instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

A hermeneutical key to pneumatological hermeneutics

It has become a cliche to complain about this or that action by this or that bishop as being "contrary to the spirit of Vatican II." It has even become a cliche to complain about these complaints. "The spirit of Vatican II" is both a battle cry and a badge of shame.

But it wasn't till I was reading Teófilo's response to a statement by Fr. Joseph O'Leary (whose blog happens to be titled "The Spirit of Vatican II") that the irreducible source of this conflict became apparent to me:
Fr. O'Leary: "John Paul II thus bypassed and reached over the heads of the educated baby boomers, influenced by Vatican II...."

Teófilo: "... and our generation was not influenced by Vatican II? We can't read its documents?"
What I realized -- an obvious insight in hindsight -- is that, for some people, the term "Vatican II" refers to experiences during a fixed period of time, while for others it refers to a set of documents.

So Teófilo is talking past Fr. O'Leary by asking questions about reading documents. For Fr. O'Leary, "Vatican II" isn't only -- and likely enough not even principally -- about what documents say. The "spirit" he speaks of isn't a poor paraphrase of the documents; it's not like the "spirit of the law" contrasted with the "letter of the law." It's a Zeitgeist, not an, um, Wortgeist. The conciliar documents are a record of that Zeitgeist, from this perspective, but not the only record, and in fact, the memories of the Zeitgeist, whether original or transferred to a later generation, are seen as just as authoritative as the documents, indeed the context in which the documents are to be read.

So when anti-"spirit of Vatican II" folks write cuttingly, "Read the documents! You won't find what those 'spirit of Vatican II' folks are saying in the documents!," the "spirit of Vatican II" folks may well reply, "Exactly!"

To make the distinction clear, perhaps we should begin speaking of the Council Event, whose full ecclesio-ontological dimensions cannot be grounded within brute fundamentalist literalism that, taken to its logical conclusions, is itself a denial of the chrono-physio-spiritual reality of Church.