George Weigel and the People Who Know
Are George Weigel and the Conciliar Illuminati
Staging a Preemptive Strike on the Vatican-SSPX Discussions?
Christopher A. Ferrara
|REMNANT COLUMNIST, New Jersey|
Mr. Weigel, one who knows
What the neo-Catholic luminary George Sim Johnston calls “the deepest dynamics of Vatican II” are the gnosis of the present day: an ineffable amalgamation of the Catholic religion and modernity without which, since the Council, one cannot be in “full communion” with the Church—or rather, with the people who know, as opposed to those who, for whatever reason, do not know.
The lay oracles of the Vatican II gnosis are generally an insufferable lot, but for George Weigel one searches a thesaurus in the hope of finding a more evocative word. Unfortunately, it seems insufferable will have to do. Back in 2002 the insufferable Mr. Weigel, speaking on behalf of Pope John Paul II, pontificated thus on the Vatican II gnosis:
Like Blessed John XXIII, John Paul II thinks of the Second Vatican Council as a new Pentecost—a privileged moment in which the Holy Spirit prepared the Church for a springtime of evangelization. Contrary to the conventional readings of the meaning of Vatican II proposed by both Catholic traditionalists and Catholic progressives, John Paul II has insisted that the council was not primarily about the distribution of authority and jurisdiction inside the Church. Rather, the council was meant to revivify within the Church a profound sense of itself as the sacrament of the world’s salvation: the “communio” in which we experience, here and now, a foretaste of what God intends for humanity for all eternity. In Karol Wojtyla´s experience of the council as one of its most active Fathers, and in his authoritative interpretation of the council as Pope, Vatican II was meant to prepare the Church, theologically and spiritually, to rediscover itself as a great evangelical movement in history, proclaiming to the world the truth about the human person, human community, human origins and human destiny. (Zenit interview, March 8, 2002)
So, according to Weigel (I am borrowing here from what I wrote in The Great Façade), the “authoritative interpretation” of Vatican II is that
· it was a new Pentecost,
· to prepare for a springtime of evangelization;
· was not about distribution of authority in the Church, but rather was meant to:
· revivify the Church’s profound sense of itself,
· provide a foretaste of what God intends for humanity for all eternity, and
· prepare the Church to rediscover itself as a great evangelical movement in history.
As we can see, Weigel’s interpretation of Vatican II requires an interpretation of its own. But for those who know, no interpretation is necessary. Behold the conciliar gnosis!
Seven years later, the insufferable Mr. Weigel has weighed in with a note purporting to speak for another Pope—this time on the discussions now underway between the Society of Saint Pius X and the Vatican concerning those opaque conciliar texts wherein the conciliar gnosis lurks. (“The Vatican and the Lefebvrists: Not a Negotiation,” November 21, 2009 @catholicexchange.com).
As if to arrest Pope Benedict’s alarming tendencies toward a restoration of the Church to its preconciliar condition, which would be quite contrary to the dictates of the gnosis, Weigel hastens to tell us “what’s going on here, and what isn’t.” The discussions the Pope has ordered are “not a negotiation,” Weigel declares with the suave assurance of one who knows, addressing those who do not know. Rather, says Weigel, “the purpose of these conversations is to make clear what the Second Vatican Council taught (especially about the nature of the Church), to listen politely to what the SSPX has to say, and to invite the SSPX back into the full communion of the Catholic Church.”
Make clear what the Second Vatican Council taught? But what needs to be clarified nearly fifty years after the Council ended? What is there to discuss? Why not simply deliver a copy of the conciliar documents in the official Latin to Ecône and demand a blanket assent to every proposition contained therein—an act the Society would readily perform as to any other ecumenical council in the history of the Church? Moreover, what exactly did Vatican II teach about “the nature of the Church” that was not known before Vatican II? Indeed, what did Vatican II teach anywhere in its sixteen documents that would involve an assent to some previously unexpressed doctrine now deemed essential for “full communion” with the people who know?
But even to ask such questions is to level the impertinent demand that those who know tell those who don’t know exactly what it is they don’t know. This, of course, is inadmissible. It is no use to demand that the conciliar gnosis be set forth in so many words, as if it were possible to reduce to mere verbal formulations, like other doctrines, that effulgent eructation of enlightenment behind the bronze doors between October 11, 1962 and December 8, 1965. One can only—in the manner of those who know—savor of the thing, as we see in the reminiscence of another lay oracle of the gnosis, Michael Novak, who was actually there:
I can remember the smells of burning chestnuts in the streets of Rome, the taste of Sambuca after dinner with Karen, the excitement of the press conferences every early afternoon, the perfect October air in St. Peter's Square with the great dome glinting in the sunlight. It was a wonderful time to be alive. Since an ecumenical council happens only once in a century, I am glad to have been present at this one, a great and history-changing outpouring of the spirit, and just plain fun. (Novak, The Open Church, xxxvi.)
Yes, Novak relates his experience of the conciliar gnosis, the “great and history-changing outpouring of the spirit,” literally to chestnuts roasting on an open fire, even if Jack Frost was not nipping at his nose. For the people who know, this sort of thing resonates deeply with their elite intuition of the gnosis, even if for the rest of us it sounds like the mere nostalgia of an aging hipster who is still resisting the implications of adulthood.
The oracular pronouncements by Weigel and Novak on what the Council means show that the conciliar gnosis has nothing to do with whatever the Council taught that was clearly in line with prior teaching—an utterly jejune subject—but rather what was somehow different after the Council because of a “great and history-changing outpouring of the spirit” (which spirit?) that cannot be reduced to mere words, even if it is reflected in the ambiguity of certain conciliar texts. But in what precisely does this difference consist? Here we reach the core of the mystery.
Approaching the conciliar gnosis involves a kind of apophasis: an attempt to understand a thing by what it is not. In some obscure way the gnosis consists in what Catholicism has not been since the Council. Yet unlike a game of Twenty Questions, the classic exercise in apophatic inquiry, the game of the Vatican II gnosis never ends with the elimination of all other possibilities, leaving only the one thing the questioner seeks to understand. For it is in the very nature of a gnosis to remain forever elusive in meaning and thus incommunicable to those who do not know, even if they can know what it does not mean.
The insufferable Mr. Weigel comes closest to capturing the essence of the thing when he declares in his note that the dialogue between the Society and the Vatican cannot involve “mutual enrichment,” for “it is not easy to see how the Catholic Church is to be theologically enriched by the ideas of those who, whatever the depth of their traditional liturgical piety, reject the mid-20th century reform of Catholic thought of which Joseph Ratzinger was a leader.”
So, we know that the gnosis involves a “reform of Catholic thought” that took place about fifty years ago, evidently beginning with the aforementioned great and history-changing outpouring of the spirit, marked by a smell of burning chestnuts. Note well: the gnosis encompasses Catholic thought itself. For this reason, whatever the adherents of the Society believe and practice—or what is the same thing, the Catholic faith before the Council—is no longer theologically relevant to the discussions with the Vatican. But in what way has “Catholic thought” been “reformed”? Again, we cannot know how; we can know only that “Catholic thought” is not what it was before Vatican II, that it no longer involves the “ideas” to which the Society clings in its “traditional liturgical piety” and its vain conviction that these “ideas” (the faith before the Council) could enrich the Church of today.
To be fair to the insufferable Mr. Weigel, he does offer further hints of what is known to the people who know in the form of a series of questions. First: “Does the SSPX accept the teaching of the Second Vatican Council on religious freedom as a fundamental human right that can be known by both reason and revelation?” One can hardly deny that religious freedom is a fundamental right, if by that freedom is meant the right to “worship the Father in spirit and in truth,” as Our Lord said, or, negatively, the right not to be forced to profess the faith against one’s will. All the Popes before Vatican II taught as much. But did Vatican II announce something new in this regard, and moreover (which is impossible) something new by way of revelation, as Weigel pontifically declares?
For example, when the Council declared in Dignitatis humanae that “religious communities should not be prohibited from freely undertaking to show the special value of their doctrine in what concerns the organization of society and the inspiration of the whole of human activity,” did it really mean to impose as binding doctrine the claim that there is a fundamental human right not to be prohibited from proclaiming publicly “the special value” of such doctrines as the denial of the divinity of Christ, the denunciation of the Catholic Church as a corruption of Christianity, the existence of numerous gods, including one with a thousand arms, or the killing of infidels as the way to a paradise where bevies of virgins await? Weigel is not about to answer such embarrassing questions. He will only suggest the negativity of the gnosis: whatever the Church teaches about religious freedom since Vatican II is not what the Church had always taught before.
Second: “Does the SSPX accept that the age of altar-and-throne alliances, confessional states, and legally established Catholicism is over, and that the Catholic Church rejects the use of coercive state power on behalf of its truth claims?” But where did Vatican II teach this curious compound proposition, a mixture of historical opinion and prudential judgment about the exercise of civil authority? Even DH insists that it “leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.” Society’s duty toward the true religion and the true Church would appear to contemplate (or at least allow for) a confessional state of some sort, would it not?
Further, DH teaches that “society has the right to defend itself against possible abuses committed on the pretext of freedom of religion. It is the special duty of government to provide this protection.” The duty of government to protect society from abuses of religious freedom would appear to involve at least some use of “coercive state power” to enforce “truth claims,” would it not? Isn’t civil law at its essence the enforcement of a “truth claim” of one sort or another? All the Popes before Vatican II certainly taught this, and I see no teaching in DH repealing the long line of prior papal encyclicals on the right and duty of civil authority to enact due measures for the protection of the true religion and to restrain the spread of error and vice in society. Quite the contrary, the Council insists that it leaves the traditional Catholic doctrine untouched, which doctrine the Council had no power to repeal in any event.
Then again, DH appears to teach quite the opposite of the quoted propositions within the four corners of the same document, which one supposes is among the reasons the Society is discussing DH with the Vatican. But here too we confront the inexplicable conciliar gnosis: whatever Vatican II teaches on this score, it is not what was taught before Vatican II.
Third: “Does the SSPX accept the Council’s teaching on Jews and Judaism as laid down in Vatican II’s “Declaration on Non-Christian Religions” (“Nostra Aetate”), and does the SSPX repudiate all anti-Semitism?” What exactly did the Council teach on Jews and Judaism that the Society is accused of rejecting—even though Archbishop Lefebvre voted for Nostra Aetate! But here again the gnosis: whatever the Council taught, it is not the prior teaching.
As for the repudiation of “all anti-Semitism,” i.e., racial hatred of the Jews, what Catholic doesn’t repudiate it? (Does the Society, for that matter, repudiate all kicking of pigeons in the park?) Perhaps Weigel thinks “all anti-Semitism” has some broader meaning than race hatred. Perhaps he thinks “all anti-Semitism” includes any form of opposition to views, policies and movements whose advocates happen to be Jewish liberals. But it is far from clear that the Council promulgated as Catholic doctrine Abe Foxman’s definition of the term, which essentially equates with any form of Catholic opposition to militant secularism or a foreign policy dictated by AIPAC.
And finally: “Does the SSPX accept the Council’s teaching on the imperative of pursuing Christian unity in truth and the Council’s teaching that elements of truth and sanctity exist in other Christian communities, and indeed in other religious communities?” I doubt the Society rejects “pursuing Christian unity in truth.” I rather think the Society would insist upon it. Which leaves only “the Council’s teaching that elements of truth and sanctity [sic] exist in other Christian communities, and indeed in other religious communities.” Well, the Council’s verbatim teaching (in Lumen Gentium) is as follows:
This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity.
I am quite certain the Society would not deny there are “elements of sanctification and truth” outside the visible structure of the Catholic Church, such as the valid baptisms and marriages performed by non-Catholic ministers and the truths to be found in Protestant versions of the Bible, or that these elements can confer a grace that leads one toward the Church, as many converts have attested. But what is the meaning of this affirmation when it comes to the eternal salvation of non-Catholics? Do they need the Church or not in order to be saved? Here yet again we encounter the negativity of the gnosis: whatever the teaching means, it is not what the Church meant before.
“Those are the real issues,” Weigel huffs, having failed to identify any real issues. His final words are: “Those who confuse conversation with negotiation make genuine conversation all the more difficult.” I agree that true Catholic doctrine (as opposed to prudential judgment) is non-negotiable. The question, however, is what true Catholic doctrine as such is at stake in this controversy. For the people who know, the answer resides not in what is, but in what isn’t: The faith just isn’t the same since the Council, and don’t ask how or why. That is all they know, and all we need know to acquire the gnosis ourselves and thus achieve “full communion” with the insufferable Mr. Weigel and his fellow illuminati.
But Weigel is clearly worried that the Pope has instituted the Vatican-SSPX discussions on account of the very problem the conciliar illuminati do such a poor job of concealing. It is the problem identified by the former Cardinal Ratzinger when he was speaking to the Chilean bishops in 1988 about precisely the situation of the Society: that Vatican II has been treated as “an end of Tradition, a new start from zero,” when “[t]he truth is that this particular Council defined no dogma at all, and deliberately chose to remain on a modest level, as a merely pastoral council; and yet many treat it as though it had made itself into a sort of super-dogma which takes away the importance of all the rest.”
Those many include the insufferable Mr. Weigel and his collaborators in the project of protecting the conciliar gnosis from the dissolvent effects of forthright answers to simple questions—questions like those posed here, and no doubt being posed in the discussions the Pope has convoked. Hence Weigel dreads the discussions, for they threaten the very existence of his religion, which begins and ends with an illusory “reform of Catholic thought” when Teilhard was king of the theologians and men wore bell-bottom pants. Weigel, I believe, fears that the way things are going, the gnosis that constitutes his super-dogma could become as passé as the Sixties from which it emerged. The great progressive is afraid of progress in the Church. How sweetly ironic it is.