Origins of the crisis of faith that followed the Second Vatican Council
TURMOIL AND TRUTH:
The Historical Roots of the Modern Crisis in the Catholic Church
by Philip Trower
(Ignatius Press/Family Publications, 2003, 207pp, soft cover, $29.90. Available from Freedom Publishing)
Turmoil and Truth, British journalist Philip Trower's insightful history of the roots of the modern crisis in the Catholic Church, is by turns consoling, enlightening and inspiring, the perfect antidote to the anxiety, confusion and contradiction which have typified Catholic life following the Second Vatican Council.
In Trower's assessment, Vatican II was in essence the work of the Holy Spirit, a response to the pressing needs of the Church in the modern world. Its authentic fruits were and are not merely good, but fundamentally necessary for the Church's present and future mission.
Nevertheless Vatican II was followed by what the author calls a 'rebellion against the Church's teaching authority'. What's more, it is clear that this rebellion was carried out 'for the most part in the name of the Council'.
Trower's aim, then, is to establish why the rebellion took place, a rebellion which resulted in the immediate loss of confidence among many of the faithful in the West, and a steady decline in the numbers of priests and practising Catholics ever since.
Ultimately the author concludes that the reasons for the rebellion lie not in the Council itself, but in the ascendant philosophical, political and theological ideas of the preceding centuries - in particular those belonging to the broad school of modernism.
Trower deftly traverses an impressive range of issues in exposing the swelling undercurrent of dissent prior to the Council.
The book comprises 23 chapters in just 200 pages, the chapters' brevity enabling Trower to gradually and sequentially guide the reader through the many conditions which made possible the post-Conciliar rebellion.
These chapters are organised into four parts. Part I gives a general overview of what went wrong before, during and after Vatican II. Trower points out that, although the Church hierarchy had long acknowledged the need for reform, one of the chief reasons for the later rebellion was an overestimation by dissenters of the scope and nature which such reform might legitimately take.
Excessively liberal expectations of reform were met with jarring refusal by the Church hierarchy, such that the radicals sought to pursue their agenda beyond the Council, unsanctioned.
It is not that the Church could not accommodate reform. On the contrary, the author explains, to the extent that doctrines or practices needed to be re-established, or refreshed - that is, re-formed - and to the extent that better means of explaining or applying established doctrines in the contemporary context were needed, the Council's reformative agenda was entirely legitimate.
However the mounting expectation on the part of the more radical participants at the Council that reform might mean discarding doctrines which were out of favour with contemporary secular thinking, such as the Church's teaching on contraception, was bound to boil over into rebellion when it met opposition from the Church hierarchy.
In Part II Trower examines the condition of the Church's various constituent parts at the time of the Council which may have pre- disposed them to such a boilover. Among the clergy, there was a growing desire to see the Pope relinquish some of his power to the bishops, providing for a more 'democratic' Church - this in spite of clear indications that no such 'democratisation' would occur.
For their part, Catholic theologians had been increasingly divided into those who accepted the final authority of the pontiff, and those who preferred the unbridled freedom of academic inquiry, as enjoyed by their peers in other disciplines.
Finally the laity were variously prone to complacency, overly reliant on rules rather than real faith, uncertain on some central articles of faith, and restive at the continuing restrictions in areas of morality.
The 'new orientations' adopted by the Council - changes of emphasis in teaching, but without a change in substance - are considered in Part III of the book. Thus Trower explains the Council's teaching on the collegiality of bishops, ecumenism, the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ, and the role of the Church in the secular world.
The final part of the book takes a close look at the distorting role played by the increasingly influential philosophical school of modernism, both in laying the ground work for a revolutionary push for doctrinal change, and in the misapplication of the Council's determinations by an increasingly secular band of reformist theologians, whose influence rapidly flowed down to the clergy and laity at parish and diocesan levels.
Here the author examines the infiltration of Catholic theology by subjectivism, and a growing emphasis on the primacy of personal religious experience and feelings rather than on objective reality. Similarly, the author charts the rise of historical criticism, and its use to justify doubts on the authenticity of Scripture.
Ultimately, Trower argues that the damage wrought by the fallout has been twofold.
Firstly, advocates of more radical reforms, having been disappointed by the rejection of many of their ideas by the Council, have persisted in pressing their heterodoxy in the wider Church, clothing them in the language of the Council so as to give the appearance of legitimacy, and to stifle opposition. Secondly, the effect of this renegade action has been to plunge many of the clergy and the laity into deep confusion regarding what the Church does and does not actually teach.
Trower's analysis of the causes of the post-Conciliar crisis is a remarkable achievement, and it is to the author's credit that his conclusion rings with the hope of a man of deep faith. He points out that the apparently parlous state of the Church should never discourage the faithful: though difficulties may arise, and may even persist for some time to come, Catholics are never without sufficient means for salvation.
Furthermore, Trower suggests, the determinations of Vatican II will inevitably prove to be providential, not merely for the survival of the Church, but for the ultimate fulfilment of her mission to go out and preach the good news to all the nations. The Church's faithful need to learn the authentic teachings of the Council, seek to understand them, and faithfully apply them in answering the universal call to holiness.
For readers unfamiliar with the history of the Second Vatican Council, Turmoil and Truth is essential reading, unscrambling as it does much of the present confusion on the state of the Church and the direction in which it is headed.
Tim Cannon is a research officer with the Thomas More Centre.