What Jason and the Callers don’t understand about history, historical consciousness, or what happened at Vatican 2, they could well learn from Mark Massa, a Jesuit and Dean of the School of Ministry and Theology at Boston College. Particularly instructive is this excerpt from the conclusion to his book, The American Catholic Revolution:
. . . there are at least three lessons to be learned from the Catholic sixties in the United States. . . . First, it seems highly unlikely that historical consciousness — the awareness that everything, including the Church, changes as history unfolds — can ever be effectively explained away again. True, some whom the secular press term traditionalists have been attempting that very thing since shortly after the Second Vatican Council closed. Those on the extreme end of these efforts view Vatican II as an anticouncil; that is, they see that even of 1962-65 as not being a real council of the Church at all, but rather an event abetted by the Forces of Darkness against the Fortress Church of Pius IX and Pius X. This group has always constituted an interesting but numerically insignificant group of Catholics.
More numerous — and more influential, at least in Europe — are those Catholics who even in the 1960s and certainly in the contemporary Church wish to claim Vatican II for the side of continuity and ahistorical Catholic truth: no “Rupture” did — or could — emerge from the implementation of the reforms of the council because the Church cannot change. But more to the point, they argue, is the fat that the council fathers implementing the reformed intended no such rupture with previous councils or Church practice. The efforts of this group — some in key hierarchical positions of authority — to ignore the genie let out of the bottle, or at least to act as though that genie offered nothing new and important, have found powerful spokespersons in the highest levels of Church government. But their arguments ignore the perspicacious law of unintended consequences, a law provable to the extent that it provides intellectual clarity on what in fact happened in the Catholic sixties. Mainstream Catholics in the United States, after the sixties, have come to understand their own revered brand of Christianity as having undergone historical development and change. The law of unintended consequences goes a long way in explaining why that perception has triumphed so broadly in the American Catholic community. Whatever the strengths of the arguments offered by the group attempt to claim Vatican II for the side of continuity, their failure to take into account the clear results of that law undercuts the important aspects of their position. Whatever the intentions of the bishop passing the conciliar decrees, the resulting documents sponsored a revolution that took on a life of its own, just as all events in history have a tendency to do. . . .
Second, the widespread acceptance of the seemingly self-evident truth that things change will make it increasingly difficult to propound or defend Church teaching and practice by appealing to timeless, static categories of propositional truth. This applies most particularly to the intellectual tradition of scholastic natural law, which the Catholic tradition has relied on for presenting its most important teachings since the thirteenth century. The fractious nonrecption of Paul VI’s encyclical on birth control, if nothing else, illustrates this with startling clarity. Whatever the truth of Paul VI’s teaching, the massive noncompliance accorded his encyclical shows that the great majority of American Catholics did not form their consciences along the lines of such moral reasoning, and have not since. There are of course many possible reasons for this lack of compliance on the part of the vast majority of practicing Catholics on an issue that the hierarchical Church has termed “serious matter.” Some of those reasons may indeed involve personal ignorance, sinful willfulness, or just plain selfishness. But an important reason for that noncompliance, what I would label as the main reason, is that the classical unchanging world it presupposes no longer makes sense to the vast majority of the faithful in the United States. What Bernard Lonergan so elegantly called the “transition from a classicist world view to historical mindedness” in fact describes the intellectual revolution that mainstream Catholics underwent during the sixties.
Whatever the strengths of that older classicist worldview — and it served the Catholic Church extraordinarily well for centuries — it can no longer provide plausible explanations for Church teaching . . . . The older intellectual categories of scholastic natural law, first enunciated so brilliantly by St. Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century, appear unable to accomplish that now. Perhaps the intellectual justification offered in its place to explain Catholic teaching will represent the most important long-term fruit of the intellectual revolution sponsored by historical consciousness in Catholic Christianity. Time will tell.
The third lesson that Massa draws is that the labels conservative and liberal no longer make sense of Roman Catholicism:
What the historical consciousness allows us to see is that none of these figures [Bernard Lonergan, Avery Dulles, the Catonsville Nine] can be appropriately understood by the application of political labels. What they had in common as central players in the socioreligious drama I’ve termed the Catholic sixties was a deep appreciation of how the religious tradition to which they all belonged had undergone historical evolution and change. That appreciation was as Catholic as it was modern, in the sense that Pius X so feared. At its core was the radical recognition that what faithful Christians did and believed in the mid-twentieth century was not always a faithful replication of what the early Christian and the medieval builders of the great cathedrals had done and believed. Sometimes this recognition was good news; sometimes it was a cause for reform. . . But at its root was an appreciation of disruption, discontinuity, and evolution as part of the very fiber of the Catholic tradition. Change was not foreign to the Catholic tradition: it defined it.
This is why the bumper sticker line, “This is the church Jesus founded,” can no longer be uttered with a straight face. (And for those who want to claim with a straight face that Rome is the church Christ founded, they need to consider that Massa’s book came out five years after Benedict XVI outlined the hermeneutic of continuity by which the magisterium was going to read the history of Vatican II. Apparently, Massa, an official at a prominent Roman Catholic university, did not get that memorandum.)