The Church, the Council and the Unconscious:

How Hidden Forces Shaped the Catholic Church

by James Arraj

Part 3


Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 7

The Apotheosis of the Pope


We have already seen how in the old style preconciliar religious life, and in the new movements, the will of the superior was identified with the will of God. Thus, it is not surprising to find the same sort of identification, or even the archetype of it in the modern papacy. There is something in the human psyche that longs to find the divine in human form. We can see this projection of the divine on the human in the buildup to the First Vatican Council when the more extreme proponents of the cult of the pope created grandiose titles and powers for him.


Purple Papal Praise


For W.G. Ward in England, “all direct doctrinal instructions of all encyclicals, of all letters to individual bishops and allocutions, published by the Popes, are ex cathedra pronouncements and ipso facto infallible.”1 For Louis Veuillot, the ultramontane or pro-Roman editor of Univers, the question was, “Does the Church believe, or does she not believe, that her Head is inspired directly by God, that is to say, infallible in his decisions regarding faith and morals?”2 In the second quotation the phrase “inspired directly by God” catches our attention, pointing to the kind of theological attitude unleavened by critical psychological awareness that we saw in Chapter 1. 

These extreme statements from the laity were exceeded by those of the editors of the semi-official La Civiltà Cattolica in Rome: “the infallibility of the Pope is the infallibility of Jesus Christ Himself”; “When the Pope thinks, it is God who is thinking in him.”3 Among the many council fathers who needed no urging to support papal infallibility, some of the more fervent styled the pope the “Vice-God of mankind,”4 and spoke of the three incarnations of the Son of God, that is, in the Virgin, the Eucharist, and the old man of the Vatican. And Archbishop Manning of England before the council had stated, “A public utterance by the Supreme Pontiff on faith, morals or what are known as dogmatic facts, or on truths connected with question of faith or morals, is infallible.”5

In these overheated times the pope was called “King,” “Pope-King,” “Sovereign,” or “Caesar.” He was styled: “exalted king,” “most beloved of kings,” “most glorious prince,” “most exalted regent,” “supreme ruler of the world,” and even “king of kings.”6 And St. John Bosco called the pope “God on earth,” and further asserted: “Jesus has placed the pope higher than the prophets, than the precursor John the Baptist, than the angels. Jesus has put the pope on the same level as God.”7 In such a climate it is not surprising that some of the pope’s devotees sent out his hair clippings, or even his laundry, to heal the sick.8

Why repeat such excesses? It is because they illustrate by way of the extremes the powerful psychological process by which the transcendent realities of faith become materialized. All the fulsome titles thrown like flowers at the feet of Pius IX could not have helped his sense of balance. August Bernhard Hasler, a Swiss priest and historian, searched through the archives of Europe and came up with an unflattering portrait of  the pope and his handling of the First Vatican Council. According to Hasler this apotheosis of the pope was met, on his part, not with a disclaiming humility, but an unabashed avidity to be proclaimed infallible. This inordinate desire led him to countenance no oppositions among the conciliar fathers. He badgered and maneuvered them, and vindictively punished those who resisted. The pressure on the minority bishops at Vatican I was so extreme that some of the dissenting bishops left town to escape it, and not have to vote for papal infallibility the way it was framed. “In a fit of anger Bishop François Lecourtier threw his conciliar documents into the Tiber and left Rome prematurely. The papers were fished out of the water and brought to the Roman vicariat. Three years later Lecourtier had to pay the price for his gesture. He was dismissed as bishop of Montpellier.”9

For Hasler, the pope was inclined to the miraculous, and may even have been mentally unstable, which would certainly have made for a very potent combination. He may have believed, as well, that he had had visions of Mary, and certainly felt that she was at his side as he pushed forward his program to be proclaimed infallible. John Bosco, in a way that reminds us of the litany of saintly errors derived from visions and revelations that Karl Rahner compiled, had a vision in which he was told the pope should go forward with his crusade for infallibility even if he only had two bishops to support him. Hasler comments: “Even before this, numerous reports had arisen that the pope considered himself inspired and believed in his unique divine mission to define infallibility. Nothing could deflect him from this path. Many people claimed that Pius IX actually spoke of feeling infallible. He evidently thought of himself as enlightened by God in a special way. Bishops and diplomats talked about his extravagant mysticism and unhealthy illuminism.”10

This mixture of credulity and faith was not confined to the pope. Cardinal Karl August Graf von Reisach, for example, a strong supporter in infallibility during the buildup to the council, was part of the inner circle of clerics that surrounded the Bavarian visionary Louise Beck, and probably consulted her about the question of infallibility. Directed by two Redemptorist priests, she slept with both of them “in reparation for the sins of the world, a practice known as “the mystery in the mystery.””11


The Pope and the Melkites


It is little wonder, Hasler felt, that questions were raised by historians then, and ever since, about the lack of freedom of the council fathers leading to the question of the validity of the conciliar declaration on infallibility. Other historians like Giuseppe Martina, the author of a massive biography of  Pius IX, found this portrait much too unnuanced, and concluded that the irregularities in the running of the council were not serious enough to invalidate its conclusions. But even in Martina’s account, we find stories that illustrate the danger of confusing papal prerogatives with a cult of personality. The first example has to do with the Melkite patriarch Gregory II Yussef who on June 14, 1870 defended the rights of the patriarchates on the council floor. Hasler’s account goes like this: “In wild exasperation the pope ordered the patriarch to come see him. When Yussef kissed the foot of Pius IX in the traditional fashion, the pope placed his foot on the patriarch’s head (some said his neck) after the manner of a pagan conqueror, and said, “Gregor, you hard head you.” Then he rubbed his foot about on the patriarch’s head a while longer. After Pius had died, the Holy Synod of the Greek-Melkite church (under the presidency of Patriarch Maximos IV Saigh) filed two separate reports of this event in Rome in order to block the pope’s canonization. For a long time Yussef himself did not dare to speak of the incident, for fear of causing a schism in his church.”12 This, at least, was the story that was transmitted orally to a few Melkites, including Maximos IV. There was, however, a milder version of this event written down at the time in which the pope simply told the patriarch that he had a hard head, and this account Martina finds more probable.13

Even apart from this incident, the Melkites at the eve of the Second Vatican Council had reasons to be wary of Rome’s centralizing and latinizing tendencies. We may note by way of parenthesis a number of incidents in the modern history of the Melkite church which illustrate the problems that are caused when the pope is seen as the font of all authority in the church. In 1957 Pius XII issued a motu proprio, Cleri sanctitati, restricting the traditional autonomy of the Eastern churches by placing the patriarchs behind the cardinals and Roman officials in precedence, limiting the power of the patriarchs in naming bishops, and allowing Eastern Christians who converted to Roman Catholicism to select a rite different from their rite of origin. Maximos IV called for a synod to meet in Cairo in February, 1958, to protest these measures, and rumors spread that the Melkites were about to go into schism, and that curia officials were trying to block the visas of the Melkite bishops who were traveling to Egypt.14 This appeal to Rome was repeated in May, 1959, this time addressed to Pope John XXIII. When the Melkite bishops gathered at Ain-Traz in August, 1959, they created a common votum for the upcoming council which pointed to the central obstacle in the relationship between the Eastern and Western churches, which was a concentration of power in the person of the pope, making the patriarchs and bishops into his delegates. At the end of 1959, however, the Holy Office issued an instruction to the Latin rite bishops of the U.S. under whose jurisdiction the Melkite priests there fell, not to allow them to use the vernacular in the liturgy according to their traditional practice. Maximos protested to the pope, and the instruction was withdrawn.15 In a speech in 1960 Maximos said, if to be Catholic it is necessary to renounce one’s own liturgy, hierarchy, patristics, language and culture, “the Church is no longer the grand gift of God to all of humanity, but a faction.”16

It is hard to imagine that the incident of Gregor Yussef didn’t smolder in the back of the minds of Maximos IV and the other Melkite bishops when they acted in concert and addressed the Second Vatican Council. They could speak from experience about any number of liturgical changes on the council’s agenda like the use of the vernacular at the Mass, communion under two species, and concelebration, but at a deeper level they could advance another ecclesiology that challenged the one prevailing in Rome. In May, 1962, addressing the central commission of the council, Maximos criticized the proposed schema on the church for advancing what he called a new dogma: “the dogma of the Roman pontiff as the ultimate fount of every power in the Church.”17 He said that if the authors of the schema wished to propose this new doctrine, they ought to present it openly to the council fathers for discussion and definition. In the Melkite church things were different, he continued, for a synod selected new bishops without the need of Roman confirmation – that is, up until the motu proprio of Pius XII. On November 27, 1962 during the discussion on the schema on the orthodox and uniate churches came what Giuseppe Ruggieri called, “the Melkites’ Day” which was a coordinated strategy on the part of the Melkite bishops at the council to criticize the schema’s weaknesses. They did this not only to safeguard the ancient heritage of their own church, but to try to genuinely represent the interests of the orthodox with a line of reasoning that ran: “If the Latin church cannot treat the Eastern churches in union with Rome in a suitable manner, then how can the Orthodox churches who might be considering reunion expect anything better?” The most fundamental critique came from Patriarch whose intervention Ruggieri summarized as: “The Church of the East does not owe its origin to the Roman see but is the firstborn of Christ and the apostles; its development and organization had been the work solely of the Greek and Oriental fathers. Furthermore, if the schema wanted to speak to this Church, it should have spoken first and foremost of something which this Church had preserved in its tradition, but of which the schema said nothing, the Catholic doctrine of the collegiality of the Church’s shepherds. Only after this collegiality had been introduced was it possible to speak of the pope as “the central foundation of collegiality”.”18 In October, 1963 in defense of collegiality, the patriarch said that the single head of the church “is our Lord Jesus Christ and Him only… and it cannot be said of the Roman pontiff, as it is said of Christ, using the same title and without distinction, that he is the head of the church… The foundation of the Church is constituted not only by the pope, but by all the other apostles.”19 The designation of bishops is not reserved, he went on, by divine right to the Roman pontiff, and what is a contingent fact of Western Christianity cannot be transferred to the universal church and turned into dogma.


“I am the Church!”


But let’s end our parenthesis on the Melkites, and return to a more widely known incident that occurred at the First Vatican Council, and one which Martina does accept the authenticity of. It came in the wake of a speech by Cardinal Guidi who had dared to say on the council floor that instead of talking about the personal infallibility of the pope, one should speak, rather, of a magisterial infallibility, and it should be anathema to say that the pope makes infallible statements independent of the church. This speech gained Guidi the congratulation of many council fathers, but that very evening he was called in by the pope who told him that it was an error to say that in irreformable decrees the pope was obliged to investigate the tradition of the church. Guidi disagreed with him, and the pope, in a revealing outburst, said: “Yes. It is an error because I, I am the tradition. I, I am the Church!” (“Io, io sono la tradizione, io, io sono la Chiesa!”)20 Even if we write this off as a temperamental outburst of the pope under strain, it can be taken as a prime example of the danger of fusing the infallibility of the pope, expressing the understanding of the church, and infallibility as somehow the pope’s personal prerogative.

The grandiose titles of the pope were certainly not restricted to the time of Pius IX. J.M.R. Tillard in The Bishop of Rome draws on modern, Vatican I, and medieval examples to illustrate a theme he calls making the pope “more than a pope.” He calls this tendency: “An ancient spring that knows neither theological criticism nor enlightened pastoral care lies hidden in devotion and popular spirituality, waiting for a pretext to break out.”21 And we would not go too far wrong if we located this spring in the depths of the unconscious. In recent times, he tells us, a group of bishops, perhaps inadvertently, styled the pope “successor of God,” and a lay catechist asked on the occasion of the pope’s visit to the Philippines why the pope was so important to him said, “Because the pope is the person on whose word the whole life of the Church depends.”22

At the time of Vatican I, a Roman prelate declared: “I am very happy that the bishops are coming to Rome, for they will see that the pope is everything and the bishops nothing.”23 What kind of atmosphere exists when a pope could be called “the vice-God of mankind,”24 or a pre-Vatican II theologian could write: “If, in a world which is becoming one, the Church wishes to remain one, the papacy must speak, must speak often and must direct everything.”?25

This florid papal praise of recent centuries can be traced as least as far back as the Middle Ages. Innocent III (d. 1216) for example, said that the pope “stands mid-way between God and man… less than God but more than man.”26 The Cardinals Colonna in 1297 said that the transition and deposition of bishops ought to be reserved to the pope because “in some way he is God, that is to say, he is God’s vicar. (quodammodo Deus est, id est Dei vicarius)”27 And Álvarez Pelayo (d. 1349) put it this way: The pope “is not simply a man but God, that is, the vicar of God. He is in some way as it were God on earth. (quasi Deus in terris est)”28 

There exists, then, a kind of papal maximalism that puts more and more emphasis on the central role of the pope in the church. The pope, himself, becomes a privileged channel of grace, the supreme religious superior whose will is the will of God. Then all his pronouncements tend to seen as divinely inspired, and the idea of infallibility becomes a personal attribute which spreads an aura of infallibility around all the pope says and does.

And we need not imagine that this inflated sense of the papacy was restricted to Pius IX. It can be found in the life of Pius XII, as well. He has been depicted as an introverted man given to withdrawal, sensitive to noise, concerned about his health, and prey to inner doubts and insecurity, and all these things contributing to his wrapping himself in a cloak of aristocratic aloofness.29 Let’s say by way of hypothesis that this portrait is reasonably accurate. If it is, then we have a way to understand his behavior when, for example, he allowed himself to become estranged from his own curia and took on the role of being his own Secretary of State. We can see why he would restrict access to himself to a handful of people who included his two nephews. In his old age his isolation and behavior became more extreme. He allowed his long-term companion, Sr. Pascaline, to play watchdog and decide who should have access to him. She made the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Tisserant, for example, wait for two months on occasion to see the pope, and she screened out “unnecessary wasters of the Holy Father’s valuable time.”30 In fits of rage, we are told, later in his life, the pope would call up his subordinates to berate them, and demand that people address him on their knees. One curial official called this style of governing “byzantine and weird.”

Such a picture compensates for the overly pious one that circulated during his life in which the pope was completely dressed in white, praying in the Vatican gardens, weighed down by the burdens of the whole world, and receiving divine communications like the visions of the Blessed Virgin that came as a confirmation of his announcing the dogma of the Assumption.


Papal Power and the People of God


Underlying this cult of the papacy is a certain ecclesiology which is often accepted without critical examination as some sort of divinely given fact. Leonardo Boff, the Brasilian liberation theologian in his Church: Charism and Power in the face of criticism that liberation theology was deformed by Marxism, dared to point out that the Vatican, itself, in its authoritarian structures, resembled the Kremlin.31 His analysis of the structural faults of the institutional church was devastatingly accurate, and worth examining in more detail. The legitimacy of Roman authority, he tells us, “comes not from below but from above, from the will of God. The higher someone is in this hierarchy the closer one is to God and so has a greater share in God’s divine power. To obey one’s superior is to obey God, making obedience a religious act… this style of authority is untouchable and not subject to any internal criticism. Criticism from within any of the orders is only possible from a higher authority. A questioning from below would be equal to a revolution in the universe. Thus, any thought of transformation is the same as an attack on God who is author of both the order and structure of sacred power… What the Church defends is not so much its divine authority but the historical form that this authority has assumed.”32 

In contrast, new ways of being the church are springing up, a “true ecclesiogenesis” is taking place in the form of the comunidades eclesiales de base. Boff criticizes the process by which “a specific historical form of the church from a particular time was justified theologically and consecrated for all times.”33 This must be opposed for a theological normalcy. “The evolution of Catholic reflection is based on the continuing destruction of the notion of the Church as issuing forth complete and fully formed from the savior’s hands.”34 We could say that this flash freezing in time of the church’s structure is a very human process in which the dynamic nature of our understanding of faith becomes fixated in particular human forms. This creates a pathology, according to Boff, in which “the institution of the Church is absolutized in such a way that it tends to substitute itself for Jesus Christ, or to understand itself as his equal. Instead of serving as the sacrament of salvation, it makes itself independent, self-complacent, oppressively imposing itself on others.”35 This is a confusion of the “message with its historical concretizations,” and “(t)here is nothing further from the evangelical spirit than the catholicistic system’s pretention to unlimited infallibility, to unquestionability, to absolute certainty.”36

When Boff looks at popular Catholicism, his analysis of its pathologies comes very close to the analysis we have been pursuing in regard to the institutional church, itself. “Owing to its very structure, it is more subject to deviations because there is a predominance of experience over criticism, of symbols that are born in the subconscious over concepts that are developed through conscious reason. Archetypes of the religious experience of humanity often arise from the collective subconscious, endangering Christian identity.”37 This process in regard to papal maximalism is exemplified by the statement by Pius X: “Only the college of pastors have the right and authority to lead and govern. The masses have no right or authority except that of being governed, like an obedient flock that follows its Shepherd,”38 or the sentiment of Gregory XVI in Mirari vos: “it is of the utmost absurdity and highly injurious to say that a certain restoration or regeneration (of the Church) is necessary for it to return to its primitive security, giving it new life as if to believe that the Church is susceptible to defect, ignorance, or any other human imperfection.”39 In such views the teaching church “knows all and interprets all,” and the lay person “knows nothing, produces nothing, and receives everything.” In contrast, Boff looks to the church as the people of God and its hierarchical leaders as servants of the community. “There is a fundamental equality in the Church. All are People of God. All share in Christ, directly and without mediation.”40 

Paul Collins, an Australian priest, makes much the same case in his book Papal Power in which he unflinchingly criticized papalism, “the constant movement toward centralized bureaucratic control and narrow orthodoxy,”41 and he didn’t fear to point out the downside of the “omnipresent papacy” exemplified by the extensive world travels of John Paul II in which the pope became treated as a media superstar around whom everything is organized, and upon whom everyone is focused to the detriment of the local church and its problems. The media make the pope “seem to be personally present,”42 and reinforces the idea that the pope is the church, and the church in the person of the pope is literally dropping down from above, speaking and acting while everyone else receives, and then he is gone.

It is hardly surprising that during the media coverage of Pope John Paul II’s last illness, a major news service, in describing the dilemma that the church would face if the pope were incapacitated, called the church “an absolute monarchy in which all power is invested in him.”43

In final analysis, the apotheosis of the pope can overshadow individual popes despite their intelligence and holiness. They become caught up in their own cult, as it were, or put in another way, under the heading of faith a certain all too human vision of the church creeps in and becomes enshrined. If the papacy can be shaped by unconscious psychological forces, then why can’t the Church’s teachings themselves undergo similar influences?




Chapter 8

Humanae Vitae


Pope Paul VI’s encyclical letter, Humanae vitae of July, 1968, which condemned artificial contraceptives, was a pivotal moment in the life of the postconciliar church. The events that led up to it, and the repercussions it had, form a privileged window to see the subterranean dynamics that we have been examining at work. More precisely, the question becomes how much of the endless and often acrimonious debates over birth control had to do with birth control, itself, and how much with the notion of papal authority and distorted views of it.


The Papal Birth Control Commission


By the early 1960s the question of birth control was already a looming pastoral problem as Catholic married couples turned to other means of contraception besides the rhythm method, and as a result, stopped receiving the Eucharist. By the fall of 1963 the question of contraception, focusing on the pill, was being informally discussed at the second session of the Vatican Council and elsewhere. Pope John XXIII, at the urging of Cardinal Suenens, had established a secret Birth Control Commission which was kept in existence by Paul VI. Its original six members met in October 1963 at Louvain, and then the following April in Rome, by which time to group had grown to 13.1 Theologians like Josef Reuss and Louis Janssens had moved from private discussion of birth control to publishing articles about it in the theological journals, and the issue broke into the secular media with an article in Time magazine in April, 1964, by Robert Blair Kaiser. Kaiser’s 1985 book, The Politics of Sex and Religion, was to become an indispensable aid for understanding the inner workings of the commission.

By its third meeting in June, 1964, the commission had a membership of 15, and by the fourth meeting in 1965 it had grown to 58, and included sociologists, demographers, psychologists, medical doctors and theologians, as well as experts on rhythm, and a few people there in their capacity as married people. The final meeting with the addition of a group of bishops brought the commission’s membership to 72, and while discussions became inevitably more complicated, they eventually evolved towards a broad consensus which was a rather remarkable achievement given the diversity of the professions involved.2 This evolution can be illustrated by the development in the thought of the theologians. The silence of theologians about birth control in the preconciliar period had been more an indication of the repressed state of theology than the fact that everyone judiciously had agreed with the Roman position. The popes, in this case both Pius XI in Casti connubii, and Pius XII, had spoken, and if theologians had misgivings, they kept them to themselves. Thus when greater theological freedom appeared with the advent of the Vatican council, the question of birth control could not draw on something comparable to the hard-won insights that the theologians of the nouvelle théologie were now bringing to the council floor for discussion. Thus, the Birth Control Commission had had to cast about to find a sense of direction, and then to work towards a consensus. The theologians began from a starting point in which conceiving a change in the traditional position was almost unthinkable, but by the last meeting in April, 1966 they were ready to vote. They voted 15 to 4 in favor of the reformability of Casti connubii, and by the same margin denying that contraception was intrinsically evil. The 15 episcopal members appointed for this final meeting voted 9 to 3 with 3 abstentions that contraception was not intrinsically evil, 14 to 1 in favor of the pope speaking out as soon as possible on this question, but only 9 to 5 concerning whether a change could be described in continuity with tradition. This 9 to 5 vote was a straw in the wind of troubles to come. The commission’s report now went to the pope on June 28, 1966.

One might be excused for imagining that with the commission’s report in hand the pope would have gone ahead, made his decision, and had written his encyclical in relatively short order, but over two years were going to pass before Humanae vitae saw the light of day. The conservative opposition on the commission had coalesced around the Jesuit moral theologian, John Ford, and aided by his fellow American, the philosopher Germain Grisez, he had crafted a minority report that made its way to the pope, probably by the good offices of Cardinal Ottaviani, head of the Holy Office, and himself a member of the Birth Control Commission.

The arguments advanced by the majority of the papal Birth Control Commission were the result of new theological thinking, and thus somewhat fluid and not formulated in a finished way. They were also dominated by a pastoral approach for the members of the majority had actually listened to married people, and had been influenced by what they had heard about the difficulties in the use of rhythm. But the majority report did not address the issue that was most on the minority’s mind: how could a change in the church position be seen as being in continuity with past teaching?

The minority report, signed by John Ford, Jan Visser, Marcelino Zalba and Stanley de Lestapis, was a very different creature. While it did advance some arguments from a natural law perspective, it concentrated on a particular kind of reason that was to prove convincing to the pope. Under the heading of “Why Does the Church Teach that Contraception Is Always Seriously Evil?” the authors made a startling admission, which is all the more surprising since they had just stated that contraception is wrong in virtue of the natural law which, we can be excused for imagining, ought to be accessible to human reason. “If we could bring forward arguments which are clear and cogent based on reason alone, it would not be necessary for our commission to exist, nor would the present state of affairs exist in the Church as it is.”3

This is a clear indication that the thrust of their argument is going to be elsewhere. Why can’t the Church change her teaching? Because it is true, we are told. But why is it true? “It is true because the Catholic Church, instituted by Christ to show men a secure way to eternal life, could not have so wrongly erred during all those centuries of its history… If the Church could err in such a way, the authority of the ordinary magisterium in moral matters would be thrown into question.”4 What is being implied here is that the past teaching cannot be changed because it is infallible in virtue of the way it has been taught by the ordinary magisterium, that is, by the whole episcopate through the centuries, but this will only slowly become explicit.

How was the pope going to react to this line of reasoning? Perhaps in retrospect it is not surprising that he acted in the way he did because there had already been a trial run for these kinds of arguments at the council, which had pointed to the hold that this kind of reasoning had over him. Pope Paul VI, despite his genuine progressive tendencies, had not been able to go about deciding the issue of birth control in a truly collegial way. He had refused to let the council have an open discussion about birth control. When the council fathers did discuss marriage as part of the schema on the relationship between the church and the world, Cardinal Suenens had spoken on rebalancing the ends of marriage, that is, the love between the spouses and children, and he had suggested that the pope might reveal the names of his Birth Control Commission so all might send them their views, and the church would avoid another Galileo affair. He was followed by Patriarch Maximos who dared to say, “And are we not entitled to ask if certain positions are not the outcome of outmoded ideas and, perhaps, a celibate psychosis on the part of those unacquainted with this sector of life?”5 They were answered by Cardinal Ottaviani, who replied, “Does this mean that the inerrancy of the Church will be called into question?”6 Suenens was called on the carpet by the pope, and forced to deny to the council that he had questioned the church’s teaching, and to state that the pope’s commission “depended solely upon his supreme authority.” It was this supreme authority that apparently was uppermost in the pope’s mind, and made him vulnerable to the conservative arguments that invoked the question of the inerrancy of the church.

Later, when the schema was being revised, the pope sent four amendments to be incorporated in the text, the thrust of which were to highlight the past teaching of Casti connubii condemning contraception. The commission in charge of the revisions tried to soften these demands, and omitted the reference the pope wanted to the place in the schema to Casti connubii where it condemned artificial contraceptives. The pope, however, was to have the last word. He insisted that the council fathers be informed that the text they had before them to vote upon should be understood to contain the footnote to Casti connubii which in fact would appear in the final version. Where had these amendments come from? They had probably been the work of John Ford, and when the pope’s letter demanding them had been submitted to the commission, “Xavier Rynne reported “a look of triumph” on John Ford’s face, while Cardinal Browne is supposed to have said, Christus ipse locutus est – “Christ himself has spoken.””7 All this did not bode well for the pope following the judgment expressed in the majority report. The pope set up another secret commission, if not more than one, headed by Cardinal Ottaviani, and called on the services of Bishop Colombo, Ermenegildo Lio, Marcelino Zalba, Jan Visser, and Josef Fuchs, as well as Ferdinando Lambruschini and Gustave Martelet.8

The members of the Birth Control Commission’s majority could only wait with the rest of church to see what would happen. Among the majority members waiting were Patrick and Patricia Crowley of Chicago. The Crowleys’ thoughts and feelings, like those of many of the commission’s theologians, had also undergone a significant evolution. At the beginning they had held back. “We didn’t know what the church wanted. It wasn’t until later that we realized that ‘the church’ didn’t know any more than we did. We were the church.”9 Patricia Crowley would look back and reflect on the fact that of the five women on the commission, only three of them were present in their capacity as married women. “It just struck me as ridiculous,” she said years later. “How could they be talking about marriage and birth control of all things without a lot more input from the persons most directly involved?”10 At the end of the meetings of the commission, Patrick Crowley, in words which were unfortunately to be prophetic, said: “I think we agreed that the sense of the faithful is for change. No arguments were presented on the side of the status quo other than the one that Rome has spoken once and to change would undermine the magisterium. I must say I heard no other argument and I don’t think this is a good argument to support an otherwise objectionable position… The preponderance of testimony from the lay members showed that change is anticipated and great problems will arise if no change is made. If the church fails in this, much of the progress made by the council will be lost. If the church, that is, the members learn that change was refused when reason seemed to dictate change, I think the authority will be undermined more than by any change.”11

Hans Küng paints a negative picture of the back corridor activity that gave birth to Humanae vitae:  “…(O)ne can only be sincerely shocked at the obscure, almost ghostly proceedings within the Vatican after the close of the official work of the commission in “a veritable labyrinth of editorial committees and individual reporting, frequently little or not at all informed about one another’s existence.””12 While Bernard Häring fills in the wider context in which the decision took place: “Since Vatican II, two very different groups have developed in the church. On the one side, there are the “congregations.” Of first importance is the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which in its structure and the longevity of its key figures carries a heavy burden of the past. Cardinal Ottaviani was a key figure there for 35 years. His chief advisors (e.g., in dogmatics, P. Sebastian Tromp, S.J., in moral P. Franz Xavier Hürth, S.J., Hermengild Lio, a Franciscan, and P. Jan Visser, a Redemptorist) had the say for decades. Furthermore, after the council most of the pre-conciliar consultors who in preparing for and during the council were against almost everything the council decided, remained.”13 

Oct. 29, 1966. Pope Paul in an address to the Italian Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology tells them that the Papal Birth Control Commission’s findings are not “definitive,” which is a signal that he is far from convinced by their arguments. He goes on to claim that the magisterium is in a moment of study and not of doubt.14 There are theologians who are of a different opinion. They feel that there is a genuine doubt about the question, and therefore the old axiom holds that in doubt there is liberty, and thus people are free to follow their consciences in this matter. Charles Curran who was teaching moral theology at the Catholic University of America was one of those making public pronouncements of this sort. In the spring of 1967 when his contract came up for renewal, the trustees of the university, despite the fact that the decision did not fall under their authority, decided to let him go. A student and faculty strike closed the university, and he was reinstated.

Charles Davis, one of Great Britain’s leading theologians, took deep offense at the pope’s “study not doubt” speech, considering it no better than a lie, and it served as a catalyst for him to come to a decision of leaving the church.

Leo Alting von Geusau at the Dutch documentation center had somehow gotten a copy of the commissions’ reports, and he passed them on through Gary MacEoin to the National Catholic Reporter which published them on April 19, 1967.15


The Reaction


The fruit of all the open and covert labor on Humanae vitae became visible to the entire world on July 25, 1968 when Ferdinando Lambruschini holds a press conference to announce the encyclical and to state twice that it was not infallible, a conference which was, in itself, to become controversial, as we shall see in a moment. The encyclical was released into a vastly different church landscape than had existed before the council, and it is likely that the pope and his advisors had seriously underestimated the reaction not only of theologians, but of married people and whole episcopal conferences.

July 30, 1968. A group of Catholic University of America professors, including Charles Curran, Robert Hunt and Daniel McGuire, make a public statement, signed by over 80 theologians from around the country – a number that was eventually to grow to more than 600 – dissenting from Humanae vitae. It claims that the encyclical had neglected the special witness of Catholic couples, and betrayed a narrow view of papal authority, and it makes a point that is going to be central in the controversies at the university to come: “It is common teaching in the Church that Catholics may dissent from authoritative, noninfallible teachings of the magisterium when sufficient reasons for so doing exist.”16 

August 1, 1968. The lay members from the United States who served the papal Birth Control Commission, among them John Noonan and Patrick and Patricia Crowley, hold their own press conference dissenting from the encyclical.

While the Catholic University statement of dissent was based on the right of theologians to disagree with non-infallible teachings of the church, a right that, they felt, was enshrined in even the preconciliar manuals, some members of the Board of Trustees of the University found this kind of open public dissent unacceptable, left the impression that no authoritative statement of the pope could be disputed, and created a board of inquiry. Cardinal O’Boyle, chancellor of the University, said of the dissenting theologians: “In my judgment, those who give Catholics advice like this are misleading them because, by implication, what they are saying is either that human judgment stands above the law of God or that the Catholic Church is lying when it claims divine authority for its moral teaching.”17 The Cardinal, not surprisingly, took Germain Grisez and John Ford for his theological advisors in the dispute. The board, however, after months of investigation, exonerated the dissenting professors. But Church authorities, especially when crossed in public, have long memories, and in 1979 the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith opened an investigation of Charles Curran that included not only his views on birth control, but in other areas of sexual ethics, and in 1986 he was told: “one who dissents from the Magisterium as you do is not suitable or eligible to teach Catholic theology.”18

It was not only theologians and lay people who were quick to express reservations about Humanae vitae, but whole episcopates. The bishops of Holland, Belgium, and Germany all nuanced their acceptance of the encyclical in a way that was similar to that of the Austrian hierarchy who wrote: “Since the encyclical does not contain an infallible dogma, it is conceivable that someone feels unable to accept the judgment of the teaching authority of the Church. The answer to this is: If someone has experience in this field and has reached a divergent conviction after serious examination, free of emotion(al) haste, he may for the time being follow it. He does not err, if he is willing to continue his examination and otherwise affords respect and fidelity to the Church. It remains clear, however, that in such a case he has no right to create confusion among his brothers in the faith with his opinion.”19 

These statements were echoed by the Scandinavian hierarchy who said: “No one should, therefore, on account of such diverging opinions alone, be regarded as an inferior Catholic,”20 as well as the Swiss and French bishops. We could certainly ask whether during the papacy of John Paul II the episcopal conferences would have felt they had the same freedom to dissent from what the pope was saying.




In 1970 Hans Küng in Infallible? An Inquiry carefully reflected on what he felt to be the reasoning of the pope in deciding Humanae vitae the way he did. In December 1965 Küng had had a conversation with the pope which he told Robert Kaiser about some months later. “If someone could show the pope how the insights of the Birth Control Commission were only a development of Casti connubii, then he would be able to say something tomorrow. But of course, they are not a development. To say so would be dishonest.” Küng said he urged the pope to say that Casti connubii was a mistake, an understandable mistake for Pope Pius XI to make. “The world,” Küng said, “will not make a big furor over this. Everybody makes mistakes. It’s no sin to err.”

The trouble was, Küng told Kaiser, that in a triumphalistic church, traces of which remained in the Roman curia, “error still seems to be the greatest sin of all.””21 

For Küng in 1970 Humanae vitae was the “very latest test case which is extraordinarily revealing in regard to the problem of infallibility.”22 When Küng asked himself why the pope sided with the conservatives, he, no doubt, has his conversation with him in mind. The pope could not simply follow the findings of his commission, but had to consider the long authoritative teaching of the church condemning contraception, especially that of his immediate predecessors Pius XI and Pius XII. This is what weighed on his mind, and this is what the majority report of the papal commission failed to adequately address, and provide the pope with a way of saying that the new change in teaching was, indeed, in continuity with the old. If the pope followed the recommendations of his commission, he would be admitting the church had erred, and this he could not do.

The minority report, Küng felt, was the more astute document. It saw more clearly what was at stake, and what arguments would weigh most heavily with the pope. Whether Casti connubii was considered infallible or not, the universal teaching of the church condemning contraception was enough to guarantee the infallibility of the doctrine in virtue of the infallibility of the ordinary magisterium. Küng, of course, did not believe that the minority report was right, or the pope’s decision was either. Quite the contrary. But Humanae vitae gave him an up-to-date example fresh in everyone’s mind – and thus easier to employ than ancient, historically controverted events – that demonstrated, he thought, how the church did, indeed, err, and therefore the real issue behind contraception was infallibility. When Msgr. Lambruschini said that Humanae vitae was not infallible, he angered the conservatives behind the encyclical, Kung thought, because he should have said it was “the intrinsically fallible document of a doctrine already infallible on other grounds.”

Charles Journet, the eminent Thomist ecclesiologist, a man of quite a different temper than Küng, pursued a similar line of reasoning in an article that appeared in L'Osservatore Romano on October 3, 1968: “One thing is certain: the ordinary teaching office of the Pope was here exercised in its fullness. The theologian who reflects on the seriousness of the matter, on the sublime light into which it was brought for clarification, and finally on the exactitude and certainty with which the answer was given, might even think that he was presented here – and this is our personal opinion – with a point of moral teaching which could be further defined and thus in the future be confirmed by a consensus of divine faith.”23 

Ermenegildo Lio was to later assert that Lambrushini’s press conference had been “corrected” by L’Osservatore Romano on July 29/30, 1968 when it had reported his remarks without his comments on the non-infallibility of the encyclical. Lio, himself, in his address opening the Lateran University’s academic year of 1968-69, used the word immutable in regard to Humanae vitae, and that was reported in L’Osservatore Romano, and was a position he was later to defend at great length in his book on Humanae vitae and infallibility.24 

In short, for Küng the conservative minority was wrong about contraception, but right in arguing for it by claiming that it represented a teaching infallibly proposed by the ordinary magisterium. Then he could turn around and claim that the doctrine of infallibility was in need of a major overhaul. Here is how he put his position: “There are only two possibilities: either, like the minority of the commission and the Pope, treat such teaching as infallible and irreversible and adhere to it despite all difficulties and objections, even, if necessary, sacrificing one’s intellect; OR simply question this whole theory of infallibility.”25

Küng’s analysis helps us grasp the peculiar nature of the debate over contraception, and consequently why it has remained deadlocked ever since the time of Humanae vitae. The progressives argue for a change on the basis of theological considerations, and the experience of married people. The conservatives closely embrace, whether implicitly or explicitly, a sense that they must be right because this is an infallible teaching of the church. This conviction allows us to understand their unwillingness, along with Pope John Paul II, to actively engage in a discussion of the matter. It is as if the arguments that can be brought forth for and against contraception in itself have been overtaken by a more powerful force. Thus, the minority report could make its devastating admission that it had no arguments to bring forward drawn from natural law, and yet still go on to argue for the condemnation of contraception. Further, in subsequent years, the supporters of Humanae vitae would spill vast quantities of ink trying to show how natural family planning was not a form of contraception, and they could, together with the Roman authorities, make adherence to Humanae vitae the touchstone of loyalty to the church, but what drove the project was not so much rational analysis, but a need to defend the infallibility of the pope.

Küng was to go on and argue that infallibility ought to be replaced by indefectibility, that is, the church could and did make mistakes, but God preserved it despite them. There is no need to pursue here that line of theological reasoning which was disputed by theologians like Karl Rahner at the time of the appearance of Küng’s book, and later by Francis Sullivan who claimed that indefectibility left us with as many problems, if not more, to solve than infallibility itself.

But more to the point, neither do we need to agree with Küng’s “only two possibilities,” that is, Humanae vitae as infallible, or infallibility, itself, as questionable. This is a point we will return to later because a more probing examination of the traditional teaching of the church on the use of the marital act shows that it is more complex than the authors of the minority report allow for. If we leave the question of infallibility and birth control aside, what we are faced with is a certain atmosphere of infallibility which influenced the whole discussion on contraception, and has pervaded the life of the postconciliar church, but it is infallibility driven from below by archetypal forces.

In 1978, as if to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Humanae vitae, an article by John Ford and Germain Grisez called “Contraception and the Infallibility of the Ordinary Magisterium” appeared in Theological Studies. It made the argument that had been the centerpiece of the minority report, and which we have seen Hans Küng commenting upon, more explicit: Humanae Vitae was infallible in virtue of the infallibility of the ordinary magisterium. By some sort of theological serendipity, aided by the deft hand of the editor of Theological Studies, Ford and Grisez’s article appeared back-to-back with one by Joseph Komonchak, “Humanae vitae and its Reception,” which carefully described the hurtles that any demonstration of infallibility by virtue of the teaching of the ordinary magisterium would have to overcome. In the process of doing so, Komonchak sketches the background to the whole issue, which is useful to us in our probing of the psychological atmosphere that surrounds this kind of reasoning. The idea of the ordinary magisterium applied to the teaching of the pope appeared for the first time in 1950 in Humanae generis which was, itself, the expression of a papal world which Yves Congar characterized: “More and more one gets the impression that the whole magisterium of the Church is concentrated in its head and is only expressed through him.”26 The popes like Pius XII with the help of their theological advisors had begun to speak like theologians on a wide variety of questions, but their utterances were not allowed to be freely examined and criticized as theology, for they were presented as a mixture of papal authority and theology, or better, theology gilded with papal authority. This ambiguous situation found an acute expression in Humanae generis when Pius XII wrote: “Nor should it be thought that what is propounded in encyclicals does not of itself (per se) demand assent, since the pontiffs do not exercise the supreme power of their magisterium in them. For these things are taught by the ordinary magisterium, to which that word also applies, “He who hears you, hears me”; and quite often what is propounded and inculcated in encyclicals already belongs to Catholic doctrine on other grounds. But if the supreme pontiffs purposely pass judgment on a matter until then under dispute, it is clear to all that the matter, according to the mind and will of the same pontiffs, can no longer be considered a subject of free discussion among theologians.”27

The council had opened up a window that allowed fresh air to blow into this rarefied world of papal authority and the parsing of papal statements, but Pope Paul VI, when it came to Humanae vitae, stepped back into the world of Pius XII. As Bernard Sesbouë put it, “A major reason for the malaise provoked by the encyclical comes from the fact that, as it happened, one man decided alone. This was resented in the Church the more strongly because the Council and the proclamation of the episcopal collegiality were such recent events… It then appeared very surprising that a single man decided alone a point so difficult and delicate, which so closely touched the personal lives of the Catholic faithful.”28 And that is how the pope did see it. In a candid pre-Humanae vitae interview he said, “…We will have to make the final decisions. And in deciding, we are all alone… God will simply have to enlighten us.”29 Komonchak succinctly describes this old ecclesiological world in regard to the relationship between the magisterium and the whole church: “The classical view conceives of this relationship as a “descending” or “participatory” movement. Christ entrusts the depositum fidei to the apostles and their successors; these “possess” it and it is they who transmit it to the faithful, whose role is the primarily passive one of receiving it from them in obedience. This paradigm places the pope and bishops (the ecclesia docens) between Christ or the Spirit and the faithful (the ecclesia discens).”30 In this old world scripture and tradition are “filtered through the magisterium,”31 and Congar could talk of a “veritable inflation of the category of infallibility.”32 Here we rejoin the theme of the apotheosis of the pope. But the role of the pope and his infallibility are conflated in a process whose roots lie beyond fully conscious reflection. The thoughts of the pope are taken to be somehow divine, and so powerful is the attraction to such a way of proceeding that it colored the whole discussion about contraception, just like it colors the discussion of the infallibility of the ordinary magisterium, as well.

Although accounts differ in detail, they agree in giving Karol Wojtyla an important role in the formulation of Humanae vitae. While he was unable to attend the final meeting of the papal Birth Control Commission because the Communist authorities in Poland denied him a visa,33 he worked vigorously behind the scenes. Based on his past experience and a study group in Kraków, he wrote a paper which he sent directly to the pope. “It was Wojtyla’s arguments and materials that proved decisive in helping the pope decide what his heart had been telling him all along: that the ban on artificial contraception must be upheld. After studying Wojtyla’s submissions, he went ahead with his decision and issued Humanae Vitae in mid-July 1968. Upon reading it Cardinal Wojtyla commented with satisfaction, “We helped the pope.” According to Father Bardecki, Wojtyla’s colleague from Tygodnik Powszechny, sixty percent of the text of Humanae Vitae can be traced back to the work of Wojtyla’s Kraków’s commission and his paper.”34 Even if this account overstates the case, Wojtyla played an important role in Humanae vitae, and that support of the pope did not go unnoticed and unrewarded. Wojtyla between 1973 and 1975 had eleven private audiences with the pope, and in 1976 was asked to deliver the prestigious Lenten retreat for the papal community.35 Thus, his support of Humanae vitae may have played a role in positioning him to become pope.

We will leave the story of Humanae vitae for the moment, but it is clear that one of the major determining factors in its formulation was the conception of the papacy held by Paul VI and the minority theologians, and this conception owes much to the apotheosis of the pope.



Chapter 9

The Counterreaction


The explosive energy let loose by the council made itself felt very quickly. The neoscholastic textbooks, for example, in some seminaries were swept away, and what took their place was not the result of careful deliberation, but a cobbled together collection of the latest theological ideas presented in academic style without regard for the coherence these ideas had with each other, or their compatibility with the faith. In the old theological world of the Piuses, philosophical and theological pioneers had struggled and suffered in order to be allowed to creatively express themselves, and they often had to justify their thought by showing how it did not depart from the narrowly conceived orthodoxy of the day. But now the energies born of repression began to express themselves in intemperate ways under the heading of the spirit of Vatican II, and before long some of the genuine pioneers of the council began to react to this reaction. Had they worked so hard and so long, to finally witness their insights being accepted by the church, only to almost immediately see them swamped by waves of excess?

It is safe to say that neither the council fathers nor anyone else ever anticipated the explosive release of pressure brought about by the council. It was recognized among those who focused on such things that the orderly church of Pius XII and the golden age had problems, even serious ones. But the imagined solutions were to be incremental modifications of what already existed, something like replacing Latin with the vernacular, and having the priest at Mass turn around and face the people.

What was overlooked was that this conscious life of the church rested on a deep sea of powerful currents of unconscious energy which had been growing in strength for decades, if not centuries. Once the council fathers made a breech in the hermetically closed system, this internal pressure began to vent. It was uncontrollable from above, and not even controllable by those who were driven to action by its force. It is remarkable how quickly this happened, and how early in the conciliar years a counteraction began to form.


The Enigma of the Peasant


Scarcely had the Second Vatican Council closed on Dec. 8, 1965 when Jacques Maritain at the age of 83 began to write what he thought of as his last book, The Peasant of the Garonne.1 The title was inspired by Fontaine’s a peasant of the Danube, that is, someone who calls a spade a spade, but altered by Maritain to reflect the fact that he was living with the Little Brothers of Jesus in Toulouse on the Garonne River.

But much more than the title needs an explanation. Maritain certainly spoke his mind in this book, yet it wasn’t immediately clear then, and perhaps even now, what his intentions were. Had Maritain with his well-known liberal tendencies become a cantankerous conservative in his old age? That kind of explanation doesn’t really fit the book, for while it is true that the bulk of his criticisms were directed at the progressives, he launched enough barbed remarks at the conservatives to disabuse us of that notion. Was old age simply making him slightly addled so that he had become bewildered, and then angry at a world no longer comprehensible to him? This doesn’t work, either, for The Peasant is filled with splendidly lucid pages in which Maritain revisits with new energy some of the most challenging themes of his work.

The Peasant does, at times, have a certain biting tone to it of the sort: “And in beholding the Church, I kneel (that’s a vanishing custom, but so much the worse) in profound thanksgiving.”2 Or, “No one, however, has to look very far to marvel at the resources of human foolishness, and to understand that foolishness and theological faith can certainly keep house in the same brain, and hold a dialogue there – as everybody is doing now with everybody else – even though such contact is likely to prove unhealthy for the latter.”3

These kinds of temperamental outbursts which were probably more visible as his energy dwindled with age, and because his wife, Raïssa, was no longer at his side, should not distract us from the substance of what he is saying. He is launching a critical examination of what he calls, for want of a better term, neomodernism. What is at stake is not the “new theology,” as the dust jacket of the American edition of The Peasant would have it, but something akin to the old modernism, but now a fever compared to which the old modernism was just a “modest hay fever.” This new modernism is an “immanent” apostasy… which intends to remain Christian at all cost.”4 From the perspective of this new modernism “the objective content to which the faith of our forefathers clung, all that is myth…”5

If we strip away Maritain’s parenthetically barbed asides, we will find a view that converges with the cycles of action and reaction we saw in the rise and fall of Thomism. It is not enough, he tells us, to analyze the conceptual statements of these new modernists for, “we must take into consideration what occupies the depths of their psyche, what they are and do in the wholly singular domain of the irreducibly subjective and irrational, even that which at times escapes their own awareness.”6 If consciously they are performing a “hermeneutic evacuation,” on another level they are rendering to faith a “desperate witness,” trying to make it relevant to the modern world.

There is a left and right, both in a temperamental and a political sense. Temperamental differences are inborn, and therefore inevitable. We can only try to avoid their excesses, and Maritain acknowledges that in this sense he is a man of the left. But when it is a question of political parties that “have become nothing more than exasperated affective complexes carried away by their myth-ideal,” it is better to try to be neither of the left nor of the right.7 Maritain wants to deal with the left and right where politics mixes with religion, where “declaring a given religious position, one was necessarily announcing in the same breath a particular political position, and vice versa.”8 For describing this particular mix Maritain finds the terms integralists and modernists too religious, and conservatives and progressives too political, so he coins his own term for the left, the Sheep of Panurge, and on the right, the Ruminators of the Holy Alliance. “I keep myself as far as I can from both camps, but it is quite natural (if hardly pleasing) that I feel myself less distant from the first when it is a question of things that are Caesar’s, and less distant from the second (alas!) when it is a question of the things that are God’s.”9

The Peasant is not a criticism of the council. In fact, Maritain was at the closing of the council, for Pope Paul VI, who looked to Maritain as one of his mentors, had presented to him the council’s message to the intellectuals. No. What Maritain is addressing is what we could call the state of the church after the council. The upheavals at the time of the council, Maritain felt, had deep roots that went back centuries. A “masked manicheism”10 had preyed upon the life of faith. The nothingness of creatures, and the contempt of the world, extolled by the saints by which they meant that in comparison to the love of God, or more precisely, to the degree they separate us from that love, creatures are nothing, or less than nothing, and worthy of contempt, had lost their practical meaning as sayings born out of a desire for union with God, and had become transformed into an unconscious philosophy that said that creatures in themselves were somehow worthless. Jansenism had played not a small role in this transformation, and there had grown up a distorted kind of spirituality that taught fear of the world, and a “flight from sin over charity.”11 

For a long time this tendency remained a parasite on the life of faith, or as Maritain graphically put it, it was like the lice on the hair of the beggar-saint, Benedict Labre. Men and women were too red-blooded and rooted in the earth, and surrounded by the life of the church to succumb to this virus, but in the nineteenth century, and especially in the first part of the twentieth century the disease penetrated these defenses. The world’s earthly delights and the body, itself, were then seen as evil, and this cut away at the necessary human foundation of faith. “All this was going to build up, in the unconscious of a great many Christians, clerics and laymen, an enormous weight of frustration, disillusionment, repressed doubts, resentment, bitterness, healthy desires sacrificed, with all the anxieties and pent-up aspirations of the unhappy conscience… Why be astonished that at the very announcement of a council, then in the surroundings of it, and now after it, the enormous unconscious weight which I have just mentioned burst into the open in a kind of explosion that does no honor to the human intelligence?… (T)he pendulum was suddenly carried to the opposite extreme from the quasi-manichean contempt for the world professed in the Christian ghetto which we are in the process of leaving behind.”12

The result of this reaction Maritain calls “kneeling before the world.” And with these kneelers before the world are to be found the epistemological time-worshipers, promoters of the new myth of the demythologizing of religion, Freudians in religious garb, hermeneutic evacuators, Teilhardians that have given themselves over to gnostic-style speculations, phenomenologists who sever the mind from contact with the real, and neomodernists of all stripes. But Maritain’s point is clear. None of these things was born out of a vacuum. What could be called these excesses of the left came out of the excesses of the right, the worship of the world from the fear and loathing of it. If Maritain had restricted his criticisms to the excesses of the liberals, he would have been more understandably accused of becoming a conservative, but one of the greatest values of The Peasant is that it avoids these dead-end categories, and instead, peers into the dynamics underlying the state of the postconciliar church. We could say that what Maritain is describing are the dynamics we saw in preconciliar religious life, now written large to encompass the whole church.

Sadly, he realized that Thomism, itself, was not exempt from criticism. It, too, had played a role in generating the energies of repression that had finally burst out at the time of the council. He scores it for its “immobilism” that had “allowed Thomism to become learnedly ossified,”13 and for a “didacticism” so that it could not meet the challenges brought about by the birth of science and modern philosophy. It had allowed the fire of the fundamental insights of St. Thomas to become covered with the ashes of a “notionalism and a fixation upon abstract essences (hence, a metaphysics unmindful of the intuition of being).”14 And thus Thomism bore responsibility for the philosophical and theological disorders that erupted with the advent of the council. This ossification of Thomism unfortunately allied itself with a false prudence which allowed wisdom to become “half embedded in routine, narrowness of mind, and a kind of vigorous and suspicious refusal to think which served as preventive medicine for a host of threatening contagions.”15

Finally, if with the council the “worm-eaten barriers” began to snap, unloosening a flood of foolishness, “we should look back over our shoulder, with a little suitably disillusioned wisdom, and recall the gross errors and omissions of a not-too-distant past.”16 

Maritain, while indicating clearly the outpouring of errors that accompanied the council, realized that they were the result of “a biological phenomenon… of reaction to the silly things of the past, particularly the recent past,” to an integralism that has proved disastrous in itself and in its consequences.17 In itself, integralism “takes hold of true formulas which it empties of their living content and freezes in the refrigerators of a restless police of the minds. In these true formulas it is not truth that integralism actually sets its heart on and places above everything… (but) human means of security – whether for the convenience of intellects which immobility reassures by giving them, at cut-rate, a good bedrock of fidelity, inner coherence and firmness – or for the equally cheap protection these frozen formulas offer persons in authority, sparing them any risk when they brandish them, prudently as regards themselves, and rudely when it comes to others – or for the ease of government they provide as instruments of prohibition, more or less covert threat and intimidation… all that, and here comes the abuse of trust, in invoking God and the blessed Truth!”18

The consequences of this kind of integralism become all the more dangerous when “tied to a political and social philosophy which is itself dominated by a secret need for security above all.”19 Why should we be surprised when integralism leads “inevitably, owing to the pendulum movement of human affairs biologically considered, to an explosion of childish anarchy in the opposite direction?”20 Therefore, the errors of the postconciliar neomodernism can’t really be analyzed in a vacuum. We need to understand the underlying dynamics. “We have simply to acknowledge also that, in the final analysis, the amount of foolishness and intolerance in human history remains relatively constant, merely passing from one camp to the other, changing styles and having significance in terms of opposite algebraic signs.”21 And Maritain, as we saw, knew of what he spoke in regard to integralism. He writes: “I have suffered more than a little myself from the integralist methods, accusations and denunciations. But I hope I haven’t lost my head over it and have kept my reason sufficiently free of the traumas of resentment not to yield to the delicious and so “consoling” pendulum movement which is sweeping along so many of my dear contemporaries.”22

This penetrating analysis dovetails neatly with the conclusions we saw emerging from an examination of the modern history of Thomism. There are two very different ways of doing damage to the truth, but in final analysis they both are devastating to it. Our quest for truth begins with carving out from things by means of the abstractive power of the mind certain intelligible cross-sections, or concepts, and it culminates, not in these ideas, but in an active judgment by which they are reunited so that we know through them actually existing things. This work of the intelligence can be abused and truncated in different ways. In what Maritain considered the original sin of modern philosophy, we can throw doubt on the mind’s ability to know things outside itself, and thus cut the ground out from under any genuine Christian theology or philosophy, and from under Christianity, itself. Therefore Maritain will not spare those committing these sorts of intellectual excesses in the name of making Christian faith more relevant to the modern world. But there is another kind of sin against the intellect, as well, in which we freeze these intelligible cross-sections as if we can somehow keep them abstracted from life and preserved from all taint of change as if a certain abstract notionalism, or essentialism, is the highest good of religion. Then the truth is pressed under glass and gradually ceases to operate efficaciously in people’s lives.

Maritain felt it was of the very nature of the conciliar outbursts to spend itself quickly and to carry its more radical exponents out of the church. Well, this has been partially borne out, but I think he would be surprised at the deadlock between the left and right that continued to grow and harden, and has now lasted some 40 years. On the ultra-liberal side we have theologies at odds with faith, and therefore not genuine theologies at all, but whose proponents continue to remain within the church and preach to all and sundry. The old integralism still continues, and mixes with a new generation of integralism, and in both cases the nature of the underlying biological phenomenon goes unremarked upon. The enigma of The Peasant turns out to be no enigma at all, but rather, a finger pointing in the direction of how to resolve this ongoing conflict.

Étienne Gilson shared Maritain’s misgivings about the outburst that accompanied the council. He wrote to Maritain in June, 1967, that he thought Yves Congar who had written a review about The Peasant, finding it too negative in tone – but a review that had not harmed his friendship with Maritain – had committed “an error in perspective.” What Maritain is complaining about is not the theological underpinnings of the council, Gilson told Congar, but the “après-concile,” or the aftermath of the council, a term that had been used by Paul VI, himself.23 The pastoral aim of the council cannot, in Gilson’s mind, be separated from dogmatic theology which ought to be pursued according to the principles of St. Thomas.

Gilson had defended the good intentions of the “Pères de Fourviere” before Msgr. Martini, but he was dumbfounded to see them cited in one of Pope Paul’s encyclical letters. He was unhappy, as well, about the adulation of Teilhard de Chardin, and could not agree with his friends Henri de Lubac and Bruno de Solages24 about their rosy views of Teilhard. Maritain in his response to Gilson’s letter indicates that he believes that de Lubac agrees with him about the crisis in the church, but thinks that Teilhard is a remedy. He applauds Gilson’s remarks on the importance of dogmatic theology, and thinks that too many theologians imagine that any philosophy will serve theology. “It is an epistemology of theology that is lacking.”25 And Maritain, despite the fatigue of old age, had been writing on this theme in what was to become an essay, “Réflexions sur le savoir théologique” which appeared as a chapter in his last book, Approches sans entraves in 1973. He continues in this letter, “Theology can’t live without a true metaphysics (and there is surely only one). This is the truth, the very idea of which exasperates and makes them furious.”26

Congar for his part will later say that as much as he genuinely admired Maritain, he was critical of the philosophical Thomism that prevailed in the Institut Catholique when he studied there under Maritain: “A teaching marked by contempt – the word is not too strong – for all thought which was not dependent on Thomism.”27 Maritain, for his part, wrote of Congar, “He has always been completely loyal to me, and I love him well; but he is a specialist blinded by his speciality and lives on the moon.”28

What we are confronted with again, even among the progressives among which Maritain and Gilson must be counted for no other reason than they went out of their way to defend the proponents of the nouvelle théologie, is how deep the divide was even between the Thomist progressives and some of the theologians of the new theology.


Henri de Lubac


Henri de Lubac was very much at the heart of the nouvelle théologie, but he also underwent his own counterreaction. The crisis of the nouvelle théologie had reached a new intensity in 1946 with the appearance of de Lubac’s Surnaturel, Garrigou-LaGrange’s article “Where is the New Theology Going?” which we saw before, and a speech by Pius XII to the Jesuit curia, and it is worth noting the hothouse atmosphere which surrounded the whole affair, or as de Lubac put it, “What whisperings, what interrogations, what inquietudes whose echoes came to me each day! What often absurd rumors, what accusations as well!”29 This world of Vatican intrigue enveloped the papacy, and did not do it honor, and illustrates once again the care we need to take not to sacralize very human passions and confuse them with the spiritual gifts given to the church. During these troubled times de Lubac visited Maritain at the Palazzo Taverna, the seat of the French embassy to the Holy See, who advised him to go see Montini and Pius XII. They talked, as well, about Teilhard, a subject they were never to see eye-to-eye on.30 

In the beginning of the summer of 1961 de Lubac, who had been formally forbidden to write about his friend Teilhard, was now urged to do so by his Jesuit superiors to combat the literature both pro and con that was misrepresenting him. His work appeared in the spring of 1962, and quickly came to the attention of the Holy Office whose Msgr. Parente wanted to put it on the Index. Others disagreed, and Pope John, confronted with the deadlock, said no. These were the circumstances behind the monitum issued about Teilhard in the days before the council that we noted before, and de Lubac was forbidden to reprint his book or have translations of it appear.

De Lubac appears to have kept a pleasing sense of modesty and proportion about his work through times of both censure and praise. He is forthright about what he considered his lack of specialized formation, and the fact that his works were often written in response to unexpected circumstances. He even notes in an amusing way how he received his doctorate. “One fine day Father General Wladimir Ledochowski had bestowed on me… the diploma of a doctorate from the Gregorian University where I had never set foot…” And he even felt that if some of his works “had not been or appeared to have been disavowed by the authorities, they would not have received the recognition of their importance that was later attributed to them.” He was not philosophically inclined, yet among the Suarezians of the Society he had been marked as a Thomist, albeit of the Marechal and Rousselot sort. But he had little use for a Thomism wielded as an ideology, “too rigid and too little faithful” to St. Thomas. He saw there was a traditional Thomism, an Actión française Thomism, a Christian democratic one, a Marxist one, and even a Thomism of the Boy Scouts.31  “I have more than once observed a “Thomism” that was no more than an instrument of government, the sign of the rallying of a party, the password of a group of arrivistes…” So even in the postconciliar era he held back from proclaiming himself too noisily a Thomist.

By 1964 de Lubac was noting signs of a growing para-concilial agitation, and he advised a number of the council fathers with whom he could speak frankly to make a real effort to explain the council in their dioceses if they wanted to avoid disappointment.32 The “yes” said to the council, he felt, ought also be a “no” “to a certain exploitation which is the perversion of it.”33

In October, 1964, he wrote to a cardinal, “From all that has been given me to observe in the course of these last two years, the best decrees often risk being taken in a contrary sense.”34 He saw that “reform, aggiornamento, openness to the world, ecumenism and religious liberty” were being converted into “indifferentism, amorphous liberalism, and concessions to the spirit of the world.” A return to traditional positions in the conciliar documents, themselves, was presented as a “victory of new ideas.” By November, 1965, he had withdrawn from the editorial board of Concilium, and in a letter to Père Wenger of La Croix in July 1966 he noted with approval of a conference given by Joseph Ratzinger, and saw a growing split between a self-proclaimed progressive wing, “which gives the impression of secularizing or evacuating the faith and the Christian life… and an integralist crowd to which many excellent Christians who hold to the integral nature of the faith are tempted to rally…”35

By 1974 he was worrying about a misuse of a historical-sociological method that contains the germ of a denaturing of the church. The solicitude that had led Paul VI to create a Secretariat for Non-Believers had, he felt, been converted into a solicitude to encourage the Marxist world which among some became a “Marxization” of the church. He thought there was a strident postconciliar theology that had moved farther and farther from the norms of the Catholic faith, and the teachings of Vatican II. This mentality of the “après council” was characterized by a “critical, analytical, “pulverizing” mentality, by an empty formalism or by a pronounced individualism and an anti-intellectualism.”36 It amounted to a destruction and betrayal of the council in regard to the mysteries of the faith and the structures of the church. It was an “auto-destruction” of the church, and an “internal apostasy.”37 When some theologians complained about this new and apparently conservative de Lubac, he replied: “I have refused to bend my knee before the successive Baals named Maurraism, Hitlerism and integralism; I see now other Baals invading the sanctuary, claiming the same adoration, and their servants using the same kind of tactics as those that characterize the old integralists of an inverse sign from before 1914.”38 No matter what name is given to it, he does not care for “hypocrisy, the intimidation of social pressure, or intellectual terrorism.”39

In an address in1971, he wrote: “Perhaps it is harder to give witness to one’s faith under the eyes of brothers who mockingly smile… than before a hostile tribunal.”40 Later he was to reproach himself for not having done enough to combat this crisis in the church. He felt to have been more outspoken would have embroiled him in conflicts, but his interventions were “too allusive, too occasional.”41 If he had spoken out, would he have found an editor, he wondered, or would his theological opponents have made him appear as part of the “integralist clan that horrified me?”42 And in the face of the procedures employed by the powerful of the day to marginalize any who would show a little independence in their regard, “Would I have had the strength to pursue the discussion?”43 

His friend, Henri Bouillard, felt he had undergone a second ostracism – the first being the one he suffered at the hands of the opponents of the nouvelle théologie – starting in 1962-1963 for daring to discuss the Hegelian interpretation of John of the Cross by George Morel. Bouillard had written to de Lubac in 1968: “I think, like you, we are not to let ourselves be discouraged by that which disconcerts us in the present situation of the Company and the Church. The excesses will end by calling forth reactions, and the spirit of God will not abandon us.”44

In June, 1978 shortly before Pope Paul’s death, de Lubac did speak out in L’Osservatore Romano: “In many cases – it is a fact, although it is not popular to dare to say it – the council has been betrayed.”45


Joseph Ratzinger


Joseph Ratzinger underwent an evolution similar to that of Henri de Lubac, but due to the fact that he had been born a generation later and did his theology in Germany, he didn’t suffer from the same degree of trauma as the nouvelle théologie pioneers. He, too, was inclined to a theology based on the Fathers and scriptures and was attracted to Augustine and the modern personalists. “By contrast, I had difficulties in penetrating the thought of Thomas Aquinas, whose crystal-clear logic seemed to me to be too closed in on itself, too impersonal and ready-made.”46 His professor, charged with teaching him Thomas, “presented us with a rigid, neoscholastic Thomism that was simply too far afield from my own questions.”47 His theological outlook was more historical, and his view of the quality of theology in the preconciliar church less negative. “All of us lived with a feeling of radical change that had already arisen in the 1920s, the sense of a theology that had the courage to ask new questions and a spirituality that was doing away with what was dusty and obsolete and leading to a new joy in the redemption.”48 

Yet, this historical theology as it was then taught had its limits because the historical-critical method could be presented in such a way that it dominated the doing of theology. ““Tradition” was identified with what could be proved on the basis of texts.”49 Thus, when his professors were consulted about the advisability of proclaiming the doctrine of the assumption of Mary, they were of a negative opinion because they could not see how it could be demonstrated by a historical examination of the texts. Ratzinger’s own view of tradition deepened when he did his habilitation thesis, necessary for a career teaching theology, on revelation in St. Bonaventure. Around Easter 1956, however, he was informed by Michael Schmaus, one of its readers, that it was rejected because it was not up to the usual scholarly standards. As devastating to his plans as such a rejection was, Ratzinger rallied, and by a bold stroke of editing, detached the section of the thesis that had escaped Schmaus’ red pencil, resubmitted it and got it accepted. His work on Bonaventure was to be important for what was to come. He had seen that for Bonaventure, revelation was not identical to the scriptures, and this had looked to Schmaus as “a dangerous modernism that had to lead to the subjectivization of the concept of revelation.”50 But this wider view of revelation was to serve him well when he arrived at the council as the theological advisor to Cardinal Frings, and had the opportunity to make a significant contribution to the discussion of the schema on the sources of revelation. In fact, at the council he became recognized as one of the leading progressive theologians. The historical-critical method tends to see itself as the method, and therefore bridles at restrictions coming from the magisterium and at the idea of “an oral tradition running alongside Scripture and reaching back to the apostles – and hence offering another source of historical knowledge besides the Bible.”51 Therefore, “since the interpretation of Scripture was identified with the historical-critical method, this meant that nothing could be taught by the Church that could not pass the scrutiny of the historical-critical method.”52 This made exegesis “the highest authority in the Church.”53 And as a result, “faith had to retreat into the region of the indeterminate and continually changing that characterizes historical or would-be historical hypotheses.”54 This issue, he felt, was at the heart of the drama of the postconciliar church.

In contrast, drawing on his work on Bonaventure, he saw that revelation was greater even than the words of scripture. “Revelation has instruments; but it is not separable from the living God, and it always requires a living person to whom it is communicated.”55 This made the church a “necessary aspect of revelation.”56 The historical-critical method is not the last word about revelation: “rather, the living organism of the faith of all ages is then an intrinsic part of revelation. And what we call “tradition” is precisely that part of revelation that goes above and beyond Scripture and cannot be comprehended within a code of formulas.”57 In 1962, given the atmosphere that existed at the time, he tells us, it was impossible to explain this perspective, a perspective that had been also misunderstood in 1956.

By 1964 he was beginning his own counterreaction to what was happening in reaction to the council. He would return from Rome to Münster, and find an “agitated” mood in the church and among theologians. “The impression grew steadily that nothing was now stable in the Church, that everything was open to revision.”58 And deeper down a larger problem loomed: “If the bishops in Rome could change the faith (as it appeared they could), why only the bishops?”59 The theologians now saw themselves as the experts in the faith, for weren’t they the ones who taught the bishops themselves? And “even the Creed no longer appeared untouchable but seemed rather subject to the control of scholars.”60 And there was a sense that the church as the people of God would somehow determine what the church should be.

Between 1964 and 1968 Ratzinger’s sense of unease grew stronger, not with what the council had done and the texts it had produced, but with the forces it had unleashed, and he expressed his misgivings in a variety of ways. “How was it possible,” he asked, “that just when the Council seemed to have reaped the ripe harvest of the last decades, instead of enjoying the riches of fulfillment we found only emptiness?”61  We have ceased to see the forest for the trees, he answers. “Intensive efforts to reform the Church have caused everything else to be forgotten.”62 Another way of phrasing it is to say that in the conciliar era there was an unprecedented focusing on the church as a human institution, but this obscured a sense of the church as the bride of Christ, meant to lead us to faith. The heart of the conciliar crisis is a crisis of faith. The church at a deeper level “is not our, but his, (Christ’s) Church.”63 And the church in this sense “in spite of all the human frailty in it, gives Jesus Christ to us.”64 “I stay in the Church because I recognize the faith that in the end we can acquire only in the Church.”65 Later he will cite the words of Paul VI to the effect that the church has “passed over from self-criticism to self-destruction.”66 “Cardinal Julius Döpfner once remarked that the Church of the postconciliar period is a huge construction site. But a critical spirit later added that it was a construction site where the blueprint had been lost and everyone continues to build according to his taste. The result is evident.”67 And he picks up the same thought elsewhere: “I am convinced that the damage that we have incurred in these twenty years is due, not to the ‘true’ Council, but to the unleashing within the Church of latent polemical and centrifugal forces.”68 Neither John XXIII nor Paul VI had meant to bring up the discussion of faith, itself, but presented in a more effective way,69 but instead Catholic identity based on the faith was called into question.  

In his famous Ratzinger Report the cardinal was clear that there could be no restoration in the church in the sense of turning back the clock. “But if by restoration we understand the search for a new balance after all the exaggerations of an indiscriminate opening to the world, after the overly positive interpretations of an agnostic and atheistic world, well, then a restoration understood in this sense (a newly found balance of orientations and values within the Catholic totality) is altogether desirable and, for that matter, is already in operation in the Church. In this sense it can be said that the first phase after Vatican II has come to a close.”70 At the heart of the present crisis in the church is a loss of a sense of the church as a “reality willed by the Lord himself.”71 Catholics see the church as a human institution, but there is behind this institution “fundamental structures… willed by God,”72 and these structures are, therefore, inviolable. True authority has its “legitimation in God,” and the church’s “deep and permanent structure is not democratic but sacramental, consequently hierarchical.”73 It is from this understanding of the church that a true appreciation of obedience flows. And when Ratzinger says, “not democratic but sacramental, consequently hierarchical,” we are close to the heart of his vision of the church. But how are we to differentiate between what is genuinely sacramental, and the encrustations of history which have mixed with powerful projections coming from the unconscious?

The transformation of the progressive theologian to the counterreactor culminated in 1968 when he was teaching at Tübingen. Quite rapidly both the Catholic, and especially the Protestant faculties of theology, were invaded by a passion for Marxism. Among the more radical Protestant students, the refrain could be heard: “ ‘So what is Jesus’ Cross but the expression of a sado-masochistic glorification of pain?’ And the ‘New Testament is a document of inhumanity, a large-scale deception of the masses.’”74 This traumatic experience opened Ratzinger’s eyes to how the faith, itself, could be distorted by outside forces: “I saw a new spirit creeping in, a spirit in which fanatical ideologies made use of the spirit of Christianity, and it was there that the lie really became evident to me. Here I saw very clearly and also really experienced that there were incompatible concepts of reform…The unanimous will to serve the faith had come to pieces. Instead of that there was an instrumentalization by ideologies that were tyrannical, brutal, and cruel.”75 His experience of this danger was later to make him an implacable foe of Latin America’s liberation theology which he saw through the tinted glasses of his European experience. By 1969 he was ready to put behind him what he called “the exhausting controversies,” and to move to the calmer waters of the newly formed university of Regensburg. He was also appointed to the International Papal Theological Commission, and it was there he met people with whom he felt shared his particular experience, that is, a progressive theological outlook that had been transformed under the impact of postconciliar events. He could talk with Henri de Lubac, Philippe Delhaye, Jorge Medina, and M.-J. Le Guillou, and it was men of this temper who were to break with the journal Concilium and found Communio.76

Ratzinger has made his understanding of the council clear. The council fathers wanted “to leave behind the habitual scholastic framework, also to risk a new freedom.”77 His own basic impulse was “to free up the authentic kernel of the faith from encrustations and to give this kernel strength and dynamism.”78 And he makes it clear as well what that kernel of the faith means: “that we look upon Christ as the living, incarnate Son of God made man; that because of him we believe in God, the triune God, the Creator of heaven and earth; that we believe that this God bends so far down, can become so small, that he is concerned about man and has created history with man, a history whose vessel, whose privileged place of expression, is the Church. In this connection, the Church is not a merely human institution – though it is impossible to ignore that she is full of human elements. Being with and in the Church belongs to the faith, and in this Church the Holy Scriptures can be both lived and appropriated.”79 All this is straightforward, and we can understand, as well, what Ratzinger called the “great question,” that is, what had gone wrong in the aftermath of the council. He saw it as a crisis of faith, and in part it was. But this straightforward account of things does not bring us all the way to the heart of the matter.

Maritain, de Lubac and Ratzinger were not alone. Theologians at the very heart of the nouvelle théologie who had endured long years of censure and silence and then, almost miraculously seen their work bear fruit at the council, men of the stature of Jean Daniélou, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and even Paul VI, began to have their own misgivings.

Daniélou would write about the criticisms voiced in the postconciliar period, “when such criticism gets to the point where it is destroying the substance of things and seeks to overthrow the rock, then I detest it and I feel how much I love the Church – above all for the divine gifts that she alone has to offer, but also for that certain quality she confers on things human.”80 Paul VI, in an address to the seminarians of Lombardy in late 1968, is said to have wept and said, “The Church is, at the present time, sick with worry with self-criticism; I would even say that it is in a period of self-destruction. The Church has reached the point of striking herself with mortal blows.”81 In a private interview with Jean Guitton he talked of a non-Catholic way of thinking that had taken hold in the Church. “But this new non-Catholic thought will never represent the thought of the Catholic Church. A small flock must survive, even though it be a tiny flock.”82 

Pope Paul VI in the aftermath of Humanae vitae and the flood of reaction unleashed by the council, cast about for an explanation of why things had turned out so painfully contrary to the initial hopes the council had given birth to. During a talk in November, 1972, he said, “I have the feeling that the smoke of Satan has penetrated the Temple of God through some crack or other.”83 While the disorder in the church brought about by the council was a tactic more worthy of an evil angelic intelligence than the cases of possession we saw before, we have been exploring more natural explanations, and looking for them in the depths of the psyche.

The world of the counterreaction, whether it be that of Maritain, de Lubac or Ratzinger, was almost inevitably going to be misunderstood. At a time when many people were beginning to discover the freedom and new perspectives brought by the council, the counterreactors had already moved on to a new perspective which would appear to be a more traditional one.84 

We have already seen three stages in the development of the modern church: the preconciliar repression that peaked with the condemnations of modernism and the nouvelle théologie; the reaction at the time of the council and after, which was sometimes excessive, and now the counterreaction to what appeared as a loss of the substance of the faith. Now we have reached another critical point in our story. Was the counterreaction a response to actual excesses and disorders, or was it a retreat into the old conservative mentality? Were men like Maritain, de Lubac and Ratzinger recoiling from new but genuine expressions of the faith, or were they confronted with formulations that were incompatible with the substance of the faith? It is important to admit that the counterreaction was a response to philosophical and theological excesses, and therefore a necessary response, but at the same time that does not mean that this counterreaction could not, at times, be taken up into a restoration at whose heart was the old papal centralism.


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