Sixty years ago this month, Papa Roncalli was carried into the Second Vatican Council after an hours-long procession and delivered the speech (“Medicine of Mercy”) which opened that council.
I believe that in time, historians will later call this council the “Post-War Council.”
Why? Because the Council was dominated by the post-World War II context and specifically the narratives created by two victorious countries we will discuss below.
First, Kennedy Hall deserves credit for coining this term. I think the term is very helpful for a number of important reasons. It allows us to sympathetically understand why there was so much optimism at the Council. For us, a few generations removed from the Second Sexual Revolution (1968-1973ff) and mired in the unborn holocaust, the optimism of Vatican II sounds to us like so many hippies scratching painted nails down Fulton Sheen’s chalkboard. However, if we understand better the post-war milieu, we can actually get a grip on those “signs of the times” that were so dominant to the majority of the Council Fathers (and their supporters).
Second, the term “post-war council” helps us to understand the historical epoch that came and went before 1968 vomited forth the errors of Russia all over western Europe and the Americas. Vatican II, as both a theological Council and a historical event, is complex. But this term “post-war Council” gets at the heart of the situation that many good churchmen were facing, and many nefarious actors exploited.
One could reasonably assert, I believe, that the moment of 1962-1965 was the opportune moment to win over modern man with the medicine of mercy. In fact, it was Pius XII who began this dialogue, and understood this kairos moment (with important precedents from Pius VII, Leo XIII, and Pius XI). Thus in this view, the “modern man” that the Council speaks of should be understood specifically as post-war man. I will use both phrases synonymously in this essay.
Yet one can also reasonably assert, as I will explain, that that moment has come and gone. Post-war man no longer exists. If the conditions present in 1962 could reasonably justify some sort of optimism (albeit tenuous), the fact that those conditions are no longer present make the opposite conclusion necessarily also reasonable. We can see this more clearly if we understand the post-war narrative and the post-war milieu of France and the American Empire.
The Post-War Narrative
First, we need to spend a little time disentangling a difficult topic: the post-war narrative. This refers to the propaganda history told by the victorious Allies after World War II, which is critically influential for Vatican II.
Unfortunately, most of us are still being taught the post-war narrative, even in Catholic homeschool programs. So some of this might come as a shock to some readers, or it might sound controversial. Follow the citations for all the historical documentation.
Like all good propaganda, the post-war narrative contains some truth, which I will discuss in a moment. But the most basic post-war narrative is that World War II was good (Allies) vs. evil (Axis).
Of course, history is written by the victors, and this is a particularly lazy narrative of theirs. But because of the magnitude of evil on the Axis side, it was easy for the Allied powers to believe such an oversimplication of the truth (as many in the Anglophone universe still do!).
In reality, World War II is better characterized as:
“A Mass Murderer and His Allies against A Mass Murderer and His Axis.”
Or more potently (and in line with Fatima), Christopher Dawson called the war The Judgment of the Nations, in a book of the same name he wrote during the war.
No doubt Venerable Pius XII believed these things, but he also saw an opportunity for dialogue in 1944 as we will see.
One World War with a Decades-Long Ceasefire
It’s beyond the scope of this short essay to disentangle all the historical ideology of the post-war narrative. But one more aspect of this we want to mention is how some historians consider World Wars I and II as one long war with a ceasefire in between.
Versailles (Martinmas, 1918 “Armistice Day” “Remembrance Day” “Veterans Day”) was not a peace treaty.
It was a ceasefire.
St. Augustine defines peace as the tranquility of order. Therefore a peace treaty is and should be a just peace which restores justice, as much as possible, to all sides so that the cause of war is eliminated.
This, of course, was the aim of one of our patrons at OnePeterFive, Bl. Emperor Karl, the model layman of the 20th century. He sought a truly just peace which gave to his enemies, the Allies of the Great War (1914-1918) their own just claims on territory, gave to his people their own just demands, and was willing for this cause to give up disputed areas and negotiate in good faith.
But the period 1914-1945 can be considered one large war because the Versailles treaty punished Germany for no other reason than to take revenge for the Franco-Prussian War, their hubris to challenge the British Navy and their atrocities, etc. Benedict XV rightly called the Great War a “carnage solely for economic reasons.”
The interwar period helped to create the First Sexual Revolution (1918-1929), and Soviet-fueled Communist revolutionary fervour everywhere, provoking a reaction from World War I veterans. One of these veterans, as we know, embraced the eugenics of the American Empire, mixed with a demonic neo-Paganism, and created the scourge of National Socialism.
Meanwhile, the American Empire sided with the Soviet Empire against Christendom in the brutal slaughter of priests and nuns, and countless martyrs in the conflict known as the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). This merely manifested the way the errors of Russia fit with American (exported) Liberalism like hand in glove both militarily, economically, and morally.
During all this Fatima showed to the world the path of just peace: penance! penance! penance!
But there was no consecration of Russia by Pius XI, and not enough penance. So God removed his protecting Hand from Europe and the world.
The Judgment of the Nations
Spurred on by the fallen angels, the two mass murderers Stalin and Hitler at first signed an agreement to conquer and divide between themselves Eastern Europe to build up their respective empires. When Hitler betrayed Stalin, France and Britain found themselves as Stalin’s allies, with the American Empire soon to follow.
What followed was nothing less than the wrath of God, and millions perished before His wrath was turned away.
Post-War Man is
Born to a New Hope
But when France and the American Empire again emerged victorious over Germany, a few things were different about the post-war situation that contributed to an immense optimism. First, the magnitude of the evil in the Nazi regime made the victorious Allies into true liberators of France and West Germany in the post-war milieu. This was an important truth which helps to inform the post-war narrative. Hitler was indeed an insane neo-pagan.
Second, the Holy See had definitely turned in favour of the Allies’ system of Liberalism (in a way it hadn’t during the Great War) as Ven. Pius XII said at Christmas in 1944 (an address that would be cited by Vatican II):
Out from the mournful groans of sorrow, from the very depths of the heart-rending anguish of oppressed individuals and countries there arises an aura of hope. To an ever-increasing number of noble souls there comes the thought, the will, ever cleared and stronger, to make of this world, this universal upheaval, a starting point for a new era of far-reaching renovation, the complete reorganization of the world…
Moreover—and this is perhaps the most important point—beneath the sinister lightning of the war that encompasses them, in the blazing heat of the furnace that imprisons them, the peoples have, as it were, awakened from a long torpor. They have assumed, in relation to the state and those who govern, a new attitude—one that questions, criticizes, distrusts.
Taught by bitter experience, they are more aggressive in opposing the concentration of dictatorial power that cannot be censured or touched, and call for a system of government more in keeping with the dignity and liberty of the citizens. These multitudes, uneasy, stirred by the war to their innermost depths, are today firmly convinced—at first, perhaps, in a vague and confused way, but already unyieldingly—that had there been the possibility of censuring and correcting the actions of public authority, the world would not have been dragged into the vortex of a disastrous war, and that to avoid for the future the repetition of such a catastrophe, we must vest efficient guarantees in the people itself.
In such a psychological atmosphere, is it to be wondered at if the tendency towards democracy is capturing the peoples and winning a large measure of consent and support from those who hope to play a more efficient part in the destinies of individuals and of society?
This turn was similar to Pius XI’s condemnation of Action Française in the sense that it gave to the churchmen who were promoters of Leo XIII’s ralliement with post-1773 Liberalism an official promotion by the highest authority in the Church.
A third critically important piece of this optimism is in the fact that, to its credit, the American Empire quickly broke its tenuous alliance with the Soviets and openly declared an ideological crusade on Communism. This was a welcome shift to the previous ambiguous stance toward the errors of Russia that the United States had taken after the Great War, when its global promotion of Liberalism had only facilitated (and funded) the Bolshevik horror.
Finally, on the popular level, the 1950s saw the American popular culture (which had been previously devoted to exporting Jazzified fornication in the 1920s) produce Ven. Fulton Sheen on primetime television. He manifested a virulently Catholic and patriotic spirit in the quasi-religious crusade against the errors of Russia.
Meanwhile, Hollywood exported Catholic films for the big screen like The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima (Warner Bros., 1952) and the stereotypical American pop culture prized the heterosexual nuclear family and strong father on television. The Catholic-led “Legion of Decency” had eradicated the 1920s pornography from Hollywood and the global dominance of American film produced stories of hero priests and nuns. If we know the historical context, it shouldn’t surprise us that Jacques Maritain could write in 1956:
It will be necessary for the European spirit and the American spirit to meet and cooperate in common good will… what the world expects from America is that she keep alive, in human history, a fraternal recognition of the dignity of man – in other words, the terrestrial hope of men in the Gospel.
Perhaps more than any other, it was Jacques Maritain – French Thomist who immigrated to the United States, writing Integral Humanism in 1936 – who influenced the optimism of Vatican II, through two successive Francophile popes, John XXIII and Paul VI.
At that moment Catholics – especially Catholics in the post-war countries liberated by the United States – knew the evil of National Socialism and Bolshevik Socialism alike. Both regimes crushed the individual person under the titanic machinery of state control. The American message of “all men are created equal” with its localised freedom, splashed with a Catholic popular face and a fierceness against the Soviets – it was enough to convince many that the Church should expand on what Pius XII said and formally engage in a new dialogue with Modernity.
To top it all off, in 1960 the American Empire elected an Irish-American Catholic president, John F. Kennedy.
This is why it is reasonable to assert that the 1962-1965 Council was truly an opportune moment to win over post-war man to the Gospel: it seemed like the Americans were already doing just that without any explicit call from an Ecumenical Council!
This is the context which helps us understand sympathetically the “medicine of mercy” speech of Pope John XXIII. No wonder he thought that “man of himself is inclined to condemn his own errors.” By electing Kennedy, millions of Americans had put aside their generations-long anti-Irish and anti-Catholic prejudice! (Even though Kennedy had to all but explicitly renounce his Faith to become president.)
Further, the post-war countries were firmly committed to preventing another war, and thus did the pope’s speech speak of how post-war man had firmly condemned “fratricidal wars” and “the might of arms.” Indeed, the peaceful resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis (which took place less than a week after this speech during the First Session!) seemed to confirm before their very eyes in real time, that post-war man had truly matured after the bloodbath of World War II.
Pope John’s inspiration was the Council of Trent, and his 1960 Roman Synod, as a model for Vatican II, sought to republish the Catechism of Trent and win over post-war man to take the final step to be fully Catholic.
Let me touch on two important post-war countries of influence at Vatican II which will show us this unique epoch and how it produced Vatican II’s optimism.
the Triumph of the Generation of 1930
No modern scholarship seems to surpass the analysis of this issue in post-war France than Dr. Jon Kirwan’s An Avant-garde Theological Generation: The Nouvelle Théologie and the French Crisis of Modernity. In it he describes in great detail how the interwar period helped to form and shape the “generation of 1930” (born between 1895 and 1905): men like Henri de Lubac, Yves Congar, and Marie-Dominique Chenu – all influential figures later at Vatican II.
Their optimism was based on Maurice Blondel, Teilhard de Chardin and Jacques Maritain, among others.
Before World War II, their ideas of an optimistic dialogue with Modernity where controversial in the Church. But during the Nazi occupation, many of them were on the forefront of the French resistance, fighting on the same side as French Communists and other Liberals under Charles de Gaulle. Meanwhile, an older generation led by Marshall Pétain favoured a tenuous peace with Hitler under ideals diametrically opposed to Modernity.
After Hitler was defeated, the Generation of 1930 seemed to be totally vindicated. Kirwan elaborates:
[By] May 1945, the intellectual lines that would shape post-war France were already laid by the three parties that emerged from the war as victors: Communists, existentialists, and Left Catholics [nouvelle théologie]…
A ‘cultural power vacuum’ had been created by the fall of the Republic. The political and Catholic Right had been discredited, by a real or perceived support for the Vichy regime, as well as the older generation, for its association with the failed Third Republic. The left-wing intellectuals, philosophers, writers, and theologians of the generation of 1930, whose intellectual projects had matured during the previous decade, found themselves heroically legitimized by their opposition to Vichy and participation in the Resistance, and they stepped into a virtually uncontested void in full intellectual ferment.
In the words of one young priest contemporary on the day after the Liberation, describing the shift from Pétain’s regime to de Gaulle’s new post-war France:
It is not a change in government which has just happened: it is really something quite different! It is the Liberation of France, it is a revolution! It is not only the Germans who are going it is those who desired their victory. And for the common people, it is hope which is arriving with General de Gaulle, hope for more justice and dignity. For France, it is a new beginning.
The leader of the old regime, who was no saint but symbolised the older generation, was sentenced to death for treason, but his sentence was commuted to life in prison. After 1945, opinion in the Church swung strongly in favour of the generation of 1930 and their positive dialogue with Modernity. This received a huge boost when the two francophile popes were elected. Given the historical context, one can understand why even Catholics of good will thought that way. But it was a mixture of naïveté and Masonic-Marxist infiltration with the reality of true liberation and hope for new freedom.
It was a half-truth informed by the post-war narrative. There was enough truth in this narrative to make even men of good will think it might turn out okay. But there was enough ambiguity to make this gamble dangerous.
These French theologians (de Lubac chief among them) provided the inspiration for people like Joseph Ratzinger and Karol Wojtyła, who both fought against the Nazis (or Soviets) in their own way. The Maritain/Teilhard optimistic evolutionary theory only provided momentum for the momentary weltanschauung of all things liberation.
Global Psychological Warfare
As this was happening, the American Empire was launching the most sophisticated global psychological warfare project in the history of mankind. No scholar has born this out better than David Wemhoff in his book John Courtney Murray, Time/Life, and The American Proposition: How the CIA’s Doctrinal Warfare Program Changed the Catholic Church.
Just as the Soviet Empire was targeting the Catholic Church with infiltration, so too the American Empire in its use of what the CIA termed “doctrinal warfare,” seeking to convince the Catholic Church to endorse America-style Liberalism. No wonder Pope Benedict could later say of this time and its influence on Vatican II:
People came to realize that the American Revolution was offering a model of a modern State that differed from the theoretical model with radical tendencies that had emerged during the second phase of the French Revolution… Catholic statesmen demonstrated that a modern secular State could exist that was not neutral regarding values but alive, drawing from the great ethical sources opened by Christianity.
The difficulty here is that it was another half-truth informed by the post-war narrative. Benedict’s observation about this period was due to psychological warfare to a very significant degree undoubtedly. Yet it was also mixed with the reality that came about as a result of the post-war situation which we mentioned above.
It was actually true that the United States was promoting Catholicism (at least on the popular level) and waging ideological war against Communism. It was also true that the fundamental Christian concept of the imago Dei (against both the Soviets and the vanquished Nazis) was contained in some aspects of American ideals (fatally mixed, of course, with anti-Christian Liberalism).
As Vatican II drew closer, international media also began to televise the struggle of the Back Americans against the unjust laws in the Jim Crow South, which formed a parallel youth movement to French resistance against the Nazis (as well as the youthful Worker Priest evangelisation).
As we said in 1960, a Catholic president was elected, who famously threw his support behind a jailed Martin Luther King during the election. Kennedy’s “martyr’s death” in 1963 was followed by national mourning, and by 1964 (during the Third Session of Vatican II), King was receiving the Nobel Peace prize. Vatican II seems to be looking directly at the most positive elements in post-war France and the United States when it says in the next year in 1965 (echoing Pius XII):
Modern man is on the road to a more thorough development of his own personality, and to a growing discovery and vindication of his own rights… [Yet b]y no human law can the personal dignity and liberty of man be so aptly safeguarded as by the Gospel of Christ which has been entrusted to the Church. For this Gospel announces and proclaims the freedom of the sons of God, and repudiates all the bondage which ultimately results from sin…
The Church, therefore, by virtue of the Gospel committed to her, proclaims the rights of man; she acknowledges and greatly esteems the dynamic movements of today by which these rights are everywhere fostered. Yet these movements must be penetrated by the spirit of the Gospel and protected against any kind of false autonomy. For we are tempted to think that our personal rights are fully ensured only when we are exempt from every requirement of divine law. But this way lies not the maintenance of the dignity of the human person, but its annihilation (Gaudium et Spes, 41).
This passage seems to sum up both the post-war optimism of Vatican II and the olive branch of the medicine of mercy offered by the Church, but also the warning of what might happen if this olive branch of dialogue is refused by modern man. It will be nothing less than the “annihilation” of the human person.
A similar warning is contained in another passed of Vatican II, perhaps due to the salutary Trad influence of the Coetus Internationalis Patrum:
In our own time, moreover, those who have trusted excessively in the progress of the natural sciences and the technical arts have fallen into an idolatry of temporal things and have become their slaves rather than their masters (Apostolicam Actuositatem, 7).
Unfortunately our Trad godfathers among the Coetus were among the few who could see through the shallow optimism of the post-war narrative. A salutary passage like this one was promulgated, but fell on deaf ears very quickly, swallowed up in post-war optimism running headlong into the arms of the world, the flesh, and the devil. The post-war narrative provided enough truth to convince many but also enough ambiguity to make the Vatican II project vulnerable to enemies.
Rejected Vatican II
Already in 1964, while post-war churchmen were focused on the hope of the Council, Hollywood had produced the first pornographic film since the 1920s. In 1967, then Fr. Theodore McCarrick was signing the “Land O’ Lakes Statement” and after Humanae Vitae in 1968, priests and bishops joined the Second Sexual Revolution in open revolt against Catholic doctrine.
The reality is that modern man – post-war man – utterly rejected this olive branch of mercy from the Church, and then imposed upon the world the unborn holocaust.
Whatever was good was in the post-war milieu about liberating man from the evils of Communism and National Socialism quickly turned to the “annihilation” of the human person, even from the womb.
Vatican II offered mercy to modernity, and modernity rejected it.
Pope Francis is concerned with Trads rejecting Vatican II. The fact is that before the Trad movement existed as a broad movement, modern man rejected Vatican II.
And that’s the point.
That’s what the Trads have been trying to say about the deficiency of Vatican II. Even if we were to assert, for the sake of argument, that Vatican II’s doctrinal orthodoxy is absolutely crystal clear, we would have to also assert that the pastoral programme to win over modern man with mercy has been a failure because modern man rejected it.
After the Second Sexual revolution began, modern, post-war man became post-modern man. He has surrendered himself to neo-paganism to offer the blood of his sons and his daughters to devils (Ps. cv. 37). The world – and the pastoral situation – has been completely transformed from the heady days of John F. Kennedy.
Cogently, Dr. R. Jared Staudt wrote recently over at Catholic World Report that:
In the end, the Church will have to discern whether or not the vision of Vatican II is adequate for leading the Church to the renewal in mission so desperately needed as she continues to decline throughout most of the world. Beyond rejecting the legitimacy of Vatican II and its teaching, it is different matter to question the effectiveness of its pastoral strategy and its continued relevance for pointing the Church toward the future.
When we look at the post-war milieu, we can see why many church men had this immense optimism. We could even assert (although it is difficult to prove historically) that this was indeed the opportune moment for the medicine of mercy, a “Constantinian moment” for western, secular democracy to embrace the Faith.
But we can also look around us and notice that post-war man has now been transformed into post-modern, post-human man who denies his own gender and nature and reality itself. Catholics of good will must be honest enough to admit that it was the Trad godfathers – the Coetus – who warned about this situation at Vatican II itself. We might reasonably concede that the optimism project could possibly have worked (if post-war man had accepted it), but we must also admit that it definitely did not. The “prophets of doom” proved to be correct in their caution. And no Catholic is being unfaithful to the Church for following the exhortation of Vatican II itself by truly reading the signs of these our times.
For our times are no longer the post-war epoch.
2022 is not 1965.
We live in the times of the unborn holocaust. The globalist conspiracy of the fallen angels. The slavery of social media and the human trafficking of international pornography. The Ukraine crisis and the threat of global nuclear war.
Let us not be so naïve as to offer the medicine of mercy to the Antichrist.
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 Bishop Chiaramonti’s positive evaluation of the French revolutionaries taking over Italy and (as Pius VII) his subsequent ambiguous concordat with Napoleon; Leo XIII’s whole ralliement project and positive evaluation of the providence of the United States; and Pius XI’s suppression of Action Française.
 Pope Benedict XV, Peace Plan.
 We can also see how Maritain could be so impressed by the United States in the 1930s, with its Catholic dominance of the day leading a “true Ecumenism” in the Legion of Decency, having come from the bitterly divided, post-Dreyfus France.
 Jon Kirwan, An Avant-garde Theological Generation: The Nouvelle Theologie and the French Crisis of Modernity (Oxford University Press, 2018), 233-234.
 Jean Vinatier, Le Cardinal Suhard (Paris: Le Centurion, 1983), 204-205 in Ibid., 234.
 In fact, Kirwan notes how the infamous godfather of Liberation theology, Gustavo Gutiérrez was himself inspired and influenced by this “French liberation moment.” Peter Seewald in his Benedict XVI: a Life, vol. 1 describes how the French resistance inspired Joseph Ratzinger to embrace the priesthood. What Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira said of France was certainly true of the post-war milieu: “Every people has its own food, wine, dress, perfumes, etc. but when the French touch them, they take on a higher form and become a model for others… The others [nations] naturally tend to follow its example.”
 “PSB Planning Objectives” Top Secret [Declassified 1998] April 7, 1952, “Doctrinal Warfare” Memoranda, “Psychological Strategy Planning for Western Europe” and “Latin America,” Jan-Feb, 1953, Dwight D. Eisenhower Library in Wemhoff, John Courtney Murray (Fidelity Press, 2015), 278-319.
 Benedict XVI, “Christmas Address to the Roman Curia,” (Dec. 22, 2005).
 The key “integralist” phrase contained in the first paragraph of Dignitatus Humanae (quoted by the “Manifesto of New Traditionalism”) is indeed the work of the Coetus, according to the biography of Archbishop Lefebvre.
Timothy Flanders is the editor-in-chief of OnePeterFive. He is the author of City of God versus City of Man: The Battles of the Church from Antiquity to the Present and Introduction to the Holy Bible for Traditional Catholics. His writings have appeared at OnePeterFive and Crisis, as well as in Catholic Family News. In 2019 he founded The Meaning of Catholic, a lay apostolate dedicated to uniting Catholics against the enemies of Holy Church. He holds a degree in classical languages from Grand Valley State University and has done graduate work with the Catholic University of Ukraine. He lives in Michigan with his wife and six children.