The Tablet’s latest cowardly editorial

The Tablet (aka RU-486) has a really bad editorial about the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council.

The editorial is an example of cowardice.

There are courageous liberals and cowardly liberals.  Courageous liberals come right out and say “The Council was wrong!” about X or Y. Cowardly liberals, on the other hand, pretend that their teachings were embraced by the Council, that their agenda is consonant with the Council.  That is why cowardly liberals like to refer to the “spirit of Vatican II”.  They argue that “the letter kills and the spirit gives life”.  For cowards, literal interpretations of the documents fail to encompass the spirit of the documents.  A good theologian, however, like a good exegete, understands that spirit and letter are tied together.  The letter tethers spiritual interpretations of texts.  The interpretation of the documents by some liberal theologians is as far away from the actual text of the documents as Pluto is from the Sun (and we aren’t even sure if Pluto is a planet at all).

There are so many things wrong with the editorial that I can’t go through them all at once.  We can, however, drill into a few points.   Let’s look at this paragraph, for example:

It was a fundamentally wise move of Pope Benedict XVI to urge the Church to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Council by returning to, and studying afresh, the actual texts the council approved.

They don’t mean this. They’re scared to death that people might read the documents. They don’t want Catholics to know what the documents actually say. They’d rather talk about the ‘spirit of Vatican II’.

Going on…

All that sounds simple; it is not. Half a century after the opening ceremony in October 1962, the Catholic Church is not the same as it was. The council changed it. The four subsequent papacies changed it further. The conciliar texts cannot therefore be read now as they were read when they were new…

That’s right, Catholics couldn’t possibly understand written texts about the Church that are 50 years old. 50 years, for heaven’s sake!! What a leap of time! How can people possibly understand texts that are 50 years old?

How can we understand President John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, “Ask not what your country can do for you…”. How can we understand the UN Declaration on Human Rights any longer?!?

The Church has changed. The world has changed. Nuns don’t wear habits anymore. The Mass? Well, it’s a shadow of its preconciliar self. Oh, but wait, liberals aren’t supposed to say that about the New Order of the Mass. What they’re supposed to say – what they want others to believe – is that the New Mass is in complete continuity with the Old Mass. So forget the Mass. It hasn’t substantially changed. But the Church has alright.

Come to think of it, it’s a wonder we can make any sense out of the New Testament, isn’t it? After all, it’s almost 2,000 years old!  And the Church has changed since the New Testament was written. So why do liberals trust liberal scripture scholars to be able to tell us what the New Testament texts meant at the time they were written?

Yes, fifty whole years!   That’s a loooong time to remember what words like, oh, let’s see…. hierarchy, obedience, Vicar of Christ, authority, infallibility (all found in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen gentium) meant when those words were written. By The Tablet‘s reasoning we can no longer understand terms like ecumenism and religious liberty either.

Gaudium et spes was promulgated in 1965!  By The Tablet’s reasoning we soon will not be able to grasp the condemnation in Gaudium et spes of the destruction of entire cities during wars.

Good grief.

Okay… let’s go on with another dopey paragraph.

The council’s brief, as given by Pope John XXIII both when he announced it and when he opened it, was to seek an aggiornamento – an “opening to the world”. While the council was still in being, his successor, Paul VI, endorsed it and made it his own motto. “We want to bring it to the notice of the whole Church,” he declared in 1964. “It should prove a stimulus to the Church to increase its ever-growing vitality and its ability to take stock of itself, and give careful consideration to the signs of the times, always and everywhere ‘proving all things and holding fast that which is good’ with the enthusiasm of youth.”


Here’s what Blessed Pope John XXIII actually said in his opening address to the Council:

“What is needed at the present time is a new enthusiasm, a new joy and serenity of mind in the unreserved acceptance by all of the entire Christian faith, without forfeiting that accuracy and precision in its presentation which characterized the proceedings of the Council of Trent and the First Vatican Council. What is needed, and what everyone imbued with a truly Christian, Catholic and apostolic spirit craves today, is that this doctrine shall be more widely known, more deeply understood, and more penetrating in its effects on men’s moral lives. What is needed is that this certain and immutable doctrine, to which the faithful owe obedience, [Hey Tablistas!  Get that?] be studied afresh and reformulated in contemporary terms. For this deposit of faith, or truths which are contained in our time-honored teaching is one thing; the manner in which these truths are set forth (with their meaning preserved intact) is something else.”

Moreover, a document issued by the CDF in 1973 under explicit instructions from Pope Paul VI, said this:

“Such an opinion is likewise in contrast with Pope John’s assertion regarding Christian doctrine at the opening of the Second Vatican Council: “This certain and unchangeable doctrine, to which faithful obedience is due, has to be explored and presented in a way that is demanded by our times. One thing is the deposit of faith, which consists of the truths contained in sacred doctrine, another thing is the manner of presentation, always however with the same meaning and signification.” Since the Successor of Peter is here speaking about certain and unchangeable Christian doctrine, about the deposit of faith which is the same as the truths contained in that doctrine and about the truths which have to be preserved with the same meaning, it is clear that he admits that we can know the true and unchanging meaning of dogmas. What is new and what he recommends in view of the needs of the times pertains only to the modes of studying, expounding and presenting that doctrine while keeping its permanent meaning. In a similar way the Supreme Pontiff Paul VI exhorted the pastors of the Church in the following words: “Nowadays a serious effort is required of us to ensure that the teaching of the faith should keep the fullness of its meaning and force, while expressing itself in a form which allows it to reach the spirit and heart of the people to whom it is addressed.” (Mysterium Ecclesiae 5)

This obviously ties Paul directly to John’s agenda.

Let’s go back to the editorial for a last example of how slipshod their reasoning is.  Have a look at this howler:

What the texts are, are snapshots taken from a journey, and a great deal of theological territory was covered in the course of it. The early texts are manifestly immature. In some cases – such as, for example, the embarrassingly poor decree on the mass media – they were proceeded with because other texts were not yet ready for debate.

The document on “mass media” is called Inter mirifica.  It was one of the first two documents  promulgated by the Council.  For The Tablet, early documents are “manifestly immature”.  The other document promulgated – on the same day – with Inter mirifica was the Constitution on Liturgy called Sacrosanctum Concilium.  The Tablet didn’t mention this fact.  Does The Tablet even know this?

And in case The Tablet types have forgotten, women’s ordination doesn’t occur anywhere in the documents of Vatican II.


Fr. Finigan has a good post about this dreadful editorial on his fine blog. HERE.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Johnno says:

    Why not mention of the abysmal way we treat the Old Testament and especially Genesis? We’ve been reinterprating them to make the miracles of God more palatable to skeptics, to deny the historical accounts of Genesis to accomodate atheistic philosophies pretending to be science, denying the existence of the patriarchs and Davidic Kingdom to accomodate revisionist historians, accomodating denouncements of Old Testament law to accomodate the modern sensitivities of feminists and homosexuals and on and on and on.

    We thought we could get by if we threw the Old Testament to the dogs and merely focused on the New Testament, not realizing that the New Testament rested on the pillars of the Old Testament, and ignoring the slippery slope that once we ‘conceded’ to them, the Old Testament, they’d soon be attacking the New Testament, which is exactly what happened.

    So we ‘conceded’ the Bible in exchange for only resting on the Church as an institution, not realizing that the Church’s validity depends on the history outlined in the Bible! Not because it’s written in a book, but because the book contains the record of the Church’s history and raison d’etre and establishment! In the same way they rubbish and reinterpret the Bible, they are doing to the Church councils and documents! The same pattern!

    Folks, if you don’t defend our Faith starting from the Bible, you’re ill equipped to deal with defending it from the Council Documents. After all we are told the Council documents rest on the Tradition and history contained in the Bible! But if the core pillars contained in the Bible are left undefended, then there is no foundation for the council documents to rest upon!

    If they can reinterpret the Bible to suit the march of modernism, then they will do so for the Council Documents!

  2. Mike says:

    Hahaha…Father…I love how honest you are.

  3. Chatto says:

    “What the texts are, are snapshots taken from a journey…”

    Classic ‘progressive’ imagery. The Council didn’t arrive at any destinations (i.e. fixed and immutable conclusions), but started us all on a ‘journey’. What’s to say that we aren’t still ‘travelling’? What’s to say that all those doctrines (about Holy Orders, Marriage, the Liturgy etc…) which weren’t ready to change in the stuffy ol’ 1960s aren’t ripe for change now? Change! It’s the Spirit’s work! And so on…and on…and on…

  4. Charles E Flynn says:

    But Father, you are undermining the entire Tabletista business plan.

  5. Fern says:

    Too cool, Father,
    You always make this “ole” lady’s day. One wonders if the reporters for the Tablet have actually read the wonderful documents of Vatican II. Many of us have inspite of the lack of guidance from Pastors over the years. I, for one, am pleased that emphasis is on them again. Perhaps, maybe, one can hope, that more will read the originals and not what “someone” said about them. Come Holy Spirit!!!!!

  6. Vecchio di Londra says:

    I recall reading the Documents of Vatican II as they first appeared (in a paperback) in 1964 or 1965. I read through them sedulously but with increasing puzzlement at the generalized and almost Teilhard-like nebulous language, but noting the obviously sincere attempt of the Fathers (or rather, of their editor) to harness Roman tradition to the ‘needs of the present day’ (and how hackneyed that buzz-word seemed even then, even to a teenager). It struck me that these catch-all phrases could cover almost any future innovation. If I’d been several decades older I’d have called it a ‘drafting problem’ or even questioned the probity of the editorial drafters.

    But what was absolutely clear to me was that these documents in no way justified the constant changes that were taking place in my local parish church. The wholesale abandonment of latin, the nonsensical pseudo-English Ordinary that altered every other week, the abolition of genuflection and the Sign of the Cross, the obligatory choral speech forced on the faithful used to silent prayer, the biblical readings rendered inaudibly by self-chosen laypersons, and then (some time later, as our Parish Priest held out valiantly as long as he could) the erection of a table and turning away from the altar. And then the individual priestly riffing on the prayers, leaving some out, adding a few comments to others, vesting ad hoc…
    I could find all this nowhere in the documents of the Second Vatican Council.
    Because it simply isn’t there.
    I was constantly reminded of 16th century descriptions of the gradual but brutal transformation of the latin Mass into the Protestant Communion Service by the post-Henrician Reformers.

  7. frjim4321 says:

    I did not find it to be the best of Tablet editorials that I have read but to call it “cowardly” is a bit of a stretch. It was just little more than “fair.” I stopped getting the Tablet a long, long time ago, about the same time I stopped getting the Christian Century which was really much better. But alas I did not have the time to read either and could put the money to better use. (Netflix!)

    Generally I respect the scholarly integrity of the Tablet entries, but this particular editorial did not “do it” for me.

  8. Trisagion says:

    frjim4321, your desire to be charitable is entirely creditable but on this occasion, I would suggest, is a bit of a stretch. It is clear that The Tablet in this editorial (and habitually) is promoting the thesis that the conciliar texts are only a point of departure and have no definitive status. It is the mirror image of the thesis that there is no dogmatic value to the documents often proposed by those of a traditionalist bent. I have spoken to several of the editorial board and staff at The Tablet and I can tell you that they are deeply worried by the current trend towards looking at the conciliar documents and trying to understand them according to the hermeneutic of reform in continuity with the one subject-Church. What worries them about it is that they know that it will put an end to a number of their pet enthusiasms: altering the Church’s stance on contraception, abortion, homosexuality and the ordination of women. You are right to respect the integrity of the entries – although “scholarly” is another stretch: journalistic would be a better adjective – but it is an integrity that involves a fidelity to many thing amongst which the one subject-Church is not one of them.

  9. asperges says:

    So comforting to read the Tablet: no doctrine or restrictions to worry us: “There is no authority therefore for reading the council texts as legal documents or unalterable Holy Writ, once-for-all and perpetually binding. ” One worry less. Perhaps they’ll stop constantly referring to it.

    Unfortunately the Tablet is widely read by clergy who often feel the other Catholic papers are just so much pap for the laity and thus beneath them. Personally I think the anniversary of Vatican II should be marked a day of penitence. But then I am not a Tablet reader and most of the faithful have better things to worry about.

  10. chcrix says:

    Contrary to the pernicious canard, one of the greatest strengths of Catholicism is its intellectual openness to the advance of scientific knowledge. Genesis is not a science textbook. Strangely, at least from the view of that canard, the magisterium of the church is what facilitates this openness. Unfortunately protestantism, lacking a corresponding intellectual structure, is forced to rely on Biblical fundamentalism. The resulting dissonance between scientific thought and religious thought is one of the key weaknesses that have undermined contemporary protestantism.

    Pius the XII was delighted with the big-bang theory – and all that it implied.

  11. terryprest says:

    Father, thank you for doing such a great demolition job on such a shoddy and superficial editorial.

    The editorial is clearly an attempt to undermine what it fears will be the teaching of the forthcoming commemoration of the Second Vatican Council and the Synod of Bishops` conclusions.

    A bit like the recent outpouring of Hans Kung regarding the commemoration

    In support of the “spirit” of Vatican II, there has always been a selective quotation from Blessed Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI. The Vatican must share some responsibility for this.

    Why doesn`t the Vatican website provide full translations into English and other such languages of all the homilies, letters, sppeches etc of these Popes ? Usually they are only available in Italian and Latin. Sometimes Hungarian. Then people could actually see with their own eyes what these Popes who were closest to the Council actually said and wrote. And perhaps then be persuaded that Blessed Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI were not and are not engaged on a reneging or revocation of parts of Vatican II but a full and proper implementation of the decisions of the Council.

    The works of Pope Paul VI are of particular relevance as he was the Pope who signed off the documents. Without his signature, there would not have been any Decree of the Council

  12. Sixupman says:

    I was informed by a Bishop and ex Seminary Rector that Vatican II mandated: removal of the altar rails; displacement of The Tabernacle from the main altar; Communion in the Hand; chnages in kneeling requirements; and much else. I was also told that arising from Vatican II, the Old Mass was abrogated. All his clergy were forced to comply. I knew he was talking rubbish, but who was I to contradict. The Bishop and his ilk had done the damage. BTW, he foresaw a Church without Ordained clergy.

    If there are differing opinions as to that which Vatican II documents state, where do we stand in the matter of ++Muller -v- +Fellay/SSPX?

  13. robtbrown says:

    1. I have never understood the attention given to the Tablet. Its liberal slant notwithstanding, when I have looked at it (more when I was in Rome than how), it was littered with predictably superficial, knee-jerk articles. Even worse, it seems to have little in common the British history of high quality, almost literary, journalism. It’s hard to read “they were proceeded with” without wondering what has happened to the vaunted British literacy.

    2. I will say, however, that the obit of the Tablet’s old buddy Peter Hebblethwaite was fun to read 15 years ago. He was a priest–he left. He was a theologian–flunked most of his exams. He was a husband–he and wife separated. He was a holy man–and a drunk.

    3. It is of course obvious in the editorial that its approach to Vat II documents has much in common with that of the SSPX. Reading the documents, I have found some Conciliar texts that are very good, others that are ambiguous. Both the SSPX and Tabletistas seem to arrive at the same liberal interpretation of the latter.

  14. Susan the Short says:

    To celebrate the Fiftieth Anniversary of Vatican II, I offer the following poem I wrote, dedicated to The Bitter Pill.

    The Second Council
    With apologies to W.B. Yeats

    By Susan Malley

    Turning and turning in the empty worship space,
    The sheep cannot find the Shepherd.
    The Faith falls apart; the liturgy cannot hold.
    Mere humanism is loosed upon the flock;
    The lavender tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The innocence of young men is drowned.
    The best lack all contrition,
    While the worst are full of unclean passions.

    Surely some relief is at hand.
    Surely the Second Vatican Council….
    The Second Vatican Council! Hardly are these words out
    When a fey image out of aggiornimento
    Troubles my sight: somewhere in the diocese
    A shape with the body of a clown and the head of a priest,
    A gaze as coy and mascara’d as a coquette,
    Is strutting its bare buttocks, while all about it
    Drool conclaves of nun-whipped bishops.
    The scandal spreads; but now I know
    That twenty centuries of apostolic succession
    Were vexed to nightmare in a single decade.
    And what lewd beast, its appetite unsated,
    Slouches towards Rome to be ordained?

  15. disco says:

    It strikes me that the writer here describes the “council” in the same way a Marxist would desribe the “revolution”

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