A reader sent me a link to this speech by John Paul II explaining his attitude toward Vatican II. The Pope certainly takes a high view of the Council. Perhaps because I’m a lawyer, and much farther from sanctity than His Holiness, the speech leaves me with concerns:

  • He speaks of the Council as “a prophetic message.” That seems odd. A prophetic utterance is marked by uniqueness and integrity. Perhaps for that reason prophets have normally been individuals with no official position and very often an irregular way of life. I suppose such people are freer to listen and respond to promptings from the Spirit. A group of thousands of high Church officials from all over the world meeting to debate and vote on documents drafted by committees and subject to various compromises and maneuverings seems an unusual source of prophecy.
  • The law and the prophets are both necessary and good, but they’re not the same. My understanding is that a General Council, in unity with the Pope, is the highest legislative authority of the Church. That seems fitting. Lawmaking requires wariness and particularity, and it should end with clear statements that settle points definitively. A large high-level assembly is suitable for that because it is suited to saying yes or no to particular issues that have been forced on the community and clarified by experience (Should the Pope be declared infallible? Should the homoiousion go into the Creed?), and the multiplicity of perspective helps flush out ambiguities and hidden problems. An assembly is much less suited for dealing with open-ended deep meanings.
  • It’s not only its composition and way of acting that makes a General Council more suited for lawmaking than prophecy. The pronouncements of a General Council become practically authoritative for a vast worldwide body that has routines and chains of command and includes all sorts of people—smart, stupid, holy, sinful, whatever. Pronouncements that come out of an “act of abandonment to God” that is “without reserve” and that must be understood “from a faith perspective” aren’t normally used for such a purpose.
  • With these things in mind, it becomes clearer why Vatican II seems in fact to have failed to communicate to the Church as a whole what the Pope says is its true meaning. Assuming he’s absolutely right about the meaning, a General Council is an odd and seemingly inappropriate instrument to convey it.
  • All of which is consistent with viewing Vatican II either as inspired or as imprudent but preserved from error. I must say though that there’s something that makes me uneasy in the notion of prophecy and renewal as a function of high church officials acting in their official capacities. It seems to me the usual role of such people is more to test prophecy and cooperate with renewal than do the deed themselves. If the prophet and the ruler are the same, where does the reality check come in?

1 thought on “JP II on V II”

  1. Dear Sir,

    In reaction to
    Dear Sir,

    In reaction to your objections I have a several points:

    (1) The Spirit bloweth where it listeth.

    (2) Even Lawyers can utter prophecy (St. Robert Bellarmine and St. Thomas More, as examples).

    (3) There is at least one passage in the old testament that relates the coming of the Holy Spirit and the Prophetic Gift on a large group of people.

    I see nothing incompatible with the Spirit speaking in a council gathered to try to listen to the Spirit.

    Please remember, “Where two or three are gathered in my name I am there among them.”

    A prophetic utterance need not be a word spoken spontaneously, it can be one that has been worked out under the careful, meticulous guidance of the spirit.

    Once again, I perceive enormous intellect, intelligence, and reason behind your comments—marvelous capacities and capabilities. But the attempt to bring them to bear, in an empirical fashion. on that which has at its core faith is a futile endeavor, ending only in frustration. Doubt will ever be. Show me how one proves empirically whether a statement is prophetic. All that can be done is to question without the possibility of a real answer. We must recall that a prophet is without honor in his own country.

    Faith quite simply is not empirical, or it would not be faith.


    Steven Riddle


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