No, that’s not a cute way of saying we’re waling on the Second Vatican Council, which would be inappropriate for an interfaith group in any event. It’s a way of continuing our piece on Evelyn Waugh and his take on the Council, which is somewhat different from what may have been recorded.
|Pope John XXIII|
As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, Waugh did not have the concerns about Vatican II or Pope John XXIII that may have been attributed to him. Of course, a lot of what “everybody knows” about the Council might not have all that much to do with the Council, either. . . .
As far as Waugh was concerned, the pope’s goal in the Second Vatican Council was to reverse the gains made by adherents of the New Things in the century and a half before the Council by bringing Catholicism more effectively to the world without at the same time making the Church worldly. He saw great significance in John XXIII’s choice of name on his election, an act which typically announces the new pontiff’s vision for his reign. (This writer had reached the same conclusion before coming across Waugh’s essay.) As Waugh commented,
It is said that Roncalli chose the name John simply because it was his father’s, but it is not entirely fanciful to see a deeper meaning in his choice. There had been no Pope John for more than 600 years, and the new reign was intended to cast back to the age of Giotto and Fra Angelico. Marxism, nationalism, rationalism, the Enlightenment, the Reformation and the Renaissance — all these accretions of problems were to be peeled off. For too long too many churchmen had been too grimly defensive, too strictly conventional. Pope John’s deep reading of history showed him that there was nothing uniquely menacing in his age; in one place or another the Church has always been persecuted, has always been threatened by traitors from within; it is her natural condition. (Evelyn Waugh, The Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh. London: Penguin Books, 1983, 616-617.)
It is probably safe to conclude that in Waugh’s opinion John XXIII announced at the very beginning of his pontificate that his regnal mission would be to combat the same not-so-New Things that continued to plague the Church, century after century. They had been in particular the heavy cross borne by the last pope who took the name John, Jacques d’Euse (cir. 1244-1334, elected 1316).
Why would Roncalli take John XXII as a model? Waugh did not say — but G.K. Chesterton, another determined foe of the New Things, made a strong case in support of the earlier John in his book, Saint Francis of Assisi (1923).
An objective reading of Chesterton’s book on Il Poverello reveals the author’s aversion to the philosophy of socialism and the theology of modernism in no uncertain terms. In Chesterton’s opinion, the bands of renegade Franciscans known variously as the Spirituals and the Fraticelli — venerated by Fabian socialists and others as the only true Christians — were engaged not merely in attempting to transform Church and State. (R.H. Tawney, The Acquisitive Society. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1948, 10-12; R.H. Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism: A Historical Study. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1952, 56-57.)
According to the Apostle of Common Sense, the goal of the Fraticelli was to destroy society utterly, principally through the abolition of the very concept of property. According to Chesterton’s account, “[S]ome Franciscans, invoking the authority of Francis on their side, . . . proposed to abolish not only private property but property.” (G.K. Chesterton, Saint Francis of Assisi, London: Hodder and Stoughton, Ltd., 1923, 173.) As he said,
St. Francis was so great and original a man that he had something in him of what makes the founder of a religion. Many of his followers were more or less ready, in their hearts, to treat him as the founder of a religion. They were willing to let the Franciscan spirit escape from Christendom as the Christian spirit had escaped from Israel. They were willing to let it eclipse Christendom as the Christian spirit had eclipsed Israel. Francis, the fire that ran through the roads of Italy, was to be the beginning of a conflagration in which the old Christian civilization was to be consumed. (Ibid., 175.)
Regarding John XXII’s prolonged struggles with the Fraticelli, Chesterton remarked, “[I]t will be found, after all, very difficult for any candid and clear-headed outsider to deny that the Pope was right, when he insisted that the world was not made only for Franciscans.” (Ibid., 174.)
|Robert Cardinal Sarah|
Taking these things into account, it becomes difficult to believe that John XXIII intended that the Second Vatican Council should do anything other than continue the work begun by Gregory XVI to defend the Church against the New Things. The genial and tolerant “Friar Tuck” doppelgänger created by the media and modernist Catholics to justify sweeping doctrinal changes “in the Spirit of Vatican II” never existed. (Ralph M. McInerny, What Went Wrong with Vatican II. Manchester, New Hampshire: Sophia Institute Press, 1998, 6-7. Cf. “[John XXIII] never intended to abandon tradition; some fantasized about a revolution, and they sought with the aid of the media, to popularize the image of a revolutionary pontiff.” Robert Cardinal Sarah, God or Nothing: A Conversation on Faith with Nicolas Diat. San Francisco, California: Ignatius Press, 2015, 86.) Rather, as John XXIII himself announced when he opened the Council,
In calling this vast assembly of bishops, the latest and humble successor to the Prince of the Apostles who is addressing you intends to assert once again the Church’s Magisterium, which is unfailing and perdures until the end of time, in order that the Magisterium, taking into account the errors, the requirements, and the opportunities of our time, might be presented in exceptional form to all men throughout the world. (McInerny, What Went Wrong with Vatican II, op. cit., 23-24.)
Combined with this was John XXIII’s evident desire to bring the laity more fully into the life of the Church. This, however, was not to replace the ministerial priesthood. What he had in mind was to revive the work of Catholic Action — “the participation of the laity in the apostolate of the hierarchy.”
That is, John XXIII’s goal was to integrate Catholic principles into civil life through lay action, guided and supported by the hierarchy. It was not, as many still suppose, to transform the Church into a civil institution by changing doctrine and discipline and turning the laity into quasi priests or ministers.
Still, as Waugh astutely observed in his commentary on the Council, the voices of a radical minority of the laity drowned out the non-vocal majority. That, however, did not make the minority right. It only made them loud. (Waugh, Essays, Articles and Reviews, op. cit., 603-604.) The world was not made only for Franciscans.