The historical view – the “long view” – Wherein Fr. Z rants.

Pope Francis is confusing.  Reasonable people won’t deny that.  He is confusing to both the Left and the Right, as well as the tepid, but for different reasons.

Some people are really upset by him.  I spend quite a bit of energy in email and conversations talking people down off the ledge.  That’s the part of the blog that you don’t see. Posts like these are my PSAs, public service announcements, as it were.

In several posts, one recently (HERE), I have advocated a “long view” of the pontificate of Pope Francis.  For example…

I’ve advised elsewhere that if this pontificate, or perhaps “parenthesis”, is getting you down, then stop paying so much attention to the news.  That said, some of you who are tough and well-balanced – not likely to fly off the nearest window ledge at the mention of turmoil in the Church – should know what is being said.  On the one side there is the rah rah rah from the catholic libs who think that Pope Francis is the 7th Apparition of Vishnu (whom I believe they may prefer to worship rather than the true King of Fearful Majesty) and those who are boo boo boo Pope Francis is bringing on the eruption of Mount Doom.

I am trying to take the longer view.  I remind myself that each pontificate is a parenthesis in the long history of the Church and of our Salvation.  This parenthesis will close one day and another will open.


I advocate the long-term view.  

Pontificates are parentheses.  Some are short, some are long.  Some are important, some are not.  God opens them and closes them according to a plan we cannot see.

At The Catholic Thing Fr. C. John McCloskey has much the same view about what’s up in the Church these days:

I am a Church historian, and received a doctorate in this discipline from a pontifical university. I bring this up because of the great controversies in the media around the world surrounding the recent meeting of the bishops in Rome for the Synod on the Family, which happily has now ended without any change in traditional Catholic teachings.

This did not surprise me at all, and should not surprise any Catholic, for the simple reason that the teachings of the Church that are considered dogma cannot be changed by anyone, including the Holy Father. Let us not forget that the Church always has the help of the Holy Spirit, as Christ promised, and will continue to have it until the end of time. We should remain certain of that, because it is the truth. And, resting in that truth, we should not be surprised at any time to witness the unfaithful misinterpretations of those who consider themselves Catholics, but whose interest is in trying to confuse the faithful, as if the Church were man-made rather than God-made.

The reality is that the Church will always be under attack and has been from the beginning, whether those attacks take the form of controversies or of physical attacks on Christians who then become “martyrs” (meaning witnesses) of the truth.


It’s especially at times like these that we should not let passing troubles disturb us, but find confidence in the record of how the Holy Spirit has preserved the Faith in ages like ours – and even worse.

Read the rest there.

While I emphasized the long view forward with regard to Church’s histories of turmoils and challenges from within and without, that the present chaos will eventually resolve, Fr. McCloskey emphasized the long view backward to give us perspective about how the Holy Spirit has maintained the Church through thick and thin.

Both approaches remind us that we are not just isolated in the “now”.  The Church is not just of the present moment.  There is a long past that teaches us who we are and points towards where we are moving, the eschatological dimension, our ultimate goal.

It is easy to get worked up about things that are going on in our day, because current events distract us from the larger picture, past and future. Not every pontificate (parenthesis) or event, such as a synod or council, are equally important in the large scheme that God has for the Church.

I am reminded of Joseph Ratzinger’s observations about councils.

“Not every valid council in the history of the Church has been a fruitful one; in the last analysis, may of them have been a waste of time.  Despite all the good to be found in the texts it produced, the last word about the historical value of Vatican Council II has yet to be spoken.” In Principles of Catholic Theology: building Stones for a Fundamental Theology. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987, p. 378.

There are councils and synods and pontificates (parentheses) which, frankly, didn’t help us much one way or another and others which were, frankly, pretty awful.

But we went forward.

And today, who thinks of Lateran V?   Who thinks of Urban VII (+1590), whose reign was 13 days.  He seems to have been a beautiful soul!  Check his story in the Catholic Encyclopedia.  Not to take away anything from his holiness or preparation, malaria made him into a mere placeholder, a blip, before the pontificate of Gregory XIV (about whom I’ll bet you know nothing about … he was consecrated by St. Charles Borromeo and was a friend of St. Philip Neri).  He was Pope for less than a year and managed to get a few things done.

Frankly, in the long run, Vatican II will not be held as being all that important in the Church’s history.  It caused a ruckus – for us – but… what did it define?  To my mind, Vatican II is relatively insignificant compared to certain other Councils, such as Nicea I, Constantinople I, Ephesus, Chalcedon and Trent, to name just a few.

Vatican II?  Blip.

Without a historical perspective, it’s easy to get drunk on the ephemera of current events, the stuff that seems so very important because it’s close to us.


Fr. McCloskey, at the end of his piece, recommends a couple of accessible books to help people put things in perspective.  He recommends… Don’t Know Much About Catholic History: From the Catacombs to the Reformation by Diane Moczar and The Church Under Attack?, by the same. I have not read those, but I trust his choice.

And as far as Vatican II is concerned, don’t be bamboozled by the Bologna school of thought.  At least try for another interpretation and perspective, keeping in mind Benedict XVI’s amazing address to the Roman Curia before Christmas 2005 (one of the most important moments of his parenthesis/pontificate).  Try, for example, Wiltgern’s The Rhine Flows Into The Tiber and Marchetto’s The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council: A Counterpoint for the History of the Council.

Some of you might have your own suggestions.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Seems to me, Christ would not have promised us the special protection of the Holy Spirit unless He was pretty sure we were gonna need that special protection, from time to time.

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  2. Paulo says:

    Two aspects that cannot be underestimated are (1) how fast information flows these days, and (2) how widespread the information has become. As a consequence, the volume of opinions, analysis, noise and chatter has also increased: a lot of knowledge, without the corresponding amount of wisdom.

  3. CatholicMD says:

    I think one of the reasons people are so upset is that we thought we were in the period of recovery. I really thought we would get a Scola, Oullette, or Sarah after Benedict who would continue with the Hermeneutic of Continuity and Reform of the Reform and hopefully be more forceful when it came to Church discipline. Instead we got and Argentinian Jesuit ordained in the immediate aftermath of Vatican II who comes with all of the expected baggage of someone with that life experience. Now it seems like we are right back in 1968 and are going to have to go through all of the turmoil again.

    There are some things the Holy Father says (e.g. the Church is not an NGO and centrality of the Cross in his homily immediately after his election) that are right on. However, what we see in practice is a pope that appears to be focused purely on worldly concerns like climate change, immigration, and poverty. It seems like the only people he thinks go to hell are Italian mafiosi. He surrounds himself with clerics of the ilk of Danneels who should be in jail not on the altar at the installation mass of a new Pontiff or at a synod purportedly on the family. This all creates cognitive dissonance.

    The most troubling aspect of this pontificate in my opinion are his choices for bishops and cardinals. While this pontificate might be a parenthesis, the bishops he appoints will be around for many chapters. We have seen in the U.S. what bishops can do for good or for ill (Albany and Rochester vs Lincoln). Bishops like Cupich can do more damage on the local level than any Pope.

  4. Rich says:

    Regarding Cardinal Ratzinger’s above quote regarding Vatican II, he later said as pope: “The Second Vatican Council Documents, to which we must return, freeing them from a mass of publications which instead of making them known have often concealed them, are a compass in our time too that permits the Barque of the Church to put out into the deep in the midst of storms or on calm and peaceful waves, to sail safely and to reach her destination.” (General Audience, October 10, 2012)

  5. doncamillo says:

    I have to disagree: we do not live in a history book, we live in the time and place where the Lord put us, and we are in some way responsible for it, for ourselves and for the people we are in charge of (my sons, for instance). So, it is not entirely possible to find a quiet refuge in the long-term view. When there was that terrible turmoil in the middle-age, santa Caterina da Siena didn’t take the long-term view – she was very passionate in her rebuking the Pope, something he felt as her urgent duty.
    In other words: I am not worried that eventually the Truth will win and the Church will survive – this is certain. I am worried for me, or my family, or my friends, or my country to lose the faith: and while there’s no certitude about our individual salvation, we have a duty to behave as the Lord wills – which is quite difficult when there’s confusion inside the Church. Ergo, we will continue to need urgent help and consolation from our priests, like you.

    [It’s not en either/or proposition. Just because we seek to keep our equilibrium by paying attention to the “long view”, doesn’t mean that we don’t pay attention to our state in life in the here and now.]

  6. donato2 says:

    It is indeed part of our faith that the Church will not ultimately succumb to evil, but right now I feel orphaned and given the appointments that Pope Francis is making I fear that this state of affairs will last the rest of my natural life.

  7. Gregorius says:

    One of the cool things about bishop Schneider’s letter regarding the recent synod (which everyone should go read right now) was a few obscure quotes from letters from St. Basil to Pope Damasus, describing the Church then as in a similar state as it is today. This is very comforting to me, to know that the Church has been in situations like this before, and has still emerged thanks to God’s grace.

  8. anilwang says:

    I don’t think Vatican II can be called a blip in history.

    There *are* some good fruits of Vatican II such as the new Universal Catechism (which modernists were furious about since they said it was an assault on “local sovereignty”) and relations with the Orthodox, and the opening of the Papacy to non-Italians at a time when Europe is in decline. These good fruits will have a lasting impact on the Church.

    But there are also several bad fruits, which primarily spring from “the Spirit” of the council and the liturgical reforms which in some cases contradicted what the council fathers asked for, and in some problematic parts of Vatican II itself. The fact that people across language barriers are no longer able to pray or worship together is something that is by no means insignificant. Nothing that can’t be remedied, but the impact will also be lasting.

    I have no idea how Vatican II will ultimately be seen in history, but I do know it will not be seen as a blip, even if all the bad effects are neutered by a future Pope or Council or just “the biological/persecution solution”.

    [Nope. Blip.]

  9. Gerard Plourde says:

    Dear Paulo,

    Your comment is quite accurate. One of the greatest difficulties presented by the rapid dissemination of information is the growth of instant analysis. As soon as an isolated fact is reported a pundit (either from the left or from the right) will make an immediate attempt to extrapolate what message it conveys, more often than not theorizing on scant data. The Church, as Fr. Z points out, has endured for over two millenia. Over that time we have solid evidence that Our Lord’s promise that she will endure to the end of time and that the rock of the Papacy is its foundation has proven true. (Why should it not? After all, God, unlike us, remains faithful and steadfast. He has shown that He will not abandon us.)

  10. MGL says:

    Taking the long view, it seems to me that since Vatican II limited itself to being “merely pastoral” (Cardinal Ratzinger), “eminently pastoral” (St John Paul II), and “not directly dogmatic, but disciplinary and pastoral” (Bl. Paul VI) , and since the two conciliar popes on numerous occasions explicitly disavowed any role for the Council in defining dogma, then it follows that all the prior dogmatic definitions of the Church remain intact in their original wording. This may seem too obvious even to mention, but I have encountered many Catholics who have told me that Catholics are required to hold as de fide the Council’s “pastoral” reformulations of teachings dealing with religious liberty, ecumenism, relations with Jews, Muslims, and non-Catholic Christians, et cetera. That is, we are to regard the reformulations as somehow superior to or superseding the original formulations…because modernity, I guess. But it’s clear that–by definition–these reformulations can’t be de fide, since the Council contains no such statements.

    The appealing (but perhaps incorrect) implication of this line of reasoning is that we are free to ignore the reformulations of Vatican II, since the original definitions are de fide. And indeed, I agree with Father Hunwicke when he argues that the Council will eventually be all but forgotten, a minor footnote that future historians and theologians will mention, but perhaps with a certain amount of discreet embarrassment.

    But in the meantime, what is the disciplinary status of the reformulations of Vatican II? They’re self-evidently not de fide, so they don’t hold the highest level of magisterial authority, but then what authority do they claim? Are we required (per Can. 753) to provide “religious submission of mind” to the reformulations, and if so, how are we to interpret their often peculiar and ambiguous language? This does seem to be the hinge of the argument between the warring hermeneutics, and I confess that I don’t have the answer. Anyone?

  11. Athelstan says:

    Frankly, in the long run, Vatican II will not be held as being all that important in the Church’s history.

    I do think distinctions must be drawn here. In terms of what a Denzinger from, say, the year 3,000 A.D. (assuming the Parousia don’t intervene first) might include, I’d agree – little from Vatican II would make the cut, but many subsequent corrections and clarifications by future popes and councils probably will. But in terms of its impact on the daily life of the Church, no Council has ever had the impact of Vatican II, not even Trent (whose tremendous impact took much longer to unfold in any event). Of course, much of that impact was unintended, and it was congruent with a) a general cultural revolution that would have substantially occurred no matter what the Church did, and b) the advent of communications and transportation technology which made staggeringly rapid diffusion of dangerous theologies and implementation of post-conciliar reforms possible; but it is there, just the same. Compare the life of a typical parish – or priory! – in the West in 1985 to a similar one from 1955. It is hardly even recognizable as the same Church. There is no other Council of which you could make a similar contrast, on any scale.

    Of course, it will also likely be the case that a Church history from that same year 3,000 will view the century (and a half?) following Vatican II as a tumultuous and strange parenthesis of rupture, followed by a restoration which looks much more like the Church as it was before than the one after (albeit likely considerably smaller). Some far distant future Newman may write a tract on this strange time and its strange creatures, Modernists of the Twentieth Century. A blip in this historical sense, but a mighty powerful one for its duration – much like a war is for those who live through it. It will never be as obscure as Vienne or Lateran V, at any rate.

    It will be a very long road back. And barring real advances in geriatric technology, none of us alive reading this will be around to see its end. That is part of that long view to keep in mind.

  12. Another book with a wonderfully even-keeled engagement with the documents of Vatican II is the collection of essays edited by Fr. Matthew Lamb and Dr. Matthew Levering, “Vatican II: Renewal Within Tradition.” You can get it HERE.

    There are essays dedicated to each document issued by the council, some with multiple essays (Gaudiem et Spes, Dei Verbum, etc…), and are all written by preeminent – and faithful – scholars.

  13. KateD says:

    This morning I played one of my old DVDs as a suppliment to my children’s catechesis. The following seemed to fit in with this post.

    “The Church is…the Edifice of God. We know that Jesus is the Chief Cornerstone, Which the builders rejected. A cornerstone is very important. You build the building on that. That’s important. That’s gotta be set first. Jesus is the Chief Cornerstone; He’s the Rock. And because it is Christ Who is the Rock, Jesus is the Rock upon which our faith is built, upon which the Church is built, that’s why it’s not going anywhere. That’s why people can rant and rave, ‘Oh the Church is gonna die soon; it’s going outta buisness soon; It’s gonna fade away; It’s being out dated; It isn’t keeping up with the times’. Listen, long after those voices are stilled by death, the Church will be here. It goes on and it goes on. Why? Because it is built upon the Rock Who is Christ. And He’s not going any where, because He’s God. The same yesterday, today and forever.”

    ~The Teaching of Jesus Christ: A 50 part teaching on DVD covering the Catechism of the Catholic Church (section 14 The Church: Part I) by Father John Corapi

  14. mysticalrose says:

    I would recommend Roberto de Mattei, The Second Vatican Council (An Unwritten Story). This is a thorough and excellently written text.

  15. Traductora says:

    The worst thing about the “blip” was the destruction of the Mass, which is permanent, so that’s why I can’t quite agree that it was a mere blip.

    [It didn’t destroy the Mass.]

  16. ThankyouB16 says:

    I’d love to read what you think about Douthat’s First Things Lecture–e.g. the parts in which he talks about the change in narrative for us “conservatives.” Ross claims we had it wrong: an anti-dogmatic, liberal Catholicism is far from defeated–and the “biological solution” that we all were waiting for just isn’t a “solution” at all.

    [I have written about Douthat’s lecture.]

  17. MWindsor says:

    “It’s especially at times like these that we should not let passing troubles disturb us, but find confidence in the record of how the Holy Spirit has preserved the Faith in ages like ours – and even worse.”

    I’ll grant you that wholeheartedly. I don’t think for one moment that the Church will fail, or that the Holy Spirit will not protect it.

    What I fail to understand is why prayer and hand-wringing is our only response.

    From Bishop Olmstead’s recent “Into the Breach”: “Men, do not hesitate to engage in the battle that is raging around you, the battle that is wounding our children and families, the battle that is distorting the dignity of both women and men. This battle is often hidden, but the battle is real. It is primarily spiritual, but it is progressively killing the remaining Christian ethos in our society and culture, and even in our own homes.”

    I have three daughters. I’ve already lost two to the world. Pray, yes, and fervently. But I don’t understand why we can’t be more proactive in our response. Why can’t we take action? Take the long view? Fine, I have no issue with that. If this is ever finished, it won’t be until long after I’ve left this life. But don’t ask me to sit back and spectate. I personally have too much at stake.

  18. Ferde Rombola says:

    Thank you, Fr. Z for your assurances. An authoritative course correction is very helpful in these times. I’ve been telling myself these same things, but I’m not as persuasive as you are.

    That said, the latest from Fr. Spadaro, SJ have been posted by Magister. His revelations of the thought of the Pope are, I’m sorry to say, very anti-blip. Depending on who succeeds The Wild Bull of the Pampas.

  19. arga says:

    Father you didn’t mention Roberto DeMattei’s _The Second Vatican Council: The Unwritten Story_. I read it and thought it was terrific. What is your view?

    [Heis mentioned in these comments. That’s enough.]

  20. eymard says:

    Yes, the Catholic Church survives, but many people will be lost as a result of being unprotected from error. The following article is about France, which is no different than the USA. Many clerics will be following the “Progressive” interpretation of the “enigmatic” synod. Why shouldn’t they? They’ve been given no clear guidelines by the hierarchy. Individuals will be abandoned in their error. That the Church will survive will be no consolation to them.

    From : French Bishops Have at Each Other After Synod Report

  21. Traductora says:

    What I should have said, with regards to the “destruction” of the Mass, is that they destroyed the continuity of the liturgy and popular practice or came pretty close to doing so. The post-VII changes to the Calendar, which eliminated many of the traditional feasts and cycles, also had a major effect on historical continuity. This was not only liturgical, but even doctrinal (since the feasts were selected and placed as they were for doctrinal reasons and not simply on a whim). It also, for all its vaunted “inclusiveness,” managed to weaken the connection between Christian liturgical practice and its Jewish background. So that’s why I don’t think it was just a blip but had a much more lasting impact than that.

  22. JonPatrick says:

    Regarding what Athelstan said above and other comments, I think people see Vatican 2 as a cause where to me it seems that the root cause was the reign of Modernism in the 20th Century and the subsequent infection of the Church with this heresy. Vatican II was just the mechanism by which the modernists got their way and used to justify their actions. What history will probably remember is the 100 year reign of the Devil as per the vision of Pope Leo XIII and the subsequent horrors in our society (2 world wars, Communism, etc.) and Modernism run rampant in the Church with only a few faithful pockets left to carry on. So yes Vatican II is a blip.

  23. Priam1184 says:

    IThis ain’t just about the Second Vatican Council, or about Pope Francis. They are just the means to an end for various nefarious sorts who have been worming their way into the clergy and the hierarchy since the French Revolution. I will cite to you the words of Pope Pius VII in 1800 on this subject. This Pope had seen his immediate predecessor, Pope Pius VI driven from Rome by the Masonic French Revolutionary army and hauled like cattle to a castle where he finally expired a prisoner in the south of France in the summer of 1799. So here are the words of His Holiness Pope Pius VII to his fellow bishops in the encyclical Diu Satis published on May 15, 1800:

    “Therefore, omit no watchfulness, diligence, care, and effort, in order to ‘guard the deposit’ of Christ’s teaching whose destruction has been planned, as you know, by a great conspiracy.
    Do not admit anyone to the clergy, entrust to no one the ministry of the mysteries of God, allow no one to hear confessions or preach sermons, do not transfer any administration or office to anyone, before you carefully weigh, examine and ‘test their spirit to see if they are of God.'”

    These are not my words. They are the words of a pope. And I can find nothing in the history of the Church and the world in the last 215 years to disprove this claim. This is not just a blip, and we cannot say that we were not warned.

  24. codefro says:

    Fr. can you compare the translations in that La Stampa article to the Italian transcription? Did Pope Francis indeed say that the Church cannot use conservative solutions in the Church?

  25. markomalley says:

    Taking the long view is a challenge with statements like this being made:

    “Before the problems of the church it is not useful to search for solutions in conservatism or fundamentalism, in the restoration of obsolete conduct and forms that no longer have the capacity of being significant culturally,”

  26. James says:

    Not wishing to be a contrarian, but: does Lateran V (1512-17) not deserve to be remembered for defining the immortality of the soul ? Its reform measures didn’t get terribly far – given when it closed, that is hardly surprising – but at least it accomplished that much. Vatican II might be easier to “take”, if only it had passed a definition or two. Lateran II has perhaps a better claim to be a forgotten Ecumenical Council. I remember reading somewhere that Lyons I in 1245 didn’t define anything – if that is correct, Vatican II would not be quite without precedent.

    If Vatican 2’s teaching has become part of Catholic Tradition, it is not clear how it can be dismissed as a “blip”. The Church cannot discard bits of Tradition. At least for the time being, V2 seems to have been fully “received” as an authentic expression of her Tradition by the Church; so it is hard to see how the Church can disown V2 without reducing her infallibility to a meaningless formula. It would be very good if the Pope would exercise his authority to set forth, unambiguously, what exactly in Vatican II is authentic and binding Catholic teaching, and what is not. It is, after all, part of his function to determine and adjudicate disputes regarding the Church’s Faith. ISTM that an authentic and binding interpretation of V2 is needed.

  27. Akita says:

    Pope Francis preached that we are entering a “new era” whereby we cannot rely on the fundamentals, on doctrine. This sounds New Age. This seem much more than a blip to me. It sounds like something cosmic is afoot.

  28. robtbrown says:

    anilwang says:

    There *are* some good fruits of Vatican II such as the new Universal Catechism (which modernists were furious about since they said it was an assault on “local sovereignty”) and relations with the Orthodox, and the opening of the Papacy to non-Italians at a time when Europe is in decline. These good fruits will have a lasting impact on the Church.

    What is the relationship between Vat II and the catechism?

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