A Council Called for No Reason
by Christopher A. Ferrara
October 17, 2012
In a recently penned preface to a collection of his writings as Father Ratzinger concerning Vatican II, Pope Benedict XVI makes this startling admission about the calling of the Council: "The previous Councils had almost always been convoked for a precise question to which they were to provide an answer. This time there was no specific problem to resolve."
Why, then, did Pope John summon a Council? According to Benedict, the reason was that "Christianity, which had built and formed the Western world, seemed more and more to be losing its power to shape society. It appeared weary and it looked as if the future would be determined by other spiritual forces."
Really? But that assertion seems impossible to square with Pope John's praise for the condition of the Church in the Apostolic Constitution Humanae Salutis (1961), convoking the Council, which declares that as of 1961 the Church "has seen the rise and growth within herself of immense energies of the apostolate, of prayer, of action in all fields, first on the part of a clergy ever better equipped in learning and virtue for its mission and then of a laity which has become ever more conscious of its responsibilities within the Church and especially of its duty to collaborate with the Church's hierarchy.... Thus if the world seems to have changed profoundly, the Christian community has also in great part been transformed and renewed: that is, it has been strengthened...."
Why did Pope John convene a Council to address no particular problem at a time when, according to his own assessment, the Church was in a vigorous condition? If the Church wasn't broken, why did Pope John try to fix it?
Pope Benedict's further explanation is fraught with problematic implications. He writes: "The sense of this loss of the present on the part of Christianity, and of the task following on from that, was well summed up in the word "aggiornamento" (updating). Christianity must be in the present if it is to be able to form the future. So that it might once again be a force to shape the future, John XXIII had convoked the Council without indicating to it any specific problems or programmes."
What can one say? According to this theory of the Council Called for No Reason, the Church had ceased to exist in the present — in other words, was "living in the past," as the Modernists like to say — and had to become "present" again, or else the Church would no longer be a "force to shape the future" of the world. How is this different from saying that, contrary to the promises of Christ, the Church had completely failed in her mission as of 1961?
And the proposed solution to the supposed inertness of the pre-conciliar Church is as bizarre as the insult: updating! Updating of what, exactly? Worse, updating "without any specific problems or programmes"! This was a reason to undertake the immense and awesome task of an ecumenical council? The explanation defies belief.
But Benedict's opinion — really an implicit and, I must say, quite outrageous accusation against the Popes before John XXIII — is likewise flatly contradicted by the very words of Pope John himself. In Humanae Salutis he insisted that the Church had precisely not failed to adapt to present circumstances as needed. On the contrary, he wrote, the Church "has not remained a lifeless spectator in the face of these events but has followed step by step the evolution of peoples, scientific progress, and social revolution."
And, what is more, John XXIII pointed out "[s]he [the Church] has decisively opposed the materialistic ideologies that deny the faith." But no longer after Vatican II and the Vatican-Moscow Agreement imposed by the Vatican Secretary of State, under which the Council Fathers had been shamefully forced to remain silent about Communism in order to accommodate two Russian Orthodox observers of the Council proceedings, puppets of the Kremlin who were effectively KGB agents in clerical garb.
How ironic, and how utterly tragic, that today the Church is precisely the "lifeless spectator" she was supposed to have been before the Council — according to the myth that, sad to say, even the current Pope parrots. The age of "dialogue with the world" supposedly inaugurated by Vatican II has revealed itself to be a monologue by a world whose movers and shakers could not care less about the Gospel and their duty to embrace it. And the Church, falling silent, no longer speaks Truth to power with the courage exhibited by a long line of preconciliar Popes with their defiant nays to the "modern world" and all its conceits.
When, oh when, will the leaders of the Church awaken to the catastrophic failure of the "aggiornamento" of Vatican II — a Council called to fix a Church that wasn't broken, but whose aftermath has left the Church very broken indeed. "A continuing process of decay" is how Cardinal Ratzinger described the post-conciliar period in one of his franker moments.
A return to that kind of frankness — the frankness of Our Lord Himself — is the sort of updating the Church really needs. Before it is too late. Our Lady of Fatima, pray for Us!