Reading Alberigo's History of Vatican II, volume I, brings the realization that younger Catholics who claim that Vatican II petered out or is a thing of the past are largely reliving the agenda of those whose nervous voices were rejected in the early states of the conciliar process. Consider these words of Henri de Lubac on his fellow-members of a subcommission of the preparatory Theological Commission:
"They know their craft, but little else. You sense in them a certain indifference to Scripture, the Fathers, the Eastern Church; a lack of interest in and uneasiness with regard to contemporary doctrines and intellectual currents contrary to Catholic faith. They are, it seems, too certain of their own superiority; their practice of judging does not incline them to work. It is the milieu of the Holy Office. Observations, studies, suggestions from theologians, or even bishops, from elsewhere (except those of some friends or spokesmen) scarcely retain their attention. The result is a little academic system, ultra-intellectualistic but without much intellectual quality. The Gospel is folded into this system, which is the constant a priori."
The last sentence there captures well the priorities of the current agenda of Catholic neo-conservatives, many of whom are recent converts from Protestantism seeking in the Roman Church a refuge from modern ways of thinking.
In a document prepared by Cardinal Ottaviani, "the Scriptures are never cited... Pascendi, Lamentabili, and the anti-modernist oath are cited eight times and Humani generis seven times. Among the errors opposed are: laicism, mistaken notions of Christ's satisfaction, minimalism in Mariology and errors on her virginity, denials that the Catholic Church is the one true Church, new theories about the salvation of infants who die without baptism, denials of the difference between the universal and hierarchical priesthood, emphases on the Church's sins, and neglect of the doctrine of Hell" (Alberigo, pp. 238-9). Many members of the commission criticized the document "for its negative character, inflation of the authority of encyclicals, neglect of the varying doctrinal authority of its statements, and attempt to close many legitimately disputed questions". Vatican II, carefully faithful to traditional teaching, was to strike other notes. But one sometimes has the impression that Ottaviani is having the last laugh and that Vatican II is destined to remain an anomalous blip on the radar screen of church history! [The proposed reforms of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith were effectively stymied by their being entrusted to none other than Cardinal Ottaviani!]
Here is how Philip Blosser's influential site welcomed the election of the Pope:
""I love the smell of napalm in the morning ... The smell -- you know, that gasoline smell -- the whole hill -- it smelled like ... victory."
"When John Kerry lost last 2004 presidential election, nobody thought the world could witness a more disappointed constituency than the Democrat "blue state" partisans who endured the triumph of George W. Bush. I then predicted that the disappointment and gnashing of teeth among Democrats was nothing compared to what the world would see in the disappointment of liberal, dissident Catholics -- readers of National Catholic Reporter, Commonweal, America, U.S. Catholic, and all of those other dissident rags -- at the outcome of the next conclave. Well, I never could have been more right in a prediction. The liberal cafeteria Catholic's worst nightmare has come true: the Panzerkardinal, the Grand Inquisitor himself, has come to the papal throne. The Lord in His mercy and grace has sent us a Pope who loves truth, every bit as much as the late John Paul II did. Furthermore, He has sent us a Pope who, we pray, will offer a firm hand of guidance in this time of confusion and uncertainty."
"Confusion and uncertainty" are indeed causing pain to many Catholics, and their remedy for it is fundamentalism -- biblical fundamentalism laced with magisterial fundamentalism. While some wanted Vatican II to insist on the literal historicity of the infancy narratives, the resurrection narratives and the spoken words of Jesus in the Gospels, the Council's Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, Dei Verbum contented itself with more general assurances of the historical trustworthiness of Scripture and restated the doctrine of inerrancy in mild terms. On many other fronts the Council gently attempts to wean the faithful away from a nervous clutching at fundamentalist certitudes, directing their attention instead to the larger context of divine revelation. Thus the doctrine of papal infallibility is reinserted in the context of the authority of the universal magisterium and this is described as the preaching of the Gospel (Lumen Gentium 25).
Joseph Ratzinger, at that time, was one of the soundest exegetes of the Council's intentions. It has long been a sport of liberal Catholic theologians to play his earlier dicta off against his later views. In a letter to The New Yorker recently, Paul Surlis quoted the early Ratzinger on freedom of conscience as follows: "Over the pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority there still stands one's own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else, if necessary even against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority. This emphasis on the individual, whose conscience confronts him with a supreme and ultimate tribunal, and one which in the last resort is beyond the claim of external social groups, even of the official Church, also establishes a principle of opposition to increasing totalitarianism." Some say that Cardinal Ratzinger referred to his early thoughts as "the sins of his youth", yet their context, in commentaries on the Council documents that were accepted and used throughout the Catholic world, as well as their intrinsic soundness, make them difficult to expunge.
Is the new Pope rightly acclaimed as the darling of the right and a mighty canon in their culture wars? Was it in order to play this role that the Cardinals elected him?
I do not believe so. Ratzinger was elected Pope for his long experience and proven competence, a safe and steady pair of hands to guide the barque of Peter. While liberal Catholics are deeply disappointed at many aspects of the last pontificate and of Ratzinger's activities during it, they are curiously hopeful about the new pontificate. That is because, just as they retain a memory of Vatican II, they have not forgotten either the new Pope's luminous writing as a theologian in the 1950s and 1960s or his graciousness as a teacher in the 1970s. These qualities may come to the fore again in an office where their value would be centupled. There are even some who see Ratzinger as potentially a new John XXIII, perhaps clearing the path to a future Council. So far he has done nothing to shatter these dreams...
Update, April 16, 2007
Biblical fundamentalism is a creeping disease in all Christian churches today. It is a source of very stubborn obtuseness that blocks all attempts to make scriptural revelation intelligible to the modern world. The Anglican Communion is currently reeling under an onslaught of noisy and well-organized fundamentalists,. The draft Covenant to be presented at Lambeth 2008 urges that biblical texts must be handled "faithfully, respectfully, comprehensively, and coherently" with the aid or "our best scholarship", but "primarily through the teaching and initiative of the bishops and synods". This position can be read as the antithesis of fundamentalism, but every work in it can be interpreted in two senses: "faithfulness" can mean literal fidelity to archaic precept; "our best scholarship" may mean our most conservative scholarship; the initiative of bishops and synods may be invoked to overrule bishops perceived to be errant, such as the US House of Bishops who have rejected the communique issued by the Anglican Primates in Tanzanian.
In a delightful interview with Richard Dawkins, Anglican bishop Richard Harries points out that the British Christians at the time of his predecessor Samuel Wilberforce (1805-1873) and of Archbishop Frederick Temple (1821-1902) took on board the theory of evolution, arguing that God creates the world by enabling it to create itself (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QS2TFVe9LDc). Now Benedict XVI prefers to stress that the theory of evolution remains unproven!
The Vatican "Notification" on the Jesuit liberation theologian Jon Sobrino strikes the note of biblical fundamentalism in its insistence that the divinity of Christ is explicitly taught in the New Testament.
"To maintain that John 20:28 affirms that Jesus is “of God” is clearly erroneous, in as much as the passage itself refers to Jesus as “Lord” and “God.”"
"Lord" by no means implies true divinity; if it did every reference to "Lord Jesus" in the NT could be taken as proving Christ's divinity, which would certainly have made the work of the defenders of Nicea in the fourth century much easier.
"My God" (ho theos mou, Jn 20.28) might seem a clincher, but the fact that the same phrase was used as an honorary address to the Emperor Domitian encourages caution. The Gospel does not say: "Jesus is ho Theos", which would be a stronger assertion of divinity. In any case the divinity of Christ is not at issue in John 20 and Thomas's acclamation is only one of a series throughout the Gospel in which Jesus is saluted by an appropriate title.
There is no doubt an inclusio with the title Theos conferred on the Logos in 1.1 (and according to one reading also in 1.18), but in that case the acclamation does not claim any more than the Prologue does.
" Similarly, John 1:1 says that the Word is God."
No, it says "Theos en ho Logos". Theos has an emphatic place at the beginning of the sentence, but as Origen pointed out long ago "Theos" is not the same as "ho Theos". One could translate "the Word was divine".
A subordinationist reading of the Prologue is perfectly possible, and a "Nicene" reading is forced.
" Many other texts speak of Jesus as Son and as Lord." Son of God was a Messianic title, not a declaration of the ontological full divinity.
" The divinity of Jesus has been the object of the Church’s faith from the beginning, long before his consubstantiality with the Father was proclaimed by the Council of Nicea."
The articulation of it has not been clear from the beginning, however; if it were, the stupendous controversy unleashed by Nicea would be inexplicable.
" The fact that this term was not used does not mean that the divinity of Jesus was not affirmed in the strict sense, contrary to what the Author seems to imply."
Perhaps the strongest affirmation of Christ's divinity in the NT is his use of the divine name "I am" in the Fourth Gospel. But even this does not amount to an affirmation of the divinity of Jesus in the strict sense, since it could be interpreted as meaning that Jesus is "of God" rather than, in his divine nature, "true God from true God".
A more blatant example of biblical fundamentalism is given by Fr Mankowski of the Biblicum who attacks Fr Francis Maloney as "heterodox" for denying the strict historicity of the changing of water into wine at Cana. This is harking back to long outdated positions of the Pontifical Biblical Commission on the historicity of the Fourth Gospel, which Fr Mankowski apparently believes are still upheld by Vatican II in Dei Verbum. Like many professors at the Biblicum, Fr Mankowski is a master of ancient semitic languages, but not well-versed in the subtleties of biblical and theological hermeneutics. This in itself is an indication that the Biblicum and the Gregorianum are suffering from the stifling intellectual climate of Rome, a climate generated in large part by the Vatican, which has systematically promoted Opus Dei over the Jesuits.
Literary study of scriptural narratives reveals increasingly that they are artifacts rather than natural tales or -- far less -- literal reportage. The Church is failing dreadfully in conveying to the simple faithful a mature biblical culture and is leaving them exposed to those who draw recklessly on decontextualized biblical texts for purposes of obscurantism and even of violence.