Vatican II Actually Saved Catholicism

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.

To illustrate, let's have a look at some graphs. I'm a visual person, so this sort of stuff helps me get the big picture. Maybe it will help my readers too. To the left you should see a chart showing the decline of the top American churches during and following Vatican II. If you click on them, you should get a larger view. The charts are based on data from the 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 '' 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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Joe Rousé said…
Shane, have you read "Worshipping the State: How Liberalism Became Our State Religion" by Benjamin Wiker. I think the book backs up what you are saying. As much as I would like to blame Vatican 2, the genesis our sad current sad state of affairs goes back to Machiavelli. (My own theory is the chaos began with the Black Death which decimated the clergy in Europe during the 1300s)
Sienna said…
This makes so much sense to me! I couldn't understand how two saints (Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II) could forward the destruction of the Church. Rather, they must have been trying to plug the holes in the Barque of Peter.
Good job! It gives me great hope and cheer.
I largely agree with this. I agree that the decline of Catholicism in Western Europe and North America was probably going to happen even if there had been no Vatican II Council. I’m not an expert on this but there is much talk of ‘cultural Catholicism’. If such a thing existed then the trends of the second half of the twentieth century would surely have weakened it. Furthermore, most of the innovations which ‘traditionalists’ complain about (including me) were not approved by V2. V2 never approved of the Mass in the vernacular. V2 never approved of the priest facing the congregation. V2 never approved of Extraordinary Minsters of Holy Communion. V2 never approved of Communion in the hand. In support of your thesis about the effects of V2, another Protestant convert to Catholicism, Scott Hahn, said that the way to renewal in the Catholic Church was for Catholics to become more familiar with the Catechism of the Catholic Church. And that Catechism is, of course, based on V2.
Kevin Tierney said…
Can you tell me in what way Vatican II staved off identical crisis in liberal Protestantism, chapter and verse from the Council?

Can you then show how this was implemented?

Francis believes we have a "self-referential Church", and we've forgotten what the basics of the gospel are.By your accounts, shouldn't Vatican II have prevented this?

One can easily say Vatican II isn't heretical, but also find it laughable that it stopped or reverse the modernist crisis within Catholicism that other denominations experienced.

Given the state of current affairs in the Church (discussing whether or not it is even realistic to uphold Christian morality at the Synod!), is it really true that we survived this crisis, or is it instead true that the modernist crisis devastated the Church, Vatican II didn't stop it, in some ways it might even have accelerated it (the way the liturgical reform was implemented during the pontificate of Paul VI and the beginning of JPII's pontificate), and, 50 years later, we're still trying to figure out what to do about it?
Carol Collins said…
Your article answers some questions on Vatican II which have plagued me for years. Yet. I feel that if the parish priests would speak during the Mass of the depths and visions of the Roman Catholic Church, the sacraments, etc., instead of a personal agenda of current social issues we Roman Catholics would have greater faith from one Sunday to the next Sunday. Also, explain and say the Hail Marys and the rosary.


Carol Collins
totustuusmaria said…
Here is a question:
Monasticism and religious life reached an historical level of flourishing the decades leading up the council. The post-conciliar years saw the near total annihilation of monastic life (and that is not too extreme a thesis) and the devastation of religious life. As Thomas Merton--hardly a conservative!--points out, this devastation was partially attributable to the changes in the Liturgy. Monasticism is the among the more conservative organs of ecclesial life. My question is: would this have happened without Vatican II? I suspect the answer is: no. You would have not have the near abandonment of true monasticism, which we are only now beginning to recover from. You would not have seen a decade which began with an historic flourishing of monasticism and ended with nearly no monasteries still living the fullness of monastic life. My thesis is that that is the fault of the council.
Brennan said…
Just when I thought I’d heard it all… no, Vatican II did not help “save” Catholicism – it accelerated the decline. On a side note, I don’t know of any traditionalist that argues that Vatican II caused the collapse of the Methodists or Anglicans – Protestantism of course will collapse when faced with cultural decadence since the Protestant Churches weren’t founded by Christ.

I’m not arguing that Catholicism would not have been affected by the cultural collapse in the 60’s, but all Vatican II and its implementation did was remove any traditional defenses against this cultural collapse and modernism such as catechesis, the liturgy, art, music, and architecture. Thus the cultural collapse and the implementation of Vatican II helped form a “perfect storm” which accelerated the collapse.

Further, any traditionalist I’ve read about the collapse of Catholicism after Vatican II is fully aware modernism didn’t suddenly begin with Vatican II. It’s something which began earlier. It’s just that Pope St. Pius X dealt with modernism forcefully by writing strongly against it and juridically by removing modernists from positions of power in the Church. Of course modernism went underground but their opportunity came again precisely due to Vatican II where the orientation was now no longer to forcefully condemn error. That along with adapting the liturgy for “modern man” and a catechesis which no longer taught the Faith accelerated the collapse of the practice of the Faith.

Yes, Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI did help do damage control after Vatican II, and I appreciate them for that, particularly in freeing up the traditional Latin Mass as its precisely those religious Orders and academic institutions which are going back to the traditional liturgy and catechesis which are enjoying the strongest growth; - and may it continue.
Unknown said…
Brilliant essay. Thank you!
Here are the original plots with some explanation of data sources and the like. The plots above are normalized by USA population, but it's also of interest to see the raw numbers.
I think there is something to what you say in this post, but I think it's equally obvious that Vatican II, while not causing the turmoil in the church in the last 50 years, was itself in part an expression of "modernist" forces, was the vehicle through which modernism entered the church at the parish level. And not just modernist ideas: by transforming the liturgy, V2 opened the door to widespread concrete changes in the life of the church in architecture, in the way that the religious orders lived out (or abandoned!) their calling, in music, in devotional life.
JPII and Benedict tried to beat back the tide, but the modernizing (modernist?) structures put in place after V2 largely remain.
The Bear does not know, but has long suspected. It's not like there was anything else going on in the sixties, after all! Post hoc ergo propter hoc mistakes are easy to make, and the Bear doubts a healthy institution would have collapsed overnight because they smashed the altar rails and started singing Marty Haugen songs. At most, the Bear suspects it provided a fault for pent-up forces from long before V2 to break through.
Gregory said…
I think you are right about the council. I think the council and the new liturgy also caused many of us to re-embrace the Tridentine Mass, which is also helping to reinvigorate Catholicism. One small point: You several times write that someone "could care less," when what you mean is "could NOT care less." As Catholics, we know that words matter, right?
holymusic55 said…
I remember trying to attend Mass after Vatican II. Many times I tried. Then I quit trying. It took many years to finally come back. Many never returned. Then it took more years to feel like it was still the Sacrifice of the Mass. So many from back then didn't try and went on to protestant services. So sad to see my beloved Church with near empty attendance and predominately seniors as opposed to standing room only with families in attendance before Vatican II. The Church would have weathered the 60's as it has weathered 2000 years of upheaval and persecution. To "modernize" for supposed sake of survival was a huge lack of trust in the Holy Spirit.
Brennan said…
A healthy institution, like a healthy football team, will live or shrivel according to whether or not the culture that made it healthy in the first place is transmitted to the next generation or not.

The culture, or Faith is transmitted through small "t" tradition: the liturgy, art, catechesis, architecture, music, etc. "Smash" those, as happened after Vatican II, and you will no longer be transmitting the Faith and the practice of the Faith will suffer accordingly, no matter how healthy it was previously.

Similarly, you can have a championship football team, but if the coach suddenly decides that instead of practicing plays and tackle blocking the players are now going to hold hands and blow bubbles, that football team is going to start losing big time, even with the same players.
Shane Schaetzel said…
All very true Brennan, but as you know, Vatican II never called for any of this destruction. This was done entirely under the fictional 'spirit of Vatican II' which was promoted by liberal modernists within the Church and the mainstream media outside. As Pope Benedict XVI pointed out, in his farewell address to the clergy, the Council of the Media overshadowed the real Second Vatican Council, and gave us the fictional 'spirit of Vatican II' which the council fathers never intended. Thus the real Vatican II has never really been implemented. What little parts of the authentic council that have been implemented have worked toward preserving the Church, but again, these were overshadowed by the false Council of the Media. The more the authentic council shines through, as was revealed to us by Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, the more the council saves and renews the Church.
Thank you for this important defense of Vat II but i think it may help to look at that Council a bit more carefully. Surely, it was a reaction to a Church that was "ossified" (Benedict XVI), under the nose of the Church, there were two world wars, pogroms, a holocaust, the rise of artificial birth control, abortion, terrorism, Communism, Modernism, and perhaps a few other things you can name.

The human urge to make a break with the past, to pursue a completely new ecclesiastical agenda with renewed spirituality was, perhaps, a bit too human; thus, the clarifications issued by St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI in their encyclicals.

However, the breach with the past left us with a Church that may not be so much "ossified" as it is stuck in neutral. Perhaps Francis wanted to jolt us out of that phase but his efforts have been superficial to remedy a problem that is ontological.
Brennan said…
Hi Shane,

I don't think this "false spirit of the Council" can be so neatly separated from the documents themselves. After all, you certainly had periti and other churchmen at the Council helping to craft the documents who did want a major reorientation of the Church and accommodation with the modern world as far as possible.

Thus you see in the very documents themselves that they forego both any condemnatory language and also clear statements of doctrine. That along with their verbosity and ambiguousness in too many places has led directly to much confusion in the Church along with incessant arguments over what the documents actually mean.

A good case in point is shown in the article: "Sacrosanctum Concilium: A Lawyer Examines the Loopholes." Here is a sampling:

"This denial of reality is why "conservatives" continue to insist that if only SC were implemented "as the Council intended," why then we would have an "authentic reform of the liturgy" in the "true spirit of Vatican II." But "conservatives" have little to say about Paul VI's declarations in November 1969, echoed by John Paul II on the 25th anniversary of SC, that the New Mass is precisely what SC authorized and therefore precisely what the Council intended.

A few years ago, having grown tired of hearing the "conservative" line on SC, I did what I should have done long before: I sat down and read the document - line-by-line, word-by-word. It was a classic jaw-dropping experience. Anyone with a modicum of perspicuity can see (at least in retrospect) that SC was designed by its principal draftsman, Annibale Bugnini, to authorize a liturgical revolution, while giving the appearance of liturgical continuity. It is a nest of deadly ambiguities which the Council Fathers can only have approved in the confidence that the liturgical tradition of the Roman Rite could not possibly suffer a dramatic rupture, because it had never happened before.

A lawyer knows that the dangers in a contract from his client's perspective lie not so much in what the terms of the contract provide as in what they permit the other party to do. The danger is in the loopholes. Quite simply, SC permits all manner of drastic things to be done to the Roman liturgy. It is one long collection of loopholes. If a lawyer entrusted with the task of protecting the Roman liturgy from harmful innovation had drafted this document, he would be guilty of gross malpractice."

The Council has been implemented. The same confusion and ambiguity, along with a reorientation toward "dialogue" and "ecumenism" found in the documents themselves has spread throughout the Church. And of course it was Pope Paul VI himself who authorized the New Mass, a Mass he wanted to bring as close to a calvnistic service as possible, along with the actual draftsmen themselves, who wanted to accommodate the liturgy to their conception of "modern man."

Thus I'd say the pockets of resurgence are not due to some new, genuine "implementation" of the Council but by going back to those elements of the Faith that were already a part of the Church before Vatican II in areas such as the liturgy, devotions, catechesis, music, art, and architecture.

Several of the comments here illustrate my point that many of the changes which occurred post-V2 had nothing to do with V2. I wish that people criticising V2 for whatever would give chapter and verse to support their claims that V2 led t this, that and the other. One of the things that happened post V2 was a virtual collapse of the missionary Church. But, as Ralph Martin shows in his book, 'How Many Will Be Saved', this was due to a misreading of Lumen Gentium. Anyone reading LG properly would not have come to the conclusion that the the missions were no longer needed.
Nick Meyer said…
While I understand what you're (the author) saying, I would just like to encourage us never to forget that Jesus said, "And I say also unto thee, That thou are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

With this in mind, Vatican II could not "save" the church any more than any other church council could save the church. Jesus promised us that there is nothing that can destroy His Body, the Church. My impression is that you did not mean that it would literally "save" the church from demise, but more so that change was providential to respond to the changing cultural tide. From my reading and many conversations on the topic, it seems as though it was less about what Vatican II said and stated, and more about the lack of oversight and implementation of the changes. There were many abuses by bishops, priests, and lay people grasping for control and making changes unapproved by Vatican II in the "spirit of Vatican II", whatever the heck that means. I am no expert, but this seems quite evident still today in the church, although I think we're seeing the rebalance and return to orthodoxy. Also, I had heard that it has more often than not taken 50 years for the councils intentions to actually be implemented.

The temptation that we must be aware of is to be not assign ourselves or others labels: "liberal" "traditional" "conservative" etc. It seems that we are either with the Church or we are not. Labels will only divide us. May we all strive to know the Truth as taught by the Church. May God bless us all and may we all be in tune with the Holy Spirit and building up of His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
Shane Schaetzel said…
Brennan, I think you just unwittingly proved my point for me. You said there were churchmen at the Council who wanted to make radical changes to the Church. That's basically what I said. You said these men tried to cover their intentions with ambiguous language in the council documents. I said that too. Thus, as I said in my original essay, the Church was already in the midsts of falling apart, long before the Second Vatican Council.

I maintain that the collapse was inevitable because of the surge of modernism in the Western world. I maintain that had Vatican II not happened, much more serious errors would have been promulgated at the local level. The Vatican would have translated the Tridentine mass into vernacular languages -- thus butchering it. I know because I saw their early translation of this liturgy. I've held that missal in my hands. It was in use briefly during the 1960s. It is an abysmal translation that guts the liturgy. Even the early translations of the Novus Ordo were more dignified! Imagine what would have happened if there were no Vatican II and no Novus Ordo. The Tridentine mass would have undergone decades of bad translations, followed by ridiculous innovations, approved at the local level.

My point is that men who wanted these changes would have done them anyway, with or without the Council. It just turns out that the ambiguity of some of the Council documents, combined with the mainstream media, provided them with the cover they needed to get all this done under the fictional 'spirit of Vatican II'. In a way this is a good thing, because it brings all the heterodox out of the shadows and into the light. It prevented these people from making slower, and thus more damaging, changes gradually over time. It allowed them to go crazy and reveal to the whole world their lunacy. Because of this, orthodox Catholics were able to quickly recognise the problems, and rally the troops. The fact that it's taken us so long to mount an effective counter-resistance only demonstrates just how serious the problem was. There was no way Vatican II could have cause all of this so quickly. It simply exposed what was already there, hiding beneath the surface...
Shane Schaetzel said…
...By the same token however, Vatican II gave us some gifts of orthodoxy that allowed orthodox Catholics to mount an effective resistance, and these were highlighted by Saint John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and countless good bishops around the world. The African and Polish bishops are examples of this, but these are by no means limited to them.

All along I've asserted that it really comes down to the intent of the people we're talking about. There is no way, whatsoever, that Vatican II can take an orthodox Catholic and change him into a heterodox Catholic. This is essentially what some Traditionalists assert. They assert, either explicitly or implicitly, that Vatican II somehow has the magical powers to change the orthodox into heterodox, and the traditional into modernist. I say that assertion is poppycock! I was a Protestant when I read the documents of Vatican II, and they didn't turn me into a Modernist. In fact, they led me to become Catholic -- an orthodox and traditional Catholic at that! As Pope Benedict XVI taught us, Vatican II is what you make of it, and what you make of it all depends on the hermeneutic you interpret it in. If you approach Vatican II with a 'hermeneutic of rupture' in mind, you'll interpret it as a council that ruptures with the past. If you approach Vatican II with a 'hermeneutic of continuity' in mind, you'll interpret it as a lesser council that merely builds upon Trent and Vatican I. Benedict XVI told us the 'hermeneutic of continuity' was the correct interpretation, and Vatican II was merely pastoral. Those who interpret Vatican II as a 'super-council' are following the 'hermeneutic of rupture'. Such a hermeneutic reveals an immature faith at best, or a schismatic one at worst. Sadly, we have a little of both in the Church, and it's been around for nearly 100 years. Vatican II just shines a light on it.
Brennan said…
Hi Shane,

Well, again, I don’t disagree at all (nor does any traditionalist I know) that modernists were already present in the Church a good while before Vatican II. I also don’t think that Vatican II magically turns people into modernists (I also don’t know of any traditionalist that has written this, either). What Vatican II did do was allow these modernists and others to compose ambiguous documents that would later provide cover for these same churchmen to re-form and re-orient the Church to their liking, even if much of what they did was not explicitly called for by Vatican II.

You wrote: “As Pope Benedict XVI taught us, Vatican II is what you make of it, and what you make of it all depends on the hermeneutic you interpret it in.” And that is precisely the problem. A Council is actually supposed to clarify doctrine, not provide an opportunity for people to interpret it according to their own hermeneutic. Thus when one reads previous Councils, such as Trent, they are clear, forthright, and unambiguous (I’m a former Protestant myself and remember even someone like James MacArthur admitting that with the Council of Trent “you knew exactly what they were saying.”).

Thus the documents of Vatican II are a clear departure in the way they were written – much more verbose and open to interpretation. So I’m not arguing that there’s nothing good or praiseworthy in the documents or that they can’t be interpreted in a more traditional fashion. The problem is that they have to be interpreted at all, because, yes, Catholics and churchmen will interpret the documents according to their own predilections – and I am glad Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have interpreted them in a more traditional fashion (for the most part).

I of course agree that a cultural storm hit in the 1960’s. Yet when there’s a storm coming, the smart thing to do is to batten down the hatches and issue clear directions, not throw open the windows and see which way the wind takes you. Yet I’d argue the documents of Vatican II led to the latter happening in the Church, with Popes like John Paul II and Benedict XVI having to do damage control.

Thus I have absolutely no idea how Vatican II prevented the situation in the Church from being worse; rather it opened the way - particularly in the Church’s reorientation away from clear teaching and using condemnatory language – for modernists to have almost free reign to do damage in the Church with hardly any roadblocks. And this is not to mention the fact that even for regular churchmen the orientation away from clear teaching has led to at least two generations of Catholics who, even if not fed heretical slop, are fed mere pablum week after week at Mass in the homilies and at Catholic schools so that they can spend almost their entire lives going to Mass and Catholic schools and have almost no idea what the Church actually teaches let alone why.

Now did Vatican II explicitly call for poor catechesis and terrible liturgy? No, of course not. But again, for a Council to do some good in the Church it needs to do more than just not be heretical – it needs to be clear, solid, and soundly orthodox and not open to vastly different interpretations.
Brennan said…

Now, regarding the liturgy, I’d say this is where more damage was done than even with the documents of Vatican II. For most Catholics will never read a word of Vatican II in their life, but as Pope John Paul II acknowledged, most people experienced the results of Vatican II through the liturgy. As Cardinal Ottaviani wrote in his intervention:

“The innovations in the Novus Ordo and the fact that all that is of perennial value finds only a minor place, if it subsists at all, could well turn into a certainty the suspicions already prevalent, alas, in many circles, that truths which have always been believed by the Christian people, can be changed or ignored without infidelity to that sacred deposit of doctrine to which the Catholic faith is bound for ever. Recent reforms have amply demonstrated that fresh changes in the liturgy could lead to nothing but complete bewilderment on the part of the faithful who are already showing signs of restiveness and of an indubitable lessening of faith.”

I’d argue that that is precisely what has happened. The major changes to the liturgy – and here I’m not just talking about abuses but the approved changes to the prayers and rubrics – have given the impression that if the liturgy can be so radically change, maybe dogma and discipline can too. Now, this is not a correct inference, of course, but most Catholics are not going to draw a sharp distinction between the experience of Catholicism through their local church and official Church teaching, as if one can radically alter one and the other remain unaffected, which is why Cardinal Ottaviani’s statement is wise and genuinely pastoral.

Thus I’d say that if the liturgy had remained essentially the same the damage done to the Church internally would not have been nearly so complete even if the Church had released a poor translation. At least a translation can be improved, or if it’s really that bad those who wanted to could still have celebrated the Mass in Latin. Instead what we had was Archbishop Bugnini’s committee having carte blanche to alter the actual prayers and rubrics to make the liturgy more accommodating to “modern man” (along with Pope Paul VI’s wish, expressed to his friend Jean Guitton, that the Catholic Mass would come as close to being like a Calvinistic service as possible in order to help win over Protestants). And I’d say this altering of the actual prayers of the Mass is far worse than a poor translation.

Well, I’ve gone on far too long. Thanks for writing on this topic as it’s an important one.
Shane Schaetzel said…
Thanks Brennan, and thank you for the civil discourse too! You and I are proving that two Catholics can agree to disagree over Vatican II and not resort to calling the other a 'heretic'. You wouldn't believe how many inflammatory comments I have to delete in a month over a topic like this. But agree to disagree we shall.

I think what it comes to Vatican II the core of the problem is hermeneutic. Vatican II was a pastoral council, and that makes is subordinate to Vatican I and Trent. This is something one just has to understand, otherwise Vatican II makes no sense. In a very real way, Vatican II was more of a super-synod, outlining pastoral practices, and how Vatican I and Trent should be applied in the modern world. The problem manifests when people put Vatican II on par with Vatican I and Trent. It becomes worse when people elevate it to the level of a super-council, which somehow magically erases Vatican I and Trent. This reveals an immature faith at best, or a schismatic one at worst.

Sadly, not only the laity, but many clergy have adopted the later 'super-council' approach to Vatican II, and therein lies the root of the problem in my opinion. This mindset is aided by the media.

Still, I assert some very good things came out of Vatican II which would probably not be possible prior to it. One in particular I am a beneficiary of, which is the Personal Ordinariates for Groups of Anglicans. Herein we have the fulfilment of authentic ecumenism, in its goal of real visible unity. Another is the expanded Lectionary, which I assert is very significant. Another is a better understanding of where Protestants fit into Christianity, and our proper relationship to them, being in essence baptised but uncatechised and unconfirmed 'catholics' (because they are Trinitarian), living in a state of schism which in today's generation is 'no fault of their own'. I should point out here that this in no way exempts them from our evangelistic efforts, but rather just helps us understand where they currently are now in relation to that. I would say another benefit is getting the laypeople more involved in the Church as well. Prior to the council, most lay Catholics were content to let the clergy and religious handle everything.

We have yet to see the fulfilment of Vatican II, but I think that will eventually come just as soon as the Church is able to rid itself of this 'super-council' heresy and those who promote it. Vatican II was a subordinate council, pastoral in nature, beneath Vatican I and Trent. The conciliar fathers said it was, and so did Pope Paul VI as well as Pope Benedict XVI. I'm going to keep harping on that one until my dying day.
Alexander said…
1. Well, firstly “Modernism” with a capital “M” is a Catholic phenomenon. There are no protestant Modernists in the technical definition. But their ideas spread, yes.

2. “Traditionalist” is a vague term, you cannot lump all Traditionalists together in a group that says Vatican II “changed doctrine.” You are targeting a specific group of people who solely blame the council, a group which has no definitive label. I generally call them faux-traditionalists. I think you should edit your post to reflect the fact that not all people who call themselves Traditionalists believe this. (I do not refer to myself as a traditionalist, BTW).

3. Next, studying the 20th century both formally and on my own, the issue with Vatican II was rightly pointed out by you as containing ambiguities that were later manipulated. But I think it goes beyond this. Vatican II did not address the major tenants of the crisis we are having because it was called too early. AND Papal leadership was weak, giving us bad examples, letting liberals run amuck a lot of the times (not all the time). I will explain below, please consider.

Vatican II is a failure, like Lateran V before it, because it cannot address the situation in the present. It is more a passive failure than an active one. Or in other words, it is not what faux-traditionalism claims in that it caused anything in the positive sense, it merely HELPED (not solely) lower the defenses of Catholicism against both the cultural evils that were surging AND the neo-Modernism that was festering in the Church.

“But, you see, it’s not fully implemented yet…”

It can’t be, because it cannot address all the issues, and has highly ambiguous parts which even current Popes repeat in ambiguous fashion. Not just ambiguous words but whole paragraphs and phraseologies that is still repeated by Popes. And again, it does not even come close in fully addressing the heresies and other decaying features all around us.

In our world of mass communications and overcoming language barriers you think Vatican II could have been implemented correctly by now.

Take the example of the Lateran V council, it was called in the early 1500s in part to address the creeping corruption and implement reform and fight heresy. What happened after it? The Protestant revolts and millions leaving the faith. When was Trent called? Around 35 years later. Yes, 35 years after Lateran V, that’s shorter than the closing of Vatican II up to this point in time and we are experiencing crisis like what happened then.

What if people went around saying “we just have to implement Lateran V correctly”? That would be foolish, as Lateran V could not address the Protestant issues. It is the same with Vatican II, it cannot address the current crisis, because the current crisis exploded during and after the council’s completion.

[Continued in the next post]
Alexander said…

4. Another person who helped lower the defenses of the Church was Paul VI, and an examination of history reveals his weakness against the liberals 90% of the time, and his inability to grasp liturgical matters which led to the watering down of the Holy Mass. Again, not that he has bad intentions, it was just the wrong leadership at crucial time.

5. Finally, as noted before, the language of the Vatican II that is not generally considered ambiguous in the words used, is considered ambiguous in the message it is trying to convey. The lack of canons, or what they call “negative” theology (making a list of errors telling you what not to believe) is absent, and yes that can be “pastoral” as it is trying to help guide the faithful (it doesn’t necessarily have to be anathemas mind you).

So here we have it.
In Summary: The external forces of Marxism, liberalism, materialism, and atheism pound the Church from the outside while the internal force of neo-Modernism pounds the Church on the inside. But societal rot ponds everything and of course, as you pointed out, leads to a crisis all over in every Christian denomination.

Vatican II was called too early and its documents were ambiguous and fell short (in part by partially being composed by some of the New Theologians). This weakened the Church's defenses against the above mentioned evils. What further weakened it was the aura of laxity and weak Papal leadership against the corruption on the inside (neo-Modernism) and outside (cultural decay).

The result? Crisis in the Church. So, yes, Vatican II has no fault insofar that it caused everything, but its a council that was called to early and its documents cannot address what is going on now in full, so correct implementation won't quell the crisis. No matter how well you give a patient medicine, in whatever doses or intervals, if it can't cure him its a failure.

Also pointing to JPII as some saintly light is very odd since he had a mixed Papacy: Assisi meeting where people were allowed to break the first commandment and worship pagan gods on sacred Church ground communicates indifferentism. Him praying to St. John the Baptist to protect Islam makes no sense in the light of the Gospel for salvation. Allowing Billy Graham to preach in his Cathedral in Poland when he was still a Cardinal is also scandalous and communicates indifferentism. Praising heretics like Blondel and giving Cardinal hats to the very men who hijacked Vatican II like Congar, De Lubac, and Balthsar, is disheartening. Bizarre pagan rituals done to him (like in Mexico City in 2002) are equally confusing. But he does shine in other areas, defending other aspects of Catholicism and the right moral path. A very mixed man, no foul intentions of course because the Church says he is now in heaven, but not a good example to use in these times of crisis. I have had to personally and relentlessly try to correct people who quote him nonstop saying people can be saved without the Catholic Church, it is a nightmare and a headache that he sometimes adopts the same ambiguity that has helped to deteriorate the Church.
Brennan said…
Hi Shane,

Well, I certainly can agree that Vatican II should be subordinate to Trent and Vatican I and that it wasn’t a “super-Council” that erased everything that came before it. I also am grateful for the Anglican Ordinariate (and can only wish I could attend an Ordinariate liturgy). Apparently Pope Benedict wasn’t aware that Vatican II no longer called for an “ecumenism of return” (according to Cardinal Kasper) before he formed it.

I am hoping for something perhaps simpler, - the time when Vatican II is just ignored. Not erased, but simply not treated as Ground Zero for a “new Church”. While I have definite sympathies for reading Vatican II in light of Trent and Vatican I where the latter informs the former I just don’t see too many Catholics being able or even congenial to pulling it off.

For instance, I read in one instance a traditional seminary in France wrote a work reconciling Dignitatis Humanae with previous Church teaching. I’m glad they did. It took 3,000 pages. If it takes 3,000 pages to reconcile a Vatican II document with traditional Church teaching then there’s a problem. But hey, I’m certainly not going to stop anyone from making the effort.

I suppose in line with what you wrote and hope for, I’d like to see previous Councils and Church teachings prior to Vatican II actually cited more (or perhaps, at all) in modern Church teaching whether that’s Church documents, homilies, school settings, etc. That would be a glimmer of hope that Vatican II was no longer being treated as the most important Council in the history of the Church.

Thanks again for writing.
David Brandt said…
Timing is everything. Vatican II occurred at the same time as the widespread acceptance of artificial contraception. The widespread acceptance of artificial contraception has led to many social changes which in some ways "de-necessitated" the need for a faith. Also nobody ever talks about what Pope John XXIII lived through during World War II. His first hand experience of the effects of socialism gone awry may have. even part of what lead him do understand that something needed to be done. And of course there were the French introducing existentialism which was an easier way to explain the "whys" of the atrocities of World War II than excepting blame for in-action and cowardice. Modernism is nothing more than a form of mental gymnastics used to avoid God and worship self.
Brennan said…
Great post, Alexander.
50 years is a nanosecond in Catholic Church time.
Outstanding. Standing ovation.
Seriously. I feel like I've been a lonely voice pushing this schtick. Vatican Two was not the problem, though admittedly, the implementation of some of the superficial modernist forms gave assistance to modernism.

I have a few friendly quibbles. The Dechristianisation of Europe was really started about the late 19th C. You might want to familiarize yourself with the writings of a guy called Blondel. Effectively he laid the seeds for V2. He could see at the end of the 19th C that Europe was rapidly dechristianising and that the Church was seriously impeded in fight against modernism.

But one of the great insights into Blondel and the Nouvelle theologians is that the enemy is within. Integrism has been the poison of the Church.

You might find this essay interesting.

Once again, an outstanding post.
Athelstane said…
"...are what breathed life back into the Catholic Church..."

Uh....what life?

The Church is basically dead as doornail in most of Western Europe. And Canada. In freefall to pentecostal and evangelical sects in much of Latin America. And facing pretty tough demographics in much of the U.S.
FrancieB. said…
Having read the initial post and all of the well articulated comments, it is clear that modernism cannot, and does not exist in a vacuum.

"Modernism is a philosophical movement that, along with cultural trends and changes, arose from wide-scale and far-reaching transformations in Western society in the late 19th and early 20th centuries."

As such, it is the individuals, citizens, people, human beings who - shape it, drive it, live it, give voice to it, etc. ( duh! ) All of THAT being said, it is also plain to see that some, here, are arguing the very same point. Modernism (and her people) was on the rise, the ambiguities of VII ( composed by people ) and the ambiguities of the interpretations ( by people ) that followed, all played a part in the ensuing correct or incorrect implementations ( by people ) and further understanding of it all ( by people.)

Vatican II can neither be blamed outright, nor can it remain blame-free for what has transpired in the Church post-Vatican II, but there just might ( and I say might, because who am I to judge? ) be a bit of blame ( or whatever you wish to call it,) to go around, for all of the people, within the church and without, caught up in the modernist movement and the influence that their THINKING did to shape VII and the way it was interpreted, implemented, etc.

Excellent discussion. Enjoyed reading this!

I recommend that everyone read John O'Malley's "Trent, What Happened At The Council". It's a real eye-opener. Five hundred years later we are still dealing with issues like celibacy because those bishops kept dodging them and putting them off.

Comparatively, I would say that the Church is doing great today: Bishops live in their dioceses, priests (mostly) follow the order of Mass, priests don't hire out someone to do the Mass, pastors live in their parishes, popes don't appoint their teenage children, nephews, cousins to be cardinals, the Councils do not invite opponents to speak and then murder them (Jan Hus) as they travel to the Council, etc, etc, etc.

Also, Trent did not issue a decree that Latin be the language of liturgy (although it remained the official language of ecclesiastical communication). It left it that Latin was to be used unless the bishop thought the vernacular would be more beneficial to the souls under his care.
A very perceptive post. I don't know if you've read Philip Trower, but he has a similar diagnosis. I very much wanted to disagree with this: "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," but it's correct. The Church that looked so healthy in 1960 has at least two hidden, but bad, diseases: the increasing control of Chruch institutions by Modernists, and great ignorance on the part of the laity. I'm confortable discussing the first, but uncomfortable with the second. There were quite a number of Catholics who knew a lot of facts about the Chruch and its teachings, but knew them as unrelated propositions, not as parts of a larger whole. I wish I had a better word than "ignorance" for that state, but whether or not I have the right label, it existed. And has only gotten worse, of course. Anyway, thanks for this great article.
JR said…
I appreciate your thoughtful ideas about what you imagine Vatican II having supposedly done for the Church but Im disappointed. Disappointed in that you really didnt interact with authors who have provided a much needed critical assessment of the Council. You didnt interact with the writings of Michael Davies and his writings especially his hard hitting books Pope John's Council, Cranmer's Godly Order, and Liturgical Time Bombs in Vatican II.

There are more "mainstream" Catholic writers like Dr Roberto De Mattei who is a noted Church historian in Rome who has written The Second Vatican Council An Unwritten Story and that of Msgr. Brunero Gherardini, who used to teach at the Pontifical University of the Lateran, in his book Vatican Council II: A Debate That Has Not Taken Place. Bishop Gherardini makes some forceful statement about the Council. Let me quote him:

"The ’spirit of the Council’ had generally put the Council in opposition even with all that the Church had up till then accredited as its daily bread, especially the Councils of Trent and Vatican I. One cannot but be struck by the presence of several sentences, scattered here and there in certain documents, especially in the strategic paragraphs of the introduced innovation, with the single goal of ensuring between yesterday and today a correspondence that in fact does not exist.” (p. 30)

“If we wish only to blame the post-Council, so be it, for it is not at all free of wrongs. But also, we must not forget that it is the natural son of the Council, and that it is in the Council that it has found the principles upon which it has then founded its most devastating contents, to the point of exhausting them. (pg 82)

In addressing what he sees Vatican II's description of the Priest's ministry of the Word above his role as minister of the Eucharist he has this to say, “Consequently, how can it be coherent to declare that such a radical overturning of the Tridentine tradition is also perfectly coherent with the preceding magisterium, and constitutes the material of infallible, irreformable and dogmatic validity? I candidly admit that I do not understand.” (p. 82-83)

One other book by a Vatican insider is by the late Romano Amerio, who was a peritus at the Council, in his book Iota Unam. A very rigorous look at what Vatican II did.

What many of these more "mainstream" writers are looking at is the question of the authority of the Council. More and more are saying that it does not command the full assent to all its documents. Those that restated traditional doctrine do such as Verbum Dei and Lumen Gentium , Chapter III among others. They have an infallibility by virtue of the Universal and Ordinary Magisterium.

On other issues it most certainly is the case that criticism is warranted especially on those topics like religious liberty and the Church in the world that are modern in its nature.

The Council's spirit was the fruition of the times. It gave a platform to all those theologians who in times past were rightly condemned and suppressed by good Popes like St Pius X. At Vatican II they were finally given lots of space to breathe and exhale a spirit whose fruits are apparent to anyone who pays even just a little attention.
Shane, I know this is a late comment, and I appreciate what you wrote. I agree that good things, such as Catholics being more scripturally literate and more knowledgeable of their Faith (example: Apologetics) came in response to the mess of the last 50 years. But the charts you show do not reflect the true state of the Church. The number who call themselves Catholic may not have declined significantly but those who are truly Catholic and believe in the fullness of Catholic truth are rare indeed. I would suspect, using that criteria, the Catholic graph would show a steeper decline then the Methodists or Presbyterians. I hate to be negative, but I don't think Vatican II "saved" anything.
Tim Branson
Simon Reilly said…
I have only just come across this post, so please forgive me for commenting late in the day. I agree with your initial argument that Catholicism couldn't possibly have passed through the cultural upheavals of the latter part of the the Twentieth Century unscathed (and had already been adversely affected by the changes of the preceding hundred years). However, I disagree with your idea that Vatican II in any way stemmed the tide that was sweeping the Church, in fact it ensured exactly the opposite. The first evil effect of the Council was that it blinded people to the fact that there was a problem afflicting the Church by producing a wave of naive optimism both during and immediately after the Council. The second evil effect was that it set a precedent for disobedience: in the first session of the Council the Council Fathers flouted the rules governing the Council; they defied the Pope; and they introduced there own agenda. With such a precedent set, an almost universal breakdown in the exercise of authority inevitably set in and has continued ever since. The third effect of the Council was that it brought together all the disparate liberal factions together in one place, enabled them to organise and provided them the platform to propagate their
ideas throughout the entire Church.
If I was to summarise the effect of the Council, I would say that, if it wasn't the cause of the current crisis in the Church, it was the catalyst that accelerated it, and transformed a sporadic problem into a universal one.
Russell D. Owen said…
Interesting commentary, thanks, Shane.

I wonder whether, in your final paragraph, you intended to write "shudder" rather than "shutter".
Master uxi said…
Certainly all of the Council Fathers saw this coming and were working to avert it. The biggest problem was going far beyond what the Counciliar documents intended (and what the bulk of the Council Fathers would have approved).

Take Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, which stresses the preservation of Latin and the pride of place for Gregorian Chant. Instructing that the laity in the propers and chants. Instead, Latin is all but extinct, yet the anathema of Trent still applies to any who say the entire Mass MUST be in the vernacular as well as those who condemn the words of consecration said in a low tone (or in other words inaudible to the laity in the nave). While it makes a certain aount of sense for the variable parts of the Mass, the readings and the propers (NOT the banal hymns currently sung), the ordinary (the unchanging parts of the Mass that are the same every time) shoudl be in Latin. No conciliar document said to pull down the altar rails and high altars or face the people and worse yet all of these were condemned errors of the heretics Luther and Cranmer.

The novus ordo Offertory is still mutilated and deficient of Sacrificial character. 1964 mostly met the call of the Council (though it's a bit erratic with what they chose for the vernacular).. Note that anyone requiring the ENTIRE Mass to be in the vernacular or condemning the Canon recited in a low tone (not audible in the nave) is under the anathema of Trent.
bernardbrandt said…
I would like to apologize for the lateness of my entry into the comments section here, but a friend from Facebook posted your excellent essay.

I would agree with your assessment of the situation. I would, in fact, go you one better: Vatican II was neither a dogmatic council nor a pastoral council. It was, in fact, a prophetic council. It recommended that certain steps be taken.

From what I can see, alas, those steps were not taken.

I suspect that the root of the rot was a failure of priestly and episcopal education. A common theme in both Church History and Vatican II is that Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium are the three fonts of the Holy Spirit. A proper education of clergy should have begun with giving them the tools so as to understand and work with those sources of knowledge.

This, alas, was not done.

All else follows from that failure.