|The Second Vatican Council (Vatican II)|
A.D. 1962 - 1965
I'm going to make a radical statement here, that many of my traditional Catholic friends will not like, and simultaneously, some will be thrilled with.
Many traditional Catholics blame Vatican II for all the turmoil the Catholic Church has endured for the last 50 years. Some fundamentalist Catholics outright reject Vatican II entirely. However, after studying the history of the Catholic Church in the 20th century, I am convinced that the collapse of the Catholic Church in the Western world, in the latter half of the 20th century, was inevitable and was going to happen anyway, with or without Vatican II. I'm also going to say this. In spite of its flaws (and there were some flaws of ambiguity which many have taken advantage of) the Second Vatican Council, combined with the witness of Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, are what breathed life back into the Catholic Church during that inevitable and unavoidable Western collapse in the latter half of the 20th century.
What many of my good traditional Catholic friends just don't understand is that the collapse of Christian faith in the Western world was UNIVERSAL. It didn't just affect the Catholic Church. Nearly every western Christian denomination was affected. Anglican churches were nearly obliterated. Methodist churches saw great declines. Lutheran churches struggled to survive. As a result, many of these mainline Protestants fled their traditional denominations and formed new ones, particularly in the United States, where starting new churches is easy. This was the Evangelical boom that occurred in the 1970s through 90s. One has to understand. These Evangelical churches didn't just pull in new members out of thin air. Rather, they simply captured long-established Christians who were fleeing their liberal mainline denominations, and liberal clergy in the Catholic Church. The Protestant collapse that happened in the last decades of the 20th century had nothing to do with Vatican II. I dare say, most of them couldn't care less about Vatican II, and some of them never even heard of it.
There is no way the Council could have caused the collapse of all denominations in Western Christianity, particularly those of our separated brethren in the Protestant world. Vatican II was a Catholic council, affecting only the Catholic Church. Protestants couldn't care less.
Rather, it seems to me, that what really happened was this. Western Christianity was on the precipice of implosion in the 1950s, after the Second World War. The emerging new Western 'religion' of the 1950s was psychology and relativism. The plans to throw out tradition, and 'modernise' the Catholic Church were already in the works during the 1950s, as well as in the Protestant churches. The movement was gaining steam in the entire Western World. Then in the early 1960s, Vatican II happened, and it happened while Western Christianity was already imploding all around it. Had Vatican II never happened at all, the implosion of Western Catholicism would have been worse not better. I say this because, prior to the Council, most Catholics generally ignored the Scriptures, and saw Catholicism as a list of rules and traditions, not a living and breathing Church organism. As we have seen in recent decades, Catholics with this mindset cannot withstand the onslaught of Modernism on one hand (which tells them that tradition is obsolete), and Protestant Fundamentalism on the other hand (which tells them that Catholicism contradicts Scripture). On a personal note; as a former Protestant fundamentalist, I can attest that these are the easiest Catholics to convert. They have no concept of what Scripture teaches. They simply follow the rules of the Church. Once you break through that edifice, and show them that what they're doing 'appears' to contradict Scripture, the whole Catholic edifice comes crumbling down rather quickly. I converted plenty of 'good old fashioned' Catholics in my day, some who went to the Latin mass and considered themselves 'traditional'. It was easy pickings. Catholics need to have at least a cursory understanding of Biblical hermeneutics to survive both the onslaught of Modernists and Protestant Fundamentalists. Vatican II put an emphasis on this, and reoriented the Church accordingly.
Some liberal Modernists took advantage of ambiguities within Vatican II, to introduce those innovations and renovations they had been planning since the 1950s. It is interesting to note however, that these are the very same people who opposed the proper implementation of Vatican II as taught by Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. When Vatican II was implemented properly, by these two great popes, what we saw was a PRESERVATION not a destruction of the Church.
I cannot stress this enough. As a former Protestant, I know. The errors of Modernism, that my traditional Catholic friends rightly oppose, are not native to the Catholic Church, and they certainly had nothing to do with Vatican II. If they did, than I must ask my traditional Catholic friends this...
My family had been Lutheran for nearly 500 years. Yes, our Lutheran tradition was ruined by Modernism in the 1970s and 80s. How did Vatican II do that? During my years as an American Baptist, I watched our denomination slip into the errors of Modernism. How did Vatican II accomplish that? While I was an Evangelical as a young adult, I watched our congregations split, and gradually accept some Modernist ideas. How did Vatican II pull that off? When I was an Anglican, I watched The Episcopal Church commit ecclesiastical suicide by ordaining women and open homosexuals, and embracing divorce, abortion and same-sex 'marriage'. How did Vatican II get the Anglicans to do that?
The answer to all of this is that Vatican II has nothing to do with any of this. These denominations did it all by themselves, without any help from Rome, and zero help from the conciliar fathers at Vatican II. Modernism swept over Western Christianity like a tsunami, and it all started in the 1950s, right after World War II. As for Vatican II, it couldn't have changed this. The council was both used and abused, by those in the Church who had their own agendas. However, when Vatican II was used properly, it became an instrument of preservation, that slowed the decline of Catholicism in comparison to what was happening in mainline Protestant denominations.
Association of Religion Data Archives, and is indexed to the general population. Now let's look at the numbers. As you can see, only the Roman Catholics and the Assemblies of God (America's largest Pentecostal denomination) can boast of having survived the ravages of Modernism in the latter half of the 20th century. Even the Southern Baptists have been hit hard, with no end in sight for them. Obviously, Vatican II had nothing to do with this. Whatever hit Western Christianity in the late 20th century, it was a lot bigger than an ecumenical council within the Catholic Church. What my traditional Catholic friends sometimes seem to forget is that Modernism comes from Hell, not from an ecumenical council of the Church. They also seem to forget that the roots of Modernism began in the late 19th century, and sprouted in Russia and eastern Europe first, in the early 20th century, long before Vatican II. Our Lady of Fatima warned us about all of this in advance. How a Christian Empire, like Russia, could become a godless monstrosity like the U.S.S.R., is the greatest testament to Modernism that ever existed, and it all happened decades before Vatican II. When we speak of Modernism, we have to understand that we're speaking of something so much bigger than the goofy liberal innovations in the Western Catholic Church over the last five decades. We're talking about a prevailing mindset, a great delusion, that knows no bounds and does not limit itself to any particular religion. Some of my traditional Catholic friends will object and say that Vatican II let that delusion into the Catholic Church. I disagree. I say the delusion was already there. It was already making inroads, and it would have burst forth anyway. Except without Vatican II, the damage would have been so much worse. The faithful would not have been reoriented toward the study of Scripture, and the faithful would still see the Church in a very mechanical way. The end result would have been corrupted translations of the old Latin mass, instead of the new vernacular mass, a slower (more complete) infiltration of Modernist ideas into the Catholic Church, resulting in a much bigger and more damaging collapse that would have happened later, and the Church would have less tools at hand to deal with it.
One of the problems we here in Europe and North America have is our tendency to see the whole Church through our local eyes. Christianity in Europe and North America, and to a lesser extent Latin America and Oceania, has been ravaged by the last decades of the 20th century. Yet Christianity in Africa and Asia has not only flourished, it has actually exploded with life! This especially includes the Catholic Church in these places. What happened? How could the decades since Vatican II be so bad for us and so good for them? I think it's simple really. The Africans and Asians just don't have time for all this liberal Modernist nonsense. They take Vatican II at face value, and don't try to read anything into it. For them, the letter of Vatican II is the spirit of Vatican II, which is the letter of Vatican II. There is no difference to them between the spirit and the letter of the Council. They simply implement what the Council said, with no more and no less. They understand it in a pastoral way, not a doctrinal way, and that's that. In other words, they're implementing Vatican II correctly, within a hermeneutic of continuity. Where the letter of Vatican II seems to break with established doctrine, they just ignore Vatican II, or at least relegate it to a lesser place, because nothing in Vatican II was given a note of infallibility anyway. That's what a hermeneutic of continuity is all about. European and American Catholics can't project our problems on to African and Asian Catholics. If Vatican II was all bad, as some of my traditional Catholic friends insist, than the African and Asian models shouldn't exist.
Apparently Vatican II (for all of its flaws) isn't really the problem. Apparently the problem is us! It's our Western culture. It's our Western decadence. It's our willingness to submit our minds to the lies of Modernism, and it's universal. It goes across all denominational lines, both inside the Catholic Church and among the separated brethren of the Protestant world. We can't blame Vatican II for the decline of mainline Protestant denominations -- a decline which is far more dramatic than ours. Traditionalist Catholics make the exact same error as Modernist Catholics on this. They both assume Vatican II changed doctrine. The only difference is; the Traditionalist laments this false assumption, while the Modernist celebrates it.
The popes have told us that Vatican II still has not been fully implemented. Traditional Catholics shutter when they hear these words, because all they can think of is the Modernist abuses of Vatican II that have occurred over the last 50 years. However, they must understand that when the popes said this, what they meant was that the Modernist abuses of Vatican II were never part of Vatican II, and what is needed is a hermeneutic of continuity in implementing the conciliar reforms. We've only seen a little of this in the Western world over the last 50 years, but every time we saw it, the Church was preserved, souls were saved, and the decline of Catholicism was reversed.
Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books and a columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'CatholicInTheOzarks.com.' Your support is what makes essays like this possible. This essay and all of Shane's Internet resources come to you (ad-free) thanks to the generosity of benefactors. Please consider becoming a benefactor.
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