Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Hermeneutics of Continuity: Part I

In a remarkable address given on July 13, 1988, in Santiago, Chile before that nation's bishops, the then Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, head of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, shared with the world his thoughts on why French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and his followers had felt compelled to consecrate four bishops without permission of the Holy See, thus incurring the penalty of excommunication.

The then Cardinal-Prefect began his talk by stating that

“…the Second Vatican Council has not been treated as a part of the entire living Tradition of the Church, but as an end of Tradition, a new start from zero. The truth is that this particular council defined no dogma at all, and deliberately chose to remain on a modest level, as a merely pastoral council; and yet many treat it as though it had made itself into a sort of superdogma which takes away the importance of all the rest."

For those of us now living in that portion of the Lord’s vineyard which is the Diocese of Rockville Centre, these words are nothing short of prophetic, as they give us the first official explanation by the Church as to the “how and why” we traveled from the exalted vision of Archbishop Molloy for a Catholic Long Island, to the present position we find ourselves in today.

What was the Cardinal referring to when he spoke about those theologians and teachers of the faith who had tried to turn the “pastoral council, which had chosen to remain on a “modest level”, into a “superdogma which takes away the importance of all the rest”?

Was he not trying to give comfort to all those Catholics who, for the last forty years, have been stunned and bewildered as to why so much of the glorious doctrinal and moral patrimony of the Church has been either attacked as no longer true, ignored as now irrelevant, or redefined in a way as to lose its previous meaning ?

Was not the then Cardinal Ratzinger telling us, in this stunningly frank address, that the prime reason for the crisis of faith is that “…the Second Vatican Council has not been treated as a part of the entire living Tradition of the Church, but as an end of Tradition, a new start from zero”?

Concretely, then, the Cardinal confirms for us what we have known for a long time: that the Church never intended to mandate any break with her doctrinal or moral tradition. Furthermore, those few points that the Council taught which are new, e.g., religious liberty and ecumenism, must be interpreted in the light of the constant Tradition of the Church.

What this means is that the Council is neither the starting-point of a new Catholic reality which the modernists have made it out to be, nor is it the ending-point of the Church’s traditional faith which extreme traditionalists have accused it of being. (Extreme traditionalists does not refer to those exemplary moderate European members of the SSPX who have either been regularized by the Holy See, or are presently seeking such status.)

Rather, the Council is a bridge to the modern world explaining the beautiful patrimony of the Catholic faith in terms which people of this age, starving for truth, beauty and goodness, can understand.

There is much more to this key address of Cardinal Ratzinger which we will examine in our next installment.

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