When Pope John XXIII opened Vatican II, it was meant to be a 'pastoral' Council, not a doctrinal one. No pressing issues were looking for definitions, only guidance for a Church faced with rapid advances in technologies, science, etc., unprecedented in human history. As he said; "The greatest concern of the ecumenical council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously." Nothing substantial was changed or to be changed.
However, one issue was reserved for the Pope and the Pope alone, the issue of artificial contraception. At John XXIII's death, he had not yet made a decision, and since the Council was still in session, it was logical that it wasn't ready. His successor, therefore, picked up were John XXIII left off. This was tragic for a variety of reasons, which I will touch on later.
In 1963, the Second Vatican Council completed it's task. The first mistake was that what it taught was not widely disseminated, leaving many confused as to what it taught. And this allowed the inclusion of many teachings 'not' in accordance with Vatican II. But still, little really changed until 1968 when the long awaited encyclical Humanae vitae was published.
Many 'presumed' the Pope would change the Church's ban on artifical contraception. In fact, many priests, counselors, and theologians taught as though the ban had already been lifted. When Humanae vitae reaffirmed the Church's teaching, the notion of 'loyal dissent' was born. In fact, even before the official release of the Document, a large number of these 'loyal' dissenters ran an article in the NY Times, rejecting the Encyclical. (Even before they read it)
Theologians, such as Fr. Curran, Fr. Meier, Fr. Hans Kung, and others, went about telling everyone that they could, in good conscience, reject Humanae vitae if they deemed it beneficial to do so. This set up a 'rival' magisterium, the real one, the Magisterium, the teaching authority of the Church, and one made up of 'dissident' theologians. This latter 'magisterium' told us that we were free to pick and choose, to review and decide whether to follow on our own. So, today, we hear arguments dissenting Church teaching with "According to Curran (or Kung, Rhuether, et al)…."
Part of their defense is that Vatican II was "Democracy in action." You're probably familiar with the 'catch words'. "We are Church", etc. They content themselves on rejecting 'authentic' Church teaching by saying that "Many respected theologians dispute the Church's teaching on that issue." They forget, or chose to ignore, that two of the Church's most preeminent theologians are Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger. They bemoan John XXIII's death, presuming he would have supported them and that Pope Paul VI was 'forced' to turn a blind eye to the 'logic' of artificial contraception. From this simple event, a stream of 'unauthentic' Church teachings came about, all under the title of the 'spirit of Vatican II.'
Firstly, if we are free to choose what to follow and what not to, then there is no need for a 'teaching authority', no need for Popes or Bishops since 'the people of God' can determine the truth on their own. This is a new form of the heresy 'Montanism' that saw the Holy Spirit bestowing His teaching gifts to all the members of the Church. So we hear people speaking of the Pope opposing the 'prompting' of the Holy Spirit.
At the Call To Action Conference in Detroit, Sr. Maureen Fiedler (head of the "We Are Church Referendum), said that they were not the cause of division in the Church, but that the Hierarchy was for not "listening to the people of God." (during the 20th anniversary meeting of the Women's Ordination Conference in the Washington D.C.; November 10- 12, 1995, Sr. Fiedler remarked "we need people with chisels inside (the Church) chiseling away at that institution or it is never going to fall.")
If we look at Humanae vitae, we see that Paul VI was prophetic in his teaching; " Upright men can even better convince themselves of the solid grounds on which the teaching of the Church in this field is based, if they care to reflect upon the consequences of methods of artificial birth control. Let them consider, first of all, how wide and easy a road would thus be opened up towards conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality. Not much experience is needed in order to know human weakness, and to understand that men - especially the young, who are so vulnerable on this point - have need of encouragement to be faithful to the moral law, so that they must not be offered some easy means of eluding its observance. It is also to be feared that the man, growing used to the employment of anticonceptive practices, may finally lose respect for the woman and, no longer caring for her physical and psychological equilibrium, may come to the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion. " (Humanae vitae; #17)
Today, premarital and extra-marital sexual contact is seen as the norm, instead of the exception. Even a top ranked television show has it's characters jumping in and out of beds. And if 'heterosexual' contact is ok, then so too is homosexual. After all, sex is now 'recreation' and not 're- creation'.
"Let it be considered also that a dangerous weapon would thus be placed in the hands of those public authorities who take no heed of moral exigencies. Who could blame a government for applying to the solution of the problems of the community those means acknowledged to be licit for married couples in the solution of a family problem? Who will stop rulers from favoring, from even imposing upon their peoples, if they were to consider it necessary, the method of contraception which they judge to be most efficacious? In such a way men, wishing to avoid individual, family, or social difficulties encountered in the observance of the divine law, would reach the point of placing at the mercy of the intervention of public authorities the most personal and most reserved sector of conjugal intimacy." (Ibid)
We have seen the Cairo Conference seek to 'impose' abortion and artificial contraception on a Third World we deem as too poor and over populated to help. Rather than developing them, it's easier to 'control' them. Any nation wishing to receive a loan from the World Bank, or a US loan must allow abortion.
They, of course, use Vatican II to justify their 'demands', especially Gaudium et spes (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World) But what they fail to see is that Vatican II has 16 other 'Constitutions' which define the Church, how it operates and works. Gaudium et spes speaks of how THAT Church is to be the salt of the modern world, NOT how that Church has to change to suit the modern world.
Yet one part of Vatican II which they conveniently forget, or overlook, is Lumen gentium Chap. III. It's title, "The Church is Hierarchal" puts a big hole in their argument that 'Vatican II was 'democracy in action'.
In it, it teaches: "religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will." (LG #25) Even when he is NOT speaking 'ex cathedra', that is infallibly.
I can only recommend Catholics actually read Vatican II and read the Catechism. Otherwise, even the most well intentioned can and will be lead astray. In closing, pray and consider these passages: "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry" (2 Timothy 3-5).
"For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty" (2 Peter 1:16).
"So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter." (2 Timothy 2:15).
Pax Christi, Pat
I believe that those philosophers who wish to respond today to the demands which the word of God makes on human thinking should develop their thought on the basis of these postulates and in organic continuity with the great tradition which, beginning with the ancients, passes through the Fathers of the Church and the masters of Scholasticism and includes the fundamental achievements of modern and contemporary thought. If philosophers can take their place within this tradition and draw their inspiration from it, they will certainly not fail to respect philosophy's demand for autonomy.
In the present situation, therefore, it is most significant that some philosophers are promoting a recovery of the determining role of this tradition for a right approach to knowledge. The appeal to tradition is not a mere remembrance of the past; it involves rather the recognition of a cultural heritage which belongs to all of humanity. Indeed it may be said that it is we who belong to the tradition and that it is not ours to dispose of at will. Precisely by being rooted in the tradition will we be able today to develop for the future an original, new and constructive mode of thinking. This same appeal is all the more valid for theology. Not only because theology has the living Tradition of the Church as its original source, (104) but also because, in virtue of this, it must be able to recover both the profound theological tradition of earlier times and the enduring tradition of that philosophy which by dint of its authentic wisdom can transcend the boundaries of space and time.
86. This insistence on the need for a close relationship of continuity between contemporary philosophy and the philosophy developed in the Christian tradition is intended to avert the danger which lies hidden in some currents of thought which are especially prevalent today. It is appropriate, I think, to review them, however briefly, in order to point out their errors and the consequent risks for philosophical work.
The first goes by the name of eclecticism, by which is meant the approach of those who, in research, teaching and argumentation, even in theology, tend to use individual ideas drawn from different philosophies, without concern for their internal coherence, their place within a system or their historical context. They therefore run the risk of being unable to distinguish the part of truth of a given doctrine from elements of it which may be erroneous or ill-suited to the task at hand. An extreme form of eclecticism appears also in the rhetorical misuse of philosophical terms to which some theologians are given at times. Such manipulation does not help the search for truth and does not train reason—whether theological or philosophical—to formulate arguments seriously and scientifically. The rigorous and far-reaching study of philosophical doctrines, their particular terminology and the context in which they arose, helps to overcome the danger of eclecticism and makes it possible to integrate them into theological discourse in a way appropriate to the task.
87. Eclecticism is an error of method, but lying hidden within it can also be the claims of historicism. To understand a doctrine from the past correctly, it is necessary to set it within its proper historical and cultural context. The fundamental claim of historicism, however, is that the truth of a philosophy is determined on the basis of its appropriateness to a certain period and a certain historical purpose. At least implicitly, therefore, the enduring validity of truth is denied. What was true in one period, historicists claim, may not be true in another. Thus for them the history of thought becomes little more than an archeological resource useful for illustrating positions once held, but for the most part outmoded and meaningless now. On the contrary, it should not be forgotten that, even if a formulation is bound in some way by time and culture, the truth or the error which it expresses can invariably be identified and evaluated as such despite the distance of space and time.
In theological enquiry, historicism tends to appear for the most part under the guise of “modernism”. Rightly concerned to make theological discourse relevant and understandable to our time, some theologians use only the most recent opinions and philosophical language, ignoring the critical evaluation which ought to be made of them in the light of the tradition. By exchanging relevance for truth, this form of modernism shows itself incapable of satisfying the demands of truth to which theology is called to respond.
88. Another threat to be reckoned with is scientism. This is the philosophical notion which refuses to admit the validity of forms of knowledge other than those of the positive sciences; and it relegates religious, theological, ethical and aesthetic knowledge to the realm of mere fantasy. In the past, the same idea emerged in positivism and neo-positivism, which considered metaphysical statements to be meaningless. Critical epistemology has discredited such a claim, but now we see it revived in the new guise of scientism, which dismisses values as mere products of the emotions and rejects the notion of being in order to clear the way for pure and simple facticity. Science would thus be poised to dominate all aspects of human life through technological progress. The undeniable triumphs of scientific research and contemporary technology have helped to propagate a scientistic outlook, which now seems boundless, given its inroads into different cultures and the radical changes it has brought.
Regrettably, it must be noted, scientism consigns all that has to do with the question of the meaning of life to the realm of the irrational or imaginary. No less disappointing is the way in which it approaches the other great problems of philosophy which, if they are not ignored, are subjected to analyses based on superficial analogies, lacking all rational foundation. This leads to the impoverishment of human thought, which no longer addresses the ultimate problems which the human being, as the animal rationale, has pondered constantly from the beginning of time. And since it leaves no space for the critique offered by ethical judgement, the scientistic mentality has succeeded in leading many to think that if something is technically possible it is therefore morally admissible.
89. No less dangerous is pragmatism, an attitude of mind which, in making its choices, precludes theoretical considerations or judgements based on ethical principles. The practical consequences of this mode of thinking are significant. In particular there is growing support for a concept of democracy which is not grounded upon any reference to unchanging values: whether or not a line of action is admissible is decided by the vote of a parliamentary majority. (105) The consequences of this are clear: in practice, the great moral decisions of humanity are subordinated to decisions taken one after another by institutional agencies. Moreover, anthropology itself is severely compromised by a one-dimensional vision of the human being, a vision which excludes the great ethical dilemmas and the existential analyses of the meaning of suffering and sacrifice, of life and death.
90. The positions we have examined lead in turn to a more general conception which appears today as the common framework of many philosophies which have rejected the meaningfulness of being. I am referring to the nihilist interpretation, which is at once the denial of all foundations and the negation of all objective truth. Quite apart from the fact that it conflicts with the demands and the content of the word of God, nihilism is a denial of the humanity and of the very identity of the human being. It should never be forgotten that the neglect of being inevitably leads to losing touch with objective truth and therefore with the very ground of human dignity. This in turn makes it possible to erase from the countenance of man and woman the marks of their likeness to God, and thus to lead them little by little either to a destructive will to power or to a solitude without hope. Once the truth is denied to human beings, it is pure illusion to try to set them free. Truth and freedom either go together hand in hand or together they perish in misery. (106)
91. In discussing these currents of thought, it has not been my intention to present a complete picture of the present state of philosophy, which would, in any case, be difficult to reduce to a unified vision. And I certainly wish to stress that our heritage of knowledge and wisdom has indeed been enriched in different fields. We need only cite logic, the philosophy of language, epistemology, the philosophy of nature, anthropology, the more penetrating analysis of the affective dimensions of knowledge and the existential approach to the analysis of freedom. Since the last century, however, the affirmation of the principle of immanence, central to the rationalist argument, has provoked a radical requestioning of claims once thought indisputable. In response, currents of irrationalism arose, even as the baselessness of the demand that reason be absolutely self-grounded was being critically demonstrated.
Our age has been termed by some thinkers the age of “postmodernity”. Often used in very different contexts, the term designates the emergence of a complex of new factors which, widespread and powerful as they are, have shown themselves able to produce important and lasting changes. The term was first used with reference to aesthetic, social and technological phenomena. It was then transposed into the philosophical field, but has remained somewhat ambiguous, both because judgement on what is called “postmodern” is sometimes positive and sometimes negative, and because there is as yet no consensus on the delicate question of the demarcation of the different historical periods. One thing however is certain: the currents of thought which claim to be postmodern merit appropriate attention. According to some of them, the time of certainties is irrevocably past, and the human being must now learn to live in a horizon of total absence of meaning, where everything is provisional and ephemeral. In their destructive critique of every certitude, several authors have failed to make crucial distinctions and have called into question the certitudes of faith.
This nihilism has been justified in a sense by the terrible experience of evil which has marked our age. Such a dramatic experience has ensured the collapse of rationalist optimism, which viewed history as the triumphant progress of reason, the source of all happiness and freedom; and now, at the end of this century, one of our greatest threats is the temptation to despair.
Even so, it remains true that a certain positivist cast of mind continues to nurture the illusion that, thanks to scientific and technical progress, man and woman may live as a demiurge, single-handedly and completely taking charge of their destiny.