Advocates of the Church accommodating itself to the ‘signs of the times’ were hopelessly out-of-date, even at the time of the Second Vatican Council, Australian Professor Tracey Rowland said at The Great Grace Conference in Sydney last week.
The Dean of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family made the comment in an hour-long address in which she explained competing interpretations of the Second Vatican Council and how the Council was received in Australia.
“Catholic intellectuals got excited about modernity just as the rest of the world’s intellectual elite gave up on it, and turned postmodern,” Prof Rowland said.
“Somewhat tragically, Catholic theologians who interpreted the Council, particularly the document Gaudium et Spes as a call to make the Catholic faith more compatible with cultural modernity, were often unaware of just how far behind the times such thinking really was.”
Catholic scholars, with the exception of some German theologians, had very little understanding of what ‘modernity’ was at the time of the Council.
Modernity, the historical period which saw the severing of reason and revelation, was beginning to come under increased attack at secular universities for its notions of progress and empirical certainty, particularly in the wake of the Second World War.
“The enlightenment, or the philosophy of the 18th century, and the culture of modernity it fostered, was on its way out of fashion,” Prof Rowland said.
“In today’s marketing terminology, we would say that modernity was ‘turning toxic’.”
Quoting the British convert journalist, Malcolm Muggeridge, she said it was as if Catholics had finally surrendered to the forces of the Enlightenment only to find they had already moved on to other pursuits.
Prof Rowland said attempts to accommodate, correlate and recontextualise the faith to contemporary culture were being revamped and impressed upon today’s Catholic educators.
“Instead of correlating the faith to the culture of modernity, second generation Schillebeeckxian theologians [enthusiasts of the Belgian theologian Edward Schillebeeckx] are exhorting Catholic educators to recontextualise the faith with reference to the culture of post-modernity.”
The better alternative, Prof Rowland said, was the “Trinitarian Christocentric reading” as championed by John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
According to Joseph Ratzinger, she said, the conciliar idea of renewal had a twofold intention:
“Its point of reference is contemporary man, in his reality, and in his world, taken as he is. But the measure of its renewal is Christ, as Scripture witnesses him.”
Prof Rowland said the interpretation of Matthew 16:3 and Luke 12:56, of “interpreting the signs of the times”, as exhorting the Church to accommodate itself to contemporary culture was, according to Ratzinger, simply a bad interpretation of Scripture.
“The point of Christ’s statement to the Apostles … was that he, Christ, was the sign of the times.
“Ratzinger would argue that Apostolic times are the same as our times. The Apostles, like us, live in the period of history between the Incarnation and the return of Christ in glory.
“In other words, the ‘dawning of the Age of Aquarius’ doesn’t have any theological relevance. It doesn’t alter the deposit of the faith. It doesn’t change what it means to be a Christian,” Prof Rowland said.
She quoted US philosopher and new media evangelist, Fr Robert Barron, on the right way to interpret the Council:
“Philosophy, ethics, and cultural forms do not position Jesus Christ, rather Christ positions them, and to understand this principal is to grasp the nettle of the Christian thing.”
Today’s young Catholics were not “lusting after modernity” like the youth of 1968, she said.
“Instead, they are coming across shattered fragments of a once Christian culture and asking questions about how the fragments they have discovered once fitted the whole.”
The entirety of Prof Tracey Rowland’s address can be found at www.thegreatgrace.org.au/keynote-speakers/video-on-demand and bit.ly/11TkDlM.