Bologna Speaks: Tradition Is Also Made of “Ruptures”

A Bolognese disciple of Fr. Dossetti, the historian Enrico Morini, joins the dispute. With a surprising analysis that might please the traditionalists more than the innovators. In a POSTSCRIPT the replies of Arzillo e Cavalcoli

by Sandro Magister

ROME, June 21, 2011 – In the grand dispute that has been reignited over how to interpret the changes of the magisterium in history, with special attention to the turning point of Vatican Council II, the enthusiastic proponents of the “rupture” have been silent until now.

Their thesis is that the Council, in its intention to return to the “origins,” broke with important elements of the tradition of the Church in the second millennium, in particular with the Western model of Church and papacy produced by the Council of Trent and before that by the Gregorian reform of the eleventh century.

The contribution published further below breaks their silence and dives right into this rereading of history.

Its author is Professor Enrico Morini, an historian who teaches at the University of Bologna, the city that gave its name to the “school” that represents the most advanced point, in the progressive vein, of the interpretation of Vatican Council II as “rupture” with respect to part of tradition.

Morini is a disciple of the monk Giuseppe Dossetti (1913-1996), the founder of this “school” known throughout the world, above all for his monumental history of Vatican II translated into various languages, in addition to having been an influential figure of the Council itself.

But he does not repeat all of his ideas wholesale. On the contrary, his interpretation of the transformation of Vatican Council II will in places displease the “Bolognese” and the progressives in general. For example, where he endorses the restoration of the Mass in the ancient Roman rite promoted by Benedict XVI.

At the same time, however, Morini will also displease many traditionalists. For example, where he writes and explains how the new missal is much more in keeping than the old with the grand liturgical tradition of the Church.

His whole contribution is of interest, for the originality and incisiveness of the analysis and for its particular attention to relations between East and West, as well as the clarity of the writing.

Professor Morini, 64, is a specialist in Eastern Christianity. He teaches the history of the Orthodox Church at the state university of Bologna and in the theological faculty of Emilia Romagna. He is a deacon, and heads the commission for ecumenism of the archdiocese of Bologna.

One of his books, published by Mulino in 2002, was reviewed at the time by http://www.chiesa:

> L’oriente dell’occidente. Un libro d’oro sull’ortodossia

In the photo at the top, the embrace in Jerusalem, in 1964, between Paul VI and the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, Athenagoras.



by Enrico Morini

Dear Sandro Magister,

I am venturing to participate in the lively debate on the hermeneutic of Vatican Council II. One thing that has encouraged me to do so is the fact that this debate has recently taken on a connotation linked to my city and my Church, in that it involves both indirectly the “school of Bologna” – represented by the deceased Giuseppe Alberigo and by Alberto Melloni, proponents of the thesis of “rupture” – and directly Fr. Giovanni Cavalcoli, O.P., also of Bologna, who, in his defense of “continuity,” seems to distance himself from a moderate position – which Archbishop Agostino Marchetto recently restated in Bologna – hoping for an alliance with the “continuist traditionalist adversaries” (like Roberto de Mattei) to contrast the “neo-modernism of the anti-continuists.”

I have no special credentials to enter into this fiery debate: I am not  at theologian, nor do I have the desire to assume the role of one. By vocation, rather, I am an historian. I also add that, although I am Bolognese – by birth, education, residence, profession – and of fervent “Dossettian faith” – Fr. Giuseppe Dossetti was my spiritual father and my religious point of reference – I have no connection, scholarly or academic, to the “Bolognese school” of Alberigo.

Having said this, I am ready to express to you my reflections in regard to the hermeneutic of the Council. So then, rupture or continuity? With respect to what – perhaps the Catholic tradition? I wonder whether tradition, even within the Church itself, is a univocal reality or if it is not instead a plurality of traditions in its more than millennial history. Now, in my personal but convinced hermeneutic of Vatican II, the Council was at the same time, intentionally, both continuity and rupture.

Above all, this was founded, in my view, in the intent of both its blessed promoter John XXIII and the Fathers who constituted the “conciliar majority,” on the perspective of the most absolute continuity with the tradition of the first millennium, according to a periodization that is not purely mathematical but essential, the first millennium of Church history being that of the as yet undivided Church of the seven Councils. The desired aggiornamento was aimed precisely at this recovery, at this return to an age that was certainly turbulent, but happy, because it was nourished by reciprocal communion among the Churches. Note carefully that this does not mean the recovery – as, unfortunately, many have understood it – of an “ecclesiae primitivae forma,” which is a pure abstraction, an historiographical myth of extremely nebulous outlines that is thus unsuited to found, or refound, an ecclesial praxis, and perhaps precisely because of this has become a tenuous model for many heresies and, still today, for various ecclesiological heterodoxies.

The ecclesial theory and praxis of the first millennium are, instead, anything but an abstraction and a myth, documented as they are by the writings of the Fathers and by the deliberations of the first Councils. It is very significant that the announcement of Vatican II was perceived in the beginning, in some sectors – including no less than the great Athenagoras, who also fell into what has been called an “ecumenical misunderstanding” – as expressly intended for the recomposition of unity among Christians: in essence, a Council of union. More significant still – even beyond the highly symbolic value of the gesture – is that the Council concluded its work, on December 7, 1965, with the epochal removal “from the memory and from the midst of the Church” of the reciprocal excommunications issued in 1054 between the patriarch of Constantinople and the Roman legates (the extraordinary ecclesiological value of this event was presented masterfully by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in an article in the magazine “Istina” in 1975).

This recovery, on the part of the Catholic Church, of the tradition of the first millennium implicitly involved a de facto rupture – I apologize for the excessive schematization – with the Catholic tradition of the second millennium. It is not true, in my view, that there are no ruptures in the tradition of the Church. There was one interruption, precisely at the passage from the first to the second millennium, with the transition imparted by the “Lorraine-Alsace” reformers (like Pope Leo IX, as also two of the three legates in Constantinople in the aforementioned 1054, Cardinal Umberto and Stefano di Lorena, a future pope) and by the “Gregorian” reform, and then by an eminently philosophical approach to theological truths and by the overwhelming interest in canon law (already lamented by Dante Alighieri), at the expense of Scripture and the Fathers, at the height of the Middle Ages. Not to mention the Tridentine reform, with the rigid dogmatization – even going beyond the presuppositions of the medieval Church – as well as the “confiscation” of Scripture from the ordinary faithful, up to the apotheosis of the pontifical “monarchy” in Vatican I, relegating even further to the background the profile of the undivided Church of the first millennium. This should not come as a surprise: precisely because the Church is a living organism, its tradition is subject to evolution, but also to involutions.

That this return was truly the deepest intention of Vatican II can be grasped from a couple of examples. The most immediate is situated in the ecclesiological field, where the teaching of the Council in regard to episcopal collegiality is unmistakable. Now precisely the collegiality of bishops is a feature proper to the ecclesiology of the first millennium, also in the West, where it was perfectly conjoined with Roman primacy. It is indicative how in the first millennium, all the Roman dogmatic pronouncements that the papal legates brought to the ecumenical Councils in the East – relative to the questions debated in them – were preceded by a synodal pronouncement of all the bishops leading to the super-episcopal jurisdiction of Rome. Now if it is true that the greatest enemy of the Council was the post-council – with the rushing forward of some pastors of souls and groups of faithful who in the name of the “spirit of the Council” have introduced some subversive practices precisely in regard to the tradition of the undivided Church, or at least are insistently calling for their introduction – it seems that I can affirm that precisely the opposite has happened in ecclesiology: the applicative norms have been gravely reductive with respect to the conciliar deliberation, in that the purely consultative character attributed to the synod of bishops does not fully draw the appropriate consequences from the teaching of Vatican II on episcopal collegiality. And then – staying in the area of Church structure – was not the restoration of the diaconate as a permanent level of sacred orders also a recovery of the tradition of the first millennium?

The second area, in which the continuity of conciliar reform with the first millennium is even more evident – in that it is perceptible to all – is that of the liturgy, even if paradoxically this is a favorite subject used by the critics of Vatican II to accuse the Council of rupture with tradition. The hermeneutic criterion that I accept permits me to affirm exactly the contrary, always on the basis of the postulate of a diachronic plurality of traditions. In this case as well, there has been an evident rupture with the pre-conciliar liturgy – which is commonly known to have been, in a series of interventions, a Tridentine creation – but precisely for the sake of recovering the grand tradition of the first millennium, that of the undivided Church. Perhaps we are not fully aware that the incriminated new missal contains the fantastic recuperation of prayers taken from the most ancient sacramentaries – dating back precisely to the first millennium – the Leonine, the Gelasian, and the Gregorian, as well as, for Advent, from the eucological patrimony of the ancient Scroll of Ravenna, treasures that for the most part remained outside of the Tridentine missal. The same goes for the recovery, in the context of an appropriate plurality of Eucharistic prayers, of the ancient anaphora of Hippolytus and of others taken from the Hispanic tradition. In this sense, the “conciliar” missal is much more “traditional” than the previous one.

I write this, posing to you as a corollary two observations which perhaps will not be shared by the “progressives.” The first is that, if we look at the current state of the “ordinary” rite of the Roman Church, precisely this continuity with the tradition of the first millennium, implicit in the conciliar reform, was partially obfuscated by quite different developments in the post-council: on the one hand, at the foundation level, the misunderstanding was produced that the Council promoted a disordered liturgical spontaneity, and on the other, it was preceded, on the part of the competent authority, by the promulgation of texts created for the occasion – relative to new anaphoras and new collects – that were visibly foreign, in a disastrously present-day language of modern existentialism, to the eucological style of the first millennium, profoundly inspired by the thought and terminology of the Fathers.

The second observation is that the motu proprio “Summorum Pontificum” – which, as is known, authorizes the practice of the Tridentine missal as an “extraordinary” rite – a document considered by many as involutive with respect to the Council, instead has for me the unquestioned value of reestablishing in the Latin Church the liturgical pluralism proper, once again, to the first millennium. Even if this is a ritual plurality distinguished by the variable of time, and not by that of geographical space, it has the value of introducing into the Catholic Church as well – in a peaceful and painless way – that “old-ritualistic” presence which is a patrimony, although acquired in a violent and traumatic way, of the Orthodox tradition.

I feel instead that I share, with the “Bolognese school,” the possibility, or rather the fittingness, of an “accretive” interpretation of the council, consistent with its inspiring principles (the expression is from Alberto Melloni), which permits, or rather suggests, that the supreme magisterium now make decisions that Vatican II, in the historical climate of the moment, could not take into consideration. This inspiring principle – in what I maintain to be the correct hermeneutic of the council – is precisely the resumption of the tradition of the first millennium, as Cardinal Ratzinger implicitly emphasized when he wrote – in a passage that the current pontiff has never explicitly contradicted – that the Orthodox, in the physiognomy of a Church finally reunified, must not be required to believe anything more than they did during the first millennium of communion.

So it is absolutely not in the “spirit of the Council” to introduce into the Church reckless innovations, in doctrine and in the area of theology, like female priesthood or aberrant developments in ethics and bioethics. It would instead be perfectly in the “spirit of the Council” – again for the sake of example – to eliminate from the “Credo” the unilateral, unjustified, and offensive addition of the “Filioque” (without thereby implying a negation of the traditional doctrine of the Latin Fathers – who were also of the first millennium – on the procession of the Holy Spirit also from the Son, as from a single principle with the Father). This ill-fated addition represents the most evident fruit, highly pregnant with symbolism, of that process of theological and cultural Franco-Germanization of the Roman Church – begun by the Francophile popes of the end of the first millennium and by the Germanic ones of the beginning of the second – denounced in terms that were certainly exaggerated, but not entirely unfounded, by the deceased conservative Greek theologian Ioannis Romanidis. And instead not only does the addition remain, but it has been reiterated even in texts of “postconciliar” composition, and on top of that – it seems to me – it is still shamefully imposed on a beautiful and flourishing Eastern Church united with Rome, the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church.

In short, to conclude with a summary formula these personal observations of mine, in promoting the renewal of the Church the Council did not intend to introduce something new – as progressives and conservatives respectively desire and fear – but to return to what had been lost.

Thankful for the attention,

Enrico Morini

Bologna, June 13, 2011

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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