Both “progressive” and “traditionalist” factions within the Church have advanced in recent criticisms the idea that the Second Vatican Council, which took place from 1962 to 1965, represents a definitive break with previous Church teaching and authority. This interpretation of the Vatican II is often called a “hermeneutic of rupture.”
Zen wrote that such interpretations are foreign to the nature of an ecumenical council.
“The extreme conservatives say: The Church after the Vatican II is no more the Catholic Church I received baptism in. But you were baptized in a Church which believes in one apostolic Church, led by the Pope and the Bishops as authentic teachers of faith,” Zen wrote in his essay.
“The extreme progressives say: Before the Council nothing was allowed to change, now with Vatican II many changes have been made, so, many things should be allowed to change also in the future.”
Rejecting both characterizations, Zen cited St. John Henry Newman.
"The Church is a living body; it certainly grows and changes, but, as Cardinal John Henry Newman puts it, the development is ‘homogeneous,’ i.e. with the substantial identity not altered. A boy grows into maturity and he is still the same person."
The authentic work of Church reform comes “only by a decision of the legitimate authority, not by an arbitrary choice of anybody, and surely not by undoing the past,” Zen added.
“The Holy Spirit of today doesn’t contradict the Holy Spirit of yesterday.”
In his post, prompted by a series of articles on Vatican Council II by a priest in Hong Kong, Zen argued that many debates about Vatican II misunderstand the Church’s theological understanding of ecumenical councils.
“Let us start from the fundamentals: What are the Ecumenical Councils for? They are not for the creation of a new Church, but for a new self-understanding. The Church was founded by Jesus Christ on the Apostles.”
CNA asked Zen about the position of Catholics who question the legitimacy of the council while claiming to stand within the tradition of the faith.
“The Church’s ‘tradition’ is the living Church, founded on the Apostles,” Zen answered. “The ecumenical councils are the milestones on this journey of the Church through centuries. The first ‘Ecumenical Council’ of Jerusalem declared: ‘The Holy Spirit and we (the Apostles) have decided…”, it’s not only a question of canon law. Each Ecumenical Council is a ‘Sacrosanctum Concilium’!”
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In recent weeks, some Catholic voices have argued that the documents of Vatican II are the cause of erroneous theological positions advanced after the council. They have suggested that Vatican Council II should be in some way repudiated, either by Pope Francis or one of his eventual successors.
Former Vatican ambassador Archbishop Carlo Viganò said in an interview last month that at the Second Vatican Council “hostile forces” caused “the abdication of the Catholic Church” through a “sensational deception.”
“The errors of the post-conciliar period were contained in nuce in the Conciliar Acts,” the archbishop added, accusing the council, and not just its aftermath, of overt error.
Speaking to CNA, Zen rejected the idea that authentic acts of an ecumenical council could contain errors of faith.
“The post-conciliar errors do not belong to the Council, just as heresies do not belong to the Bible,” the cardinal told CNA.
Citing ongoing debates about liturgical reform after the council, Zen said that “when Pope Benedict talked about a ‘Reform of the Reform in liturgy,’ he is not repudiating the conciliar liturgical constitution but the abuses that originated from a distorted interpretation or even the repudiation of that constitution.”