I’m not a Vatican II scholar (I know, you’re shocked) but I’ve always had the notion that the Second Vatican Council was, all in all, a good thing.
And I still do, but I don’t articulate why it was a good thing nearly as well as some other people do.
I missed this article by George Weigel when it was first published in National Review in October 2012, near the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.
The whole piece is worth the read, but I want to quote a few passages here.
Weigel reminds us that the goal of the Council was not to diminish the Church’s doctrinal teaching, but to give it new strength and present it more effectively to a modern world:
For while it is true that “Good Pope John” wanted his council to offer the world what he called, in his opening address, the “medicine of mercy, rather than that of severity,” it is also true that, in formally convening the council 50 years ago, on October 11, 1962, Blessed John XXIII also said that “the greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously.” And while the pope’s allocution 50 years ago noted that “the substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another,” it is also true that the pope lifted up “the Church’s solicitude to promote and defend the truth,” a notion that seems quaint to many (and dangerous to others) in a post-modern cultural environment in which there may be your truth and my truth, but nothing properly describable as the truth.
And that the teaching of Vatican II, properly understood, is in complete continuity, not contrast, with the tradition of the Church:
[T]hese scholar-popes [John Paul II and Benedict XVI] have taught, correctly, that what was innovative in the teaching of Vatican II must be understood in continuity with, and as a development of, the tradition of the Church. The Catholic Church did not begin on October 11, 1962. And what happened in the four sessions of the council that followed must be pondered and understood in terms of that secure “deposit of faith” of which John XXIII spoke a half-century ago. Thus, what was truly innovative at Vatican II — its repositioning of the Gospel at the center of the Church, understood as a “communion” of disciples; its reform of the Church’s worship; its insistence on the baptismal dignity and vocational responsibility of all Catholics, lay as well as ordained; its openness to new methods in theology; its teaching on religious freedom, on church-and-state, and on the Church’s ongoing debt to Judaism — has to be understood as securely grounded in the Church’s tradition. For without that grounding and that continuity, those welcome innovations would be so much flotsam and jetsam, adrift in the cultural whitewater of post-modernity.
Ultimately, says Weigel, the teaching of Vatican II becomes a charge to us – a mission that the Church, and we as individual members of that communio, must embrace.
John XXIII concluded his opening address at Vatican II by evoking the image of a council that “rises in the Church like daybreak, a forerunner of most splendid light.” It was, the Pope concluded, “now only dawn.” What would come, after no little travail and darkness, was something unexpected and unimagined by most Catholics 50 years ago: the end of the Counter-Reformation and the emergence of Evangelical Catholicism — a culture-forming counterculture that offers the world friendship with the Lord Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the deepest aspirations of the human heart; a Church that is the world’s premier institutional defender of the dignity of the human person and of fundamental human rights.
As I said, Weigel’s entire article is worth reading.