The Corner

World Without End

Many thanks to the numerous readers who emailed in to explain to me, many of them at prodigious length (but in all cases very courteously), that Vatican II did not change the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church by one jot or tittle, only the outward forms.

Please excuse my skepticism. You don’t fool Johnny Prod as easy as that!

(1)  All right, you drove me to read the Wikipedia article on Vatican II … which is absolutely as far as I shall go at looking into this dismal subject. Whadda we got?

Issues considered during the sessions included liturgy, mass communications, the Eastern Catholic churches, and the nature of revelation. Most notably, the schema on revelation was rejected by a majority of bishops, and Pope John intervened to require its rewriting …

A votum or statement concerning the sacrament of marriage was submitted for the guidance of the commission revising the Code of Canon Law regarding a wide variety of juridicial, ceremonial, and pastoral issues …

Pope Paul also instructed the bishops to defer the topic of contraception … [See below]

One of the most controversial documents was Nostra Ætate, which stated that the Jews of the time of Christ, taken indiscriminately, and all Jews today are no more responsible for the death of Christ than Christians …

There follow chapters on the laity, the call to holiness, religious, the pilgrim Church, and Our Lady …

Many traditionalist Catholics hold that the Second Vatican Council, or subsequent interpretations of its documents, moved the Church away from important principles of the historic Catholic faith. The principles from which the church is thought to have moved away include:

  • the belief that the Catholic Church is the one and only true Christian church founded by Jesus Christ;
  • the belief that the modern idea of religious liberty is to be condemned;
  • an appropriate emphasis on the “Four Last Things” (Death, Judgement, Heaven, and Hell);
  • the belief that the books of the Bible are historically inerrant;
  • a devotion to scholastic theology and
  • an organically grown apostolic Roman liturgy, as they define the Tridentine Mass …

Forgive thou my unbelief, but … none of that has anything to do with Church teaching?

(2)  I am old enough to have clear recollections of mingling with RC friends and neighbors pre-, during, and post-Vatican II. The main issue at that time was contraception. It was a HUGE issue. Adults and off-color comedians made endless jokes about it. Just the phrase “rhythm method” could get people laughing. The RC church was dead set against artificial contraception, for reasons no-one outside the Church (and probably not many inside it) could understand. We Prods all felt terribly sorry for poor Jackie Kennedy, who obviously wasn’t very good at having babies, when she lost another one while in the White House. “Poor girl!” people clucked. “But they can’t use contraceptives, you know. The Pope won’t let them.”

We don’t hear much about that nowadays. Catholics cheefully use artificial contraception, and take Communion with their souls undisturbed. So I guess the Church isn’t as ferociously opposed to the practice as I recall them being in the early 1960s.

And yet that was the teaching of the Church. People told you so: “It’s the teaching of our Church,” they’d sigh, or bristle. If the fiercely anti-artificial contraception line was not Church teaching, someone forgot to tell the English flock (not to mention poor Jackie). They all thought it was. And now … it isn’t. So how have the teachings of the Church not changed?

Same with the Jew thing. I can clearly recall — I am sure anyone of my generation can — being told in all earnestness by Catholics that “They killed Our Lord.” In England, a generally philosemitic country, this noticed. To be fair, my recollection is that these assertions were in process of being shamed out in the 1960s, and were heard mostly from older Catholics, but you heard them. I heard them. Again, if this was never Church teaching, how hard had the priesthood been working in these older parishioners’ formative years to correct their error? (The Wikipedia article seems to say — my eyes were glazing over by this point — that Vatican II was instrumental in changing this … non-teaching.)

(3)  Several readers assure me that not only did Vatican II not change Church teaching, but nothing else ever has either. The core teachings of the Church, they tell me, have been utterly unchanged for 2,000 years.

Come off it! Did the Church never have teachings on the sale of indulgences? The treatment of witches? Or of heretics? Didn’t Limbo get overhauled just a couple of years ago? And again, if (say) the doctrine on indulgences was not a teaching, I’d be willing to bet that the average 15th-century European peasant thought it was, and that his parish priest did nothing to disabuse him. Oh, these weren’t core teachings? Did our 15th-century priest know that? You sure?


Sorry, but to this outsider, it looks as thought the Church moves with the times. When items of doctrine become politically inconvenient, or unpopular with the laity, they are dropped. Terms like “teachings” or “core beliefs” are then redefined to mean “stuff we haven’t dropped yet.” Convenient! To see how far this can go, I refer you to the poor old Anglo-Catholic Church.

In any case, the assertion of mine that started all this — i.e., that religious doctrine is relative in time as well as space — still looks pretty sound to me, and the Pope’s animadversion’s against “relativism” correspondingly hypocritical.