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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):

Today, 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 . .  ..

Early in 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?"

Newman 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."

After 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".

Sadly, 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.

Not, of 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 Conferences.

But 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 . . . 

At 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 insolent faction.  

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 . . .

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