Father Don MacDonald’s discerning commentary on Father Robert Barron’s underestimation of the Second Vatican Council (WCR, Aug. 20) was a welcome respite from those currently having their way with its meaning and relevance.
Against their dismissive attitudes, he contrasts the awareness of special significance of this council manifested by its founders.
I can personally attest to that awareness. I was taught by professors, many of whom were periti at the council and advisors to the council fathers. Rooted in renewed theologies of the Incarnation, resurrection and ecclesiology (especially the people of God theology), they brought joy and hope in face of the world’s grief and anxiety.
But they referred periodically to the sometimes bitter and fierce theological and political struggles of the council. I met this first-hand in a most jarring way in the critical and pessimistic tone of a lecture delivered by the renowned Henri de Lubac, back around 1970.
It seemed that he was speaking of a council radically different than that of my professors. Ten years later I encountered a similar pessimism in comments made by the great Swiss theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar.
In 1969, four years after the council, while attending a course at Louvain by Canon Houtart, a theologian and sociologist who was part of the commission that drafted the great council document, Gaudium et Spes, I heard a frightful prophecy.
Houtart said institutions that make a deeply significant decision often, when they begin to realize the not-immediately-visible implications of that decision, will retreat from it, shutting down what they had started out to do.
This kind of fearful retraction can be death-dealing. He predicted that this could occur within the Church within 20 years of the council. I hope that this is not and has not been the case.