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Although the Second Vatican Council ought to be understood as the most recent stage of the two millenium old growth or development of the Church, it would seem that most Catholics and non-Catholics see the Council as a revolution within Catholicism, as an antithesis to Trent and the First Vatican Council, an unexpected novelty. The basis for such views revolves around the changes in liturgy and the relation of the Catholic Church to the secular world and to other religious denominations. Accordingly, for some the Council is considered positively and for others it is judged negatively.
The success or failure of a Council as well as its principles can be understood from two different view-points: first of all, with respect to the inner workings, or nature, of a Council, and secondly, with respect to the application of the various demands or suggestions made by a Council. Further one's understanding of a Council is very much determined by the way in which the Church is conceived. Vatican II, however, made a radical change in the way the Church was to be conceived.
The pre-conciliar way of looking at the Church tended to identify Catholicism and Roman Catholicism, it tended to identify the Church with the Church hierarchy. The post-conciliar view of the Church, on the contrary shed light on the importance of the local churches, on the other rites and ecclesial traditions (Eastern Catholic Churches) which are on an equal par to both the Latin Church and tradition, and likewise on the sister Churches (of Orthodoxy) with which the Church of Rome is not in full communion. Similarly, the innovation that the Church consists of the people of God, that is of laity and of clergy, was in itself a revolutionary moment in the way that Catholicism conceived its own ecclesial nature.
This radical development in ecclesiology, consequently, effected and
still effects the way in which the Vatican Council is to be understood.
Thus, one is forced to ask whether the whole Church took part in the Council
and whether the different parts of the Church were fully and equally represented
in Vatican II, or not? If the answer is positive, than the Council was
indeed a Council and accordingly successful in its conciliarity, if the
response is negative, than Vatican II failed to be fully ecumenical and
consequently failed to qualify as a Council.
Undoubtedly, from a pre-conciliar point of view the Council was a visible coming together, working together and deciding together of the whole Church. With the Council however, the pre-conciliar understanding of the Church was clarified and broadened. But, in making this development, the Council failed to re-examine itself and its own conciliarity. Subsequently, from a post-conciliar ecclesiology the Council was a failure in that, the whole Church was not represented, neither fully nor equally. It did not extend itself to include within itself the fullness of the One, Holy, Universal and Apostolic Church. While the Eastern Catholic Churches were weakly represented, and were not offered an equal role to the Latin Church in the preparation committees and in the voting, the Orthodox Churches were not a part of the inner-conciliar dynamics. Accordingly, if these latter churches are part of the One mystical Body of Christ, that is of the Universal-Catholic Church as contrasted to the Roman-Catholic Church, then their absence means that the Council did not represent the entirety of the Church of Christ. Subsequently, Vatican II consisted only of parts of the whole Church.
A second failure in the Council was the failure to distinguish clearly, from the beginning and in each working committee, session and conciliar text, the Latin tradition from the Church as a whole. Accordingly, many of the conciliar texts deal almost entirely and exclusively with questions and problems proper to the Latin or Roman tradition. Probably the clearest example is the Dogmatic Constitution on the Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium. In other texts the theological principles which are applied and the theological structures which are used belong to Latin theology. The theological approaches and the riches of the Eastern Traditions are generally absent from the texts. One of the reasons for this weakness is that the Eastern Catholics had been brought up and educated according to the methods of Latin theology to the prejudice of their own traditions. The very Council recognises this point in promoting fidelity to and a deepening in the authentic ancient Eastern Traditions, proper to these Churches.
Accordingly a hypothesis that Vatican II was an unsuccessful Council that became one of the most historic synods of the Latin Church, can not only be posited but could seemingly be also well defended.
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