This is a short excerpt from an article posted yesterday on the NCR: The New Spin on Vatican II. I don't think it's exactly new, it's been a long time in the making. The new is in the language used in the talking points. It's no longer enough to silence the messengers. Now it's about respinning the language and message.
When it comes to Vatican II, however, the term has come to mean how one interprets that event and it is usually modified by phrases that have become a sound-bite way of separating Catholics into two general camps:
- Hermeneutic of discontinuity (sometimes referred to as the hermeneutic of rupture) is used to refer to those who think the council represented a distinct change from the past, and is used often to disparage those who speak of a pre-Vatican II and post-Vatican II church.
- Hermeneutic of continuity or renewal refers to those who would hold that very little actually changed at Vatican II, that it was a “reaffirmation” of all that went before only cast in new language so as to be understandable to the modern era.
Dividing people into hermeneutic camps has become a favorite tactic of conservative commentators and some bishops, especially those who most want to downplay the idea that the council altered the teaching or attitude of the church in any significant way. Others, however, see the categories as artificial and overstated, attempts at marginalizing as extreme anyone convinced that Vatican II ushered in important changes.
Whatever one’s point of view, “hermeneutics” has taken on a life equivalent to campaign talking points. The categories provide a coherent, easy-to-understand critique of what has become a standard perception of the council. Hermeneutics is echoing around the Catholic landscape and is being used to package ideas ranging from the investigation of religious orders to alterations in the liturgy.
The term played large at a meeting in September of last year at Stonehill College in Easton, Mass., a gathering said to have been influential in the decision of Cardinal Franc Rodé to initiate an investigation of women religious in the United States. At that gathering, Bishop Robert C. Morlino of Madison, Wis., spoke of the “discontinuity hermeneutic” and “the language of rupture.” He was responding to a talk by Rodé about religious formation and education.
“The language that many people have learned -- it is clear from today that most of you resisted learning it, and I resisted learning it -- but the language that many people have learned is the language of the discontinuity hermeneutic, the language of the rupture, between pre-Vatican II and post-Vatican II,” Morlino said.
“Many if not most of our people have learned the language of the discontinuity hermeneutic. And in order to learn the language that Pope John Paul the Great and Pope Benedict are trying to teach us they have to unlearn the language that they learned.”
Bishop Morlino's message goes right to the heart of every issue which emanated from Vatican II. While John Paul 'the Great' did his best to restore the Church to pre Vatican II clerical and dogmatic control, it falls to Benedict and his successors to stamp out the language and 'attitude' of Vatican II. It is the language of the documents and the attitudes they convey that was the real legacy of Vatican II. If your goal is to return Catholicism to clerical control and dogmatic obedience, you must not only silence the messengers, but the language used by the messengers.
Language is so very powerful. Especially for minds enculturated in the West. I suppose this is why so many battles during the Council were not over dogma per se, but in the words used to convey the teachings. It 's not surprising the canon lawyers like Morlino would object to phrasing in which it was possible to drive a truck through. It is not surprising that Benedict is obsessed with literal translations of Latin for the Mass--translations in which it is not possible to drive a Tonka Truck through. Many or our current battles are all about the language of Vatican II and the attitude it attempted to convey.
JPII did his best to stack our hierarchy with literalists and canon lawyers in order to change the attitude associated with Vatican II because his own logic necessitated the documents stay in place. Otherwise he himself would invalidate the whole notion of Papal infallibility. Vatican II then becomes a council which affirmed all of the past but used terrible language that allowed reformers to get out of control. The teachings were all correct, but the language fostered incorrect attitudes. Somehow we learned the 'language of rupture' and need to unlearn it as fast as possible.
When caught in actual violations of both canon law and it's spirit, the hierarchy has resorted to the language of silence, disinformation, and outright lies. This is the language of politics, not Jesus Christ. This is the language of ego survival, not service to others. This is the language of control, not the freedom offered by the words of Jesus.
The ironic thing is the New Testament is full of the 'language of rupture'. So much so the powers that be killed the Messenger. In that sense Vatican II truly did go back to the source and summit of our Faith.