1 September 2009


Last time I referred to the great Anglican Papalist Mystagogue and writer Dom Gregory Dix, and his demonstration that Councils came upon the Church without, initially, there being any theory or awareness of their status and authority. Of course, Dix would have accepted implicitly the notion of Development in Dogma, and the status of Councils in modern Chrisian doctrine. Indeed, the whole series of articles that he wrote in the late Thirties was designed to show that both Nicaea and Vatican I "succeeded in preserving the whole of the original truth, while putting it into quite a different dress from that in which it was originally presented. No one would deny that there has been development in both cases. But it is a true development, as I see it, bringing out only what was implicit and in germ in the original conception, and guarding it from misunderstanding and error. The language of the Vatican [I] decrees on the Roman Pontiff is admittedly formidable at first reading. Yet its meaning seems on careful analysis very closely in line with what we have found in the second century".

Dix showed that the Primacy of the Roman Church was an older and more integral part of Christian doctrine than Conciliarism. He showed that it has the same antiquity and status as Episcopal Jurisdiction. I would be the last person to deny that a doctrinal decree of an Ecumenical Council, confirmed by the Roman Pontiff, is infallible and irreformable. But I feel that the time has come to call the bluff of the bloated Conciliarism which has been doing the rounds since the 1960s. And in fact, the admirers of the Council, as well as its detractors, have common ground here. It is well known that those whose rhetoric suggests that they are keenest on the Council commonly invoke "the Spirit of the Council". This "spirit" (rather like the "Trajectory of Scripture" which some Anglicans invoke in order to draw a scriptural mantle over propositions upon the Scripures are silent) can encourage notions far beyond (and which even may contradict) what the Council actually decreed. This is in fact a tacit admission that the Conciliar texts are in se inadequate to the ecclesial life of our decade.

And of course they are inadequate. The Council was described both by the convoking Pontiff and by itself as Pastoral, and as not a Council imposing new dogma. If it was Pastoral, it was presumably pastorally addressed to the pastoral needs and pastoral problems of the 1960s. And by definition the 1960s are not the 2010s. If Vatican II addressed the 1960s, by definition it did not address any other period except in so far as theologians might plausibly infer that that its decrees gave expression to truths a suitable development of which might be valid in other ages. If Aggiornamento was its purpose, well, that giorno has now passed. Those of us who were ordained in the Conciliar period are now old men. The problems of the age in which we are now placed - problems, for example, of sexual morality and gender - are hardly mentioned in the Conciliar documents. In as far as they were beginning to arise - in the area of contraception - the Council, interestingly and significantly, was content that the matter be left in the area of Papal competence!

So one could elaborate a thesis of Conciliar Fade: that gradually the relevance of conciliar decrees to the life of the Church disappears. Rome has, after all, agreed formulae with "Nestorian" groups wich circumvent Chalcedon. And, were we to argue thus, we would again have the more fanatical devotees of Vatican II on our side. For they seem often willing to view the decrees of, say, Trent, as ... well, dated; and what's sauce for the goose .... Even within the documents of their own beloved Council, we know that most of these people are, in fact, less than enthusiastic about the provisions for the liturgical retention of Latin and of Gregorian chant. But I don't in fact believe that a Dogma of Fade is the way ahead.

I hope to return to the question next time.


Joshua said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joshua said...

Who now remembers Lateran V?

It is interesting to look at the various Ecumenical Councils, and ask what of their decrees and canons are still now in force, and how many are spent (e.g. the anathema against whoso would wrest the fair city of Benevento from Papal control; or the Nicene strictures against translating bishops from one see to another).

So far as recall, Lateran IV's famous canon "Omnis utriusque sexus" is still binding - though one Dominican attempted to argue that it bound only hermaphrodites.