What is at the heart of the progressivist attacks on the Traditional Latin Mass and the accusations that people who want it are “against Vatican II”? Here’s what it is.

A little over a year ago, I read something from one of the foremost of the “self-promoting through papalotry” voices of the ecclesiologically progressive gang.  It was alarming in its implications.

What I had read was a claim that Vatican II was the interpretive principle through which all of Tradition had to be reinterpreted.

I have been mulling this over for a long time now.

The alarm went off again this week when I saw this tweet from Beans.

What Beans is talking about here is the important address Benedict XVI gave to the Roman Curia before Christmas in 2005, his talk about how to interpret the Second Vatican Council.  Benedict identified an interpretive approach or hermeneutic of  continuity against a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture.

Here’s some of that talk with my emphases:

The question arises:  Why has the implementation of the Council, in large parts of the Church, thus far been so difficult?

Well, it all depends on the correct interpretation of the Council or – as we would say today – on its proper hermeneutics, the correct key to its interpretation and application. The problems in its implementation arose from the fact that two contrary hermeneutics came face to face and quarrelled with each other. One caused confusion, the other, silently but more and more visibly, bore and is bearing fruit.

On the one hand, there is an interpretation that I would call “a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture”; it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. On the other, there is the “hermeneutic of reform”, of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.

The hermeneutic of discontinuity risks ending in a split between the pre-conciliar Church and the post-conciliar Church. It asserts that the texts of the Council as such do not yet express the true spirit of the Council. It claims that they are the result of compromises in which, to reach unanimity, it was found necessary to keep and reconfirm many old things that are now pointless. However, the true spirit of the Council is not to be found in these compromises but instead in the impulses toward the new that are contained in the texts.

These innovations alone were supposed to represent the true spirit of the Council, and starting from and in conformity with them, it would be possible to move ahead. Precisely because the texts would only imperfectly reflect the true spirit of the Council and its newness, it would be necessary to go courageously beyond the texts and make room for the newness in which the Council’s deepest intention would be expressed, even if it were still vague.

In a word:  it would be necessary not to follow the texts of the Council but its spirit. In this way, obviously, a vast margin was left open for the question on how this spirit should subsequently be defined and room was consequently made for every whim.

The nature of a Council as such is therefore basically misunderstood. In this way, it is considered as a sort of constituent that eliminates an old constitution and creates a new one.

This, friends, points in the direction of the foundational ideas of the progressivist attacks on the people who want Traditional sacred liturgical worship.

Eventually the progressivists want to sweep aside Catholic moral teaching, discipline, and worship.  Those who desire traditional sacred worship stand in the way of those objectives.  This is because “we are our rites”.  Worship is doctrine.  It is our identity.  Therefore, people who want traditional worship must be shoved to the periphery and … over it.

Here is the core of the progressivist complaint against “trads” and, indeed, conservatives in general whom they claim are “against Vatican II”.  That’s the constant accusation isn’t it?

Here is the connection with Benedict XVI’s 2005 talk, which Beans mentioned above.  Beans gave us the compass for their map.

NB: Benedict XVI’s Christmas Curia talk was a critique of German Jesuit Karl Rahner’s thoughts about the Council, which are the essential fuel driving what progressivists are doing today to bring about their goals, the approval of all manner of innovation from the transformation of the Church into a global NGO to the approval of sodomy.

Beans’ tweet, above, accuses Benedict of not knowing what he was talking about in his own talk.  But Benedict’s talk was a criticism of Rahner’s view of the Council.  Ergo….!

… we must turn our attention to that monumentally important figure for theology in the second half of the last century, Fr. Karl Rahner, SJ (what else).

To keep this short, here is Rahner’s understanding of Vatican II. 

In 1979 Rahner published an article in Theological Studies called “Towards a Fundamental Theological Interpretation of Vatican II”.  For Rahner, Vatican II constituted a unique event, tantamount to the foundational “Apostolic” Council of Jerusalem recounted in Acts 15 which, among other concrete issues, dealt with the nascent Church being comprised of both Jews and Gentiles.  For Rahner, Vatican II was unique in the sense that the Council of Jerusalem was unique, beginning a new era in the Church.  No other Council was like it.   The Council of Jerusalem brought in the Gentiles in a way that made the Church essentially Judeo-Hellenic in the Roman world, thus leading to centuries of Eurocentric or Western cultural domination of the Church.  Vatican II, for Rahner, shattered that framework, transforming the Eurocentric Church into a “world Church”.

Moreover, Vatican II was such a titanic and dynamic event that it is ongoing.  Hence the “impulses”, which Benedict mentioned, are still at work in the ongoing “spirit” of Vatican II.   Rahner reiterated his notions about Vatican II in a 1979 talk at the Weston School of Theology in Cambridge, MA, where he argued that Vatican II was the self-actualization of a “world Church”, no longer predominantly Eurocentric, but now influenced and even steered by the Southern Hemisphere, etc.

At the Council of Jerusalem, they had to cope with a shift from a monocultural Church to one that embraced many cultures.  Vatican II was another tectonic shift, opening to the whole world and, indeed, letting in the whole world.  That has implications, of course.  How does such a Church embrace such diversity and still remain the same Church, handed down in continuity?  What is inculturation?  What if there are conflicts with the world’s ways in culture X or Y?

The progressives, imbued with Rahner’s notion of the Council as a unique and ongoing event, a reimagining of the Church as it were, claim themselves to be justified not just to interpret but to reinterpret all of the Church’s history, liturgy, doctrine and discipline

Because they stand not on the texts of the Council but the “impulses” they derive from the texts and the “spirit” of those impulses, and because Vatican II is “ongoing”, everything that the Church does in Cult (worship), Code (disciple) and Creed (doctrine) is subject to abolition, transformation, etc. according to the needs of the world.

It makes no difference that John XXIII at the opening of the Council said in his “Gaudet Mater Ecclesia” speech, that this Council, Vatican II, required the same accuracy and precision as Trent and Vatican I, or that certain and immutable doctrines, though expressed in new terms, must remain with their meaning preserved intact.

It is no wonder that Beans and others look condescendingly at Ratzinger, who stands in opposition to Rahner’s false notion of the Council as constituting a tectonic shift in the Church unlike every other Council all the back to the primoradial, pre-ecumenical Council of Jerusalem.

The framework that the progressivists are working from is Rahner’s notion that Vatican II was the self-actualization of a “world Church”, no longer bound by Eurocentric thought or modes of expression.  Hence, if celibacy isn’t really a thing in, say, Africa, then celibacy probably has to go.  If this is a world Church open to the cultures of non-Westerners, then why can’t you have Pachamama on the altar of St. Peter’s?  Why not have all manner of cultural expressions in the Mass?  The one thing that is truly questionable is, of course, anything that is done the way things were always done.

You can, from this point of view, see why the Rahnerian framework justifies promotion of … anything… as acceptable, nay rather, obligatory in the Church.

You can see why they fear the Traditional Latin Mass, and all that it stands for.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Benedict XVI, Classic Posts, Hard-Identity Catholicism, Jesuits, Liberals, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, Save The Liturgy - Save The World, The Drill, Vatican II, What are they REALLY saying?, Wherein Fr. Z Rants and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Gaetano says:

    The truly sad thing about their reliance upon Rahner is that he interprets the entire Christian experience through 20th century German existential philosophy.

    It is a highly constricted worldview, and akin to staring down the deep well of Christian history, philosophy & theology but only describing your own reflection.

    Indeed, there are few theologies that are more Eurocentric & chronologically limited. While Rahner may have been sincere, he has precious little to say apart from deconstructing much of the Catholic theological tradition.

    The theological system he left behind is a thin reed that does little to address, much less withstand, the troubles, challenges & temptations of the modern world. It is far too abstract.

    Furthermore, it exhibits a stunning lack of Scriptural foundation and dramatically underappreciates the weakness & frailty of the human condition.

  2. ProfessorCover says:

    The notion that the Church is Eurocentric is very odd because Europe is (or was) what it is because of the Church. European cultural is a creation of the western Holy Catholic Church. The conversion of Western Europe to Catholicism changed Western European culture and it became a Christian culture, just as the Church in the east created an Eastern European culture similar to but not identical to the west.
    Of course I am oversimplifying since there are many differences between the various peoples in Western Europe, but their basic values are (were, sadly) the same and came from the Catholic Church.
    I suppose that Rahner probably believed, as I used to hear some Episcopalians say, that the Church must change (in what way it must change is not explicitly stated) because it soon will not be a majority of the society. Well, that church changed and has done very poorly IMHO.

  3. Dave P. says:

    IIRC, wasn’t Karl’s brother Hugo the more sensible of the two? And I believe Hugo said of his sibling, “I will spend the rest of my life translating his works into German.”

  4. Fr. Charles A. F. says:

    If anyone can come up with a rationale of how a speech can be misinterpreted by its own author, please let me know…

  5. Fulco One Eye says:

    In a frightening way, what you are explaining fits very well. Do they actually think this limp-wristed creature into which they want to make the Church is something that people will flock to, to sacrifice for? To call them delusional is a wild understatement.

  6. mysticalrose says:

    EXCELLENT post, Father Z. I’m sharing this one far and wide.

  7. Midwest St. Michael says:

    One of the saddest things about reading this, Fr Z, is the fact that our diocese, way back in the day, sent our seminarians to the Innsbruck, Austria seminary where Rahner taught.

    The vast majority of those men were basically caught up in what you say in this post. No need to give examples. It has all been given here before.

    We may have about eight seminarians, at present. Is the tide turning? Um… slowly. Very slowly.

  8. mater101 says:

    Thanks for the historical clarity. Would you think it would be of any use to present this to our poorly formed local priests, who labor under the misconceptions you outlined.?
    Would bet they haven’t had any exposure to the Pope John XXlll opening statement, nor the Pope Benedict’s 2005 Christmas statement. Nor discussion of the implications of same.
    Our local TLM is bursting at the seams. Have to arrive at least 30 minutes early to sit inside.! The priest, a True Father.

  9. Rod Halvorsen says:

    Excellent piece.

    Rahner’s ideas and the goals of the Progressives may be seen as novelties by many Catholics and as far as the Church is concerned, they certainly are novel. But on the world scene they are hardly novel at all. What they are is simply boring, old, godless, decadent, dying, vapid, liberal Protestantism, guaranteed to produce the exact same rotten fruits found among that ever-decreasing set of Christ-deniers.

  10. jflare29 says:

    I could be mistaken on this, yet I can’t help but think: Most of the serious heresies have begun–and seized hold–because someone insisted on “reinterpreting” something through a “new” lens.
    I believe St John Paul II specifically commented that “modernism” essentially provides an amalgam of several well-known heresies.

  11. JabbaPapa says:

    It is somewhat unfortunate that Pope Benedict XVI used the words hermeneutic (adj.), hermeneutic (count n.), and hermeneutics (non-count n.) ; as they are complex academic words not easily accessible to most who have not had a passage through the kind of Academia where they are properly explained.

    A hermeneutic is an interpretative strategy.

    A hermeneutic of rupture is therefore any interpretative strategy whereby what is interpreted (here, the Council, and its documents) is posited as a novelty, a shift, or a change in relation to its correspondents elsewhere (here, the previous Councils and the existing Magisterium).

    A hermeneutic of rupture therefore proposes that the Magisterium is changed by Vatican II — which is a claim put forward not just by “spirit of the Council” Modernists, but also by the more extreme “rad trads”.

    Whereas a hermeneutic of continuity is then any interpretative strategy whereby what is interpreted (here, the Council, and its documents) is posited as a continuation of its correspondents elsewhere (here, the previous Councils and the existing Magisterium).

    So that really, there are three concepts of Magisterium that are in conflict here — a Modernist Magisterium of the German Synodal Path ilk ; a “rad trad” Magisterium seeking to just deny the Council ; and an embattled genuine Magisterium, informed by all of the Councils, caught up in these culture wars.

    Pope Benedict XVI was absolutely right in his assessment that the nature of a Council as such is therefore basically misunderstood — but sadly, this misunderstanding has become rampant during the current Pontificate, especially among the clerical hierarchy.

    You wrote Father of having “read …. a claim that Vatican II was the interpretive principle through which all of Tradition had to be reinterpreted.” — but such a “principle” is only correct where Vatican II is first properly interpreted from Vatican I, Trent, and all previous Councils, and from a foundation in Holy Magisterium and the Deposit of Faith.

    The hermeneutics of rupture dispense either with the first or with the second of these. That is what is destructive of Church unity, rather than “the deception of casuistry” or “the rigidity of the Commandments” or whatever …

  12. Cy says:

    Very interesting Father.

    It sounds almost like a theological version of Borderline Personality disorder.

    The moderns are running from something, but accuse the others of “fleeing to ‘old’ forms.”

    Their epithetic claims of “rigidity” in others also belies theirs.

    Also, we’re they correct and confident, the visceral animus against “Trads” would be unnecessary.

    What if there were a communicable social pathology beginning in the 1960s 1970s?

  13. Danteewoo says:

    I find it impossible not to be “against Vatican II” if forty years after its closing a pope has to tell us how to interpret it. John Paul II said in 1988 that the events of Archbishop Lefebvre’s excommunication should encourage theologians to make a renewed examination of the second Vatican Council, “especially on those points of doctrine, which BECAUSE OF THEIR NOVELTY have not yet been understood well by some sectors of the Church.” Hardly encouraging when a pope speaks favorably of novel doctrines.

    And Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger said, “There is no one who is a Catholic or who wishes to remain one who can deny the greatness, the richness, the timeliness of the Vatican II documents.” He interprets Vatican II with his hermeneutic of continuity, but John Paul II didn’t above. And certainly Francis doesn’t.

  14. GregB says:

    The Church was founded by Christ Who established her By His New and Eternal Covenant. Christ gave the Church the Great Commission to evangelize all the nations. Christ sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. It is out of these actions that the Council of Jerusalem took place. What radical new covenant can the “spirit of Vatican II” advocates point to to justify their position? Who is the new Moses of the “spirit of Vatican II” church? Who is the new messiah of their church? Who died to establish their church?

  15. Aliquis says:

    Pope Francis applies the same “hermeneutic:” “The path of the Church must be seen within the dynamic of Tradition ‘which originates from the Apostles and progresses in the Church with the assistance of the Holy Spirit’ (DV 8).” (Letter accompanying TC)
    When you consider things all this, and after 9 years the fate of the “hermenuitic of continuity,” it makes you wonder if Benedict’s retirement followed immediately by the rapid rise of the modernists aren’t permitted by divine providence to show that the middle course (Benedict’s; interpret VII as best you can and move on) just won’t work, and we must confront VII itself.

  16. GregB says:

    Wasn’t liturgical purity what St. Paul was dealing with with the Church at Corinth?

  17. defenderofTruth says:

    Don’t forget that Benedict said in his letter to German priests (2019) that the Council created a new church to deal with the perceived problems in the Catholic Church.

    Vatican II had new ecclesiology, new understandings of the role of the laity, new ideas about liturgy, etc.

    I can see both being true: the Catholics at the Council intended nothing to change, the Modernists intended everything to change.

  18. TonyO says:

    If anyone can come up with a rationale of how a speech can be misinterpreted by its own author, please let me know…

    Yeah, Fr. Charles, I thought the very same thing. Even semi-literate people on the leftward side of the Church should look at Beans’ comment and say “that’s just idiotic! Benedict might be wrong, but he knows what he meant.”

    But that’s the logic of marxist modernism, as George Orwell depicted it: even the people who work at the “Ministry of Truth” and who take the old histories and re-write them, and the ones who re-write the meanings of words, end up swallowing the Big Lie: if the lie is big enough and pervasive enough, it invades your thinking. And re-writing the meanings of things is all part and parcel of the revolution. The permanent, ever-to-be-re-instigated “revolution”.

  19. Pingback: TVESDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

  20. MrsBridge says:

    I was in a Catholic girls’ high school for the first two years of Vatican II. It’s hard to describe what “freedom” we all felt and the thrill of having the old rules shattered. I was 15, wearing a pleated skirt and knee socks, and reading Teilhard de Chardin. The young nuns were over the moon. Of course, the Church’s new “freedom” coincided with the turmoil of the sixties. The nuns soon left and the social revolution didn’t provide much stability for me in the seventies.

    Now I looked up Professor Faggioli’s bio: He was’t born until 1970. I bet he’s sorry he missed all the fun. Which wasn’t, not so much. Except maybe for the Beatles and my 68 Mustang.

    Thank you for this excellent essay. This year I’m once again reading Pope Benedict’s volume 2, on Holy Week. It holds up very well.

  21. Pingback: But remember… the problem is the Traditional Latin Mass! | Fr. Z's Blog

  22. Midwest St. Michael says:

    This is related to the topic, Fr. Z.

    Sophia Press is republishing Cardinal Joseph Siri’s book “Gethsemane: Reflections on the Contemporary Theological Movement.” (First published in 1981, I believe.)

    It is a fantastic book which delves into the “…erroneous teaching of controversial twentieth-century theologians Henri de Lubac, Jacques Maritain, Karl Rahner, and Hans Kung.” (From the description.)

    It is a “must have” for traditional Catholics. Kudos to Sophia Press for picking this great book!

  23. robtbrown says:

    If I might mention, substantially agreeing with Gaetano, the ploy known as enculturation is in fact a plan to make the foundation of cultures not the teachings of Christ and His Church but German Existentialism.

    Faggioli knows little about theology and “thinks”it’s just a matter of deciding between Trent/neo scholasticism and Karl Rahner. Socrates wondered why he was considered the wisest man–he decided that it was because he knows that he doesn’t know. Faggioli doesn’t know enough to know that he doesn’t know.

  24. Pingback: PopeWatch: By Their Fruits – The American Catholic

Comments are closed.