The hermeneutic of the Holy Spirit

When it came to liturgical reform, one group of Catholics read Vatican II as a invitation to see what they could get away with and the other read it as a mistake that needed to be ignored, explained away, or interpreted as human and fallible words. The first group took no notice of the calls for balance, e.g. work in the vernacular and preserve Latin as the norm; experiment with new styles of music and ensure a pride of place to Gregorian chant; reform all elements of sacred architecture and set up schools of sacred art, etc. The second group does not make the slightest effort to suggest or impliment any reforms in the Tridentine liturgy, even extremely minimal ones: a greater promotion of the Missa cum populo (or merely encouraging the people to respond with the altar servers), petitioning to have the readings read in the vernacular, maybe even (gasp!) a simplification of the Kyrie or Domine non sum dignus. The problem is not that the liturgical manual is what it is, but that there is an extreme hardness of heart on the part of traditionalists to suggest even minimal attempts to be faithful to the demands of the Council.

What is needed is – and how would we even start? – to read Vatican II as the work of the Holy Spirit. We’re probably still too close to it for this to happen – some Council fathers are still alive and have a hard time relating to the documents except as the works of men and the world. As much as I like Ratzinger, for example, he usually seems to speak of the Council in this way.


  1. Aegis said,

    April 17, 2017 at 10:42 am

    This link might be of interest to you.

    I guess one can never be too sure about primary source documents. One would expect EWTN to be reliable. But it’s not like I have a copy of the Italian text of L’Osservatore Romano from December 4th, 1969 to compare against the linked text.

    Anyway, I’m curious about what you make of it.

    • April 17, 2017 at 11:27 am

      Thanks for this. This is a paradigm case of the first sort of error of interpretation I was talking about. Paragraphs 8-14 do not reflect the balance that the Council wanted to strike in the liturgy between vernacular and Latin or chant and new forms of music. In fact, nothing in this strikes me as an attempt to advance the goals of the Council, even where Pope Paul argues from the need for greater participation.

      • Aegis said,

        April 17, 2017 at 12:38 pm

        I don’t really have the training to adequately judge whether or not your position is the true one, but if I were to try and come up with arguments against it, I guess I would come up with the following.

        1) Obedience to the Pope and to the bishops in communion with him is obedience to the Holy Spirit. If you want a “Hermeneutic of the Spirit” with respect to the Council, then you must follow what the Pope and the bishops have said Vatican II meant. Pope Paul VI says as much in the linked text:

        “As We said on another occasion, we shall do well to take into account the motives for this grave change. The first is obedience to the Council. That obedience now implies obedience to the Bishops, who interpret the Council’s prescription and put them into practice.”

        And later:

        “It is Christ’s will, it is the breath of the Holy Spirit which calls the Church to make this change. A prophetic moment is occurring in the mystical body of Christ, which is the Church. This moment is shaking the Church, arousing it, obliging it to renew the mysterious art of its prayer.”

        2) It does not matter whether or not Pope Paul VI and the world’s bishops followed the Council’s disciplines to the letter. Councils cannot bind the Supreme Pontiff on questions of discipline. That Pope Paul VI claimed to be implementing the Council means only that he was mistaken. By virtue of his office he had sufficient authority to do as he did. It’s at worst a historical curiosity that he invoked the Council to justify what his own powers already permitted him to do.

        3) Latin and Gregorian Chant really are obstacles for the common people to reach God. That the Council wanted to retain them at all was a mistake imposed by the confines of time and place. For the sake of saving souls, it was necessary to move on from entirely from even a balanced approach to Latin and the vernacular.

        I guess these objections don’t really address a more difficult aspect of this subject, namely, the manner and the extent to which the Holy Spirit guides the Church’s leadership.

      • April 18, 2017 at 9:38 am

        Obedience to the Pope and to the bishops in communion with him is obedience to the Holy Spirit. If you want a “Hermeneutic of the Spirit” with respect to the Council, then you must follow what the Pope and the bishops have said Vatican II meant.

        How am I failing to do this by pointing out that Paul is mistaken, which your own comment allows anyway in #2?

        Your view of authority seems to be as though it is placed first of all in a Pope and then radiates outward to those in communion with him. This is backward. Authority proceeds from God first and inalienably into the Church and is delegated to individuals in trust so that they can act for the whole. This gives an authoritative primacy to Councils which can be delegated to a Pope as a primus inter pares. Other opinions of authority are more Hobbes than Catholic, and are the main obstacles to unity of the Church. The Orthodox and Protestants are right to stay away from Catholics so far as we’re beholden to a Hobbesian view of Papal sovereignty.

        I say Paul is mistaken about the Council. You say this makes no difference, and that the Council was mistaken anyway. I think this gets the order of the Church backward. Any authority Paul had was conditioned by the Council and the Church as totus Cristus, and taking the Council as mistaken is a hermeneutic of man as opposed to a hermeneutic of the Holy Spirit.

%d bloggers like this: