Rorate Caeli

Religious "fervor" and the outcome of
the First Session of the Second Vatican Council

The First Session (1962) of the last Council was the only one in which no documents were approved - and the only one held during the papacy of the man who had planned and called the assembly, Pope John XXIII. Was it also the most important of the sessions? Roberto de Mattei thinks so. From his book "Il Concilio Vaticano II: una storia mai scritta" (Turin, Lindau, 2010, pages 278-280), on the never before told history of the Council [Contributor: Francesca Romana; 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]:

The first session was by far the most important one of the Council, because it marked the direction that it would maintain until the conclusion of the works. “During the first tumultuous weeks – Melissa Wilde  notes – through a combination of “protest-events” and of votes obtained with great difficulty, the progressives were able to change the course of the Council and to establish an organizational structure which would serve them in the following years.”418 

The work report which Cardinal Siri drew up from the first period was disquieting: 

The Council has revealed that a vague direction in the Church is being outlined; this is represented by a group  of the German language and the like.  It is organized aliquatenus [to a certain degree]. This is a partial attempt that one cannot affirm with certainty, but one sees it in the  facts, that someone has a clear and deliberate plan in mind; there is rage against reason, theology and the law.  One sees the end of kerygmalism, that is, often that of eliminating Tradition, Ecclesia etc., this is more unconscious than conscious, but it is helped along by the lack of intuition of those who want absolutely to adapt as much as possible to the Protestants, to the Orthodox etc.,in very many cases, literature prevails on theology.  Many beautiful and also true dissertations pertain to literary considerations on dogma, not dogma itself; there is talk of a Theologia nova and the concept of this, let alone the aim, appear to be very dark and perhaps dangerous. The term Theologia nova was coined by a Belgian bishop at the Council.”419  

The climate that characterized this first phase of the debate was defined by Melissa Wilde as one of “collective effervescence”. 420   The sociologist Durkheim defines this term: “the state in which men find themselves  when…they believe that they have been transported into a  world completely different to that which they have actually before them.” 421   Such an inner state, from a sociological perspective, is the fruit of the interpersonal relationships of a vast group of people who find themselves together for the first time, and, in an atmosphere of euphoria, attribute a meaning to their “being together”.  “It is a euphoric state- again Wilde explains-, the result of individuals who gather together, in this case, to venerate, to discuss and to engage themselves in the changing of an  ancient institution which all of them fervently believe in.”422         

This phenomenon is well known to historians.  Ronald A. Knox traced it out in an incisive history of “religious enthusiasm” 423  showing that the model of “charismatic enthusiasm” has been a recurring one since the times of the Montanist heresy. Bishop Helder Camara's [an auxiliary of Rio de Janeiro and one of the leader of the Progressists] letters seem to offer a typical example of this atmosphere of self-exaltation and of very little spiritual discernment, [an atmosphere that] was attributed to the intervention of “the Holy Spirit”. It is not surprising that many bishops, interviewed by Padre Rocco Caporale during the Council, credited their personal experience at the first session to “the Holy Spirit”. It was during this session that “the spirit of the Council” started to become a “theological mindset.” 


418 Melissa Wilde, Vatican II: a sociological analysis of religious change, Princeton University Press, Oxford 2007. p.17

419 Sir, Diary, p.383.  The worrying elements revealed by Card. Siri in a letter to Mons. Alberto Castelli, Secretary of the Italian Episcopal Conference, were the following:
1: Antipathy if not even hate against Theology.  2. The proposal of a new theology. 3. The proposal of a new method in theology. 4. The prevalence of oratory and literary dissertations comparable to musical variations of the theme, above serious and rational theological affirmations and deductions. 5.The ecstatic falling in love with new words and new paradigms of words very old and common, with the assumption of revealing something which was considered “new” and “better”. 6. “Collegiality” in the Church: suspicion-aimed at reducing the primate and slipping a democratic principle into the constitution of the hierarchic Church.7. The co-government in the Church.  9.The One solemn teaching authority . 9. The charismatic action of the Holy Spirit. 10. Divine Tradition fading.11. The subordination of biblical exegesis to the information and the postulations of rationalistic criticism. 12. Everything has to be subordinated to “the pastoral”. 13. Everything has to be subordinated to “ecumenical” ends. 14. You need to respond to the expectations of the world. (Siri to Castelli, 1 January 196(3), cit. in N. BUONAPARTE. Siri, Tradition and the 20th Century, cit., p. 291). 
420 WILDE,pp22-26; J.A. Coleman, Vatican II as a social movement, cit.,pp.12-19                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                422WILDE .423RONALD A: KNOX, Illuminati and Charismatics. A history of religious enthusiasm.424 See also MATTHEW P: LAWSON; The Holy Spirit as Conscience Collective, in “Sociology of Religion,” n.4(1999), pp341-361.425 As an example, Bishop Miguel Miranda y Gomez, representative of Bishop. Camara’s group for Mexico, confided to Padre Caporale of being convinced that he was not the only one to sense the profound presence of the Holy Spirit.


shane said...

Thank you for posting this. (Incidentally these posts of historical tidbits are fascinating). The history of Vatican II is both very interesting and very depressing.

John L said...

This is interesting, as it reveals the limitations of the conspiracy view of Vatican II, where the evils of the council were due to conspiracy on the part of leading European clerics. Such clerics did conspire, but the atmosphere that permitted their success was not the product of their conspiracy, according to this account, but preceded it. The description sounds like the Estates General called by Louis XIII, and the Oath of the Tennis Court sworn by French aristocrats abolishing their own privileges. However, the Estates General had not been called for centuries, whereas an ecumenical council had happened ninety years before Vatican II with none of the ill effects of the latter council. What happened in the interim?

Anonymous said...

From the extended version of Cardinal Siri's work report:
10. Divine Tradition fading.11. The subordination of biblical exegesis to the information and the postulations of rationalistic criticism. 12. Everything has to be subordinated to “the pastoral”. 13. Everything has to be subordinated to “ecumenical” ends. 14. You need to respond to the expectations of the world.

That about says it all, I think. But we are told by the modernists that it was all the work of the Holy Spirit. Not in my frame of reference!


Anonymous said...

Interesting article, especially about the psychological/sociological effects of such a gathering. It brought to mind Fulton Sheen's description of his experience at Vatican II in his autobiography. He definitely seemed to have been experiencing that euphoria attributed to the Holy Spirit.

M. A. said...

"The worrying elements revealed by Card. Siri in a letter to Mons. Alberto Castelli, ..

1: Antipathy if not even hate against Theology,..." etc.
One would think the Abbe de Nantes had been privy to this letter because those were the very concerns he loudly bemoaned and railed against.

As 'punishment' and to silence him, he was suspended and ignored.

We know our Lady Herself came to warn us because Msgr. Pacelli said so when he stated:

"I am worried by the Blessed Virgin's messages to Lucy of Fatima. This persistence of Mary about the dangers which menace the Church is a divine warning against the suicide of altering the Faith, in her liturgy, her theology and her soul. ..."

So the Church receives a persistent Divine warning, and what happens?

We all know how even She had to be silenced. It really boggles the mind.

joan said...

A blog post to complement this one:
Why liberal catholics are the worst enemies of the Church.

Capreolus said...

I agree: very interesting post! A couple of minor adjustments to John L's perceptive remarks: Louis XIII of course is Louis XVI (just a typo); however, the Estates-General had been called under Louis XIV (le Roi Soleil), or better, the regency. It was about 150 years from that assembly to the disaster of 1789 but only about 90 years from Vatican I to Vatican II. Perhaps (in general) the same "spirit" was at work in both these intervals?

Anonymous said...

I believe the German word for the sensation is schwaemerei.

Bernonensis said...

It's curious that Cardinal Siri should have spoken of theologia nova as a term coined by a bishop at the Council. Weren't the name (nouvelle theologie) and the errors it stands for both well-known more than a decade earlier? I'm thinking of Garrigou-Lagrange's 1946 article in the Angelicum, which I believe was the first to apply that term to the modernist trends in theology then current. That Siri should not have been familiar with it seems odd, unless we should see it as yet more proof that the Curia was, and perhaps still is, woefully out of touch with what is going on. This would explain a lot.

New Catholic said...

Yes, Siri would surely be aware of that - who wasn't among the Church leaders at the time, particularly after Humani Generis? He certainly meant it as a Latinized term and spoken by a Council Father himself.

Anonymous said...

Yes, this is very interesting indeed. I am most certain that more and more will be revealed as time goes on.


Jacob said...

Regarding the sea change between Vatican I and Vatican II, I read awhile ago at a place I now do not recall the accusation that Vatican I went as far as it did with strengthening the position of the papacy because the papacy was able to strong-arm the missionary bishops due to their reliance on the Propagation of the Faith for funds.

Conspiracy talk if you ask me, but I have no real way of knowing if it is true or not.

Anonymous said...

Who would have "thunk" that venerable bishops and cardinals were carried away by a "nouvelle" idea, like children with a new toy?, and that they would be struck by illuminism ascribing their euphoria to being touched by the Holy Ghost? They also found ordinary concepts to be extraordinary occurrences, such as the phrase "the Poeple of God" to encompass all Christians and believers, and the concept of the Pilgrim Church instead of the "Militant Church" which sounded too bellicose.
This spirit of exaltation was evident from the start in the inaugural address of JXXIII, who affirmed that "the eyes of the World were fixed on us"...
Being a devout Catholic at the time I do not remember being fixed or transfixed by this event, but rather puzzled, and thinking: why summon a Council, what is wrong with the Church? What is the purpose of that "aggiornamento" motto?
As pertains the Catholic flock in general, they were as oblivious of the event as myself. The only people that had their eyes fixed on the Council were the liberal media, with Time Magazine at the head and the Kennedy brothers, who were expecting liberal reforms of the Councl to promote their political aspirations.
There were however sage Cardinals and bishops at this event who were esceptic of this "irrational exhuberance" and noticed the deviations from traditional Catholic Doctrine, like Cardinals Ottaviani, Siri and Bacci, and bishops like the Superior General of the Dominican Order.
Outside this meeting there were also voices like the Abbè George de Nantes, who foresaw what was coming even before the Council started.
The epitome of this euphoric feeling is the document Gaudium and Spes, full of unfounded optimism about the future of humanity and the Church in general. In this regard Cardinal Ratzinger once wrote that this document should not have been written.
To summarize the subject let me point out that some bishops never signed the documents or signed them selectively, to settle the discussion of the Council's infallibility, that requires unanimity to be so declared.

Anonymous said...

As always, the biggest questions in my mind when reading something like this are "so what exactly are we looking at here, and were/are actions like those of Archbishop Lefebvre outstandingly justifiable given what appears to be the incredible situation faced by the Church?

I mean, honestly, the word for the bishops behavior at the council is "asinine," and the same goes for the changes that followed universally. Every devout Catholic has always known this in the back of his or her mind: the last council is suspiciously suspicious about the Church up to the time of council itself...


Anonymous said...

Given that the Council appears to have been used as the vehicle for the destruction of the Church, and that the implementation of what was successful in the de-Catholicizing of England in the 17th century was applied universally,(i.e. the new mass), then the words of St Vincent of Lerins to attach oneself to antiquity are all important. Indiscreet obedience has brought us to this pass. A Loyal Reader

Alan Aversa said...

So there was no "euphoria" when bishops met at previous councils?

It seems De Mattei is calling the bishops delusional because they attribute the Holy Ghost rather than natural causes to the First Session's "atmosphere."

As for theologia nova and the change in method for theology after Vatican II, Pope St. Pius X was prophetic regarding these Modernists' change of theological method away from scholasticism. Pope St. Pius X says they say: "Reform of philosophy, especially in the seminaries: the scholastic philosophy is to be relegated to the history of philosophy among obsolete systems, and the young men are to be taught modern philosophy which alone is true and suited to the times in which we live. [cf. Optatum Totius 15.] Reform of theology; rational theology is to have modern philosophy for its foundation, and positive theology is to be founded on the history of dogma." (Pascendi 38.).

Anonymous said...

Leo XIII, in Aeterni Patris, para.23., says that the heretics contend that if only Aquinas could be taken away, they could easily abolish the Church. Well, they seem to have gotten rid of Aquinas in the seminaries. A Loyal Reader.