Publisher: La Fontana di Siloe
Now available in bookstores is Stefano Fontana’s book entitled “The Council Restored to the Church: Ten Questions about Vatican II” (Edizioni La Fontana di Siloe, Torino 2013, pp. 192, € 18,00 – www.lafontanadisiloe.it). Published for your reading is the Preface to the book by Archbishop Giampaolo Crepaldi, Bishop of Trieste and President of our Observatory.
The correct hermeneutics of Vatican II and new evangelization
Many are the voices circulating about Vatican II, perhaps all too many, and some of them are unusual to say the least. And yet dealing with Vatican Council II is of fundamental importance. Useful for this reason are books that help us understand and mature a fully ecclesial vision of the Council. This book falls into this category. It does not present the position of theological and ecclesial parties, and strives to put everything in its place and depict a complete picture of the Council ‘issue’ useful for the Church.
Vatican Council II is not a super-dogma and falls within the mainstream of the tradition of the Church. This is the reason why, far from being set aside, it has to be enhanced and implemented. In order to enhance and implement it, however, it is necessary to understand it for what it was. Understanding it for what it was does not mean to diminish or lessen it, but rather situate it at its own level within the life of the Church and enhance it. In order to enhance it we must scrape the surface clean of the worldly interpretations that have appropriated themselves of the Council, deforming it. In this way the Council is restored to itself and to the Church.
Benedict XVI gave us some initial indications about how to proceed in order to interpret the Council correctly, and in so doing recognized how necessary it is to continue speaking about it. I say continue because the hermeneutics of Vatican II began with Vatican II itself, continued up to the current pontificate, and will continue. There are examples of erroneous hermeneutics, which have to be abandoned. There are correct pathways of interpretation that are to be travelled. Everyone has to do their part, and up to the Holy Father is the last word.
This book adopts the viewpoint not of a specialist, but a ‘man in the pew’, a “simple and faithful believer of the Catholic Church”. This is a curious, interesting and new perspective. I also believe it bespeaks an ecclesial significance: many are those who pontificate about Vatican II, while few are those docile to the Magisterium and to the Church. All too many people follow ‘their’ Vatican II. The frank questions asked by the hypothetical “man in the pew” to whom the author loaned his own viewpoint, as well as the answers that are the outcome of patient and participatory investigation, are animated by the desire to comprehend what Vatican II represents in the Church and for the Church. Scholars often wax Byzantine, while simple folk go to the meat of the matter and are often those who are subject in their own life of faith to the consequences of changes, experiments, and forms of pastoralism and progressivism. Not having donned the eyeglasses of an intellectual, but the gaze of a simple believer has permitted the author to deploy Christian common sense, which is often wiser than specialists.
It has also enabled him to ask blunt and decisive questions, and, something all the more difficult, give clear answers. Nowadays many are those who ask questions, but few those who give answers. Our “man in the pew” shoulders “the burden of response”. Readers know they will find an answer at the end of each of the ten questions posed, and this is already a good reason for not putting the book down. This does not mean the answers claim to be absolutely complete and final. Our “man in the pew” naturally knows he isn’t the Supreme Authority of the Church. He does know, however, that fashionable theologians aren’t that authority either, and hence has no reverential fears about saying what he thinks. Guiding him is docility to the teachings of the Church.
A bishop like me now writing these words and living pastoral problems on the inside will not be able to deny the truthfulness of many observations offered to readers in the book and taken from personal and daily life; not history, but the concrete narration of life. And yet they convey attitudes and facts both before and after the Council, which all of us noted and continue to note, albeit in what by now has become a distracted and inured manner. I concur with the author’s idea that nowadays there is a sort of a priori that continued to take form after the Council, which many Catholics take for granted and to which people closely abide in what I would call a dogmatic manner. There is a way of speaking, taking position and relating within the Church which by now gives no rise to problematic issues; a sort of pastoral conformism often vacuous and sterile. The very word ‘Council’ is part of this conformism, and expressions like “as the Council said” betray more of a proceeding by inertia around one’s personal convictions than true fidelity to the Council. Perhaps the book’s most enjoyable pages are to be found in the chapters where the “man in the pew” speaks about things he has lived: an anonymous adolescent in a parish during the last days of the pre-Council age, a young man involved in and disturbed by post-conciliar protests, a father dealing with the education of his children at a time when, as he says, “there was no longer any trust” in terms of doctrine.
If these are the more savory chapters, others are more constructive ones. The author takes the hermeneutics of the reform in continuity indicated by Benedict XVI quite seriously, and puts it to a concrete litmus test when asking himself, for example, if Dignitatis humanae cancelled the Sillabo of Pious IX; an awkward question sidestepped by many people. And yet it is the first question asked by a simple believer who wants to know if what the Church taught before the Council still applied after it. Moreover, if the answer is ‘yes’, how are we to harmonize the apparently different things said by the Council and often instrumentalized during the post-Council period? Excluding the hermeneutics of “rupture”, this really is a spontaneous question.
In his own way the author also responds to ruthless questions such as these, stopping, however, when he seems to note the opportuneness of possible additions or new elucidations by the Magisterium. In the big picture of the Council ‘issue’ some tesserae have already been put in place, others which the author feels he can put in their place, and others that will be placed by those guiding the Church, first of all the Holy Father.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the challenges posed by new evangelization cannot be tackled without having come to terms with the Council in a true and complete manner. Theological schools of thought that represent problems in doctrinal terms have thrown an ambiguous and sometimes deforming light on the Council. Lived during the post-Conciliar phase was a sort of theological pluralism, which on one hand did foster research, but also created bewilderment and insecurity among the faithful. This pluralism involved not only scholars, but also the selfsame life of faith of believers, and this to the degree that not rarely has the faith been unable to generate unity. The process of secularization as it has unfolded in our countries of long standing Christian tradition has been welcomed in a positive manner by many people, and practically exalted as an occasion for the purification of the Christian faith, but in the meantime regular attendance at Sunday Mass in Europe accounts for 4% of the population. Secularization has generated a sharp decline in religiosity in the western world, with respect to which, however, our Christian communities often speak different languages. The Council touched on all the nodal points of Catholic life, and generating clarity about and on the Council becomes an absolutely necessary condition for recovering the faith and launching it anew. Restoring the Council to the Church and taking it out of the world’s hands is akin to a new conversion, without which there will be no new evangelization.
Commemorated during this Year of Faith is the 50th anniversary of the opening of Vatican Council II (11 October 1962 – 11 October 2012). The hope is that the many events and appointments planned during this special year may help to make the true and full nature of Vatican II clear to the eyes of the Church. As we have already seen during this first part of the Year of the Council, it can be expected that coming to the surface anew will be quarrels and published will be many ‘biased’ books that will contribute very little to helping us understand the true Vatican II. Amidst many “heralded” books I think this one plays a positive role of straightforward reasoning, sincere passion for the Church, and courage in posing many of the questions people ask themselves, and making an effort to come up with the answers so many people avoid.
+ Most Rev. Giampaolo Crepaldi
Archbishop of Trieste
Chairman of the “Caritas in Veritate Commission of the CCEE