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Karl Keating | author
May 01, 2010
Filed under Engaging the Faith
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Two Vatican II misconceptions

Karl Keating reminds us that the Church treasures the wisdom of pre-Vatican II scholars . . .

Karl Keating

Some believe that Vatican II was such a watershed that it’s a waste of time to read books published before the Council. That notion, however, is contrary to the Council itself. Vatican II documents are packed with references to ancient and medieval writings. After all, the Bible is an ancient writing that you wouldn’t want to drop from your reading list!

If you insist on regarding Vatican II as a dividing point for your reading, you’d do much better to read only pre-Vatican books. Yes, you’d miss recent events, but you’d keep on your shelf the very best of the world’s books. Of course, no one today should willingly accept such a silly limitation.

People in the past didn’t think that way. After Trent (1545-1563), Catholics didn’t say, “Let’s chuck all the pre-Trent books and read only modern writers, such as Robert Belarmine.” After Lyons I (1224), they didn’t say, “Let’s get rid of Augustine and read only this upstart theologian, Thomas Aquinas.”

Keep in mind George Santayana’s line: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This applies to theology, too. If you read only modern works, you’ll commit ancient errors.

The second misconception: Some think Vatican II teaches that the Church should be like a democracy, which is why we have parish councils. If the Council really taught that, even the sharpest-eyed readers have failed to find the passage. The Church has never been a democracy and never will be. Its structure is patterned after the structure of heaven, which is an absolute monarchy with God on the throne. He is the ruler, and we are his subjects.

He has appointed a prime minister, Peter, to rule in his absence, investing him with much of his own authority as king and shepherd (Mt 16:18-19). He gave Peter chief assistants, the other apostles. This pattern of government continues today through apostolic succession in the pope and the bishops in union with him.

So why do we have parish councils? Not because the Church has been changed to a democracy. Pastoral councils have several practical purposes: to relieve parish priests of administrative burdens which can be accomplished by parishioners, to give the pastor feedback from the pews, and to help develop a pastoral plan. The council is a consultative, not a legislative, body. It makes recommendations to the pastor, but doesn’t usurp his authority or duties.

KARL KEATING is the founder of Catholic Answers. This column is reprinted with permission from his book “What Catholics Really Believe — Setting the Record Straight: 52 Answers to Common Misconceptions About the Catholic Faith,” pages 15-17 (Ignatius Press, San Francisco 1995).

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