Can Conciliar Optimism Change the Reality of the Facts?

Source: FSSPX News

Fifty years ago began the 21st Ecumenical Council of the Church, the most important one in all history as to the number of participants, and also the most a-typical, if only because of its desire to “open up to the world”, which was made clear in the inaugural session (October 11, 1962).

A New Humanism

One of the characteristics of Vatican II is the radical and fundamental optimism with which the Church decided to regard humanity henceforth.  A month before the inauguration, Pope John XXIII assigned to this “world meeting” the goal of “making earthly existence more noble, more just, more meritorious for all” by exalting “the profoundest applications of fraternity and love” (Message Ecclesia Christi lumen gentium, September 11, 1962).  Still more famous is the Pope’s incantation in his opening allocution Gaudet Mater Ecclesia, marking his disagreement with the “prophets of doom” and waxing lyrical:  “The Council that has just opened is as a resplendent dawn that rises over the church, and already the first rays of the rising sun fill our hearts with sweetness.  All here breathes holiness and joy.”  The closing discourse of the Council, pronounced by Paul VI on December 7, 1965, wished to express the renovated Church’s great movement of sympathy towards a secular and profane world:  “Learn to recognize our new humanism: we, too, we more than anyone, have the cult of man.”  Henceforth, “a flood of affection and admiration overflowed from the Council upon the modern human world.”

Satan’s Smoke

Disenchantment came quickly!  The promised spring of a new Pentecost never came. Less than ten years after the opening of Vatican II, Pope Paul VI voiced his confusion.  On June 29, 1972, he declared in his homily for the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul:  “Before the present situation of the Church, we have the sentiment that Satan’s smoke has entered through some crack into the temple of God.  We see doubt, incertitude, problems, worry, dissatisfaction, and confrontations. (...) Doubt has entered into our consciences, and it has entered through windows that should be open to the light.  We believed that after the Council the sun would shine on the history of the Church.  But instead of the sun, we have had clouds, storms, shadows, seeking, and incertitude.  We preach ecumenism, and we drift farther and farther from each other.  We seek to deepen the abysses instead of filling them.  How did this happen?  An adverse power has intervened, whose name is the devil...”  And yet, Paul VI did not want to see in this dramatic situation the consequence of the reforms and novelties introduced by Vatican II and destroying Catholic life; on the contrary:  “We believe that Satan is acting in the world today in order to trouble and to suffocate the fruits of the ecumenical Council, and to keep the Church from singing her joy at having come to a full consciousness of herself.”  So the Council continued to be applied, despite the unprecedented crisis that was shaking the Church on all sides:  the decrease of vocations, the liturgical revolution, the crisis of the religious orders...

The Synod of 1985

Twenty years after the closing of the Council, John Paul II called together a synod to evaluate all the consequences.  And all the reforms, all the new doctrines, to which the Pope wished to give their true dimensions, were confirmed.  They had to be made to penetrate into all the Christian people, hence the initiative of a new Catechism.  They also had to be given a new dynamism, hence the inter-religious meeting of Assisi, unheard of event that was to be “seen and interpreted by all the sons of the Church in the light of Vatican Council II and of its teachings” (General audience, October 22, 1986).  Whoever wishes to understand the true meaning of Vatican II and of the transformation it brought about in the Catholic religion must, according to the Pope, refer to this meeting, the first of many others:  “The event of Assisi can thus be considered as a visible illustration, a lesson, an intelligible catechesis for all, of what is presupposed and signified by the ecumenical engagement and the engagement for inter-religious dialogue recommended and promoted by Vatican Council II.” (John Paul II to the cardinals, December 22, 1986).

Silent Apostasy

Alas!  Despite “the new evangelization” evoked from the very beginning of his pontificate, despite the many World Days for the Youth and the Jubilee of the year 2000, John Paul II had to admit at the end of his life the existence of a veritable “silent apostasy” at work among Catholics, especially in the West.  Not only had the world not responded to the flood of “affection and admiration” overflowing from the Council, but the consequences of this opening to the world were proving ever more bitter and disconcerting.  Shortly before the death of John Paul II, his future successor described the Church as “a ship about to sink, a ship that is taking water on all sides,” and at whose imminent fall Satan rejoices (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Good Friday Stations of the Cross, 2005, 9th station).  Does the new Pentecost look like a shipwreck?


Yet another relaunch, the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of Vatican Council II, wishes to place its teachings and reforms back in the heart of the Church’s life in this Year of the Faith.  This latter is presented as an urgent necessity:  “The heart of the crisis of the Church in Europe is the crisis of the faith.  If we do not find an answer to this crisis, if the faith does not find a new vitality (...), all other reforms will remain inefficient,” declared Pope Benedict XVI (discourse to the Cardinals, December 22, 2011).  Curiously enough, this means that the faith must be “rethought and lived in a new way” – the new faith that Pope John XXIII wished to be the faith of the Council he was calling, fifty years ago!  Indeed, he “foresaw a leap ahead towards a doctrinal deepening and a formation of consciences,” so much so that “the new evangelization began precisely with the Council, which Blessed John XXIII saw as a new Pentecost that would make the Church flourish in its interior wealth and in its maternal extension to all domains of human activity” (discourse September 27, 2012).  Back to the starting point...

Fifty years later, “the Church’s today” seems to be inexorably fixed upon Vatican Council II, a horizon that cannot be passed, the sole compass of a Church in crisis, incapable of freeing herself from a new Pentecost that proves in reality to be a disastrous failure.  From “Satan’s smoke” to the “silent apostasy”, nothing seems to be able to perturb the apparent optimism, ever present.  And what if, on this anniversary, we were  to remember the request of a missionary archbishop who never stopped begging to be allowed to “try the experiment of Tradition”?  No, not another adventurous experiment, but an experiment tried and proved, proved for 2000 years.

Fr. Christian Thouvenot