My attention was drawn to this article on an ultra-traditionalist website. Naturally, the ultra-traditionalists, sedevacantists or whatever, intend to express the idea that Vatican II was set up against the reactionary position of Pius IX and the definitions of Vatican I. Therefore Vatican II was set up to break with the “hermeneutic” of tradition and continuity.
I read this article differently. If the facts reported in the article are true, John XXIII aligned himself with the Vatican I minority who were either “inopportunists” or became Old Catholics. From thence comes the provocative title of this posting. My own definition of Old Catholicism would be something like Catholicism without any pretension to absolute authority of a single Bishop, doctrinal infallibility or claim to temporal authority over secular leaders – and with an ecclesiology of a kind that would be compatible with dialogue with Eastern Orthodoxy.
The central thesis of this article is that Vatican II was convened explicitly against Vatican I. Afterwards, Paul VI tried to moderate the “rupture” by appending notes (nota praevia) to the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium to save the Papal prerogatives in matters of dogmatic teaching and governance of the Church. It’s an interesting hypothesis.
The questions of particular interest to the author of the article are the temporal authority of the Pope, a remainder of the old medieval Papacy of characters like Boniface VIII and others, and upheld by Pius IX in the nineteenth century. John XXIII introduced an opposition to the old militant and triumphalist spirit to affirm the Church as mater et magister, mother and teacher.
One of the common policies of the Vatican after 1975 – when a strong reaction against the Council became public and accelerated – has been to try to link Vatican II to Vatican I in order to give legitimacy to the former. It was for this reason that John Paul II beatified John XXIII together with Pius IX. This is also why we sometimes see the Vatican adopting “conservative” measures. And it is for this same reason that Benedict XVI is now insisting on the “ hermeneutics of continuity.” The goal of all these initiatives is to pretend the Council was not what it really was: a planned revolution in the Catholic Church that intended to destroy her and replace her with another completely different Church.
Of course that is how the traditionalists see it, but they don’t seem to be factually wrong in the light of the evidence they produce. The difference is that I see it from another point of view, Old Catholic. In a way Paul VI and his successors up to John Paul II represented an attempt to recover the continuity with the Piuspäpst Church against the original intentions of Pope John. Benedict XVI, to an extent, seems to mirror John XXIII in this episode of history from 1963 to 2005. But, let us not speculate any further about whether Benedict XVI is more in line with John XXIII or Paul VI…
The article continues by discussing the issue of Ostpolitik, which with John XXIII only reflected the policy of Pius XII in relation to the Nazis – keep quiet so as not to provoke a worse persecution of the Church by condemning the power in place as Pius V had done with Elizabeth I in 1570. That is another question.
Read the article, and I would be interested if readers can dispute the factual basis of the traditionalist article or offer a basis for constructive progress in this reflection.
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Here are a couple of earlier articles of mine on Old Catholicism: