Vatican II Is a Home Game

Well over a decade ago I took a course from Scott Hahn in which he posed an elaborate question about responding to a Protestant interpretation of a passage from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans.

Students offered rebuttals based on the Letter of James and other teachings from Scripture and Tradition. Finally Dr. Hahn interrupted, saying, “Wait a minute! Romans is a ‘home game’ for Catholics.” He emphasized that Romans is not a “Protestant” book that needs to be countered with a “Catholic” book like James; he wanted our class to understand Romans and claim it as our own.

We have to understand that a similar dynamic is at work when it comes to dissident Catholics and Vatican II. In books such as Rome Has Spoken (Maureen Fiedler and Linda Rabben, eds.), we hear about the “rigid,” out-of-touch teaching of the pre-Vatican II Church. Vatican II came along and modernized–that is, changed–the Church’s position. Now we’re enduring consecutive pontificates that have forsaken Vatican II’s reforms and have retrenched in the old view.

The assumption on the dissidents’ part is that Vatican II is on their side. Our primary response should not be to quote from the Council of Trent or other reliable sources to “counter” or just plain ignore Vatican II.

Instead, we have to realize that Vatican II, as a legitimate ecumenical council of the Church, is a “home game” for us. Rather than work around Vatican II, and thus play into the dissidents’ strategy of pitting Vatican II against older tradition or the current papacy, we must learn what Vatican II really taught–without all the spin or the well-documented misadventures in implementation–and actually use the Vatican II documents to our advantage for the good of the Church. We’ll discover that Vatican II affirms teachings such as priestly celibacy, the inerrancy of Scripture, papal authority, and the need for moral conscience to be formed in accordance with Church teaching.

And of course now we have the authoritative Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is nothing other than the “Catechism of Vatican II.”

The foregoing is an excerpt from an article I wrote for the November 2002 issue of This Rock magazine entitled “The Grammar of Dissent.”

4 Responses to “Vatican II Is a Home Game”

  1. Rob Kaiser says:

    I love the "home game" concept, and I agree wholeheartedly. Both the "change" advocates and the council "deniers" share something in common – they both are dissenters. The Holy Spirit acted in the past, acted at the Council, and continues to act in the Church. That is what makes it a home game – adopting either error is essentially a denial of the Holy Spirit”s guidance as promised by Christ.

  2. leon says:

    Thanks, Rob. I think you aptly describe what Pope Benedict has called the "hermeneutic of continuity" that should govern our approach to Vatican II, and really to all of tradition and Church history. I think both groups you mention use a "hermeutic of rupture"–that the Church made a decisive break with her past at Vatican II. What separates the two is that one group thinks that”s a good thing, and the other group considers it a bad thing.

  3. petebrown says:

    Well what, if anything Leon, do you see that is different about Vatican II from previous councils besides points of emphasis, the pastoral tone and the like? It does seem to me that in Vat II documents there are numerous places where some relatively new ideas are added to round out old understandings. It also seems to me that the theology of revelation, tradition, the approach to Biblical study, the theology of the church are a bit different on several points than what was typically beleived and taught prior to Vatican II. Not to mention the Church”s official posture toward other Christians, Jews and the world itself–it”s hard to argue that these haven”t changed a great deal as well. I certainly wouldn”t call the changes revolutionary or a mark of abrupt discontinuity with the past, to be sure, but I think the continuity can be exaggerated also to the degree that the major theological currents of the 19th and 20th century that led to the council are minimized or ignored. It is possible for "conservative" Catholics to interpret Vatican II in ways that are just as tendentious as "liberal" dissident ones have. And since the documents were so carefully crafted to appeal to every major theological faction in the Church, maybe it”s a little too easy for any one faction to claim it as their home turf. For my part, I have parts that I "like" better than others, while other parts stretch me. I assume that it is this way for most who read them.

  4. leon says:

    By claiming "continuity" I”m certainly not denying change and development. To the contrary, the Church is a living organism, with a living tradition, so growth and change is part of the deal. Certainly the documents themselves are more or less helpful–and they”re all much better off because of JPII”s and BXVI”s pontificates and the CCC, which provide guidance in understanding the various topics considered at Vatican II.

    What brought all this to mind is a book I”m reading with my men”s group. It”s about man”s role in the family, etc. He kinda loses me with his over-reliance on the Catechism of the Council of Trent and other older sources while he usually ignores JPII, the CCC, Vatican II, etc. on the subject of marriage and family. (He does cite those things for the proposition that we have to accept Church teaching, though!) There”s a latent discontinuity in the author”s approach that I”m highly allergic to, as though he”s hanging out until the "reform" is "reformed." That”s not unlike the dissidents in chancery offices that go into remission when an orthodox bishop is appointed in the hope that the guy after him is more to their liking. It”s a shame, because the underlying points would just be stronger (at least to my ears) if there was a greater trust in conciliar and post-conciliar magisterial teaching. I”m not mentioning the author because I could have him personally all wrong, but I think the larger point I”m making is valid.

    And yes, we do need to treat Vatican II as a "home game" even if the stands are full of strangers who think they”re the home team! After all, Christ has not abandoned His Church!

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