In August 2020 we discussed commentaries published by Catholic Family News, relating to the discussion between Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò and Bishop Athanasius Schneider about the Second Vatican Council. Because the Council addressed questions that were not merely ecclesiastical and liturgical, but also involved the secular world’s relationship with the Church, we gave special attention at the time to the Church’s traditional social doctrine, insofar as her moral teaching affects political and economic institutions.1 Now, more than a year later, we consider the more strictly religious aspects of the discussion that began in 2020. One reaction in Catholic Family News at the time was that of thanking both Archbishop Viganò and Bishop Schneider for engaging in this discussion, implying that, as a Catholic newspaper, it was avoiding taking sides. While appearing to support Archbishop Viganò’s categorical critique of Vatican II, the editors at the same time published an article by Father Serafino M. Lanzetta 2 that clearly supported Bishop Schneider’s position – that while some passages in the Council’s documents needed clarification or correction, the Council as such could not be rejected in its entirety. Father Lanzetta cited Cardinal Brandmüller as arguing that subsequent Vatican documents after the Council sufficiently clarified the Council’s teaching, giving Dominus Iesus of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as a principal example. Father Lanzetta described this position of Cardinal Brandmüller as “the historical reading of the documents of the Council,” which he referred to in his next paragraph as “the historical hermeneutic, which leaves the text in its context.” In other words, for Cardinal Brandmüller it is not the Council documents separated from their historical circumstances, but the historical context itself that serves to properly interpret the documents. Father Lanzetta, however, rejects this historical interpretation, and defends a more abstract theological analysis, which he associates with the position of Bishop Schneider. The author who emphasized this distinction between the theological texts of the Council, on one hand, and the Council as a historical event, on the other hand, was Church historian Roberto de Mattei in his book The Second Vatican Council: An Unwritten Story. His unique approach demonstrated that the Council documents must be distinguished – but at the same time cannot be entirely separated – from their historical context. And it was this position that was later adopted by Archbishop Viganò. However, in 2021 a dispute arose between Archbishop Viganò and Prof. de Mattei, regarding whether in all circumstances the Covid vaccines should or should not be rejected. After Archbishop Viganò went beyond a merely abstract consideration of the moral aspects of the vaccine, discussing as well the political and historical significance of what was taking place, Prof. de Mattei observed that Archbishop Viganò was entering into questions of the philosophy of history. This comment of Roberto de Mattei brought an observation from Brian McCall, editor-in-chief of Catholic Family News, who concluded in an online article that Archbishop Viganò had in fact adopted Prof. de Mattei’s own philosophy of history. Dr. McCall wrote: “…Professor de Mattei specifically attacks in this criticism the ‘philosophy of history’ in the Archbishop’s writings. In these texts, I discover a philosophy of history that is clearly indebted to Professor de Mattei. Rather than seeing the Second Vatican Council as a collection of abstract texts, His Grace has come to see the Council as an entire historical event, and one that is part of a larger revolution. This is the same philosophy that I read in The Second Vatican Council: An Unwritten Story. Is Professor de Mattei disturbed that Archbishop Viganò has become his pupil of history?” 3 While many critics of the Council, beginning with Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, had focused on specific passages in the Council texts, thereby enabling others such as Bishop Schneider to distinguish between what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in the Council’s documents, Roberto de Mattei, and then Archbishop Viganò, have added a more specific examination of the Council in light of Church history – not merely a chronology of the historical events, but more specifically the theology of history. By pointing out this common ground between them, Brian McCall has served to highlight the importance of the philosophy and theology of history and a basic agreement existing between Archbishop Viganò and Prof. de Mattei in spite of their differences. More recently Catholic Family News has reprinted a 1963 article of Msgr. Joseph Fenton,4 defending the traditional theology manuals against the criticism made at the time of the Council by the Canadian Augustinian Father Gregory Baum. Roberto de Mattei had mentioned Msgr. Fenton in his history of Vatican II as one of the first to alert Catholics to the dangers of the rise of neo-modernism. But unlike Roberto de Mattei decades later, Msgr. Fenton in the article tends to disassociate the majority of the Council Fathers from the principles of the new theology promoted by Father Baum. It was still early in the Council for Msgr. Fenton to have seen the direction in which the Council was going, and the degree to which the new theologians ultimately won the support of the Council majority. How the Church could enter into such a crisis can only be fully explained with the help of the theology of history. Today, however, those who have warned against the dangers of the current crisis have tended to move into two schools of thought, those who follow Archbishop Viganò, and those agreeing with Roberto de Mattei, and the disagreements revolve around different interpretations of this same theology of history. Two books published by Preserving Christian Publications address this question of the theology of history. One is Prof. de Mattei’s book Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira: Prophet of the Reign of Mary, a study of the philosophy and spirituality of the Brazilian leader who inspired Prof. de Mattei’s own understanding of the philosophy of history. The second is Pope Leo XIII and the Prayer to St. Michael by Kevin J. Symonds, an analysis of the vision that Pope Leo XIII had of a future assault of the devil against the Church, and in particular against the Chair of Peter, a vision which many have logically concluded refers to the crisis of today. _______________________
1 Cf. Part I of this series: http://www.pcpbooks.net/CFN.html.
2 “Vatican II and the Calvary of the Church,” Catholic Family News, vol. 27, no. 9 (September 2020), 3-4, 26.
3 “Two Editors of Archbishop Viganò’s Writings Respond to the Accusations of Professor de Mattei” https://catholicfamilynews.com/blog/2021/06/23/two-editors-of-archbishop-viganos-writings-respond-to-the-accusations-of-professor-de-mattei/
4 “The Teaching Authority of the Theological Manuals,” Catholic Family News, Part I, vol. 28, no. 11 (November 2021), 7-8; Part II, no. 12 (December 2021), 7-8, 18.