Rorate Caeli

Neo-Triumphalism: George Weigel's Offenses Against Pious Ears

The latest article by Mr. Weigel in First Things is yet another in a series of articles wherein he touts the "triumphs" of Vatican II over the previous magisterium. This time, he does so by making fun of the former head of the Holy Office during the years before, during, and after the Council, His Eminence Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani.

And to what purpose? Mr. Weigel implicitly embraces a hermeneutic of rupture by suggesting that Dignitatis humanae deviates from the Church's long-standing teaching that error should not be allowed to flourish in society; indeed, his writing suggests the embracing of the modernist doctrines condemned by Pius IX, those doctrines of latitudinarianism and pluralism in society.

His argument could be expressed like this: a pre-conciliar ultra-conservative got utterly silenced during the Council on the issue of religious freedom. Having silenced the bad guy, allegedly the Church now claims that the state has no competence in restricting or promoting truth in religion (against the teaching of the entire tradition), and so therefore, there is a new theology of religious tolerance of persons, wherein one cannot be discriminated because of their abhorrent religious ideas, even if that means they believe, for instance, in mass suicides or terrorism in the name of religion-- they should still be respected and tolerated in society, because, well, we believe in tolerance.

The real purpose of the article is revealed when he tries to show the secularists taking up the "old teaching" of the Church, and in the name of secularism use a "no tolerance" policy to discriminate against religious groups. This is convenient for Weigel, because it shows that the old theology was in fact very bad, and vindicates the new theology for being so egalitarian.

However, there are not a few errors in Weigel's argument.

First, Weigel knows that the actual doctrinal teaching of the document is one of the most disputed of the Council, and a definitive interpretation has yet to be given. He therefore claims a particular interpretation, his interpretation, unsurprisingly one of rupture with the past, in order to demonstrate his point; namely, that Ottaviani, representative of tradition and the evil pre-conciliar days, paved the way for the persecution of the Church by the modern state that took up his outdated doctrines.

Further, he knows that the false interpretation of this document was one of the greatest catalysts in the Abp. Lefebvre affair, and so Mr. Weigel uses his column to claim a sort of triumphalism of the Spirit of Vatican II over those who would remain firmly attached to tradition or at least the "reform in continuity" as the hermeneutic for interpreting the documents of the Council -- including Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. What he fails to do, however, is give the other side of the story, and that is that this program following a false interpretation of the Council has done nothing but diminish the Church's voice in the public sphere, resulting in an entire loss of Catholic identity, while at the same time not at all preventing the great persecutions of Catholics in the post-Conciliar age, including in our own days.

Finally, and this is perhaps the most truly grievous error, Mr. Weigel makes the mistake of placing on a similar level the teaching authority of the Church, who cannot err when teaching on matters of faith or morals, with the fallible judgments of those leaders in civil society (for instance, the promotion of Secularism). In doing so, his statements implicitly diminish the authority of the Church, and likens the claim that the Church has over the fullness of the truth to that of a modern, subjective State -- one whose "truth" is one among many, rooted in an arbitrary positivism or personal conviction of what one thinks is right or wrong, and without reference to an objective truth rooted in divine and natural law. Surely, more respect can be given for the authority of the Church, if not for one of her Princes.

In the future, it may help Mr. Weigel for him to begin with theology in order to correctly summarize events of the life of the Church in light of the truth of the matter, rather than in the light of political spectrums and intrigues, which, while perhaps may make for good journalism and great laughs, have no bearing on God's divine truth.

Herein lies the greatest difficulty of the neo-conservative position-- the true fruit of the nouvelle theologie of the mid-20th century: in the embracing of modern philosophies, one is no longer able to know anything with real certainty anymore. The faith becomes an entirely personal conviction devoid of an ecclesial dimension, and the law of non-contradiction becomes more of a guideline, rather than a logical premise. And people like Weigel, who think that they are holding a Catholic position and building up the faith by championing a program of modernizing the Church, in fact only succeed in leading people to error and confusion.

[Dominicus is a new contributor to Rorate Caeli, with posts of a more theological bent.]

[Image: Cardinal Ottaviani celebrates Mass on December 10, 1963, in the Church of Santa Maria di Loreto, Rome, for the Roman Union of Bakers - source: Biblioteche di Roma - Cinecittà Luce archives.]

28 comments:

im-blogger said...

Welcome as a contributor! Nice first post :)

Unknown said...

Excellent critique that I was able to grasp even though the issues are complex...please continue to help us all understand what we have lost and need to regain! Bravo!

Unknown said...

Thank you for your lucid post that helps me better understand the complex theological and philosophical issues surrounding the havoc that was wrought by VII modernist interpreters...as a recent revert I thirst for this type of clear explication of thorny issues. I was completely lost for 40 years but thanks to blogs like this and posts like yours I am coming to understand how valuable the ideas are that we need to recover to see the Church and our individual immortal souls flourish again!

Supertradmum said...

No offense, but I have long seen him as a lightweight when it comes to understanding Church doctrine, Church history, etc. He, to me, is merely a soundbite man. He is typically shallow and in error his interpretations, sort of like neo-cons in politcs....

The real scholars are questioning Vat. II more and more...

Common Sense said...

Pawns like George Wiegel aren't good for anything else apart from screeching and slober at his paymasters' feet. In job market there's slim prospect for useless drone like George. Should he lose his job, he's going to be redundent for the rest of his life.

Dan Hunter said...

God bless Mr Weigel, but his words on this matter mean less than nothing [if that's possible]

It has been proven, by much more authoritative men. that "Dignitatis Humanae" and other documents of VII contain, at best, extremely ambiguous and novel including downright silly ideas and notions, that the Church does not teach.

I cannot comment on Mr Weigels motive[s] for this but he has been proven wrong.

John L said...

'The true fruit of the nouvelle theologie of the mid-20th century: in the embracing of modern philosophies, one is no longer able to know anything with real certainty anymore. The faith becomes an entirely personal conviction devoid of an ecclesial dimension, and the law of non-contradiction becomes more of a guideline, rather than a logical premise.'

This is too facile, and undermines the general argument. Even the nouvelle theologie of Henri Boullard, criticised by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange for embracing Blondel's definition of truth, is not open to this sweeping accusation of removing any ecclesial dimension from faith and making the law of non-contradiction a guideline rather than a logical principle. The thought of Yves Congar is much less open to these accusation (see e.g. his theology textbook Foi et theologie); its errors are much more subtle. You will lose any serious debate if you take this sort of approach.

Angelo said...

This is great! Dominicus, thanks for joining Rorate Caeli. I look forward to your future articles. Reading this article of yours has been a real relief. You have given a glimpse of the horror of the modernist heresy. Thanks for exposing that the "Mother of all Heresies" as St. Pius X called modernism, is regrettably alive and well in the Church today. God Bless! May your articles crush this heresy in the minds and hearts of many. Sancta Maria Mater Dei, Ora Pro Nobis!

Michael Ortiz said...


This is a fine piece. Thank you for posting it.

I would be wary of conflating "neo-con" in regards to the Church and politics, as some commentators have done here.

Conservative politics is a human activity wherein human judgments--often on highly prudential matters--clash strongly. Traditional Catholics should, I think, be careful of using a broad brush to approve or disapprove of political opinions with the same way they (correctly) cite Traditional Catholic Doctrine. Just because you (rightly) hold to Tradition is no guarantee that your politics aren't simply wacky. Sure, Tradition sheds a lot of light, but when applied to the political realm, there is more room for different takes on the same issue.

I am not refering to abortion, "gay" marriage, etc.

Ezekiel Mossback said...

Weigel is intelligent and very well-informed. He knows many things, and writes well.

But he is not at all a good theologian. Dominicus has it right that he presents things almost entirely from the political perspective. Which has its value, but when he presumes to delve into theological interpretations, Weigel should be more humble.

He's an Americanist.

David said...

I remember Mr Weigel coming to give a talk in Glasgow many year ago. I was a recent convert and indiscriminately enthusiastic about most things 'Catholic'. However, his talk struck a sour note with me: he seemed mostly interested in selling his books and his theology seemed to be a classic example of what Fr Chad Ripperger has described as magisterialism:

Magisterialism is a fixation on the teachings that pertain only to the current magisterium.
...
Neo-conservatives have fallen into this way of thinking i.e. the only standard by which they judge orthodoxy is whether or not one follows the current magisterium.
...

Inevitably, this magisterialism has led to a form of positivism. Since there are no principles of judgment other than the current magisterium, whatever the current magisterium says is always what is "orthodox." In other words, psychologically the neo-conservatives have been left in a position in which the extrinsic and intrinsic tradition are no longer included in the norms of judging whether something is orthodox or not. As a result, whatever comes out of the Vatican regardless of its authoritative weight, is to be held, even if it contradicts what was taught with comparable authority in the past. Since non-infallible ordinary acts of the magisterium can be erroneous, this leaves one in a precarious situation if one only takes as true what the current magisterium says. While we are required to give religious assent even to the non-infallible teachings of the Church, what are we to do when a magisterial document contradicts other current or previous teachings and one does not have any more authoritative weight than the other? It is too simplistic merely to say that we are to follow the current teaching. What would happen if in a period of crisis, like our own, a non-infallible ordinary magisterial teaching contradicted what was in fact the truth? If one part of the magisterium contradicts another, both being at the same level, which is to believed? Unfortunately, what has happened is that many neo-conservatives have acted as if non-infallible ordinary magisterial teachings (e.g. the role of inculturation in the liturgy as stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church) are, in fact, infallible when the current magisterium promulgates them. This is a positivist mentality.


This, to me, sums up the mentality of people like George Weigel, Tim Staples, et al to a "T".

Nama said...

Any Catholics who honestly like Vatican II is questionable.

JabbaPapa said...

That's an interesting critique of the underlying theological assumptions of Monsignor Weigel.


However, the phrase "error has no rights" is not a doctrine, but more of a slogan, and it is a simplified paraphrase of Pope Leo XIII's more involved and thoughtful declaraion that : "One thing, however, remains always true - that the liberty which is claimed for all to do all things is not, as We have often said, of itself desirable, inasmuch as it is contrary to reason that error and truth should have equal rights." (Encyclical Libertas, 34 (1888).)

That slogan certainly serves as a useful reminder of the Pope's profoundly just teaching in that Encyclical, but one should always be on the guard against starting to think that it has a doctrinal value per se.

Now, this is not to disagree with you, Dominicus, as this Papal doctrine is exactly as relevant for the purposes of your critique of Monsignor Weigel's article, given that he commits precisely this error in that article, of according an exaggerated so-called "doctrinal" value to the contents of that slogan, therefore motivating exactly the so-called "rupture" in question !!!

In any case, your own critique provides far more food for thought than Monsignor Weigel does ...

Dr. Timothy J. Williams said...

I can hardly bring myself to slog through the stuff that Mr. Weigel writes, but that is because I have suffered through a number of his inane talks, and as they went nowhere, I am confident the same can be same of his writings. He is an obvious, confused lightweight, but he has a surprisingly large audience, at least where I teach. Frankly, anybody who makes a career out of praising Vatican II or J-P II needs can be safely ignored.

Jack said...

It is true that error has no rights at the expense of truth.

However, PEOPLE have rights--even people who are in error.

New Catholic said...

John L., pay close attention: he's not saying Nouvelle Theologie is like that, he's saying the neo-conservative position (as a fruit of Nouvelle Theologie) is like that. In other words, the neo-conservative thought is a mediocre side product of the Nouvelle Theologie.

Froben said...

"Herein lies the greatest difficulty of the neo-conservative position-- the true fruit of the nouvelle theologie of the mid-20th century: in the embracing of modern philosophies, one is no longer able to know anything with real certainty anymore."

So, then...

If I choose to embrace modern philosophy, I am deprived of certitude.

If I choose to embrace the philosophia perennis, then I regain it.

Certitude therefore becomes not that quality of knowledge which compels me to accept propositions as true, but rather merely one proposition amongst many whose truth to me depends on my choice.

It refers primarily to my attitude, to the way I talk about and behave towards the propositions as either subject or not subject to doubt, rather than to the propositions themselves as either convincing or unconvincing.

It may well be, however, that some of the assertions of the modern philosophies are quite true, and that a proper realm of certitude lies in the knowing of one's own limits, rather than in the knowing of facts or the truths of propositions. For example, in the knowledge of people's consciences, I profess a radical ignorance, but a *certain* ignorance.

Woody said...

As Alvaro D'Ors said, Divine Law recognizes no rights, only duties.

Froben said...

"As Alvaro D'Ors said, Divine Law recognizes no rights, only duties."

And, subject as we are to Divine Law, don't the duties of men to one another constitute rights?

Dominicus said...

Thank you all for your kind welcome to the blog! I am looking forward to posting on a number of topics related to Vatican II during this Year of Faith.

It is rather difficult to distill some theological notions in to a short posting, and so I am grateful that the combox is able to explore some of these ideas in greater detail-- I hope that this and future postings will help us all to discover what the truth of the matter is, especially in a time when that truth can be masked by new formulations or philosophies that may obscure the perennial teaching of the Church.

In domino nostro,
Dominicus

Bwangi Kilonzo said...

I am ready for the end of the Pontificate of Mr. Weigel

creaturam istam cerevisiae said...

I agree that Mr. Weigel's conflation of the lifestyle left's version of "error has no rights" with the Church's traditional understanding of the relative rights of error and truth is misleading insofar as it puts the state's moral judgment on the same level of the Church.

However, a fair reading of his article would suggest that he is also crediting Cardinal Ottaviani with foreseeing the dilemma we find ourselves in today. As Mr. Weigel's article recounts, His Eminence was concerned that abrogating the state's responsibility to uphold religious Truth would lead to indifferentism and eventually outright hostility towards the Faith. Thus, Weigel concludes that the post-conciliar Church's seeming rejection of Cardinal Ottaviani's position is partially responsible for the threats to religious liberty that the Church is facing today.

To be fair, while Mr. Weigel's article is by no means a theological treatise on the issue, neither does it appear to be a neo-triumphalist condemnation of Cardinal Ottaviani or the Church's traditional teachings.

Woody said...

@Froben: No.

Froben said...

So if God demands absolutely that you behave towards me in a certain way in all circumstances, then I do not in any meaningful sense of the term have a "right," on the basis of God's law, to be treated by you in that way?

Said otherwise, God authors our natures. All obligations towards one another, rights, flowing from our natures are actually authoritative on the basis of Divine Law. Call them what you will, they are rights, and muddying the language may help you persist in weird opinions, but it certainly isn't moving the discourse along.

Ezekiel Mossback said...

fair point, and well put Froben

Presbyter said...

Weigel and the whole neo-con/neo-Catholic/ EWTN nexus remind me of the old Orthodox taunt that Roman Catholics are "Pope-worshippers." The recent election of Papa Bergoglio must really stretch their rather thin intellectual world-view. I well remember within a few weeks of Benedict XVI's election he came out with a book grandly titled "God's Choice". I guess God changed His mind last February 11th then.
That term "magisterialism" fits the mind-set well.

Acreator said...

I happen to have a friend who met cardinal Ottaviani in person, in Rome. He was old, blind, and he asked my friend to come closer. Then he lay his soft hands on the face of my friend, and said:
- You are a good person, I can feel that. I trust you.

He was not at all that icecold character that pope Francis should have described lately. He was opposed to the German Theology of Rahner and Frings - and by that also the young Ratzinger. He realized the consequenses if secular error was to be treated at the same level ar religious truth. We live with that now, and even if cardinal Ottaviani was stuck in the old structures of the curia, he was right in cause. Wiegel´ article is mediocre.

Rescue said...

Is this the same George Wiegel who enthusiastically supported the war in Iraq and who always support Americas unnecessary wars of agression.
Given the fact that he is part of a neocon death cult, why on earth should we even listen or give his ideas about theology any credence.