Daily Archives: August 13, 2009

Where is the continuity in your hermeneutic?

(Originally posted May 2, 2009; updated with link)

Even in the “hermeneutic of continuity,” there is still a range of opinion that can be expressed thusly:
a) do you try to contort the pre-Vatican II body of 1960 years of tradition to make it fit Vatican II?
b) do you try to contort certain passages of Vatican II to make them not contradict the previous tradition?
or (ideally)
c) do you seek out obscure passages from the history of the Church to show that the innnovations of Vatican II were already there?

Much of this work has been done extensively–as many commentators on both sides of the Vatican II spectrum note, Karl Adam’s Spirit of Catholicism anticipates Vatican II a generation earlier. Dietrich von Hildebrand was probably one of the best commentators in regards to such a hermeneutic, long before the term was coined.

But there are certain key areas that remain unresolved. More importantly, new issues seem to pop up from time to time.

It is understandable, albeit unfortunate, that the dialogue between the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith and the Society of St. Pius X will be kept secret (though I hope it will be published in some form eventually). This would most certainly provide the authentic “hermeneutic of continuity,” regardless of whether the SSPX are fully reintegrated to the Church (but especially if they are).

I just wonder where the impetus is in many people’s readings of Vatican II. For “liberal” Catholics (and, when I say “liberal” Catholics, I usually mean progressives, “Spirit of Vatican II” People, regardless of their politics), the “old ways” are obsolete. They ignore and reject Summorum Pontificum, even continuing to use the term “old Mass” instead of “extraordinary form.” They are perfectly happy discarding any “previous” doctrine or practice if they can find a Vatican II passage, or a passage in one of John Paul II’s encyclicals, that superficially contradicts that passage.

So, for them, the “hermeneutic of continuity” is no big deal. If they can find something in the tradition that supports their agenda, they will use it.

For those we might call, for lack of a better word, “John Paul II Catholics” (let’s say, people like Archbishop Chaput and Cardinal George), the overall impetus is a liberal one: they think the Charismatic Renewal is wonderful. They’re not too crazy about traditionalists or the TLM, but they’re willing to tolerate us in some situations. They are strongly pro-life but politically centrist or center-left.

Like liberal Catholics, they think Barack Obama is great on most things but abortion. But unlike the liberals, they’re willing to not support Obama because of abortion.

So, for these folks, interpretation of Vatican II is not so much a matter of ignoring the previous tradition but of, as I say, contorting it to fit Vatican II, if they bother at all. Mostly, they just insist that Vatican II is consistent, and we have to obey it. If you ask genuine questions about things like _The Syllabus of Errors_, they plug their ears and say, “Lalalala I can’t hear you!” Or else they say sometihng like “The Church was unaware of the American system, compared to how freedom of religion was introduced in Europe.”

Yet that argument ultimately still gets back to, “The Church was wrong.”

The second approach to hermeneutic is very easy, and is the practice of most traditionalists who do not separate themselves from Rome: to say “Vatican II does not preclude me from accepting this earlier teaching literally.” This is tied to the whole argument that Vatican II declared no new dogma, that the Council itself is not “infallible” unless restating previously defined dogma, and that the Council’s novelties aer merely “prudential judgements” or “pastoral advice.”

For example, I once discussed Feeneyism with a fellow who pointed out that most Catholics take “baptism by desire” for granted, but paragraphs 1258 & 1259 of the Catechism are among the few paragraphs that have no citation: if there is a previous teaching of the Church on the subject, he asked, why isn’t it there?

And that is what brings us to the third approach, which is the most important :seeking out evidence that supports that Vatican II is continuous.

For example, we could say that Pius IX’s condemnation of separation of Church and State is contradicted by Vatican II’s teachings on religious freedom. We could say that Pius didn’t know any better or that he was bitter about the virulent anti-religious governments in post-French Revolution Europe.

However, Pius IX famously corresponded with Jefferson Davis–certainly he had to be aware of the American form of religious freedom, and he may very likely have approved of it.

I can formulate a very good argument that Pius did not *disapprove* of the First Amendment, that all he is saying that it is anathema that “Church and state ought to be separate.”

There is a difference between saying “Church and state ought to be separate” and “you have freedom to practice whatever religion you want.” Even Pope Benedict, when he came to the United States last year, implicitly rejected the idea that “Church and State ought to be separate,” insisting that the Church has the right to advise the state.

So there’s continuity there. The main thing Vatican II teaches is that it’s wrong for a country to require its citizens to be a particular religion.

So, that would be one approach, but wouldn’t it be nice to have a “smoking gun”, one way or the other?

Is there any previous teaching that says a country *should* require its citizens to be Catholic?
Or is there any previous teaching of the Church which says a country can or should allow freedom of religion?

Wouldn’t hunting down the missing links be better than just contorting the existing passages to our own biases?