Sunday 23 October 2011

Revolution 2

I think what demarcated the two parties that emerged in the wake of the Second Vatican Council was not at first theology (either dogmatic or moral) but something else. There had been an awakening of what one might call a moral imperative to do something about the state of the world; the Second World War had ended a mere seventeen years previously, and the horrors of war, brought by the media for the first time into every living room in the comfortable ‘first world’, the devastation of the atomic bomb, the death camps, made those with a conscience ponder what the world was becoming.

There was a picture, popular in Irish homes, called The Peace Sowers; it showed Good Pope John and President John F. Kennedy walking together in a ploughed field, casting seed; living in the shadow of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the imperative for peace seemed all-important. Yet there were still wars, especially (in the States) against what appeared to be a Communist threat—Korea, and then Vietnam later—which seemed to be going nowhere. They were guided by old men, from the pre-nuclear world who, like Senator McCarthy, destroyed their own arguments by over-stating them. The younger generation was impatient with all the old way of doing things; ‘make love, not war’ seemed a sensible proposition, given where war had got us and what war was now capable of doing.

When Pope John opened his windows to the world to ‘blow off the dust that had accumulated on the throne of Peter since the time of Constantine’, his words found a resonance with the young who wanted a similar revolution in the world. He was pushing at an open door. All the old certainties were to be reviewed and, if found wanting, discarded. At St John’s Seminary at Wonersh, Fr Michael Hollings (then the Catholic chaplain at Oxford University) in 1963 gave the students an electrifying retreat in which he urged them  not simply to follow the seminary rules, but to examine their whole way of life, and if something was in their opinion wrong, then to work to get it changed, because simply going along with the old way of doing things was to collaborate in it, to give passive assent to something that was being perpetuated when it shouldn’t.

And this was the watchword. Throughout the 1950s, the Church had been extraordinarily energetic in her missions and her outlook. Vocations were abundant, especially to the missionary congregations, and these young clergy and religious were the people to be particularly energized by the new ideas.

‘What if,’ a young sister might say, ‘instead of attending Terce, Sext and None, I stayed working in the hospital? Wouldn’t that achieve even more good? Isn’t the Office sung in common actually a hindrance to doing God’s work in the world?’ These long sleeves on my habit could harbour infection. And this wimple makes me a danger when I drive on the roads. And anyway, doesn’t it frighten people off?

I really don’t think that these things were excuses for people wanting a more comfortable life. They were—misguided, in my opinion—attempts to live the Christian life more ‘authentically’ (in the existentialist cant of the day) in the service of our neighbour.

The Second Vatican Council—especially towards the end—seemed to be inclining in this same direction. I have commented before that really there were two councils; one in the Aula of St Peter’s, and the other, (more important, as it turned out) in the bars and restaurants all around St Peter’s, where the periti with their new ideas met journalists. Those journalists were not interested in the documents of the Council which mandated the retention of Latin, for instance: ‘dog bites man’ is never news. They were interested in change and revolution within the Catholic Church, and, fuelled by the speculations of the periti, and deprived of sight of the actual documents until they were published, change and innovation is what they reported in their newspapers. It caused a ferment. And that is what greeted the bishops when they returned to their dioceses; a Church on fire with the prospect of exciting and radical change.

What were the bishops to do? Reach for the fire extinguisher and tell everyone that they had got it wrong? Some tried that, but the majority decided to ride the wave and go for popularity.


Felix said...

"And that is what greeted the bishops when they returned to their dioceses; a Church on fire with the prospect of exciting and radical change.

What were the bishops to do? ... the majority decided to ride the wave and go for popularity."

So they bleated about how good everything was, even as the world fell about their ears.

In short, they lied.

Pastor in Monte said...

A lie is a deliberate untruth—no, I don't think they lied. I think that they wondered if this was really 'what the Spirit was saying to the Church'. If they had a crystal ball and knew where it would lead, then they might have done differently. I hope.
I really mean it about trying charitably to try and understand what was in their minds. These were not malicious people, and until we make a real attempt to understand them, we will never really understand what went wrong.

B flat said...

But as you say yourself, Father, in the 1950's, the missionary spirit in the Church was very strong, the level of commitment among lay people was high.
The flock of Christ had shepherds, who showed themselves to be blind guides in the wave of unreasoned enthusiasm which overwhelmed the western world in the 1960's.
Whatever its pronouncements said on paper, the Vatican Council was seen as the mover of change in the Church, and the bishops neither guided this to fruitful development, nor did anything to prevent wholesale destruction of what had seemed vibrant and sound twenty years before. An example:- The vocations crisis was not a falling away of seminary candidates, but a mass defection of serving clergy in the late 60's and early 70's. I am sure this pained every bishop; but what did they actually do to cure the cause, or even identify it?
I am left with the impression that they tried to fix what was working very well, and so reduced it to a condition that if not irretrievably broken, is certainly malfunctioning up to now.

Pastor in Monte said...

B flat
Yes, you are right. That was precisely the failure. And though the defection of priests and religious was one cause of the vocations crisis, the drying up of recruits was another, and continues to be a problem (though there might be one or two green shoots appearing, please God).

Plus, of course, I have not finished what I want to write about this period, so don't think I have said all I want to say. There is a lot more to come, if I can find enough time.

Pastor in Monte said...

What I mean is that if one is going to apportion blame, let it be a fair judgement, and to make a fair judgement, one must genuinely try to understand all sides of an argument.
That is why I dislike 'yah-boo' disputes intensely. They demean all concerned.

vetusta ecclesia said...

Fr. M.Hollings retreat at Wonersh in 1963 might have been "electrifying" (my late brother was one of the ordinands attending)but Tony Castle's book on the Class of '63 makes one feel that that this zeitgeist was not what they needed.

. said...

I am beginning to think that the failure of various post-Vatican II initiatives (and the way they've been understood, that is, throw off everything and whip out the guitars and the open-toed sandals) is as much an implicit criticism of what we might call the Tridentine Church (or at least, what the Tridentine Church was by c.1965) as it is of either the Vatican Council or the fruits of that Council.

I do not mean by this: the Council of Trent was wrong, nor that the pre-V2 Church was wrong; but that things had... ossified, perhaps. Understandings of how things ere meant to work had been lost, and the increasing Thomism of the Church had brought with it an approach to every aspect which was essentially functionalist.

As an example, in theory the 'loosening' of central control in the Church after V2 should have led to a collegiate structure as in the Orthodox churches, full of strong, traditional... orthodox bishops who fiercely defend the ancient faith on their patch and watch one another for backsliding, too, instead of bishops who send everything to Rome. What we got, needless to say, was... not that.

And I wonder how much of this was because one understanding of episcopacy was given primacy in the pre-V2 Church, to the exclusion of others (which remained theoretically understood, if omitted and increasingly ignored).

But I may be thoroughly 'off-base' here.

Pastor in Monte said...

Not off-base at all, in my view. I incline the same way on those matters.

B. said...

Your theory of good-willed but misguided bishops is nice, but the brutal persecution of priests who continued to say the TLM does not fit that theory.
Priests were being suspended for saying the TLM, I know of one priest who completely lost his pension for the crime of saying the TLM. He had to work in a secular job until his death to make his living.

Furthermore, almost the entire episcopate was replaced shortly after Vatican II, due to the introduction of the age limits. Other Pius XII bishops were forced to retire even in their 50s and 60s, if they declined to destroy their diocese.

Pastor in Monte said...

But uniformity was absolutely the order of the day, and had been for fifty years beforehand.

. said...

Indeed, absolute uniformity and a swift and decisive repression of anyone who strays off the Roman Way was one of the more distinctive marks of the Tridentine Era, at least by the end.

cf: the Freemason panic and the modernism panic.

This is why the SSPX can only be understood as a post-Vatican II phenomenon.

Anagnostis said...

...or, the party line changed, but the former authoritarian instincts and reflexes remained unaffected (resulting in the worst of both worlds).

Nice job, Father - keep'em coming.

Pastor in Monte said...

vetusta ecclesia:
I am stunned that I had never heard of Tony Castle's book: given that I have just finished a book on St John's Seminary myself, and, I thought, exhaustively researched for it, I am simply amazed that I never encountered the book, nor did anyone ever mention it to me!
I have just ordered myself a copy, and shall be sure to be sitting down when I read it.
Thank you for the information.

Ttony said...

Father, it might be worth exploring (in a footnote if this ever becomes the three volume blockbuster is surely deserves to be) the activities of Benelux, French, German and Italian Bishops in the light of their experiences in WWII. Here was a group of people who one might think were looking for something positive to rub out something very negative in their recent past.

John Lamont said...

Give me a break. The historical records available for study of the Council are enormous. They include the published journals of key figures such as Chenu, Congar and de Lubac, and the papers of a great many influential figures on the progressive wing are preserved in the Centre for the Study of the Second Vatican Council at Leuven. These records make it clear that the leaders of the progresive majority at the Council rejected Catholic dogmas on the Church, the eucharist, revelation, biblical inspiration, and other issues. As for a lack of malice; this malice was clearly present during the Council in the propaganda mounted by these leaders against those who opposed them. The malice they showed after the Council in pursuit of their ends is well known. Father, if you have even a basic knowledge of the events of the Council and afterward, I can only say that your attempt to deny the existence of bad faith and malice among the leadership of the progressive faction in the Church is corrupt and unprincipled.