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’!”
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.”
In his July 17 essay, Zen called for a rediscovery of the texts of council, which he called the true fruits of Vatican II. “Through those documents you hear the real voice of the Holy Spirit,” he said.
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At the same time, the cardinal acknowledged the human politicking which played out around the council, and recalled being a young priest studying in Rome at the time.
“I enjoyed, like other young priests and seminarians in Rome, all the daily hot news and gossips about the Council; the fierce battles along the stereotype of divide between conservatives and progressives; Council Fathers accusing each other with leaflets flying over Saint Peter’s square…The jokes!” he recalled in his essay.
But Zen stressed that the human participants in the council, and even malevolent spiritual attacks, could not overcome or exclude the agency of the Holy Spirit.
“There is a saying, not far from the truth: an Ecumenical Council starts from human efforts, then comes the devil to make trouble, but at the end the Holy Spirit brings everything to a happy ending.”
The cardinal told CNA that Catholics at all levels need to rediscover and re-appreciate the documents of the council to understand what the Church in the post-conciliar period is called to be.
“The Ecumenical Council concluded with documents,” he said, “then it’s the duty of popes and bishops to make those documents living realities.”