Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Hermeneutic of Reform?


Did Vatican II create a new Church? On December 22, 2005, Pope Benedict XVI gave a now famous Christmas message before the Roman Curia in which he cautioned against a widespread historical interpretation of the Second Vatican Council which posited that there was a break between the preconciliar vision of the Church and the post Vatican II vision of the Church. He described this as the "hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture.” A hermeneutic is a method of interpreting history. Pope Benedict was expressing concern that certain scholars were treating Vatican II like a new political constitution that created a new Church which was radically different from the previous Church. Hearing this comment some have thought that Pope Benedict is arguing for what seems to the opposite view “a hermeneutic of continuity.” Recently , a professor at the Pontificia Università della Santa Croce in Rome, has pointed out that this is not the case. He notes;

In the Pope’s address, there is no such opposition between a "hermeneutic of discontinuity" and a "hermeneutic of continuity". Rather, as he explained: "In contrast with the hermeneutic of discontinuity is a hermeneutic of reform…" And in what lies the "nature of true reform"? According to the Holy Father, "in the interplay, on different levels, between continuity and discontinuity". (Nova et Vetera, English Edition, 9.4 2011)

In studying the documents of Second Vatican Council it is important to see the historical context of the council and to understand the manner in which the Fathers of the council brought ideas from various currents of contemporary thinking into their discussions. Fathers of the council did not directly use the term “reform.” Three terms were used at the council that touched on the notion of change. The first was the Italian term aggiornamento (Italian for ‘bring up to date’). This term came from Blessed John XXIII and should be understood in the context of his opening address to the council. The second term is a French word ressourcement (meaning ‘return to the sources’). This term had in mind a return to the text of Sacred Scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers in order to deepen our understanding of the Church. Although originally the ressourcement movement was thought to be somewhat of a novelty the movement began to know as the Nouvelle Théologie or French for New Theology. Many now famous theologians from this movement were involved directly or indirectly as ‘experts’ at the council: Hans Urs von Balthasar, Louis Bouyer, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Marie-Dominique Chenu, Yves Congar, Jean Daniélou, Étienne Gilson, Hans Küng, Henri de Lubac, Jean Mouroux , Karl Rahner, Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) and Edward Schillebeeckx. After the council this loose movement fractured and Joseph Ratzinger, Henri de Lubac, Jean Daniélou, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Louis Bouyer began to work together while other members of the movement became quite eccentric.

A third term is the English ‘development’ which had in mind the organic progress or unfolding of doctrine over time. A classic expression of this notion is seen in the work of Blessed John Henry Newman. The works of Newman were still quite new at the time of second Vatican Council so he is not directly quoted but his ideas were influential. Newman is quoted four times in the Catechism (CCC 157, 1723, 1778, and 2144).

Georgetown professor, John W. O’Malley points out;

The three words overlap in their meanings, but in general they look, respectively, to the present (aggiornamento), the future (development), and the past (ressourcement). They all are concerned with change and, in the context of a reluctance to admit change, operate as soft synonyms for it and soft synonyms for reform. (What Happened at Vatican II, p 37)

The key ongoing question for the implementation of Second Vatican Council is how much change and what nature of change was intended by the council? It seems clear that the current Holy Father intends ‘reform’ to include both continuity and discontinuity as we all seek “to live and think with the Church” (Perfectae Caritatis 6). The danger lies with those who deliberately place themselves at odds with the thinking of the Church by presuming to be her judge and to be her critic.

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