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Andreas R. Batlogg {*}

Is it the Fault of the Council?


From: Stimmen der Zeit, 10/2012, P. 649 et sequ.
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


Both admirers and detractors of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) often use the same statement, but they understand it diametrically opposed, "The Council is to blame!" Some associate criticism and even fundamental criticism with it, the others enthusiasm and profound thanks. Some say that we owe the last Council a generally positive approach to the world: i.e. the Church has bid goodbye - once and for all, as it was hoped - to the point of view of the world as a hostile opponent that has even to be fought against. The others say that the last Council is to blame for the decline of the church, for the galloping secularism, and for the since the on 19 April 2005, at the opening of the last conclave evoked and since then often cited "dictatorship of relativism."

Where one puts thinks in black-and-white terms and is only on the look-out for admirers or detractors and critics, a third group is often easily overlooked, and it forms the majority in the Church: the average believers, including many activists on the spot. For them, all this is a bickering of theologians, a dispute over trifles - because for them the Council is far away, an (only) historic event that has little to do with the problems and challenges of everyday church life.

The opening on 11 October 1962 by Pope John XXIII, already simply atmospherically, finished the reform backlog of the "Pius Popes era". Fifty years later: To whom belongs the Council? It belongs to the whole Church, and not to individual groups or factions within the Church. Pope Benedict XVI has repeatedly emphasized that there could be no going back behind the Council. Among some people, his liturgical preferences and theological options arouse doubts about the sincerity of those statements.

In his speech to the College of Cardinals and members of the Roman Curia at the first Christmas address (22 December 2005) Benedict XVI designed a blueprint of his interpretation of the Council: "What has been the result of the Council? Was it well received? What, in the acceptance of the Council, was good and what was inadequate or mistaken?" The newly elected Pope distinguished two contrary receptions of the Council: the "hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture", which "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 ... in the continuity." "It all depends ... on its proper hermeneutics."

It is worthwhile to call his argument about this to mind again: "The hermeneutic of discontinuity risks ending in a split between the pre-conciliar Church and the post-conciliar Church."



Its representatives assert "that the texts of the Council as such do not yet express the true spirit of the Council. ... In this way, obviously, a vast margin was left open for the question on how this spirit should subsequently be defined and room was consequently made for every whim. The nature of a Council as such is therefore basically misunderstood."

In the context of efforts to achieve reconciliation with the SSPX, the Viennese theologian Jan-Heiner Tück warned against an academic dispute about (graduated) levels of obligation of the various texts of the Council, otherwise "you are in danger of falling back into the time before the Council." In an interview on the occasion of his 80th Birthday, the Bishop Emeritus of Sitten, Cardinal Henri Schwery in turn reminded of the fact that liturgy has not been the crucial point in the problems with the schismatic Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre: "In Rome there are still people who have not understood. It is actually about a political issue. The SSPX, that are people who do not accept that the relationship between the Church and society - or the 'autonomy of earthly affairs' as it says in the Council document "Gaudium et Spes' (GS 36) - have changed. It is there where the shoe pinches!"

In the preface for the booklet "Dem Konzil begegnen" (Innsbruck 2012) by the Redemptorist Martin Leitgöb, Herbert Vorgrimler emphasizes that "resorting to what the Council actually wanted and said" would be "no panacea, but it helps to overcome some disappointments. The Council was a role model for freedom of speech in the Church." He regards the 16 texts as "results of tough but fair disputes." Of course, they are not fallen from the sky. They were laboriously formulated in writing workshops, after the Council Fathers had previously rejected the schemes prepared in Rome. According to theologians of the Roman School, the Council Fathers should only give their blessing to these schemes in a staged Lightning Council (concilio lampo). But it was not at all a "Council of Nodders" or an "acclamation event."

The legacy of the Council was and is repeatedly at hazard - both its texts and its spirit. On 12 December 1965 in a lecture in Munich, Karl Rahner SJ farsightedly said, "The Council has set a start for the aggiornamento, renewal, and even for the always due repentance and conversion - the beginning of the beginning. That's a lot. But it is only the beginning of the beginning. Everything, almost everything is still letter from which may spring spirit and life, ministry, faith and hope - but not automatically. The church has committed herself to accomplishing a task, but it has first still to be completed. And this Church - this is a basic statement of spirit and fire - are all of us."

The church, it seems, is still on the road to this goal. Apropos, during the Second Vatican Council - for the German District Superior of the SSPX "the greatest disaster of this century" - Karl Rahner initially worked closely together with the 23 year younger official Council Theologian (Peritus), who is now Pope. Now, it is also about the reputation of the theologian Joseph Ratzinger.


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