An End to the Era of the Single Paradigm Church


In his recent article, “Pope Francis fulfilling epoch-making shifts from Vatican II”, liberal Catholic historian and author Massimo Faggioli argues that, with the elevation of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio to the Chair of Peter, the actualization of the Second Vatican Council is finally upon us. Call it the “Spirit of Vatican II” redux, or the Hermeneutic of Rupture strikes back, either way Mr. Faggioli (a theology professor at St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minnesota) clearly demonstrates that it is not only the secular press who are reading Pope Francis through progressive lenses.

From Mr. Faggioli’s article (emphasis mine):

“In the nearly two years since the election of Pope Francis it is hard to deny that something major is happening in the Catholic Church. Those who have tried to argue that the Argentine Pope is in perfect continuity with his most recent predecessor have had to acknowledge this reality. However, some still have doubts about the coherence and consistency of Francis’ message on certain issues…But much, if not all, of the problem is related to how he his fulfilling the vision of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965)

“At the conclusion of one of the most important recent books on the Second Vatican Council, What Happened at Vatican II (2008), John O’Malley SJ states that the most important “issue under the issues” at the council called by John XXIII was language. The Jesuit historian argues that Vatican II was “a language event” and that “the style of discourse was the medium that conveyed the message”.”

He continues:

“Up until the Council the language of theology was philosophical-metaphysical and its method was deductive. Translating the message was easier because there was minimal room for adaptation to local, concrete situations. There was a single theology for a single Church. It was supposed to be the same everywhere for everybody. Pastoral adaptations often took place, but under the responsibility of the “adaptor” who often paid a high price for that (that is, harsh reaction from Rome).

Imagine that. A time when objective truth and theological clarity were championed and heterodoxy and dissent were soundly condemned by Rome. True to the Bologna School of thought, Mr. Faggioli next discusses post-conciliar shifts in theology, replete with words such as “responsible” and “pastoral”:

“Vatican II brought about a shift in Catholic theology, introducing the use of more historically aware and socially responsible language and an inductive method. It was acknowledged that the true, general principles of Catholic doctrine always needed local and pastoral adaptation. Key to understanding this shift is the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes. It is one of the council documents most often quoted by Pope Francis, but one that became almost “forgotten” during the pontificate of Benedict XVI.

“A second big shift that Francis, truly the first post-Vatican II pope, has brought about concerns the relationship between papal ministry and theological language. Following the two “popes of the Council” – John XXIII and Paul VI – Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI (in what was, arguably, one long pontificate of 35 years) reintroduced a division of labor between the Bishop of Rome and the local bishops. The first had the task of laying out the official message universally valid for everyone with very little or no room for adaptation. The others then had try to “incarnate” the message (especially on moral and social issues) in their actual, concrete situations. Pope Francis has ended this “theological fiction” of two levels between the doctrinal and the pastoral. He does not pretend to believe that one can talk in exactly the same way about the family in Italy (where there is a serious demographic crisis) and in the Philippines (the context in which he said Catholics do not have to breed “like rabbits”).”

Does this not hint at moral relativism? Where is the need to unambiguously proclaim the immutable truth? While it might be argued that Mr. Faggioli is only advocating for a change in style and delivery, and not in the substance of the message, I disagree. He began his article by asserting that Vatican II was a “language event”, and that the “style of discourse…conveyed the message”. Indeed, language very much matters.

Next Faggioli’s pluralistic and relativistic views seemingly argue against the very catholicity of the Church:

“The third big shift is how Catholicism has become a truly global Church. For the first time since Vatican II we have a pope that concretely acknowledges and integrates this into his own ecclesiology. It is enough to look at the cardinals Francis has appointed. This means recognizing that the Catholic Church of today contains different moral universes…

“In this sense, the problem is not to figure out “which one of the many Francises is the real one”, as some pundits have put it. Rather, it is to acknowledge that there is only one Francis and, for him, there is a plurality of Catholic Churches that incarnate the Gospel and the teachings of the Church in many different contexts.”


“Finally, the shift from a Western/Euro-centric Catholicism to a truly global one has also befuddled many Americans. Some of these Catholics have not yet accepted that a single, particular theological and cultural tradition need not be normative or representative of all churches – especially those on the peripheries…”

In true School of Bologna fashion, Faggioli concludes by arguing that the Council was this seminal event in the life of the Church, an event which never truly ends:

“Pope Francis is bringing an end to the era of a single paradigm for the Church. And this is yet another example of how he has received and his actuating the Second Vatican Council, which – in the words of Belgian theologian Lieven Boeve – was “not a paradigm, but a paradigmatic event”. Vatican II did not create a fixed model of Catholicism. Instead, it forged a style and procedure for creating a new model in ongoing aggiornamento”

Confusion, and not clarity, will reign if this is indeed the case.

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