Inevitably, whenever starting a traditional Catholic blog such as this, I end up with two accusations. This comes from the hyper-polarity in the Catholic world today, which can only be remedied by a return to an interpretation of the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) that is in continuity with the history and tradition of the Catholic Church.
The first accusation comes from liberals within the Catholic Church, who accuse me of being a “Radical Traditionalist.” I find this amusing, because of the second accusation I’ll explain below. They accuse me of being rigid, and inflexible, and not following the “spirit of Vatican II.” I suppose these accusations of rigidity are true, if we’re talking about the Catholic Christian faith, once and for all time delivered to the saints. I’m not going to compromise on that, or at least I’ll never do so intentionally, so yeah — I guess that makes me pretty rigid. I also reject the so-called “spirit of Vatican II” entirely. If there is such a spirit, then I would call it a demon, and I’m in good company in saying that. The so-called “spirit of Vatican II” is a blanket umbrella-term used to describe teachings and actions that some Catholics have decided to implement in the Church WITHOUT the authorization of the actual Vatican II Council. The reason why they say “spirit” is that their teachings and actions have no support in the “letter of Vatican II.” So yeah — I guess one could accurately say I reject the so-called “spirit of Vatican II.” However, as for the term “Radical Traditionalist” (or “Rad-Trad” for short), this is a term typically reserved for people who identify themselves as Catholics, but often reject the Second Vatican Council entirely. A lot of people who are attached to the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) fit this description, as well as some other groups. These are people who want to roll the clock back to 1961, and return to an understanding of the Catholic Church that is exactly how it was prior to the Second Vatican Council. I don’t fit this description. Sorry, but I just don’t. I accept the Second Vatican Council as a valid and licit ecumenical council of the entire Catholic Church. I also accept that some good things came out of Vatican II, and I acknowledge my own conversion to Catholicism as a result of Vatican II. So by definition, I’m not a “Radical Traditionalist” or “Rad-Trad.” I can’t be. A Rad-Trad would never say such things.
The second accusation comes from Radical Traditionalists who say I’m too liberal. Again, this is amusing because of the first accusation. They say by embracing the Second Vatican Council as a legitimate ecumenical council of the Catholic Church, I have opened myself up to heresy — even apostasy! They accuse me of consorting with Protestants and liberals, and leading people astray from the truth. They exhort me to “come home” to the authentic Catholic faith, by rejecting Vatican II and joining them in their tiny Rad-Trad clique of “real Catholics.”
I suppose being stuck in the middle of these two extreme accusations is a good place to be, each accusing me of being the other. Liberals call me a Rad-Trad, and Rad-Trads call me a Liberal. So I must be doing something right.
My personal position on Vatican II is the exact same position as the one held by Pope Benedict XVI. So if you call me a Rad-Trad, you call him a Rad-Trad, and if you call me a Liberal, you call him a Liberal. Ironically, I know people who will call him both. My position on Vatican II is exactly this: I embrace Vatican II as a valid and licit ecumenical council of the Catholic Church that was 100% pastoral in nature. This makes Vatican II different from all previous councils, because all previous ecumenical councils were doctrinal in nature, meaning that they utilized the “note of infallibility” to dogmatically define certain doctrinal teachings of the Church. Vatican II did not do this, which means that it was pastoral and not doctrinal. Yes, doctrines were taught in Vatican II, but not in the same extraordinary way they were taught in previous councils. That does something to Vatican II. It demotes it. It demotes it in relation to previous councils. Yep, you read that right. I just said Vatican II demoted itself to a “lesser council” than all previous ecumenical councils of the Catholic Church. That in no way means we should ignore it or dismiss it, on the contrary. It means that in order to fully understand it, we first have to read Trent and Vatican I. It means that Vatican II is so intimately connected to Vatican I and Trent, that it simply can’t be properly understood outside of that context. Vatican II needs Vatican I and Trent. Any attempt to interpret a pastoral council, outside of its doctrinal predecessors, is going to be a lost cause.
As a pastoral council (not doctrinal) the Second Vatican Council is subordinate to the First Vatican Council (1869-1870) and the Council of Trent (1545-1563). So on the order of importance, the Council of Trent still reigns supreme, followed by the First Vatican Council as second, and the Second Vatican Council as third. Vatican II is a low council, and it was made so intentionally by the Conciliar Fathers who were present, simply because they chose not to use the note of infallibility with any of the documents they produced.
“In view of the pastoral nature of the Council, it avoided any extraordinary statements of dogmas endowed with the note of infallibility, but it still provided its teaching with the authority of the Ordinary Magisterium which must be accepted with docility according to the mind of the Council concerning the nature and aims of each document.”Pope Paul VI, General Audience of 12 January 1966, Pope Paul VI presided over the Second Vatican Council
“The Second Vatican Council has not been treated as a part of the entire living Tradition of the Church, but as an end of Tradition, a new start from zero. The truth is that this particular council defined no dogma at all, and deliberately chose to remain on a modest level, as a merely pastoral council; and yet many treat it as though it had made itself into a sort of superdogma which takes away the importance of all the rest.”Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict XVI, given 13 July 1988, in Santiago, Chile
As you can see here, two great Catholic leaders in modern times, who were both present at the Second Vatican Council, clearly stated the Council’s intent to be “merely pastoral in nature” and “deliberately choosing to remain on a modest level,” in which it “defined no dogma at all” and “avoided any extraordinary statements of dogma,” never invoking the “note of infallibility.”
What does this mean?
It means Vatican II is a low, ecumenical council of the Church. In fact, it may be lower than any other council in Church history, precisely because it was 100% pastoral in nature and didn’t infallibly define any doctrine, as all previous ecumenical councils did. These are not my opinions. They are the opinions of a man who would soon become the next pope (Cardinal Ratzinger), and the pope who actually presided over the Second Vatican Council (Paul VI). If you say I’m wrong, you’re saying they’re wrong. If you say I don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re saying the pope who presided over Vatican II didn’t know what he was talking about. I’m just parroting him.
Now maybe this is just wild and crazy speculation on my part, but I would assume that the pope who presided over the Second Vatican Council would probably know a thing or two about it. Pope Paul VI, who presided over the Council, and signed its decrees, explicitly stated that Vatican II was merely “pastoral,” defined no dogmas, and never invoked the “note of infallibility.” That’s kind of a big deal actually.
The Second Vatican Council demoted itself to the Ordinary Magisterium, which means the documents it issued carry little more authority than regular papal encyclicals. They’re important, and they can never be ignored, but they cannot be said to be “infallible.” Is it possible for them to contain some errors? YES. It most certainly is possible. If they exist, it’s not really for us (Catholic bloggers and readers) to determine where those errors might be. That would be the job of the Pope and Magisterium of the Church. However, what we (Catholic bloggers and readers) are to do is rely on the First Vatican Council (1869-1870) and the Council of Trent (1545-1563) as our primary sources of Catholic doctrine in the modern world. Then turn to Vatican II for pastoral application of those doctrines we’ve already learned from Vatican I and Trent.
So what should a Catholic rely on for authentic Catholic teaching in the modern world? We should rely on these councils in this order…
- The Council of Trent (read here)
- The First Vatican Council (read here)
- The Second Vatican Council (always subordinate to Vatican I and Trent, read here)
That means if we run across some teaching in Vatican II, that on the surface appears to contradict Trent or Vatican I, we simply default to what we know is true from Trent and Vatican I. We don’t ignore what Vatican II said, but when there appears to be a contradiction, we say: “Hmm. That’s strange. I’ll just default to what I know from Trent and Vatican I until the Pope, or someone from the Vatican, clarifies this one.” What we don’t do is ignore the higher councils of Vatican I and Trent, nor do we do the opposite and reject Vatican II. These are two common errors in our time, which have led to massive polarization in the Catholic Church.
We can default to Trent and Vatican I because every document from Vatican II is PASTORAL. That means it’s of a lower order than the dogmatic statements of Trent and Vatican I. When we look at the Second Vatican Council this way, it helps us to avoid the error of the Liberals, which asserts the Vatican II was a “super-council” that nullifies all previous councils, and the error of the Rad-Trads who reject Vatican II entirely as some sort of “false council.”
Now beyond that, we have the era that followed Vatican II (1965-present) which is filled with all kinds of liturgical and doctrinal abuses within the Church. Above I referred to the so-called “spirit of Vatican II” as a demon, and I stand by that. It’s a demon that should be exorcised from the Church. The so-called “spirit of Vatican II” is the notion that certain post-conciliar changes in the Church are “okay” because that’s what the Second Vatican Council “intended” to do, even though it never authorized such things. Such a notion is hogwash, rubbish, and dare I say — evil. There is no “spirit of Vatican II” and if there ever was any kind of authentic “spirit of Vatican II” then it can be found in the letter of Vatican II.
Did you know that the Second Vatican Council NEVER authorized the following changes that are now commonplace in the Catholic Church…
- the complete abandonment of Latin,
- the complete abandonment of Gregorian Chant,
- altar girls,
- the priest facing the people all the time,
- communion in the hand,
- the destruction of old high altars,
- the destruction of classical architecture,
- the destruction of classical Catholic art,
- the downgrading of vestments,
- the use of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion,
- and the changing of any doctrine or teaching of any kind.
In other words, the Church the Second Vatican Council fathers intended to give us was supposed to look a lot like the old pre-1961 Church, but with slight adjustments for the use of SOME vernacular during the mass to facilitate more active participation from the lay faithful. That’s about it. What we were NOT supposed to get was a complete revamping of the liturgy that was reworked from top to bottom, compounded with new ways of teaching the faith that completely contradict the old ways. Yet, in far too many places, that is exactly what we got.
To explain why things happened the way they did, Pope Benedict XVI clarified the whole matter in the last days of his magnificent pontificate. He told us that during the Second Vatican Council, the mainstream media took it upon themselves to become the mouthpiece for the conciliar fathers, and sadly, the Vatican was willing to let that happen. As a result, everything the public learned about Vatican II was filtered through the lens of the liberal mainstream media. The end result was the implementation of false narratives that had nothing to do with the letter of Vatican II. Pope Benedict XVI called this the “Council of the Media” which overshadowed the real Second Vatican Council, and led to many of the abuses we have in the Church today…
“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 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. Thank you!”Pope Benedict XVI, 14 February 2013, Meeting with Parish Priests and Clergy of Rome, source
This hopeful speech by Pope Benedict XVI makes it clear that the false and counterfeit “Council of the Media” which many have called the “spirit of Vatican II” (a demon that should be exorcised) is crumbling even now, and will continue to crumble in the days ahead, until the real Second Vatican Council (the one the conciliar fathers intended) shines through. That shining through has already begun, and will continue to increase in the days ahead. It’s inevitable. It cannot be stopped. The more people try to stop it, the more powerfully it will shine through.
What is the authentic Second Vatican Council, and what reforms can we expect from it? The first one, and possibly the greatest, has already happened. This is the restoration of the Vetus Ordo (old order) Mass, commonly known as the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, or the Traditional Latin Mass. This happened in 2007 with Summorum Pontificum. Another great restoration is the return of the Anglicans to the Catholic Church, provided for by Anglicanorum Coetibus, in which Rome re-adopted the Anglican Patrimony allowing Anglicans to convert en masse, which many have done, and more are sure to come. In the future we can expect the restoration of old-fashioned tradition to the new Novus Ordo (new order) mass. In the coming years we can expect more priests to return to the traditional way of celebrating mass, while still using the new vernacular liturgy. We can expect to see more Latin used in the Novus Ordo mass, as well as the return of Gregorian chant. We can expect the use of more bells and incense, along with the restoration of altar boy guilds. Communion rails will return, as will the reception of communion on the tongue while kneeling. Then we can expect the priest to turn back toward the Lord, facing the Lord with the people (versus dominum or ad orientem) throughout the second part of the mass — the Liturgy of the Eucharist. All the while, sound teaching and catechises will return to the Church as well, leaving the confusion and ambiguity of the last generation behind. These things will happen slowly, as the authentic Second Vatican Council shines through the crumbling of the “Council of the Media” or the false/demonic “spirit of Vatican II.” It’s already begun, and it’s only going to increase.
That is my position on Vatican II.
Shane Schaetzel is an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism and was trained as a catechist through the University of Dayton – a Catholic Marianist Institution. Shane’s articles have been featured on LifeSiteNews, ChurchMilitant, The Remnant Newspaper, Forward in Christ, and Catholic Online. Shane is an author of Catholic books, which can be read here.