The War of the Two Councils: The True and the False
In the farewell address to the priests of Rome, the startling accusation of Benedict XVI against the political interpretation of Vatican II made by the media, during the assembly and afterward
by Sandro Magister
ROME, February 15, 3103 – To the priests of his diocese, with whom he met yesterday for the last time before leaving, Benedict XVI wanted to deliver “a little chat on Vatican Council II, as I have seen it.”
In reality, the “little chat” lasted for almost 40 minutes, with the audience very much attentive throughout.
Joseph Ratzinger spoke off the cuff, without ever looking at any notes.
He proceeded according to major chapter divisions, each of them dedicated to the main questions faced one after another by the Council: the liturgy, the Church, revelation, ecumenism, religious freedom, the relationship with Judaism and the other religions.
For each of these themes he said what was at stake and recounted how the conciliar fathers addressed it. With passages of great interest on the concept of the People of God and on the relationship between Scripture and Tradition.
But to everything he added an introduction and a conclusion that particularly impressed those present.
Benedict XVI began with an anecdote, telling about when Cardinal Frings had invited him, a young theologian, to write him an outline for a conference that he would have to give in Genoa, at the request of Cardinal Siri, on the topic of “the Council and modern thought.”
The outline pleased the cardinal, who read it just as the young Ratzinger had written it for him. But the best part came afterward:
“A little while later Pope John called Frings, and he was full of trepidation that he may have said something incorrect, something false, and that he had been called upon for a rebuke, perhaps even to have the scarlet taken away. . . . Yes, when his secretary was dressing him for the audience with the pope he said: ‘Perhaps now I am wearing this robe for the last time.’ Then he went in. Pope John came to meet him, embraced him and said: ‘Thank you, Your Eminence, you have said the things that I wanted to say, but could not find the words.’ In this way the cardinal knew that he was on the right path, and he invited me to go with him to the Council, first as his personal expert and then also as an official peritus.”
Benedict XVI then continued:
“We went to the Council not only with joy, but with enthusiasm. The anticipation was incredible. We were hoping that everything would be renewed, that a new Pentecost would come, a new era of the Church, because the Church was still robust enough at that time, but it seemed more a reality of the past than of the future. And so we were hoping that this would change, that the Church would once again be strength for tomorrow and strength for today.”
The negative model – the pope recalled – was considered to be the Roman Synod, “where it is said that texts would be read in the assembly that had already been prepared, which the members of the Synod would simply approve.” At the Council the bishops did not want to do this, in that they themselves were the subjects, and “the first moment in which this attitude was demonstrated was immediately on the first day.”
Scheduled for this first day were the elections of the commissions, according to lists compiled in advance. The fathers refused, they wanted to get to know each other a bit first, and then prepare new lists themselves. This is what happened. And this “was not a revolutionary act, but an act of conscience, of responsibility on the part of the conciliar fathers.”
In this way – the pope recalled – there began an intense activity of mutual understanding. And this became normal for the whole period of the Council. “In this way it was able to get to know great figures like Fathers de Lubac, Daniélou, Congar. It was an experience of the universality of the Church, which does not simply receive imperatives from on high but grows and moves forward together, always under the guidance, naturally, of the successor of Peter.”
Among the bishops of the whole world, those who had the most definite intentions from the start were the episcopates of France, Germany, Belgium, Holland, what was called the “Rhenish alliance.” In the first part of the Council “they were therefore the ones who pointed out the way, but the activity was quickly widened and everyone participated more and more in the creativity of the assembly.”
At the conclusion of the conversation, Benedict XVI instead subjected to criticism the relationship that has been established between the “true Council” and the “Council of the media,” between the real Council and the virtual one.
Here it is best to consult the literal and complete transcription of his words:
“I would now like to add another point: there was the Council of the fathers – the true Council – but there was also the Council of the media. It was almost a Council unto itself, and the world perceived the Council through these, through the media.
“Therefore the Council that immediately and efficiently arrived to the people was that of the media, not that of the fathers. And while the Council of the fathers was realized within the faith, and was a Council of the faith that seeks ‘intellectus,’ that seeks to understand itself and seeks to understand the signs of God at that moment, that seeks to respond to the challenge of God at that moment and to find in the word of God the word for today and tomorrow, while the whole Council – as I have said – was moving within the faith, as ”fides quaerens intellectum,’ the Council of the journalists was not realized, naturally, within the faith, but within the categories of today’s media, meaning outside of the faith, with a different hermeneutic.
“It was a political hermeneutic. For the media, the Council was a political struggle, a power struggle between different currents in the Church. It was obvious that the media were taking sides with that part which seemed to them to have the most in common with their world. There were those who were seeking the decentralization of the Church, power for the bishops and then, through the expression “people of God,” the power of the people, of the laity. There was this threefold question: the power of the pope, then transferred to the power of the bishops and to the power of all, popular sovereignty. Naturally, for them this was the side to approve of, to promulgate, to favor.
“And so also for the liturgy: the liturgy was not of interest as an act of faith, but as a matter where understandable things are done, a matter of community activity, a profane matter. And we know that there was a tendency, that was also founded historically, to say: sacrality is a pagan thing, perhaps even in the Old Testament, but in the New all that matters is that Christ died outside: that is, outside of the gates, meaning in the profane world. A sacrality therefore to be brought to an end, profanity of worship as well: worship is not worship but an act of the whole, of common participation, and thus also participation as activity.
“These translations, trivializations of the idea of the Council were virulent in the praxis of the application of liturgical reform; they were born in a vision of the Council outside of its proper key, that of faith. And thus also in the question of Scripture: Scripture is a book, historical, to be treated historically and nothing else, and so on.
“We know how this Council of the media was accessible to all. Therefore, this was the dominant, more efficient one, and has created so much calamity, so many problems, really so much misery: seminaries closed, convents closed, liturgy trivialized. . . . And the true Council had difficulty in becoming concrete, in realizing itself; the virtual Council was stronger than the real Council.
“But the real power of the Council was present and, little by little, is realizing itself more and more and becomes the true power that then is also true reform, true renewal of the Church. It seems to me that, fifty years after the Council, we see how this virtual Council is breaking up, is becoming lost, and the true Council is appearing with all of its spiritual power. And it is our task, precisely in this Year of Faith, beginning from this Year of Faith, to work in order that the true Council, with its power of the Holy Spirit, may be realized and that the Church may really be renewed. Let us hope that the Lord may help us. I, retired with my prayer, will always be with you, and together we will go forward with the Lord. In the certainty: the Lord triumphs!”
The complete conversation of Benedict XVI with the priests of Rome, February 14, 2013:
The article from http://www.chiesa with the statements of Benedict XVI during the days of the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of Vatican II and with a commentary by Pietro De Marco on the “external paradigm,” meaning on the action of the media that influenced the understanding and perception of the Council:
> The Five “Conciliar” Days of the Pope (12.10.2012)
On the young theologian Joseph Ratzinger engaged as a peritus in Vatican Council II, a well-documented book has been in bookstores for a few days:
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.