Sunday, July 18, 2010

Vatican II: Aggiornamento or Radical Change?

Hermeneutic interpretations of Vatican Council II
by Agostino Marchetto

I would like to begin by recalling – by way of setting the stage – the vital importance of the profound connections between theology and Church history and law. I have worked in this area for the past thirty-five years, as shown in part by my book "Chiesa e papato nella storia e nel diritto. 25 anni di studi critici [The Church and the Papacy in History and Law: 25 Years of Critical Studies" (Editrice Vaticana, Città del Vaticano, 2002).

I add the fundamental consideration of the importance and doctrinal, spiritual, and pastoral value of Vatican Council II: it is, intrinsically, an "icon" of Catholicism, in communion with its origin and past – identity in evolution, fidelity in renewal. This brings the need for a genuine hermeneutic – meaning a well-grounded, respectful interpretation of what an Ecumenical Council is.

Vatican II was colossal. The official proceedings alone fill 62 large volumes that provide a solid foundation for a correct assessment and interpretation. But many began to weave their interpretive web before the publication of the indispensable proceedings issued by the council's ruling bodies, basing themselves instead upon private writings (personal diaries), contemporary newspaper reports and columns, although these were sometimes exceptional. I think, for example, of those of P. Caprile.

This already brings into question their judgment, their crosswise criticism, because even a superficial reading reveals discrepancies and a variety of attributions and "merits" (for some positions that in the end were "victorious"), an incomplete understanding with respect to the complexity of synodal affairs (a canvas of regulations, "pressure," movements, "battles" against "conservatism" or the curia, or in defense of tradition or of the avant-garde, the teaching of the Magisterium, or pastoral-ecumenical interpretations of John XXIII).

This naturally does not mean a rejection of material from diaries, as, for example, E. Manieu did with Congar's conciliar diaries. Among other things, these bring flavor and constitute "ingredients" that go into the whole, but they must be subordinated to the official proceedings without sliding toward a fragmentary history, in the style of a news account or an encyclopedia, with dispersion, dissection, vivisection, or excoriation of the Council itself. We recall here the diaries of Chenu, Edelby, Charue – and the archived letters of Suenens and De Smedt – Congar, Prignon, Betti, and Philips, in anticipation of that of Felici. We mention, furthermore, the volumes of S. Schmidt on Bea, B. Lai – for Siri – and J. Ratzinger – with two "reminders" on the purpose of the Council and on the "sources" of Revelation, not to mention – still speaking of recollections - that of Card. Suenens. On all this, see my book "Il Concilio Ecumenico Vaticano II. Contrappunto per la sua storia [Vatican Council II: A Counterpoint to Its History]", Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2005, pp. 407.

The underlying problem with the use of diaries is, for many, connected to the effort to diminish the importance of the final conciliar documents (the "spirit" of the Council! But it is, instead, the spirit of this corpus), a synthesis of Tradition and renewal (aggiornamento), to assert research "guided" beforehand, which appeared ideological from the beginning. This focused solely on the innovative aspects, on discontinuity with Tradition. We find the most striking testimony in the volume "L'evento e le decisioni. Studi delle dinamiche del Concilio Vaticano II [The Event and the Decisions: Studies on the Dynamics of Vatican Council II]", edited by Maria Teresa Fattori and Alberto Melloni.

The focus on discontinuity is also the result of the current general historiographical tendency that (after and against Braudel and the Annales) privileges, in historical interpretation, "the event," understood as discontinuity and a traumatic transformation. So then, in the Church, if this "event" is not so much an important fact, but a rupture, an absolute novelty, the emergence "in casu" of a new Church, a Copernican revolution, in short the transition to a different form of Catholicism – losing its unmistakable characteristics – this perspective cannot and must not be accepted, precisely because of the uniqueness of Catholic identity. The aforementioned volume, consequently, criticizes the conciliar "hermeneutics" of men who are certainly not "closed" toward Vatican II or opposed to it, such as Jedin, Kasper, Ratzinger, and Poulat himself. It thus emerges that what was an extreme, radical position (opposed to "consensus") in the heart of the conciliar majority (there was also extremism in the minority, which would later be manifested with the schism of Archbishop Lefebvre), succeeded, after the Council, almost in monopolizing the interpretation until now, rejecting any alternative approach, sometimes with the barbed accusation that these are anti-conciliar (see G. Dossetti, "Il Vaticano II. Frammenti di una riflessione [Vatican II: Fragments of a Reflection]").

It is therefore necessary to recall here the intention (in the singular, although many contrast the two) of John XXIII and Paul VI concerning the Council. After a mild initial perplexity ("a tangled thicket"), Montini in fact adhered wholeheartedly to the Council's initiative, meaning aggiornamento. It should be enough to think of his letter to Card. Cicognani to unite reflection on the Church ad intra and the Church ad extra. By way of illustration, I cite my article "Tradizione e rinnovamento si sono abbracciati: il Concilio Vaticano II [Tradition and Renewal Have Embraced: Vatican Council II]", in "Rivista della Diocesi di Vicenza", 1999 / no. 9, pp. 1232-1245, and in "Bailamme", no. 26 / 4, June-December 2000, pp. 51-64). The subtitles of this article: Underlying problems; The intention of Pope John and the significance of T(t)radiiton; The intention of Paul VI; A model embrace: collegiality and primacy; Dialogue and consensus at the Council, in order to arrive at the embrace between renewal and Tradition.

Here I will cite just one passage, in which Paul VI attests that "it would not, therefore, be accurate to think that Vatican Council II represents a breach, a rupture, or a liberation from Church teaching, or that it authorizes or promotes adherence to the mentality of our age, in what is ephemeral or negative about it" ("Insegnamenti di Paolo VI [Teachings of Paul VI]", vol. IV, 1966, p. 699).

With this background in place, we can now recall the hermeneutic situation in the 1990's, for those who want to complete and deepen the study of my book on the Council.

We must first say immediately that for us, this situation is not good, because it presents an imbalance, an almost monotonous interpretation, failing to follow the idea of embrace as already presented.

The "Bologna group"
In fact, that group of scholars from Bologna – let's call them that – led by Prof. G. Alberigo and ably assisted by an affiliated team of authors (including, but not limited to, some from the Louvain), who find themselves fundamentally united in a single line of thought, succeeded, through a wealth of means, industriousness, and generous friendships, in monopolizing and imposing an off-kilter – in our opinion – interpretation, thanks especially to the publication of a "Storia del Concilio Vaticano II [History of Vatican Council II]," published by Peeters/Il Mulino, in five volumes, already released in Italian and nearly ready for final publication in French, English, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Japanese. The gravity of the resulting situation can be grasped by reading the presentation of my research in the volumes of the work already cited (pp. 93-165). To be specific, I will review some of my criticisms of the "Conclusione e alle prime esperienze di ricezione [Conclusion and the first experiences of implementation]" written by G. Alberigo in volume V. There the author resumes his perennial points of view, which we have criticized many times. I refer to the contrast drawn between John XXIII and Paul VI, to the question of "modernity" (what does this mean?), and to the unwarranted passage from this to "humanity." We refer to the displacement of the Council's center of gravity from the assembly (and the accompanying Acta Synodalia) to the committees (and to the personal diaries), to the tendency to consider as "new" frameworks that are not new at all, to the view of an "autocephalous" conciliar assembly, to the biased vision of religious freedom.

We also intend to refer to the reductionist inspiration of the Synodus Episcoporum; to the "disparity among the various approved measures: their degree of elaboration and of correspondence to the major outlines of Vatican II is strikingly uneven" (we ask ourselves: who has the right to judge in this regard?); to the view that the voting of the Council Fathers was worthless, to the belittling of the code of canon law in favor of the selective application of its norms. I also refer, in a critical vein, to the "black week" – which was not dark, but instead was a week of renewed clarity – to the "Nota Explicativa Praevia" (which was intended to constitute a pre-existing "hermeneutic standard"); to the supposed "long delay" between the conciliar decisions and their implementation, which was thought to justify "tumultuous spontaneity"; to the reform of the curia "in the context of a new centralizing ecclesiology, which was therefore inconsistent with Vatican II." We also intend to refer to the "conciliar silence" (the council remained "mute": but was this really true?) on certain arguments (the ends of matrimony, responsible procreation, and priestly celibacy); to the "trauma caused to the entire Christian world by the encyclical 'Humanae Vitae'"; to the need for a new criterion of interpretation for Vatican II; to the reiterated defense of the conciliar canonization of Pope John; to the downplaying of the conciliar texts relative to the event; and to the criticism of the standard edition of these texts and, by extension, of the Acta Synodalia edited by Mons. Carbone.

But the great question (an "epochal transition?"), which is answered in the affirmative, is posed in the following chapter, again by Alberigo, in volume V of the "History." In it, the author's thought is a bit less drastic and more limited in its expression, in some cases, than it was before (see for example the correct assertion that "there did not exist a council of the majority and a council of the minority, much less a council of winners and one of losers. Vatican II is the result of all the factors at play within it"). We, too, make note of this with pleasure after writing at such length, in previous volumes, against the idea of an "anticonciliar" minority.

Nevertheless, in this last chapter as well Alberigo continues to advance his well-known points of view, which to us are highly deserving of criticism because they are clearly compromised by his ideology. We will leave aside a number of questions, important as they are, and consider that the author presents Vatican II "above all as an event," and after this as "the totality of its decisions." It is here that we must object to this prioritization. If, then, "event" is understood as seen today by secular historiography, which we have already considered – in the sense, that is, of a rupture with respect to the past – we cannot accept such a characterization (see our note on "L'evento e le decisioni [The event and the decisions" in A. H. C., 1998, pp. 131-142, and in "Apollinaris," 1998, pp. 325-337).

The event is then presented, rightly, with its connection to "aggiornamento," but it is passed through the filter of Chenu and of the "pastoral focus," but here again with further recourse to this theologian, and the mention of the disagreement with his "approach to research" on the part of the late Mons. Maccarrone.

Pastoral focus and aggiornamento, for Alberigo, created "together the premises for overcoming the hegemony of theology, understood as the isolation of the doctrinal dimension of the faith and its abstract conceptualization, and also of legalism," with rather serious assertions: "The faith and the church no longer appear as commensurate with doctrine, which does not even constitute the most important dimension of these. Adherence to doctrine, and above all to a single doctrinal formulation, cannot be the ultimate criterion for discerning membership in the Unam Sanctam."

In any case, on the topic of ecumenism, Alberigo returns to maintaining that the non-Catholic observers "were substantially members, although sui generis (informal), of the council," during which there was a "communicatio in sacris," albeit an imperfect one. The author continues: "In this manner there emerged – although in faint outline – in Vatican II a pastoral-sacramental conception of Christianity and the church that tends to replace an earlier doctrinal-disciplinary conception." To replace? I ask, stunned.

There follows the chapter "Physiognomy of the church and the dialogue with the world," with an initial confusion of terminology and a differentiation of Pope John and Pope Paul VI on this topic. The author also notes differences between the two popes with respect to Vatican I: "Thus Pope Paul found himself insisting upon the hierarchical constitution, to the point of introducing the possibility of a hierarchical communion. This led to difficulty with full agreement with the ecclesiology of the conciliar majority, which would have preferred not to revisit the depiction of the church as 'mystical body.' This difficulty culminated in the 'Nota Explicativa Praevia' for the third chapter of Lumen Gentium." So many wild leaps, even after this, to differentiate the two popes.

Another burning question is illustrated under the title "Vatican II and tradition." In this regard, for the author, there is "substantial continuity" between the preparatory and final texts, but there is also "discontinuity with respect to Catholicism during the centuries of medieval Christendom, and during the post-Tridentine period. What emerge are not substantial novelties, but an effort to re-propose the ancient faith in terms understandable to the contemporary man." And yet, immediately after this, there reappears the distinction between the Church and the Kingdom of God (in such a way that the Church is not considered as the seed and beginning of this Kingdom), thus establishing "the premises for the overcoming of ecclesiocentrism, and thus a relativizing of ecclesiology itself, and for a refocusing of Christian reflection."

Prof. Alberigo thus introduces the vision of a "parallelism of powers: episcopacy-pope-curia-public opinion." There is indulgence here toward a certain psychologism (fear, weariness, apathy, marginalization), the singling out of continental episcopal conferences that do not exist, the creation of unfounded analogies (with parliamentary lobbies, with the "nations" of the councils of the late middle ages), and a reminder (which was valid for all, and not only for the Coetus of the traditionalists) of the warnings from Paul VI against the organization of groups within the Council, and of the "test of jealousy, which has stalled almost all the commissions."

The treatment that Alberigo reserves for the curia is of the usual sort. The curia had a "hegemony in both the pre-preparatory and preparatory phases." It was "the central axis for the entire life of Vatican II, an axis with its own vision of the church, which it jealously guarded," and here he mentions by name Card. Ottaviani, Mons. Felici, and the Secretaries of State, who "had powerful influence over the council, both directly and by influencing the pope." And Alberigo does not realize that the Secretaries of State in particular are the pope's closest collaborators, his longa manus. "The greatest extent of curial influence," the author continues, "was seen above all in the impact that the preparatory outlines had on the council's work, right until the end." Alberigo here persists in his error - those outlines were not drawn up by the curia.

Alberigo then takes up his well-known thoughts on the "primary importance of the action of the Spirit, and not of the pope or of the church and its doctrinal universe" concerning the Council, on the Church's social doctrine, on the "steering" of the Council, on the manner of confronting the "profane" sciences, and, with theological reflection of Protestant origin, on the "acceptance of history." He speaks of "an organic relationship between history and salvation," with the transcendence of "the dichotomy between profane history and sacred history. [...] Thus history is recognized as 'theological terrain'." He also presents his well-known thoughts on the rigorous use of the historical-critical method, and the weighing down of Vatican II with "a certain number of decrees of pre-conciliar inspiration," although Alberigo does concede that the Council, "on the whole, exceeded expectations."

Our critical presentation is also directed against the supposed "novelty" of this Council if, beyond what is said about its legitimate differences with respect to previous councils, he means that the criteria of "pastoral focus" and "aggiornamento" had been "unusual for Catholicism – or even foreign to it – for too long," while underestimating the juridical aspect of the Council (its decisions are imagined to have been "guidelines, and not rules").

Again on the institutional theme, the author attests, erroneously, to an "overturning of priorities [...] consisting in the abandonment of reference to ecclesiastical institutions, to their authority and effectiveness as the center and standard of the faith and of the church." This is a serious and imbalanced assertion, if one considers that, before this, Alberigo had asserted: "The hegemony of the institutional system over the Christian life had reached its apogee with the dogmatic definition of the primacy and magisterial infallibility of the bishop of Rome. [...] It is instead faith, communion, and willingness to serve that make the church; these are the guiding values by which is measured the evangelical inadequacy of its structure and of the behavior of its institutions." But why contrast things this way? I ask myself.

From this one draws the conclusion that "the implementation of Vatican II – and perhaps even its comprehension – are still uncertain and embryonic." We would not be so radical, and in any case, Alberigo especially should not have invoked the support of the extraordinary Synod of 1985, which came out in opposition to hermeneutics such as his. Besides, how can the author condemn the presumed melding of the Church with secular institutions, when he continually proposes a democratization of the Church? Could the Council have done more? he asks himself in the end. "The question is embarrassing, and the answer is unclear," but Alberigo does reply, revealing his disappointment. And yet Vatican II was not ecumenical "strictu (sic!) sensu." Why not? "It left the Catholic church much different than the one in the bosom of which it had begun." At this point, the author calls "for consultation" Jedin, Rahner, Chenu, Pesch, Villanova, and Dossetti, to introduce us to the "third era of the Church's history" (thus Pesch, who finds me highly critical), and to define the event of Vatican Council II as an "epochal change," and an "epochal transition." In fact, "on the one hand it is the point of arrival and conclusion for the controversialist post-Tridentine period, and – perhaps – for the long Constantinian centuries; on the other hand it is the anticipation and the point of departure for a new cycle of history."

And what do we say in this regard? We repeat, first of all, that we do not accept the perspective of separating the event from the conciliar decisions, and we reiterate that this is, for us, a great event, not a rupture, a revolution, the creation almost of a new Church, the rejection of the great Council of Trent and Vatican Council I, or of any previous ecumenical Council. There was certainly a change of direction, but to use a traffic metaphor, this was not a "U-turn." There was, in short, an "aggiornamento," and this term explains the event well, with the combination of "nova et vetera," of fidelity and openness, as demonstrated moreover by the texts approved at the Council - all the texts.

The event, therefore, is an ecumenical synod (see M. Deneken's ""L'engagement oecuménique de Jean XXIII," in Revue des Sciences Religiesuse", 2001, pp. 82-86), which means it should not be considered prejudicial to analyze it as such, beginning with what this represents for the Catholic faith, albeit with its own distinctive characteristics, which cannot contradict what other ecumenical Councils have defined. It is an event of unity, of consensus. The Church, furthermore, has always been the friend of humanity, although this naturally does not mean friendship with modernity tout court - and besides, what is meant by that? Alberigo is inclined to believe that "the council displays many elements of continuity with traditions, but its novelties are also significant, and possibly more numerous." But we do not make an issue of quantity, but of quality rather, of faithful evolution, not of subversive revolution. And it will be history that will tell us if Vatican II will be considered an "epochal transition," an "epochal shift." We need do nothing but wait and work, in the meantime, for a correct, true, authentic "reception" of this Council, not only in its novelties, but also in its continuity with the great Christian, ecclesial, Catholic tradition. If I have discussed Prof. Alberigo here at great length, it is because I find in him the root of so much false interpretation.

For the sake of consistent treatment, I will also recall here the volume "Il Concilio inedito. Fonti del Vaticano II [The Undisclosed Council: Sources of Vatican II]", edited by M. Fagioli and G. Turbanti, with two significant citations. The first concerns the "organization of the archive and the official publication of the proceedings, [which] seem intended to place significant preconditions on the authenticity of the possible interpretations of the council itself. In effect, Paul VI always demonstrated preoccupation and sharp discomfort toward the consequences that biased (sic!) interpretations of the documents might have upon ecclesiastical discipline, fearing that radical tendencies might prevail in the process of implementation, and that serious divisions might arise within the ranks of the Church." And isn't this a legitimate concern for a pope? The authors concede this only in part, because "inspection of the available documentation [...] ultimately paints a clear picture of the council which, in the light of other sources, appears be biased on the whole." In what sense? we allow ourselves to ask. Certainly it is the one given by the official documents, which leave room for the pursuit of other contributions ("different sources"), but not in such a way as to contradict that which emerges "ex actis et probatis."

The second citation concerns important news about the "History of Vatican Council II" overseen by Alberigo, and that is the fact that "the studies conducted up until now have used a relatively small portion of the raw documentation." In a footnote, they add: "The sources gradually collected by the team that collaborated on the 'History of the Council' were ordinarily made available to all. But this does not alter the fact that each of the collaborators on the 'History' made more or less extensive use of these, according to his own discretion, even referring to other outside sources." This is good to know, because it confirms our judgment on the selection "ad usum delphini" of the sources. This is one of the great literary weaknesses of the "History," in which the combination of official and unofficial sources appears difficult and forced.

The volumes published under the direction of Prof. Alberigo were also prepared from conferences and colloquiums arranged for that purpose, held in various places and reported in specific publications. These meetings have their significance, because they reaffirm the tendencies outlined above. Those who wish to do so can find ample representation of this in my volume already cited. I also point out, in particular, "A la veille du Concile Vatican II. Vota et réactions en Europe et dans le catholicisme oriental" (M. Lamberigts and Cl. Soetens ed., Leuven, 1992), in which Alberigo (as he also does elsewhere) furnishes his personal "hermeneutical criteria" for a history of Vatican Council II that I have strongly criticized. A meeting of a certain importance was then held in Klingenthal (Strasbourg) in 1999, giving rise to the volume by Mons. Doré and A. Melloni, entitled "Volti di fine Concilio [Perspectives at the End of Council]." The book includes "Studi di storia e teologia sulla conclusione del Vaticano II [Historical and Theological Studies on the Conclusion of Vatican II]." The final comments are composed by Mons. Doré, who is fundamentally engaged in a difficult effort of combining and assembling what others separate. I published a review of this book in "Apollinaris" LXXIV (2001), pp. 789 - 799.

General research on the Council and the accompanying hermeneutics
It was around 1995 that there resumed the audacious attempts at overarching investigations, with accounts that were somewhat "narrative," provisional, and a little bit rushed, of the conciliar event "as a whole." The risks? The authors remained tied to their biased view of the council, and it is difficult to carry out truly scholarly research with an interpretive goal that requires a certain sedimentation over time (that is, a certain "distance" from the event), a long and patient work of assimilation and perusal of the conciliar "chronicles" and of the contemporary journalistic articles (which still exert broad and harmful influence), in the light of the "Atti Conciliari [Council Proceedings]," completed only in 1999.

Remaining in Italy, we find first of all volume XXV/1 and 2 of the "Storia della Chiesa [History of the Church]" begun by Fliche-Martin, edited by M. Guasco, E. Guerriero, and F. Traniello. There the treatment of Vatican Council II was entrusted to R. Aubert, a well-known Belgian historian. In this presentation (see op. cit., pp. 177-196) I observed, first of all, a few flaws similar to those found in the "Bologna group," but with a more balanced approach.

In any case, Aubert's final consideration, which places Paul VI "entirely on the course marked out by John XXIII," tells us much about his contrary position with respect to the conviction of Alberigo and those who take after him, including those in Belgium. Chapter VII then illustrates the synodal texts, the theological "merit" of which should be more strongly emphasized, in our view, partly for the sake of the implementation desired by all, beyond all partiality. In fact, by virtue of underlining certain shortcomings of the conciliar documents, we ask ourselves whether sufficient room is left for the acceptance of that "doctrinal magisterium in a pastoral perspective" that was characteristic of Vatican II. This is a general question and a difficulty of our times, even if, clearly, "the power and authority of the documents must be evaluated according to their literary genre, developmental parameters, and topics of discussion."

Still on the subject of the conciliar hermeneutic that most interests us here, we ask whether it is right to assert – as Aubert does – "the persistence of numerous ambiguities in the text, in which traditional affirmations and innovative proposals often find themselves more overlapping than truly integrated." And again: "This lack of consistency often produces divergences of interpretation, according to the unilateral insistence upon certain passages rather than others. Under this aspect, a serenely conducted historical study can permit a better understanding of what were the deep intentions of the great majority of the assembly, beyond the concern for the wider 'consensus'." Nonetheless, we maintain that one cannot arrive at conciliar thought as such, abstracting from the preoccupation with that "consensus" which was a distinctively synodal feature, and was sought not only for its own sake, but also because it expressed fidelity to Tradition and the desire for embodiment, for aggiornamento. Furthermore, only the definitive texts approved by the Council and promulgated by the Supreme Pastor are genuine; otherwise, everyone would accept them, as often happens, in his own way, as a pretext for his own personal excursion or for his own theological or factional preference.

Aubert addresses the same argument in a work written with two other authors (G. Fedalto and D. Quaglioni), entitled "Storia dei Concili [History of the Councils]" (San Paolo, Cinisello Balsamo, 1995), and, more recently, with N. Soetens, in volume XIII of the "Histoire du Christianisme" (entitled "Crise et Renouveau, de 1958 à nos jours") published in 2000, under the direction of Jean-Marie Mayeur (there is also an Italian translation). In comparison with the previous effort, which was largely successful, collaboration with Soetens does not seem to have been to Aubert's advantage.

Situating himself a bit beyond this author, possibly in the right direction, is Joseph Thomas, who was entrusted with the treatment of Vatican II for the collective volume "I Concili Ecumenici [The Ecumenical Councils]," published by Queriniana and edited by Antonio Zani, in 2001, in an Italian translation from the French in 1989. His entry seems to me not sufficiently restrained or impartial.

Alberigo, too, undertook a synthesis of his own, with the edition of a "Storia dei Concili ecumenici [History of the Ecumenical Councils]" by various authors, published in Brescia in 1990, reserving for himself the treatment of the Vatican Councils. About fifty pages were dedicated to Vatican II. Having noted this, we have nothing to add to the extensive observations already made above.

I cannot, moreover, fail to mention, leaving Italy behind, because it is indicative of a theological-sociological combination, "Vatikanum II und Modernisierung. Historische, theologische und soziologische Perspektiven", (hrsg. F-X. Kaufmann, A. Zingerle, ed. F. Schoening, Paderborn, 1996). I am not a sociologist, so I do not express critical judgments in this area, but there are many things that should be said in this instance as well, at least when one erupts into one-dimensional and, for us, arbitrary interpretations of the Council itself. This is the case with the professor Klinger, and, to a lesser extent, with Pottmeyer, but in another context. In regard to sociology, we reject the idea that this is the "mistress" of theology, and we maintain our distance from its so-called sociological "scope." This seems right and well-founded to us. On the other hand, "Montanism" or "neo-Montanism" (which can give rise - it is said here - to a "ghetto") are historical-theological concepts, about which the historian and the theologian must say something, as in the case, for example, of "hierocracy." We do not mean by this to devalue an "interdisciplinary project" such as this book, although we do acknowledge the underlying risks.

For a correct interpretation of the Council
Before such a vast hermeneutical effort - and we could have gone on much longer - so fundamentally one-dimensional in its prevailing interpretive approach, we might feel a bit isolated, holding a much different position, even though we are consoled by what happened with the Council of Trent, and think of the exegesis of Sarpi, which was ultimately surpassed. We are in any case convinced that the history, the documents, the future judgments (ex actis et probatis" will bring hermeneutical justice, with time. In the meantime, we need patience, but also work, effort, resources.

The new phase, nonetheless, appeared – it seems to us – during the last decade, and we first recall here the volume of the late Prof. L. Scheffczyk (later made a cardinal) entitled "La Chiesa. Aspetti della crisi postconciliare e corretta interpretazione del Vaticano II [The Church: Aspects of the Preconciliar Crisis and the Correct Interpretation of Vatican II]" (Jaca Book, Como, 1998, with a presentation by Joseph Ratzinger), in which the hope is expressed that there will be a recovery of the "Catholic" meaning of the Church's reality, after the postconciliar crisis in this regard. The author has put his finger on the affliction of modern hermeneutics, in exactly these words: "Every interpreter and group seizes upon only that which corresponds to his preconceptions," and to those of the (conciliar) "majority."

But the one who escapes this affliction is precisely the one who was the guardian and editor of the "Acta," collected in the Archive of Vatican Council II, founded with extraordinary prescience by Paul VI. I refer to Mons. V. Carbone. I will not list here his various studies of clarification, on crucial topics of conciliar hermeneutics, but just one apparently tiny yet exceptionally important volume, "Il Concilio Vaticano II, preparazione della Chiesa al Terzo Millennio [Vatican Council II, Preparing the Church for the Third Millennium]", Città del Vaticano, 1998. The work collects the articles on the great council published by the author in "L'Osservatore Romano."

Also on the positive side, and still in the field of wide-ranging studies of the council, there is the book by A. Zambarbieri "I Concili del Vaticano [The Vatican Councils]" (San Paolo, Cinisello Balsamo, 1995). This is, in our view, the best overview published so far in Italian, partly for the historical sense that pervades it. It sometimes displays, however, a certain indulgence toward positions created by the ideological vortex of the "group of Bologna," while its most serious shortcoming is revealed in the presentation of the "Nota Explicativa Praevia." It is, however – we repeat this happily – good research, with concise, fast-paced presentations of the various documents, thanks in part to extensive knowledge of the bibliography. The language is plain and the judgments are almost always moderate, far from the journalistic style, relying upon the sure guidance of P. Caprile in the matter of the daily events, and with precise references to the "Acta" edited by Mons. Carbone.

Finally, it would seem unjust to me not to cite here, in the positive context, the volumes entitled "Paolo VI e il rapporto Chiesa-mondo al Concilio [Paul VI and the Church-World Relationship at the Council]", and "Paolo VI e i problemi ecclesiologici al Concilio [Paul VI and Ecclesiological Problems at the Council]," both published by the Paul VI Institute in Brescia. These conclude the "trilogy" of international study colloquiums on Paul VI's contributions at the Council, which are of great importance for us, too.

But we cannot go any farther, because with the bibliography on pope Montini we would enter into an extremely vast field, even if this pertains to his conciliar efforts and postconciliar exegesis. Nor can we address here the hermeneutical sector, in relation to papal primacy and the relationship between primacy and collegiality, an eminently synodal pairing that has given rise to various interpretations and different emphases.

But I will make three exceptions, to recall, above all, the publication of the proceedings of the important theological symposium held at the Vatican in December of 1996, on the primacy of the successor of Peter, and then a complete study by R. Tillard on "L'Eglise locale. Ecclesiologie de communion et catholicité." I cite this work because it indicates how far one can move the theological pendulum in the direction of "localization," while still taking one's cue from Vatican II, in order to balance, perhaps, the earlier excess of an almost disembodied "universalism."

But it's always a question of excesses. The third exception concerns the work of J. Pottmeyer, "Le rôle de la papauté au troisième millénaire. Une relecture du Vatican I et du Vatican II", published in Paris in 2001, which first appeared in English. Of special interest to us is his exegesis of Vatican II, from which emerges a "(papal) primacy of communion." What this mean is that it is the pope's role "to represent and maintain the unity of the universal communion of the Churches." But the part of the work that we find "progressive" to the point of extremism, with rather harsh judgments, is the last part.

I do not want to end without referring to three relatively recent positive developments, which provide solid hope for a general change of tone in the future interpretation of the Council. I conclude in this way not because I want to respect at all costs the expression "dulcis in fundo" [sweet at the end], but because there is truly reason for it.

Not long ago, a new center of research on Vatican Council II was created at the Pontifical Lateran University. This center organized, in 2000, an interesting international study conference on "The Lateran University and the preparation of Vatican Council II," and after this it repeated its scholarly efforts with another conference, on the topic "John XXIII and Paul VI, the two popes of the Council." The title itself expresses the intention of not presenting these two great popes in opposition or contrast. And this is significant, even apart from the addresses given at the conference.

Even more "sweet" for us was the international conference on the implementation of Vatican Council II, held at the Vatican at the end of February, 2000, for the occasion of the Great Jubilee. There we finally saw attention being paid to our many hermeneutic preoccupations. To understand this, one need simply read the pontifical address published in the February 28-29, 2000 edition of "L'Osservatore Romano," pp. 6-7. I will cite just one passage from this: "The Church has always understood the rules for a correct hermeneutic of the contents of dogma. They are rules that are contained within the fabric of the faith, and not outside of it. To interpret the Council while supposing that it involves a rupture with the past, while in reality it adheres to the course of the perennial faith, is decidedly misleading."

Finally, the address that Benedict XVI gave to the Roman Curia on December 22, 2005, sounded extraordinarily sweet to our ears. In it, he pointed out the correct hermeneutics of the Council, which is not of rupture. I encourage you to read it attentively (see "L'Osservatore Romano," December 23, 2005, pp. 4-6).

The Magisterium has now clearly indicated the correct way to interpret Vatican Council. For this we are profoundly grateful to the Lord, and to the pope.


Romano Amerio's greatest book was Iota Unum. For many Traditional Catholics, it is the most comprehensive and most objective analysis of the crisis in Catholicism which has developed since the Second Vatican Council.

"Mass of Ages" May 2007, The Latin Mass Society's quarterly magazine stated:
Put simply, one could say that Amerio's method in Iota Unum was to follow the truth, relentlessly and fearlessly, wherever it led him. [W]here he saw error, compromise or contradiction he was no respecter of persons – not only the highest personalities in the Church (Popes included) but even longstanding friends and patrons (such as Cardinal Siri of Genoa) were subject to his ruthlessly honest criticism. Yet Amerio's authorial voice remains dispassionate at all times, and he never descends to personal criticisms, still less to uncharitable judgments.

For Amerio, the problems which emerged in the years following the Council can be traced directly back to the Council itself. They have their origin in unfortunate Papal pronouncements, in the methods and procedures of the Council Fathers, and in the very language of the Conciliar Decrees. True, as Amerio would agree, the worst aberrations emerged after the Council had closed, but nevertheless it was the Council itself which made them possible, and more than that, which created a favourable climate for errors to flourish. It was this element in his critique which so enraged Amerio's opponents, and polarised the reaction to Iota Unum.

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