Tag Archives: Vatican II

129. Roman Catholic Theology after Vatican II: An Interview

October 1st, 2016

Excerpts of an interview published in Unio Cum Christo. International Journal of Reformed Theology and Life, Vol. 2, No. 2 (October 2016).

Since Martin Luther’s reformation, three major events in the life of the Roman Catholic Church have marked its reaction not only to Protestantism but also to developments in the modern culture: The Council of Trent (1545–1563), Vatican I (1869–1870), and most recently Vatican II (1962–1965). Whereas the first two are often considered as hardening the arteries of the church in their reaffirmation and defense of traditional doctrine, Vatican II is often seen as a renovation that makes the life blood of the Roman church flow swifter, opening a way to greater receptiveness to the world, bringing hope for a new ecumenical era with respect to Protestantism and openness to other religions. But since then, what has happened, and where is the Roman church headed?

1. How did Roman Catholic theology change in your country after Vatican II?

Vatican II brought significant changes in the theological landscape of Roman Catholicism. Catholic theology found itself pushed toward a season of aggiornamento (update). The retrieval of patristic influences introduced by the nouvelle théologie softened the rigidity of neo-Thomism as the main theological grid and nuanced many clear-cut boundaries that were prevalent before. Modern biblical criticism was introduced into biblical studies, thus blurring Rome’s previous commitment to a high view of biblical inspiration. After Vatican II, there has been practically no distinction between critical scholarship done by Catholic exegetes and that done by liberal Protestants in their study on Scripture. More broadly, after Vatican II, Roman Catholic theology connected with many modern trends like evolutionism, political theories, existentialism, feminism, and religious studies, all developed in a highly sophisticated “sacramental” way that is typical of Rome. Post–Vatican II Roman Catholic theology has become more “catholic” and diverse in the sense of being more open to anything, embracing all trends, and hospitable to all kinds of tendencies without losing its Roman institutional outlook. “Dialogue” seems to be its catchword: dialogue with religions, dialogue with other Christian traditions, dialogue with the sciences, dialogue with social trajectories, dialogue with the secular world…. We need to understand what dialogue means, though. I think it means expanding the boundaries, stretching the borders, rounding the edges, but not changing or moving the institutional center. Roman theology seems to reflect the catholicity project launched at Vatican II.

2. How has it continued to change, and what new directions do you note since the turn of the twenty-first century?

At times the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (i.e., the former Inquisition) felt it right and necessary to warn about possible theological derailments. For example, the 2000 document Dominus Iesus reaffirmed the centrality of the role of the Roman Catholic Church in God’s salvific purposes, trying to silence dangerous moves towards universalism and relativism. The 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church tried to provide a comprehensive magisterial presentation of Catholic doctrine that would define and confirm the basic contours of Roman teaching in an age of much theological diversity and confusion. The catholicity of Rome does not mean that anything goes. It is always and organically related to the Roman center of the system. The former is at the service of the ever-expanding, universal scope of the catholic vision; the latter maintains the whole process connected to the sacramental, institutional, and political hardware of the Church.

With Pope Francis, a new development that can be seen is the increasing role of the “theology of the people,” a specific theological motif that has been shaping Latin American theology over the last few decades. It is a version of theology “from below.” Instead of jumping top-down from the official magisterium to the peripheries of the world, it makes the voices, concerns, and traditions of the “people” central for theology. This insistence on the “people” explains Francis’s endorsement of folk traditions and devotions, even ones that are idiosyncratic with regards to biblical teaching.

3. Are there signs of biblical renewal because of Bible reading by Roman Catholics?

After centuries of stigmatization if not prohibition of the use of Bible translations in the vernacular languages, the Bible is finally accessible to the people. Official documents are replete with Bible quotations. The present pope gives a short daily homily based on Scripture, focusing on a kind of sacramental-existential reading of it but often missing the redemptive flow of the Bible. There are some lay movements that encourage a spirituality that gives Scripture a significant role. The theological framework of Vatican II, though, while recognizing the importance of Scripture in the life of the Church, has placed it within the context of Tradition (capital T), which precedes and exceeds the Bible and which ultimately speaks through the magisterium of the Church. Besides these positive developments, post–Vatican II theology has increasingly aligned itself to a critical reading of the Bible: the last document of the Pontifical Biblical Commission (“The Inspiration and the Truth of Sacred Scripture,” 2014) echoes the typical liberal skepticism on the reliability of the Old Testament stories, the miraculous nature of certain events, and the full inerrancy of the Bible, thus needing the magisterium to fill the vacuum with its authoritative teaching.

4. How is Pope Francis changing things now?

Francis is the first Jesuit Pope in history. It is ironic that a pope who appears to be close to Evangelicals actually belongs to the religious order that was founded to fight Protestantism. The former soldier Ignatius of Loyola (1491–1566) gathered a group of friends who called themselves The Society of Jesus (Societas Jesu), and eventually they were commissioned by the Pope to stop the spread of Protestantism. Their task was to imitate the strengths of Protestantism, that is, spiritual depth and intellectual brightness, but to use them as Catholic weapons against it. The Jesuit order provided the “alternative” catholic way to the Protestant faith. It comes as no surprise then that the first saint that Pope Francis proclaimed in 2013 was Pierre Favre (1506–1546), a first-generation French Jesuit with a “smiling face,” who more than others tried to look like a Protestant in order to drive people back to the Roman Church.

5. What can we expect from the Roman church in future?

In our fragmented and violent world, unity is one of the catchwords that many people are attracted to. Francis is strongly advocating for Christian unity and ultimately the unity of mankind. His passion for unity makes many Evangelicals think that he is the person who may achieve it. Francis developed his idea of ecumenism as a polyhedron, a geometric figure with different angles and lines. All different parts have their own peculiarity. It’s a figure that brings together unity and diversity.

Polyhedrons are fascinating figures, and Francis’s use of the image of a polyhedron is thought provoking. However, the problem for Christian unity lies primarily not in the metaphors used, but in the theological vision that nurtures it. The unity proposed by Francis still gravitates around the Roman Catholic Church and its distinct outlook, and not around the biblical Gospel that calls all Christians to conform to the mind of Christ.

Certainly, with Vatican II a different period began that needs to be understood. It is wrong to have a flattened or static view of Catholicism. On the other hand, Vatican II and Pope Francis, who is its most successful incarnation, are only the latest evolutionary step in a system that was born and developed with an “original sin” from which it has not yet been redeemed, but which instead has been consolidated. No ecumenical diplomacy will be able to change it, nor will even the addition of a new Evangelical offer to the traditional menu. The real new time, God willing, will be when Roman Catholicism breaks the imperial ecclesiological pattern and reforms its own catholicity, basing it no longer on its assimilation project, but on the basis of faithfulness to the gospel.

    121. Karl Barth and Vatican II

    March 8th, 2016

    The interpretation of Roman Catholicism by Karl Barth went through a major change, if not a turning point, with Vatican II (1962-1965). The Council, to which the Swiss theologian did not take part but which he closely followed during and after the conclusion of the sessions, represented for him a testimony of how Roman Catholicism had taken a substantially new direction, away from the mere reiteration of the inherited legacy of XVI century anti-Protestantism, XIX century anti-revolutionary conservatism and the absolutist rigidity of Vatican I (1870).

    The opportunity to meditate on this change is provided in the book by Donald W. Norwood, Reforming Rome: Karl Barth and Vatican II (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015). In this study, based on a doctoral thesis, the English theologian of the United Reformed Church Donald Norwood, examines the understanding of Vatican II by Barth. Norwood is aware that Barth had taken a polemical stance before Vatican II, whereas after Vatican II he emerges as a more “catholic” theologian, that is wanting to address the church in its entirety and totality beyond well-entrenched confessional boundaries. Thinking of Karl Barth’s trajectory, Reinhard Hütter speaks of it as a theological vision marked by “dialectical catholicity” (p. 80) whereby Barth is a catholic theologian, still maintaining his dialectical approach towards the Bible, tradition and the ecclesiastical outlook of the church.

    A Change of Approach

    In reading Vatican II, Barth was struck by the recovery of the Word of God especially reflected in Dei Verbum, the dogmatic constitution on divine revelation. He saw Catholic theology embracing a more “dynamic” view of the Word of God that in some ways resembled his theology of the Word. According to this shared dynamic understanding of the Word of God, the Bible is the Word only in a relative and secondary sense. The point is that the non-identity view of the Bible and the Word of God was shared both by Barth and Vatican II and gave both theologies their “dynamic” flavor.

    Barth was also impressed by a Christocentic emphasis of the Council (especially in Lumen Gentium, the dogmatic constitution on the Church) that may be compared to the Christological concentration of his own theology. Finally, he was further impressed by the desire for unity that he read in the conciliar texts. Bringing all of these elements together, Barth became convinced that the remaining differences between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism were no longer matters of theological substance but needed only to be perceived as multiple emphases within the one and only Church. If before Vatican II Barth had charged Rome of being trapped in the philosophical prison of analogia entis (analogy of being), after Vatican II he endorsed the view according to which the two traditions were ecumenically complementary.

    After Vatican II Barth underlined the more “catholic” elements of the Roman Church focusing on commonalities, rather than criticizing the “roman” aspects of the Catholic Church which might have been controversial. This does not mean that Barth stopped asking deep questions and suggesting issues for discussion; rather his attitude as a whole changed, becoming more ecumenically minded. Norwood mainly focuses on the ecclesiological issues with which Barth continued to critically engage Roman Catholicism, as well as the Catholic readings of Barth by Yves Congar, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and others who did not stop arguing with him. In fact, after Vatican II ecclesiology remains for Barth the decisive difference, while the rest (even Mariology, that for the pre-Vatican II  Barth was the quintessential Catholic error!) is in some way subsumed into the compatible diversity of a plural Christianity. Having said that, for Barth acknowledging ecclesiological diversity no longer means taking a divisive posture with regards to the Roman Catholic Church (p. 188).

    Standing Issues

    Norwood offers a detailed and sympathetic reading of Barth’s interpretation of Vatican II. From the 1960s onwards, the compatibilist and complementary understanding of the relationship between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism became the common denominator of the ecumenical movement to which Barth belonged with conviction.

    The gigantic stature of Karl Barth is undeniable, but these are some of his limits: despite having called attention to the Word of God, his theology of the Word has not actually prevented the long wave of theological liberalism, marked by severe skepticism towards the trustworthiness of the Bible, to become the framework of mainstream Protestantism. In terms of the Protestant evaluation of Roman Catholicism, Barth’s theology of the Word has weakened the evangelical ability to assess Rome having the Bible as supreme standard and has encouraged a dialectical approach which has moved away from Sola Scriptura. Moreover, his seemingly Christocentric theology has been unable to discern the idiosyncratic nature of the Roman Catholic sacramental system, its Mariology and hierarchical structure, thus making all these fundamental elements apparently compatible with a biblical Christology.

    These criticisms are not shared by Norwood, but the question of whether or not Karl Barth’s reading of Vatican II has been beneficial to the Church is worth asking.

     

    You may be interested in this webinar

    with

     

    Date & Time:
    17 Mar 2016, 18:00 (London Time)

     

    The Second Vatican Council from 1962 to 1965, also known as ‘Vatican II’, is widely regarded as one of the most significant events of the twentieth century. Beside the immense influence exerted on Catholic theology and life, the Council has brought aggiornamento to the Roman Church.

    Aggiornamento, or a bringing up to date, does not denote reformation in the evangelical sense but neither is it a merely political and linguistic device aimed at concealing an unchanging reality. It is instead the Catholic way of responding to the need for some form of renewal without altering the fundamental structure inherited from the past.

    This webinar will examine the historical significance of Vatican II and its theological outcomes that continue to shape Roman Catholic identity today.

    Sign up here:

    http://foclonline.org/webinar/aggiornamento-or-what-happened-vatican-ii

      Aggiornamento or What Happened at Vatican II (1962-1965)? A Webinar with Leonardo De Chirico

      Aggiornamento or What Happened at Vatican II (1962-1965)?

      The Second Vatican Council from 1962 to 1965, also known as ‘Vatican II’, is widely regarded as one of the most significant events of the twentieth century. Beside the immense influence exerted on Catholic theology and life, the Council has brought aggiornamento to the Roman Church. Aggiornamento, or a bringing up to date, does not denote reformation in the evangelical sense but neither is it a merely political and linguistic device aimed at concealing an unchanging reality. It is instead the Catholic way of responding to the need for some form of renewal without altering the fundamental structure inherited from the past. This webinar  will examine the historical significance of Vatican II and its theological outcomes that continue to shape Roman Catholic identity today

      A Webinar led by Leonardo De Chirico

      Thursday, March 17, 2016

      6:00 PM – 7:30 PM London

      Register here:

      http://www.foclonline.org/webinar/aggiornamento-or-what-happened-vatican-ii