister has been giving a bit of attention on his blog to the Traditionalist attack on Vatican II. The relevant posts are
The issues discussed in these posts are of the utmost signficance. The backdrop is Benedict XVI’s 2005 Christmas address to the Roman Curia, in which he famously refuted the “hermeneutic of discontinuity” as a interpretive approach to the Second Vatican Council.
Of the three posts above, the most important (as I see it) is the essay included in the second post (“Who’s betraying tradition”) by Fr Martin Rhonheimer entitled “THE “HERMENEUTIC OF REFORM” AND RELIGIOUS FREEDOM” and the appended notes by the same author “CONTINUITY AND DISCONTINUITY: WHAT OF THE INFALLIBILITY OF THE MAGISTERIUM?”
As everyone by now knows, one of the reasons that I became Catholic was the continuity of the Catholic Church. I was more than a little surprised, when I became Catholic, to find that there were two camps in the Church who argued for (what Benedict aptly termed) an “hermeneutic of discontinuity”. Ironically, these two camps are mortal enemies: they are the Traditionalists (of various stripes from the sede vacantists to good, loyal sons of the Pope) and the Liberals (the “Spirit of Vatican II” crowd – an aging but still influential mob). Both agree that Vatican II represented a break in the continuity of the Church’s teaching.
Pope Benedict rejected this “hermeneutic of discontinuity”. But as Fr Rhonheimer points out, it is very significant that the alternative proposed by the Pope was NOT an “hermeneutic of CONTINUITY”. (Do a google search on that term and you find “About 281,000 results”, but Pope Benedict never used this phrase). Fr Rhonheimer writes:
The warning was enthusiastically taken up by Catholics faithful to the Pope, with the opinion spreading that, in his speech, Benedict had opposed the “hermeneutic of discontinuity” with a “hermeneutic of continuity”. […] This understanding, however, is unfounded. In the Pope’s address, there is no such opposition between a “hermeneutic of discontinuity” and a “hermeneutic of continuity”. Rather, as he explained: “In contrast with the hermeneutic of discontinuity is a hermeneutic of reform…” And in what lies the “nature of true reform”? According to the Holy Father, “in the interplay, on different levels, between continuity and discontinuity”.
Fr Rhonheimer points out:
“Continuity”, therefore, is not the only hermeneutical category for understanding the Second Vatican Council. The category of “reform” is also necessary, a category which includes elements of both continuity and discontinuity. But as Benedict emphasized, the continuity and discontinuity are “on different levels”. It is important, therefore, to identify and distinguish these levels correctly.
He claims that a
search for a false continuity that would ultimately distort a genuine continuity and, with it, the nature of the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church.
This is a very important essay. The use of the test case of the Church’s teaching on Religious Freedom is very pertinent, and offers a concrete example of how the teaching of the Catholic Church is actually open to reform when it is discovered that a traditional position of the Church’s magisterium is in fact “trumped” by a more ancient and more authentic Tradition. He argues that although the relationship of Church and State that had become “traditional” under the Constantinian model of “Christendom” in the Middle Ages is indeed venerable, Pope Benedict claimed that there is a more “authentic” continuity between the teaching of Vatican II on this matter and the apostolic, pre-Constantinian Church that needs to be honoured above this “traditional” position.
On the contrary, it would seem that at its origin Christianity even adopted a rather different position. It was born and developed in a pagan environment; it was conceived, on the basis of the Gospel and the example of Jesus Christ, as founded essentially on the separation between religion and politics, and it did not ask the Roman empire for the freedom to be able to develop without obstacles. In recognizing and making its own through its decree on religious freedom an “essential principle of the modern state,” Benedict XVI affirms in his speech, Vatican Council II “has recovered the deepest patrimony of the Church. By so doing she can be conscious of being in full harmony with the teaching of Jesus himself (cf. Mt 22: 21), as well as with the Church of the martyrs of all time.”
This essay has great importance for understanding the way in which “reform” works in the Catholic Church. It acknowledges a certain “time-boundedness” in every teaching of the Magisterium. Of course, the “infallible” teaching of the Church cannot be rejected in a manner of “discontinuity”, but “reform” always seeks to bring to light once again the true Tradition of the Church over the time-bound pronouncements of the past. It is simply not true to say that the teaching of the Church is “irreformable”. The nature of true “reform”, however, must always be grounded in the true Tradition of the Church.
Tricky stuff. But Fr Rhonheimer’s contribution to the discussion is very significant. In my humble opinion, of course. I would be interested in your humble opinions. However, before you comment on this post, please take the time to read Fr Rhonheimer’s essay and appendix in full first.