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    Chesterton and Gaudium et spes
    Posted by Hythloday on May 10, 2004, 11:21 pm

(NOTE: This is the opening post by a young man, Raphael or Hythloday, who writes on the CathNews Discussion Board. My own responses to him, which are linked below, provide one of the best explanations I think I have written on my own changing appreciation of what the spiritual quest is all about.)

As a Catholic "youth" (22), I thought I'd step from the sidelines and weigh in. I attended the national Chesterton conference on the weekend. There were a number of excellent talks, and though I'd grant concessionary prizes to Race Matthews and Dale Ahquist, first honours must go to a leading light of the Cummunio school. (I won't mention their name for fear of libel. Someone has already called this person a heretic based on my retelling of their talk. This is due entirely to my poor representation, and I don't want to repeat the error here!) Ostensibly, this person's talk was on "G. K. Chesterton and Gaudium et Spes", but the speaker elucidated marvellously on the cultural battle that has gripped the Church since the 1950s.

For those who don't know, the Communio school's basic premise is that the Church's cultural role is to free her people from "the slavery of being children of the age". Cardinal Ratzinger is the most prolific Communio thinker. He notoriously remarked, in the 1960s before he was a cardinal, that Gaudium et Spes appeared to be Pellagian. Ratzinger's opposite is Carl Rahner, of the Concilium school, which conceives (correctly) that Christ was a man for the people, the Gospel is for the people, popular culture is of the people, therefore (incorrectly) the Church must embrace popular culture to evangelise the people.

The speaker spoke of the ambiguity of Gaudium et Spes, arising from its construction. The writers intended the document to be read in homes around the world. Not just Catholic homes either, but protestant, Orthodox, and even non-Christian homes. Thus references to peculiarly Catholic dogmas, not to mention subtle intellectual distinctions, was shed. Wild interpretation of the document resulted.

Peter, you write of "the scandal-giving agenda of Vatican II with its 'inculturation'". Well, Communio thinkers would disagree with you. Ratzinger may have thought Gaudium et spes appeared Pellagian, but John Paul II ended his fears after he called a synod early in his papacy to address the interpretation of conciliar documents. He ruled that paragraph 22 of Gaudium et spes must be taken as the hermeneutic (intellectual "lens") through which the faithful interpret the document.

What's paragraph 22? Good question. It synthesises Christology and anthropology, and it also expresses one of the foundations of JPII's thought: the scandal of the Incarnation, God becoming man, fully reveals man to himself. This, according to our most impressive speaker, stuck a blow to the Concilium cause.

Alisdair McIntyre is (after the Pope perhaps) our age's leading critic of modernism. He is merely following in the footsteps of Chesterton. Both claim that the secular humanist and Nietszcean traditions which inform contemporary ethics will deteriorate into nihilism. Here is there line of argument:

The ethical claim that each individual human life is infinitely precious relies on "Catholic capital". Thinkers who were formed by Christian tradition, even if they choose to think outside of it, have no problem in asserting the innate dignity of each human being. Over time, new thinkers emerge who don't share the Christian heritage. Realists will study a red-faced, wart-nosed butcher with vulgar tastes and confess that they cannot see how he has any dignity. On what basis can we claim that he is infinitely precious and inviolable? We can't, except by recognising that the butcher is made in the image of God. The post-Christian realist can't make that assertion. Thus the Peter Singer position takes hold.

This is one way that demonstrates the importance of paragraph 22. Our speaker also used this argument to demonstrate that contemporary culture is irreconcilable with the Gospels, and that the Concilium project is doomed to failure. We can see the Concilium experiment in the reforms of the liturgy, especially in the excesses of "rock masses". Ughhh! (Talk about cheating us of the sacred!!)

Anyway, the speaker's point, and mine too, is that Vatican II isn't in itself guilty of this. And, I will personally add, the problem can't be reduced to Tridentine v. Novus ordo. Peter, your analysis of youth alienation is correct at its foundation, but it doesn't go far enough. Think beyond the liturgy!


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