You know the argument: Vatican II was falsely interpreted through a ”hermeneutic of rupture.” Misguided implementation of the Council caused all sorts of mischief and unnecessary upheaval. Now we can undo the damage and get it right by re-reading the Council through a “hermeneutic of continuity,” or as Pope Benedict nuances it, a “hermeneutic of reform within continuity.”
The problem so far has been that the scholarship tends to support the real innovation that took place at Vatican II, in the letter as well as the spirit of the Council. There’s Fr. John O’Malley, for example, in his masterful book What Happened at Vatican II. There’s the “Bologna School” (see this) of Albergio, Melloni, Ruggieri, Dossetti, and the hefty five-volume History of Vatican II edited by Alberigo and Komonchak.
By contrast, the “hermeneutic of continuity,” so far, hasn’t been much more than an editorial – oft-repeated, to be sure.
But now, right from the ambit of the Second Vatican Council, we have solid documentation of what continuity with the great tradition of pre-conciliar Catholicism looks like. Over at Commonweal, Joseph Komonchak has helpfully given us translations of the documents prepared by the preparatory committees and taken up by the Council fathers when they got to Rome. This is Vatican II, right where it started.
You can read four of the documents over at Commonweal or at Fr. Komonchak’s blog. Here’s a taste of what you’ll find, from “On the Christian moral order”:
2. An Absolute Moral Order
The moral order, furthermore, is absolute, that is, it is valid always and everywhere, independently of circumstances, although in various ways and degrees. … The moral order must be said to be absolute also with regard to its fundamental norms, which do not depend on changeable circumstances but radically inhere in God himself, supreme holiness and eternal wisdom; and it establishes the relationships that must necessarily exist both among rational creatures themselves and especially between rational creatures and their Creator. … [D]espite the different aspects which the divine order once had in the earthly paradise, which it now has here on earth in the fallen and redeemed human race, and which it will have finally in heaven, and despite also the various applications of norms in various circumstances of life, the moral order must not be said to be relative in any way, and the Holy Synod rejects any teaching in which its absolute validity is denied either in whole or in any essential part.
6. Errors are rejected
The Sacred Synod … grieves, however, that many people are transgressing the divine law, more from weakness than from wickedness, though rarely without grave guilt. It notes with great horror that errors are being spread everywhere, errors that open the way to perdition and close the gate of salvation. … Creeping error has many colors and many heads; but the truth which will free us (see Jn 8:32) is one as Christ is one. But the same thing that the Founder of the Church once testified about himself, he can today profess to the Church before the world: “I came in the name of my Father and you do not accept me, yet if another comes in his own name, you will accept him” (Jn 5:43).
Only one problem, near as I can tell. All this is what the Council fathers rejected when they took charge of the Council early on, threw out the preparatory documents, and started over from scratch. The fathers of Vatican II saw continuity, right there in black and white, and they opted for something else.
The marked difference between the preparatory documents and the final documents as approved by the Council fathers is, I think, a steep hill to climb for those who want to claim that the whole Councl should be interpreted through a “hermeneutic of continuity.” If, that is, the “hermeneutic of continuity” is to be something more than an editorial without scholarly foundation.