Gaillardetz is a leading theologian in the field of ecclesiology, and the topic of his April 19 presentation will be “Rethinking Hierarchy: Becoming a Community of Conversation.”
In preparation for Gaillardetz’s visit, I’ve began reading his 2006 book, The Church in the Making, part of an eight volume series by Paulist Press entitled “Rediscovering Vatican II.”
Following is the first of three excerpts from the preface of The Church in the Making, in which Gaillardetz explores various frameworks for interpreting council documents.
[The documents of Vatican II] effected a profound shift in [Roman] Catholicism’s self-understanding. The nature and extent of this shift has been much debated in the decades since the council. Recently, Pope Benedict XVI has identified a conflict between two different manners of interpreting the teaching of the council. He characterizes the first approach as presupposing a “hermeneutics of discontinuity and rupture.” In this view, this interpretive stance highlights a marked discontinuity between earlier Catholic tradition and what was effected at Vatican II. . . . The pope rejects this hermeneutical perspective and advocates instead a “hermeneutics of reform.” This approach focuses less on Vatican II as an ecclesial event and more on the authoritative status of the final form of the council documents themselves. It is these documents, in their final form, and not a larger textual history or a vague appeal to “the spirit of the council” that should command the assent of Catholics.
. . . The pope is certainly right to be concerned that studies of the council not exaggerate the elements of discontinuity found in council teaching. Yet one might wonder whether these two hermeneutical approaches can be so easily opposed to one another. Would not an adequate hermeneutics of the council need to attend to both continuity and discontinuity? Moreover, it seems to me that it would run counter to the great Catholic tradition to reduce the impact of an ecumenical council to its formal documents. Ecclesiologically, councils derive their authority not from the juridical force of their documents but from their status as ecclesial events manifesting, in concentrated form, the reality and faith witness of the church as communion.
The great Catholic insight which governs the interpretation of scripture holds true for council documents as well. Catholics (and many mainline Protestants!) reject a fundamentalist absolutizing of written biblical text. They recall that Jesus did not come to leave a written text, but to create a community of disciples. The scriptural texts emerged out of the lived faith witness of the people of Israel and the apostolic community. Catholics believe that scripture cannot be adequately interpreted apart from an awareness of both the faith experience that gave rise to the biblical testimony (sometimes called by biblical scholars “the meaning behind the text”) and the ways in which the biblical texts have been received, interpreted, and implemented in the life of the church (biblical scholars refer to this as “the meaning in front of the text”).
Just as scripture and tradition cannot be opposed to one another but are inextricably linked, so too one cannot oppose to one another (1) the dynamic ecclesial event which is a council itself conjoined with the dynamic process by which that council is received in the life of the church and (2) the official promulgation of the council’s teaching in its final documents.
Australian theologian Ormond Rush has provided the most balanced hermeneutical framework to date for interpreting council documents, one which avoids a false absolutizing of either continuity or discontinuity, Rush distinguishes between a “macro-rupture,” a fundamental severance with the great tradition of the church, and a “micro-rupture,” which reflects a genuine innovation or shift that must be considered discontinuous with some aspect of the previous tradition but which can also be read as “rejuvenating that broader tradition.” I agree with Rush that we need to affirm the genuine micro-raptures evident in the conciliar documents that constituted a break, particularly with the baroque or post-Tridentine Catholicism of the previous four centuries, while remaining in continuity with a more ancient tradition.
Excerpted from The Church in the Making by Richard R. Gaillardetz (New York: Paulist Press, 2006).
For Part 2 of “Reading the Documents of Vatican II,” click here. For Part 3, click here.
Recommended Off-site Links:
The Ordinary Universal Magisterium: Unresolved Questions by Richard R. Gaillardetz (Theological Studies, No. 3. September 2002, pp. 147-171).
Infallibilty and the Ordination of Women by Richard R. Gaillardetz (Louvain Studies 21 (1996) pp. 3-24).
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Truth About “Spirit of Vatican II” Finally Revealed!
The Shrinking Catholic Tent