Amoris Laetitia and Vatican II’s Project of Inculturation | Dr. R. Jared Staudt | CWR
Vatican II sought to initiate a dialogue with the modern world, meant to be an extension of the Church’s evangelizing mission. But things have not gone as hoped and planned.
Pope St. John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council amid great optimism. Pope John called for aggiornamento and an opening of the windows of the Church, but we know that the 1960s were not a time of fresh air. In fact, I would argue it was the breaking forth into daily life of a long trajectory of radical individualism. The Council sought a renewed encounter with the modern world after 450 years of conflict, but wading into the muddied waters of modern culture came with a cost.
We can point to many external indicators of crisis in the Church which followed from misinterpretations and misapplications of the Council. I would point underneath the surface to an underlying disposition as the source of this crisis. The engagement with modern culture, which Pope John rightly sought, led many—mostly unwittingly—to accept the fundamental precept of modern culture: radical individualism and autonomy. This individualism then led many to reinterpret their faith and practice as something which conforms to them (a more anthropocentric view of religion), rather than something to which they must conform (a theocentric view).
We see this individualism coming out in numerous and varied ways, but a few large trends emerged. First, the reinterpretation of revelation not as an objective deposit but as something that comes to us subjectively through experience. Next, we saw the effect of this reinterpretation on catechesis and education, which no longer sought to impart doctrine but to affirm the experience of the individual. Finally, this led to a relativizing and marginalization of the Catholic tradition and magisterial authority as constraints on direct experience. The crisis following the Council was brought about in large part by accepting the ethos of the age, which is made clear by the almost unanimous rejection of Humanae Vitae by laity and clergy alike in 1968. This rejection was in the name of conscience and individual freedom.
I would place the year 1968 alongside of another: 1517. As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation next year, it may be helpful to look to at the subtle and not so subtle ways that the Reformation has impacted the way contemporary Catholics view their faith and the Church’s authority. Luther’s view of the primacy of conscience and the individuality of faith, epitomized by his appeal to conscience before the Emperor Charles V, “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise,” have come to shape the way many Catholics view and practice their own faith. Like Luther, many Catholics view their conscience as authoritative while the authority of the Church must appeal to it for credence, rather than allowing their conscience to be shaped by the authority of the Church.
Vatican II and inculturation
Vatican II sought to initiate a dialogue with the modern world. This dialogue was meant to be an extension of the Church’s evangelizing mission. No more would the Church anathematize, but would engage the world in a brotherly exchange. Gaudium et Spes calls for this dialogue and then asks that the Church herself be marked by dialogue:
By virtue of her mission to shed on the whole world the radiance of the Gospel message, and to unify under one Spirit all men of whatever nation, race or culture, the Church stands forth as a sign of that brotherhood which allows honest dialogue and gives it vigor.
Such a mission requires in the first place that we foster within the Church herself mutual esteem, reverence and harmony, through the full recognition of lawful diversity.