TRENT II, OR BEIJING I,
AN URGENT NECESSITY
It would be hard to imagine any time in the Church when a General Council was recalled so insistently by its most zealous supporters, and derided so fiercely by others as is Vatican II. The question before us is simple. Was Vatican II a wonderful Council, such as Nicaea, Ephesus, or Chalcedon, or was it more like Constance or Lateran V? Blessed John Paul II endorsed the Council in the fullest terms possible, and Benedict endorsed the Council’s work, but with some reservations. Towards the end of his Pontificate Benedict lamented the fact that there appeared to be two councils, one that was authentic and the other which was in the product of the Media. It is obvious that Pope Francis sees the Council in the same positive terms as Blessed John Paul. This is hardly surprising as his vocation as a young Jesuit was overshadowed by the Council. However it is in the nature of things that we can be taking part in something wonderful and not realize it, like the women standing at the foot of the Cross on Good Friday, or the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Christian martyrs going to their deaths over the ages, be it during the Roman persecutions, the persecutions in Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, or in our era, during the terrible Communist persecutions. Admittedly the Christians will know that they will receive their crown in Heaven, but they may wonder at what will happen to the Church. On the other hand we can be convinced that we are taking part in something wonderful, namely the rise of the Nazi party, Cromwell’s Commonwealth, the Bolshevik Revolution, or the American War of Independence (It must be stated that George III was not a tyrant and that Washington et al were motivated by avarice, greed, and Deism)
It would seem that the Second Vatican Council can be whatever you want it to be. For the Liberals it is the triumph of Liberalism over the obscurantism of the lingering Medievalism of Baroque Catholicism most ably demonstrated in the person of St. Pius V, and whose modern epitome must be St. Pius X. To the Tridentinists, it is a departure from the traditional teaching of the Church. To the likes of the great Cardinal Ottaviani it seemed a disaster, and to many faithful Catholics, it looks highly ambiguous. Its output was vast, and most probably produced more words than all previous councils put together. It was also very much a creature of its time. It was full of optimism, bar some apocalyptic reflections in Gaudium et Spes, was very sensible in Lumen Gentium, hopelessly ambiguous in Nostrae Aetate, and somewhat naïf in Dignitatis Humanae. With regard to this last document, it has been said that the Church Fathers had in mind liberty for Christians suffering for their faith in Communist lands, but what John Courtney Murray S.J., who was the force behind the document, envisaged, was something inspired by The Declaration of Indpendence and the American Constitution. However as Richard Dwarkins has noted, hardly a lover of Christianity, and of Catholicism even less so, 50 of the 52 founding fathers of the American Republic were Freemasons. So one wonders if the inspiration of Dignitatis Humanae was somewhat polluted to put it mildly.
Now what must be realized, and it is simplicity itself, that in the aftermath of the Second World War there was only one all powerful nation in the West, and its influence covered all the globe with the exception of Communist lands, and that was the U.S. and so the U.S. Catholic Church was full on enthusiasm and energy. The Belgians and the French might have revolutionary ideas about the Liturgy, and the Germans also, but the Catholic Church in Germany was the Church of a conquered land with a massive inferiority complex. The French Catholic hierarchy, were being imaginative, and thinking too much, which they and the Germans are past masters at. The English Catholic Church was plodding along steadily making converts, and then the explosion came. Blessed John XXIII opened the windows of the Church to the gentle breeze of the Holy Spirit and an immense tornado swept through.
THE CHURCH AND THE WORLD
If say Chiang Kai-shek had been victorious over Mao and the Communists, and had rather amazingly, become a new Constantine, and millions of Chinese flocked into the Church, and if he had been a close friend of Pius XII, and had urged him to make many Chinese Cardinals, one of which was elected to be Pius’ successor, what would the Church have been like?
The problem with the West is that it is always looking for change. It is a sort of gigantic monstrous cat, and curiosity must have killed at least 7 of its nine lives. Western Man wants to know what he can do, and what more wonders he can achieve, and in this lies the fatal flaw, because the temptation is to do whatever you like, simply because you can do it. This is the problem with scientists; they do not know when to stop. They put science above the law of God. The scientist has before him the lure of knowledge, and so like Eve he is always looking at the fruit of The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and wondering what new wonders it has to offer.
Western Man, the product of the Christian and Classical cultures has, on one level, outgrown the Catholic Church. He taunts the Church with his great knowledge. What does the Church know? This gauntlet thrown down before his Holy Mother’s face was picked up by Blessed John XXIII, whose shrewd peasant heart, great goodness, and a certain naivety were no match for the ferocity behind that gesture of Satanic Pride. He thought that the baddies were better than they were. He was duped by the Communists, and disarmed by the Americans. However, according to one of his biographers, it was he, more than anyone else who prevented the Cuba crisis from turning into a nuclear war. I remember years ago reading in the biography “I will be called John”, that when the Cuba crisis was over John gave two Papal medals, one to a chief American negotiator in the crisis, and the other one was to go to the man, whom the negotiator thought most deserving in his efforts to prevent a nuclear war. Not long afterwards Khruschev was seen playing with a medal at a meeting. It was the second of the two awarded by John XXIII. However, somewhat ironically it was Khruschev who destroyed even more churches in the Soviet Union than Stalin. Only in the future will we know how much Vatican II was hamstrung by American radical Catholics, like John Courtney Murray, and its own fairly disastrous Ostpolotik.
Let us then return to the unbelievable scenario of the Catholic Church flooded with Chinese Christians, and with them no doubt Japanese, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Malayan, Indonesian and of course Phillipinos. You would have a very different Church. The Chinese are the oldest continuous culture in the World, with the possible exception of India. The Middle East’s history has been completely disrupted by Islam, and India, precisely because of its different strong syncretistic religious traditions, and less centralization, would be somewhat problematic as a new heartland of Christianity.
Now Chinese history is very hierarchical, stresses the importance of the family, and interestingly has always had a very dim view of merchants, who now dominate the World as never before. This, of course, is the exact opposite of the West, where the beginning of capitalism emerges with the Medieval Italian city states, most notably Genoa, Venice, and Florence, and the Hanseatic League, and then flowers with the Spanish Empire, the Portuguese Empire, the British Empire, the Dutch and last but not least simply explodes into the present American Economic Empire. America could not be more different from China if it tried. Supposedly Democratic, it is in some ways not unlike a huge Medieval Venice and Genoa. It is an oligarchy of Plutocrats, and always has been. It is Calvin’s Geneva on a gargantuan scale. America is founded on Calvinism, Commerce, and more latterly Deism; a very destructive combination. In its psyche, it is Old Testament to the core. The white race is supreme, and everyone else, even the supposedly tyrannical English are just so many Phoenicians, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Canaanites to be slaughtered. The Ban against all these nations must be unremitting. Then lurking behind this veil of supreme self-righteousness, we find avarice and greed, and lust for power, politely masquerading as the Prosperity Gospel. How America can reconcile this with the life of Christ is hard to imagine.
In ancient China things could not be more different, because of the world view given to the Chinese by Confucius (551-479 B.C.). Confucius believes above all in self cultivation, which must also be about the improvement of the community. For Confucius education should be for everybody, and in that he is very modern. Up until his time, the aristocrats had tutors for their children and those in government taught aspiring bureaucrats and politicians, much as a blacksmith, or a carpenter would teach his apprentices in days of old, and not so long ago, plumbers, and electricians. Learning for Confucius was more than just about acquiring knowledge, it was about developing ones character. In that it was a very moral programme.
Now education in the West these days has nothing moral about it, but is simply about the acquiring of knowledge. It also could not be further removed from Ancestor worship, which is described in the third book of the classical Confucian books called “King”. In the third book, which is called Hiao-King (the book of filial piety) we see that the importance of Ancestor-worship is not simply ordinary filial piety, it is a duty which ranges from duty to the Emperor, princes, officials, and thence down to parents. Each house would have a tablet, some a room, and the wealthy, a separate building, the hall of ancestors, where, in the first part of April, there would take place the worship of ancestors, with libations, the burning of candles, paper and incense. Unfortunately in 1742 the Vatican forbade Christians taking part, where with a little imagination, which the Church did not have at that time, it could have easily been identified with devotion to the saints. One suspects that even the ferocity of the Communist era did not destroy this system of thinking, but simply perverted it. No doubt it is still there.
Where you might ask is all this leading to? In a word hierarchy, for both the Catholic Church, and Imperial China were hierarchical. The problem is that since the Second Vatican Council, which was meant to simplify the Church, but in many respects it did not, hierarchy became a dirty word. The obsession with changing important externals like habits, and the need to modernise, simply led to licence in theological, moral, and liturgical views. Everyone suffered from the Pope to the layman. Yes the bishops and Cardinals dropped the Cappa Magna ( Cappa Magna --- A prelate’s robe, ample like a cloak. It is red for cardinals, violet for bishops, is a sign of their jurisdiction, and is not worn during the administration of the sacraments. Some canons use it as a choir dress, but they wear the train gathered up. A Small Liturgical Dictionary, Cardinal Giacomo Lecaro, Burns and Oates, 1959), but we are still are overwhelmed with monsignors, canons, chaplains to the Holy See, Knights of St. Gregory, and many other things including such things as a proto notary apostolic, which almost has a G&S ring to it. One might ask, are Cardinals necessary? They do not have them in the Orthodox East, or in the Oriental Churches. Instead we mangled the Mass into a most curious thing that it has become, getting rid of minor orders, when they should have been kept. Ever since Constantine made Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire, worldly titles have deluged the Church, hook, line and sinker to devasting effect. In fairness during the collapse of the Roman Empire during the Barbarian invasions, it was the bishops who often held everything together, later ably assisted by the monks.
There is then a simple hierarchy of the Pope, bishops, priests, and deacons. There is religious life, and there is the vast and rich life of the laity that has its third orders, confraternities, and lay communities. Do we need anymore? It would be mad if say China became Christian tomorrow that we would suddenly have a Church filled with Mandarins (In fact we do in the Roman Curia), but the concept of changelessness that is in the Chinese nature would help us return to a changelessness that the Orthodox still have and cherish. The problem is that the supposedly informed observer will say that the Orthodox lands are somewhat backward and less modern than Western Countries. The question to ask the not so astute observer is “What good are all the mod cons, the holidays, and the comfort, if they lead us to Hell?” Did not Christ say that:
“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow, and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7. 13)
So much then for Origen’s Universalism, whereby all men will be saved.