A fictional dialogue

Sandro Magister has posted a marvelous fictional dialogue… and more.

Go check it out.

In the meantime, enjoy this with my emphases and comments:

The text that follows is not a review of the book "Who’s afraid of Vatican II?" But it takes the book’s publication as an opportunity to present – in the form of a dialogue – the questions that today’s Church finds itself facing.

As will be seen, these are questions of capital importance, touching on the foundations of the Christian creed. They are questions answered not only by Vatican II, but before it by the Christological Councils of the early centuries, in Nicaea, Ephesus, Chalcedon.

The author is Francesco Arzillo, 49, from Rome, an administrative judge with rare expertise in philosophy and theology.

A brief dialogue on the Council, between a teacher and student

by Francesco Arzillo

The teacher (T.) is a professor of theology in his sixties, moderately progressive, inclined to dialogue with everyone; he becomes agitated only with those who seem unwilling to appreciate to the full the Council of his youth, which reminds him, among other things, of his tumultuous years in the seminary.

The student (S.) is younger and is not a clergyman; he is a little irreverent, but never toward the ecclesial magisterium; many consider to him to be ultraconservative; but the traditionalists also criticize him because he consults – albeit with caution – the theological writings of Henri de Lubac, and always defends John XXIII and Paul VI.


T. – Hi! Always with a book in your hand. Let’s have a look at the title of your latest purchase.

S. – Here you go: "Who’s afraid of Vatican II?", edited by Alberto Melloni and Giuseppe Ruggieri.

T. – You surprise me. You’re reading Melloni, and the progressive Catholic theologians you’ve always criticized? I’ve got it: the title of the book made you feel guilty, and now you want to atone.

S. – Well, professor, I see you haven’t lost the habit of putting psychoanalysis before theology. I don’t have any sense of guilt, at least not about this. You know I’ve always accepted Vatican II wholeheartedly. How can you talk about the Church today without "Lumen Gentium?" Or divine revelation without "Dei Verbum?" Or the liturgy without "Sacrosanctum Concilium"?

T. – So what’s the problem?

S. – The problem is in this endless dispute about the Council, in this elaborate conflict of interpretations. Sure, the essays in this book are sophisticated, they have some interesting passages, they go up against the guidelines of Benedict XVI. But…

T. – But?

S. – They remind me – at least in part – of the perspectives, the framework, the clichés of the segment of progressive Catholicism that tends to mythologize the Council. But make no mistake, I’m not trying to label the authors, I’m just using a broad generalization.

T. – The truth is that you say you accept the Council, but with a mental reservation, because you criticize those who fight for the Council.

S. – You see? You’re talking about a battle. This is precisely the point, this overexcitement on the part of some during and after the Council, this atmosphere of constant fighting, this "agitation croissante aux alentours du Concile": not my words, but those of Cardinal Henri de Lubac. And then, this way of presenting the history! The famous "black week"… What does that even mean? What is the explanatory value of that expression? It doesn’t have any! If I read the memoirs of one of Napoleon’s aides-de-camp at Waterloo, I can understand if he talks about a "black day"; but I expect a contemporary historian to take a more calm approach and help me understand. Again, de Lubac, in his book "Entretien autour de Vatican II," published in 1985, talks about a "language historico-manichéen, qui sous un mode mineur s’est assez largement répandu." Or have you lost your taste for de Lubac? You always used to talk to me about him with boundless admiration.

T. – There’s no such thing as neutral historiography.

S. – Yes there is, but you have to at least be calm. Anyway, the overexcitement I’m talking about isn’t just autobiographical and historiographical. It is also, I dare say, philosophical.

T. – What do you mean?

S. – Look, let’s take as an example the problem of the "spirit" and the "letter."

T. – Don’t hand me that story about how the conciliar documents should be read only according to the letter!

S. – Why do you want to trivialize this? It’s true, the letter must always be given its rightful place, but that’s not sufficient for a complete interpretation. The Roman jurist Celsus and Saint Paul agree on that. And that’s enough for me.

T. – Well, then?

S. – It depends on what we mean by "spirit." This is where overexcitement comes into play. Take for example Hegel, in Jena. He was clearly overexcited: in Napoleon, he saw History passing by on horseback… Remember that passage from "Lectures in Jena," the one quoted by the "negativist" Kojève at the beginning of his "Introduction to the Reading of Hegel"? Do you remember the tone? "Gentlemen! We find ourselves living at an important time, in a ferment in which the Spirit has taken a step forward. It has surpassed the previous concrete form, and has taken on a new one…" So, when I read some of today’s theologians and historians, I can’t help but think of that kind of tone.

T. – You insinuate, you allude, but you don’t conclude. This is not at all a question of tone!

S. – It’s not up to me to say to what extent it is simply a matter of tone, or of the legitimate assumption of theoretical elements, or of capitulation to immanentist reasoning. Each author is different from the next.

T. – Let’s get back to the Council. You cite the Roman jurist Celsus, you insist on the text and overlook the event.

S. Another buzzword: event. Hegel? Heidegger? Pareyson?

T. Come on, leave the philosophers alone!

S. – I’m not leaving anything alone! You theologians of today know so little about philosophy, you want to make a theo-logy without "logos," a-philosophical or trans-philosophical. But often it’s just rhetoric. And the worst thing is that you’ve been influenced by Hegel without even knowing it. If Hegel were here with us right now, he’d be surprised by how many intellectual descendants he has, how many children and stepchildren. But you don’t even know how to write textbooks. It’s hard to find one that doesn’t skip from Saint Thomas to Rahner, leaving out everything in between! Today you can get a degree in theology without knowing practically anything about Scotus, Suarez, Melchior Cano, Cajetan. Try it, ask ten new graduates if they’ve ever heard about Scheeben, and tell me if you find more than a couple who say they have.

T. – Now you’re the one who’s exaggerating.

S. You’re right. I’ll calm down.

T. – The event! Think about theology, think about "Dei Verbum": God reveals himself through events and words that are intimately connected to each other…

S. – Of course I think about theology! I think that divine revelation culminates in Christ, in whom God has told us everything. It has been completed, although it has not yet been made completely explicit, as the Catechism recalls in paragraph 66. And then in paragraph 83: tradition "comes from the apostles and hands on what they received from Jesus’ teaching and example and what they learned from the Holy Spirit." It would be wrong to think of historical evolutionism. It’s not that the reality revealed by God is modified or evolves; it is the believing mind that grows through exploration. If this is true, the only Event is Christ, there is no such thing as an age of the Spirit that supersedes that of Christ.

T. – Please, spare me the story of Joachim of Fiore . . .

S. – And why should I? If we really want to look for an epochal event, let’s think about Saint Francis! Who was more epochal than he was, for the entire second millennium? We could all agree about this, conservatives, progressives, even many nonbelievers. But the interpretation of those who saw in Francis the inauguration of the age of the Spirit was rightly rejected. Francis himself would have been stunned by this, he saw only Christ and the Trinity, in everything.

T. – But Franciscan historiography is complex. You have to keep in mind the politics of Saint Bonaventure in narrating the history of the founder . . .

S. – What do you mean, politics! Just the use of this term, in reference to an area that a medieval person would never have described as "political," that annoys me, because it’s the result of bad interpretation. Everything’s political now, so the events of that era – theological, philosophical, legal – it’s all seen through the lens of politics. Nice way to pounce on another time period, for someone who’s always talking about history!

T. – What’s the point, what are you leading up to?

S. – I just want to say that we have to knock it off with this business of "epochal event." There are no epochal events, according to strict logical and theological reasoning. The idea of an epochal event risks becoming simply a good rhetorical tool for "mobilization," a form of crypto-ideology.

T. – What are you hoping for, the eternal return of the same?

S. – No. Augustine demonstrated that pagan cyclicality has been superseded for good. Instead it, it’s a matter of being able to see the Eternal in time, intersecting a point of time, "that" point of time, becoming incarnate.

T. – You’re going backward…

S. – I’m returning to the sources. And to the Source.

T. – But the one Event, does it live again today, or not?

S. – It is fulfilled. The time is fulfilled, look at Mark 1:15. Even though we are still awaiting its full manifestation.

T. – And Vatican Council II? Does it help you in the journey, or not?

S. – Of course it helps me! But it presupposes the one Event, and its dogmatic definition, made irrevocably during the first seven ecumenical Councils. You understand, I can’t consider an event that would "de-Chalcedonize" Christ – that would take away from him what was defined at Chalcedon – for the sake of inculturating him in modernity[Excellent.]

T. – But nobody wants that!

S. – Apparently, almost nobody. Certainly Vatican II did not want this, it did not intend to innovate the faith, as the extreme versions of traditionalism and progressivism speculate, with opposite intentions. But I wonder how much Arianism – virtual Arianism, in terms of tendency – there is going around today, with all of these efforts to humanize Jesus. I think, for example, of the critics of "Dominus Iesus," which had to revisit the ABC’s of Christology in 2000. I wonder: who’s afraid of the Councils of Nicaea, Ephesus, Chalcedon?

T. – That’s a clever rhetorical trick. You’re ranking the Councils as a subtle way of undermining Vatican II.

S. – No. but it seems to me that the foundations of the faith are at stake today. So I would appreciate it if the conferences would also give adequate emphasis to Nicaea and Chalcedon, instead of leaving them to a few erudite specialists.

T. – That’s enough, I’m tired. I’m going back home to read something from my favorite book, the "Journal of a Soul" by Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli.

S. – What a coincidence, I’m reading that one too…

Well done!

In the meantime, I repeat:

Everyone is insisting that the SSPX accept Vatican II.

Can we insist that everybody accept Trent?


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. David says:

    Spot on with the allusion to Hegel and Arianism. The foundation of today’s crisis, at least to a large degree, is an effort by the Modernists to re-write our understanding of history, to re-define it, and to de-deify Christ. If Christ is not Incarnate God at the center of history, then our faith is as true or false as Hinduism or Islam or whatever.

  2. Joe says:

    I love this line near the end: “So I would appreciate it if the conferences would also give adequate emphasis to Nicaea and Chalcedon, instead of leaving them to a few erudite specialists.” When I read just about any Orthodox writer I get a sense of living in an Eternal Now that is expressed in the Councils. Even a Mormon missionary knows more about Nicaea (of course in a distorted and external sort of way) than the average Catholic he will meet.

  3. Athelstane says:

    I enjoyed that tremendously.

  4. Christopher says:

    Spot on!

  5. PMcGrath says:

    Perhaps this unduly complicates things, but perhaps our new saying should be …

    Can we insist that everybody accept Trent? And Vatican I? And Lateran I through V? And Constance? And Ferrara-Florence? And Chalcedon? And Ephesus? … And (fill in the blanks) …

  6. LCB says:

    “I just want to say that we have to knock it off with this business of “epochal event.” There are no epochal events, according to strict logical and theological reasoning. The idea of an epochal event risks becoming simply a good rhetorical tool for “mobilization,” a form of crypto-ideology.”

    And we come to the heart of the matter. The liberalism of innovation, and the secular liberalism it mimics, have nothing to do with logic or reasoning in any fashion. They fundamentally reject any connection between faith and reason.

    And when logic and reason have been done away with, then the liberals can recreate god (who is now lowercased, because we are the important object) in “Our Imagine and Likeness” and be like “the gods who know and decide the difference between good and evil.” Liberalism is idolatry, with ourselves as the object of worship.

  7. Peter says:

    Forgive me for linking to a heretical website, but the cartoon is funny and along the lines of what you say at the end:


  8. Rollo says:

    The modernist fellow sounds a Hindu, a Pagan or even a Freemason. The nietzchean philosophy of ”eternal return” and the Church as a ”Republic” is extremely anti-Christian, it deliberately confuses Christ with the Antichrist, the Holy Spirit with the Anti-Spirit of Baal-Osiris.

    Also, there is no Divine Father in this, he is just not there, like in the case of all those hapless children born out-of-wedlock in modern-day times.

    The equivalent, I suppose, would be for Jews to openly promote the theology of Adolf Hitler as fully compatible with the teachings and traditions of rabbinic Judaism.

  9. Rob says:

    All Councils of The Roman Catholic Church must be accepted by every Roman Catholic.

  10. Gregor says:

    I think SSPX will accept Vatican II when everybody else does the same…

    Lumen Gentium 25
    “..And this is the infallibility which the Roman Pontiff, the head of the college of bishops, enjoys in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith,(166) by a definitive act he proclaims a doctrine of faith or morals.(42*) And therefore his definitions, of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are justly styled irreformable, since they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, promised to him in blessed Peter, and therefore they need no approval of others, nor do they allow an appeal to any other judgment. For then the Roman Pontiff is not pronouncing judgment as a private person, but as the supreme teacher of the universal Church, in whom the charism of infallibility of the Church itself is individually present, he is expounding or defending a doctrine of Catholic faith..”

    HT to…

  11. Dion says:

    Let us hope and pray that the Holy Father, who was part of the problem at Vatican II, can continue to be the major part of the solution.

  12. Maureen says:

    I didn’t understand a lot of the philosophy part (never took philosophy), but I totally agree that we have to learn and acccept the whole flow of church teaching, not hide or denigrate important things as too obvious or somehow outmoded.

    Why are people like Bellarmine or Cajetan just names in the church calendar instead of authors we know? Even kids can learn a little about intellectual and theological history, but why stop there?

    We have such treasures in the storeroom! Let’s go and get them!

  13. Maureen says:

    The theologian Cajetan guy is apparently not the same as the St. Cajetan guy. Sorry.

    On the bright side, I did find out through Googling that St. Cajetan is a patron saint of the unemployed and job seekers, and that the Lateran Council said strong stuff about separating philosophical/scientific truth from religious truth. I didn’t find just what they did say, though.

  14. MargoB says:

    Fr. Z, I’m not so much of an expert on these things, and I’m lost. I don’t understand what you mean when you say, “Everyone is insisting that the SSPX accept Vatican II. Can we insist that everybody accept Trent?”

    Do you mean that the SSPX should not accept the documents of Vatican II? or maybe that they should not have to accept a particular interpretation of Vatican II? Should we not accept the reforms requested by the Council of Trent? (I realize that might be a question of interpretation, but no matter how that’s answered, I can\’t tell if you want everyone to accept Trent [I think you would prefer that…right?])

    (I don’t mean to be obtuse or offering any sort of opinion…I\’m just not catching on… )

  15. Jeff Pinyan says:

    T. – You’re going backward…
    S. – I’m returning to the sources. And to the Source.

    That has been a favorite observation of mine to make.

  16. LCB says:


    It means that many who are demanding that the SSPX accept Vatican II (which usually means their personal interpretation of Vatican II) are often hypocrites, who often do not accept in any fashion the clear language of the Council of Trent.

    This stems from the idea that Vatican II is some sort of super-council, and its teachings are super-dogmas, so they can’t possibly be questioned in any fashion, and must be accepted exactly as certain liberals interpret them.

    I have had theology professors openly dissent from a Trent anathema, and I have raised my hand and read them that anathema (Well, the Church teaches the opposite in Trent…), only to hear the response, “Vatican II replaced Trent and all previous councils, and those no longer have force.”

  17. chironomo says:

    “…only to hear the response, “Vatican II replaced Trent and all previous councils, and those no longer have force.””

    This is the essence of the “Spirit of Vatican II”… that VII replaces tradition and all previous law. If there will be a turning point in this conflict we find ourselves engaged in, it will be a definitive declaration of some kind on the issue of Vatican II in relation to other councils. This is the kind of statement that could come from the SSPX discussions, and is what is being feared most by the Left. This notion has not been questioned (in the open) up to now, and if it is questioned, those who question it are berated. When it is openly questioned and challenged, and shown to be in error, the entire progressive structure begins to fall apart.

    Hmmm…how long before that happens?

  18. LCB says:

    Trent has a slew of anathemas (125ish if my memory serves), some quick google-fu turned up a few I’ll list. MargoB and others may find it very helpful:

    “If any one saith, that, in the Catholic Church there is not a hierarchy by divine ordination instituted, consisting of bishops, priests, and ministers; let him be anathema.”

    “If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.”

    “If any one saith, that the sacraments of the New Law were not all instituted by Jesus Christ, our Lord; or, that they are more, or less, than seven, to wit, Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Order, and Matrimony; or even that any one of these seven is not truly and properly a sacrament; let him be anathema”

    “If any one denieth, that, in the sacrament of the most holy Eucharist, are contained truly, really, and substantially, the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently the whole Christ; but saith that He is only therein as in a sign, or in figure, or virtue; let him be anathema.”

    “If any one saith, that baptism is free, that is, not necessary unto salvation; let him be anathema.”

    “If any one saith, that little children, for that they have not actual faith, are not, after having received baptism, to be reckoned amongst the faithful; and that, for this cause, they are to be rebaptized when they have attained to years of discretion; or, that it is better that the baptism of such be omitted, than that, while not believing by their own act, they should be bapized in the faith alone of the Church; let him be anathema.”

    “If any one saith, that there is not in the New Testament a visible and external priesthood; or that there is not any power of consecrating and offering the true body and blood of the Lord, and of forgiving and retaining sins; but only an office and bare ministry of preaching the Gospel, or, that those who do not preach are not priests at all; let him be anathema.”

    Mostly copied and pasted from this website (of which I know nothing: http://www.geocities.com/peterpaulmin/CoucilofTrent.html)

    If a person were to accept Trent, they must reject all their pop-theology and all their Spirit of Vatican II mumbo jumbo, because Trent is so doctrinally clear on so many matters. As a consequence, the liberals (who do not believe what the Church believes), have been forced to adopt a hermeneutic of rupture, and have publicly stated many times that Vatican II began a “new” Church, and that everything pre-Vatican II is part of the “old” Church.

  19. Deirdre says:

    Here’s my response to the question (sorry for off-linking!): http://givetongue.blogspot.com/2009/02/why-my-knickers-knot.html


  20. MargoB says:

    Thanks, LCB.

Comments are closed.