Some observations on the upcoming Synod

This article at the Catholic Herald promising reports from the upcoming synod edited by an anonymous Xavier Rynne II has some interesting observations that fit in well with my Vatican II reading jag over the summer.

Anyone who knows anything about Vatican II will know Xavier Rynne was the anonymous priest journalist who reported in a rather heated way in the American press on the behind-the-scenes goings on at the Council, and was perhaps one of those responsible for what Pope Benedict XVI called “the Vatican II of the media” as opposed to the real council.

In today’s article, Rynne II reports on a newly published journal of theologian Henri LeBac, a Jesuit who had been out of favor with the Holy Office until he was invited by Pope John XXIII to be on the preparatory commission for the Council, (along with Dominican theologian Yves Congar, whose My Journal of the Council I devoured over the summer.)

Rynne II writes:

So while Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani was far more than the caricature of cranky, reactionary intransigence created by his critics, he was also a man convinced that there was one way to do theology, that doctrine and orthodoxy were identical with that way of doing theology, and that innovation was the first step toward chaos: a stance that led him to adopt, as the Latin motto on his coat of arms, Semper Idem [Always the Same]. In light of those convictions, Ottaviani ran his part of the preparatory work for Vatican II in a way that seemed to him best guaranteed to produce the result he wanted from the Council: more idem, more of “the same.” He put his closest theological adviser, Fr. Sebastian Tromp, SJ, in as the staff boss of the preparatory theological commission, and while Ottaviani acceded to the appointment of de Lubac and others who had previously fallen under the gimlet eye of the Holy Office’s scrutiny, he made sure that he had the commission and its working groups well-filled with men on whom he could rely, ideologically.

Which brings us a supreme irony suggested by the de Lubac Notebooks. Semper Idem, it seems, continues to be a watchword for some in Rome. For de Lubac’s record of what he regarded as the manipulation of the pre-conciliar process by Ottaviani and Tromp reminds the contemporary observer of nothing so much as the complaints raised from many quarters about the way the Synod 2014 process was managed by the Synod general secretary, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, and his principal theological adviser, Archbishop Bruno Forte. The shenanigans, if they may be called that, were virtually identical, even if the location of the shenanigans on the spectrum of Catholic opinion has shifted to what might reasonably be called the other end zone. Lorenzo Baldisseri as Alfredo Ottaviani 2.0 is somewhat difficult to imagine; Bruno Forte as Sebastian Tromp 2.0 boggles the mind. Yet the alleged patterns of behaviour – including deck-stacking and the manipulation of reports for partisan purposes – seem virtually identical.

Very interesting observation!   Cardinal Baldisseri’s motto is itinere laete servire domino  which, given my junior high school Latin requires I go to Google translate, means “march briskly to serve.”    Which, hmmm, that seems to have the connotation “Forward!” about it, or “hope and change!” in contrast to “Always the Same.”

From reading Congar as well as Roberto De Matteo’s fascinating  The Second Vatican Council:  an Unwritten Story, which puts a favorable spin on Ottaviani and those resisting change and contends those manipulating the Council were instead the Liberals/ Progressives from Germany and Belgium, it is interesting to me to see how similar the contentions of Congar in his journal are to those of traditionalists who oppose Pope Francis now!

For example, Congar resisted the tendency under Pius XII to maximize the papacy, to treat the Vicar of Christ as tantamount to the voice of Jesus Christ on earth based on one line of Scripture (upon this rock . . .) as well as a similar tendency to maximize the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary.   He kept on writing “Scripture and Tradition”! in various places in his journal, urging a more balanced view of Church doctrine based on a return to the sources of Revelation and the Church fathers rather than only on the writings of the recent Pius popes and a neo-Scholastic Thomism that hardly mentioned Scripture at all in doctrinal formulations.   He, in other words, resisted the tendency to see that whatever the Pope said was automatically infallible, no matter how it related to Scripture and Tradition.

Today, I see traditionalists and even conservative  (or neo-Catholic as the trads would call them or I should say us) urging a return to Scripture and Tradition in  everything from the theology of marriage and the family to an understanding of the limits of the role of the papacy as also under the authority of yes, Scripture and Tradition.   Today there is a kind of progressive ultramontanism, a view that sees Pope Francis as setting out to change the Church, to modernize Her, and anyone who seems to question that is anathema sit.

It’s funny though, when Pope Francis himself denies one of the progressivists key agendas, as he did in his news conference on the plane on the way back from the United States, then the progressives are ultramontanist not so much.


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