Your favorite author on ” The Living Church: Revisiting Vatican II .” Here’s a taste:


“Before and after”—that gets to the heart of most of the disputes about the council. Up through the 1980s, self-identified liberals routinely spoke of the “pre-Vatican II Church” and the “post-Vatican II Church,” almost as though they were two churches, with the clear implication that a very large part of the preceding centuries had been consigned to the dustbin of history.

Many liberals made no secret of their belief that aggiornamento was a mandate for radical change, even revolution. In the two decades following the council, they hailed as renewal what others saw as destabilization and confusion. Some traditionalists, farther to the right of center and as disappointed by the impact of the council as liberals were heartened, blamed the council itself, employing the logic of post hoc ergo propter hoc—”after which therefore because of which.” Liberals, on the other hand, demanded an early convening of Vatican Council III in order to, as they put it, “complete the revolution.”

Pope Benedict XVI, we are reminded, casts the dispute in a different—and far more luminous—light:

The question is one of hermeneutics, says the pope. There are, he suggests, two quite different ways of interpreting the council.

On the one hand, there is an interpretation that I would call “a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture”; it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. On the other, there is the “hermeneutic of reform,” of renewal in the continuity of the one subject, the Church that the Lord has given us. She is a subject that increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.

It is tempting but inadequate to depict the difference between a hermeneutic of reform and a hermeneutic of rupture as a conflict between conservatives and liberals. The teaching of the council as advanced by John Paul II and Benedict XVI is in many ways emphatically liberal—as, for instance, in its embrace of democracy and its call for a new way of engagement between faith and reason.

. . . More than 40 years later the hermeneutic of continuity and reform is prevailing, as a result of the leadership of John Paul II and Benedict XVI and in critical response to the excesses of those who viewed Vatican II as a call to revolution. Today there are more younger priests, along with growing communities of religious women and men, and they tend to be deeply committed to renewal within tradition, with the emphasis on both renewal and tradition. The generation of Rynne is past or rapidly passing. Kumbaya still lingers in the air but is slowly giving way to music and liturgy drawing more deeply on centuries of Catholic worship. A relentless diet of novelty proved unsatisfying. Whether in liturgy, doctrine, or morality, novelty has never been Catholicism’s strong suit.