The Reception of Vatican II off the press this week

I am pleased to announce that a volume to which I have contributed, The Reception of Vatican II, edited by Matthew Lamb and Matthew Levering, has been published this week by Oxford University Press.  This book, a sequel to Lamb and Levering’s previous volume Vatican II: Renewal within Tradition, is a “Vatican II after 50 years” project, looking at how the 16 conciliar documents have been received–interpreted and implemented–over the past five decades.  It is thus a milestone work that helps us to see what impact Vatican II has had on the Church (retrospect) and how it ought to continue to be received as our century progresses (prospect).

My essay in this book is chapter 11 on the Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis Redintegratio.  Here’s the description for our volume on Amazon:

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From 1962 to 1965, in perhaps the most important religious event of the twentieth century, the Second Vatican Council met to plot a course for the future of the Roman Catholic Church. After thousands of speeches, resolutions, and votes, the Council issued sixteen official documents on topics ranging from divine revelation to relations with non-Christians. But the meaning of the Second Vatican Council has been fiercely contested since before it was even over, and the years since its completion have seen a battle for the soul of the Church waged through the interpretation of Council documents. The Reception of Vatican II looks at the sixteen conciliar documents through the lens of those battles. Paying close attention to reforms and new developments, the essays in this volume show how the Council has been received and interpreted over the course of the more than fifty years since it concluded.

The contributors to this volume represent various schools of thought but are united by a commitment to restoring the view that Vatican II should be interpreted and implemented in line with Church Tradition. The central problem facing Catholic theology today, these essays argue, is a misreading of the Council that posits a sharp break with previous Church teaching. In order to combat this reductive way of interpreting the Council, these essays provide a thorough, instructive overview of the debates it inspired.

Benedict XVI’s Hermeneutic of Reform: Towards a Rapprochement of the Magisterium and Modern Biblical Criticism

Even a cursory overview of Benedict XVI’s exegetical approach reveals dramatic contrasts with magisterial teaching of previous epochs.  With appropriate reservations and criticisms, Benedict strongly advocates the use of modern scholarly methods to help Christians better discern the face of Christ revealed in Scripture.  In adopting many of these modern findings, however, it almost seems as if Benedict has forgotten or neglected principles enforced by the magisterium no less than a century earlier.

Though one may argue that the Church’s stance on modern biblical scholarship only indirectly bears upon faith and morals, the issue remains timely today insofar as a divide persists in the Church concerning the extent to which it is appropriate to incorporate the tools and findings of modern exegesis in Catholic theology.  Aside from Benedict’s own comments on his project, it is difficult still today to find an adequate account of how exegesis under his pontificate is reconcilable with many of the venerable traditions which preceded it and, in particular, with a magisterial approach which generally viewed modern scholarship with skepticism.

The lack of such an account is what prompted me to author an article in Nova et Vetera which addresses this very topic.  In the piece I endeavor to face head-on patent discrepancies in the Church’s approach to the Bible over the past century and, so doing, offer the principles needed for a robust apologia of Catholicism in its relationship with modern biblical scholarship. You can download and read the article here!

The Salvation of Atheists and Catholic Dogmatic Theology

My review of Stephen Bullivant’s outstanding volume The Salvation of Atheists and Catholic Dogmatic Theology came out in this quarter’s edition of Nova et Vetera.  If you wonder about the question of how to reconcile Vatican II’s teaching on the possibility of salvation for non-believers with traditional Catholic doctrine, this is the book for you.  Immediately below is my condensed review I posted on Amazon, followed by a link where you can download my full review to learn more about Bullivant’s book.

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Stephen Bullivant’s monograph offers a welcome contribution to an area in the theology of Vatican II that continues to require clarification fifty years after the Council. The aim of this work is to elucidate “how, within the parameters of Catholic theology, it is possible for an atheist to be saved.” While not intended as an apologetic response to the New Atheism, Bullivant is correct in observing that his work will challenge one item in the New Atheist arsenal, namely the assumption that individuals who happen to lack certain “religious information” are thereby automatically assumed to be damned. The primary focus of this study consists in elucidating two poignant sentences of Lumen Gentium 16: “Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life.”

Bullivant’s post-mortem solution to the problem of how atheists might be saved is plausible and well-argued. In brief, Bullivant proposes that atheists can be saved in accordance with what they have done to Christ’s “least ones.” In a move all-too rarely made in contemporary theology, Bullivant offers hagiographical evidence to corroborate his claim. After a delightful analysis of how his paradigm is reflected in the lives of St. Benedict and St. Martin de Tours , the author dwells at greater length on the theology of Bl. Mother Teresa, who taught that Christ is present “in his distressing disguise” in the poor themselves. If this presence is as the saints describe it, then moral atheists not only act under the influence of grace but also have an objective encounter with Christ himself when performing corporal works of mercy for his “least ones.” Echoing D’Costa, Bullivant thus argues that the atheist already in this life has an “ontological relationship” with Christ, whereas the requisite “epistemological relationship” with him will only be rectified post-mortem. None of this, he argues, requires that we attribute to the atheist implicit or anonymous faith; rather, in this case it is Christ who is anonymous. Briefly stated, “Anonymous Christs do not entail anonymous Christians.”

For this reader, a significant remaining objection concerns how Bullivant seems to imply the presence of charity in an atheist while denying that this virtue is accompanied by at least implicit faith. It is difficult to see how the salvific grace an atheist receives in his encounter with Christ’s “least ones” is not accompanied by some noetic content.

Read the full review here!

Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus & the Substance of Catholic Doctrine: Towards a Realization of Benedict XVI’s “Hermeneutic of Reform”

Over the past fifty years, there have been dissenting Catholics of various stripes who based their rejection of the Magisterium on the seeming contradiction between what Vatican II taught regarding who is able to be saved over and against the ancient doctrine extra ecclesiam nulla salus (outside the church there is no salvation).  I have just published a paper in the journal Nova et Vetera which takes up the thorny question of whether salvation is possible for those outside of the visible Catholic Church and, further, whether the teaching of Vatican II may be reconciled with the magisterial teaching ecclesiam nulla salus that preceded it. You can read the full article Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus & the Substance of Catholic Doctrine: Towards a Realization of Benedict XVI’s “Hermeneutic of Reform” here.  If you are into theology and want a serious quarterly journal that seeks to wed the new and the old within the Christian tradition, I highly recommend subscribing to Nova et Vetera.

A Reflection on Eastern Catholicism on the Feast of St. Thomas

Fr. Matthew, vicar-general of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, showing us the local St. Thomas cross with lotus flower underneath signifying that the Cross reaches out to the whole worldSyro-Malabar. Syro-Malankara. Syro-what? It would be a safe bet to say that most U.S. Catholics have never heard of these terms, let alone understand what it means to say that they are liturgical rites of the Catholic Church. Yet for the twenty million Catholics living in India, they point to the very heart of what it means to be a follower of Christ in the world today.

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Benedict XVI on the “Two Councils”

In one of his last public speeches last week, Pope Benedict offered a powerful reflection on the time he spent as an expert or peritus at the Second Vatican Council. The speech is at once chilling and hopeful. As we Catholics continue our journey in this year of faith, it is particularly valuable to consider what Vatican II actually taught vs. what people think it taught–and, most importantly, how we can put into practice what we now know it taught. The following part on the “two councils” is especially timely:

I would now like to add yet a third point: there was the Council of the Fathers–“the real Council”–but there was also the Council of the media. It was almost a Council apart, and the world perceived the Council through the latter, through the media. Thus, the Council that reached the people with immediate effect was that of the media, not that of the Fathers. And while the Council of the Fathers was conducted within the faith–it was a Council of faith seeking intellectus, seeking to understand itself and seeking to understand the signs of God at that time, seeking to respond to the challenge of God at that time and to find in the word of God a word for today and tomorrow–while all the Council, as I said, moved within the faith, as fides quaerens intellectum, the Council of the journalists, naturally, was not conducted within the faith, but within the categories of today’s media, namely apart from faith, with a different hermeneutic. It was a political hermeneutic: for the media, the Council was a political struggle, a power struggle between different trends in the Church.

We know that this Council of the media was accessible to everyone. Therefore, this was the dominant one, the more effective one, and it created so many disasters, so many problems, so much suffering: seminaries closed, convents closed, banal liturgy–and the real Council had difficulty establishing itself and taking shape; the virtual Council was stronger than the real Council. But the real force of the Council was present and, slowly but surely, established itself more and more and became the true force which is also the true reform, the true renewal of the Church. It seems to me that, 50 years after the Council, we see that this virtual Council is broken, is lost, and there now appears the true Council with all its spiritual force. And it is our task, especially in this Year of Faith, on the basis of this Year of Faith, to work so that the true Council, with its power of the Holy Spirit, be accomplished and the Church be truly renewed. Let us hope that that the Lord will assist us. I myself, secluded in prayer, will always be with you and together let us go forward with the Lord in the certainty that the Lord will conquer.

Benedict’s entire talk can be found here. For a much fuller treatment of these issues and more, I recommend reading Ratzinger’s book Theological Highlights of Vatican II which comprises his expert reflections written soon after the council.