The Second Vatican Council: A History Never Written

The Second Vatican Council:
A History
Never Written

This is certainly what many a traditionalist thinks about this major Church event of the 20th century. The real history of the Council needs to be written-up right! Well, this in fact is the title of a non-traditional professor, Roberto de Mattei, offering a distinct viewpoint from what the Bologna school has offered since then.

Here, he is referring to the encyclopedic work of Joseph Alberigo, Storia del Concilio Vaticano II (five volumes finished in 2001). So now, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Council, we have a second historical study (also in Italian, Il Concilio Vaticano II, una storia mai scritta).[1] Besides this most recent work, we may surmise some of the most important studies made lately on the same topic as follows:

A rather philosophical and theological approach, given by Romano Amerio inIota Unum, upholds the thesis of discontinuity of Vatican II from previous Church teachings. This thesis corroborates various ‘traditionalist’ voices although they do not all agree on particulars.

The historical approach of Alberigo is clearly leaning towards the ‘hermeneutic of discontinuity.’ The author stresses the dimension of ‘event’ over that of ‘doctrine’ on the basis that the Council was convoked without a purpose, rejecting all previous documents, acting democratically, under intensive media coverage. Hence, he stresses more the development of the assembly and the reception by the faithful. The ‘historical practice’ becomes a locus theologicus, and truth follows history according to the New Theology of de Lubac who, in this, was preceded by the Modernists (see 100 Years of Modernism for more).

Another theological approach was made by the hierarchy, Pope John Paul II and especially Benedict XVI (December 22, 2005). The popes clearly state that the conciliar texts express the non-infallible but authentic magisterium, in continuity with the previous magisterium “in the light of Tradition.”

The most recent theological studies come from Msgr. Gherardini, in several volumes,After having tried for decades to defend the Council in one of the most prestigious Roman universities, the author found out that, on certain points, it was impossible to do it, and had the intellectual honesty to make his retractations.

It is interesting to notice that none of these writers, De Mattei included, are connected with a ‘fundamentalist mentality” attributed to traditionalists, particularly those who associate themselves with the SSPX. De Mattei, for one, considers this historical re-setting necessary for multiple reasons, of which we wish to choose two simple ones:

Never before has any Church Council used aggiornamento – modernization – as its leitmotiv. Instead of getting the world to change in order to meet the Church, it was sure to bring about the change of the Church in order to meet the times. It is the reverse of the axiom of Cardinal Aegidius of Viterbo (Opening of Lateran V Council, 1512): “Homines per sacra immutari fas est, non sacra per homines” – “it is necessary to change men by the sacred laws, and not to change the sacred laws by men.”

Whereas many supporters of the hermeneutic of continuity tend to separate the Conciliar “event” from the post-Council, and to isolate this last as if some pathology had developed on a healthy body. Yet, Vatican II did not finish with the last session but was intimately knit with its application and historical reception. In other words, the post-Council is the consequent offspring of the Council.

Few of our readers will be surprised that de Mattei was fiercely attacked from both the modernist and the conservative wings, since both sides have constantly worked under the assumption that the Council is untouchable. The author, however, based on the examination of historical facts which happened in the course of the Council and in its posterior application, reaches the unavoidable conclusion that it is subject to critique.


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2 comments on “The Second Vatican Council: A History Never Written

  1. And somewhere in northwest Ohio, there’s a supposed “trad” who still claims VC II is infallible.

  2. Perfect spot for the apocryphal gibe I came across about Cd. Spellman, returning from the first session of V II, being asked his opinion of Papa Roncalli. To which, legend has it, the Archbishop of NYC stated:

    “He’s no pope! He should be selling bananas!”

    ( And, somewhere in NW Ohio, there’s just been a purchase made of industrial strength Depends. )

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