Inter Mirifica § 1-4: Basic Principles

(Unless otherwise noted, all citations from the English text of Inter Mirifica, available here; as such, citations are not footnoted except to indicate the exact section. Where a quote is not cited, it may be safely assumed that it continues from the same source as the previous citation).

Inter Mirifica (Latin incipit: “Among the wonders”) opens with the recognition that the advent of social communications technologies “can, of their very nature, reach and influence, not only individuals, but the very masses and the whole of human society” (§ 1) and that, “if properly utilized,” they “can be of great service to mankind, since they greatly contribute to man’s entertainment and instruction as well as to the spread and support of the Kingdom of God” (§ 2). On the other, “men can employ these media contrary to the plan of the Creator and to their own loss,” hence the Church’s resolve “to treat of the principal questions linked with the media of social communication.”

There is, then, a duality in the Church’s approach to social media. Its Aristotelian side recognizes that the media in principle accords neatly with the fact that “man is a political animal” and that his good is therefore naturally bound up with the good of others; insofar as information assists man in ordering himself to the good of others, then, mass media has the potential to assist him in basic human flourishing. On the other hand, the document evinces a Platonic wariness of mass media (the modern form of “the arts”), mindful always of the reality that a sufficiently cunning mind can make anything, even rank evil, seem superficially attractive and appealing, and that modern technology can be at least as much a detriment to the Church’s mission as it is a boon.

Already we see a subtle rebuke of Enlightenment-era epistemological maximalism, according to which every man everywhere has the free and unfettered right to any and all information of his own choosing, the better to shape himself according to the arbitrary dictates of his utterly sovereign, self-creating will. On the contrary, the Church acknowledges that “a little learning is a dangerous thing,” indeed, and that the pursuit of knowledge is not a first principle but must be properly ordered and subordinated to the common good. Even most Enlightenment enthusiasts would acknowledge this, their insane contrary principles notwithstanding, with their readiness to insist on restricting access to things as dangerous as nuclear weapons schematics or as comparatively benign as “homophobia.”

What are some of these guiding principles? Let’s take a look.

First, it is “an inherent right of the Church to have at its disposal and to employ any of these media insofar as they are necessary or useful for the instruction of Christians and all its efforts for the welfare of souls” (§ 3). Societies that fail to recognize the right of the Church to preach and teach using whatever means are fitting fail grievously in their duties. Insert another dig at “hate speech laws” here.

Moreover, it is “the duty of Pastors to instruct and guide the faithful so that they, with the help of these same media, may further the salvation and perfection of themselves and of the entire human family.” Now, in Catholic theology, duties are morally prior to rights; duties are prescribed by moral law and in turn give rise to rights as a claim to just treatment according to those duties. If pastors have the duty to teach X, then it follows that they have the right to be heard and obeyed regarding X. Thus, the limits of the free exercise of religious speech via social media are to be delineated by the clergy, the legitimate hierarchy of the Church, not by the laity.

Additionally, “[f]or the proper use of these media it is most necessary that all who employ them be acquainted with the norms of morality and conscientiously put them into practice in this area. … For its influence can be so great that men, especially if they are unprepared, can scarcely become aware of it, govern its impact, or, if necessary, reject it” (§ 4). It is necessary for those who employ social media to be mindful of the risk of scandalizing or misleading the ignorant, simple, or weak-willed, and that such a mindfulness must naturally take into account the realities of life in a particular age and place, which presumably includes the temptations characteristic to a particular group of people. A good example: in an age where belief in the reality of sin, judgment, and the possibility of eternal damnation is weak and growing weaker, it is perhaps imprudent for churchmen to publicly speculate on the emptiness of Hell. On the other hand, such speculations might be useful if we lived in a society where, say, masses of people despaired of their salvation and so traveled the countryside flogging their backs bloody in reparation, spreading the plague in the process.

From there, Inter Mirifica goes on to examine what, exactly, is the “proper moral outlook” (§ 5) demanded of all participants in the use of social media. We’ll take a look at that in the next post.

A quick note on liturgical gimmickry

Rorate Caeli recently precipitated a minor blow-up in the direction of some hapless young priest who celebrated a Thanksgiving Mass for a Catholic men’s university on an altar that, well, looks like Thanksgiving, with a cornucopia of canned and boxed goods above a fancifully painted wooden sign.

The outpouring of rage on their Facebook picture is predictable and reveals, I think, a fundamental disconnect between people of more traditionalists sensibilities and those of more novel ones. The latter experience transcendence as alienating, the former as nourishing. As a result, the latter experience liturgical innovations in the direction of immanentism as comforting and the former experience them as banal at best and sacrilegious at worst.

I appreciate the traditionalists’ sentiment but it is a bit of a far cry to call such an altar “sacrilegious.” He’s not carving a turkey on it, for Heaven’s sake. It’s rather just dumb, which seems to be Rorate Caeli‘s point: it’s weird, pointless, stupid — gimmicky, in a word. It is evidence of the general trend in postconciliar liturgy to make the Mass “meaningful” (because, of course, it was never meaningful until we brilliant, special, unique moderns came along and set history straight), not by carefully educating the faithful on the naturally meaningful symbolism of the Mass, but by introducing gimmicks that instill a purely human sentimentality in the souls of those whom the modern Mass often leaves desperately bored and unfulfilled. It is, in other words, an implicit recognition of the Pauline Mass’ comparative latreutic barrenness and the need to enrich it by importing something, please God anything, to fill the spiritual void left by the relentless slice of the reformers’ knives.

I feel bad for the priest who, if he is aware of the hubbub at all, is no doubt quite embarrassed or annoyed, having likely never received even a minimally competent formation in liturgy and thus not knowing what the fuss is all about. Many American priests, in my experience, don’t receive such formation, and I have heard more than I care to recount say pointedly ignorant things like “Vatican II turned the priest around at the altar” or “Before Vatican II, people just prayed the rosary all Mass cause they didn’t know what was going on.” I suspect he is both a product and a victim of the postconciliar Church’s own deliberate devaluation of the ordained priesthood in the service of kneecapping “clericalism,” both in its liturgical symbolism and in its tendency to refer to priests with such drearily technocratic titles as “co-workers of the bishop” and “administrators of the sacraments.”

Let us all pray for priests, that they might grow in appreciation of the majesty of their ontological character and the dignity of their office.

Introduction to Inter Mirifica

Inter Mirifica (Latin original, English translation), the Council’s decree on the media of social communications promulgated by Pope Paul VI on 4 December 1963, is largely forgotten, due in part to its overshadowing by the much more momentous Sacrosanctum Concilium, which was promulgated on the same day, as well as the slightness of its subject matter, the unobjectionable character of its contents, and its negligible lasting impact.

By “social communications,” Inter Mirifica means, essentially, what we would call “mass media”: then newspapers, radios, television, and the film and music industries; today, that could presumably be expanded to include video games and the various forms of Internet-based communications, including blogs, Facebook, YouTube videos, etc. The headline version of Inter Mirifica is as follows: social communications are essentially good but their use should be subordinated to some basic guiding principles, both moral and prudential. It outlines those principles in some depth and offers a few guidelines on how the Church might usefully exploit media of social communications, which includes training both clergy and laity in their use. This, so far as I know, has not really been systematically implemented; in fact, it seems the most successful Catholic media apostolates sprang up organically with little to no formation on the Church’s part, they are as likely as not to be treated by the Church with suspicion and contempt (e.g., Michael Voris’, or to be actively harmful to her interests (and I’m not just talking about National Catholic Reporter).

Inter Mirifica might usefully be classified as “mostly harmless” in that, with a few questionable word choices aside, its content seems theologically and even prudentially inoffensive. My analysis of it, then, will be fairly brief. I’ll look at its recommendations, assess the extent of their successful implementation, and analyze the situation on the ground today. I’ll also spare a brief discussion about the “right to information” which it announces belongs to all “men” “in society,” and in which some traditionalists see (wrongly, I will argue) an endorsement of unfettered Enlightenment freedom-of-press. It’s in that section, in particular, that we begin to see the Council’s… unusual… way of speaking about certain issues emerge, a dialectic we might usefully call “liberalese.”

Pius XII, the Pope that launched a thousand reforms

I’m preparing to begin my document-by-document analysis of the conciliar texts, which will proceed in order of promulgation (and in alphabetical order for documents promulgated on the same date). That means Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Council’s constitution on the liturgy, will come second, after a brief treatment of Inter Mirifica.

In the meantime, Fr. Hunwicke has an excellent post up today pushing a line not heard often enough: officially-sanctioned liturgical reform fever began, not with Paul VI or John XXIII, but with Pius XII.

It was Pope Pius who kicked off the reformist frenzy in the Church, first by giving the modernist exegetes at the Biblicum free reign to deface the Psalter of the Roman Breviary (they promptly imposed an artificial pseudo-Ciceronian translation in place of St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate, which had enjoyed use since ancient times) and then by embarking on a deeply reductionist reform of the liturgies of Holy Week, which Evelyn Waugh complained had badly impoverished the Church:

During the last few years we have experienced the triumph of the liturgists’ in the new arrangement of the services for the end of Holy Week and for Easter. For centuries these had been enriched by devotions which were dear to the laity—the anticipation of the morning office of Tenebrae, the vigil at the Altar of Repose, the Mass of the Presanctified. It was not how the Christians of the second century observed the season. It was the organic growth of the needs of the people. Not all Catholics were able to avail themselves of the services but hundreds did, going to live in or near the monastic houses and making an annual retreat which began with Tenebrae on Wednesday afternoon and ended at about midday on Saturday with the anticipated Easter Mass. During those three days time was conveniently apportioned between the rites of the church and the discourses of the priest taking the retreat, with little temptation to distraction. Now nothing happens before Thursday evening. All Friday morning is empty. There is an hour or so in church on Friday afternoon. All Saturday is quite blank until late at night. The Easter Mass is sung at midnight to a weary congregation who are constrained to ‘renew their baptismal vows’ in the vernacular and later repair to bed. The significance of Easter as a feast of dawn is quite lost, as is the unique character of Christmas as the Holy Night. I have noticed in the monastery I frequent a marked falling-off in the number of retreatants since the innovations or, as the liturgists would prefer to call them, the restorations. It may well be that these services are nearer to the practice of primitive Christianity, but the Church rejoices in the development of dogma; why does it not also admit the development of liturgy? [1]

Writer Nino Badano called the re-translation of the Psalter a “profanation” and suggested it was borne of Pope Pius’ “obsession with a formalistic perfectionism” and a certain “scruple of philological precision.” [2] And Fr. Stefano Carusi, I.B.P., writing recently on the Holy Week reforms, points out that the “entire raison d’être of the reform seems to be permeated with the whiff of rationalism and archeologism, with at times dollops of pure imagination” [3] — rather like the reforms imposed on the Church in the 1965-1970 period.

Finally, we might do well to remember that the major actors of the Council were, so far as I can tell, to a man elevated to the episcopate or even the Cardinalate by Pius XII over the course of his long reign — Annibale Bugnini was his liturgical point-man; Augustine Bea, his personal confessor; Montini (the future Paul VI) was his Secretary of State; and he elevated both Roncalli (John XXIII) and conciliar archvillain Josef Frings to the Cardinalate.

The groundwater was tainted long before 1958.

[1] Evelyn Waugh, “The Same Again, Please.” The Spectator, 23 November 1962. [Link]

[2] Nino Badano, I primi giorni della Chiesa e gli ultimi (Rome: Volpe, 1973), 158-159. Qtd. in Roberto de Mattei, The Second Vatican Council: An Unwritten Story, Trans. Patrick T. Brannan, S.J., Michael J. Miller, and Kenneth D. Whitehead (Fitzwilliam, NH: 2010), 31-32.

[3] Fr. Stefano Carusi, “The Reform of the Holy Week in the Years 1951-1956.” Originally published on Disputationes Theologicae, 28 March 2010 [Link]; English translation by Fr. Charles W. Johnson republished on Rorate Caeli, 25 July 2010 [Link].

This blog’s four assumptions

Every line of inquiry proceeds from a set of axioms, and the inquiry to be conducted on this blog is no exception. I have four general principles which will guide my inquiry into the Second Vatican Council. They are as follows:

  1. The Second Vatican Council was primarily concerned with tactics, not doctrines, and its formulations (to the extent they do not simply repeat previously-defined teachings) may therefore be regarded as open to continuing discussion.
  2. To the extent the Council dealt with doctrine at all, it is able to be reconciled with Tradition.
  3. To the extent the Council dealt with prudential calculations, it failed in its endeavor to make the faith intelligible to the modern world. (Nearly everyone outside the EWTN / Catholic Answers thought bubble agrees).
  4. The reason the Council failed is because it misjudged modernity as orthogonal to Catholicism, rather than diametrically opposed. The modernity to which the Church tried to reconcile itself isn’t just accidentally anti-Catholic, it’s positively deranged.

Modernity’s essential derangement

The essential derangement of modernity is the cult of the totally autonomous superman, whose relentless will-to-power is the only point of reference for evaluating the moral and the true. Since “injustice” in this world view simply means whatever restricts or limits the superman’s all-creating will, it follows that such restrictions must be destroyed, together with those who would impose them, who take on the role of sewer-dwelling boogeyman in the modern ethos. It’s a short leap from there to viewing that act of destruction as possessing a supernatural character, i.e., as restoring the supernatural order of justice which is disfigured by that tyrant called nature: hence, The Sacrament of Abortion.

Assumption #4: Modernity and Catholicism are diametrically opposed

The Council, I said previously, was largely concerned with adapting the Catholic faith to the realities of modern life. It failed in this endeavor, not because it was hijacked but because its aim was flawed from the outset. Here’s Pope John XXIII again, describing the Council’s vision:

In the daily exercise of our pastoral office, we sometimes have to listen, much to our regret, to voices of persons who, though burning with zeal, are not endowed with too much sense of discretion or measure. In these modern times they can see nothing but prevarication and ruin. They say that our era, in comparison with past eras, is getting worse, and they behave as though they had learned nothing from history, which is, none the less, the teacher of life. … We feel we must disagree with those prophets of gloom, who are always forecasting disaster, as though the end of the world were at hand. [1]

No doubt, good Pope John was motivated by the best of intentions in saying this, and in calling the Council for this reason. It is a tragic flaw of good men that they are so often oblivious to the perils facing them. But oblivious he was.

The Council’s primary error was its judgment of modernity as an essentially neutral or even benign force to which the Church could potentially be reconciled without having to compromise itself. It judged wrong. Modernity and Catholicism are not orthogonal, they are diametrically opposed.

Modernity expresses itself in a number of different ways; in the sphere of aesthetics, as artistic modernism; in politics, as liberalism; in theology, as any of a variety of degrees of denial of ancient Christian values (from high-church Protestantism at its weakest to Hitchensian atheism at its strictest); in epistemology, as any of a variety of minimalisms that seek to discount some field of inquiry as a valid source of human knowledge (scientism being the most popular form today); in ontology, as materialism/naturalism; and so on. [2]

In all of these things, modernity is flatly opposed to Catholicism. Against the Church’s use of art to express transcendental truths, modernity uses it to shock and scandalize ordinary people from their bourgeois sensibilities or even to mock them; against the Church’s endorsement of authority, both political and familial, as divinely instituted for the good of man, modernity denies the objective reality of justice and asserts that power is exercised justly only by the arbitrary will-to-power of the self-creating autonomous superman; against the Church’s trust in the basic reliability of human reason, especially when supplemented by the virtue of faith, modernity asserts the unreliability of reason and the need to rely on arbitrary hermeneutics; against the Church’s belief in the reality of the spirit as an integral aspect of the human person, modernity asserts that reason, free will, and the like are mere epiphenomena of electrical discharges in the brain; against the Church’s articulation of a moral law that arises spontaneously from human nature, modernity calls pleasure and anesthesia the only objective criteria of the good. None of these are recent, either; Hitchensian atheism didn’t form overnight but is a logical development of trends always and vigorously opposed by the Church that have their roots in various Enlightenment actors such as Hegel, Bentham, and Comte.

It is impossible to overstate the naive optimism on offer here: it would require one either to ignore the brutal anti-Catholicism of the Puritans, the Jacobins, the Bolsheviks, and other assorted thoroughly modern affiliations, or else to attribute their brutality to the defensiveness of the Church, which could be repaired only by its unilateral disarmament in the culture wars. History, that “teacher of life,” has made the lesson clear: the modern world does not want the Church’s friendship; it wants her submission, and thus her death.

When I was in RCIA some years ago, the permanent deacon who instructed us told us that the Second Vatican Council had aimed to reform a Church that had become too insular, to tear down the walls that had been built up. Yet it is hard to see how the Church of the last 50 years, with all of its cloying and tedious self-obsession, could possibly be less insular than what came before, and harder still to see how those “walls” were an impediment to an evangelization effort that, fifty years ago, was reaping a bounty of adult converts and vocations to the priesthood and religious life while rendering Catholicism an effective social force even in the United States, and which today is depopulating like a plague-stricken medieval hamlet.

As it turns out, tearing down the walls is a bad idea when you’re under siege.

[1] Pope John XXIII, opening address at the Second Vatican Council, 11 October 1962.

[2] Industrialization and scientific progress are typically represented as expressions of modernity but it is more appropriate to think of them as consequences of it — as products of the hypertrophied attention which modernity insists on paying to efficient and material causes to the exclusion of final and formal ones.

Explanatory narratives of the Council’s failure

Nearly everyone outside the party line (“The Church is not falling to pieces. It has never been better.”) agrees that Vatican II failed as a force of Catholic renewal, but not everyone agrees why. Let’s take a moment to examine some of the different explanations for its failure.

The liberal narrative: Advanced by the likes of Hans Küng, the liberal narrative goes something like this: “The Second Vatican Council prescribed a bold plan of reform for the entire Church that would open it up to the modern world and reject traditional patterns of autocratic governance and stern moralistic lecturing. Unfortunately, its implementation was hijacked by cynical reactionary bishops and Popes like John Paul II, who betrayed the Council’s vision. The Council failed in its aim, but only because we didn’t get enough of it; the solution is to get more of it, to continue reforming everything in sight.”

The (neo)-conservative narrative: Defended in many respects by Pope Benedict XVI (as Unam Sanctam Catholicam reports here), the conservative (or neo-conservative, if you prefer) narrative proceeds thus: “The Second Vatican Council’s reforms were [qualifications] necessary, good, and proper, but their implementation was hijacked by [villain], who betrayed the Council’s vision. The Council failed in its aim, but only because of treachery and the spirit of the age; the solution is to repent of the hyper-reformational ‘Spirit of Vatican II’ and return to the plain meaning of the texts.” The neo-conservative narrative splits into several different camps depending on the contents of the qualifications variable above: for the strict-conservative narrative, insert “surely”; for the strong-conservative narrative, leave blank; for the weak-conservative narrative, insert “arguably.” The villain variable can take any of several values, typically liberal clergy but sometimes the media or , more generally, the secular world, and sometimes a combination of two or more of the above.

The traditionalist narrative: This narrative, more protean than the others, argues something like the following: “Calling the Second Vatican Council was a blunder and the whole endeavor was surely doomed to failure; there was no possible way for it to succeed.” This narrative splits again into several camps depending on the exact reason given. The weak traditional narrative says that the Council failed because its reforms (tactical, prudential, non-Magisterial, and thus prone to error, as I explained here and here) were deeply imprudent given the realities of the age — because, in a sense, the reformers misdiagnosed the problem and so prescribed the wrong solutions; this is the position of, e.g., mainstream traditionalist Catholics such as the FSSP. The strong-traditionalist narrative of, e.g., the SSPX et al., holds that the Council was doomed to failure because the Council fathers were heretics and the Council itself positively taught error, the implementation of which naturally produced poisoned fruits. The strict-traditionalist narrative takes the strong-traditionalist narrative a step further and rejects the Council’s ecumenicity and Catholicity, deriding it as altogether invalid; this narrative usually veers into sedeprivationism, sedevacantism, or outright schism.

This blog largely takes the weak-traditionalist narrative in that it views the Council as a tactical mistake; it accepts the conservative narrative only insofar as it applies to questions of doctrine. This is, I believe, the most coherent position available to us, each of the rest suffering from some sort of crippling defect of its own. The liberal narrative is simply deranged and utterly without merit, hence why nearly no thinking Catholic today below the age of 70 or so actually believes it; to the extent it’s believed at all, it’s because it is the poison which has seeped into the groundwater and from which most Catholics unconsciously sip. It is a classic example of denial, of reframing one’s own failures as the result of the shortcomings and weaknesses of others, and of course we need hardly even speak of its manifestly delusional parousiastic character.

The conservative narrative walks the tightrope between the party line (“things have never been better!”) and acknowledging reality, trying to do the latter while sparing the former of harsh criticism. There is much to recommend in that a careful reading of the actual text of the conciliar documents is necessary in order to situate the Council properly in Tradition, an endeavor I maintain is perfectly possible. The extent to which those reforms were necessary at all certainly is a matter of dispute, however, and I do not take the conservative position for granted here, especially when it comes to the reform of the liturgy, where the Church’s tactical error was most manifest; moreover, I do not believe that an acceptance of the Council’s doctrinal character necessarily commands an acceptance of its prudential reform. The two are separable and it is perhaps necessary to start giving serious thought to jettisoning some or all of the latter altogether.

The strong-traditionalist narrative is, to me, simply incoherent, and maintaining it requires a lot of the linguistic equivocation of the sort I described earlier. It is, I think, the product of a mindset that can’t think in terms of anything but doctrine, a mindset I hope to describe in greater depth at some later point; suffice it to say that it is itself a modern and minimalistic mode of thinking. Being incoherent, it tends to collapse into either the weak or strict narrative, and the strict narrative is just about as unthinkable and deranged as the leftist one. To believe it, one would have to believe that Christ is a liar and hence very nearly apostasize from the faith altogether.

In the next post, I’ll give some further insight into the weak-traditionalist narrative, specifically, what I hold to be the crucial error of the Council: its fundamental misunderstanding of the pernicious character of modernity.

Assumption #3: The Council failed

Certainly, the results [of Vatican II] seem cruelly opposed to the expectations of everyone, beginning with those of Pope John XXIII and then of Paul VI: expected was a new Catholic unity and instead we have been exposed to dissension which—to use the words of Paul VI—seems to have gone from self-criticism to self-destruction. Expected was a new enthusiasm, and many wound up discouraged and bored. Expected was a great step forward, and instead we find ourselves faced with a progressive process of decadence which has developed for the most part precisely under the sign of a calling back to the Council, and has therefore contributed to discrediting for many. The net result therefore seems negative. I am repeating here what I said ten years after the conclusion of the work: it is incontrovertible that this period has definitely been unfavorable for the Catholic Church.

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (c. 1984)

If the Church were not divine, this Council would have buried it.

–Giuseppe Cardinal Siri

This assumption will take some time to unpack — it is sufficiently detailed that I’ll need at least three posts to do so.

The ostensible purpose of the Second Vatican Council, I said before, was tactical: it aimed, not to proclaim a new dogma, but to provide the Church with a more effective schema for evangelizing the modern world.

I take it for granted on this blog that the Council failed in this endeavor. The Catholic faith is not only less intelligible to moderns, it is now less intelligible even to Catholics. There are plenty of examples that can be cited here, plenty of polls, plenty of anecdotes, but I think the most damning piece of evidence in this regard is the recent admission of Abp. Müller, prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, that the common understanding of marriage as an exclusive, indissoluble, sacramental union has so dissolved that many, perhaps even most, marriages today are invalid. (For more on this line of reasoning, see Zippy Catholic’s characteristically excellent post on the topic here).

What went wrong here? Blogger “Ches” over at The Sensible Bond has an excellent ongoing series on the nature of aggiornamento, wherein, at one point, he makes this crucial observation: that the operating assumption of the Council and the conciliar reformers was that “one could deconstruct and reconstruct the kinds of cultural syntheses that had resulted from centuries of Christian life.” By the time of the Council, the Catholic faith had become fused to a particular way of life over the course of centuries of practice, and the Council’s concern was that this sort of lived reality of faith had become an obstacle to effectively interfacing with a modern world. In their prudential calculus, it was therefore necessary to dismantle that synthesis in order that a new one could replace it, one that might make her a more vibrant force in the modern world.

The problem is that people do not live in a purely mental, abstract sphere of doctrinal correctness: the faith is always lived out in some sort of practical and concrete way, and the Church, by repudiating the culture that made that possible (most prominently by the liturgical reforms, the liturgy being the most public point of interface between the Church and the world), effectively stripped Catholics of the only effective alternative to modern narcissistic degeneracy. Nature abhors a vacuum, so naturally, the void left in the life of the Church by the destruction of her practical consensus on living the faith was filled almost immediately by the world and its values, to her great shame and enduring difficulty.

Thus rushed into the Church the “smoke of Satan,” lamented by Pope Paul, through the fissure of conciliar hubris: the hubris of thinking that one can remake better, in a decade, what generations of saints built over the course of two millennia.

Note: the faith-culture synthesis isn’t itself doctrinal, it’s a lived expression of doctrine. Whether or not to retain that synthesis, then, is not itself a question of doctrine, but of tactics; and in deciding prudential matters like how best to govern the faithful or to evangelize, the Church’s authority, while binding, is not necessarily free of error. She can make, and has made, bad decisions. In making this claim, I go against neo-conservative Catholics of the EWTN / Catholic Answers mold, but it is what it is, and those who wish to dispute this position have an awful lot of historical legerdemain to accomplish.

In this, I stand firmly against what Dr. Roberto de Mattei called “a fideism of a pietist mould,” which insists that the Holy Spirit utterly absorbs and negates human freedom, reducing us to mere Ouija boards channeling the will of God, so that every one of the Church’s undertakings is imbued with the mandate of divine inevitability. On the contrary, I profess that the Church’s divine nature supplements, transfigures, and orders her human nature without overwhelming it completely, and that the narrowness of Christ’s promises to the infant Church were intended precisely to protect human freedom and so ensure that our decision to turn to him is truly free. Our shepherds act in persona Christi when celebrating Mass, absolving penitents, and exercising the teaching office entrusted to them through the Great Commission; in other respects, perhaps more often than not, they rule as men — men to whom authority has been given and who are thereby entitled to our obedience and respect, but who are not immune to the frailties and weaknesses of the human condition; they are therefore men with whom any Catholic may, in good faith, charitably voice disagreement in matters pertaining to the welfare of the Church (per the Code of Canon Law, can. 212 § 3).

In short, this blog takes it as a given that the Second Vatican Council failed, not for reasons of implementation but because of its own aims and intentions, and it is in light of this understanding that the Council will be examined. In the next two posts, we’ll examine competing narratives regarding the Council (most of which acknowledge its failure), as well as another aspect of the Council’s failure, namely, the mistaken estimation on the part of the Council’s father of the essentially antagonistic attitude of modernity to the Catholicism they wished to modernize.