Saturday, 6 October 2012

Is it true that Vatican II issued no condemnations?

In the most obvious sense of the question, it is true that the Council documents contain no condemnations. That is, the Council documents do not include at the end a list of opinions contrary to the exposition contained in the documents themselves, listed as being condemned, and attracting that wonderful descriptor, anathema sit. In particular, a wording that condemns the persons who might hold these contrary opinions is absent.

It is correct, I think, to see in this something of significance for the nature the Second Vatican Council and for the nature of one of the attitudes that it sought to encourage. It is a sign of a positive engagement between the Church and the wider world, a positive engagement with the culture of our times. But, and I think the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes demonstrates this particularly, it is a critical engagement and not a compliant one. So the Council sought a positive and intelligent engagement with the world.

But is it true to say that condemnations are absent from the expositions of the Council documents themselves? They are certainly few and far between, but when the assertion that the Council issued no condemnations was aired at last evening's Tablet lecture, three examples immediately ran through my mind.

From Sacrosanctum Concilium n.22:
... no other person, even if he be a priest, may add, remove, or change anything in the liturgy on his own authority.
OK, this is not in the form of a condemnation. But it does clearly indicate a manner of behaviour that is not supported by the Council document concerned.

From Gaudium et Spes n.80:
... this most holy synod makes its own the condemnations of total war already pronounced by recent popes, and issues the following declaration.

Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities or extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation.
Condemnations do not come much clearer than that! And n.81 contains a condemnation of the arms trade. Though the Vatican website appears somewhat clumsy in its translation - my print copy refers to "greatest curse" rather than "treacherous trap" - it does communicate some force.
Therefore, we say it again: the arms race is an utterly treacherous trap for humanity, and one which ensnares the poor to an intolerable degree.
 And from Gaudium et Spes n.51:
Therefore from the moment of its conception life must be guarded with the greatest care while abortion and infanticide are unspeakable crimes.

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