Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Battles Over Language Go Well Beyond Literal Latin Translations Of The Mass

'Hermeneutics of discontinuity' is all about what size truck one can drive through the language of Vatican II documents. Reformers prefer the background truck, reform of the reformers prefer the foreground truck.

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.

Talking points

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.


  1. Pope John Paul the Great - is that part of the "language" we're supposed to "learn" now? In the process of "unlearning" what they don't want us to use or understand?

    It's really amazing! Not only are they in control of the Eucharist and Holy Orders, but they want to control language too! ("We interpret it all for you. You just suck it up!")

    I say, give em more rope! Just let it play out. Because it's getting more delusional as they go along here.

  2. "Reformers prefer the background truck, reform of the reformers prefer the foreground truck."

    I got a big laugh out of that one Colleen! I have been reading the comments at NCR and the Tridentine folks are out in full force with a vengeance against the reformers. They claim VIIer's have destroyed the Church - it's the sole reason to scapegoat them, for why the Church is failing with no new recruits to the priesthood, blah, blah, blah!! Apparently anyone who desires any kind of reform in the Church is against "beauty" "the Mass" etc. Interesting that while they accuse VII supporters of stripping the Church of its "beauty" - statues and monuments and paintings - what they want to do is to remove people from the Church who want reform and to keep VII from being decimated and distorted and taken from the Church and the Liturgy.

    Words are important as you point out Colleen. "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God."

    "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning."

    The Holy Spirit guides us with Words if we are open to hear the word.

    The Church truly needs a Pope who has the Word of God in him.

    The Holy Spirit, when it guides us, speaks in our own language. The Holy Spirit is truly silenced by the Latin translations.

    Thanks again Colleen for sharing your beautiful insight.

  3. Butterfly it's really all about degrading the importance of human relationship. The true beauty of the Church is found in it's people. The truth is it's way easier to project our notions of beauty on Michelangelo's David, than it is to find the beauty in the David down the street.

  4. TheraP I agree so totally with your last paragraph. I have gone beyond personal sadness to out right laughter. When you have reached the state of laughter you have acheived meaningful healing.

    In that process I've refound my empathy and my spirituality. It was touch and go for awhile though.

    SOmetimes I wonder if the Vatican actually thinks non clerical humans have only DOS for an operating system--you know Dumb Operating System.

    The truly funny part is that there are some big time IQ's wasting a lot of talent justifying the most hilarious delusions about God's desires and Jesus's wants.

    Unfortunately too many of them are drawing serius salaries from corporate interests and that's the funniest thing of all. No wonder none of the well paid shills ever mention love.

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  7. Hans Kung's book questioning infallibility as defined in Vatican 1 is ready for update and it could begin with a new Title. I suggest something like this. Infallibility the Papal Delusion. What we see now in the form of teaching is what we accused the Soviet Union of for years - propaganda. Totalitarian systems have all used propaganda because they can not admit to making any mistakes. You are right Colleen, it has gotten to the state of laughter. John Paul the Great indeed. John Paul the great Pope who watched as the Church began to implode and burn. John Paul the Great who did nothing about the money laundering through the Vatican Bank and because of neglect elevated the sexual scandal and leadership crisis to an implosion of the leadership. Papa Razi who believes in modern theology- only his own. Papa Razi who really functioned as Pope for 10 or so years prior to the Great’s death. Papa Razi who can stand up to any theologian and prove his thoughts are THE TRUTH. Papa Razi, the omniscient.

    The Eucharist can not be used as a weapon of fear just as women can not be used as second class citizens. We already have women priests ordained by Catholic, Old Catholic, Episcopal and Lutheran Bishops. Don’t tell Papa Razi - he might tell another hardworking nun she no longer deserves communion and at the same time ruin her carrier.

    I got a call from my Catholic Medical School last night wanting a contribution. I stopped contributing exactly nine years ago after many years of contribution mostly to the scholarship fund- I even had them for a sizable contribution in my will. I had to tell the young person on the phone that I had quit contributing nine years ago because I realized then how a University could not seek truth and have its theologians or philosophers licensed by or working at the pleasure of the Bishops. Kind of like having a political scientist licensed by the mayor, or even a scientist licensed by or working at the pleasure of a major. I had to tell her that even though I was extremely appreciative of my school for graduating not only me but also one of my children, I felt it counter productive to contribute to the institution until they declared themselves an independent Catholic (Jesuit) organization. Truth is not at all served well by the opinion of Bishops caught up in their delusion of an infallible magisterial belief in the pronouncements of each and every Bishop. She said she would convey my thoughts to the President of the University. I told her to ask him to look up the letter I wrote him nine years ago why I would not contribute. Now there is a movement by a number of grads to not contribute. I hate to hold their feet and the feet of the students to the fire, but this is the best way that I know to get the Universities to Understand that they are not true Universities if they do not stand up to these delusional men.

    R. Dennis Porch, MD