Fresh from my Communio Reading Group meeting, a reflection on what I learned…
Prior to reading Francis Cardinal George’s keynote address at the Knights of Columbus, had you asked me what the purpose of Vatican II had been I would have mumbled an Italian term I had learned in my Masters of Arts in Ministry classes, Aggiornamento, a.k.a. “A bringing up to date”, which was one of the key words used during the Second Vatican Council both by bishops and the clergy attending the sessions, and by the media and Vaticanologists covering it. It was used to mean a spirit of change and open-mindedness. It was the name given to the pontifical program of John XXIII in a speech he gave on January 25, 1959. Something about a breath of fresh air, a lowering of the windows to air out the Church’s stale air.
But no says Cardinal George. He goes to Humanae salutis, published on 25 December 1961, where John XXIII set out the primary reasons for convoking the council:
He started his reflection with the missionary mandate given by Jesus (Matthew 28:19), the command to preach the Gospel to all peoples, with the reminder that the Redeemer of the world comforted his disciples and us as well by declaring, “Behold, I am with you always even unto the consummation of the world. Have faith for I have overcome the world.”
To talk about the relationship between Church and world in the light of the council, therefore, one should understand how John XXIII looked at both the Church and the world. In Humanae salutis, he gives an analysis of the world as a place of grave crisis. One of the more tragic periods of history, he said, was marked by a great disunity among the peoples of the world. History that had been marked in recent decades by war and fratricide, by Nazism and racism, by Communism and class warfare,[it] had forgotten not only God; it had forgotten that the human race is one human family.
So what is the solution? What should the Church do, if this be the case? Here are the critical sentences:
If the Church has confidence in the savior of the world and if she takes up her mission to introduce the world to its savior in every age until he returns again in glory, then what is it incumbent upon the Church to do in a period when the world is at war with itself? The Church should use her own internal unity as a leaven in order to restore the unity of the human race….The Church has to understand what the world is and understand how she has to change in order to talk convincingly to the world if, indeed, the Church is to introduce the world to its savior.
Primarily, however, Pope John was so convinced of the internal unity of the Church and of her own strength from Christ that he thought he could take it for granted that the Church would be able to share her unity with a divided world and call the world into new forms of relationship to God and to the Church herself.
So this “internal unity” that the Church possesses should be used as “God’s instrument,” with the caveat of “using it through dialogue and not through imposition” to unify the world:
If the Church does that well, he thought, the human race would begin to see itself as a human family, as brothers and sisters, and eventually as the people of God. In the Catholic faith, believers understand why they truly are a family.
And there is was, stated on the opening of the council in 1962:
“Venerable brothers, such is the aim of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council which, while bringing together the best of the Church’s energies and striving to welcome more favorably the good tidings of salvation, prepares as it were and consolidates the path toward that unity of mankind which is required as a necessary foundation in order that the earthly city may be brought to the resemblance of the heavenly city where truth reigns, charity is the law and whose extent is eternity.” That is the purpose of the council. It means that the ecclesiology of the council is an ecclesiology of communion, of relationships, which become the means of establishing human solidarity.
So it is the internal unity of the Catholic Church that will establish and model the external unity of the human race in solidarity. And it will do this for the entire world, all nations and cultures and peoples so that they will live in peace. It was John Paul II who would go on to explain how the Church would change her self-consciousness in order to become God’s instrument in the world.
The question becomes: “How does the Church situate herself in the world so that she can be, as the first paragraph of Lumen gentium, the decree on the Church, says, “the sacrament or … sign of union with God and of the unity of all mankind.”
The Second Vatican Council provoked a changed understanding of the Church’s moral life and mission. What changed? What was the original understanding of the Church’s moral life and mission? Francis Cardinal George dates it back to St Robert Bellamine’s efforts to erect a juridical framework, much like the nation state’s . Cardinal Bellarmine defined the Church as a perfect society, like the state.
This left the Church in the modern age with the dilemma of competing jurisdictions: how does one separate the domain of the Church and the claims of the new nation-states created by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648? Both Church and state are perfect societies; both are complete; both have their rights. Yet each makes both religious and secular claims. How does one separate the domains of competence and, more than that, how can Church and state peacefully and respectfully cooperate?
Over the years various theories of the proper subordination of state to Church and the Church’s liberty of action in the secular sphere have been elaborated.
The Church needed an ecclesiology that established her freedom in the world for the sake of her mission that transcends the world. She also needed to explain how civil society is properly autonomous but not totalitarian
In Vatican II the Church drew upon Pope Pius XII who in turn was indebted to German theologians. “[They] moved beyond Robert Bellamine’s juridical framework of the perfect society based upon jurisdiction toward a theology based upon the biblical metaphors that describe the Church in the New Testament.
[T]he council recognized the existence of gifts from Christ outside of visible Catholic communion. There are visible elements of ecclesial reality outside of the visible structure of the Catholic Church, and these relate people to the Church in ways that make salvation available. They are called vestigiae ecclesiae (vestiges of the Church). These elements of the Church outside of her pastoral and visible unity serve to include all Christians, in a certain limited sense, in her membership in such a way that it is possible to dialogue with them as brothers and sisters, to see something in them that is also in us, to see them as friends and as fellow believers, through a common baptism.
Francis Cardinal George states that “Vatican II finessed the political dimensions of how the Church should be in the world by sidestepping the relationship between Church and state (which is still the unreconstructed way we speak of it in this country) and emphasizing instead the relationship between faith and culture.”
The “unreconstructed way” is to deal with Church and State as two monoliths with their respective juridical frameworks. On the one hand the secular state now deems the Church (or churches for that matter) as competing actor in the public square that needs to be rationalized or controlled by the secular to maintain peace:
A minority party within the secularist camp defends secularist ideology not on the ground that its tenets are true or vindicated by reason – secularists of this stripe deny the possibility of moral truth or the power of reason to make sound moral judgments of any type — but on the purely prudential ground that the official commitment of public institutions to secularism is the only way of preserving social peace. Ultimately, this is a hopeless strategy for defending secularism. It must implicitly appeal to the idea of moral truth and invoke the authority of reason (if, for no other purpose, than to establish the value of social peace) even as it officially denies that moral truth is possible and that reason has any real authority.
Moreover there is simply no warrant for believing that social peace is likely, or more likely, to be preserved by committing our public institutions to secularist ideology. Partisans of worldviews that compete with secularism are, to say the least, unlikely to surrender these institutions to the forces of secularism without a fight; nor is there any reason for them to do so.
Consider the issue of abortion: Christians, observant Jews and others who oppose the taking of unborn human life do not consider a circumstance in which more than a million elective abortions are performed each ear to be a situation of “social peace.” They quite reasonably reject secularism’s claim to constitute nothing more than a neutral playing field on which other worldviews may fairly and civilly compete for the allegiance of the people. As the example of abortion makes clear, secularism is itself one of the competing worldviews. We should credit its claims to neutrality no more than we would accept the claims of a baseball pitcher who in the course of a game declares himself to be umpire and begins calling his own balls and strikes.
Robert P. George, The Clash of Orthodoxies
George refers to this point of view as a “minority” but when push comes to shove over a secular position vis-à-vis an opposing Church position, be it contraception or abortion, it is the Church which is expected to yield. In many cases this is intolerable to people of faith. I would not wish a Catholic theocracy on the United States but at the same time I do expect our freedom to run Catholic Charities, hospitals, schools and the like to be unencumbered by secular ideology.
So when my taxes are used to fund abortions or the national health care system under Obama Care rejects my right to participate in a health insurance plan that doesn’t fund contraception or abortion or the conscience of Catholic health care workers not to participate in such activities, I have to wonder where all of this is going. Is Catholicism going to become a marginalized existence, one marked by resistance to the state? I worry about that.
I want to explore more in my next post on the nature of Catholic communion and the internal unity of the Church that John XXIII was expecting to act as a as a leaven in order to restore the unity of the human race. More next time on that and the nature of the dialogue between the world and the Church.