In a 1976 interview published under the title of Vatican Encounter, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre made several striking statements about the role of the Holy Ghost during Vatican II:
“I should have battled more vigorously, perhaps, for an improvement of the texts, or refused to sign them, as I subsequently did with others. In reality, I was hoping against hope that the Holy Spirit would prevent certain projects from coming to pass or that the Pope would intervene at the last moment.”
“Only God knows what really went on during Vatican II, and what were the true motivations of those who brought their weight to bear on the Council. . . . the Holy Spirit, finally, was absent from a Council the damaging effects of which are daily in evidence”
“Even before the closing of the Council, I proclaimed to all the Fathers assembled there that, according to my view, it was not the Holy Spirit who inspired the Council but possibly Satan.”
And commenting on the infamous moment when Cardinal Alfrink had Cardinal Ottaviani’s microphone cut off, sparking a “tremendous fit of laughter” as Cardinal Ottaviani continued to speak: “I was ashamed for the bishops who behaved in such a deplorable manner toward one of the best among them. Such things are like a curse . . . How could one believe in the presence of the Holy Spirit under such conditions?”
These bold statements obviously run counter to the beliefs of the vast majority of Catholics. Was the archbishop correct or incorrect? As he says, “only God knows what really happened at Vatican II,” but this question is of utmost importance. Has God left us without a way to discern?
If, and when, we have a holy father that returns to spiritual Rome, he will find that tradition has not died.
One way to evaluate this is to consider what it must mean for the Holy Ghost to have guided the Council. If that were truly the case, the following appear to logically follow:
Deceit is praiseworthy. Although Christ’s disciples are to be wise as serpents (Matthew 10:16), there is no sense in which we can condone the effort of bishops deceiving bishops to advance causes that the Church has long opposed. Yet, deceit was a defining characteristic of the work of the liberal bishops and theologians, beginning with the call of the Council to be merely “pastoral.” As Pope Paul VI said on January 12, 1966, “given the Council’s pastoral character, it avoided pronouncing, in an extraordinary manner, dogmas endowed with the note of infallibility.”
As a result, the Vatican II documents were subject to less exacting standards than would have been required for dogmatic writings. This allowed for the documents to include a hodgepodge of orthodox and heterodox propositions. Archbishop Lefebvre saw the danger and declared:
“Each Council commission should prepare two documents: one, more dogmatic, for the use of theologians, the other, pastoral, for the use of the faithful Catholics, or even non-Catholics, and even more, the unbelievers. In doing so, the dogmatic documents, worked out with so much care and useful in presenting the truth to our dear priests and especially to professors and theologians, will always remain the golden rule of faith.”
The liberals rejected Archbishop Lefebvre’s proposal on the basis that the Council was pastoral rather than dogmatic. In other words, a clear presentation of the truth would undermine their efforts.
We now know that the authors of the ambiguities knew how they would exploit the language after the Council. In his Catechism of the Crisis in the Church, Fr. Matthias Gaudron cites Karl Rahner and Herbert Vorgrimler in confirmation of this unfortunate reality:
“A certain number of important theological questions about which no agreement could be reached were left open by choosing formulations that could be interpreted differently by particular groups and theological tendencies at the Council.”
Likewise, Fr. Schillebeeckx stated, “we have used ambiguous terms during the Council and we know how we shall interpret them afterwards.”
Is this how the Holy Ghost operates?
There is a blasphemous spirit underlying the belief that one can say that the Holy Ghost has approved such a Council [Vatican II] despite the very deliberate failings of its principal architects.
Fruits are irrelevant. We have heard for decades that the fruits of Vatican II are not nearly as bad as they look because we still need to fully implement Vatican II. And yet each “further implementation” of Vatican II brings bad fruits, which prompts the Council’s advocates to implement additional changes, leading to worse fruits. As a result, one of the strangest fruits of Vatican II has been the effective prohibition on judging a tree by its fruits. Do we really believe that the Holy Ghost guided the Church in producing such bad fruits? If so, do we think the Holy Ghost simply lacked the ability or foresight to properly guide the Church?
Truth contradicts truth. It is sadly ironic to hear so many defenders of Vatican II insist that it was in perfect conformity with traditional Church teaching, while those innovators who actually contributed to the Council’s documents insist that it was a monumental departure from traditional beliefs. Fr. Yves Congar, for instance, said the following after the Council:
“The Council liquidated what I would call the ‘unconditionality’ of the system. I mean by the system the very coherent ensemble of ideas communicated by the teaching of the Roman universities, codified by Canon Law, and protected by a close, fairly effective surveillance under Pius XII.”
Several other liberal contributors to Vatican II made similar statements. Moreover, one can simply compare the propositions condemned by Pope Pius IX in Quanta Cura to the propositions asserted in Dignitatis Humanae to see that Fr. Congar was correct when he said that “the affirmation of religious liberty by Vatican II says . . . almost the opposite of propositions 16, 17, and 19” of the Syllabus.
Nonetheless, the sincere defenders of the Council — as distinct from the many wolves who know what the Council really was —refuse to concede that the Council contradicts traditional Church teaching because they have heard from “authorities” that the Council is consistent with what the Church has always taught. If the Council said essentially the same thing, but with less clarity than traditional formulations, why would the innovators insist that we use it as a new starting point (a reset) for Catholicism?
The Holy Ghost should be tempted. In addition to all of this, the cavalier approach to the Council essentially guaranteed that it could only succeed through miraculously overcoming the unholy intentions of the liberal theologians. In his One Hundred Years of Modernism, Fr. Dominic Bourmaud highlighted the inherent problem with the way in which the Council proceeded:
“What was meant by a council with no precise goal apart from ‘opening to the world’? Was it not tempting the Holy Ghost to proclaim His intervention in a meeting which had no real reason for being? Did it not amount to giving the modernists carte blanche to fill the void?”
Those who defend the Council despite the deceit, horrible fruits, and contradictions of previous Church teachings effectively declare that the Holy Ghost should indeed be tempted! Perhaps this is the way we truly find Pope Francis’s “God of surprises.”
The Holy Ghost is simply a talisman. The ultimate fallback for many defenders of Vatican II is to say, in effect, that the Council happened so it must have been guided by the Holy Ghost. Thus, even though the liberal factions within the Council specifically wanted to avoid following a process that would guarantee infallibility, we must treat it as infallible. Fr. Gaudron addresses this point in his Catechism of the Crisis in the Church:
“Vatican II, a ‘pastoral’ council, refused to invoke its authority to define anything; it did not impose religious liberty and ecumenism as truths of the faith, and that is why it escapes the extraordinary magisterium. By the same token, it also escapes the infallible ordinary magisterium, for there can be no infallibility if the bishops do not authoritatively certify that the teaching they dispense belongs to the deposit of faith (or is necessarily linked to it), and that it must be held as immutable and obligatory.”
There is a blasphemous spirit underlying the belief that one can say that the Holy Ghost has approved such a Council despite the very deliberate failings of its principal architects. It is as though they believe that whoever can commandeer a council can do with it as they please and then compel the Holy Ghost to approve it. Fittingly, such a mentality is the same that resulted in the dubious canonization of Pope Paul VI.
We know from our catechism that “the Holy Ghost will abide with the Church forever, and guide it in the way of holiness and truth.” However, it seems that we cannot defend Vatican II without blinding ourselves to the facts. In this light, it would seem that the Holy Ghost abandoned the Church during Vatican II.
And, yet, there is another conclusion we can draw. What was the broad goal of the Council? Pope John XXIII said that “the main goal of the Council is to present to the world the Church of God in its perpetual vigor of life and truth . . . .” Even though this is quite an amorphous goal, we can say that the Church could have arguably satisfied the goal if it had increased vigor (or fervor) and love for truth.
What do we see? On the part of those who accept the Council we see a general weakening of the Faith — a Church without vigor or truth. God will not be mocked and we might even sense that the Holy Ghost abandoned those who sought to transform the Church into something it can never be.
We can see that the Holy Ghost did not abandon the Church during Vatican II, but rather allowed the Council to force faithful Catholics to fight for their Faith in the face of persecution.
But what of those who, like Archbishop Lefebvre, fought against the liberal innovations in various ways? Among these we see tremendous fruits. Families have to truly work to find the Tridentine Mass, sometimes driving hours to attend in church basements, hotels, or homes. They make great financial sacrifices to finally have their own churches. The families raise their children in tradition, setting themselves apart from society by modest dress, decent entertainments, and great efforts to educate their children properly. They yearn for vocations to the priestly and religious life. Our priests show heroic virtue in bringing the sacraments and truth to those whom they wish to transform into saints. Anyone who has spent much time around traditional Catholic communities can readily add many more tremendous fruits to this list. We must also acknowledge that these fruits have been produced during a period in which the rest of the world has fallen further into sin and godlessness.
Paramount among all these fruits, traditional Catholics have a steadfast determination to hold to what the Church has always taught and practiced, even in the face of persecution from the Conciliar Catholics. This persecution is a great blessing and even a sign that they are on the right path. The Catechism of St. Pius X speaks of the persecutions that often accompany those who adhere to the truth:
Q. Can the Catholic Church be destroyed or perish? A. No; the Catholic Church may be persecuted, but she can never be destroyed or perish. She will last till the end of the world, because Jesus Christ, as He promised, will be with her till the end of time.
Q. Why is the Catholic Church so persecuted? A. The Catholic Church is so persecuted because even her Divine Founder, Jesus Christ, was thus persecuted, and because she reproves vice, combats the passions, and condemns all acts of injustice and all error.
In this light, we can see that the Holy Ghost did not abandon the Church during Vatican II, but rather allowed the Council to force faithful Catholics to fight for their Faith in the face of persecution. It seems unlikely that the Council Fathers could have realistically hoped to promote such a vigor and love for truth that animates so many within the growing traditional Catholic movement. Yes, this is precisely the type of renewal that would have marked Vatican II as a success.
Those of us who find ourselves literally or figuratively relegated to the Church basements are in good company. The letter of St. Athanasius to his flock is a glorious reminder of what the protection of the Holy Ghost looks like when Catholics are persecuted by those who claim to represent the Church:
“May God console you! ...What saddens you ...is the fact that others have occupied the churches by violence, while during this time you are on the outside. It is a fact that they have the premises─but you have the apostolic Faith. They can occupy our churches, but they are outside the true Faith. You remain outside the places of worship, but the Faith dwells within you. Let us consider: what is more important, the place or the Faith? The true Faith, obviously. Who has lost and who has won in this struggle-the one who keeps the premises or the one who keeps the Faith? Thus, the more violently they try to occupy the places of worship, the more they separate themselves from the Church. They claim that they represent the Church; but in reality, they are the ones who are expelling themselves from it and going astray. Even if Catholics faithful to Tradition are reduced to a handful, they are the ones who are the true Church of Jesus Christ.”
Alas, if, and when, we have a holy father that returns to spiritual Rome, he will find that tradition has not died. Whatever he does with Vatican II, he will do with full dependance upon, and faithfulness to, the inspirations of the Holy Ghost. In the meantime, may God grant us the grace to remain always faithful to the true Church of Jesus Christ, especially when we are persecuted by those who mistakenly believe the Holy Ghost guides their attempts to demolish the Church.
Our Lady, Mediatrix of all Graces, pray for us!