Was Vatican II a good idea?

What sense did it make to call Vatican II? The Pope called together thousands of men most of whom didn’t know each other and weren’t used to working together on anywhere near such a grand scale. In a gathering like that intelligent joint deliberation doesn’t seem likely unless the point is to deal with specific problems that have been kicking around for a while so most of the participants have dealt with them personally and have come to think they’re pressing and need resolution. Otherwise the issues won’t be ripe for decision, most participants will lack a solid basis for participation, the situation will lend itself to undue influence from well-organized groups with agendas, and the “decisions” are likely to point in every possible direction.

So far as I can tell, Vatican II became a somewhat open-ended consideration of the nature and future course of the Church in general. I can see that something of the sort might be necessary in times of acute crisis, but in prosperous times like the beginning of the 1960s? If it had become advisable for the Church to change its pastoral approach why couldn’t that have been done better piecemeal without a council? If you want to adjust to new realities does it make sense to start by committing the Church to some new grand strategy at the highest level conceivable? And do the results suggest the Council dealt with the issues well?

6 thoughts on “Was Vatican II a good idea?”

  1. Jim,

    Are you preparing to

    Are you preparing to become just one more disgruntled Catholic!?

    Have you considered the current Pope’s take on Vatican II?

    If you honestly disagree with him on the essentials, I would recommend that you seriously reconsider becoming a Catholic. Your attitude already betrays a mistrust for the leadership of the Church.

    Please don’t make the mistake that many brides-to-be make upon entering marriage…”Surely I can fix this guy”!

    The leadership of the Church believes that the Holy Spirit called for and shaped Vatican II. What do you think?

    Have you read what John Paul II thinks?

    Who has shaped your thinking?

    In Christ,
    David Reuter

  2. Hi David,

    Thanks for your
    Hi David,

    Thanks for your comments—you raise some important points that are important for me to think about.

    I agree it’s a bad idea to start off being disgruntled and stupid to join something with the idea I’m going to straighten it all out. Still, it seems clear there are serious problems in the Church and I ought to think about them before going in and have some view of what they’re about. Recognizing problems in advance makes disillusionment less likely. Also, I habitually think about things from a grand political point of view and so for me, given my general habit of thought, these are issues that can’t be avoided.

    The reason to join the Church of course is not some political view or some belief that the leaders of the Church should listen to me when they’re wondering how to do their job but a growing sense that what the Church teaches—which doesn’t have a lot to do with the particularities of Vatican II—is true, illuminates life, and shows me how I should live, and that the sacraments of the Church are indeed means of grace. Those things don’t depend on speculations about current church policies and personnel.

    What’s shaped my view of the Church in general is my experience of other forms of Christianity and consideration of basic Catholic doctrines like the nature of the mass and the position of the Pope. It seems to me that if you keep those doctrines you have something that works and if you don’t you have something that doesn’t work. Reading church history has also helped—it seems to me that the Catholic Church is the church that’s been here all along going back to Christ and the Apostles, and the others are spin-offs that have given up a lot of things that shouldn’t be given up. Church history also shows there have always been big problems, which is helpful in thinking about current messes. And I think what’s shaped my view of Vatican II and its consequences has been the evident acute problems in the Church since the Council and my general understanding of problems in modern thought and political life.

    As to whether the Holy Spirit called and shaped Vatican II, I don’t see it. It’s possible He did of course, that the good consequences of the Council were very good indeed and absolutely necessary at this time, and what look like bad consequences are really minor in the general scheme of things compared with what otherwise would have happened. On the face of it though it doesn’t seem that way, which is why I presented my thoughts and asked my questions. So far as I know it’s not Church teaching that the calling of one council or another was a good idea, that the decisions of any council as to pastoral approach were prudent, or that pronouncements by a council are well-drafted—let alone that all those things were inspired. I understand that it is Catholic doctrine that a General Council won’t teach error, but I don’t suggest that Vatican II did.

    The grand view of things I suggested was that a Pope did something imprudent, he called a council to discuss grand strategy under circumstances that made it unlikely the council would deliberate or act wisely, and we’re living with the consequences of that today. It’s quite possible that the early ’60s were a good time to start making some changes in the Church’s habitual way of doing things, but it looks to me like the method chosen and the particular changes made haven’t worked well and were probably ill-chosen. I don’t see how that belief touches the nature of the Church or even the intelligence and good intentions of anyone involved with Vatican II.

    John Paul’s view is of course different. He was there, he knows more about the issues than I do, he seems a better man than I am in every way, and he’s the one with authority to run the Church, so his view counts for more than mine does. Still, I don’t see what’s bad about trying to understand issues that are basically practical and political—how to run things in the Church and present its teaching in ways that will inspire people—in my own way and presenting my thoughts. My basic criticism of John Paul would be that he’s hyperactive and far too optimistic. He runs all over the world trying to be on the same side as everything simultaneously, because he wants to make contact with the good in everything. That’s admirable, but I can’t help but wonder if more line-drawing wouldn’t be more practical. I don’t see that wondering about such things means I shouldn’t join the Church.

    Thanks again for your comments. It’s useful to be questioned.

  3. Dear Sir,

    I sympathize to
    Dear Sir,

    I sympathize to some extent with you thoughts. For a long time I thought similarly. And then I was led to something like your conclusion:

    “He was there, he knows more about the issues than I do, he seems a better man than I am in every way, and he’s the one with authority to run the Church, so his view counts for more than mine does.”

    Only, it was a good deal more pervasive. I realized I didn’t need to question every providential judgement, nor did I need to challenge every encyclical or letter.

    It seems to me that you have sufficient grasp of the fundamentals that working through these things is a matter of prayer and the Holy Spirit. I cannot tell you, nor can any person on Earth reveal the prudence or lack thereof behind Vatican II. The question can be no more than rhetorical because there is no empirical way to discern. One partisan would say this is a good result, another would tell you such is a bad result, and the end is the same end of most human things—a muddle.

    What I like about the Catholic Church is that despite all the human muddle, it stands alone as the only Church that authoratatively speaks with a single teaching voice. Perhaps not all things said or done are completely wise—I don’t presume to know. But the church leads with clear direction and all those who dissent from it are either in dissent or in schism.

    I was a Baptist. I became Catholic for two reasons. One of them I think you have stated before—it is the church that stems from the time of Jesus Christ and the only one that maintains the structure in toto—with a single head as the Vicar of Christ. The second reason is that I believe in the real presence in the Eucharist. There are only three churches I know of that hold with this—Orthodox, Catholic, and parts of the Anglican Communion.

    Once you are decided on the crucial issue, all the others fall into place in their relative importance. Questions of the kind you ask will ever arise—and if there is satisfaction, joy, or goodness in them for you, if pondering them causes you to become closer to God, all to the good. If not, if instead you find yourself divided and conflicted over what you know in your heart to be true there comes a time to set aside the urging of the head and to listen carefully to the longing of the heart.

    It won’t resolve all difficulties, but it helps a great deal. I will be praying for you as you continue your journey. Just as with the rich man, it is very difficult for the Man of Ideas to enter the Kingdom of Heaven because it lack an empirical base.

    I hope this hasn’t come across as too strident, and I must make clear that I do no criticize you for questioning. I simply want to be a sort of caution side on the road.



  4. Thanks for your comments,
    Thanks for your comments, Steven. One point:

    “But the church leads with clear direction and all those who dissent from it are either in dissent or in schism.”

    Maybe there’s an issue what dissent is. It doesn’t seem to me the Church is like a corporation with a business plan that all employees must sign on to or ship out. It’s more like the world one lives in. With that in mind I don’t think it’s dissent in any bad sense to think the leaders of the Church have made a mistake in some matter of prudence or relative emphasis, say so in a respectful and appropriate way, and guide one’s choices accordingly.

    I suppose an example would help. I think the old mass is better than the new for a bunch of reasons. For example, I think it makes it clearer what’s going on, and it stands up better in times of trouble. For that reason it seems to me right to attend the old mass in preference to the new even though to some extent it’s a rejection of the leadership of the Church since the hierarchy views the new mass as the norm and the old as somewhat of a concession. It also seems to me OK to tell people I think the old mass is better and why, and try to promote its greater availability. On the other hand I think it false and wrong to say the new mass doesn’t work, and wrong to find fault with people who attend it, impugn the motives of its designers etc.

    Admittedly the entry I posted about Vatican II is on a much grander scale than “is it OK for me to go to Latin mass.” Still, the smaller questions depend on your view of the overall scheme of things, so I think there’s some point to putting together your view of the overall situation and exposing it to comment.

  5. Dear Sir,

    I see I have not
    Dear Sir,

    I see I have not expressed myself clearly. I did not mean to imply in any way that questioning some actions was dissent or schism. If you were to say that you categorically reject all the teachings promulgated by Vatican II, I would say that you were in dissent. If you formed a new church as a result, I would say you were in schism.

    My point wasn’t chiefly about dissent or schism, it was more about how to approach the entire issue, and I believe except for this minor point that the rest of the message must have been fairly clear.

    My point in mentioning dissent and schism was to say merely that the church does speak with a single voice on matters of faith and morals. She regulates on matters of practice, but I see a great deal more leeway here. Some parishes people hold hands during the “Our Father” (I know, Horrors!) other places they do not. In Africa it is permissable to set the mass to the sound of drums. I see Latin Mass vs. Vernacular or New Mass in the same order of things. I understand it is probably a trifle more serious, but I see it as much of a tempest in a teapot one way or another. I doubt that St. Peter stands at the gates of heaven and inquires of everyone who passes, “Did you ever attend a Tridentine Mass for which an Indult was not granted?” Most of us wouldn’t even know. I suspect that St. Peter and Jesus are a good deal more concerned with how we treat one another and how we exercised our faith. I don’t mean by saying these things that they are unimportant—they are important. But I do mean to suggest that practice is and has been to some extent variable.

    On the other hand, I do not think you can with impunity question the real presence in the Eucharist and still call yourself a Catholic in good standing.

    Thus, I hope I’ve clarified. I did not mean to imply that thinking something might have been imprudent amounts to dissent. I do think that such things are largely frustrating and fruitless on Earth, as they are merely matters of opinion. We cannot see the grand scheme of the things God has prepared so any attempt to judge what we see outside of that can only be based on human reason and thus doomed to failure—particularly when the matter is one not subject to empirical proofs, merely the weighing of multiple opinions.

    Anyway, hope I’ve clarified and you understand that I am hardly in the position to judge the orthopraxis and orthodoxy of other individuals. I am hard-pressed to keep myself in line. Only through the unfailing help of the Holy Spirit do I stand a chance of remaining near to God’s Church and His grace.



  6. What would internet
    What would internet discussions be without misunderstandings? Or maybe I’m more interested in pursing points that interest me so that’s what I talk about. Anyway, thanks for the additional clarification.


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