Tuesday 24 August 2010

Hermeneutic of Continuity in Religious Life

Further to my post yesterday, the great battle-cry of continuity with the past is taken up in respect to Religious Life by Cardinal Franc Rodé, prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, who spoke about this in an excellent piece in 2008 that goes to the heart of the matter (particularly in chapter III). You can read the whole piece on Zenit: http://www.zenit.org/article-23916?l=english

I reproduce Chapter III here:

The Council, in fact, offered clear and abundant guidelines for the needed reform of Consecrated Life. The crucial question is: How were those guidelines interpreted and applied? Overall, the Council in general was interpreted and applied in two very different, opposing ways that we must look at more closely if we are to understand what has happened and map out a course to follow toward the future.

Why has the implementation of the Council, in large parts of the Church and concretely in religious life, been so difficult and the source of so much turmoil?” asked Pope Benedict in an important speech three years ago.

The answer he offers is deep and crystal-clear. “It all depends on the correct interpretation of the Council or – as we would say today – on its proper hermeneutics, the correct key to its interpretation and application.” He continues, “The problems in its implementation arose from the fact that two contrary hermeneutics came face to face and clashed. One caused confusion; the other, silently but more and more visibly, bore and continues to bear fruit.

“On the one hand, there is an interpretation that I would call ‘a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture’; it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. On the other, there is the ‘hermeneutic of reform’, of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us.”

1. The ‘hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture’ described.

In the Holy Father’s analysis, “The hermeneutic of discontinuity is based upon a false concept of the Church and hence of the Council, as if the former were from man alone and the latter a sort of Constituent Assembly. The call to change would be the true “spirit of the Council”, to such a degree that whatever in its documents reconfirms the past can be safely said to be the fruit of compromise and therefore to be legitimately forsaken in favor of the Council’s ‘spirit.’
This spirit that all is new and has to be made new gives rise to the fervid excitement of the explorer, the prospect of stepping courageously beyond the letter of the Council. But the call is so vague that one is immediately left anchorless, a victim of his every whim and rejecting all correction. It is idealistic in so far as it underestimates the frailty of human nature, and it is simplistic in thinking that a Yes to the modern era will solve all tensions and create harmony .
Given these premises, and given also the best of intentions, what calming influence could there be on experimentation, and what principle was there to moderate the tendency to incorporate into religious life the fads and patterns of modern culture?

2. This hermeneutics of rupture has dominated the attempts at renewal of religious life.

There is a fine balance in the Council’s documents, but at the time, given that the mandate was for up-dating, it was easier to justify change than to defend continuity.

Paragraph 2 of Perfectae Caritatis reads, “The adaptation and renewal of religious life includes both the constant return to the sources of all Christian life and to the original spirit of the institutes and their adaptation to the changed conditions of our time.” Read with the hermeneutics of rupture and discontinuity, the “return to the sources of all Christian life and to the original spirit of the institutes” tended to be interpreted in light of “adaptation to the changed conditions of our time” rather than the other way around.

The following paragraphs of the same document contain phrases quite familiar to us, and only with difficulty do we remember the rest of what the council said:

“…Let constitutions, directories, custom books, books of prayers and ceremonies and such like be suitably reedited and, obsolete laws being suppressed, be adapted to the decrees of this sacred synod” (3). “… to make allowance for adequate and prudent experimentation. … But superiors should take counsel in an appropriate way and hear the members of the order in those things which concern the future well-being of the whole institute” (4).

As we continue reading Perfectae Caritatis, the numbers that follow spell out beautifully the true nature of religious life and are worthy of meditation, but despite their length and density and their appeal to spirituality, prayer, obedience, love, and so on, their fate is sealed once they are read with the hermeneutics of change.

The words appear constantly: “adaptation and renewal” (8), “adapt their ancient traditions” (9), “adapt to the demands of the apostolate” (9), “adjust their way of life to modern needs” (10), “express poverty in new forms” (13). In obedience, “superiors … should gladly listen to their subjects” (14). “The religious habit … should be simple and modest, poor and at the same time becoming. In addition it must meet the requirements of health and be suited to the circumstances of time and place and to the needs of the ministry involved” (17). “…religious must be given suitable instruction … in the currents and attitudes of sentiments and thought prevalent in social life today” (18).

It is true that these are just a few phrases picked arbitrarily from dense paragraphs rich in spiritual doctrine and which emphasize above all the perennial truths of religious life. But many were led to believe that by picking them out, and focusing exclusively on them their efforts for renewal, they were being faithful to the true “spirit” of the Council. Thus rupture and discontinuity as a point of departure become a self-fulfilling prophecy, producing, precisely, rupture and discontinuity.

3. Religious life was not an isolated battle-ground.

“Aggiornamento” was the term in vogue, and meaning “up-dating,” it presupposed something to be brought up to date: It presupposed continuity. What took place was a “pseudo-aggiornamento” that was unrecognizable in Catholic terms.

Operating at the root of this “pseudo-aggiornamento” was what can best be described as “naturalism”. It supposed the radical centering of man on himself, the rejection of the supernatural, and operated in a climate of radical subjectivism.

It showed itself in multiple ways: In talk about holiness that is totally divorced from fulfillment of Christ’s law and the concept of grace. In minimizing sin. In the acceptance of the world as it is, with no need of conversion. In taking the world as the criterion according to which the Church ought to be reformed. In a notion of apostolate or ministry that consists in being at ease in the world rather than changing it. In rejection of authority, and especially divinely constituted authority, hence the rejection of the magisterium and all canonical and disciplinary ordering in the Church.

4. The results of the hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture in religious life.

We must begin here by acknowledging that there certainly was much to correct in religious life, much to be improved in the formation of religious. We must also admit that society proposed challenges for which many religious were not prepared. In some cases, routine and crusts of outdated customs needed to be shaken off. In this sense we must affirm categorically that not only was the Council not mistaken in its thrust to renew religious life, it was truly inspired by the Holy Spirit in doing so.

Pope Benedict, speaking to superiors general, said: “In these last years, consecrated life has been re-examined with a more evangelical, ecclesial and apostolic spirit; but we cannot ignore that some concrete choices have not offered to the world the authentic and vivifying face of Christ. In fact, the secularized culture has penetrated the mind and heart of not a few consecrated persons, who understand it as a way to enter modernity and a modality of approach to the contemporary world. As a result, in addition to an undoubted thrust of generosity capable of witness and of total giving, consecrated life today knows the temptation to mediocrity, bourgeois ways and a consumerist mentality.”

Towards the end of the Second Vatican Council, I was in Paris finishing my doctoral thesis on “miracles of the modernist controversy.” At that time in France there was a pervasive atmosphere of enthusiasm for the Council as the press and other media presented it, which was a partial image of the Council as a “victory of the liberals over the conservatives.”

When I returned to Slovenia I found that the communist regime was isolating the Catholic faithful, suffocating public expression of the faith and reducing it to a merely private affair. I found a faithful people within a society shaped by the ideology of materialism. I soon realized that what I brought with me from my studies in Paris was of very little use for my pastoral work. I needed to be close to the people and to respect the traditional ways of expressing of their faith. I learned so much from the Christian faithful! They taught me to love the Church, to respect the Pope and the bishops in communion with him.

The great lesson I learned from that experience was this: The religious who secularized consecrated life were not doing so for the sake of the faith of the people of God. It was not the good of God’s people that they were seeking. Rather than God’s will, what they were seeking was their own.

Religious life, being a gift from the Holy Spirit to the individual religious and the Church, depends especially on fidelity to its origins, fidelity to the founder, fidelity to the particular charism. Fidelity to that charism is essential, for God blesses fidelity while he “opposes the proud.” The complete rupture of some with the past, then, goes against the nature of a religious congregation, and essentially it provokes God’s rejection.

As soon as naturalism was accepted as the new way, obedience was an early casualty, for obedience without faith and trust cannot survive. Prayer, especially community prayer, and the sacramental liturgy were minimized or abandoned. Penance, asceticism and what was referred to as “negative spirituality” became a thing of the past. Many religious were uncomfortable with wearing the habit. Social and political agitation became for them the acme of apostolic action. The New Theology shaped the understanding and the dilution of the faith. Everything became a problem for discussion. Rejecting traditional prayer, the genuine spiritual aspirations of religious sought out other more esoteric forms.

The results came swiftly in the form of an exodus of members. As a consequence, apostolates and ministries that were essential for the life of the Catholic community and its charitable outreach quickly disappeared – schools especially. Vocations quickly dried up. Even as the results began to speak for themselves, there were still those who said that things were bad because there hadn’t been enough change, the project was not complete. And so the damage was further compounded.

It must further be noted that many of those responsible for the disastrous decisions and actions of those post-conciliar years, later left religious life themselves. Many of you now here are the ones who have remained faithful. With immense courage, you are shouldering the burden of reversing the damage and rebuilding your religious families. My heart and my prayers go out to you.

You can see him in action here at Mass celebrated by Cardinal Rode in Santissima Trinita di Pelligrini on the feast of the Immaculate Conception on the 8th of December 2009 in Rome.

1 comment:

GWAM said...

...and from “Iota Unum - a study of the changes in the Catholic Church in the XXth century” (Romano Amerio - Sarto House). Paragraph 50: “Novel hermeneutic of the Council, continued. ‘Circisterisms’.”


“The ‘circisterism’ is something which occurs frequently in the arguments of the innovators. It consists in referring to an indistinct and confused term, as if it were well-established and defined and then extracting or excluding from it the element one needs to extract or exclude. The term ‘spirit of the council’, or indeed ‘the council’, is just such an expression...the conciliar texts, like any others, have, independent of the reading that may be made of them, an obvious and univocal readability, that is, a literal sense which is the basis of any other sense which may be found in them. Hermeneutical perfection consists in reducing the second reading to the first, which gives the true sense of the text. The Church, moreover, has never proceeded in any other way.

“The technique adopted by innovators in the post-conciliar period thus consists in illuminating or obscuring, glossing or reinforcing, individual parts of a text or of a truth. This is merely the abuse of that faculty of abstraction which the mind necessarily exercises when it examines any complex whole. It is a necessary condition of all discursive knowledge arrived at in time, as distinct from angelic intuition.

“To this they add another technique, characteristic of those who disseminate error: that of hiding one truth behind another so as to be able to behave as if the hidden truth were not only hidden but simply non-existent.”

Prof. Romano Amerio, peritus to His Excellency, Bishop of Lugano, Angelo Giuseppe Jelmini, member of the Central Preparatory Commission of Vatican II.