Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Back to "School," B16 Edition

The Pope won't be returning to his Vatican Apartment until September's end... already, though, signs of activity have started to show again, signaling that the gradual end to the Holy See's traditional summer hiatus is already underway.

In the Urb itself, the new prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, arrived last week to take up the all-powerful post. Some 20 miles away at Castel Gandolfo, meanwhile, last weekend saw the annual reunion of Professor Joseph Ratzinger's alumni with their Doktorvater -- the famous Schülerkreis ("student circle") colloquium, which the now-B16 began with his former students shortly after departing the academy in 1977, when he was appointed archbishop of Munich and Freising, and continued every summer since.

Focusing on a different topic each year chosen by the Professor, while the gathering of the roughly 40 theologians (clergy, religious and laity alike) mentored by the pontiff at the faculties of Tubingen and Regensburg has matters as contentious as Islam, "creation and evolution" and the historical Jesus -- and those just since his 2005 election -- this year's meeting tackled what could be considered its most provocative topic yet... and precisely that which constitutes the "golden thread" of Benedict's reign: namely, the interpretation of the Second Vatican Council. What's more, the seminar marked the Curial "launch" of Archbishop Kurt Koch, as the new president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity -- freshly arrived from Switzerland -- served as this Schülerkreis' sole presenter, then was received in the first private audience the pontiff's had since early July.

For the latter's part, the question of the Conciliar hermenutic has long loomed large in the Pope's thought. Above all others, though, Benedict's key intervention on the topic formed the bulk of his 2005 Christmas "Greeting" to the chiefs of the Roman Curia, a lengthy treatment which began as follows....
The last event of this year on which I wish to reflect here is the celebration of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council 40 years ago. This memory prompts the question: What has been the result of the Council? Was it well received? What, in the acceptance of the Council, was good and what was inadequate or mistaken? What still remains to be done? No one can deny that in vast areas of the Church the implementation of the Council has been somewhat difficult, even without wishing to apply to what occurred in these years the description that St Basil, the great Doctor of the Church, made of the Church's situation after the Council of Nicea: he compares her situation to a naval battle in the darkness of the storm, saying among other things: "The raucous shouting of those who through disagreement rise up against one another, the incomprehensible chatter, the confused din of uninterrupted clamouring, has now filled almost the whole of the Church, falsifying through excess or failure the right doctrine of the faith..."

We do not want to apply precisely this dramatic description to the situation of the post-conciliar period, yet something from all that occurred is nevertheless reflected in it. The question arises: Why has the implementation of the Council, in large parts of the Church, thus far been so difficult?

Well, it all depends on the correct interpretation of the Council or - as we would say today - on its proper hermeneutics, the correct key to its interpretation and application. The problems in its implementation arose from the fact that two contrary hermeneutics came face to face and quarrelled with each other. One caused confusion, the other, silently but more and more visibly, bore and is bearing fruit.

On the one hand, there is an interpretation that I would call "a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture"; it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. On the other, there is the "hermeneutic of reform", of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.

The hermeneutic of discontinuity risks ending in a split between the pre-conciliar Church and the post-conciliar Church. It asserts that the texts of the Council as such do not yet express the true spirit of the Council. It claims that they are the result of compromises in which, to reach unanimity, it was found necessary to keep and reconfirm many old things that are now pointless. However, the true spirit of the Council is not to be found in these compromises but instead in the impulses toward the new that are contained in the texts.

These innovations alone were supposed to represent the true spirit of the Council, and starting from and in conformity with them, it would be possible to move ahead. Precisely because the texts would only imperfectly reflect the true spirit of the Council and its newness, it would be necessary to go courageously beyond the texts and make room for the newness in which the Council's deepest intention would be expressed, even if it were still vague.

In a word: it would be necessary not to follow the texts of the Council but its spirit. In this way, obviously, a vast margin was left open for the question on how this spirit should subsequently be defined and room was consequently made for every whim.

The nature of a Council as such is therefore basically misunderstood. In this way, it is considered as a sort of constituent that eliminates an old constitution and creates a new one. However, the Constituent Assembly needs a mandator and then confirmation by the mandator, in other words, the people the constitution must serve. The Fathers had no such mandate and no one had ever given them one; nor could anyone have given them one because the essential constitution of the Church comes from the Lord and was given to us so that we might attain eternal life and, starting from this perspective, be able to illuminate life in time and time itself.
The 2005 speech set the stage for two of this pontificate's signal moves: Summorum Pontificum, Benedict's 2007 motu proprio which significantly expanded the indult for the celebration of the pre-Conciliar liturgy, and the 2009 "remit" of the excommunications incurred by the four bishops of the traditionalist Society of St Pius X, whose unauthorized 1988 ordinations created the most prominent schism of the post-Vatican II church. (Both acts demanded by the SSPX to ensure its agreement to reconciliation talks with Rome, the "doctrinal dialogue" began last fall, and in the best-case scenario, is expected to take years.)

In the Schülerkreis, Koch delivered two talks: one on the Council's stance "Between Tradition and Innovation," and another on its most familiar fruit -- the liturgical reform as envisioned in Sacrosanctum concilium.

As some previous editions of the weekend-long conference have been published, perhaps the stakes of the topic make this one even more book-worthy than usual.

* * *
On a Vatican tea-leaves note, the annual symposium saw the return of the lone non-Ratzinger alum to be "grandfathered" into the study-group: Vienna's Cardinal Christoph Schönborn (left; Koch at right), whose last appearance in Benedict's orbit saw him receive an unprecedented trip to the Papal Woodshed for springtime comments which were viewed in some quarters as an excessive call for mandatory priestly celibacy to be "examined" as a possible cause of clergy sexual abuse, and his assertion that the dean of the College of Cardinals, the retired Secretary of State Angelo Sodano, "deeply wronged the victims" with his widely-criticized Easter morning praise of Benedict for holding firm amid "the petty gossip of the moment."

However, all seems to be especially forgiven now -- in what can only be construed as a particular sign of the pontiff's continuing trust in and esteem for the editor of the church's first universal catechism since Trent, Schönborn was called upon to preach Sunday's closing Mass of the Schülerkreis, which Benedict celebrated.

Since B16's election, the only other cleric able to boast of delivering a homily in the reigning Pope's presence is the preacher of the Papal Household, Capuchin Fr Raniero Cantalamessa. And in a liturgical context, by tradition, that only happens once a year -- at the Commemoration of the Lord's Passion on Good Friday afternoon (which, rubrically speaking, isn't a Mass).

While the Viennese prelate handled the day's main pulpit duties, Benedict did offer a brief reflection at the beginning of the liturgy, given below in a house English translation:
"Dear friends, at the close of today's Gospel, the Lord calls us to see how, in reality, we continue to live as Pagans: how, through reciprocity, we invite only those who will exchange the invitation; how we give only to those who will give back to us. Yet God's way is different: we experience it in the Holy Eucharist. He invites us to his table, that before him we are lame, blind and deaf; he calls us even though we have nothing to give him. During this event of the Eucharist, let us allow ourselves to experience above all gratitude for the fact that God exists, that He is like He is, that He is as Jesus Christ is, that He -- regardless of that we have nothing to give him and we are full of faults -- invites us to his table and wants to be at table with us. But let us likewise be touched by feeling the fault of distancing ourselves so little from the practice of the Pagans, of so little living this newness, this way of God. And for this let us begin this Holy Mass asking pardon: a pardon that changes us, that makes us become truly like unto God, truly into his image and likeness."
PHOTO: L'Osservatore Romano/POOL(1,2); Getty(3)