Magister vs. Viganò. Who Is Right?
(Hint: His name begins with “V”.)
Sandro Magister, a prominent critic of the current pontificate—with good reason aplenty— seems to have abandoned his critical faculty when it comes to the suggestion by Archbishop Carlo Viganò that, for all the trouble it has caused, the best approach to the Second Vatican Council is not the endless pursuit of Benedict XVI’s “hermeneutic of continuity,” whose meaning remains elusive, but rather simply “to to drop it ‘in toto‘ and forget it.”
My co-author Tom Woods and I made the same argument back in 2002 in our book The Great Façade, citing the historical example of the disastrous Second Council of Constantinople (553), whose ambiguous treatment of the Monophysite heresy (no human but only a divine nature in Christ) led to confusion and outright schisms in the Church. Constantinople II defended the true doctrine but tried to placate the Monophysites by condemning the writings of three of their prominent opponents. Defending theological truth on paper while placating its enemies. Sound familiar? If it does, that is because it has been the ruinously irenic program of the entire post-Vatican II epoch.
In this article on his popular blogsite, Magister goes so far as to suggest that the Archbishop is on the “brink of schism”—not that again!—merely because he advocates abandonment of the fruitless “hermeneutic of continuity” along with the Council that, per Benedict, requires it—whatever it is. Who knows? And we still don’t know after more than fifteen years of hearing about the idea.
Magister does admit, however, that when it comes to the Council’s novel teaching on “religious liberty,” what we have is “a clear discontinuity, if not a rupture, with the ordinary teaching of the Church of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which was strongly anti-liberal.” So, thanks to Vatican II the Church today is not strongly anti-liberal? Well, that much is obvious, but then is the “hermeneutic of continuity” not really a hermeneutic of discontinuity?
Yes, says Magister! Unperturbed by this double-talk, Magister, concerning Benedict XVI’s address on the subject in 2005, writes that the “hermeneutic of continuity” is more precisely (to quote Benedict) a “hermeneutic of continuity in reform.” Meaning, said Benedict, a “combination of continuity and discontinuity at different levels that [is] the very nature of true reform…”
Ah, no. True reform never involves “a combination of continuity and discontinuity” but rather precisely the elimination of discontinuity so as to restore—that is, re-form—the proper order of things. That is why, for example, reform schools are called ‘reform schools’: the wayward youth is brought back to the path from which he strayed. That is, he is brought back into continuity with the right way of living.
And, in the Church, reform means exactly that: restoration of the Church’s good order when, for whatever reason, some aspect of her life has fallen into corruption. Hence the great reforms of the Church after the Council of Trent—producing what today’s neo-Modernists sneeringly dismiss as “Tridentine Catholicism.” Meaning orthodoxy and orthopraxis. Meaning the Faith in its integrity.
In his 2005 address, Benedict XVI lamely attempted to explain away the abandonment after Vatican II of the Church’s entire stance against the errors of “liberty” in the modern sense—the errors condemned in Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors, including separation of Church and State, unlimited freedom of conscience, and unlimited freedom of opinion, whose final results are nothing less than what we now witness: the end of civilization.
But according to Pope Benedict in 2005: “In the 19th century under Pius IX, the clash between the Church’s faith and a radical liberalism… had elicited from the Church a bitter and radical condemnation of this spirit of the modern age.”
Bitter? This is how Benedict describes the teaching of the Magisterium in opposition to fatal errors whose consequences we now suffer?
But then, if the anti-liberal teaching of the great Popes before Vatican II can be diminished as “bitter”—indeed something to be surpassed by some new, more accepting attitude, as Benedict suggests—how does Vatican II escape the same sort of psychoanalysis? Why can we not say, after more than fifty years of bitter experience with the Council’s novelties, that its approach to the “modern world” was foolishly irenic or fatuously optimistic?
With this difference, however: the anti-liberal papal pronouncements that Benedict belittles as “bitter” represent the constant teaching of a long series of Popes of which Blessed Pius IX was merely one. Their repeated and insistently condemned errors against the Faith, meaning that their constant teaching was doctrinal in character, so that the anti-liberal encyclicals of Pius VI, Pius VII, Leo XII, Pius VIII, Gregory XVI, Pius IX, Leo XIII, Pius X and Pius XI must be considered well-nigh infallible as an exercise of the universal ordinary Magisterium.
Whereas, when it comes to the Second Vatican Council—a Council like no other in Church history—we are still arguing over how exactly it can be reconciled with the prior teaching of the Magisterium. This much is certain, however: the very need for this endless attempt at reconciliation is a powerful argument in favor of Archbishop Viganò’s position that the obviously fruitless effort be abandoned and that Vatican II, like Constantinople II, simply be left behind as an epochal misadventure that is best forgotten.