Most liberal Catholics will happily admit that the Catholic hierarchy began to openly espouse a new data set of doctrinal points in the 1960s. (Many traditional Catholics—including myself—would ironically agree with this.) But there’s a group of Catholics between the liberals and the traditionalists that will say something like, “No, no. Vatican II did not teach a new dogma. Vatican II simply taught us how to transmit the constant dogmas of the Catholic Church in a manner that is now packaged in a new way to accommodate the sensitivities of modern man.” Fair enough. This is the teaching of many neo-con Catholics and it’s essentially what I espoused in seminary and for the first half of my life as a priest.
Earlier this year, I was telling a friend about the “Old Dogma with new Packaging” defense of Vatican II done by that ever-shrinking group of neo-con Catholics who still believe in the hermeneutic of continuity. My friend then said to me, “If I order a bunch of tomahawk steaks online and one day they claim ‘Same product, new packaging,’ then I expect the exact same steaks as before.” That’s a brilliant reminder to those neo-con apologists that they must prove that the Catholic hierarchy now is promoting the same data set of dogma points as the Catholic hierarchy, say, one hundred years ago. (Again, liberals and traditionalists both agree this is not the same religion being proclaimed from all the major seats of the Western Church before 1960 and after 1970. Both honest ends of the spectrum now admit that something changed in the Catholic Church not only in accident of the hierarchy, but in substance.)
So who was the first to use this “packaging” analogy of doctrine? At the opening speech of Vatican II titled Gaudet Mater Ecclesia, Pope John XXIII explained on 11 Oct 1962 why he was opening the Council:
“For this a Council was not necessary. But from the renewed, serene, and tranquil adherence to all the teaching of the Church in its entirety and preciseness, as it still shines forth in the Acts of the Council of Trent and First Vatican Council, the Christian, Catholic, and apostolic spirit of the whole world expects a step forward toward a doctrinal penetration and a formation of consciousness in faithful and perfect conformity to the authentic doctrine, which, however, should be studied and expounded through the methods of research and through the literary forms of modern thought. The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, but the mode in which it is announced is another. And it is the latter that must be taken into great consideration with patience if necessary, everything being measured in the forms and proportions of a magisterium which is predominantly pastoral in character.”‘
You can still read this 1962 speech from Pope John XXIII at the opening of his Council on the Vatican website in Latin or Italian. Or you can see the key line in its original language in this footnote here. 1
So, there we have it. The Pope who opened the Council assured us that it was not going to change classic dogma, only “the mode in which it is announced.” It’s almost like he was promising us that classic, delicious tomahawk steak but only with a new wax-paper wrapping. It’s as if he said, “We promise that same old-school Catholicism, but only with with a clothing more pleasing to the sensitivities of post-modern man.”
Sign me up!
Chances are, many of you have shared my blog or podcast with your parish priest. Although many priests are now warming up to me considering the crisis in the Church has now reached radioactive level-yellow, you most likely at some point (located at the more charitable level of the spectrum of opposition to me) heard a conservative Novus Ordo priest say: “Yeah, I’ve read Fr. Nix’s blog. The Church doesn’t talk like that anymore.” (Again, that’s at the more charitable end.) But then I suggest you ask those same neo-con priests in a week (after they forgot about a conversation about me) if Vatican II changed the Catholic Faith. They will certainly say something like, “No, Vatican II didn’t change the Faith. It only changed the packaging used to present the Faith to a broken modern world.”
Does that mean Catholic teachers should be promoting the evergreen Deposit-of-the-Faith changing only “the mode” as in going from books to internet? That’s what I’m doing! Does that mean we need only new packaging like podcasts to deliver that very Divine Revelation that can never change? That’s what I’m doing! Does that mean we go slower and more merciful in our evangelization for the sensitivities in reaching a very broken post-modern man or woman! That’s what I’m doing (at least in my street evangelization one-on-one.)
I’m not going to tackle in this blog post if I believe there are errors in Vatican II, but I can say that if Pope John XXIII was sincere in his opening address of the Council, none of my opponents should have a problem with us “shin[ing] forth in the Acts of the Council of Trent and First Vatican Council, the Christian, Catholic, and apostolic spirit… the whole world expects a step forward toward a doctrinal penetration and a formation of consciousness in faithful and perfect conformity to the authentic doctrine.” Again, those are Pope John XXIII’s words—not mine—regarding the entire goal of Catholic teaching in the 20th century and beyond.