Sunday, November 24, 2013

So much for the "progressive Pope" ...

Somebody got it right from the start ...!
The thing I love most about Pope Francis is that he unequivocally demonstrates that to be a "conservative" is NOT to be a big meanie who likes to kick puppies and make children cry for fun.

(Well, so did Papa Bene, but no one in the librul media wanted to believe it of him.)

From Fr. John Zuhlsdorf's blog What Does the Prayer Really Say?:
The 450th anniversary of the closing of the Council of Trent is coming up on 4 December.  We like to celebrate these great milestones in salvation history.  So, there are great doings in Trent, in the northern area of Italy which is part of the (also) German-speaking Tirol.  As is customary, Pope Francis will send a Cardinal as his personal representative.  Who better than His Eminence Walter Card. Brandmüller?
When the Pope sends a Cardinal off on one of these missions, he sends him a formal letter, charging him with his task and indicating something of his own hopes for the occasion.  The anniversary of the closing of the Council of Trent is no exception.
In his letter to Card. Brandmüller, Pope Francis explicitly cites Pope Benedict XVI pontificate-defining address in 2005 to the Roman Curia in which he spoke about the “hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture” (e.g., the Karl Rahner crowd and their descendants, still active today) and the “hermeneutic of reform”, or “hermeneutic of continuity”.

To give you a better sense of the import, let me give you Fr. Z's translation of the first part of the letter, which was written in Latin (of course):

To our Venerable Brother
Walter Cardinal (of the Holy Roman Church) Brandmüller
Deacon of St. Julian of the Flemish

Since the 450th anniversary of the day on which the Council of Trent drew to its favorable end, it is fitting that the Church recall with readier and more attentive eagerness the most rich doctrine which came out of that Council held in the Tyrol. It is certainly not without good reason that the Church has for a long time given such great care to that Council’s decrees and canons which are to be recalled and heeded, seeing that, since extremely grave matters and questions sprang up in that period, the Council Fathers employed all their diligence so that the Catholic faith should come into clearer view and be better understood. Without a doubt as the Holy Spirit inspired and prompted them, it was the Fathers’ greatest concern not only that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine be defended, but also that mankind be more brightly illuminated, in order that the saving work of the Lord could be diffused throughout the entire globe and the Gospel be spread through the whole world.

Harking closely to the same Spirit, Holy Church in this age renews and meditates on the most abundant doctrine of the Council of Trent. In fact, the “hermeneutic of renewal” which Our Predecessor [yes, "Praedecessor Noster" in the original] Benedict XVI explained in 2005 before the Roman Curia, refers in no way less to the Council of Trent than to the Vatican Council. To be sure, this mode of interpretation places under a brighter light a beautiful characteristic of the Church which is taught by the Lord Himself: "She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God" (Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the Roman Curia offering them his Christmas greetings, 22 December 2005).

For the historical context, the Council of Trent (13 December 1545 - 4 December 1563) was the beginning of the Catholic Reformation — the Counter-Reformation, it's usually (and incorrectly) called. In twenty-one sessions called in communion with three different popes over that nineteen-year span, the bishops of the Church undertook the vast work of clarifying Church teaching and reforming ecclesial abuses that had given rise to the Protestant movement. Trent was only a beginning, and it took place at a time when new lands were being opened up to both evangelization and exploitation. As a result, the actual pace of reformation was glacially slow, even by Church standards. Nevertheless, the Church did eventually reform, even if not in the direction the Protestants thought it should. But it begs to be noted that the Church which Bl. John XXIII inherited in 1958 was the product of the reforms of the Council of Trent.

Now, what is a "hermeneutic"? (It's not often that you see one in the wild by itself.)

A hermeneutic is a conceptual framework for interpreting (a) holy text(s). Very few people — even non-Christians — come into Scripture without at least some rudimentary ideas of what they will get out of Scripture and why; the difference between the professional and the amateur is that the professional's hermeneutics are organized and explicit, while the amateur's are disorganized and more often than not subconscious. Less literally, as both Francis and Benedict XVI use it here, it can mean a theme or principle which guides one's understanding of a particular event or set of events.

In the speech which Francis referenced (and to which I've provided a link), Benedict spoke of two different ways in which people within the Church have thought and spoken about what took place at the Second Vatican Council. "The problems in [the Council's] 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. [I have no doubt Fr. Z looked up the quote to insure consistency, since the Vatican's translation is the authoritative text.]
The hermeneutic of discontinuity risks ending in a split between the pre-conciliar Church and the post-conciliar Church. It asserts that the texts of the Council as such do not yet express the true spirit of the Council. It claims that they are the result of compromises in which, to reach unanimity, it was found necessary to keep and reconfirm many old things that are now pointless. However, the true spirit of the Council is not to be found in these compromises but instead in the impulses toward the new that are contained in the texts.
These innovations alone were supposed to represent the true spirit of the Council, and starting from and in conformity with them, it would be possible to move ahead. Precisely because the texts would only imperfectly reflect the true spirit of the Council and its newness, it would be necessary to go courageously beyond the texts and make room for the newness in which the Council's deepest intention would be expressed, even if it were still vague.

In tech talk, then, the "hermeneutic of rupture" proposes that Vatican II was the beginning of Catholicism 2.0, essentially a brand-new program with different features that retains some of the "look and feel" of the historic Church, while the "hermeneutic of reform" holds that it was merely an upgrade or update of the original program — Catholicism 1.21. As you may have already guessed, the "hermeneutic of rupture" is favored by what I've referred to as "the 'Spirit of Vatican II' crowd", especially as represented in the National Catholic Reporter, Commonweal and other "progressive" media outlets. Oddly enough, though, it's also favored by sedevacantists, Lefebvrists and their sympathizers, who represent what we should call the reactionary or ultra-conservative wing.

What's the practical difference? What does this mean to Joe and Jane Schmuckatelli in the pews?

The difference is that, under the "hermeneutic of rupture", everything progressives don't like about the Church is fair game for "reform" (i.e., chucking out), including dogma — nothing is infallible; nothing is irreformable; nothing is absolute. And here is where Francis' deliberate association of Vatican II with Trent spells doom for such a project: Trent was as much a rejection of Protestant innovation as it was a reform of Church corruption. The motive of Bl. John XXIII and his successor, Paul VI, in bringing about the Council was not to change the Church's DNA but rather to re-present and reposition her for the coming millennium, as well as to bring her out of a kind of self-absorption and into engagement with the modern world. "Engagement" does not mean abject surrender; far less does it mean enthusiastic adoption of every "modern" notion.

At the same time, Francis concedes that V2 was a kind of reform (semper ecclesia reformanda, the Church is always to be reformed), albeit a reform of style rather than substance. A particular sticking point for the far right wing is Dignitatis Humanae, the Council's Declaration on Religious Freedom; the claim is that DH enunciates a freedom of conscience incompatible with traditional pre- and post-Trent doctrine. The point is somewhat delicate, and I don't propose to argue it here. However, it is worthwhile noting that the Church still maintains a human obligation to recognize and respond to Truth, especially the truths of the Faith (see esp. CCC 2464-2499), and still has recourse to disciplines to encourage unity of belief. In fact, a few months ago Francis — you know, the "progressive pope" — signed off on the excommunication of an Australian dissident priest!

The upshot is that, as one commenter said in Father Z's blog, the Pope is Catholic. (Another gushed, "For the most lovable and fluffiest pope evuh to have even mentioned the Council of Trent must have the 'hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture' crowd spitting blood. Viva Papa Francisco! Veni Sancte Spiritus!") The doors of the cafeteria will continue to slowly close.

But Francis will continue to demonstrate with his life that we don't need "cafeteria Catholicism" to proclaim the message of God's enduring, forgiving love. We just need to be Catholics in spirit and truth — that would be a radical change in itself.