Thursday, September 18, 2014

BOOK: The Second Vatican Council: An Unwritten Story

By Professor Roberto deMattei
No event of the 20th century produced a greater effect upon the Catholic Church than Vatican II, the 21st Ecumenical Council. To many it might seem to have been simply a meeting of important churchmen gathered to discuss church matters, but because the Catholic Church is the only church founded on this earth by God himself to guide men to salvation, the reality is that centuries from now historians will likely consider it, (as well as the message to the world delivered by the Mother of God during her personal visit at Fatima in 1917), as one of the two pivotal events of world history for the recently ended century.

Vatican II opened fifty years ago on October 11, 1962. Since it ended in 1965, the council has been written of in countless books, articles, scholarly journals, magazines, and newspapers all over the world. Things said and done since the council, in the name of the council and in opposition to it, have affected the lives of everyone living since that time. As with any significant historical event, it is only after considerable time has elapsed that a fuller story of exactly what happened in those years before, during, and after “the event” can be engagingly told and wisely summarized.

Professor de Mattei’s genius lies in the application of a lucid, literate, and philosophical mind to thorough scholarly research and mountains of documentation. From this framework he has presented us with a story; a story of an event, a previously unwritten story that has been begging to be told for many years. This book will unfold for you the answer to the question, What happened at the Council?”  “A work that is as erudite as it is relevant. I am certain that thanks to its rigorous historical-critical method it will convince a vast readership.” Cardinal Walter Brandmuller, President Emeritus of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Science
Softcover, 640 pages 

Book review from blog ( full below or link)-- Unam Sanctum Catholica

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Book Review: Second Vatican Council: An Unwritten Story

For the past two weeks, I have been immersed in what I am convinced is the definitive biography of the Vatican II, The Second Vatican Council: An Unwritten Story, by Italian author Roberto de Mattei.

Dr. Mattei is no meager polemicist, and though his book supports many of the ideas proposed by Catholic traditionalists, his book is by no means a traddy diatribe. Mattei's curriculum vitae is impressive; he is Professor of Modern History at the Faculty of Arts of the University of Cassino and is currently Professor of Modern History and History of Christianity at the European University in Rome.

This scholarly background shows through in his work, which is probably the most academic and dispassionate treatment of the Second Vatican Council ever written.

Even so, The Second Vatican Council: An Unwritten Story is a total vindication of the traditionalist critique of the Council and its relation to the current state of the Church. Using only documentary evidence - including records of Council proceedings, texts of interventions by the Council Fathers, personal correspondences of John XXIII and Paul VI, and personal diaries of the periti - Dr. Mattei reconstructs the tumultuous days leading up the Council and thoroughly documents the thoughts and aspirations of the Council Fathers as the event that was Vatican II exploded on the world stage.

This is where Mattei's book has its greatest value: in revealing the intentions, thoughts and opinions of the participants in the Council. Reading the words of the actual Fathers on this subject demolishes a lot of canards about the Council. For example, it is often asserted that the ambiguity of the Council documents is an accusation made by Traditionalists who seek to blame the Council itself for the Church's problems; however, the comments of the Council Fathers themselves reveal that even while the Council was in session, ambiguity and vagueness were serious concerns for many of the participants in the Council (see here).

Another example: it is commonly asserted that the Council itself was carried out in perfect continuity with previous ecumenical councils and the problems came only with a hijacking of its implementation. However, Mattei's book reveals that the participants in the Council viewed it even then as something revolutionary, from the first meetings of the first session when the Fathers revolted to throw out the documents prepared by the Theological Commission, to their replacement of the heads of all the commissions with liberals, to their setting up of a permanent body of four Cardinals that effectively served as a meta-commission to organize all the other commissions and push them towards liberal ends.

We learn that it was not a liberal who first proposed interpreting the Council in light of its "spirit", but Paul VI himself who first referred to the "spirit of Vatican II" in his opening address of the Fourth Session in September of 1965; it was not dissenting bishops who did away with Latin, but Paul VI who first celebrated Masses in the Italian vernacular in 1965 and urged his bishops to imitate him. It was a dominant clique of the Council Fathers themselves who asked for vernacular, versus populum Masses, cultural Masses, and many other deviations. Yes, this book demolishes the argument that the problems did not come until implementation; the problems were present at the outset.

Also of note is the manner in which several theologians come off as not just questionable but as total heretics. Sure, we already knew about Kung and Rahner, but even some of the more "respectable" theologians are outed for the heretics they were. For example, Yves Congar, whom Scott Hahn has praised many times and often cites as a source, comes off as a radical heretic in his desire to undermine papal primacy and redefine the nature of the Church, even invoking Martin Luther at the tomb of St. Paul, "who had wanted to reaffirm the Gospel for which Paul had struggled" (pg.487).

I was appalled at some of the statements from Congar's diary quoted in the book. Jean Danielou and Henri de Lubac also are revealed as hypocrites, dissenters and heretics - and this not by any insinuations of slander by the author, but by the words of these theologians themselves. Mattei as an author does not need to make any argument; he allows these periti to hang themselves by simply citing their own words.

We also see that the controversial issues today were not necessarily the controversial issues then. While post-Conciliar critiques have focused on the liturgy, there was really not that much debate at the Council about liturgical matters. The most controversial subject was undoubtedly the Council's teaching on "collegiality", which many conservative bishops believed was in flat contradiction of Vatican I and was plainly invented in 1962.

More debate was held on this question than any other, with the concept of religious liberty as expounded in Dignitatis Humanae coming in second (a tidbit I found awesome was that Karol Wojtyla found grave problems with the religious liberty schema and thought the concept of truth found therein was too disassociated with Christ, who is truth). Communism also looms large in the debates, with the vast majority of the Council Fathers asking for a condemnation of communism and Paul VI categorically refusing it.

One of the fundamental themes of Mattei's work is the teachings of the Second Vatican Council as theology versus the Second Vatican Council interpreted as an event. Mattei argues that the failure of the conservative/traditional bishops to halt the liberal onslaught was due to the fundamental inability of the conservative bishops to understand that Vatican II as an historical event, a defining occurrence in the history of the Church that was widely viewed as the beginning of a new epoch.

The conservative Council Fathers, naturally interpreting Vatican II in continuity with previous Councils, focused excessively on the strict theological meaning of the wording of various documents, ultimately making noble and profound objections to the ambiguities of the texts, but never fully grasping the nature of the revolution that the Council unleashed. They did not understand the manner in which the liberals wanted to use the Council, at least not until it was too late. And why would they?

 No Council in the Church's history had ever been used in such a way - what Benedict XVI referred to as a "meta-council." Paradoxically, the conservative bishop's view of the Council in continuity with tradition rendered them incapable of perceiving the vastness of the looming threat.

What we have is ultimately the fact that, while Vatican II may not be a total doctrinal rupture, it certainly was a historical rupture, and many of the liberal Council Fathers were content to maintain the semblance of doctrinal continuity if they could have historical discontinuity; discontinuity of fact was always the end game, even if we do not have a total discontinuity of teaching.

Discontinuity de facto has been the golden apple, the liberal wet-dream, the "promised land of the Council", as Congar referred to Gaudium et Spes; conservatives can reconcile the documents and claim continuity of teaching till the cows come home - continuity de jure is an on paper reality, while the monstrous discontinuity de facto continues unabated.

Thus, the modern movement towards continuity cannot be content with merely proving it on paper or getting it authenticated in some document; there is no purely legal solution to the problem. The horses are out, and shutting the proverbial barn door now will do little good. To restore the Church, we must not only restore continuity on paper, but restore it in fact, in practice, in our lives. We must understand the Council as an historical event as well, and seek to reconcile not only documents, but lives and praxis.

This is why the book is both enlightening and depressing; it will make you mad as hell to see how things really went down, how Cardinal Ottaviani was blacklisted by the liberal elite, how the four Cardinals who dominated the Council (Frings, Konig, Dopfner and Suenens, the arch-villain) intentionally tried to dismantle the whole Catholic edifice, how the Council Fathers got us to exchange our heroes for ghosts and hot ashes for trees, in the words of Roger Waters. But it is enlightening as well, because it helps to bring into focus, glaringly, where the exact problems lie, and in doing so make the path to restoration seem more clear.

We all know there is a liberal narrative of the Council, what Benedict called the "Council of the Media"; but there is also a conservative narrative, one which tries to absolve the Council itself of all possible wrongdoing and place the blame squarely on post-Conciliar innovations.  

That narrative is no longer plausible after reading this book. I highly recommend it for any student of the Council, and I want to emphasize again that this book is not a polemic, not some Traditionalist attack - everything I said above is deduced simply from the speeches and writings of the Council Fathers, which this book reproduces en masse and hence becomes an indispensable resource for this important period in ecclesiastical history. It is not inexpensive, but it is certainly worth the money. When I finished the book, I was sorry it was over.  It was that good.

I also want to thank the blogger "I am not Spartacus" who brought the book to my attention and graciously sent a hard copy of it in the mail to me for my perusal. Blessings, my friend.

you can purchase it here: