According to George Cardinal Pell, the build up to the Second Vatican Council “was an enormously exciting time, a time of great intellectual ferment. We were caught up in this great movement of reform, and we were wildly over-optimistic.” Indeed, many in the Church appeared so anxious to throw open a few windows, and to let in some fresh air, they simply failed to properly investigate what sort of spirits were lurking about the sills. They weren’t evil, just overly eager to announce the triumph of the progressive dream; yet unfortunately, given that excessive optimism is a thing all too easily manipulated, it was not long before the caution of Pius XII gave way to the aggiornamento of John XXIII, and the Bride of Christ found herself poised to take those first fateful steps down the proverbial garden path.
It began with the rehabilitation of certain suspect theologians whose work had taken on a distinctly Masonic flare. It is now a well established fact that John XXIII was often at pains to distinguish himself from the disciplinary rigor of his predecessor. As such, in a foretaste of “the medicine of mercy” which he would later prescribe in the Council’s opening address, Good Pope John not only reversed the censure and suspension placed on various proponents of The New Theology, but also personally appointed perhaps their most notorious offender as an expert advisor to the Council.
Indeed, so strong was the pontiff’s faith in the remedial power of mercy that he apparently thought it sufficient to restrain proponents of the quintessentially Masonic idea that truth “need not necessarily have a permanent value, but can, and indeed should, change with time and according to the demands of circumstance.” In other words, it was presumably thought when faced with a pledge of pastoral leniency, the advocates of ideological relativism – a dogma which Pope Leo XIII identified as foundational to Freemasonry – would somehow meekly resolve to abandon their errors.
Predictably, they did not get the memo, and consequently continued their mischief almost as soon as the Council began. Yet before exploring this theme any further, it should first be noted that despite their penchant for promoting Masonic principles, it is not the intent of this essay to prove that the devotees of The New Theology were themselves Masons. It’s certainly a possibility, but ultimately it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that their teaching demonstrates – whether wittingly or not – that they were at least informal disciples of the Alta Vendita, who little by little had been “imbued with humanitarian principles” and brought “to the degree of cooking desired.”
Nowhere is this more evident than in the Council’s rejection of the carefully crafted preparatory schema. Drafted at the behest of John XXIII, the schema developed by the Central Preparatory Commission constituted the Church’s established means of steering a Council toward conclusions in concert Sacred Tradition. It would therefore seem wholly appropriate that these documents be accorded a place of honor in the Council’s proceedings.
But it was not to be.
As reported by Romano Amerio, an historian uniquely positioned as both a Council advisor and a member of the Central Preparatory Commission, “a distinctive feature of Vatican II is its paradoxical outcome, by which all the preparatory work that usually directs the debates, marks the outlook and foreshadows the results of a council, was nullified and rejected from the first session onward” (Iota Unum, 82). To this point, Amerio recalls that after heated debate regarding whether the plans drafted to guide the Council ought to be permitted to actually guide the Council, a vote was called to determine if the schema should continue to rule or be entirely redrafted.
The vote in favor of redrafting failed; as outlined in the Council bylaws, it did not garner the two-thirds majority needed to effect a procedural change. Consequently, it was announced that the existing schema would continue to act as the basis for the Council’s deliberations; and so they did, at least until later that evening when a series of extra-conciliar demands were delivered to John XXIII insisting that he overrule the vote.
This intervention, which at one blow reversed the Council’s decision and departed from the regulations governing the gathering, certainly constituted a breaking of the legal framework and a move from a collegial to a monarchical method of proceeding… In the circumstances in which it happened… this intervention constituted a classic case of a pope imposing his authority on a council, and is all the more remarkable in that the pope was at that time portrayed as a protector of the Council’s freedom. The exercise of authority was not, however, something the pope did on his own initiative, but the result of complaints and demands by those who treated the two-thirds majority required by the council rules as a “legal fiction” and ignored it in order to get the pope to accept the rule of a bare majority (83).
While the precise manner by which the pope was prevailed upon remains unclear, what is nevertheless manifest is how utterly conflicted the pontiff appears in this course of action. Only the month before, in his opening address to the Council, the same John XXIII had this to say about the preparatory schema:
“There have elapsed three years of laborious preparation, during which a wide and profound examination was made regarding modern conditions of faith and religious practice, and of Christian and especially Catholic vitality. These years have seemed to us a first sign, an initial gift of celestial grace.”
Thus, whatever ultimately led to the pope’s abrupt about-face, the record shows that the most prominent proponent of this contempt for conciliar law was Cardinal Augustin Bea. Well-versed in the school of The New Theology, it is illuminating to read His Eminence’s own words alongside those of Pius XII’s encyclical Humani Generis. In an interview given on the eve of the Council, Cardinal Bea was asked about the obstacle of doctrinal intransigence in the ecumenical effort to foster union with the members of various Protestant sects.
Religious thought and scientific theology have developed differently among Catholics and among non-Catholic Christians. Protestantism has also felt the strong influence of modern philosophical systems, because it is less bound to tradition and less subject to authoritative control. Consequently, it is most difficult, not to say impossible, for our separated brothers to understand Catholic doctrine when it is presented in traditional terminology. On the other hand, it is very hard for Catholics to grasp the real sense of Protestant thought, for reasons bound up with our own history. Therefore, the Council could explain Catholic doctrine in a way that would take account of the changes of language that have occurred among our separated brothers from the time of the separation up to now… Besides, due to a similar historical evolution in our own theological formulations, through which definitive and immutable doctrine is expressed, only a particular aspect of any given doctrine is elaborated. Thus our theological propositions do not always express the full depth and richness of revealed doctrine. The Council could, therefore—with an eye to the aspirations of our separated brothers, their problems and difficulties—develop especially those aspects of revealed truth which answer their deepest needs and expectations.
Leaving aside the absurdly arrogant proposition that Catholic doctrine, when presented in traditional terminology, might be “impossible” for Protestants to understand, consider the Cardinal’s objectives in light of Pius XII’s forceful admonition of only a few years prior:
In theology some want to reduce to a minimum the meaning of dogmas; and to free dogma itself from terminology long established in the Church and from philosophical concepts held by Catholic teachers… They cherish the hope that when dogma is stripped of the elements which they hold to be extrinsic to divine revelation, it will compare advantageously with the dogmatic opinions of those who are separated from the unity of the Church and that in this way they will gradually arrive at a mutual assimilation of Catholic dogma with the tenets of the dissidents. Moreover, they assert that when Catholic doctrine has been reduced to this condition, a way will be found to satisfy modern needs, that will permit of dogma being expressed also by the concepts of modern philosophy… Some more audacious affirm that this can and must be done, because they hold that the mysteries of faith are never expressed by truly adequate concepts but only by approximate and ever changeable notions, in which the truth is to some extent expressed, but is necessarily distorted. Wherefore they do not consider it absurd, but altogether necessary, that theology should substitute new concepts in place of the old ones in keeping with the various philosophies which in the course of time it uses as its instruments, so that it should give human expression to divine truths in various ways which are even somewhat opposed, but still equivalent, as they say. They add that the history of dogmas consists in the reporting of the various forms in which revealed truth has been clothed, forms that have succeeded one another in accordance with the different teachings and opinions that have arisen over the course of the centuries.
Having thus summarized precisely the mindset of Cardinal Bea and his collaborators, the Holy Father concludes his discourse with the following denunciation of their thought:
It is evident from what We have already said, that such tentatives not only lead to what they call dogmatic relativism, but that they actually contain it.
It is difficult to imagine a more resounding condemnation of the ideas that so obviously informed Bea’s conciliar agenda. And lest there be any confusion about the matter, the preparatory schema were drafted using precisely the kind of traditional terminology – so resistant to novelty – that Pius endorsed but Bea deplored.
In light of this reality, the unlawful suppression of the schema at the hands of the Cardinal Bea contingent constituted a real coup for the adherents of an ideology manifestly infected with Freemasonic principles; but worse still, according to Amerio’s findings, it appears the revolt was also planned in advance:
[T]he French Academician, Jean Guitton, relates of something told him by Cardinal Tisserant. When showing Guitton a painting made from a photograph, which depicted Tisserant himself and six other cardinals, the Dean of the Sacred College said: “This picture is historic, or rather, symbolic. It shows the meeting we had before the opening of the Council, when we decided to block the first session by refusing to accept the tyrannical rules laid down by John XXIII” (43).
In other words, the coup was carried out by a cabal, and as such it is no surprise that Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani also found himself in the cross hairs of this conciliar offensive. As the head of the Central Preparatory Committee, he was naturally the prime defender of the schema. Thus, in a manner befitting the worst sort of mischief, the attack against him would take the form of humiliation. Not content to simply dismiss the schema, their champion needed to be defeated as well. Consider the following account from what John Allen calls “one of the most perceptive books ever written about the Second Vatican Council.”
On October 30, the day after his seventy-second birthday, Cardinal Ottaviani addressed the Council to protest against the drastic changes which were being suggested in the Mass. “Are we seeking to stir up wonder, or perhaps scandal, among the Christian people, by introducing changes in so venerable a rite, that has been approved for so many centuries and is now so familiar? The rite of Holy Mass should not be treated as if it were a piece of cloth to be refashioned according to the whim of each generation.” Speaking without a text, because of his partial blindness, he exceeded the ten-minute time limit which all had been requested to observe. Cardinal Tisserant, Dean of the Council Presidents, showed his watch to Cardinal Alfrink, who was presiding that morning. When Cardinal Ottaviani reached fifteen minutes, Cardinal Alfrink rang the warning bell. But the speaker was so engrossed in his topic that he did not notice the bell, or purposely ignored it. At a signal from Cardinal Alfrink, a technician switched off the microphone. After confirming the fact by tapping the instrument, Cardinal Ottaviani stumbled back to his seat in humiliation. The most powerful cardinal in the Roman Curia had been silenced, and the Council Fathers clapped with glee.
The scene is positively surreal; here we have the same body charged with protecting Sacred Tradition openly mocking a plea to preserve it. For all the endless talk about the Holy Spirit and Vatican II, it is quite alarming to find the Council so dismissive of those who simply wished to respect what they had received. It is one thing to undertake reforms from a posture of submission to Tradition, but it is quite another when – as we have already seen – one’s agenda necessitates the marginalization of that Tradition. Contrast this attitude with that of Pope St. Leo the Great, who once admonished his bishops to
“teach nothing new but instill into all men’s breasts those things, which the Fathers of revered memory have with harmony of statement taught…that the ears of the faithful may attest that we preach nothing else than what we received from our forefathers… Accordingly, both in the rule of Faith and in the observance of discipline, let the standard of antiquity be maintained throughout”.
In the face of such disconcerting events, it is not difficult to imagine that John XXIII may well have lived to regret ever calling the Council; but whatever the case may be, when the Ottaviani example proves to be more of a feature than a fluke, it is time to reconsider what the Council actually achieved.
Was it renewal, or revolution?
Admittedly, even now, the latter prospect creates no small amount of dissonance in the minds of those who have only ever heard the Council called “great”; but once again, upon considering the monumental collapse of the Faith in the wake of the Council, it is not enough to go on blaming fecklessness and false implementation. After all, there has been no end to the claims that the pontificate of St. John Paul II already accomplished the definitive interpretation and implementation of Vatican II.
If that’s the case, what options are left?
Although it’s certainly easier (and in some respects, preferable) to believe that the conciliar texts are simply above reproach, at some point these admittedly ambiguous documents need to be judged, not by ignoring their deficiencies, but rather by a real episcopal rigor which insists that faith without works is dead. If this can be accomplished, the Church might finally regain some clarity regarding how to distinguish the wheat of doctrinal truth from the chaff of pastoral novelty; and moreover, she might recall, that the chaff is sown, not just through mistakes and mishaps, but also through premeditated malice. Indeed she might even begin to remember
- That there is in fact an organized cabal – expressly acknowledged by popes Gregory XVI, Pius IX, and Leo XIII – whose stated purpose is to infiltrate and destroy the Roman Catholic Church.
- That a member of this cabal, a priest who was identified as such and excommunicated accordingly, went on to predict – some 90 years in advance – that an Ecumenical Council would subvert the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church.
- That the exact character of this cabal, and a description of its 20th century assault on the sacraments, was identified by name in an approved apparition of Our Lady over a century before it ever came into being.
- That the timing of the conciliar changes in the Church’s liturgy conforms credibly with Pope Leo XIII’s alleged vision of Satan’s 20th century ascendancy.
- That the historical events which led to these changes effectively invited the destructive influence of the infiltrators.
If the Church should ever truly remember all this, it is certain that almost overnight she would forsake the anthropocentric efforts to market relevance and entertainment (i.e. pandering to modernity), and instead return to her Christocentric mandate to boldly proclaim the truth and reverently worship its Author (i.e., pleasing God).
And why is that?
Because she would remember not only that she is at war – but more importantly – that she was once the victor. Therein lies the diabolical irony of the whole thesis of adaption. It’s a complete farce. The Church already knows how to win the war because she’s done it before; thus, all this nonsense about updating and speaking the language of modernity is nothing but a pleasant sounding distraction.
To be clear, this has nothing to do with making use of advances in technology – which the Church has always done (often leading the way) – but instead about answering Dietrich Von Hildebrand’s timeless rhetorical question; namely, do we best serve God (and thus man) by soaring up to Him, or by dragging Him down into our workaday world? Are we to promote reverence or peddle relevance? In the face of such an obvious answer, the real question is: why has the Church, for the better part of century, been acting as if the opposite were true?
The answer to this question is also obvious: the Church’s enemies seem to understand this truth far better than many of her self-professed defenders. And thus, having tasted too many defeats at the hands of the Church’s supreme liturgical arsenal, the likes of the Alta Vendita have made it their mission to convince the Bride of Christ that her victory lies not in spiritual arms, but rather material ends; and that her mission should therefore be to appeal to man rather than appease the Most High. This deception is critical to the stated end goal of the Church’s enemies, for to serve man instead of God is tantamount to the Church committing suicide. It strikes at the very heart of the her existence; but sadly, until her Magisterium decides to refocus its agenda, the confusion among the faithful will only continue to spread.
For all those who sincerely believe that the Church was meant to grow simply by attraction (i.e. by the positive witness of charitable works) – with no recourse to conversion, confrontation, and condemnation – I will conclude by recalling the eight words that affected the greatest mass conversion in history: “Yet forty days, and Ninive shall be destroyed.”
Perhaps some day, when the Church regains sufficient clarity, she will have the courage to resume a form of worship that is able to “accompany” and “encounter” a sinful world, not with pastoral obsequeence, but rather a radical call to repentance.
Alongside his career in the insurance industry, Brian Miles is an avocational author of fiction, poetry, and the occasional essay. He received a BA in Religious Studies from the University of Colorado and an MA in Divinity from the University of Chicago. He is a convert to Catholicism from Evangelical Protestantism. He lives with his wife Elizabeth in Dallas, Texas.