Caritas in Veritate….organic heremeneutics of continuity!


The release of the full text of the papal encyclical Caritas in Veritate this week pays homage to the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council and their extraordinary promulgations in the 1960s. Charity in Truth, the English translation of the Benedictine tome is quite frankly a remarkable reflection and active admonition on the past, present and future consequences of globalization if the trend remains unchecked. When the world’s Catholic bishops assembled for the Second Vatican Council in October of 1962 under the papal leadership of Blessed John XXIII their deliberations were considered by Church observers and outsiders alike as revolutionary for their times. The deliberations seemed to close the Catholic Counter Reformation and launched the Catholic Church into an exploration of the world integrated with the Church in the 20th century. As most of us have experienced since 1965, the sojourn has not always been one of ease or smooth transition. There have been a lot of significant points along the way, and now forty-four years since the close of the monumental II Vatican Council, Pope Benedict XVI offers insightful and restored reflections on not only the actions of the concilliar fathers, but also on their promulgations and documents.
Pope Paul VI inherited the mantle of leading the council after the death of John XXIII during a global period of political, social, economic and technological unrest. His task it seemed was to straddle the centuries between the Church of the Counter Reformation and the scientific and technological milieu that was bursting around all of us in the 1960’s. Liturgical reform, only part of the Church’s growing appreciation of the ensuing globalization between nations, countries, economies and languages; the Church introduced magnificent documents such as Gaudium et Spes (The Constitution on the Church in the Modern World), Dei Verbum and the encyclical Populorum Progressio (On the Progression of Peoples.) and finally the most sensitive and controversial papal teaching of the period, Humanae Vitae (On Human Life.) While the proclamations of the Second Vatican Council were widely heralded as significant and monumental for their times they were greeted with mild warmth in the political and social upheaval of the 1960s. Humanae Vitae encountered open hostility and contempt from not only the world’s Catholics but also some of the clerical hierarchy as well. For Pope Paul VI the implementation and consistent teaching authority of his office and the consecutive teachings of the Church was often considered a contradiction to the scientific revolution of the volatile decade in human history.
Benedict XVI, a priest at the council was considered as one of the theological experts drafted upon for counsel and direction by the Holy See during these proceedings. Since that time, his clerical career has taken quite a different turn other than priest expert to the Vatican Council. As we all know, he is now the successor to the council’s legacy and accomplishments and is in charge of guiding the Church still in transit post Vatican II. However the most remarkable understanding of the teachings of the council is becoming clear through the pastoral teachings of Benedict XVI. Namely, this Vatican II should no longer be considered as a theological rupture in the Catholic Church’s social and theological applications of the Church’s divine mission, but rather an integral component of the constantly unfolding mystery of the Church as the Body of Christ, and the Church as the divinely inspired salvation for the global community.
Much to the shock and consternation of the anti-Benedict contingent that continues to exist since his papal election, the Pope is a living sign of contradiction in his message and papal ministry. Since the ascent to Peter’s Chair, Benedict has personified the role of teacher and healer with his actions and words. It clearly seems that this Pope is in reality bringing the Universal Church into an appreciation and correct understanding of the Second Vatican Council not through adversity, authoritative legislation or solo papal rule but through the Gospel applications of love and justice which the Council proclaimed.
Benedict XVI is an active healer, an astute student of Vatican II and above all things a perceptive observer on the Church’s emerging global roles since Paul VI closed Vatican II in 1965. Seemingly, the message of the pontificate of Benedict XVI has been one of spiritual healing and political activism on the part of the Church as part of our baptismal commitment to the development of Gospel truths in a world that increasingly embraces Capitalism, global secularism and scientific empirical dominance of the human spirit. The hermeneutics of continuity is the most evident catch phrase of the Benedictine era while an accurate assessment and appreciation of the underappreciated and often maligned teachings and documents of the Second Vatican Council are more deeply explored and executed in the life of the 21st century Catholic Church.
The Church since the death of John-Paul II has astutely been guided by someone that was an integral voice in the formulation of the Church in the modern world. It is appropriately the right time for global Catholics to once again revisit the joyful optimism of documents such as Gaudium et Spes and Popolurum Progressio as the organic and living documents they were intended to be for the emerging Church and a globally shrinking world. The aspirations of John XXIII in calling together an ecumenical council were focused on the spirit of aggiornamento and opening the windows to the fresh winds of the Holy Spirit. Progressively, the Church indeed has experienced the winds of change, the pangs of labor and the postpartum depression associated with our liturgical and theological changes since the close of Vatican II.
However, Benedict XVI offers the global society an opportunity to reignite the flames of optimism created by the United Nations Charter, the inspirational foundation of the Peace Corps and the monumental end of the Cold War with a renewed vigor and understanding of an ever growing and organic Catholic Church that is constantly being transformed by Word and Sacrament since Vatican II.
There was a popular song in the 1960’s that emphasized,”the Spirit is blowing all over the land!” Indeed the Spirit of Vatican II is once again blowing over the land but now instead of anger, animosity, distrust and revolutionary reactionism we are called to unity reconciliation and global peace. Pope Benedict is providing a primer of contiguous Catholic moral, social and ethical teachings in an increasingly global society that is often identified by the “Have” and “Have Nots” in our unbalanced economic configuration. As a realistic cure to these maladies, the teachings of the last century on the role of the Church in the Modern World are increasingly poignant and critical in a globally expanding, but economically shrinking world economic order. The homage to Vatican II is very clear. The role of the Catholic Church is critically important in the world especially when the message of that role is the ever developing appreciation of truth and love in our society.
Often my thoughts are simply that Vatican II convened at the wrong place in historical reality for its teaching to be understood and appreciated in the contextual upheaval of the 1960s. Every day with the continued teachings of a global responsibility for the world’s Catholics I appreciate Vatican II more and more for the truly significant contributions it continues to make to our Church, our world and our global society. The collective teachings and consistent applications of the deposit of faith are essential in a world of fragile peace and sometimes broken promises. Remarkably, Benedict XVI with Caritas in Veritate shows the entire world that the teachings of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are universally important today as they were in the 1960s and first century Palestine. The people, places and times might have changed, but the message is essentially the same…Love in truth!

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