Thursday, February 14, 2013
In meeting for the last time with his priests today -- the clergy of the Diocese of Rome -- Pope Benedict offered a lengthy impromtu reflection on the Second Vatican Council that is well worth reading. (Available here).
There are many highlights here as he talks about the subject of each of the major documents of the Council: the reform of the liturgy (which he sees as significant in that it was the first act of the Council -- putting God and the worship of God first); completing the work of Vatican Council I in setting forth a broader and more complete ecclesiology; the primacy of scripture and the relationship between scripture and tradition; engagement with the modern world as "our responsibility for the society of tomorrow and the responsibility of the Christian before eternity," and the commitment to ecumenism and the Church's relationship with Judaism and other world religions.
It is all very much worth reading. I was struck, however, by these concluding thoughts:
I would now like to add yet a third point: there was the Council of the Fathers - the true Council - but there was also the Council of the media. It was almost a Council in and of itself, and the world perceived the Council through them, through the media. So the immediately efficiently Council that got thorough to the people, was that of the media, not that of the Fathers. And while the Council of the Fathers evolved within the faith, it was a Council of the faith that sought the intellectus, that sought to understand and try to understand the signs of God at that moment, that tried to meet the challenge of God in this time to find the words for today and tomorrow. So while the whole council - as I said - moved within the faith, as fides quaerens intellectum, the Council of journalists did not, naturally, take place within the world of faith but within the categories of the media of today, that is outside of the faith, with different hermeneutics. It was a hermeneutic of politics. The media saw the Council as a political struggle, a struggle for power between different currents within the Church. It was obvious that the media would take the side of whatever faction best suited their world. There were those who sought a decentralization of the Church, power for the bishops and then, through the Word for the "people of God", the power of the people, the laity. There was this triple issue: the power of the Pope, then transferred to the power of the bishops and then the power of all ... popular sovereignty. Naturally they saw this as the part to be approved, to promulgate, to help. This was the case for the liturgy: there was no interest in the liturgy as an act of faith, but as a something to be made understandable, similar to a community activity, something profane. And we know that there was a trend, which was also historically based, that said: "Sacredness is a pagan thing, possibly even from the Old Testament. In the New Testament the only important thing is that Christ died outside: that is, outside the gates, that is, in the secular world". Sacredness ended up as profanity even in worship: worship is not worship but an act that brings people together, communal participation and thus participation as activity. And these translations, trivializing the idea of the Council, were virulent in the practice of implementing the liturgical reform, born in a vision of the Council outside of its own key vision of faith. And it was so, also in the matter of Scripture: Scripture is a book, historical, to treat historically and nothing else, and so on.
And we know that this Council of the media was accessible to all. So, dominant, more efficient, this Council created many calamities, so many problems, so much misery, in reality: seminaries closed, convents closed liturgy trivialized ... and the true Council has struggled to materialize, to be realized: the virtual Council was stronger than the real Council. But the real strength of the Council was present and slowly it has emerged and is becoming the real power which is also true reform, true renewal of the Church. It seems to me that 50 years after the Council, we see how this Virtual Council is breaking down, getting lost and the true Council is emerging with all its spiritual strength. And it is our task, in this Year of Faith, starting from this Year of Faith, to work so that the true Council with the power of the Holy Spirit is realized and Church is really renewed. We hope that the Lord will help us.
I, retired in prayer, will always be with you, and together we will move ahead with the Lord in certainty. The Lord is victorious. Thank you.
I have no doubt that the calamaties that Benedict mentions -- "seminaries closed, convents closed, liturgy trivialized" -- have causes well beyond how the Council was reported in the media (even as the media -- including members of the Church herself -- surely contributed to this), and I do not doubt that Benedict knows this too. Still, I am struck by how -- fully fifty years after the Council -- the media's "hermenutic of politics" is in almost every instance the exclusive lens through which Benedict's resignation and the upcoming conclave are presented. The media often caricatures the Church as an institution hide-bound by tradition. It would seem, however, that this more aptly describes the media's reporting of Church affairs.