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Cardinal Cottier, the jurist Ceccanti, the theologian Cantoni are defending the innovations of Vatican II. But the Lefebvrists are not giving in, and the traditionalists are stepping up their criticisms. The latest developments in a fiery dispute 





ROME, October 17, 2011 – The controversy over the interpretation of Vatican Council II and the changes in the magisterium of the Church has in recent weeks registered new developments, including at the top level.

The first is the "Doctrinal Preamble" that the congregation for the doctrine of the faith delivered last September 14 to the Lefebvrists of the schismatic Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X, as a basis for reconciliation.

The text of the "Preamble" is secret. But it was described in this way in the official statement that accompanied its delivery:

"This Preamble enunciates some doctrinal principles and criteria of the interpretation of Catholic doctrine necessary to guarantee fidelity to the magisterium of the Church and the 'sentire cum Ecclesia,' at the same time leaving for legitimate discussion the study and theological explanation of individual expressions or formulations present in the documents of Vatican Council II and of the subsequent magisterium."



A second development is the participation of Cardinal Georges Cottier (in the photo) in the discussion that has been underway for several months on www.chiesa and on "Settimo cielo."

Cottier, 89, Swiss, a member of the Dominican order, is theologian emeritus of the pontifical household. He published his contribution in the latest issue of the international magazine "30 Days."

In it, he replies to the theses upheld on www.chiesa by the historian Enrico Morini, according to whom the Church intended to use Vatican Council II to reattach itself to the tradition of the first millennium.

Cardinal Cottier warns against the idea that the second millennium was a period of decline and departure from the Gospel for the Church.

At the same time, however, he acknowledges that Vatican II was right to reinvigorate the vision of the Church that was particularly vibrant in the first millennium: not as a subject standing on its own, but as a reflection of the light of Christ. And he considers the concrete consequences that stem from this correct vision.

Cardinal Cottier's text is reproduced in its entirety further below on this page.



A third development of the discussion regards a thesis of Vatican II that is particularly contested by the traditionalists: that of religious freedom.

In effect, there is an unquestionable rupture between the statements in this regard from Vatican II and the previous condemnations of liberalism made by the popes of the nineteenth century.

But "behind those condemnations there was in reality a specific form of liberalism, that of continental statism, with its claims of monistic and absolute sovereignty that were seen as limiting the independence necessary for the mission of the Church."

While instead "the practical reconciliation brought to completion by Vatican II took place through the pluralism of another liberal model, the Anglo-Saxon one, which radically relativizes the claims of the state to the point of making it not the monopolist of the common good, but a limited reality of public offices at the service of the community. The clash between two exclusive models was followed by encounter under the banner of pluralism."

The previous citations are taken from an essay that Stefano Ceccanti, a professor of public law at the University of Rome "La Sapienza" and a senator of the Partito democratico, is preparing to publish in the magazine "Quaderni Costituzionali."

In the essay, Ceccanti analyzes the two important speeches delivered by Benedict XVI last September 22 at the Bundestag in Berlin and on September 17, 2010 at Westminster Hall, to show how both speeches "are in strict continuity with the reconciliation effected by the Council."

As soon as Ceccanti's essay is published in "Quaderni Costituzionali," www.chiesa will make it available to its readers.




A fourth development is the release of this book in Italy:

Pietro Cantoni, "Riforma nella continuità. Vaticano II e anticonciliarismo", Sugarco Edizioni, Milano, 2011.

The book reviews the most controversial texts of Vatican Council II, to demonstrate that they can all be read and explained in the light of the tradition and the grand theology of the Church, including Saint Thomas.

The author, Fr. Pietro Cantoni – after spending a few years as a young man  in the Lefebvrist community of Ecône in Switzerland – was educated in Rome at the feet of one of the greatest masters of Thomistic theology, Monsignor Brunero Gherardini.

But it is precisely against his master that he aims the criticisms of this book. Gherardini is one of the "anti-conciliarists" most under fire. 

In effect, in his most recent volumes Monsignor Gherardini has advanced serious reservations over the fidelity to tradition of some of the affirmations of Vatican Council II: in the dogmatic constitution "Dei Verbum" on the sources of the faith, in the decree "Unitatis Redintegratio" on ecumenism, in the declaration "Dignitatis Humanae" on religious freedom.

"La Civiltà Cattolica," the magazine of the Rome Jesuits printed after inspection by the Vatican secretariat of state, in a review of one of his books in September attributed to the elderly and authoritative theologian a "sincere attachment to the Church." 

But this does not prevent Gherardini from aiming his biting criticisms at Benedict XVI himself, guilty, in his view, of an exaltation of the Council that "clips the wings of critical analysis" and "prevents one from looking at Vatican II with a more penetrating and less dazzled eye."

For two years, Gherardini has been waiting in vain for the pope to do what he asked him in a public "appeal": to submit the documents of the Council for reexamination, and clarify in definite and definitive form "if, in what sense, and to what extent" Vatican II was or was not in continuity with the previous magisterium of the Church.

In March of 2012, he announced the release of a new book of his on Vatican Council II, which is expected to be even more critical than the previous ones. 

As for the book by Pietro Cantoni, a commentary on it by Francesco Arzillo is presented further below on this page, after the article by Cardinal Cottier.



Another new development is the Acqui Storia prize that will be awarded next October 22 to Roberto de Mattei for the volume "Il Concilio Vaticano II. Una storia mai scritta [Vatican Council II. A history never written]," published by Lindau and covered by www.chiesa at its publication.

The Acqui prize is one of the most prestigious in the field of historical studies. The jury that decided to award it to de Mattei is made up of scholars of various perspectives, Catholics and non-Catholics.

Their president, however, Professor Guido Pescosolido of the University of Rome "La Sapienza," resigned from his position precisely in order to dissociate himself from this decision.

In the view of Professor Pescosolido, de Mattei's book is spoiled by a militant anti-conciliar spirit, incompatible with the canons of scientific historiography.

Professor Pescosolido has received support from a statement released by the SISSCO, the Society for the Study of Contemporary History, headed by Professor Agostino Giovagnoli, a leading representative of the community of Saint Egidio, and from another representative of the same community, Professor Adriano Rocucci.

And in "Corriere della Sera," Professor Alberto Melloni – coauthor of another famous history of Vatican II, also staunchly "militant," but on the progressive side, the one produced by the "school of Bologna" of Fr. Giuseppe Dossetti and Giuseppe Alberigo, and translated into various languages – even insulted de Mattei.  While acknowledging that he had enriched the reconstruction of the history of the Council with previously unpublished documents, he equated his book with "just some anti-conciliar pamphlet" unworthy of consideration.

In comparison, the tranquility with which Professor de Mattei has endured  such affronts has been a lesson in style for everyone. 



Finally, also in the interpretive vein of Monsignor Gherardini and Professor de Mattei, another book was released in Italy on October 7 that identifies in Vatican Council II itself the problems that would come to light in the postcouncil:

Alessandro Gnocchi, Mario Palmaro, "La Bella addormentata. Perché col Vaticano II la Chiesa è entrata in crisi. Perché si risveglierà [Sleeping beauty. Why with Vatican Council II the Church entered into crisis. Why it will reawaken]", Vallecchi, Firenze, 2011.

The two authors are neither historians nor theologians, but they support their thesis with competency and with communicative efficacy, for a readership much more vast than the one reached by the specialists.

On the side opposite the traditionalists, the theologian Carlo Molari has also expanded the range of the discussion in a series of articles in the magazine "La Rocca" of Pro Civitate Christiana in Assisi, in which he examined and discussed the contributions that have appeared on www.chiesa and on "Settimo cielo."

Thanks in part to them, it is therefore likely that the controversy over Vatican II will be extended to the general public. Precisely on the eve of the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the grand assembly, in 2012.

For the occasion, the Pontifical Committee of Historical Sciences is preparing a scholarly conference from October 3-6 of next year on how the bishops who participated in the Council described it in their diaries and personal archives.

And on October 11 of 2012, the anniversary of the opening of the Council, a special "year of faith" will begin, which will end on November 24 of the following year, the solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe. Benedict XVI made the announcement on October 16, during the homily of the Mass he celebrated at the basilica of Saint Peter with thousands of proclaimers ready to work for the "new evangelization." 

Sandro Magister



by Georges Cottier

In 2012, which is close upon us, there will be the fiftieth anniversary of Vatican Council II. Half a century later, what has been a major event in the life of the Church continues to provoke debate – which probably will intensify in the coming months – on the most suitable interpretation to give to that Council assembly.

Disputes of a hermeneutical nature, important though they be, risk becoming controversies among experts. Whereas it may be of interest to everyone, especially in the present moment, to rediscover what the source was of the inspiration that animated Vatican Council II.

The most common response acknowledges that the event was motivated by the desire to renew the inner life of the Church and also to adapt its discipline to the new exigencies so as to repropose with renewed vigor the requirements of its mission in the modern world, alert in the faith to the ‘signs of the times’. But to get to the root, we need to grasp the inner countenance of the Church that the Council sought to recognize and re-present to the world in its effort to come up to date.

The title and the first lines of the Dogmatic Constitution "Lumen gentium", devoted to the Church, are here illuminating in their clarity and simplicity: “Christ is the Light of nations. Because this is so, this Sacred Synod gathered together in the Holy Spirit eagerly desires, by proclaiming the Gospel to every creature, to bring the light of Christ to all men, a light brightly visible on the countenance of the Church”. At the start of its most important document, the last Council recognizes that the wellspring of the Church is not the Church itself, but the living presence of Christ Himself who personally builds the Church. The light that is Christ reflects itself in the Church as in a mirror.

The consciousness of this elementary given (the Church in the world is a reflection of the presence and action of Christ) illuminates all that the last Council said about the Church. The Belgian theologian Gérard Philips, who was chief drafter of the Constitution "Lumen gentium", emphasized precisely this datum at the beginning of his monumental commentary on the Council text.

According to him, “the Constitution on the Church adopts from the very beginning the Christocentric perspective, a perspective which is insistently affirmed throughout the development. The Church is profoundly convinced of it: the light of the Gentiles radiates not from her but from her divine Founder: yet, the Church well knows, that being reflected on her countenance, this irradiation reaches the whole of humanity”. A perspective taken through to the last lines of the same commentary, in which Philips repeated that “it is not for us to prophesy the future of the Church, its setbacks and developments. The future of this Church, of which God decided to make a reflection of Christ, Light of the Gentiles, is in His hands”.

The perception of the Church as reflection of the light of Christ unites Vatican Council II to the Fathers of the Church, who from the early centuries made use of the image of the "mysterium lunae", the mystery of the moon, to suggest the nature of the Church and the behavior that befits it. Like the moon, ‘the Church does not shine by its own light but by that of Christ’ (‘fulget Ecclesia non suo sed Christi lumine’), says Saint Ambrose. While for Cyril of Alexandria ‘the Church is bathed in the divine light of Christ, which is the only light in the realm of souls. Thus there is one single light: in this single light, however, the Church also shines, but it is not Christ himself however’.

On this point, the evaluation recently offered by the historian Enrico Morini in a discourse hosted on the site www.chiesa.espressonline.it, edited by Sandro Magister, deserves attention.

According to Morini –  professor of the History of Christianity and the Churches at the University of Bologna – Vatican Council II set itself ‘in the perspective of absolute continuity with the tradition of the first millennium, following a periodization not purely mathematical, but essential, since the first millennium of the history of the Church is that of the Church of the seven councils, still undivided... Encouraging the renewal of the Church, the Council did not intend to introduce something new – as  progressives and conservatives respectively desire and fear – but to get back to what had been lost’.

The observation might create misunderstanding, if confused with the historiographic myth that sees the history of the Church as a progressive decline and a growing estrangement from Christ and the Gospel. Nor can one pay heed to artificial criticisms such as that the dogmatic development of the second millennium does not conform to the Tradition shared during the first millennium of the undivided Church. As Cardinal Charles Journet highlighted, in reference to the Blessed John Henry Newman and his essay on the development of dogma, the "depositum" we have received is not a dead deposit, but a living deposit. And everything alive remains so by growing.

At the same time, the correspondence between the perception of the Church as expressed in "Lumen gentium" and that already shared in the early centuries of Christianity must be understood as an objective fact. That is, the Church is not assumed as a subject in itself, as pre-established. The Church keeps to the fact that its presence in the world flourishes and perdures as a recognition of the presence and action of Christ.

Sometimes, even in the most recent happenings in the Church, this perception of the wellspring of the Church seems to become blurred for many Christians, and a sort of reversal seems to occur: from reflection of the presence of Christ (who by the gift of His Spirit builds the Church) there is a shift to perceiving the Church as a body materially and conceptually committed to attesting and establishing its presence in history by itself.

This second model of perception of the nature of the Church, which does not conform to the faith, leads to real consequences.

If, as it must, the Church perceives itself in the world as a reflection of the presence of Christ, the preaching of the Gospel can only be done through dialogue and freedom, in the abandonment of all means of coercion, both material and spiritual. This is the path indicated by Paul VI in his first encyclical "Ecclesiam suam", published in 1964, which perfectly expresses the Council’s view of the Church.

The survey that the Council also made of the divisions between Christians and then of believers of other religions, reflected the same perception of the Church. Thus the plea for forgiveness for the sins of Christians, which shocked and caused debate within the body of the Church when it was presented by John Paul II, is also perfectly consonant with the consciousness of the Church described so far. The Church asks forgiveness not in line with the logic of worldly honor, but because it recognizes that the sins of its sons dim the light of Christ that it is called to reflect in its countenance. All its sons are sinners called to holiness by the workings of grace. A sanctification that is always a gift of God’s mercy, for He desires that no sinner – however horrendous the sin –­ be snatched by the evil one on the road to perdition. So one sees the point of Cardinal Journet’s formulation: the Church is without sin, but not without sinners.

The reference to the true nature of the Church as a reflection of the light of Christ also has immediate pastoral implications. Unfortunately, in the present context, there is the tendency on the part of bishops to exercise their magisterium through pronouncements in the media, in which they often provide, instructions and guidance on what Christians should or should not do. As if the presence of Christians in the world were the outcome of strategies and prescriptions and did not spring from faith, that is from the recognition of the presence of Christ and His message.

Perhaps, in today’s world, it would be easier and more comforting for everyone to listen to pastors who speak to everyone without presupposing the faith. As  Benedict XVI recognized during his homily in Lisbon on 11 May, 2010, “Often we are anxiously preoccupied with the social, cultural and political consequences of the faith, taking for granted that faith is present, which unfortunately is less and less realistic”.

(English translation of "30 Days")


by Francesco Arzillo

The release of the book  by Pietro Cantoni "Riforma nella continuità. Vaticano II e anticonciliarismo" is an event that deserves to be noted with approval. This is, in fact, an example of the rigorous exercise of a hermeneutic of continuity: excellent medicine for the disease represented by the polarization underway in ecclesial public opinion, as emerges above all from debates in the media fostered by minorities that are "committed" but little present in the life of the average Catholic parish, or among the large majority of the faithful.

The non-theologian reader is guided by Cantoni in reading some of the most famous controversial passages of the texts of the Council, to discover in the end that there is nothing in them that cannot be read and explained in the light of the tradition and the grand theology of the Church, including Saint Thomas.

It is unfortunate to have to point out that this attitude could be interpreted – by some – as a sort of a priori defense of Vatican II, which would prejudice the proper effort against the irritations and problems of a part of postconciliar theology and practice.

But then, how could a Catholic not defend an ecumenical council? On what theological or magisterial source could such an attitude be based? Could a Catholic select the teachings of the pastors by cherry-picking them according to his own sensibilities and cultural or religious tendencies?

The great impact of Vatican Council II has yet to be explored in the depths of its manifold richness, which certainly poses problems of interpretation, but also raises hopes and efforts toward an ever better understanding of the mystery of the Christian faith.

But what is the role of the ordinary believer in all of this? One certainly cannot expect him to join one of the activist theological-liturgical-ecclesial parties, sharing its idiosyncracies and its often unilateral and aprioristic assumptions.

Nor can one reasonably expect that the ordinary believer would be led, for example, to rank the Mass of Paul VI below the Mass of Saint Pius V or vice versa; or to rank Saint Edith Stein below Saint Teresa of Avila, or vice versa. That would mean depriving the Church of the centuries-spanning dimension of catholicity, and endorsing the crypto-apocalyptic conception of rupture believed to be seen in the modern era (whatever chronology and interpretation, positive or negative, one might like to give to this rupture).

The traditionalist world above all seems not to realize the fact that adherence – even in the form of opposition – to the conception of modernity as rupture represents an evident form of ideological subordination to the adversary, whose starting presupposition is accepted in the end.

The urge comes to suggest, in this regard, an exercise even more simple than the one reserved for theologians. We suggest that one read, for example, at least some part of the Catechism of St. Pius X in parallel with the "Compendium" of Benedict XVI.

Such a reading leads to exciting discoveries. It clearly shows not only how there is no contradiction whatsoever between the two catechisms, but also how their respective contents illustrate one another in an enhancement that is circular but not self-referential, because it is oriented to the ultimate point of reference, which is the Holy Mystery in its objective and transcendent reality.

This obviously does not mean not seeing the problems – some of them serious – of the present time, including the problem of the shortcomings of epistemology and content in the most widespread forms of theology (the subject of an exhaustive study in a book by the philosopher Fr. Antonio Livi, to be published soon).

It means, however, seeing these problems in the proper light, or rather, in the final analysis, seeing them in the Spirit who animates the Church, mother and teacher, and who has not ceased to support it in the contemporary era as well: the Spirit of Jesus Christ, who is with us all days, until the end of the world (cf. Mt 28:20).

The magazine that published the contribution of Cardinal Cottier:

> 30 Days

A commentary by Brunero Gherardini on the criticisms of Pietro Cantoni:

> Risposta a don Cantoni: fra teologia e amarezza

An interview with Gnocchi and Palmaro on their new book:

> Concilio Vaticano II: il mito di un "superdogma" da cui uscire

The speech of Benedict XVI on December 22, 2005 that ignited the discussion of the hermeneutic of the Council:

> "Your Eminences..."

On www.chiesa and on the blog "Settimo cielo," the discussion has been underway for several months. It has seen repeated participation from Francesco Agnoli, Francesco Arzillo, Inos Biffi, Giovanni Cavalcoli, Stefano Ceccanti, Georges Cottier, Roberto de Mattei, Masssimo Introvigne, Agostino Marchetto, Alessandro Martinetti, Enrico Morini, Enrico Maria Radaelli, Fulvio Rampi, Martin Rhonheimer, Basile Valuet, David Werling, Giovanni Onofrio Zagloba.

In order, here are the previous installments of the dispute, on www.chiesa: 

> High Up, Let Down by Pope Benedict (8.4.2011)

> The Disappointed Have Spoken. The Vatican responds (18.4.2011)

> Who's Betraying Tradition. The Grand Dispute (28.4.2011)

> The Church Is Infallible, But Not Vatican II (5.5.2011)

> Benedict XVI the "Reformist." The Prosecution Rests (11.5.2011)

> Religious Freedom. Was the Church Also Right When It Condemned It?

> A "Disappointed Great" Breaks His Silence. With an Appeal to the Pope(16..6.2011)

> Bologna Speaks: Tradition Is Also Made of "Ruptures" (21.6.2011)

And more, on the blog SETTIMO CIELO:

> Francesco Agnoli: il funesto ottimismo del Vaticano II (8.4.2011)

> La Chiesa può cambiare la sua dottrina? La parola a Ceccanti e a Kasper

> Ancora su Stato e Chiesa. Dom Valuet risponde a Ceccanti (30.5.2011)

> Padre Cavalcoli scrive da Bologna. E chiama in causa i "bolognesi"(31.5.2011)

> Può la Chiesa cambiare dottrina? Il professor "Zagloba" risponde (6.6.2011)

> Tra le novità del Concilio ce n'è qualcuna infallibile? San Domenico dice di sì

> Esami d'infallibilità per il Vaticano II. Il quizzone del professor Martinetti(27.6.2011)

> Il bolognese Morini insiste: la Chiesa ritorni al primo millennio

> La Tradizione abita di più in Occidente. Padre Cavalcoli ribatte a Morini(27.7.2011)

> Rampi: come cantare il gregoriano nel secolo XXI (3.8.2011)

English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.




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