I believe the intent of the fathers of the Second Vatican Council was to renew the Church through going back to the Church Fathers and Scripture so as to update the presentation of the timeless truths the Gospel in ways that would be better understood by contemporary men and women.
Their intent was to open the Catholic Church to the mission of sharing the Gospel, instead of protecting the truths of the Catholic faith in a defensive fortress.
But this is not the way many prominent theologians understand what happened. George Weigel in this article at First Things puts his finger on the problem. An excerpt.
In a painstaking analysis of the intellectual building-blocks of Cardinal Walter Kasper’s theological project, Professor Stark argues that, for Kasper, the notion of what we might call “sacred givens” in theology has been displaced by the idea that our perceptions of truth are always conditioned by the flux of history—thus there really are no “sacred givens” to which the Church is accountable. To take a relevant example from last year’s Synod: On Kasper’s theory, the Lord Jesus’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage, seemingly “given” in Scripture, should be “read” through the prism of the turbulent historical experience of the present, in which “marriage” is experienced in many different ways and a lot of Catholics get divorced. And that historically-determined “reading” will lead, in turn, to a tempering of what once seemed settled: the Church’s understanding that those in second marriages, whose first marriages haven’t been declared null, cannot be admitted to Holy Communion because they are living in what is, objectively, an adulterous relationship.
Stark quotes Kasper to the effect that history is, well, everything. Moreover, what happens in history does not happen atop, so to speak, a firm foundation of Things As They Are; there are no Things As They Are. Rather, writes Kasper, “history is the ultimate framework for all reality.” For the cardinal, then, there seems to be nothing properly describable as “human nature,” a careful study of which will yield moral truths. There is only humanity in the flow of history. And just as there is no “human nature,” but only historical experience, so there is no Scripture understood as a “sacred given.” There is only the evolving reception of Scripture in a Church that is, so to speak, rafting down the whitewater rapids of history. Thus Kasper can write without blushing that “the truth of the Gospel can only emerge from a consensus.”
Which seems in tension with the notion that the “truth of the Gospel” is a gift to the Church and the world from Jesus Christ: a “sacred given.”
Reading the “signs of the times” in such a way as to have history trump revelation is exactly what happened to the Anglican Church—-the signs of the times of feminism led to the ordination of women, the overthrowing of a sacrament in a revealed religion by democracy and a kowtowing to the latest sociological thinking. This same attitude has also led to changes in the sacrament of marriage in some Anglican jurisdictions.
In reading Yves Congar’s My Journal of the Council, it is also interesting to see some of the debate about the relationship of Scripture and Tradition and what could potentially happen if a notion of Tradition as the consensus Kasper talks about ended up trumping Scripture (or more old fashioned notion of Tradition as the deposit of faith).
Congar opposed too expansive a notion of Tradition so as to block those with a maximalist view of Mary and of the Pope. These days it seems to be progressivists who want a maximalist view of Tradition, the kind of equivalent of the living tree model we see in interpretation of the U.S Constitution (and Canadian)—that the text means whatever we say it means and that meaning is constantly changing.
No, there is a living Tradition—the Truth of faith is not frozen in amber at one particular point in time—but at the same time, that Truth does not develop in a relativistic fashion by democracy or by giving history or “experience” as the Anglicans have argued, the same weight as Scripture.