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Vatican II Cannot Be Separated from Its ‘Spirit’

We have heard it all before.

“The Second Vatican Council was not the problem; the problem was the ‘Spirit of Vatican II.’ The documents themselves are not that bad. Modernists hijacked the confusion after the Council, Traditionalists who bash Vatican II probably don’t even know anything about the documents. Archbishop Lefebvre even signed most of the Council documents!”

The arguments listed above have been debated ad infinitum. While factions in the Church disagree over whether Vatican II in and of itself was problematic, they all (excluding the heretical factions) agree that the supposed “Spirit of Vatican II” was detrimental to the Faith. But what exactly was this Spirit?

The Spirit of Vatican II has no official definition from the Church. The phrase was uttered by an authoritative source on 25 July 1967 — by Pope Paul VI at a speech to Istanbul Catholics in the context of brotherhood [1]. Besides this mention, there are a variety of other non-magisterial sources I will turn to in order to define this infernal Spirit.

First off, Monsignor Pope has explained the phenomenon of the Spirit of Vatican II as “Weaponized Ambiguity” [2]. He argues that the Council Fathers of Vatican II wrote the documents with purposely ambiguous phrases so that unsuspecting orthodox believers of the Faith could read the documents without being scandalized. A quote from Annibale Bugnini, the author of arguably the most conservative document of Vatican II, all but vindicates Monsignor Pope’s perspective:

It would be most inconvenient for the articles of our Constitution to be rejected by the Central Commission or by the Council itself. That is why we must tread carefully and  discreetly. Carefully, so that proposals be … formulated in such a way that much is said  without seeming to say anything: let many things be said in embryo and in this way let the door remain open to legitimate and possible postconciliar deductions and applications: let nothing be said that suggests excessive novelty and might invalidate all the rest. [3]

Timothy Gordon has also explained the Spirit of Vatican II by stating that it is “Not Heterodox, but Heteropraxis” [4]. This means that Vatican II was not necessarily written to be heterodox, but it can be in practice. All the heterodox practices that occurred after Vatican II can only vaguely be blamed on the Council itself. Conservatives and those who defend Vatican II argue that the chaos that occurred after the Council (felt banners, guitar Masses, the Assisi Prayer meetings, the tearing out of altar rails, the destruction of high altars, and Communion on the hand) was merely the Spirit of the Council, not the Council itself. Read the documents — it doesn’t mention any of these horrors. The heteropraxis of modernist bishops is what all would define the Spirit of Vatican II to be, as opposed to the Second Vatican Council itself, which can be interpreted with a hermeneutic of continuity.

Contrary to the above-mentioned line of reasoning, it is my argument that the Spirit of Vatican II is Vatican II. There is no distinction between Vatican II and the supposed “Spirit” that hijacked the Council after it had concluded. I can explain why this is a myth in seven simple points, which, I believe, flow from standard logic.

  1. The documents of Vatican II are ambiguous, and we need a source of authority to turn to in order to interpret them.
  2. The Council was pastoral, which meant that it did not declare doctrines and definitions.
  3. There is no pope or council we can turn to in order to definitively interpret the Council’s documents, especially since the Council itself did not declare or define any doctrines.
  4. The only chance we have to properly judge the Council documents and their ambiguous language is through the pastoral implementation of the documents.
  5. Therefore, the ambiguous language of the documents should be interpreted by the implementation of the Council Fathers, who understood their meaning the best (such as Bugnini).
  6. However, the pastoral implementations were heterodox. This is what everyone calls the Spirit of Vatican II, and this is generally agreed upon as terrible.
  7. Based on the content and effectiveness of the Council’s pastoral implementation, Vatican II should be viewed with a hermeneutic of rupture rather than a hermeneutic of continuity.

A shortened version in modus ponens looks like this:

  1. If the Spirit of Vatican II cannot be blamed on the Council itself, then there should be no vital or essential connection between the Council and the Spirit of the Council, but only accidental connections.
  2. Vatican II is a pastoral council, which means it can be properly understood only by its pastoral implementation, as the documents by themselves are ambiguous.
  3. The Spirit of Vatican II is defined as the pastoral implementation of the Council.
  4. Therefore, the Spirit of the Council can be directly blamed on the Council itself. The Spirit and the Council are essentially connected.

As further proof that my suggested hermeneutic of the pastoral implementation as the key to properly interpreting the documents of Vatican II, I will quote from two of the Council’s most notable proponents. Karl Rahner, when asked about interpreting the Council, stated, “What is most important in the Council is not the letter of the decree it promulgated. They still need to be translated into life and action by all of us. Its spirit, its more advanced tendencies, this is what is the most important” [5]. Additionally, Edward Schillebeeckx stated, “We have used ambiguous phrases during the Council and we know how we will interpret them afterwards” [6]. These quotes prove my thesis: the Spirit of the Council is in fact the correct translation of the Council’s documents.

There are plenty of questions that can be asked about the above syllogisms. First, why do we even need an authoritative source to interpret the documents? The need for an authority above our own hermeneutics can be demonstrated by the debate that broke out at the Council of Jerusalem about whether there should be a hierarchy between the Hebrew and Gentile converts to the Faith, and Peter was the one to stand up and silence the debate with his declaration of the solution [7]. I am not saying language is entirely subjective and the postmodernists were right; what I am saying is that documents and written words in and of themselves are impossible to be objectively binding on a person who reads them if they were expressed by ambiguous language. If the person who authored a letter to his family died, and the phrasing could be interpreted in a multitude of ways, well then, whose interpretation of that letter is correct? Or take the Bible: the Bible is objective, and it teaches the Truth. But without the Church, the truth that it contains can be lost. This is the problem with Vatican II documents and their ambiguous language.

Secondly, why should we turn to the implementation of Vatican II by the Council Fathers as the key to properly interpreting its documents? Simply because they knew the documents the best. Additionally, it was a pastoral council. Let me have Pope Paul VI explain the nature of a pastoral council:

There are those who ask what authority, what theological qualification the Council intended to give to its teachings, knowing that it avoided issuing solemn dogmatic definitions engaging the infallibility of the ecclesiastical Magisterium. The answer is known by whoever remembers the conciliar declaration of March 6, 1964, repeated on November 16, 1964 given the Council’s pastoral character, it avoided pronouncing, in an extraordinary manner, dogmas endowed with the note of infallibility. [8]

Pastoral councils do not necessarily contain authoritative doctrines, dogmas, or infallible binding proclamations. Instead of containing authoritative language and pronouncements, pastoral councils deal with the disciplines of the Faith and how the teaching of the Church should be implemented. Because Vatican II was a pastoral council, its documents must be properly understood by its pastoral implementation rather than primarily focusing on the language of the documents. This is because pastoral activities can be objectively judged by Catholics, whereas the intent of the document’s language is entirely subjective (without an authoritative source).

Let me provide one example that truly demonstrates the validity of my interpretative method. Starting with a Vatican II document, let us view its ambiguous language: “a wrong is done when government imposes upon its people … the profession or repudiation of any religion[.] … [G]overnment is not to act … in an unfair spirit of partisanship” [9]. We must fast-forward to three years after the Council to see how this phrasing was pastorally implemented by the bishops. In 1968, Canada’s justice minister was John Turner, a Catholic. The Catholic Conference of Canadian Bishops (CCCB), citing the Vatican II document on religious liberty, assured Mr. Turner that he did not have the right to impose Catholic sexual morality as the basis of Canadian law, as this would be “an unfair spirit of partisanship.” Under their pastoral guidance, Turner joyfully passed laws such as the “Criminal Law Amendment Act” of 1968–69, which allowed the culture of death to consume the country. Abortion, homosexuality, divorce, prostitution, and pornography were all legalized under the country’s “Catholic” justice, while the head of the CCCB remarked, “Gentlemen, I think John has convinced us. Let’s have a drink” [10]. This is not the mythical Spirit of Vatican II. This is the legitimate pastoral implementation of Vatican II, and it has deadly consequences.

The seven-step syllogism above presents a strong contender for the proper hermeneutic of the documents of Vatican II. Before, the debate was a dialectic, which lacked a proper criterion to properly trump one hermeneutic over another. With the criteria of judgment I am suggesting, Catholics should look to the objective actions and implementations of the Council rather than the subjective intent of the ambiguous language in order to correctly interpret the Vatican II documents. By following this line of reasoning, there is no Spirit of Vatican II. It is a myth. The Spirit of Vatican II, which supposedly had nothing to do with the Council itself, is in fact the key to properly understanding the documents of the Council.

The myth of the Spirit of Vatican II has allowed people to defend the Council and inadvertently perpetuate the crisis in the Church by ignoring the Council itself. Vatican II’s documents are able to be interpreted only by how the Council was pastorally implemented due to their ambiguous language, and how it was implemented was equivalent to sacrilege, if not outright apostasy. All Catholics should demand at the very least a heavy reform of Vatican II, with Church leadership admitting that it was a failure of pastoral experimentation. If not, we should demand outright repealing Vatican II and its abysmal fruits. This would do the Church a significant service, rather than arguing over the intent of Sacrosanctum Concilium and Dei Verbum. While conservatives are still stuck trying to figure out documents from the 1960s using their interpretive method, the Magisterium has produced the likes of Amoris Laetitia, Laudato Si’, and Querida Amazonia. They will never possibly catch up! The sooner Catholics stop trying to make the mythical Spirit of Vatican II real, the sooner we will see a revitalization of the Catholic faith.


Note: Emphasis added for all quotes with italics.

[1] Thomas F. Stransky, “Doing the Truth in Charity: Statements of Popes Paul VI, John Paul II and the Secretariat for Christian Unity,” 1964–1980, Paulist Press, p. 188.

[2] Msgr. Charles Pope,“A Cry of the Heart to Our Bishops: Please Restore Order to the Church!” National Catholic Register, Nov. 5, 2018, https://www.ncregister.com/blog/msgr-pope/a-cry-of-the-heart-to-our-bishops

[3] Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, L’Osservatore Romano, March 19, 1965.

[4] Tim Gordon, “The Hidden Key: Unlocking the Vagueness from VC2 to the Amazon Synod,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxs52kVtzus&list=PL-416U5fL55JORHPlHkJQf8EA4U1qz6SI&index=18

[5] Dr. Taylor Marshall, Infiltration: The Plot to Destroy the Church from Within, Sophia Institute Press, May 21,

2019.

[6] Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, Open Letter to Confused Catholics, Angelus Press, pg.106.

[7] Acts 15:6–11.

[8] Pope Paul VI, January 12, 1966.

[9] Declaration on Religious Freedom, paragraphs 6 and 7.

[10] Lianne Laurence, “How the Catholic Church helped Canada elect its most pro-abortion prime minister in history,” Lifesitenews, https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/how-the-catholic-church-helped-canada-elect-its-most-pro-abortion-prime-min

Image: creepyhalloweenimages via Flickr (cropped).

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