Rorate Caeli

The majority and the minority at the Council -
or, rather, two minorities?

In this small snippet from Dr. Roberto de Mattei's fascinating history of the Council, the author tries to answer some perplexing questions. Was the Second Vatican Council dominated by a "progressive" majority? Or were the "progressives" also in the minority? And, if so, why did they turn out to be the most influential minority? [Contributor and translator: Francesca Romana].

If we were to limit this to an “official” historical account, based on the results of the voting, we would have to deny the existence of an internal struggle at the Council between opposing alliances, given that the conciliar documents were all approved by an overwhelming majority. In fact, no Council, more than Vatican II, had experienced such tensions and conflicts between opposing groups. Historians, in order not to deny this evidence, trace it to the contrast between a “majority” of progressives and a “minority” of conservatives - destined to be defeated.

In actual fact, the clash occurred between two minorities which theologian Gerard Philips, of Louvain, described in 1963 as two opposing “trends” in 20th century philosophy and theology(426): one more concerned about being faithful to traditional propositions, the other more attentive to sharing the message with the modern man (427).

The first “trend”, nonetheless, was the official position of the Magisterium of the Church reaffirmed until the pontificate of Pius XII; the second “trend” was the heterodox one, repeatedly censured and condemned by the same ecclesiastical Magisterium. As Melloni notes, it would be difficult to underestimate the importance of Philips’s article(428), in which the two positions were put on the same level, with the author having a clear preference for the second.

There was, as well an alliance of forces, substantially joint committees (clearly) defined from some voting, such as the first on De fontibus Revelationis. From that moment on, counting on a slightly numerical superiority, the progressives began, however, to indicate their adversaries as a “minority” and in the end convinced them to be so. The moment in which the “moderate” Council Fathers, who constituted the majority, accepted this presentation of the contrasts in act, they marked their own defeat.

Before the last session of the Council, Mons. Carli wrote in a letter to Abbé Berto [peritus working with the Titular Archbishop of Synnada in Phrygia and Superior General of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, Abp. M. Lefebvre]:

The more I study about what happened in the first three sessions, the more I think that there was not a majority” convinced in the Council, but a “majority” swayed. There are two “minorities” one Roman and Thomist in which your Excellency has an eminent rank, the other anti-Roman and anti-Thomist, not so many more than the first, and qualitatively by far of inferior worth, but by some grievous Divine permission (quam incomprensibilia sunt iudicia Eius!) it is that which has swayed the “majority” through powerful human means: the important press, the radio, political and diplomatic influences and money. (429)
According to Melissa Wilde, the success of the progressives can be explained by a simple sociological fact:
“Since the progressives built a wider and more flexible organization than their conservative counterparts, they were able to develop positions of compromise that the vast majority of the bishops could sustain.”(430)

 The progressive minority prevailed due to the superior force in their organization, but this was deriving in turn from the superior force of their convictions.

“The success of a minority – so writes a scholar of the laws of Revolutions – ensues from a composition of forces in virtue that the most noticed and the most determined are able to obtain assent from the less active collaboration of the majority. In such a case, the most passionate get the better of the less passionate, the most determined over the least daring, the audacious over the shy, the vigorous over the weak, the most persevering and tenacious over of those who digress and equivocate and in general those who know what they want and they want it passionately over those who have doubts, change their minds, hesitate and recollect themselves.” (431)
History is always made by minorities and what prevails in the clash is not the number but the determination and intensity with which these minorities fight their battles. The tendency of the moderates is always to yield to the extreme currents of the Revolution, as it happened with the sustainers of Kerensky in the Russian Revolution and with the Girondists in the French one. “Faced with the Revolution and the Counter-Revolution, the moderate revolutionaries waver, in general, trying to obtain absurd conciliations. But, in the end, they favour the first against the second.” (432)

When the minorities organize themselves, they always do it with discretion, and at times in secret. It is not inappropriate to speak in this sense, of secret meetings and conspiracies. Today, to belittle a historical work, one accuses it of being inclined to “conspiracy theory.” Admitting the existence of conspiracies only means that history is made up of the liberty of men and not the fruit of a spirit, nor of immanent reason, of which men are only the instruments. In actual fact there is no great historical event, beginning with the two big ones of the modern age, the French and the Russian, that did not initiate with “plots”, more or less successful. James H. Billington(433), who studied the origins of revolutionary “faith” documented the conspiratorial and hidden origins of the principal political movements in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Second Vatican Council did not escape this historical law, which reconnected in an underground way the progressivism of the innovators of Modernism that went back to the beginning of the century.

On the 3rd of December 1962, Mons. Borromeo noted in his Diary:

“We are in full-swing modernism. Not the ingenuous, open, aggressive and combative modernism at the time of Pius X. No. Today’s Modernism is more subtle, more camouflaged, more incisive and more hypocritical. It does not want to raise another tempest; it wants the whole Church to find itself modernist without even noticing it. (…) Tradition is acknowledged even in the new modernism, but consequent to Scripture, originated from Scripture and the Magisterium, which in its origins had only Scripture. Christ is kept in Modernism but He is not the historical Christ; it is a Christ that the religious conscience has elaborated because (He) is a human figure, well outlined and concrete, (He) would be the support of religious experiences which could not be expressed in their richness and intensity because of purely rational and abstract concepts. (…) Therefore, today’s Modernism saves all of Christianity, its dogma and organization, but it empties everything and turns it upside down. It is no longer a Religion that comes from God, but a Religion that comes directly from man and indirectly from the divine in man.”( 434)

427G.Philips, Deux tendances, cit.,p.9
428Cfr. A. Melloni,The beginning of the first period, cit.,p.80 .
429Letter from Abbè Berto to Mons.Carli of 29th June 1965, in N. BUONASORTE., Per la “pura, piena, integra fede cattolica”, cit., p.141. (For the pure, full, integral Catholic faith,).
430 WILDE, p.57.
431ANDRE JOUSSAIN, La loi des rèvolutions, Flammarion, Paris 1950, p.173.
432P. CORREA DE OLIVIERA, An observation by Saint John Bosco sheds light on the cause of the Revolution, in Revolution and Counter-Revolution, cit., p. 289 (pp. 285-292).
433Cfr. JAMES H. BILLINGTON, With fire in the mind. The origins of revolutionary faith. Il Mulino, Bologna 1986.
434BORROMEO, Diary, 3rd December 1962.
[Roberto de Mattei, Il Concilio Vaticano II: una storia mai scritta (The Second Vatican Council – a never before written history), Turin, Lindau, 2010. Note: we have been authorized by Edizioni Lindau s.d.l, Turin, to make these and other excerpts of this book available to our readers in this blog.]