The Post-Vatican II Collapse of Theology

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Above: the celebrated heretic, Hans Küng (1928-2021). One can only hope and pray that the celebrations for him have not continued for eternity in the fires of hell. Requiescat in pace. Ave Maria.

In our last essay we discussed some of the trends of decline in theology before Vatican II. These were the aspects that produced the false spirit of Vatican I, that is, hyperpapalism. In this essay, we will attempt to shed light on how the event of Vatican II helped to take the declining theology and drag it into collapse, such that theologians today do not even know theology 101. This will help us comment on recent publications from Bishop Robert Barron and compare them with the Vatican dialogue of the SSPX. These things will contextualize our discussion about Ultramontanism.

The Trad Myth about Vatican II

This is an issue that we must address because as Trads, sometimes we fall into a superficial critique of the post-Vatican II collapse. This contributes to a shallow “Trad Myth about Vatican II” which essentially states that there were no problems before Vatican II, and thus the neo-Modernists, unprovoked, took the reigns and drove the Church into collapse at and after Vatican II.

In reality, there were serious issues of rationalism in a declining but popularised form of “Thomism in name only” described by our contributing editor Theo Howard in a recent article, who describes it as “apatristic scholasticism”:

An increasing number of traditionalist scholars are critiquing the ‘manualist tradition’ of the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries as inadequately fulfilling the wishes of Pope Leo XIII’s call in Aeterni Patris to revive the philosophy of St Thomas Aquinas. This is a complex and thorny issue, so without going into too much detail I will provide a brief summary: after Pope Leo’s encyclical Aeterni Patris, St Thomas’ works were often judged to be too dense and complex by many seminary teachers, and so students would instead read neo-scholastic commentaries, or ‘manuals,’ on St Thomas’ thought, that were characterized by concise formulae that tended to abstract the richness of his thought away from its Biblical and patristic sources. Manuals indeed played an important role in distilling various aspects of the faith in a concise manner – not unlike the aims of St Thomas’ Summa.

Yet an excessive use of manuals resulted in a theology and philosophy was that was rather dry, and seemingly removed from its origins, ending up looking something like what Dr Sebastian Morello has called ‘Russian-doll Thomism,’ with commentaries being made of commentaries being made of commentaries, and St Thomas’ original florescence being somewhat diminished as a result.

Lest the reader think I am merely parroting the talking points of Bishop Robert Barron, the greatest Thomist of the era (and indeed the whole twentieth century) stated at the beginning of his magnum opus on the spiritual life that he was choosing against using a manual for his subject. Why? Because, he said, “great risk is run of being superficial in materially classifying things and in substituting an artificial mechanism for the profound dynamism of the life of grace.”[1]

As we stated, this was ultimately a decline which gave Thomism itself a bad name, and was not at all reflective of the good Thomists, like Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange cited here. True Thomists worthy of the name did not merely quote St. Thomas but imitated him. In particular as we said in the first essay, the soul of theology is prayer and a true theologian is a Master of the Scriptures. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange exemplifies this high ideal of the theologian in all of his master works, particularly in The Three Ages of the Interior Life.

The Event of Vatican II:
Neo-Modernist Overreaction to Manualism

In reaction to this, what Kirwin calls the “Avant-guard Theological Generation” arose in France, led especially by Henri de Lubac, whose spiritual sons include Joseph Ratzinger, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Karol Wojtyła.

At its best, this movement of “resourcement” was an effort to correct the excesses of the neo-Thomist movement by re-centralising Scripture as the soul of theology and bringing the patristic discoveries and research achievements since the 19th century to bear upon theology.[1] And let’s be fair here: some of these men (who would later become heroes of Vatican II) were indeed more worthy of the title “theologian” (“man who prays”) than the fast-food-PhD “theologians” among the neo-Thomists.

But at worst, this movement drew upon the spirit of revolution contained in the post-war ascendancy of Gaullist France, West Germany, led by the occupying forces (both physically and through psychological engineering) of the American Empire.[2] As such, this movement had its own rationalism, especially in the form of “theologians in name only” who mirrored the worst of the neoscholastics with a form of neo-Modernism more potent than anything Tyrell or Loisy cooked up in their poisonous minds.

Because of the decline of theology before Vatican II, it was not shameful to promote a man as a “theologian” who was merely an academic. But in reality, if a theologian does not bring forth his wisdom as a fruit of prayer and meditation on Holy Writ, he is unworthy of the name theologian.

The figure of Hans Küng comes to mind.

Here was a brilliant academic and scholar with an intellect gifted by God with greatness. But because he was prized as a “theologian” merely for his academic rigour and not his holiness, he rose in prominence before, during and after Vatican II.

As a result Küng’s brilliance ended up being about as brilliant as Martin Luther’s. In the run up to the Council Küng promoted the very “synodality” that we all know and hate: that dogmas should be put to a majority vote.[3]

This earned him a well-deserved rebuke from his colleague, Joseph Ratzinger.[4]

But instead of excising the neo-Modernists from their own ranks, men like Joseph Ratzinger contributed to a spirit of revolution and militancy at the Council against… the neo-Thomists in the curia.[5] The “European Alliance” was formed against the Curia, forcing the Council to take the carefully prepared schemata for Vatican II and throw them into the trash (literally). Then while the European Alliance had the upper hand, they forced documents to be created ex nihilo at the Council, causing a revolution and rupture as a historical event of the Church.

Now to be fair again, we need to admit that such machinations were also present at the First Vatican Council. In fact, machinations of this kind are present at nearly every Council of the Church (St. Gregory the Theologian’s resignation comes to mind…). But the fact that the European Alliance forced the original schemata to be thrown away is a historical reality of rupture which few but the Trads have attempted to expose.

Our godfathers in the Trad movement at the Council formed into the Coetus Internationalis Patrum, led in part by Archbishop Lefebvre, to oppose the European Alliance, and the result is the documents of Vatican II. Reading the biography of the Archbishop will give the interested reader some of the Trad perspective of the drama of the Council.

Historical Rupture:
The Solution Worse than the Problem

The impact of Vatican II on theology was described in 2019 by Pope Emeritus Benedict when discussing moral theology:

Catholic moral theology suffered a collapse that rendered the Church defenseless against these changes in society… Until the Second Vatican Council, Catholic moral theology was largely founded on natural law, while Sacred Scripture was only cited for background or substantiation.  In the Council’s struggle for a new understanding of Revelation, the natural law option was largely abandoned, and a moral theology based entirely on the Bible was demanded… [but it was discovered that] from the Bible alone morality could not be expressed systematically.

First, we should again point out that a restoration of the centrality of Sacred Scripture is indeed traditional, and might have corrected the excesses of neoscholastic reduction in this area. This might have restored theology to its traditional definition of wisdom the fruit of prayer and meditation on Scripture, as we discussed in our first essay.

Neo-Thomism had its excesses. But the problem with the revolution at Vatican II was that it was a destructive, iconoclastic excess. Neo-Thomism wrongly persecuted the non-Thomists as if they were not Catholic and neglected Scripture, which was a serious issue and a decline.

Nevertheless, the basic stability of doctrine was preserved. This was because Tradition and the Magisterium were revered.

The iconoclastic neo-Modernists out of Vatican II produced a climate of constant revolution and disdain for tradition. Tradition was disdained and the Pian Magisterium (1794-1958) was disrespected.

This was far worse.

They ignored the stern warning of Pius XII in 1950 about true resourcement:

We may clothe our [Christian] philosophy in a more convenient and richer dress, make it more vigorous with a more effective terminology, divest it of certain scholastic aids found less useful, prudently enrich it with the fruits of progress of the human mind. But never may we overthrow it, or contaminate it with false principles, or regard it as a great, but obsolete, relic.[6]

The neo-Modernists indeed overthrew the original schemata of Vatican II, the fruit of neo-Thomism and the Pian Magisterium, as an obsolete relic (this is not to say the schemata were perfect, but merely to observe that there is a historical reality of rupture here in the history of the Council).

Now mere academics like Hans Küng who had no piety were falsely called “theologians” and because they are so “smart” they were respected in the Church. This situation existed before Vatican II, but because of the event of Vatican II, these false “theologians” proliferated and filled the Church with their revolutionary neo-Modernism.[7]

They had knowledge, but lacked wisdom. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth (I Cor. viii. 1). This is because wisdom is the perfection of charity (II-II q45).

That great Master of Scripture, Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, was shunned as a “rigid traditionalist” and his works also thrown into the trash (thank God for true theologians such as Matthew Minerd, who are bringing his works into English and back into circulation!).

Theology today (with a few happy exceptions) has deteriorated into a mere academic exercise, and prayer and holiness is considered something separate from theology. Again, this problem existed before Vatican II, but a few things happened that made the problem worse after the Council, causing the basic structure of theology to “collapse” as Benedict described later.

Loss of Theology 101: Latin

Say what you want about John XIII, but he realised something very important with his decree Veterum Sapientia of 1962.[8] In February of that year, months before Vatican II was opened, he brilliantly elucidated the reason that the Latin language was so central to the providential romanitas of the Church and theology. He then solemnly charged the bishops to:

be on their guard lest anyone under their jurisdiction, eager for revolutionary changes, writes against the use of Latin in the teaching of the higher sacred studies or in the Liturgy, or through prejudice makes light of the Holy See’s will in this regard or interprets it falsely.

Needless to say, too many Bishops were more afraid of the mass media than this severe decree of the Roman Pontiff. After Paul VI let the flashy academics take over, very soon those “eager for revolutionary change” were in charge of the seminaries.

They quickly suppressed Latin, rebelling against John XXIII. Because of the false spirit of Vatican I (undermining the force of canonical law in the Church), the neo-Modernists took Paul VI’s lackadaisical attitude toward Latin as carte blanche to overthrow John XIII’s Veterum Sapientia.

In 1960, the lecture halls in the Vatican were giving theological lectures in Latin. When you got to Rome you had to quickly become fluent in Latin if you were going to get a theological degree.

By 1970s, Latin was replaced, to a large degree, by German and other tongues, with disdain for Latin. One Vatican insider told me this:

I attended the Gregorian University in the 1970’s. Latin was openly ridiculed; German was strongly promoted. Why? Simple. The world’s major Protestant theologians didn’t think or write in Latin, they thought and wrote in German.

By 1990, the prominent and influential International Theological Commission was issuing documents in German as the official language. When Pope Benedict issued his public decree of resignation in Latin: how many Cardinals even understood what he was saying? By the time of Pope Francis, we now have a Querida Amazonia, whose official language is Spanish and has no Latin text at all.

Simply put, if you are a theologian of the Roman rite and you are not fluent in Latin, you haven’t passed the first grade level of theology. Why? Because innumerable theological texts of wisdom have never been translated from Latin. If theology is a life of wisdom, and you can’t even read these texts because you don’t know the language, how can you call yourself a theologian? In the struggle to re-centralise Scripture in theology, Latin was thought to be useless and an “obsolete relic,” which facilitated the decline of theology pre-Vatican II into a free-fall collapse after.[9]

Now we have the phenomenon of theologians who cannot even read the Latin of Vatican II dictating to the faithful what Vatican II teaches. Because they don’t know Latin, they also can’t read the relationes, and thus they don’t know the first thing about theological and Magisterial interpretation.[10] That brings up our second point.

Theology 102: the Theological Notes

Once you’ve passed theology 101 and are fluent in Latin, then you can use the norms of theological interpretation in Latin, which includes the relationes mentioned above, but more than this (and more fundamental) are the theological notes. Against the hubris of these academics who claim the title “theologian,” Vatican II itself says that these norms are fundamental for the Council.

Lumen Gentium says this in its appendix:

A question has arisen regarding the precise theological note which should be attached to the doctrine that is set forth in the Schema de Ecclesia and is being put to a vote.

The Theological Commission has given the following response regarding the Modi that have to do with Chapter III of the de Ecclesia Schema: “As is self-evident, the Council’s text must always be interpreted in accordance with the general rules that are known to all.”

On this occasion the Theological Commission makes reference to its Declaration of March 6, 1964, the text of which we transcribe here

Taking conciliar custom into consideration and also the pastoral purpose of the present Council, the sacred Council defines as binding on the Church only those things in matters of faith and morals which it shall openly declare to be binding. The rest of the things which the sacred Council sets forth, inasmuch as they are the teaching of the Church’s supreme magisterium, ought to be accepted and embraced by each and every one of Christ’s faithful according to the mind of the sacred Council. The mind of the Council becomes known either from the matter treated or from its manner of speaking, in accordance with the norms of theological interpretation.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the whole theological key about Vatican II. This statement is so important and yet because of the decline of theology, very few even understand what is being said.

Why?

Think about this for a second: when the text of Lumen Gentium was promulgated, the “norms of theological interpretation” were all understood in Latin, with Latin terminology. It was “known to all.”

Then suddenly Paul VI and the world’s bishops let the revolutionaries take over who quickly scrapped Latin. Suddenly no one knows how to read a Latin manual which describes what these norms of theological interpretation are.

Here’s where the theological notes come in. This is what Archbishop Felici is making reference to in the quotation above. The dubium submitted to Felici is asking what is the theological note of this part of Lumen Genitum, and Vatican II in general? A theological note refers to the degree of certainty (and thus binding character) of any given proposition of doctrine. At the time of Vatican II there was a body of literature in the Tradition which elucidated these norms of theological interpretation. For instance, if you read St. Alphonsus’ Moral Theology (brought into English thanks to Latinist Ryan Grant by the way), he goes through various propositions in moral theology and gives them theological notae, distinguishing their binding rank in terms of their authority.

The norms were known to all back in the 1700s! But now if you ask a “theologian” today about the theological notes, they might ask you what you are talking about. If you ask him in Latin (“Quae sunt qualificationes theologicae?”), they might just stare dumbfounded.[11]

Behold, the post-Vatican II collapse!

Thank God, there are few good theologians out there (like the aforementioned Dr. Minerd!) working to pick up the pieces of this collapse.

But the theological notes in particular, as the text itself says, are the theological key of Vatican II. It is also the theological key to examine the false spirit of Vatican I. In our next essay, we’ll take a closer look at the theological notes and then look at Bishop Barron’s recent publication on Vatican II and the SSPX dialogue and how the notes are crucial here. After that, we’ll show how the false spirit of Vatican One ties this whole collapse together. Finally, we will look at the dubia from Vatican One and how this relates to our conversation about Ultramontanism.

 

[1] The Latin Fathers were for the first time edited and published in 221 volumes (1841-1855), Greek Fathers in 161 volumes from (1857-66), and the Eastern Fathers (Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, Ethiopic, Georgian, Old Church Slavonic and Arabic) began in 1897 and continue to the present day.

[2] This fact is detailed by the meticulous research of David Wemhoff in his important text John Courtney Murray, Time/Life, and the American Proposition: How the CIA’s Doctrinal Warfare Program Influenced the Catholic Church.

[3] See Peter Seewald, Benedict XVI: A Life, vol 1, 356ff.

[4] Ibid.

[5] In his memoirs Ratzinger disclaims responsibility and criticizes this spirit of revolution. Indeed, he certainly tried to stop it especially after he followed Henri de Lubac in breaking with Concilium. Nevertheless, Seewald stresses Ratzinger’s dynamic role at the Council at critical moments with Cardinal Frings as his mouthpiece causing the latter (as Last Testament mentions) pangs of conscience. To be fair, we need to realise that good men like Cardinal Frings hardly knew what they were starting by their efforts at the Council. Hindsight is always 20/20.

[6] Humani Generis (1950), 16, 30. Emphasis mine.

[7] T. S. Flanders, Introduction to the Holy Bible for Traditional Catholics (Our Lady of Victory Press, 2019), 195-292.

[8] According to Henry Sire and Amerio Romano, the idea that John XXIII was a Modernist is another Trad myth about Vatican II.

[9] On the critical importance of the Latin language with Scripture studies and theology, see Flanders, op. cit.

[10] A relatio at a Council is an official interpretation given to resolve dubia in a document before the final vote is taken. The most famous example brought into English is Gasser’s relation from Vatican I. On this problem with the event of Vatican II, as Richard DeClue points out, Raymond Brown, who used Dei Verbum 11 to promote the heresy of limited inerrancy, is easily refuted by Bruce Sullivan who uses the relatio to give the official understanding of this passage.

[11] Credit to a friend in the Netherlands for correcting my Latin here!

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