As we approach fifty years from the opening of the Second Vatican Council, theologians continue to debate the best way to characterize the dramatic renewal in Roman Catholic life, liturgy, and teachings to which the council led. But was this renewal – or transformation, or change – so great as to cause a “rupture” with the tradition of the Roman Catholic church? Ironically, there are “progressives” and “traditionalists” who would agree that there was in fact a rupture.
On his blog, Chiesa, journalist Sandro Magister provides an overview of three views of the council:
1. Vatican II was a rupture with Tradition – and a wonderful thing. Vatican II was a new beginning, which led to a complete transformation of the church. According to this view, there is no problem in saying that there is a break with tradition – because there is a more important continuity with the true teachings of Jesus.
Among the proponents of this view is the American ecclesiologist Joseph Komonchak. Many like-minded scholars are affiliated with or published through the Institute for Religious Studies in Bologna (and hence are often dubbed “The School of Bologna.”) Some of them even claim Pope Benedict’s interpretation are in line with their beliefs (although the pope himself would not agree.)
For more on this line of thought, see “The Council was an ‘Historic Transition.'”
2. Vatican II was a rupture with Tradition – and a grave error. While theologians who hold this view usually accept the authority of the council, they do not see the council’s teaching as infallible – bur rather, as a source of errors. As one example, the document Dignitatis Humanae allows for freedom of religion – something explicitly condemned by past popes (as recently as 1864).
Among the proponents of this this view is Roberto de Mattei. He notes that the council was a pastoral council, not a dogmatic one. It must be evaluated by how its documents are in accord with Tradition, which, following Mattei, is not “a part” but rather “the whole” of the Church. And, in his opinion, the documents of Vatican II did not follow the official magisterium of the church, and thus are in error.
Pope Benedict XVI has called some who hold this view “anti-conciliarist.”
For more on this line of thought, see “The Church is Infallible, but Not Vatican II.”
3. Vatican II is not a rupture with tradition.
Taking a middle view, Pope Benedict XVI would deny that here has been any rupture in the church. He describes the proper reception of Vatican II as a “hermeneutic of renewal within continuity.” He notes that there is an “apparent” discontinuity between historical decisions and Vatican II, but insists that it is one and the same church.
Much has been written on Benedict’s 2005 Christmas address to the Roman curia when he reflected on the interpretation of the Second Vatican Council and its interpretation. In a Wednesday address last year, Benedict praised Paul VI and John Paul II, who “on the one hand defended the newness of the Council, and on the other, defended the oneness and continuity of the Church, which is always a Church of sinners and always a place of grace.”
For more on the debate on how to interpret Benedict’s words, see “Benedict XVI the ‘Reformist.'”