March 9, 2015

EDMONTON – The Second Vatican Council is an event that has more in common with a liturgy rather than with "a printing machine of documents," says Church historian Massimo Faggioli.

As the liturgy is not the missal that guides the Mass so Vatican II is more than the 16 documents approved at the council, Faggioli said at the annual Anthony Jordan Lecture Series Feb. 27.

"Vatican II is not a printer of documents; it is kind of like a liturgical event" that took place and is still taking place, he said.

Faggioli, an Italian theologian who has been teaching in Minnesota the past five years, is the author of five books related to the council, including Vatican II: The Search for Meaning.

Vatican II produced documents, but those documents were created in a context, he said. That context includes the 16th century Council of Trent which, alongside Vatican II, provide the two legs of the Catholic Church's response to the modern world.

It also includes the more than three-year period of preparation between the announcement of the council by Pope John XXIII in January 1959 and the beginning of the event in October 1962.

The history of that preparatory period, he said, was almost totally unknown until Joseph Komonchak, last year's Jordan lecturer, wrote about it as part of the five-volume History of Vatican II produced by an international team of scholars beginning in 1995.

If one focuses only on the documents of Vatican II, there is tendency to give them a fundamentalist reading, he said. However, the documents should not be read that way.

The documents need to be read in relationship to each other and they should be understood as still being received by the Church.

For example, the Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Relations (Nostra Aetate) cannot be understood solely in terms of the letter of the text, he said.

When Pope John Paul II called leaders of many faiths to meet with him in Assisi, Italy in 1986, it was "a magisterial act of interpretation" of that document. It was "a prophetic act of interpretation by a bishop who had been at Vatican II."

The interpretation of the council took a new turn with Pope Benedict XVI's December 2005 speech outlining two different ways of seeing Vatican II – a correct method which interprets the council in terms of continuity and reform and an incorrect method which sees the council as a rupture with the Church's past.

However, some Catholic bloggers and journalists misinterpret Pope Benedict's speech, he said. For them, a person either believes in continuity and is a good Catholic, or believes the council broke with the Church's past and is therefore close to being a heretic.

Such "hyper-simplistic rhetoric" distorts a complex event, Faggioli said. Pope Benedict never dreamed of saying Vatican II was completely continuous with the past and that nothing changed.

In fact, if one reads the Bible, one is a Vatican II Catholic. If one believes that Protestants will not go to hell simply because they are Protestant, one is a Vatican II Catholic.

Those are Catholic beliefs or practices that changed due to the council, he said.