PEREGRINATIONS - Canadian Catholic Perspectives and Reflections by members of the PERSONAL ORDINARIATE OF THE CHAIR OF ST. PETER
Friday, 9 October 2015
Blessed John Henry Newman and the Synod of Bishops
Fr. John Hunwicke offers the following thoughts (excerpted) on Blessed John Henry Newman and the Synod of Bishops (bolding is mine):
on this splendid Festum of Blessed John Henry Newman, I can think of no better,
nor more relevant, topic for thought than our great Blessed's writings on
synodical processes . . ..
1870, Blessed John Henry received a letter from his bishop William Ullathorne about
the disgraceful bullying going on at the [First] Vatican Council. He replied
with words which became justly famous: "Why should an aggressive insolent
faction be allowed to 'make the heart of the just to mourn, whom the Lord hath
not made sorrowful?"
. . . Seven
months later, on 23 July, Newman saw the Definition of papal infallibility five
days after it had passed through the Conciliar Aula. He was relieved, even
delighted, at its "moderation"; it afforded him no problems; but
"does it come to me with the authority of an Ecumenical Council?"
did not instantly accept it as such. wanted to know what the conciliar minority
would do. This was important, because unanimity, at least 'moral' unanimity,
was accepted as essential for the validity of a conciliar definition of
doctrine. If the Fathers "allege in detail acts of violence and
deceit ... if they declare they have
been kept in the dark and been practised on, then there will be the gravest
reasons for determining that the Definition is not valid."
Vatican II, Cardinal Heenan (who deserves rehabilitation; he was an Archbishop
of Westminster a cut above most of them) noted (Sire pp 200-201) that
"During the last two weeks of the council the fathers were called upon to
cast their votes before they could possibly have studied the text and context,
much less the implications, of the amendments".
the Fathers of Vatican II, who were indeed subjected to acts of violence and
deceit, kept in the dark and practised on, made no such corporate protest as
would (in Blessed John Henry's view) have nullified the Council. Nor, indeed,
did they make any individual protests. Even Archbishop Lefebvre's repudiations
were not articulated until it became clear, well after the Council, whither the
Church was being led. Let us not condemn these men; it is easy for us lesser
men to be wise half a century after the event.
course, that this failure of protest mattered or matters too desperately, since
Vatican II, unlike Vatican I, claimed to define no dogmas. Even less is formal
repudiation a matter of crucial importance during a mere Synod of Bishops, such
as the present Synod, since such bodies have no doctrinal or legislative
authority whatsoever. In this respect, they are rather like the old Lambeth
those Lambeth Conferences played a crucial role in the downfall of the
once-great Anglican Communion, because such bodies do have a moral influence in
the Church, the World, and the Media . . .
Vatican II, the 'Rhineland Bishops', the 'Liberated Countries' (Sire), had
organised themselves and their tactics even before the first moments of the
Council, enabling them to execute a crude coup in its first minutes. The bulk
of the Fathers floundered, disorganised, at the mercy of this aggressive
But, during this last
year 2015, orthodox cardinals and bishops and theologians have not made the
same mistake that their predecessors made in 1962. Their voices have been
heard, their pens have not been inactive . . .