The School of Bologna’s Council of Discontinuity

There is an amazing fight going on in Italy over the heart of the Church’s authority and teachings.  The fight has great importance for the rest of the Catholic world.

Some fast background:

In 1962 when the Council was about to begin, a book of the decrees of Ecumenical Councils, Conciliorum Oecumenicorum Decreta was published by a group of scholars, the recently deceased Giuseppe Alberigo, Fr. Giuseppe Dossetti (a consultant for Card. Lercaro, who headed up the post-Conciliar liturgical reform through the Consilium), Perikles Joannou, Boris Ulianich, Claudio Leonardi e Paolo Prodi.   These formed an Institute for Religious Studies in Bologna.  Originally, some of these were students of the Church historian Hubert Jedin, but Jedin’s influence was shrugged off.

The lefty "School of Bologna" dominated the theory of interpretation of the Second Vatican Council and writing its history.  From 1995 to 2001 they published a five-volume History of Vatican Council II in several languages.   I think it is necesary to identify with a "hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture".  They held that the Second Vatican Council is a "new kind" of Council.  It was a novelty.  An event, rather than something that produced documents.  John XXIII wanted something entirely new, but Paul VI put on the breaks.  The Council was a break with the past and new beginning.

Now the School of Bologna is reissuing the abovementioned work through Brepols but with some real differences.  The title reveals their vast shift of view of the Councils: Conciliorum Oecumenicorum Generaliumque Decreta.  The first of the three volumes was released in 2006.  Ironically, Alberigo presented the volume to Pope Benedict, and then died.

The word "General" in the title the thought of the School of Bologna. 

The idea here is this.

The people preparing the volums are saying that only some of the Councils in the first millennium can be considered "Ecumenical" Councils.  The Councils which occurred during the Medieval period or after the split between West and East can be considered only "General" Councils.  Those which occurred after the Protestant revolt should be called "General Councils of the Roman Catholic Church".

However, the Church understands that the Council recognized by the Roman Pontiff are valid and authoritative for all Christians.

Remember that recently the Holy See’s CDF issued a clarification about the fullness of the Church subsisting in the Catholic Church.

So, in an unsigned note published in L’Osservatore Romano on 3 June, we read: "To which concept of the Church did the editors of the work think themselves obliged to refer?  Certainly not that of the Catholic Tradition.  It appears the underlying idea was that after 1054 the undivided Church no longer holds."

This excited two responses in the secular press, one on 8 June in La Repubblica by Giuseppe Ruggieri another on 9 June in Corriere della Sera by Alberto Melloni.  There are the heirs of Alberigo and Dossetti.

The the President of the Pontifical Commission for Historical Sciences, Mons. Walter Brandmüller responded in an article published simultaneously on 13 June by both L’Osservatore Romano and Avvenire, the daily of the Italian Bishops Conference. Brandmüller said, "It seems the editors wanted to define as Ecumenical only those Councils compatible with the model of the Byzantine pentarchy: an ecclesiological conceptualization that no basis in either Scripture of the apostolic Tradition."

On 22 July in Corriere della Sera Mons. Brandmüller responded directly to Melloni.  Melloni had cited John XXIII to claim that "General" and "Ecumenical" really mean the same thing and that the description of volume III as "General Councils of the Catholic Church" merely a way to advertise what the book contains, a marketing point. 

I offer you this in light of what the Holy Father is doing in trying to repair what he calls a "hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture". 

This is what we are up against.  

There is a vast and hitherto virtually unchallenged hermeneutical discontinuity machine dominating nearly every "power structure" in the Church right now.  Much of the grease and fuel for that engine of rupture comes from the School of Bologna and the volumes they pulished.  You will not find a Catholic library that does not have Alberigo’s multi volume History of the Council.  It is new.  It is glossy.  It will be the standard.  It is effectively an instrument of reinterpretation of the Council along the lines described.

The Holy Father’s move in Summorum Pontificum to say that the Roman Rite necessarily includes the integral use of the pre-Conciliar Roman Rite, the CDF’s document about subsistit are terrifying to the hierophants of the discontinuity machine and their localized cells of minions.  The progressivist Church establishment see these moves of the Holy See much as the tenders of a great machine welcome the approach of interopers carrying monkeywrenches and buckets of gravel.

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  1. Pater, OSB says:

    Just recently we read “A Brief History of Vatican II” by Alberigo in refectory (a very poor choice for public reading). The book is horribly mis-titled and should instead be titled “An Apologia for everything progressive I find in the Council and how to discredit any apparent continuity in the Council documents: by Giuseppe Alberigo”

    He states his purpose to be the education of younger generations ignorant of the true “spirit of Vatican II” (the scare quotes are mine, not his). It really is an unfortunate book – though I’m not terribly worried, as I doubt that the younger generations he wanted to reach are going to run out and buy this book… however I won’t be surprised if faculties try to foist it on their students.
    Pater, OSB

  2. Fr. Paul McDonald says:

    Dear Father:
    But of course, the Second Vatican Council is somewhat different from previous ecumenical councils, in a number of respects.

    Pope Benedict in rightly calling for a hermeneutic of continuity is doing what he must, and what John Paul II did and said:

    We must follow “the integral teaching of the Council – ‘integral’, that is to say understood, in the light of the whole of Sacred Tradition and on the basis of the constant Magisterium of the Church herself.”

  3. Papabile says:

    “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.

    Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
    13 July 1988
    Santiago, Chile

  4. danphunter1 says:

    The change in thinking about Christian unity is the most striking that has occured in the Catholic system since Vatican II,uniting as it does all the elements of that attempted radical change that is summed up in the phrase,”loss of essences.
    Father, it seems that ecuminism before the Council took to itself a much seperate meaning than what it was made into afterward.If the word had even been used in Catholic tradition.
    The preparatory schemas drawn up before the Council stated that the Church of Christ.”is”,the Catholic Church;but the Council says only that the Church of Christ,”subsists in”,the Catholic Church,in effect adopting the idea that it also subsists in other Christian churches,and that all such churches ought to recognize their common subsistence in Christ.

    I read where a professor at the Gregorian University said that the Council recognizes that the seperated churches are,”instruments that the Holy Spirit uses to bring about the salvation of their members”.On this egalitarian view of all Christian denominations,Catholicism is no longer seen as having any uniquely privileged position.
    When this mindset takes over, then conversions drop drastically,thus defeating the point of true ecumenism.The Bishop of Chur told a Catholic writer that in the ten years from 1954 to 1964 his diocese of 150,000 souls recieved 933 converts from Protestantism,but that in the following ten years it recieved only 318.And in the United States before the Council there were about 170,000 conversions each year:now that figure is vastly less.
    God bless you.

  5. Charles Robertson says:

    Mr. Hunter, I think that to interpret the phrase subsistit in as weakening the Church’s identification as the Catholic Church can only arise out of a distorted will to read in an ambiguity that is not present. If the council meant something different by the phrase, its treatment of the presence of Christ and the Church in the other “Churches and ecclesial communities” would depart significantly from traditional teaching. Such is not the case (Augustine’s distinctions are evident in the Council’s treatment of the ‘heretics and schismatics’).

    I once started to read Alberigo’s “A Brief History of Vatican II” amd was immediately repulsed by his utterly imbalanced perception of the importance of the Council in the history of the Church. I think that this imbalance leads inevitably to a hermeneutic of rupture inasmuch as it represents a “whig version of history”. We, the oh so enlightened denizens of the post Vatican II Church can now judge the past 2000 years of Church history as faulty and inhumane! What blind arrogance! I stopped reading the book after about five pages as it can hardly be called a history in any professional sense of the term.

  6. Sid Cundiff says:

    Vatican II was not a dogmatic council, like Trent. It was a pastoral council. That is, it did not define dogma; was wished to apply dogma to a particular situation. There have other such pastoral councils. And situations change, and require new pastoral approaches.

  7. John says:

    Isn’t the discontinous interpretation of Vatican II actually a fairly historically honest one? The theologians whose ideas were taken up by the progressive majority – Rahner, Kung, Schillebeeckx, Congar, Bugnini – were in fact heterodox or outright apostates, as their post-conciliar writings make clear. The object of the leaders of this majority was to dispense with features of Catholic faith and tradition that they did not like; in order to achieve this goal, which could not have been attained if it was made explicit, they arranged to have the conciliar documents formulated in ambiguous ways, in order to be able to give a heterodox interpretation of them after the council. Because the documents were ambiguous, it is in fact possible to understand them in a Catholic sense – so the documents are not discontinuous with the faith; and this lack of discontinuity is all the the Holy Spirit promises to provide to ecumenical councils. However, the Alberigo claim that the ‘event’ of Vatican II – i.e. the goal that the leaders of the council had in mind, and worked for during the council – was discontinuity with faith and tradition, seems to be simply an established historical fact. Is it not a fact that the theologians I name rejected the faith? And is it not a fact that they provided the intellectual leadership of the council?

  8. Richard says:

    Hello gents,

    Sandro Magister is (of course) a great source on the ongoing fray in Italian theological circles. He has a run a few incisive articles particularly on the controversies surrounding the so-called “Bologna school” and I was brought to mind of one in particular, since it suggests a new counterpoint to Alberigo’s history – that of Bishop Marchetto:

    ROMA, June 22, 2005 – Forty years after its closing, Vatican Council II is still waiting for its story to be written “not from a partisan stance, but according to the truth.” Cardinal Camillo Ruini made this statement while presenting a newly issued book, published by Libreria Editrice Vaticana. The author is Bishop Agostino Marchetto – a scholar of Church history who later served in the Holy See’s diplomatic corps and is now the secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People – and it is entitled “The Ecumenical Council of Vatican II: A Counterpoint to Its History.” The presentation of the volume took place in Rome on June 17, in the “Pietro da Cortona” room of the Capitoline Museums.

    Why “counterpoint”? Cardinal Ruini explained immediately. Marchetto’s book acts as a counterpoint, or indeed as the polar opposite, to the interpretation of Vatican II that until now has monopolized Catholic historiography throughout the world. It is the interpretation advanced by the five-volume “History of Vatican Council II” directed by Giuseppe Alberigo and published in six languages between 1995 and 2001. In Italy, it was published by il Mulino and edited by Alberto Melloni.

    Ruini began by making a “somewhat joking” comparison between the history of Vatican II as recounted by Alberigo and the history of the Council of Trent written by Fr. Paolo Sarpi, which was published in London in 1619 and immediately placed on the index of prohibited books. This was a brilliant and successful reconstruction, but it was highly inflammatory and partisan. Seventeen years later, a reply came to Sarpi from Jesuit Fr. Pietro Sforza Pallavicino and his “Istoria,” which was much more extensively documented but no less passionate and partial. It would be three centuries before the Council of Trent would see its first balanced and thorough history, which was published by Hubert Jedin between 1949 and 1975. And Ruini called for precisely this: a “great and positive history” of Vatican Council II, preferably before another three centuries go by. The final pages of Marchetto’s book, he said, give some indications for producing this “new and different” history.

    Full article:

  9. RBrown says:

    Progressives allow only the Zeitgeist to limit their ideology. And in the case of certain “theologians”, the Zeitgeist is confused with the Holy Spirit.

    I think Papa Ratzinger’s expertise on Joachim di Fiore is much underestimated in his ability to recognize this as the core of the problem.

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