I have posted before about the memoirs of the great Cardinal Biffi. These memoirs are about to be published in a second, expanded edition. Cardinal Biffi’s remarks about the Second Vatican Council and its disastrous aftermath are quite insightful, and are a medicine (bitter to some) for any Catholic who contemplates the history of the last 45 years.
In order to bring a bit of clarity to the confusion that afflicts Christianity in our time, one must first distinguish very carefully between the conciliar event and the ecclesial climate that followed. They are two different phenomena, and require distinct treatment.
Paul VI sincerely believed in Vatican Council II, and in its positive relevance for Christianity as a whole. He was one of its decisive protagonists, attentively following its work and discussions on a daily basis, helping it to overcome the recurrent difficulties in its path.
He expected that, by virtue of the joint effort of all the bishops together with the successor of Peter, a blessed age of increased vitality and of exceptional fecundity must immediately benefit and gladden the Church.
Instead, the “postcouncil,” in many of its manifestations, concerned and disappointed him. So he revealed his distress with admirable candor; and the impassioned lucidity of his expressions struck all believers, or at least those whose vision had not been clouded over by ideology.
On June 29, 1972, on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, speaking off the cuff, he went to the point of saying that he had “the sensation that through some fissure, the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God. There is doubt, uncertainty, trouble, disquiet, dissatisfaction, confrontation. The Church is not trusted . . . It was believed that after the Council there would be a day of sunshine for the history of the Church. What has come instead is a day of clouds, of darkness, of seeking, of uncertainty . . . We believe that something preternatural (the devil) has come into the world to disturb, to suffocate the fruits of the Ecumenical Council and to prevent the Church from bursting into a hymn of joy for having regained full awareness of itself.” These are painful and severe words that deserve painstaking reflection.
How could it have happened that from the legitimate pronouncements and texts of Vatican II, a season followed that was so different and distant?
The question is complex, and the reasons are multiform; but without a doubt one influence was a process (so to speak) of aberrant “distillation,” which from the authentic and binding conciliar “reality” extracted a completely heterogeneous mentality and linguistic form. This is a phenomenon that pops up here and there in the “postcouncil,” and continues to advance itself more or less explicitly.
We can, in order to make ourselves understood, hazard to illustrate the schematic procedure of this curious “distillation.”
The first phase lies in a discriminatory approach to the conciliar pronouncements, which distinguishes the accepted and usable texts from the inopportune or at least unusable ones, to be passed over in silence.
In the second phase what is acknowledged as the valuable teaching of the Council is not what it really formulated, but what the holy assembly would have produced if it had not been hampered by the presence of many backward fathers insensitive to the breath of the Spirit.
With the third phase, there is the insinuation that the true doctrine of the Council is not that which is canonically formulated and approved, but what would have been formulated and approved if the fathers had been more enlightened, more consistent, more courageous.
With such a theological and historical methodology – never expressed in such a clear fashion, but no less relentless for this reason – it is easy to imagine the results: what is adopted and exalted in an almost obsessive manner is not the Council that in fact was celebrated, but (so to speak) a “virtual Council”; a Council that has a place not in the history of the Church, but in the history of ecclesiastical imagination. Anyone who dares to dissent, however timidly, is branded with the infamous mark of “preconciliar,” when he is not in fact numbered among the traditionalist rebels, or the despised fundamentalists.
And because the “counterfeit distillates” of the Council include the principle that by now there is no error that can be condemned in Catholicism, except for sinning against the primary duty of understanding and dialogue, it becomes difficult today for theologians and pastors to have the courage to denounce vigorously and tenaciously the toxins that are progressively poisoning the innocent people of God.