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Benedict XVI, Vatican II and Modernity (Part 1 of 2)

7/25/2005 - 6:00 AM PST

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Tracey Rowland on the Pope's Interpretation of the Council

MELBOURNE, Australia, JULY 25, 2005 (Zenit) - Many believe that "Gaudium et Spes" was the key document that shaped the life of the Church in the years immediately following the Second Vatican Council.

However, according to theologian Tracey Rowland, 40 years of post-conciliar history and reflection on the 1965 pastoral constitution have led many to conclude that the document had an inadequate understanding of culture, particularly that of the culture of liberal modernity.

The result, Rowland reckons, was the unleashing of currents within the Church that gravely harmed the liturgy and offered a false humanism ultimately destructive to the pastoral care of souls.

Rowland is dean and permanent fellow of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family -- Melbourne and author of "Culture and the Thomist Tradition: After Vatican II" (Routledge).

She shared with us why a reconsideration and reinterpretation of "Gaudium et Spes," a dominant theme in the theological work of Joseph Ratzinger, is necessary to reorient the Church's encounter with liberal modernity.

Part 2 of this interview will appear Tuesday.

Q: What was Joseph Ratzinger's role at the Second Vatican Council, and how did it shape his theological views?

Rowland: He attended the Council as a peritus for Joseph Cardinal Frings of Cologne. In a famous speech, Frings launched an attack on the Holy Office and the exchange between him and Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani is often described as the most passionate debate of the Council. It is thought that the young Ratzinger contributed ideas for Frings' criticism.

As for the effect of the Council on Ratzinger, his attendance as a peritus would have given him a valuable bird's-eye view of the Catholic intellectual landscape, a knowledge of the problems faced by the Church in different parts of the world and some experience of the operation of the Curia.

I don't think, however, that the Council changed his views so much as his views shaped the Council.

Q: What is the new Pope's view of the Church's role and its relationship to "the world" as understood by the Second Vatican Council?

Rowland: The Second Vatican Council described the Church as the universal sacrament of salvation. Accordingly, the Church is not an entity distinct from the world but the world reconciled unto itself and unto God. This is the kind of vision one would expect Benedict to promote.

Contrary to popular perceptions, his Augustinian spirituality does not mean that he is against the world or that he believes that Catholics should crawl into ghettos.

What it does mean is that he is no Pelagian. He doesn't think that with sufficient education the New Jerusalem can be built on earth. Civics education alone, lectures on human rights, exhortations about brotherly love and the common good, will get nowhere unless people are open to the work of grace and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

A humanism that is not Christian cannot save the world. This was the conclusion of his fellow peritus Henri de Lubac, and Benedict has made some very strong statements against the pretensions of a mere secular humanism.

Moreover, while he is not advocating a retreat from the world, he has exhorted Catholics to rediscover with evangelical seriousness the courage of nonconformism in the face of the social trends of the affluent world.

He has said that we ought to have the courage to rise up against what is regarded as "normal" for a person at the end of the 20th century and to rediscover faith in its simplicity. In other words, one can engage the world, and be in the world, without being of the world.

Q: How has this project, laid out by the Council Fathers in "Gaudium et Spes," succeeded or failed?

Rowland: Against the background of secularizing readings of "Gaudium et Spes," John Paul II argued that the document needs to be read from the perspective of Paragraph 22. In a nutshell, it says that the human person needs to know Christ in order to have self-understanding.

No doubt Pope Benedict would agree that this paragraph undercuts some of the ambivalent language if it is taken as the lens through which the rest of the document is read. But how many of the world's Catholics, including the clergy, know about the significance of Paragraph 22?

The popular interpretation of this document was that it represented ...

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