“The Church has had, peacefully, its October Revolution.”
In addition to being an assault against tradition in the most general sense, however, Vatican II was also in many ways an offensive against the legacy of Pope Pius XI in particular, beginning with the events leading up to its calling.
Writing in the inaugural encyclical of his pontificate, Ubi Arcano Dei Consilio, Pope Pius XI touched briefly on the possibility of reconvening the Vatican Ecumenical Council (now commonly known as the First Vatican Council or Vatican I), stating:
We scarcely dare to include, in so many words, in the program of Our Pontificate the reassembling of the Ecumenical Council which Pius IX, the Pontiff of Our youth, had called but had failed to see through except to the completion of a part, albeit most important, of its work. We as the leader of the chosen people must wait and pray for an unmistakable sign from the God of mercy and of love of His holy will in this regard.
In this, two important points demand our attention:
First, as Vicar of Christ and Head of the Church Militant, the Holy Catholic Church on earth, Pope Pius XI did not shy away in the least from identifying his flock, the children of said Church, as the “chosen people.”
Viewed through the eyes of tradition, the Holy Father’s statement is rather unremarkable, and yet after having been conditioned by fifty-plus years of theologically dubious pro-Semitic political correctness at the hands of faithless prelates, there can be little doubt that many a Catholic in our day would find these words perplexing at best, and perhaps even more likely, arrogant.
We’ll return to this topic momentarily.
Secondly, it is clear that Pope Pius XI did not imagine that the decision to reassemble, or not, the Vatican Council (which had yet to be formally closed) was simply a matter of administration and the purview of mere men. Rather, he understood that the gravity of the matter demanded faithful deferment to the Divine will; even going so far as to express a certain hesitance to act apart from “an unmistakable sign” from God!
Note well that the question here did not concern the calling of a new council, but rather the reassembly of an existing, albeit suspended, ecumenical council – one that was, like those that had preceded it, dogmatic in character; i.e., an act of the Supreme Magisterium clearly intended to define the faith and to bind the faithful.
Just months after the promulgation of his first encyclical, Pope Pius XI initiated a formal process of consultation with his cardinals on the matter of reassembling the council, beginning with a secret consistory held on 23 May 1923. [See Joseph Komonchak, Popes Pius XI and Pius XII and the idea of an Ecumenical Council)
Eventually, the process expanded to include input from the world’s bishops, but that “unmistakable sign” from God apparently never came to Papa Ratti; the materials collected during this period of inquiry were consigned to the private papal library, and the question was left to his successor.
The mindset of Pope Pius XII in the matter, and likewise his closest advisors, was similar to that of the previous pontificate; it was simply a given that a reconvened Vatican Council, should such a decision be made, would necessarily undertake the task of issuing definitions.
In an address given in October 1959, Cardinal Ernesto Ruffini, who was a protagonist in favor of reopening the Vatican Council under both Pius XII and John XXIII, said:
From the Vatican Council down to today, the Supreme Pontiffs, Leo XIII, St. Pius X, Benedict XV, Pius XI and Pius XII, day by day followed the developments of civic and social life in every area, intervening at appropriate times, with wondrous wisdom and heroic courage, to enlighten the minds and strengthen the wills of the shepherds of souls and of the faithful. The coming Council—should it [be believed] opportune–could stamp their principal teachings with that definitive value which would place them above and beyond all discussion. [ibid.]
You see, to the minds of faithful churchmen like Cardinals Ruffini and Ottaviani, who likewise favored the idea of a council (be it either a reassembly of Vatican I or a new council), the value of such a magisterial expression lied in what they presumed would be its dogmatic clarity – providing, to quote Cardinal Ruffini once more, “that definitive value which would place” the papal magisterium of the previous century “above and beyond all discussion.”
After entering into solemn consultation with their cardinals, and others, over a period of years in order to discern the relative wisdom of convening (or reassembling) a council for this very purpose, as we now know, both Pius XI and Pius XII thought the better of it.
Enter Pope John XXIII – a man whose treatment of this profoundly important matter stood in rather stark contrast to that of his predecessors; not only as it concerns the decision that was made, but just as importantly, the process of deciding.
While celebrating Holy Mass at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls on January 25, 1959, with seventeen cardinals present, the “good Pope John,” as he was affectionately known by some, dropped a veritable bombshell by announcing his plan to convene the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council.
The cardinals in attendance were stunned to say the very least. The new pope of less-than-90-days hadn’t bothered to consult them; much less did he undertake a process of discernment similar to that of his predecessors.
More shocking still, and unbeknownst to those who were present at the time, even as Pope John spoke, media outlets around the world were breaking news of the Council’s calling.
As a result, any intentions the cardinals may have had to consult with the Holy Father on the matter moving forward were effectively put to rest; by the time they left the church building, it was already too late to put the toothpaste back in the tube.
If not the result of a deliberate process of careful consideration, one wonders, what exactly was the impetus for calling the Council?
This, I’m afraid, remains a topic of some confusion; especially in the minds of those who prefer denial to anything that might sully the legend of the jovial Papa Roncalli.
Addressing the assembly of bishops on October 11, 1962, the Second Vatican Council’s opening day, Pope John recalled the day of its announcement some three years earlier, saying:
As regards the initiative for the great event which gathers us here, it will suffice to repeat as historical documentation our personal account of the first sudden bringing up in our heart and lips of the simple words, “Ecumenical Council.” We uttered those words in the presence of the Sacred College of Cardinals on that memorable January 25, 1959, the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, in the basilica dedicated to him.
It was completely unexpected, like a flash of heavenly light, shedding sweetness in eyes and hearts … We might say that heaven and earth are united in the holding of the Council — the saints of heaven to protect our work, the faithful of the earth continuing in prayer to the Lord, and you, seconding the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in order that the work of all may correspond to the modern expectations and needs of the various peoples of the world.
If one were to take these words to heart, it would seem that the “unmistakable sign” for which Pius XI prayed had finally arrived, and unexpectedly so, just over half-a-century later, and this during the earliest days of a new pontificate no less.
Further solidifying this impression in the eyes of papal historians is a private journal entry dated September 16, 1959, wherein John XXIII writes of that infamous January day, “I was the first to be surprised at my proposal.” [Professor Roberto de Mattei, The Second Vatican Council: An Unwritten Story (right), pg. 92]
The inspiration of the Holy Spirit… A surprise from Heaven… Completely unexpected…
It’s the stuff of a made-for-TV movie, but the question remains:
Is it truth, or is it fiction?
In a 1959 interview with the Italian Weekly, Epoca, Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani spoke about the upcoming Council shortly after it was announced:
He [Roncalli] had spoken about it to me from the moment of his election. Or, rather, to be more precise, it was I who visited him in his little room at the conclave on the eve of the election. Among other things, I told him, “Your Eminence, it is necessary to think about a council.” Cardinal Ruffini, who was present at the conversation, was of the same mind. Cardinal Roncalli adopted this idea and later had this to say, “I have thought of a council from the moment when I became pope.” [ibid., pg. 96]
If Cardinal Ottaviani’s recollection is accurate, and there is every reason to believe that it is, Cardinal Angelo Roncalli had it in mind to call a council even prior to his elevation to the papacy.
If this alone isn’t enough to call into question subsequent claims of divine inspiration, consider the testimony of Abbé Roger Poelman concerning a conversation that he had with his mentor, Dom Lambert Beauduin – a close friend and confidant of Cardinal Roncalli.
As recalled by Poelman, Beauduin assured him even as Pius XII reigned:
He [the Holy Father] will die very soon. His successor will be Roncalli … You will see. He will hold a council and will do so in an ecumenical perspective. [ibid., pg. 87]
And then there is this diary entry, also written by the hand of Pope John XXIII (initially on January 15, 1959, and then curiously reentered on January 20, 1959):
In an audience with Secretary of State Tardini, for the first time, and, I would say, as though by chance, I happened to mention the word “council,” as if to say what the new pope could propose as an invitation to an enormous movement of spirituality for Holy Church and for the world … “Oh! Oh? [Tardini replied] That’s an idea, right? This is a luminous and holy idea. It comes right from heaven…”[ibid., pg. 87]
Apparently, the pope liked the sound of that “right from heaven” idea – so much so that he would later repeat it at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls just days later.
He may have perhaps even come to believe it, but whatever the initiative for convening Vatican Council II may have been, two things are now certain:
One, Roncalli’s council would not be a continuation of the previously suspended Vatican Council, and secondly, it would not stamp the expressions of “wondrous wisdom” contained in the papal magisterium that followed “with that definitive value which would place them above and beyond all discussion” as Cardinal Ruffini and other defenders of tradition had hoped.
In fact, this council and the pope who called it would take positions opposed to said wisdom; most notably as it concerns that of Pope Pius XI.
The following less-than-exhaustive list subjects and their treatment stand out as prime examples of a Concilium contra Papa Ratti worthy of closer examination:
The “Chosen People,” Ecumenism, Communism and Religious Liberty.
The “Chosen People”
As the previously referenced encyclical of Pius XI indicates, there was no question in the Holy Father’s mind (much less the sensus ecclesiae) as to who the “chosen people” are – they are the children of the Church; certainly not those who have rejected Christ.
Offensive though it may sound to certain post-conciliar ears even to the highest places in Rome, this is the case thanks to the Jews having relinquished their formerly chosen status by rejecting the Chooser:
“He who rejects me rejects Him who sent me.” (Luke 10:16)
In 1928, Pope Pius XI underscored the point when he “approved, confirmed, and ordered to be published” a decree of the Holy Office abolishing an association known as “Amici Israel” (Friends of Israel), the reasons for which we will discuss momentarily.
In this decree, the status of the Jewish people with respect to their relative “choseness” is made rather plain as evidenced in the following excerpt:
The Most Eminent Fathers [of the Holy Office], who are charged with safeguarding faith and morals, acknowledged before all else its [Amici Israel] praiseworthy intention of urging the faithful to pray to God and to toil on behalf of the Israelites’ conversion to the Kingdom of Christ. The Catholic Church has always been accustomed to pray for the Jewish people, who were the depository of divine promises up until the arrival of Jesus Christ, notwithstanding their subsequent blindness, or rather, because of this very blindness.
Moved by that charity, the Apostolic See has protected the same people from unjust ill-treatment, and just as it censures all hatred and enmity among people, so it altogether condemns in the highest degree possible hatred against the people once chosen by God, viz., the hatred that now is what is usually meant in common parlance by the term known generally as ‘anti-Semitism.’
In addition to putting the lie to allegations of a pre-conciliar Church that willingly institutionalized anti-Semitism, one does well to note the two key points of long-since settled Catholic doctrine that are mentioned:
– The “Israelites” (self-identified Jews) stand in need of conversion to the Kingdom of Christ; that is, the Holy Catholic Church, and she therefore considers it part and parcel of her mission to labor to that end.
– Upon the arrival of Jesus Christ, their long-awaited Messiah, the Israelites who were “once chosen” ceased to be so by virtue of their rejection of Him; likewise, they were at one time the depository of divine promises, but are no more.
As for the reasons given by the Holy Office (then under the Secretariat of Servant of God Cardinal Merry del Val) for abolishing Amici Israel, the decree cited its “plan of acting and communicating at variance with the sense of the Church, the mind of the holy Fathers of the Church, and the sacred liturgy.”
One such plan of acting that was central to the efforts of Amici Israel concerned a formal request, submitted by the organization to the Holy See, asking that the allegedly anti-Semitic prayer in the Good Friday liturgy for perfidiam Judaicam (the perfidious Jews) be replaced with one simply for plebem Judaicam (the Jewish people).
That proposal was denied; presumably for the selfsame reasons that were provided by the Holy Office in its decree abolishing Amici Israel itself.
Pope John XXIII took a different and decidedly contra Papa Ratti approach to the matter:
Whereas the latter invited the informed counsel of the Holy Office, the former took it upon himself to act unilaterally; one might even fairly say impetuously.
According to a brief history of the Good Friday prayer provided by Fr. Anthony Ruff, OSB:
On Good Friday 1959 in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope John XXIII omitted the words perfidis and judaicam perfidiam, without having announced any reformist intentions beforehand. The Congregation for Rites (predecessor to today’s Congregation for Divine Worship) decided later in 1959 that henceforth these words were to be omitted.
One is hard pressed not to recognize in Pope John’s actions a regrettable precedent for the liturgically cavalier behavior demonstrated by the current Bishop of Rome; specifically as it concerns his treatment of the ritual washing of the feet on Maundy Thursday:
Introduce an on-the-spot liturgical innovation over and against what is prescribed in the Missal, only to have the abuse officially approved at a later date.
This highhanded, previously unannounced, revision of the Good Friday prayer wouldn’t be the only time Pope John XXIII would forgo the advisement of the Holy Office before acting on such gravely serious matters.
In fact, in pursuing his desire to supplant the Church’s traditional, doctrinally-founded, stance toward the Jews (as well as heretics and schismatics) in favor of adopting a more diplomatic posture, he would eventually come to treat the Holy Office as something of an adversary.
Upon being approached in March of 1960 by Cardinal Augustin Bea with the idea of creating a “Pontifical Commission to promote the unity of Christians,” Pope John, delighted with its ecumenical aims, replied:
Commissions have their own traditions. Let us call this new organism a ‘secretariat.’ That way you will not be connected to any tradition: you will be freer. [Professor Roberto de Mattei, The Second Vatican Council: An Unwritten Story, pg. 131]
The move effectively granted the newly established secretariat an enviable degree of autonomy; placing it directly in service to the pope; thereby shielding it from the long arm of Cardinal Ottaviani, Secretary of the Holy Office, who also served as head of the Theological Commission that was charged with preparing texts for the upcoming council.
Several months later, in June of 1960, Pope John XXIII received in audience the French Jewish historian and activist Jules Marx Isaac, who the previous year had published the book, The Teaching of Contempt: Christian Roots of Anti-Semitism, wherein he audaciously called for a “reformulation of Christian teaching, preaching and catechesis.”
The allegations leveled by Isaac against the Catholic Church, made evident enough in the title to his book, met with the Holy Father’s sympathy.
Pope John then instructed Isaac to present his requests to Cardinal Bea, the scope of whose secretariat would eventually expand at the Council in order to undertake the “Jewish question” and other interreligious matters.
According to Professor De Mattei, the meeting between John XXIII and Jules Isaac had a profound impact on the pope, and was “the main inspiration for the document on relations between Christianity and Jews” of Vatican II, Nostra Aetate. [ibid., pg. 373]
Fast forward to today:
The immutable truths concerning the status of the Jewish people that Pius XI sought to safeguard, with due consideration given to the Holy Office’s wise counsel, were subsequently turned upside down in the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate) produced by Roncalli’s Council (then under the headship of his successor, Pope Paul VI).
So much had Bea’s secretariat succeeded in operating unconnected to any tradition, as was Pope John’s intent, Nostra Aetate is currently being leveraged in our day as justification for the entirely novel idea that the Church has no mission to the Jews, along with assurances that they continue to be “God ’s chosen and beloved people,” their salvation in no way put in jeopardy simply because they reject Jesus Christ! (See HERE)
We will conclude our examination of the Concilum contra Papa Ratti in Part Two…