The debate that is going on within the Church over the hermeneutics of the Council, risks being a mere diatribe between experts
The debate over the Second Vatican Council which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year has, in recent years, been centred on the problem of hermeneutics, that is, of the various possible interpretations of this event, which shaped the life of the Church for the last half century.
Continuity in reform or a break with tradition? A revolution that marks a “before” and an “after” in the history of Christianity or, more simply, the Church’s twenty first Council? These questions are obviously important from a Ratzingerian re-composition perspective, which involves fixing the Holy See’s broken relations with the Lefebvrians on the one hand and the need to reaffirm the indefeasible and fixed elements of faith against widespread opposition from those who are fighting for new reforms.
The hermeneutics debate going on within the Church risks merely becoming a bitter argument between experts. This argument is far removed form the concrete experience of faithful, many of which did not experience the Council first hand and are fully integrated in the post-conciliar Church.
This is partly the reason why, when introducing the start of the Year of Faith on the day that marks the anniversary of the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, Benedict XVI once again stressed “the need to turn our attention again to the wording of the Council – that is to its texts – in order to find its true spirit.” By revisiting said documents, the Church would “protect from the extremes of an anachronistic nostalgia and leaps forward and would allow it to embrace new aspects of continuity.”
Most importantly, he said that the Church needs to do more than just commemorate the Council in order to “enter more deeply into the spiritual movement which characterised Vatican II,” speaking about an “apostolic eagerness” to announce Jesus Christ to the world.
Today, the Pope explained, there is a greater need than fifty years ago to return to Christian roots, to the depth of the evangelical message, to the “efficient” presentation of the faith. Ratzinger said: At the time of the Council, people fully aware of the meaning of a life and a world without God, thanks to some of history’s tragic chapters but unfortunately now we see it all around us, every day. Emptiness has spread. But this desert, this emptiness, is the starting point for rediscovering the joy of believing…and in the desert, people of faith are vital; they point out the path towards the Promised Land with their own life.”
What this secularized and De-christianised world urgently needs, is for faithful to testify the Gospel in a fascinating way to those living in the “desert”. This task should question and unite everyone: on the one hand, those who are attached, through a sense of nostalgia, to the ways of the past firmly believe that Vatican II represented a loosening of Catholic doctrine leading to a new Church; and on the other hand, those who insist on asking for minor of major reforms, claiming that this would ensure a greater adaptation to modern tendencies leading to the rebirth of Christianity.
Finally, there are those who like most faithful are comfortable with the Church as it has been since the Council reforms and who ask themselves how they can better address the anxieties and questions of the men and women of today.