In an effort to show that OldLife is not unaware of developments in the Roman Catholic world and to help Called to Communion folks shed their own romantic understandings of Rome, I offer a few reflections from John W. O’Malley on differences between Vatican II and the Council of Trent. I had the privilege of taking a class from O’Malley, a leading Roman Catholic historian, during my days at Harvard Divinity School when he was teaching at Weston School of Theology. The quotations to follow come from “Trent and Vatican II: Two Styles of Church,” From Trent to Vatican II: Historical and Theological Investigations (OUP, 2006):
Trent and Vatican II dealt not only with different issues in quite dissimilar historical circumstances, or deal with and/or avoided the same issues in the same or different ways. They were different cultural entities. In this regard, Vatican II was not only unlike Trent but unlike any council that preceded it.
We are dealing, in other words, with two significanlty different modles of council. True, within Catholicism the continuities almost always outweigh the discontinuities. But Trent and Vatican II, when viewed in the large, are emblematic of two fundamental, interrelated, but notably different traditions of the Western Church. Those traditions are the juridical or legislative-judicial and the poetic-rhetorical. They both have their origins in the Greco-Roman world of antiquity and antedate the advent of Christianity.
O’Malley is here playing off the different ways in which each council communicated. Trent issued anathemas and called for crusades. It asserted church authority and hierarchy in response to the dangers posed by both Protestants and Ottomans. It echoed the precision and order of Thomism and scholasticism where the church had neat and definite beliefs that needed to be affirmed, or else. In contrast, Vatican II avoided condemnations for engagement with the modern world. Instead of issuing condemnations, Vatican II spoke in terms of praise and congratulations. Rather than pounding the table, the 1960s bishops wanted to engage in persuasion. And instead of invoking the precise formulations of scholasticism, Vatican II followed the Ressourcement movement of trying to recover the early church fathers as an alternative to Thomism.
In adopting a new style of discourse for its enactments, the Council thus effected a shift of momentous import. . . . It is perhaps fitting to conclude with one of the most radical of those ramifications. Vatican II was, indeed, unlike any council that preceded it. In fact, by adopting the style of discourse that it did, the Council in effect redefined what a council is. Vatican II did not take the Roman Senate as its implicit model. I find it difficult to pinpoint just what the implicit model was, but it was much closer to guide, partner, and friend than it was to lawmaker and judge.
If O’Malley is right, and I dare someone to question his historical insights, this puts CTC in a pickle. Those called and calling like the authority of Trent and Vatican I, when Rome assumed an authoritarian posture, the one that supposedly answers the diversity and confusion of Protestantism. At the same time, CTCers often invoke the early church fathers which Rome appropriated through de Lubac’s Ressourcement efforts. But as O’Malley suggests, these two phases of twentieth-century Roman Catholicism two exist uneasily side by side. It is hard to be judicial, laying down the law, and rhetorical, trying to persuade. This may explain why Protestants are unsure of their status. We thought we were condemned, but now were only separated brothers.
Either way, the folks at CTC do not seem to acknowledge these different sides of Rome. Maybe Called to Communion should be renamed Called to Confusion.