17 February 2007


Councils have, like popes, have included some rum individuals among themselves. But perhaps I should begin by distinguishing between Dogmatic Councils and those whose dogmatic pretensions have been rather limited. So: as a Latin, I would see something normative about the first Seven Councils, which established orthodox belief with regard to the Blessed Trinity and the Hypostatic Union. But even here, the closer up you bring the microscope, the more some ragged edges tend to appear. Did Nicaea I end in 325 ... or was there another session in 327? Are we sure that its requirement of Standing as the posture for prayer in Eastertide has always been regarded as binding? How edifying were the proceedings of ... e.g. ... the Fifth Ecumenical Council?

Again, as a Latin, I would see the Councils of Trent and Vatican I as similarly dogmatic councils, laudably addressing the errors of their times, defining the truth for their own time in a way that is also definitive for all time. But when you look at some of the earlier Western medieval councils ... well, it can't be denied that they did address the issues of their day. But not all those issues are of lasting value to the Church. Medieval Councils were often, obsessively, concerned with the recovery of the Holy Land. Even if we disregard the mere details of their enactments and fall back on a rather generalising acceptance of [Anglican jargon] "the trajectories" which they suggested, or, to use a different phrase [RC jargon] "the Spirit of the Councils", we are in trouble: who now advocates ... even in theory ... the recovery of the Holy Land from the Jews and the Moslems by the military powers of Christian Europe (whoever they may be)? How important did the Deposition of the Emperor remain to the Church after Lyons I ... at which council, incidentally, there were fewer than 150 bishops, and those mainly from Italy, Spain, and France?

In 1308, the Council of Vienne concerned itself with the Templars. Historians are far from agreed that these gentry were guilty of sodomy and of the other crimes of which they were accused. But even if they were, would even the most doctrinaire supporters of the 'Spirit of the Council (of Vatican II)' give whole-hearted backing to the 'Spirit of the Council (of Vienne)': which would have to include the desireability of burning sodomites at the stake? How genuinely and permanently useful to the Universal Church was the commissioning of Philip IV to go on Crusade - a Crusade which he never discharged, although he did retain the tithe raised for that Crusade, as well as most of the Templars' property?

Perhaps a Council which lurched around Europe in the fifteenth century raises the most interesting questions. Convoked at Basle, how many of its sessions are 'ecumenical'? Theological historians disagree. It is best known for its sessions at Forence which resulted in unity (1439) with Byzantium. But this unity did not survive the Fall of the Great City in 1453 ... so it was a union even briefer than the Union which was 'secured' at Lyons II in 1274. Finally, this Council was transferred to Rome, where little is known of its activities. How rubustly central to the life of the Church is a Council with regard to which the experts cannot agree which of its sessions were authentic, the date of whose conclusion is unrecorded, and whose final decrees, if there were any passed in its later sessions, have been lost?

Those whose conciliarist enthusiasms lead them to an exaggerated regard for Vatican II seem blithely, absurdly, unaware of the preposterous historical conclusions to which their views would lead them ... were they but consistent.

Let me be blunt about this. There are strictly dogmatic Councils, the texts of which are admirably punctuated by anathemas. These are permanently, objectively, a part of the church's fundamental dogmatic structure, so that those exercising a teaching ministry should be able to give the most willing, enthusiastic, assent to them. But the other Councils ... they, I suggest, gradually merge into the background and, largely forgotten even by theologians, become simply part of the General Mind of the Church; a process which invoves a degree of weeding-out and corporate forgetting, as what is less valuable in their enactments is quietly, sometimes mercifully, erased from the record. Not that I exclude the possibility that they may include in their texts elements which will be permanently fruitful for the Church; elements which in a process of Reception the Church will discern.


lxoa said...

“Not every valid council in the history of the Church has been a fruitful one; in the last analysis, many of them have been a waste of time.”

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Principles of Catholic Theology. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987, p. 378.

Gideon Ertner said...

But you don't understand! You can't compare Vatican II with the other councils of the Church at all.

Vatican II was a Neeeewwwwwww beginnnnninnnnnnngggggg™!

asshur said...

Still no mention of Konstanz?
If it weren't for the end of the Grand Schism (well the begining of the end ...) ...

Sadie Vacantist said...

A generation has yet to emerge who are intellectually free of this last Council. It will take decades more and presumably a great crisis to rid oursleves of its destructive influence.

Fellay likes using the "70 year argument". That every Council is followed by approximately 7 decades of chaos. I guess we are about 45 years, at most, into our present, surreal hiatus.

Talking to an old priest I visited in hospital last night (a dog-eared copy of "The Tablet" was strewn across his NHS bed), it struck me that his generation is unable to contemplate fully the mess they have left behind.

Well, I have made a big enough mess of my own life not care to about the mess of others but one is reminded of the WWII US general George Patton. In particular, his irritation with Montgomery. "He's a prima donna just like me", claimed Patton. "The difference is he won't admit to being one!"

That's what annoys me most about Vatican II. Nobody will admit that it has been a disaster.

Flambeaux said...


FWIW, some of the better prelates in Rome are starting to speak "forbidden things" about the Council: Biffi and Marchetto, one of the Canons of St. Peter's whose name escapes me, Athanasius Schneider, and others.

One can discuss Romano Amerio's work, texts like Iota Unum, without causing vapors to curial monsignori.

It's going to be a long time before, as has happened with other Councils this regrettable eruption of post-War European Humanist Optimism is forgotten -- but it will be forgotten not repudiated.

In the meantime, let's keep praying. The Enemy doesn't rest and with the Ordinariates coming and the fruits of Summorum Pontificum he's madder and more active than usual.

Dr. Adam DeVille said...

Your concluding note about parts of councils, even entire councils, being "forgotten" puts me in mind of perhaps the most disturbing such example of this: Constance. Francis Oakley begins his searing book on Constance by noting just how deliberately parts of it have been forgotten. I go into some detail about it here: http://easternchristianbooks.blogspot.com/2010/10/conciliarism-and-catholic-crisis-of.html