Assumption #2: The Council’s continuity with Tradition

Well, it all depends on the correct interpretation of the Council or – as we would say today – on its proper hermeneutics, the correct key to its interpretation and application. The problems in its implementation arose from the fact that two contrary hermeneutics came face to face and quarrelled with each other. One caused confusion, the other, silently but more and more visibly, bore and is bearing fruit.

On the one hand, there is an interpretation that I would call “a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture”; it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. On the other, there is the “hermeneutic of reform”, of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.

–Pope Benedict XVI [1]

This blog takes it as a given that the Second Vatican Council, to the extent it was Magisterial at all, is in continuity with Tradition, and that even its prudential recommendations can be understood in light of Tradition. There are a few reasons for this assumption:

  1. Continuity should always be the default hermeneutic when attempting to understand any given Magisterial text.
  2. This is especially true given that it is almost always possible to assign a discontinuous interpretation to any such text, as by assigning a certain meaning or understanding to words that is different from what would normally arise by context, or by fixating unduly on the motives of the authors, either accurately assessed or else uncharitably maligned.
  3. As a matter of tactical prudence, it is always unwise to cede more ground to one’s enemies than is absolutely necessary, and this is what, e.g., the SSPX’s criticisms of the Council effectively do. In this case, “one’s enemies” means those who use the Council (or, more generally, the “spirit” of the Council) as a blunt object with which to bludgeon lovers of Tradition.
  4. Finally, it is a matter of humility and obedience to the express will of Pope Benedict XVI (and apparently endorsed by his successor, Pope Francis) that we read the Council in this way. As Benedict is undoubtedly a genius, and as he is vastly more familiar with the work of the Council than I am, I’m inclined to think that, if he says it’s possible, it must be possible.

Two margin notes here. One, this assumption necessarily means fixating on the written word of the conciliar texts as the actual, authentic Magisterial act. The intentions (noble and ignoble) of particular personalities at the Council may be fruitfully explored as a part of a holistic picture of the Council and its works but they are frankly immaterial to the question of the Council’s fruits as a matter of the teaching authority of the Church. In short, this blog, as far as Magisteriality is concerned, adopts an “original meaning,” not “original intent,” paradigm.

Second: to expand a little on point #2 above, the rhetorical force of the claims that the Council is discontinuous with Tradition depends on the notion that there is no possible way to reconcile a given conciliar statement with Tradition. The hermeneutic of continuity, then, simply requires that we demonstrate that there be at least one possible way to do so; it does not even require that we demonstrate that it is necessarily the objectively correct way. In my experience, it is almost always possible to come up with at least one such interpretation. As a general rule, in examining the texts, I will consider objections-from-discontinuity only in order to refute them.

[1] Address to the Roman Curia, 22 December 2006.

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One thought on “Assumption #2: The Council’s continuity with Tradition

  1. Pingback: This blog’s four assumptions | The Strange Council

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