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The Spirit of the Council

We still (!) hear a lot about the "spirit of the Council". By this phrase, people mean that we should follow some kind of hidden meaning of the second Vatican council, but are allowed to ignore some of the words of the council (I have heard this directly from more than one Catholic, some laity, some clergy). Not surprisingly, few can tell you what those "hidden" words are, other than some vague idea of "newness" and a rebellion from the past.


I would like to come out and say that I do agree that we should follow the "spirit of the Vatican Council". I am referring, of course, to the spirit of Vatican Council I (the one back in 1868, not Vatican Council II in 1962). In fact, let us go a bit further back. I think we should adhere to the spirit of the Council of Trent (1545). If we did so, we would realize that the "spirit" of both these councils is the same as the "words" of the Councils. They were clear and made their truths evident. It may have taken time to figure out how to apply some of what those Councils said, but it was not unclear what they meant (and no one at the time tried to hijack the Councils for their own ends).


So, to take a point from Vatican Council II, Pope John XXIII opened the Council by stating the direction he wanted it to go. In part of his admonition he said, "eodem sensu eademque sentententia". Apparently, for quite a while these original words were suppressed and only translations were given. These translations seemed to paint a very "modernist" idea of the Church. I have been told recently that the original recordings of the speech that the Holy Father gave have been found, and in listening to them, the actual Latin words are clear (exactly as I have cited them above).


Those who sought to hide the original words claimed that "conservatives have distorted his words". Here is the issue: their translations have been shown to misrepresent what he originally said. In speaking about the direction of the Council he stated that the Catholic faith could be expressed in different ways, "eodem sensu eademque sentententia". A simple and proper translation of that Latin phrase is, “as long as this is done keeping the same meaning and the same judgment." As much as anyone may be confused about what actually did happen at Vatican II (including whether it was hijacked), these words now make it clear what was intended. It was not intended to be the break with the past that many have turned it into.

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