Opuscula

A collection of personal reflections. Copyright © 2005-2011 K. Gurries

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Minor Dispute On Discontinuity

The "hermeneutic of reform" proposed by Pope Benedict XVI presupposes a certain degree of real discontinuity.  But what exactly is the nature and extent of the discontinuity introduced by Vatican II?  This is an aspect of the question that Sandro Magister has uncovered recently in a minor dispute between Massimo Introvigne and Martin Rhonheimer.  Specifically, is the discontinuity merely a result of a "new" application of immutable principles in light of changed circumstances?  This seems to be the interpretation given by Massimo Introvigne.  Martin Rhonheimer, on the other hand, takes the discontinuity to another level.  In addition to the discontinuity arising from a new application of immutable principles, there is the basic recognition that Vatican II in fact "corrected certain historical decisions" with respect to the "relationship between the Church and the modern state".  Martin Rhonheimer then draws the conclusion that Vatican II has made a correction "with respect to past conceptions of the state" in itself.  In any case, both writers agree that the discontinuity does not reach the level of a dogmatic rupture.   

It seems to me that there is another way to understand this.  There is also the distinct possibility of prudential errors in connection with specific historical decisions.  To "give a new definition to the relationship between the Church and the modern state" does not necessarily entail a redefinition of the nature of the state or political society in itself.  It merely sets out a new "relationship" in light of changed circumstances (application).  At the same time, this does not exclude the possibility of prudential errors with respect to the historical decisions themselves.  For example, it does not serve the common good to cling to a status quo "out of season" or when circumstances dictate a needed reform.  In this sense, it is possible to "correct certain historical decisions" from changed circumstances, prudential errors or some combination of these.  Finally, I think it is important to recall that the 19th century Popes indeed defended a certain (confessional) conception of the state.  On the other hand, it is not clear that this was proposed as an absolute.  In other words, the circumstances must be ripe (including a religiously united body politic) for the legitimacy of such a confessional model.  Therefore, to defend the existence of a confessional state in principle is not the same as demanding it at all times and in every place.  Bishop Dupanloup of Orleans (1865) explains how to properly understand the Syllabus of Pope Pius IX on this question:

Would this same Catholic tradition teach, that if, in the course of ages there had been, or that there are yet, certain regions of the world where the law of the Church has become the civil law, in consequence of the unity of faith, and the agreement of the will among the citizens, where the State has constituted the Bishop protector of the holy canons – does it say that there the Church and the State have acted without right? For this is the meaning of the 77th proposition...But circumstances having changed, and the public law also, do we learn from this that Catholics would fail in their duty to God and the Church by accepting sincerely, and in all simplicity of thought, the constitution of their country, and the civil freedom of worship which it authorizes?  Or, if we speak of liberty, when we are weak, is it only to refuse it to others when we shall be strong? (Cf. Dupanloup).                 

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