What Was Wrong with Vatican II:
My God, My God, What Did the Council Do?
Fr. Charles Fiore
Book-review on In the Murky Waters of Vatican II by Atila Sinke Guimarães
More on this book
The first thing one must understand about this stunning book by Guimarães is that it is not a screed against Vatican II, nor a polemic penned by an admitted traditionalist to discredit the Council. It is something far different, far more important and, on balance, far more valuable for sincere Roman Catholics still trying to make sense of the remains of the pre-Conciliar Church some thirty-five years after Vatican II than a simple analysis or critique might provide.
What the author, a Brazilian and member of the late Professor Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira’s Society for The Defense of Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) has done is exhaustively to compile eleven (!) volumes of documentation – titled with the words of Jesus’ lament to the Father from the Cross, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mt. 27: 47) – citing not only the conciliar documents themselves, but the writings and speeches of various fathers of the Council, its periti or experts, its pre- and post-factum analysts who, in their own words, explain what the Council set out to do and how.
Guimarães’ “point of view,” if he can be said to have one, is simply to allow the Council documents and the personages who prepared and wrote them, and those who added their “authoritative’’ interpretations once it had ended, to speak for themselves! Res et periti loquuntur – the facts and the experts speak for themselves. This is a monumental work of research, and an inspired, positive stroke of genius!
But it is not a happy picture. And it casts grave doubt on the bons fides of many of the members, and some of the major conclusions of the Council. In a word, the authors of the major conciliar documents began by calling the council’s work “pastoral” – i.e. , not a revision of the dogmatic teachings of the Church – but once the Council had ended, they openly called its results “dogmatic.” Then they quite boldly affirmed that a systematic undoing of the Church’s magisterial teachings not only had been their original intent, but was, in fact, Vatican II’s accomplishment!
For example, here are the words of French Dominican theologian, Christian Duquoc, professor of theology at Lyon and board member of the prestigious French journals Lumiere et Vie and Concilium, regarding the role of Lumen Gentium, the Council’s “Dogmatic (sic) Constitution on the Church”: “The Constitution Lumen Gentium subverting the relationship between the hierarchy and the people, bears a good witness to this need for a rupture with the model born out of the Counter-Reformation, in which the people was practically nothing and the hierarchy made decisions unsupervised” (1).
Or witness the ever so disingenuous words of Paul VI himself, after his ratification of the handiwork of the second session of the Council and its residue (including Bugnini’s Novus Ordo Missae) and a few months after his delayed and hugely controverted promulgation of Humanae Vitae, regarding the manifest doctrinal and pastoral mutiny taking place on his watch: “Today the Church is going through a moment of disquiet. Some practice self-criticism, one would even say auto-demolition. It is like an inner, acute and complex disturbance such as no one could have expected after the Council...” (2)
And how did the Council “subvert,” and instigate the “auto-demolition” of the Church’s Magisterium that seems to have taken Paul VI – who was present for all of it as Cardinal and Pope – by surprise? That is the centerpiece of In the Murky Waters of Vatican II, the essential, conclusive distillate of Guimarães’ work.
In a word, the “fathers” of the Council and their collaborators deliberately chose to conceal the lack of conformity of key Council documents with the Magisterium by means of their ambiguity: i. e., by use of language that is philosophically inexact, by appeals to the “findings of modern and contemporary social sciences” and to synchronicity with “the modern world,” that provided camouflage for attempts “to achieve (surface) unanimity” (what John XXIII in his opening speech to the Council’s first session called its “pastoral” intent), but positively to “prepare the future” of the Church (what Yves Congar, a Dominican peritus and “authoritative” post-conciliar spokesman in an interview with the author (Feb., 1983) chose to call “progressivist,” and which Guimarães rightly calls “modernist,” after the heresy condemned by Pope St. Pius X in Pascendi and Lamentabili at this century’s start).
In this respect Guimarães is far more candid than Cardinal Ratzinger, present at the Council as a theologian, and now advisor to John Paul II as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who in his recent book, The Salt of the Earth (Ignatius), still professes not to know where the Catholic Church of the twenty-first century is going!
Guimarães’ method is inductive rather than deductive. He examines the key concepts of the conciliar documents – the Church as mystery, as Spouse, as People of God, as Sinning Church, the concept of pastoral, world, man, history, evolution, etc. – “trying to analyze them and draw from each...all that is implicit in (them)…”showing how these concepts brought the Council into a “dialectical game ... eliciting a series of psychological reactions, sympathy and connivance that turn the one who dialogs into the victim… who goes through the process [and] ends up by ... adhering to Hegelian dialectics ... even acquiring a propensity to accept the socialist and communist ideas that he once fought.” The outcome of such dialectical dialog is accommodation, something akin to the “Stockholm syndrome” whereby hostages begin to react sympathetically to the views of their keepers.
At the Council, Guimarães’ evidence shows, it was the “progressivist” (i.e., the previously condemned modernist) tendencies that surfaced in considerations, e. g., of the “mystery” of the Church, of the Church as “spouse,” and the levelizing democratization (i.e., non hierarchical) concept of the Church as “people of God.” Moreover, the concept of the Church as “sinning” is a reflection of “Protestant kenosis, which in turn ends up in the theology of (Nietzsche’s) the death of God; and “pastoral” leads to existentialism, etc.” (pp. 40-42). The second arm of Guimarães’ method is synthetic, a “studying (of) the thinking of the principal theologians who idealized and applied [the principles of] the Council, and... trying to determine their system of thinking: its substructure, methods and goals.”
So, he interviewed the Conciliar authors and “other personalities now highly placed in the theological world,” thus “enabling himself to clarify various points of their thinking, learn some details about the history of their actions in the Council, and collect a select bibliography... [thus] saving us years of study, giving us the advantage of a navigator who possesses a precise map, as opposed to one who sails at random” (p. 42).
Chapters I through VI are a detailed examination of the “ambiguity” Guimarães finds in the Council texts, the reasons for it, authoritative testimonies concerning the ambiguity of the language of the Council and the strategies that led to it, the post-Conciliar attempts of “progressivists” (modernists) to draw “even more radical consequences from it,” and – especially valuable and fascinating – ambiguity as the “fruit of the clash between two opposing ... concepts of the Church.”
The remaining chapters constitute some of the finest analysis of Vatican II’s ethos, its rationales and theological consequences I have seen – far surpassing in scope and clarity countless articles in the journals and popular press that never address the obvious “forest” amid the trees: the radical departure of the Second Vatican Council from the tradition that preceded and, indeed, should have anchored it.
For example, chapter VII explains the “doctrine” that underlies the ambiguity, i.e., that a “hesitating” theology is normal, that the Church is part of evolution, and so is semper reformanda - always in need of reform.
Chapter VIII throws a harsh spotlight on some of the, glaring omissions – “tendentious,” the author calls them – such as the Council’s failure to speak on the perpetual Virginity of Mary, on Original, Sin and the Existence of Hell, its failure to distinguish adequately between the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant, to speak of the Roman character of the Church and the role and survival of the Western Patriarchates. Similarly, how the Council failed to deal with the encroachments of Freudianism on morals.
Against the backdrop of John Paul Il’s ongoing travels and his constant ecumenical outreaches, chapter IX deals with the Council’s ambiguity that has brought about concessions to other religions and the modern world, particularly in the liturgy of the Mass and in the priestly role of the faithful.
Chapter X ties together certain loose threads such as the scandalous lack of unity in the Church, the anger of devotees of the Council (the arditi – literally the “ardent” or the “hotheads”) towards conservatives and the slowness of “reform,” (3) crises in the ranks of the clergy, the abandonment of ministry by many priests, and controversies about celibacy, married priests, and the supposed “shortage” of vocations. Here too, Guimarães addresses priestly concubinage, alcoholism and homosexuality/pedophilia (the Appendix – an “Overview of the Catholic Church and homosexuality” – is itself worth the price of the book).
Finally he writes about the “Crisis of Religious Orders” (using the Jesuits as a paradigm) and of Women Religious, and the “Crisis of Faith Among the Faithful.”
Obviously I admire this book – both for the strength of its scholarship and its conclusions, which are the best explanation I have yet seen of what the Council did. But one need not even buy all of the author’s conclusions (I happen to, and would have further exemplified and clarified some ... a task I hope someone still will undertake), to acknowledge that this young Brazilian has answered the question so often felt but usually left unsaid, “My God, my God, What did the Council do? Why this confusion, why this perceptible rot? What has happened to our Faith and our Church?”
A book such as In the Murky Waters of Vatican II may be tough sledding for some, but all can profit from it.
It already is anathema to the enthusiasts who continue to rock their hobby-horses (Call to Action, Common Ground), who love the illusion of movement but who - like one of their own, Fr. David Crosby, OFM. - recently admitted with reference to the disastrous We Are Church initiative, that, after all these years, their radical hobby-horses are going nowhere (even though some modernist bishops and bureaucrats will have to have their dead hands pried from the reins of authority).
But this book is a shaft of light in the gathering storm, eminently worth the effort, and should serve as a standard reference on Vatican II for years to come.
In fact, I suggest you buy three copies; one for yourself, one for a seminarian, pastor or religious, and one for your bishop.
Even if your gift occasions massive denial on their parts, it will heap “coals of doubt” on their ignorance or triumphalistic self-assurance, as the case may be. And I say that with all love and due respect!
1. “Il popolo di Dio, soggetto attivo della fede nella chiesa,” in Concilum, 1985/ 4, pp. 102-4.
2. Allocution to the Students of the Lombard Seminary, December 7, 1968.
3. Nota bene, Rembert Weakland, John Ouinn, Matthew Clark, Call to Action, Common Grounders et al.
In the Murky Waters of Vatican II
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