Everyone knows that the Second Vatican Council formally closed on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 1965.
But did it really?
On December 7, 1965 – the last day of the Council’s final session – Paul VI addressed the assembly, extolling its virtues and lauding its accomplishments. Though he would issue an Apostolic Brief on the following day formally declaring the Council closed, he informed the bishops that the work of the Council was not truly completed.
If quite a few questions raised during the course of the Council itself still await appropriate answers, this shows that its labors are now coming to a close not out of weariness, but in a state of vitality which this universal synod has awakened. In the post-conciliar period this vitality will apply, God willing, its generous and well-regulated energies to the study of such questions.
In this, Montini is making it known that the teachings contained in the conciliar texts – unlike the decrees of previous (authentic) ecumenical councils – are best understood, not so much as a source of knowledge and light in a world darkened by confusion and sin, but rather as a launching point into a post-conciliar period left riddled with lingering questions.
And precisely what sorts of questions still remained unanswered even as the Council came to a close according to Montini? We’ll get to that in a moment, and the answer may come as a surprise to many.
Speaking of the post-conciliar period, Montini went on to indicate the reason why so many questions as yet remained:
Men will realize that the council devoted its attention not so much to divine truths, but rather, and principally, to the Church—her nature and composition, her ecumenical vocation, her apostolic and missionary activity. This secular religious society, which is the Church, has endeavored to carry out an act of reflection about herself, to know herself better, to define herself better and, in consequence, to set aright what she feels and what she commands.
Think about what Montini is saying. He is suggesting that the Holy Roman Catholic Church – despite nearly two millennia of Magisterial teaching, to say nothing of the clarity with which Pope Pius XII, in the Encyclical,Mystici Corporis, had authoritatively restated the immutable ecclesiology of the Church just twenty-two years earlier – is still struggling to know herself. He even suggests that what the Church “feels” (whatever that means) and “commands” had somehow become misaligned.
If that isn’t scandalous (and laughable) enough, he even lets it be known that the Council sought to remedy this alleged ecclesial identity crisis by devoting its attention not to divine truths, as if the nature of the Church – the Mystical Body of Christ! – can best be understood by looking elsewhere.
So, if not by contemplating the divine, where then did the church of the Council (a counterfeit church not to be confused with the one true Church of Christ) look for clarity about its nature and composition?
The short answer: The modern world of man, of course.
But we cannot pass over one important consideration in our analysis of the religious meaning of the Council: it has been deeply committed to the study of the modern world. Never before perhaps, so much as on this occasion, has the Church felt the need to know, to draw near to, to understand, to penetrate, serve and evangelize the society in which she lives; and to get to grips with it, almost to run after it, in its rapid and continuous change.
Having done so, what assessment did the Council ultimately make of the modern world?
A wave of affection and admiration flowed from the council over the modern world of humanity … The modern world’s values were not only respected but honored, its efforts approved, its aspirations purified and blessed.
Bear in mind, as the Council met from 1962-1965, the counterculture – with its “free love” ethos and Marxist ideals – was conducting an anti-institutional, anti-authoritarian, and ultimately anti-Christian campaign throughout much of the world, and with no little success at that.
While some may wish to debate which came first – the Council’s respect for the modern world’s values, or the modern world’s revolution against Christian mores – at the very least it is certain that the Council’s very own anti-institutional, anti-authoritarian (and ultimately anti-Christian) posture served to fuel the countercultural revolution of the 1960s.
In any event, Karol Wojtyla was present that day as Paul VI waxed humanistic, and all indications are that he took every last drop of Montini’s poisonous prose to heart.
Writing as John Paul II some fourteen years later he stated:
I am entering into the rich inheritance of the recent pontificates. This inheritance has struck deep roots in the awareness of the Church in an utterly new way, quite unknown previously, thanks to the Second Vatican Council. (cf Redemptor Hominis 3)
In this, Wojtyla is confirming Montini’s assessment of the Council as a self-reflective exercise whereby the Church [sic] struggled to find herself, that she may “set aright what she feels and what she commands.” He went on to indicate that the conciliar process of ecclesial self-discovery continues, as does the method it employed, namely, turning attention not to divine truths but rather to man:
This man is the way for the Church – a way that, in a sense, is the basis of all the other ways that the Church must walk – because man – every man without any exception whatever – has been redeemed by Christ, and because with man – with each man without any exception whatever – Christ is in a way united, even when man is unaware of it. (ibid., no. 15)
Here, Wojtyla is largely citing Gaudium et Spes of Vatican II, a council that many insist was merely “pastoral,” and one that refrained from teaching anything doctrinal beyond that which was already taught, and certainly nothing whatsoever that is binding upon the faithful, in any case.
The pope himself has said so, we are told by those desperately searching for a plausible way to let both the “pope” and the “Church” off the hook for the Council’s grave errors.
It bears mention that despite these confident claims, in his decree of December 8, 1965, Paul VI had this to say about the conciliar texts:
We decided moreover that all that has been established synodally is to be religiously observed by all the faithful, for the glory of God and the dignity of the Church and for the tranquillity and peace of all men. We have approved and established these things, decreeing that the present letters are and remain stable and valid, and are to have legal effectiveness, so that they be disseminated and obtain full and complete effect, and so that they may be fully convalidated by those whom they concern or may concern now and in the future; and so that, as it be judged and described, all efforts contrary to these things by whomever or whatever authority, knowingly or in ignorance be invalid and worthless from now on.
Get that? The conciliar decrees are to be religiously observed by all the faithful … approved and established … stable and valid … have legal effectiveness … now and in the future. This should give pause to those so-called “traditionalists” who consider Paul VI a true pope and Vatican Council II a valid ecumenical council of the Holy Roman Catholic Church.
With all of this said, let’s now consider precisely what sorts of “questions raised during the course of the Council itself still await appropriate answers,” as suggested by Paul VI even as he brought the assembly to a close.
Those paying close attention to his words may have taken note of the hint that was dropped when he stated that “the council devoted its attention not so much to divine truths…”
This being so, one might surmise (and correctly so) that the sorts of questions Montini had in mind concerned exactly this, the divine truths from which the Council averted its gaze.
And just how would the conciliar church go about addressing these questions in the years following Vatican II?
Paul VI had provided the mechanism some three months before the Council formally closed when he established the Synod of Bishops in September 1965 with the Apostolic [sic] Letter, Apostolica Sollicitudo, wherein he wrote:
The Ecumenical Council that gave Us the idea of permanently establishing a special Council of bishops, with the aim of providing for a continuance after the Council of the great abundance of benefits that We have been so happy to see flow to the Christian people during the time of the Council as a result of Our close collaboration with the bishops.
A continuance after the Council… I would argue that the Synod of Bishops is best understood as a continuance of the Council itself, as if the Council never really closed. In fact, it is set up very much like an ecumenical council.
For example, the Synod of Bishops, very much like an ecumenical council, “is directly and immediately subject to the authority of the Roman Pontiff, whose responsibility is to call the Synod into session whenever he feels this will be advisable.” (ibid.)
Also like an ecumenical council and its decrees, “it belongs to him [the pope] to ratify the decisions of the Synod.” (ibid.) It also includes “clerics who are experts,” similar to the way in which the bishops at Vatican II were served by periti like Fr. Josef Ratzinger.
That said, insofar as it may serve to undermine authentic Catholic doctrine, the Synod deck is stacked in a way that ecumenical councils are not inasmuch as it is open not to the entire episcopacy, but rather only to “bishops chosen from various parts of the world.”
As history has amply demonstrated, many of those chosen are handpicked precisely because of their heretical bent.
Among its stated purposes, the Synod of Bishops was established “to facilitate agreement, at least on essential matters of doctrine and on the course of action to be taken in the life of the Church.” (ibid.)
NB: As Paul VI spoke, just as today, there were no essential matters of doctrine upon which legitimate disagreement still exists in the Church, the true Church, that is. The Synod of Bishops, just like the Second Vatican Council before it, however, is designed to operate is if this is not the case, as if just about everything is on the table.
So, what are the major takeaways from these observations?
Several come to mind immediately.
First, let’s not fall prey to imagining that Jorge Bergoglio and his upcoming Synod on Synodality is anything other than a continuation of the conciliar revolution. Sure, Francis is more aggressively opposed to Catholic truth than those who came before him, but nothing truly unique is underway.
Secondly, that a “permanent Council of bishops for the universal Church” (ibid.) should exist in the post-conciliar era for the purpose of debating long since settled “essential matters of doctrine” (ibid.) makes perfect sense given that the Council gave birth to a schismatic and heretical sect.
It is the very nature of such sects – unmoored as they are from the sure rule of faith – to continually question what they feel and command, searching for answers not by devoting their attention to divine truths, but rather by drawing ever nearer to the modern world. (cf Paul VI, Final Address to the Council).
If one but listen to their words and observe their behavior, measuring each by the sure light of tradition, it is exceedingly obvious that the post-conciliar claimants to the Chair of St. Peter, nor the church over which they ruled, are truly Catholic.
As disconcerting as that thought may be to some, I can sincerely attest to the fact that there is peace to be had in embracing this truth, inconvenient and costly though it may be.