Post-Conciliary States of Mind

Author: Cardinal Pericle Felici


Cardinal Pericle Felici

Modern Insecurity

The Second Vatican Council has produced in some people a sense of insecurity which at times approaches a neurosis, charged with anxiety; a feeling that, according to certain psychologists, arises every time an individual leaves a known situation for a new one; in fact, every time that a situation without precedents contains surprises, then anxiety comes into play with the precision of a reflex. Freud himself, accepting an opinion of Otto Rank, states: "We may truly say that for each stage of development there is a corresponding anxiety state, and in consequence a situation of danger, related to the primitive one of birth."

In fact, the Second Vatican Council has created a situation in the Church that is without precedents, and to affirm this it is not necessary to speak arbitrarily as some do, of the end of the age of Constantine, of the abandonment of Tridentine discipline, in short, of a break with the past for a life and doctrine that are completely new. These are commonplaces, often devoid of sense, which only serve to confuse the issue.

New Ideas in the Air

The new ideas engendered by the Council certainly detract nothing from the substance of belief and the Christian way of life; they are destined if anything, to make it more valid, more efficient and more fruitful. Therefore I find unjustified the insecurity, the anxiety, which some people, as I have mentioned, reveal about the "new" ideas of the Council, almost fearfully entrenching themselves in the positions that Church authority itself has wisely abandoned as being anachronistic and in consequence productive of only undesirable results in these days. If insecurity still exists it must be overcome with courage, by obedience and fidelity to the magisterium of the Church.

Dangerous Innovations

There is however another uncertainty that causes worry and keen anxiety; this does not come from the clear decrees of the Council, nor from the wise innovations which find their life and sustenance in the Council, but from doctrinal and disciplinary changes that are against the substance of belief, against the priestly and Christian life. Such innovations are at times extremely dangerous, not only because they are presented in the name of the Council, but also because—as the Fathers of the first Bishops' Synod observed—"they are incautiously spread about by priests themselves, by religious, theologians, teachers and others, without taking into account the pedagogy of the faith." All this produces the indecision and confusion of which Pope Paul spoke recently, when he said that "they disorientate and weaken so many of the young generation".

Clear Teaching Needed

It is absolutely essential to overcome this risk, and every possible means must be used to do so. It is the duty of everyone: bishops, priests, religious and all believers. It is a duty to be carried out generously, by clear, precise teaching of the eternal doctrine, with the living testimony of our work, and with faith in Jesus Christ, the living stone of the sacred edifice who gives us certainty, security, and stability.

The Council has given great authority to the Bishops. It must be exercised with humility and kindness as befitting a shepherd, but with paternal firmness and certainty, else the flock will stray perilously.

Task of Theologians

Priests, religious and theologians must collaborate with the Bishops. The task of theologians within the Church is illustrious, and their services indispensable. The Bishops of the first Synod gave this warning: "Theologians should be conscious of their great responsibility, whether in the serious and scientific search for truth, or in the spreading of their conclusions, so that they will arouse in their brethren a spirit of love and reverence for the Word of God and for the magisterium of the Church."

Sanctity of the Goal

The two Council Popes, John XXIII and Paul VI, have often reminded us that sanctity is the duty of everyone, and sanctity is the leit-motif of many of the conciliar documents. Without it all reforms risk creating at the most a fine exterior, devoid of the internal structure, that has value and endures.

Today unfortunately one speaks a lot and prays little: at least, we pray less than we speak: and perhaps this is why so few come to hear us, or if they come, profit so little from our words.

The Lord is our refuge and our strength; we say it so often repeating the psalms. But if we are not constantly united to our Lord, then our refuge, our stability, our security escape us, even if to comfort ourselves we fall back on considerations aimed at exalting our human dignity.

Code of Canon Law

I should like to end these short reflections on the insecurity of the post-conciliar period by examining and answering two difficulties, which one comes across here and there, and which, expressed with confidence and under the pretext of scientific explanations, do, in a way, menace the Security which we need so much.

Here is the first difficulty. Since a new Code of Canon Law is being prepared, some people think that the 1918 Code is already out of date and therefore no longer binding. Others, in face of the multiplication of new laws, inevitable in any period of reform, hold themselves to be almost free in their actions. It is very superficial reasoning, which does not take into account this truth: that while a law exists, and until it has been revoked by the legitimate authority, it is still valid. On the other hand, when will the new Code be ready? In four or five years? Perhaps less? Perhaps more? One cannot say yet, even though the work of the study groups of the Commissions concerned becomes daily heavier. The Church cannot remain all that time without a law, even if it has to be changed in certain aspects, for it contributes to the good of society more than the otherwise inevitable arbitrariness of individuals.

I admit that the publication of the new laws, which occurred mostly after the Second Vatican Council, derogating from the previous laws, has made it difficult at certain points to know exactly what law is now in force. It is also true that the old law, still in force, has to be interpreted in the spirit of equity and charity to which the Council has given new vigour. But all this does not detract from the validity of the existing law.

Private Judgement?

Another source of insecurity lies in the tendency to attribute the value of probability (with the consequences deriving from the well-known system of "probabilism"), to purely personal opinions, not at all profound and widely spread by certain writers in a light and superficial manner. Equally, the very fact that a matter is under review by the competent authority induces some people to think that it is already permitted.

In addition it must be pointed out that a deeper examination of the question might result in confirmation of the traditional principle and doctrine; and then what? In any case, until the legitimate authority announces a change, one must follow the past directives of the magisterium. It is a guarantee of security: it is the criterion that finds its strength in the doctrine and spirit of the Second Vatican Council.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
18 April 1968, page 7

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