Thursday, August 20, 2009

More On Weigel, Vatican II and Continuity

As Weigel Does Not "Understand" Person as Relation, He is Blind to the Continuity

I return to Weigel’s critique of “Caritas in Veritate” because as it stands it trivializes the text to the point that the average person who might be sensitive enough to read the encyclical, will tend not to. And, as I mentioned yesterday, Joseph Ratzinger insisted that the only way to retrieve the Council is be reading the texts of the Council. In brief, as Benedict mentioned in his curial address of December 22, 2005: “Well, it all depends on the correct interpretation of the Council or - as we would say today - on its proper hermeneutics, the correct key to its interpretation and application. The problems in its implementation arose from the fact that two contrary hermeneutics came face to face and quarrelled with each other. One caused confusion, the other, silently but more and more visibly, bore and is bearing fruit.

On the one hand, there is an interpretation that I would call "a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture"; it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. On the other, there is the "hermeneutic of reform", of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.

The hermeneutic of discontinuity risks ending in a split between the pre-conciliar Church and the post-conciliar Church. It asserts that the texts of the Council as such do not yet express the true spirit of the Council. It claims that they are the result of compromises in which, to reach unanimity, it was found necessary to keep and reconfirm many old things that are now pointless. However, the true spirit of the Council is not to be found in these compromises but instead in the impulses toward the new that are contained in the texts.

These innovations alone were supposed to represent the true spirit of the Council, and starting from and in conformity with them, it would be possible to move ahead. Precisely because the texts would only imperfectly reflect the true spirit of the Council and its newness, it would be necessary to go courageously beyond the texts and make room for the newness in which the Council's deepest intention would be expressed, even if it were still vague.

In a word: it would be necessary not to follow the texts of the Council but its spirit. In this way, obviously, a vast margin was left open for the question on how this spirit should subsequently be defined and room was consequently made for every whim.

The nature of a Council as such is therefore basically misunderstood.

I judge this to be a masterful statement about the tragedy of misinterpretation concerning Vatican II. And I judge that it fits perfectly as the critique of Weigel’s critique. Let’s review Weigel again. He says “the proponents of Populorum Progressio (the 1967 social encyclical of Paul VI that Caritas in Veritate commemorates) would seem to be promoting a ‘hermeneutics of rupture’ when they claim that the tradition of Catholic social doctrine began anew with Populorum Progressio –a claim that at least some passages in Caritas in Veritate can be interpreted to support.” The ambiguity of this last sentence is then used to propose an alternative that would clearly be a “hermeneutic of rupture:” “Are there two Catholic social-doctrine traditions (one stemming from Leo XIII’s 1891 masterwork, Rerum Novarum, and a post-conciliar one beginning from Populorum Progressio), or is there one?”

If you say there is only one social-doctrine tradition that is clearly favored to be from the “masterwork, Rerum Novarum,” then you must dismiss Populorum Progressio as a derivative creation of Vatican II, which is really the point of attack. Weigel pointedly dogmatized: “the claim that the Catholic Church reinvented itself at Vatican II is simply wrong.” That established, the provenance and continuity of “Caritas in Veritate” from “Populorum Progressio” disqualifies Benedict’s recent encyclical to the dustbin of curial infighting and irrelevance. He is basically saying that we cannot simply start using obscurities like “quotas of gratuitousness and communion,” “experience of gift,”(34) “the human being is made for gift”(34) and consider ourselves speaking a real-world economics.

But this is precisely the point of Vatican II, the realism of the Word of God, the entire first chapter of “Caritas…” which is on “Populorum Progressio” and the total thrust of “Caritas….” What is really real and not an abstract ideology is the existing human person, made in the image of the Divine Persons Who are constitutively Relations, whose actions must be formed in this relationality that is self-gift.


If we are going to talk continuity in doctrine and Tradition, then let’s rehearse the meaning of Revelation and Faith. Joseph Ratzinger propounded in his habilitation thesis that “‘revelation’ is always a concept denoting an act. The word refers to the act in which God shows himself [the Person of Christ], not to the objectified result of this act. And because this is so, the receiving subject is always also a part of the concept of ‘revelation.’ Where there is not one t o perceive ‘revelation,’ no re-vel-ation has occurred, because no veil has been removed. By definitions, revelation requires a someone who apprehends it…. If [then] Bonaventure is right, then revelation precedes Scripture and becomes deposited in Scripture but is not simply identical with it. This in turn means that revelation is always something greater than what is merely written down. And this again means that there can be no such thing as pure sola scriptura…”[1]

The Church hears the Word of God which dwells in her and takes flesh from her. She can do this only by reciprocating the act of self-gift that is revelation (that is the Person of Christ) by the act of self-gift that is faith. By that resonating act, the Word is assimilated. The Church speaks the assimilate Word that is the Person of Christ in the written word of Scripture and the Magisterium. To hear the Word that is Christ, then, one must not only hear the word-text of the Magisterium but the Person-Word of the Revelation behind the text.

For continuity, one must hear both the word and the Word. The Person-Word can only be heard in prayer while mulling over the word-text. And the, it is not reaching a logical conclusion by reasoning, but receives an experience of the Word as gift of the Spirit. This means that the Word of God in the text is not reducible to the cosmic meaning of words. Their meaning always is the Person of Christ in both Old and New Testaments. Hence, the use of words like “quotas of gratuitousness and communion” refer to the relationality that the human person is called to achieve in the interpersonal space of the market.

We can conclude, then, that it is not reaching a logical conclusion by reasoning that we achieve continuity of concepts, but receiving the gift of the Spirit- an experience - whereby we have a continuity of consciousness. There occurs an experience of Christ and a consciousness beyond concepts. This alone is Benedict’s meaning of the “hermeneutic of continuity.”

He who only hears words but does not experience the Word by self-gift in prayer will see discontinuity in the wording of the Second Vatican Council. Even the use of the word “pastoral” will move such a one to trivialize the immense doctrinal horizon that is contained therein and which is in perfect continuity of, say, a Council of Nicea which would seem to be, indeed, “obscure” by saying that the Father and the Son, distinct and irreducible as Persons, are “one in Being.” This, I submit, is the state of the case of George Weigel in his perception of “Caritas in Veritate.”

How important is this point? I judge it to be immense because Weigel’s critique is the state of the hearing Church writ small. Vatican II has not been understood because it has not been reads, and it has not been read because the “spirit” of the Council, broadcast early on by an elite inspired by the Bologna School,[2] have pre-empted reading the text. Hence, Joseph Ratzinger insisted on the return to the texts and the ascetical conditions required for their proper hermeneutic.

In this light, it seems imperative to revisit Weigel’s assessment of “Of Social Concern,” Centesimus Annus” and all of the Magisterial writings he has critiqued.

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Milestones…” Ignatius (1997) 107-108.

[2] See Sandro Magister

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