- Vatican II: Renewal within Tradition
Pope Benedict XVI’s address to the Roman Curia on December 22, 2005, represents a major contribution to the debate about Vatican II, despite the fact [End Page 628] that some journalists offered it to the public as the pope espousing an Italian-based polemic against the five-volume History of Council Vatican II directed by Giuseppe Alberigo, of which Joseph Komonchak edited the English version (Maryknoll, NY, 1995–2006). It is no surprise that the volume edited by Matthew L. Lamb and Matthew Levering opens with the text of Benedict XVI’s address. The editors claim to be interpreting the Vatican II documents in “continuity,” as “renewal within tradition” of the Catholic Church, while they accuse the highly respected international historiography about Vatican II of producing a “distorting impact of the hermeneutics of discontinuity and rupture” (p. 7). In brief, “the volume seeks to make a modest contribution to what Benedict XVI calls a hermeneutics of reform in continuity with the two millennial traditions of Catholic thought and wisdom” (p. 7).
But the twenty-two articles of the volume, in fact, present a much more diverse set of interpretations of the documents of Vatican II. The commentaries on the Constitutions stress more than those on the Decrees and Declarations the continuity between the nineteenth and early twentieth-century magisterial tradition and the texts of Vatican II. Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J., for example, correctly describes as “false” a list of views that he incorrectly attributes to some of the most appreciated interpretations of the Council’s impact on ecclesiology (quoting John O’Malley, Gregory Baum, Richard P. McBrien, and George Lindbeck, “together with many others who might be named,” p. 25). Pamela E. Jackson, in her article about Sacrosanctum Concilium, stresses the continuity with the magisterium, lining up Augustine, the Council of Trent, Leo XIII, Pius X, the liturgical movement, Pius XI, and Pius XII. Romanus Cessario, in his essay about the liturgical constitution and the sacraments, dismisses the achievement of the liturgical movement, noting that it was moved by a “preferential option for the primitive” (p. 133).
But the landscape offered by other commentaries looks less polemical, more sound, and open to “renewal” as “development,” such as the articles by Cardinal Francis George on Ad gentes, Guy Mansini and Lawrence J.Welch on Presbyterorum Ordinis, M. Prudence Allen and M. Judith O’Brien on Perfectae caritatis, and Khaled Anatolios on Orientalium Ecclesiarum. Even the closing article by Geoffrey Wainwright, a Methodist, on criteria for an interpretation of Vatican II emphasizes renewal more than tradition.
The volume provides a contribution, but not fully in the direction of a hermeneutics of “reform in continuity” as declared by its editors. It is difficult to initiate a new interpretation of Vatican II while leaving unaddressed the main issues raised by the best contemporary, international, and scholarly study of the Council, and it does not help when one draws inspiration from self-appointed defensores concilii who have not published anything scholarly about Vatican II. It is no surprise that some critics shows a woefully inadequate connection with the huge number of studies published every year on five continents (editions of new sources, historical studies, commentaries, [End Page 629] books, and articles based on work in the recently opened, huge collection of unpublished papers on Vatican II in the Vatican Secret Archives).