In our attempt to get a clear understanding of how we arrived at the present crisis of faith, it is instructive to examine the experience of another council peritus, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, theologian, Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, gloriously elevated by the Holy Spirit to the Chair of St. Peter as Pope Benedict XVI in April, 2005. By way of background, from 1930-1950 in response to the pervasive secularism of these years in
Europe, a broad
intellectual and theological movement emerged among prominent European
theologians, among them Frs. Romano Guardini, Karl Adam, Henri de Lubac, Jean
Danielou, Yves Congar, Louis Boyer, and Hans Urs von Balthasar. The inspiration
for this movement was a belief that the Catholic Faith had to speak more
effectively to the modern world, and that to do this a rediscovery of all of
the riches of the two-thousand year tradition of the Church was a crucial step.
These reform-minded theologians saw that the precursor to any aggiornamento (the famous “updating,” one purpose for which John XXIII convened the Council) must be a ressourcement, a restoration of this tradition, a “return to the sources” of the Catholic Faith. The writings of these reformers played a profound role in influencing the direction the Council was to take, and were a formative influence on two periti, Archbishop Wojtyla and Fr. Ratzinger. These priests hoped for a return to classical (patristic-medieval) sources, a renewed interpretation of Aquinas, and a dialogue with the major movements and thinkers of the twentieth century, with particular attention given to problems associated with the Enlightenment, modernity, and liberalism. Fr. Ratzinger in 1964 was included among the founders of a new international theological journal, Concilium, along with other notables Frs. Karl Rahner, Edward Schillebeeckx, Hans Küng, Johann Baptist Metz, Yves Congar and Gustavo Gutierrez – at the time, the elite of the more progressive Catholic theologians. At present Concilium exists
….to promote theological discussion in the spirit of
Vatican II [emphasis added], out
of which it was born. It is a catholic journal in the widest sense: rooted
firmly in the Catholic heritage, open to other Christian traditions and the
When asked by Vittorio Messori in his famous interview with Cardinal Ratzinger about the fact that he once was associated with some theologians who have since run afoul with the CDF, the Cardinal’s reply sheds much light on this “spirit of Vatican II”:
It is not I who have changed, but others. At our very first meetings I pointed out two prerequisites to my colleagues. The first one: our group must not lapse into any kind of sectarianism or arrogance, as if we were the new, the true Church, an alternative magisterium [emphasis added] with a monopoly on the truth of Christianity. The second one: discussion has to be conducted without any individualistic flights forward, in confrontation with the reality of Vatican II with the true letter and the true spirit of the Council, not with an imaginary Vatican III. These prerequisites were increasingly less observed in the following period up to a turning point—which set in around 1973—when someone began to assert that the texts of Vatican II were no longer the point of reference for Catholic theology ….that the Council still belonged to the traditional, clerical moment of the Church and that it was not possible to move forward very much with such documents [emphasis added]. They must be surpassed.
It is important to understand the part played by neomodernism in bringing about this division within the ranks of the “new theology.” As I hope to show, it was the establishment of “an alternative magisterium” on the part of theologians who viewed the Vatican II documents as inadequate who demonstrated the pride warned against by Cardinal Ratzinger. I believe it consistent with Catholic teaching to see in the apostasy of this “anthropocentric society” the work of “the hidden enemy who sows errors and misfortune in human history.”