Fortunately, podcasts and transcripts of some of the key ones are starting to appear, and you can find them over at the ever excellent Xt3.
A new Pentecost?
The elephant in the room at such a Conference, of course, is what Cardinal Ouellet (Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops) called the 'phenomena of regression' (before quickly moving on!), viz the collapse of the Church in the West in recent decades.
Is the collapse, as Pope Benedict XVI suggested, due to a misreading of the Council, or is it, as most traditionalists, schismatic and otherwise would argue, a direct product of it?
Does the Council, as Cardinal Ouellet argued in his talk, lay the foundations for a newly reinvigorated missionary effort, or does some of the theology it propagates positively undermine such this orientation?
A nice illustration of the issue, in my view, is provided by the concept of 'having a personal relationship with Christ', which Cardinal Ouellet mentioned in his address on ecclesiology.
Do you have a personal relationship with God?
The concept of having a 'personal relationship' with Christ is being pushed heavily at the moment, and I can see the value of it in the context of apologetics, in responding to the Pentecostal critique of Catholicism.
I have real doubts about its value, though, in teaching Catholics how to grow in their spiritual lives.
On the one hand, the idea that a Catholic must have a 'personal relationship' with Christ is a statement of the obvious: the essence of our faith is surely that God calls us, and we respond, accepting the gift that he has offered and reflecting that in our thoughts and actions.
We respond, for example, by keeping the commandments, as he instructed us to; through our participation in the liturgy; through the worthy reception of the sacraments; through our prayerful reading of Scripture; and through our prayer life; and through our charitable actions.
Maybe the concept has some utility in getting us to focus a little more on the daily challenges of Christian living: on responding to the prompts of the Spirit; focusing on discerning between movements of the Spirit, ourselves and the devil; and on the mechanics of the daily spiritual warfare.
Yet somehow this concept of a personal relationship seems too often to mean something entirely different to all of that, something somehow detached from the Church itself, even at odds with it. That's not entirely surprising since the concept is essentially one imported from protestant theology.
The protestant notion, which is essentially an eighteenth century invention, simply does not have an ecclesial dimension: it refers to an emotional experience of conversion, rather than to our ongoing struggle for holiness and the gradual realization of our baptismal grace, nurtured through the sacraments of Confirmation, Confession and Eucharist; it attests to to the ability of each Christian to discern for themselves what the Bible means, without the need for the guidance of a Magisterium; it affirms that we can decide for ourselves what God is telling us to do, without the need for any external guidance or ecclesial affirmation in the form of the sacrament of marriage, holy orders or vows of religious profession.
The concept can of course be put in a Catholic context, and Pope Benedict XVI arguably made a good fist of doing just that.
But is this really a positive theological development compared to the previous emphasis on the truths of the faith?
Scholasticism vs personalism
Cardinal Ouellet argues that it is:
"In fact, the Council not only renews the theology of revelation in the light of Christ, “who is both the mediator and the fullness of all revelation” (DV, 2); it also renews our manner of presenting the faith. Faith means adhering personally to Someone who invites us to enter into His communion. This is significant progress with respect to the preceding Scholastic approach, which expressed itself in terms of intellectual assent to abstract truths. The Council’s Christocentric and Trinitarian perspective on revelation, enriched by a more personalist language, represents a turning point that confers on the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum pride of place as the foundation of conciliar ecclesiology."
The point is that while we can, through reason alone, know God, in practice the only way we can know him with certainty and without error, the only way, as the Compendium puts it, that 'we can enter the intimacy of the divine mystery' is through Revelation, which has been entrusted to the Church (Qu 3).
The ecclesial dimension
The Cardinal does, of course, draw out the ecclesial context for what he is saying, and sets this emphasis on the personal relationship between a believer and God within the context of the concept of the Church as the universal sacrament of salvation to the world.
All the same, there is, I think, a genuine difficulty in reconciling the inherent tension between the concept of a 'personal relationship' with God and the traditional way of experiencing that relationship, namely in and through the Church.
Bishop Hollohan of Bunbury for example, in his Easter note in the Diocesan Newsletter The Vineyard this year, used the concept of the personal relationship with Christ as a means of explaining why Christianity is superior to other faiths. And he does a good job of this.
The problem is, he doesn't then make the case for Catholicism over other forms of Christianity.
"There are those today who say ‘one religion is much the same as another’.
Easter reminds us of how wrong this is...
There are many differences between Christianity and other religions. One is that Jesus Christ is alive, not dead. Mohammed, Buddha and all other great historical religious figures, on the other hand, are dead.
Second, another distinguishing feature of christianity is that Jesus Christ calls all into personal relationships with himself. Without this personal relationship, one cannot be a Christian in the sense that Jesus meant.
Third, all who enter into personal relationship with the Risen Christ find growing personal blessings in their lives – guidance, inner strengthening and healing and freedom from temptations to do wrong...
The problem, I think, is that he fails to mention just how those blessings flow, namely from the fount that is the Church.
Now one can argue that a short article of this kind can't cover everything and that is true, but I do think it is actually genuinely hard to link the two concepts. And indeed, I think the overemphasis on the notion of a personal relationship with God without enough emphasis on the ecclesial context for it explains just why we have essentially given up, as a Church, on attempting to convert protestants to the faith.
There are a number of good critiques of the concept around, the most important being that the emphasis on the 'personal' nature of our relationship with God can quickly degenerate to a kind of consumerism that may be nothing more than a projection of our own desires, culture, values, goals and dreams. It can become all about us, and the quest for self-validation, rather than being about service and carrying our cross. Above all, it can be all too easy to lose importance of attending Mass and paying attention to the other objective dimensions that ground the practice of our faith.
A lot of the rhetoric around this concept suggests that we need to 'know Christ' rather than 'know about Christ'.
I would argue, though, that in fact we learn to know Christ by learning about Christ. Some of that learning about Christ starts from the intellect: learning the catechism and studying Scripture for example. But it is made living, transformed into knowledge of Christ through the theological gift of faith given to us at our baptism. Some of that learning about Christ is ideally gained in experiential ways: praying with our family; and when we are led to a sense of awe through the liturgy.
The reality is that much of what has happened since the Council has positively undermined this, most obviously in the emphasis on emotion and experience over the content of the faith in schools; and by emphasising external, rather than internal, action in the liturgy.
The liturgy problem
When it comes to the liturgy, Cardinal Ouellet acknowledges this, but talks up Pope Benedict XVI's take on the subject:
He confirmed this criticism by observing that the first document promulgated by the Council was the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. In the architecture of the Council, this order had a precise sense: “Adoration comes first. Therefore God comes first…. In the history of the post-Conciliar period, the Constitution on the Liturgy was certainly no longer understood from the viewpoint of the basic primacy of adoration, but rather as a recipe book of what we can do with the Liturgy.”
We have to recognize the truth of this criticism, at least in certain milieus in which forgetfulness of God encouraged a tendency to change everything that could be changed in the liturgy, without much concern for pedagogy. Consequently, the sacred meaning of the liturgy and its theandric character were more or less lost, replaced by the activity of the community and its ministers..."
Regression, dead ends and the prospect of revival
Is another approach genuinely possible though the directions set by Vatican II? The Cardinal tried to argue that it was, saying:
When we look back at the event of the Council and everything that followed it, we are still struck by its newness, as well as its effects in the Church’s life and mission. Though we cannot ignore the problems in interpretation or the phenomena of regression, we must greet the Council as a new Pentecost that reawakened the Church’s missionary consciousness. It granted her a vision and doctrinal orientation that allowed for a renewal of her structures and pastoral activity.
It may be, as the Cardinal argues, that the 'great grace' of the Council is something still present only in potential yet to be realised.
Right at the moment though, any objective analysis would surely suggest that Vatican II is looking much more like a Council of Florence, which ultimately proved to be pretty much a dead-end: it issued an invitation (to the Orthodox Churches to reconcile) that was rejected.