Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The Hermeneutic of Continuity

It’s hard to read George Weigel’s second response to “Caritas in Veritate” wherein he pronounces his misunderstanding of the “hermeneutic of continuity” that the Catholic Church did not re-invent itself in the Second Vatican Council. To wit, Weigel: “Throughout his pontificate, and in Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI has been at pains to stress the continuity of Catholic life and thought before and after the Second Vatican Council: what he terms a “hermeneutics of continuity,” as distinguished from a “hermeneutics of rupture.” Or, in lay language, the claim that the Catholic Church reinvented itself at Vatican II is simply wrong.”

It’s difficult not to contradict Weigel with Karol Wojtyla’s profound assessment of Vatican II as crossing the threshold from noetic object to subject. Nothing could be more profound and telling in that it is a reorienting of the entire doctrine of the Church from propositional truth to personal “attitude” of self-gift in the ontological horizon of subjectivity.

Wojtyla wrote the following: “If we study the Conciliar magisterium as a whole, we find that the Pastors of the Church were not so much concerned to answer questions like ‘What should men believe’, ‘What is the real meaning of this or that truth of faith?’ and so on, but rather to answer the more complex question: ‘What does it mean to be a believer, a Catholic and a member of the Church?’ They endeavored to answer this questioning the broad context of today’s world, as indeed the complexity of the question itself requires.

“The question ‘What does it mean to be a believing member of the Church?’ is indeed difficult and complex, because it not only presupposes the truth of faith and pure doctrine, but also calls for that truth to be situated in the human consciousness and calls for a definition of the attitude, or rather the many attitudes, that go to make the individual a believing member of the church. This would seem to be the main respect in which the conciliar magisterium has a pastoral character, corresponding to the pastoral purpose for which it was called. A ‘purely’ doctrinal Council would have concentrated on defining the precise meaning of the truths of faith, whereas a pastoral Council proclaims, recalls or clarifies truths for the primary purpose of giving Christians a life-style, away of thanking and acting. In our efforts to put the council into practice, this is the style we must keep before our minds….

“To sum up, the enrichment of faith which we regard as the fundamental pre-requisite for the realization of Vatican II is to be understood in two ways: as an enrichment of the content of faith in accordance with the Council’s teaching, but also, originating from that content, an enrichment of the whole existence of the believing member of the Church. This enrichment of faith in the objective sense, constituting a new stage in the Church’s advance towards the ‘fulness of divine truth,’ is at the same time an enrichment in the subjective, human, existential sense, and it is from the latter that realization of the council is most to be hoped for. The ‘pastoral’ Council has opened a new chapter of the Church’s pastoral activity, interpreting that phrase in its widest sense.” ("Sources of Renewal" Harper and Row [1979] 17-18).

Then to clarify the importance of this epistemological threshold, Wojtyla pronounced that the ontological and subjective perspective of Vatican II had to be read into the whole of the preceding magisterium, and the entire preceding magisterium had to be read into Vatican II, both readings forming an “organic cohesion:”

To wit: “It must be seen therefore that the post-Conciliar integration of faith is not a mechanical addition, by the magisterium of the council, to all that was hitherto comprised in the Church’s teaching: nor is it what would be called in strict scholastic language a juxtaposition, since the incorporation of the thought of Vatican II in all the Church’s previous formulations has already taken place on the basis of the historical succession of documents. Integration means something more: an organic cohesion expressing itself simultaneously in the thought and action of the Church as a community of believers [read subjects]. It expresses itself, that is, in such a way that on the one hand we can rediscover and, as it were re-read the magisterium of the last Council in the whole previous magisterium of the Church, while on the other we can rediscover and re-read the whole preceding magisterium in that of the last council. It would seem that the principle of integration, thus conceived and applied, is indirectly the principle of the church’s identity, dating back to its first beginnings in Christ and the Apostles. This principle of identity operated in the Council and must continue to do so, integrating the whole patrimony of faith with and in the consciousness of the Church.” (Ibid 40).

This is the meaning of the “hermeneutic of Continuity.” The Catholic Church rediscovered itself as Subject – the Subject of Christ Himself - while holding to everything that had been objectively conceptualized in previous doctrine and dogma. Both dimensions interpenetrate because they are experienced on different experiential levels and horizons.

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