A Council in Continuity
In my first post, I resolved to read Lumen Gentium. So far I’ve made it through the first paragraph. I am reminded of Father Richard John Neuhaus’ philosophy on interpreting the Second Vatican Council (First Things April 2003). A summary follows.
Interpreters of the council may be divided into two camps: the party of continuity and the party of discontinuity. People in the latter camp hail from both the left and right wings of the ideological spectrum. The leftists see the council as liberation or revolution. The rightist see it as deviation or apostasy. They all see the Council as a decisive break in the history of the Church. They speak of a pre-Vatican II and a post-Vatican II church. And they are both critical of John Paul’s II pontificate, some because he corrected over-steps in the aftermath of the Council, and others because he did not rein them in enough.
The party of continuity sees the Vatican II as part of a continuous series of ecumenical councils beginning with Nicea in the 4th century. It did not address a specific heresy, but it sought a new way of communicating the nearly two millennium-old deposit of faith to the modern world. It was never intended to change church doctrine but to shed new light on ancient teachings. Pope John Paul II was a man of the Council. In fact, he was considered a progressive during the Council’s proceedings. His pontificate sought to interpret Vatican II in light of the 2000 tradition of the Catholic Church.
The fathers of the Second Vatican Council expected their teachings to be interpreted in this vein. They write in Lumen Gentium, “Since the Church is in Christ like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race, it desires now to unfold more fully to the faithful of the Church and to the whole world its own inner nature and universal mission. This it intends to do following faithfully the teaching of previous councils.” (Emphasis added).