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Was Vatican II Merely Pastoral?

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Sometimes the Second Vatican Council gets a weak defense: “Well, it was just a pastoral council, so why worry about it?” Michael Lofton, from Reason and Theology, asks whether this defense is true? Is Vatican II really “just pastoral”?


Cy Kellett:

Hello, and welcome to Focus, the Catholic Answers Podcast for living understanding and defending your Catholic faith. I’m Cy Kellett, your host and this time we talk a bit about the Second Vatican Council, which yes, we are still talking about almost constantly, still debating about, still even fighting about 60 years after the council. They always say it takes at least 50 years for a council to be accepted. Well, add another 50 or 150, I don’t know how long it’s going to take for this council to be integrated into the life of the church in a way that’s healthy, we’re not there yet.

But one of the ways that people sort of defend the council and attack the council, they’ll use the same phrase to defend the council and to attack the council and that is, it’s just a pastoral council. It’s just a pastoral council. So is that true? Was it just a pastoral council? In order to have a good solid conversation about that, we brought in a good solid theologian and apologist. Michael Lofton is an associate apologist here at Catholic Answers and the founder of Reason and Theology. Michael, thanks for being with us.

Michael Lofton:

Thanks for having me back on.

Cy Kellett:

I was thinking about it this morning and really 60 years on, I was born during the council, so I can always tell how old it is, so 60 years on. Many councils, people still argue over, but they’re arguing over what did the council say? What did it mean? Did it resolve this issue, or is it not still resolved? This council, it seems like the question 60 years on is still a basic question about what was the council? We don’t even agree on what it was. So what do you make of the phrase, as I said, “Sometimes used to defend, sometimes used to attack the council. It’s just a pastoral council.”?

Michael Lofton:

Yeah, it all depends on what we mean by pastoral and that’s where I fear there’s some misinformation and also misunderstanding. It’s true that we speak of the Second Vatican Council as a pastoral council, but what exactly does that mean? I fear that a lot of people think that means it did not teach anything. It’s authoritative, so we’re free to dismiss it. It’s merely pastoral. So pastoral here is defined as it’s kind of just a suggestion. It’s more disciplinary. It’s not necessarily doctrinal and authoritative. That’s how I think a lot of people take the term pastoral. However, that is not at all what John, the 23rd or even Paul, the 6th meant when they used this term pastoral to refer to the Second Vatican Council. And I’m happy to get into the proper definition of it, but I do fear that’s where a lot of the misconception lies.

Cy Kellett:

So pastoral meaning it’s a suggestion, as you said, and not something firmer, more of a yield sign than a stop sign or a go sign. And so why don’t we start there? What would you say is the authentic Jonine and Pauline way of understanding what those two Popes meant by the word pastoral in association with this council?

Michael Lofton:

Yeah, because if you look at John the 23rd, again, he’s the one who opened the council and also Paul, the 6th who closed it, they do use the term pastoral, but then over and over and over they talk about the doctrinal aspect to the council, which doesn’t make sense if we’re putting pastoral against doctrine. But it makes perfect sense if we understand how they’re using the term pastoral, which is effectively this. John the 23rd in his opening speech for the Second Vatican Council, he uses the term pastoral, but what he meant by this is, a way in which we are going to communicate the doctrines of the church. He’s not saying that, “Okay, this is going to be pastoral as opposed to we’re not going to teach anything.” But what he’s saying is, “We’re going to teach some things in this council in a way that is effective in communicating to contemporary man.”

And you can actually see this very practically in what happened with the council. At first, they had what’s called schema that were drawn up. These were working documents that they were going to use and they were very, very technical in their language, not very accessible to the average person. You would have to be trained in theologian to really make some sense of some of the things in the schema. The council fathers, in light of John, the 23rd’s desire to have more of a pastoral approach in communicating these doctrines, decided to do away with the schema. For better or worse, they decided to do away with the schema and write up new documents that would express the teachings of the church, but in a way that’s more accessible to the average person. So if you read Vatican II, it’s very accessible. It’s very easy to understand as opposed to some other councils that may have been a little less accessible and more technical and theological in nature as far as their tone.

And again, there’s some things to be said about a need to sometimes have that approach. But what John the 23rd was saying is, now is not the time. What we need to do is take the deposit of faith that which has been handed down to us from Christ through the Apostles. We need to take that. We need to guard it. That’s the first duty of the council is to guard the deposit of faith, but then communicate it in a way that makes sense to modern man because there’s no way or there’s no purpose in having all of these teachings, but not communicate them to a society that doesn’t really understand them. They need to be able to digest them and make sense of them.

Cy Kellett:

And the world had changed so much by the time of the council. Certainly, part of the reality of the Council is the failure of the Catholic Church in many places to confront the horrors that led to the First World War and the Second World War, Holocaust, use of nuclear weapons, all of these things, this had changed. There was a sense that we need to do better. I mean, somehow the faith is not deep enough in people to address the really strange new world of the modern world. And so in order to do that, we don’t need to invent a new faith. We need to communicate the faith in a way that accomplishes a task that makes a truly Christian response to the modern world.

Michael Lofton:

And I think a lot of people missed that part that you said, “We don’t need to invent a new faith.” I think a lot of people missed that and think that that’s what Vatican II was doing. And in fact, John the 23rd says the opposite, “We need to guard and preserve the deposit of faith. That’s the first duty of the council.”

Cy Kellett:

I’ve always been impressed with the fact, and I would like to hear what you make of this, that the dogmatic constitution on the church, Lumen Gentium, this magnificent document, it starts just with such a simple expression of the faith. I mean part one, chapter one of that document is, I mean, you could do an entire catechesis, you could bring someone into the church just studying that first chapter. But it starts with just the phrase about Jesus Christ being the light of the nations. So it strikes me that this tells you an awful lot about the council. If they’re going to start the dogmatic constitution on the church with Jesus Christ and his relationship to the nations.

Michael Lofton:

Yeah, absolutely. And it was all about taking that light that is given to us in sacred revelation and communicating it to people which Lumen Gentium attempts to do. And again, in terms that makes more sense to the average person who is maybe not a trained theologian. And so when you look through Lumen Gentium, it’s filled with doctrinal statements over and over and over. So it’s not pastoral in the sense that there’s no doctrine. No, there’s plenty of doctrinal assertions in there, but it’s communicated in a way that will give light to the nation’s, not darkness, not obscurity. And we can question whether or not we’ve been successful in that. I think that there is some debate there, but that was certainly the intention of the council. But again, whether or not we’ve been successful in communicating the light of Christ is something else.

Cy Kellett:

But the lived experience of the 1970s, which I have memory of, and the 1980s too, was that what the council had done was change the church. I mean, anybody would’ve said was what are the effects of the council? They were changes within the church. People didn’t receive the council and go, “Yes, let’s be on mission and go out into the world to bring the light of Christ.” They said, “Oh, we’re supposed to be doing things differently now at Mass and we take that altar rail out.” For some reason, the faithful received the council and maybe they were misled, I don’t know why it was, but they received the council as essentially a reform of the stuff that we do inside the church.

Michael Lofton:

I think in some ways, they were misinformed on what the council actually expected of them. A lot of people, especially on the lay level, did not read the council, but they just went along with certain reforms that were taking place in their territory because they were told “This is the will of the council.” And in many cases, it wasn’t. I think if you look at Vatican II, it did not lend itself to a lot of the chaos that you see in the post-conciliator period at all. The council fathers would’ve been horrified by some of this stuff. But I do think that there were some people after the time of the council who hijacked it and implemented it very poorly. Maybe sometimes with good intentions, maybe sometimes with bad intentions. Nonetheless, I think it was very poorly implemented. And so now it’s been a struggle in the post-conciliator period to still implement the Second Vatican Council. In my opinion, I don’t think it has been fully implemented properly. In fact, I think kind of the opposite has taken place, unfortunately.

Cy Kellett:

Well, you talk about that doctrinal side of it, but immediately, you’ll have this, but it didn’t define any doctrines. There’s no anathemas, there’s no definition, there’s no creed that comes out of it. So, in what sense? Why would you say that it’s doctrinal?

Michael Lofton:

There are actually many instances where we’ve had ecumenical councils that don’t have creeds attached to them. Some of them don’t have anathemas, but I would say those councils still have teachings in them that are authoritative. And this is kind of where some of the breakdown lies. We think that unless the church defines something infallibly, it’s not authoritative or it’s not doctrinal. There’s no teachings in there. And I want to say that’s a misunderstanding of the magisterium. There are plenty of things that the church teaches authoritatively that we’re bound to accept without defining something infallibly. And there’s really two points here. There’s actually something that I would argue Vatican II does define, but not as a dogma, but as what we would call Catholic Doctrine. Something that relates to dogma but is not dogma itself, but it’s infallibly taught. And one example would be Lumen Gentium 21, where it speaks of the Sacramentality of the Episcopate. Prior to Vatican II, the Sacramentality of the Episcopate, whether or not bishops kind of received the fullness of Holy orders in a way that’s distinct from the ordination of a priest, that was debated.

Some kind of saw bishops as just sacramentally priests with an added layer of jurisdiction. Others said, no, bishops are categorically in a different category because they received the fullness of the sacrament of holy orders, and priests receive a lesser grade of that. Well, the Second Vatican Council intended to settle this issue definitively, which it did do in Lumen Gentium 21. And it says that the Sacramentality of the Episcopate is the fullness of Holy orders. So it sided with that position. But here you have an instance of an infallible teaching at Vatican II that I think a lot of people aren’t aware of. They think that there’s nothing infallible in Vatican II because nothing in there is dogmatic. But there are some things that are non-dogmatic that can be infallibly taught. And Lumen Gentium 21 is one example. But even putting the issue to the side about infallible teachings, the question still is, are there authoritative teachings in Vatican II that demands my ascend?

Yes, the vast majority of things in Vatican II falls within this category. There are references to disciplines and things like that, but the majority of what we see from Vatican II is doctrinal in nature, and you can’t read Vatican II without seeing that. It’s just everywhere, nearly every paragraph of every document. It’s very, very clear that it’s doctrinal in nature. And those doctrines were not able to just merely dismiss and say, “Oh, it’s just pastoral as opposed to authoritative.” No, it might be communicated in a pastoral way, but it’s still authoritative and binding on my conscience to accept these teachings. I think a lot of us miss that.

Cy Kellett:

I never thought about that, about how it really is doctrinal if you go paragraph by paragraph. It’s teaching like Lumen Gentium teaching you what the church is. And so it’s doctrine after doctrine after doctrine. This is what the church is, this is how it’s supposed to function, or you think about the documents on scripture revelation. It’s teaching us how we are to understand revelation. You could come away with a pretty full grasp of Christian doctrine just by reading the council if you didn’t read anything else. So yeah, I hadn’t thought about that. Yeah.

Michael Lofton:

And then the question is, are we free to just dissent from those things? No. Paul, the 6th, John, the 23rd has said no, the pre-conciliator Popes for this category of teaching would’ve said no. And then I want to say, there’s a lot of things, for example, in the Council of Trent that would fall in this category of non-infallible teachings. There’s plenty of things that it taught infallibly. But then you have the chapters of Trent that are distinct from the canons and anathemas, you have the chapters. Now, those things that are asserted doctrinally in the chapters of Trent that are not then reiterated infallibly in the cannons, are we just free to dismiss those? No, those are authoritative and they are incredibly authoritative because they are teachings of an ecumenical council. Even if Trent was not asserting them in any kind of definitive way, they’re still authoritative and bonding on us today. Likewise, the vast majority of Vatican II, even if it’s not employing this charism of infallibility, it’s still authoritative and binding on us. We’re not free to dismiss it.

Cy Kellett:

So other than, I mean, the ordination of Bishops, which closes an open question, which is what the development of doctrine is, closing open questions. What do I take away doctrinally from the council? Because actually when I start to think about it that way, when you read, I just can’t get past Lumen Gentium. It’s just such an important seminal document. You come away pretty standard Catholic. You don’t come away from Lumen Gentium like thinking, “Whoa, that’s innovative.” It doesn’t. It sounds like a rephrasing of the teaching of the church for a modern audience.

Michael Lofton:

That’s exactly what it is. It’s not giving us something contrary to what has been handed down to us. John the 23rd, again, was intentional in saying, “No, we have the first duty of the council is to guard that, which has been handed to us”, but just communicated to society in effective way. So Vatican II doesn’t issue anything that is contrary to that, which has been handed down to us from Christ in the Apostles. It’s very, very consistent with that. I’ll give you one example. You mentioned there, Lumen Gentium.

A lot of people are under the impression that Lumen Gentium just basically denies the necessity of the church for salvation. A lot of people have this idea that Lumen Gentium is basically saying, “It doesn’t matter if you’re not a Catholic. Doesn’t matter. You could be a Muslim, you can be a Hindu, you could be this or be that. We’re all saved. We’re all going to heaven.” And they base that on a misreading of some aspects of Lumen Gentium. But what they don’t see is Lumen Gentium 14 that just reasserts the Catholic Church is teaching, about outside the church, there is no salvation. It is incredibly explicit about outside the church, there is no salvation. And if anyone knows that the Catholic Church is established by Christ and refused to enter or remain in it, they cannot be saved. A lot of people miss that. But it’s just, again, reasserting that which has been given to us.

Cy Kellett:

So if you take that kind of famous paragraph on Islam, for example, where it’s very solicitous of Muslim people. It’s actually less solicitous of Islam than people think as a religion. But it’s very solicitous of Muslim people. I guess that might upset you, and you’d have to process that. But it’s in the context of a document that starts with Jesus Christ is the light of the nation. So just put it all in its context, then you understand what they’re saying to Muslim people in that paragraph.

Michael Lofton:

Yeah. The context that you mentioned there is important. And also then again, prior to its comments on Islam, it already asserted the exclusivity of salvation in Christ only through his church. But then it does speak about how you can have some people who are related to certain truths in the faith. For example, we’re not going to say outside of the Catholic Church, there is no truth. Like everybody is just in such air that they possess no truth. Now, what the church is saying is outside of the Catholic Church, there is a lot of air, but there are some things that they have that are true.

And so what the Second Vatican Council is trying to do is offer a positive comment on some of these other religions saying they do have some of the truth here. For example, I mean Muslims worship one God as opposed to many gods. They’re right in that. God is one. But they do have an imperfection in who that one God is. They’re not Trinitarians. So Vatican II is not saying, “Well, they have the fullness of the faith”, but it’s also saying, but we need to be careful to say that they don’t have any troops that are part of the Catholic faith. And that’s all the Second Vatican Council was trying to do whenever it speaks of these other religions.

Cy Kellett:

Yeah, that’s a difference of orientation to the basic truths rather than a difference of the basic truths. That is, I can see how, well, even as you said that, most of the work of councils has been confrontational. And so here you have a council that’s saying, “Well, what can we say in a positive sense about Judaism? What can we say in a positive sense about our separated Christian brethren?” And so it’s not like the church ever said Islam has no truth in it, and that it never said that. But it also was confrontational always before. So this is something I’m just seeing from what you said. Does that make sense what I’m saying to you?

Michael Lofton:

It does. And that was explicitly the intentions of the council fathers. They weren’t denying the negative positions that the church has taken about non-Catholics. They weren’t denying these things, they’re reasserted there again in Lumen Gentium 14. But what they’re trying to do is they’re saying, so far we’ve only spoken about non-Catholics in these negative terms. And that’s needed to an extent, but it’s also needed for us to maybe speak about, well, here’s some things that we have in common with them in order to help perhaps foster more dialogue in the future and then call them to Christ.

So what the council fathers were trying to do is say, “Okay, well what can we say about these non-Catholics that is a positive statement about them, again, in order to foster dialogue?” Well, it gave us some examples. Now, we can question whether or not we’ve been successful in accomplishing the goal here. The goal was to speak about them in a positive way, not denying the negativity, but in the positive way to foster dialogue. We can question whether or not we’ve been successful in that dialogue or has our approach somehow led to more confusion than good.

Cy Kellett:

Well, let me throw a problem out at you. Most Christians in most times and places are not theologians. So they’re not approaching church documents from… I mean, most are not even reading church documents. So this change in disposition then, or this change in orientation from, “Here’s the clear lines that councils have always drawn and done so confrontationally in order to defend the truth.” Well, now let’s turn this way and say, “But Muslim people, they have beautiful families and they believe in the one God” or whatever. Well, I mean, if I’m just trying to follow the lead of the church, and I’m not a theologian and I’m not going to be a theologian, well, that kind of looks like everything. I’m not trying to say that’s the proper theological implication, but it’s kind of the pastoral implication. Like as a sheep, well, we were going this way, we’re going this way now. And now that lessens the intensity of my attachment to the truth of the Catholic faith.

Michael Lofton:

And that’s unfortunately the way that a lot of people have perceived it. And so that’s why I questioned the success of this approach, which of course as Catholics were free to do. I questioned, have we really been successful in what we were trying to accomplish? The attention was there to foster more dialogue so that we could better communicate the truth of Christ and then call them to the fullness of the faith. Have we been largely successful there? I want to say no. I want to say in many ways, unintentionally, I think what this has done is given people the impression of relativism, and it’s okay to be where you are. And so I kind of question, in hindsight, is this the best approach for today? At the time, the council thought that this would be the best approach, and it’s kind of odd because they had just seen two massive world wars and the horrors of the Holocaust.

You would think that they would’ve come away with a very pessimist view of humanity. But in fact, it was the opposite. The council fathers had a very optimist view of humanity and just thought, “Well, if we communicate the faith in a positive way to them, not in a condemning way, but just in a positive way, people will hear that and they’ll respond positively.” That was the intention and that’s what they were thinking. I think that in the aftermath of the council, it’s become apparent that that’s not necessarily the case. And they did not necessarily account for the effects of original sin. And this isn’t just my opinion. You have high figures in the church, I believe Ratzinger who says this, that there was this overly ideal and optimistic view of humanity, and in light of the aftermath, maybe we need to dial some of that back. So again, I do think it’s fair for us to say that the average person, they haven’t really digested it this way. So should we really continue with this approach?

Cy Kellett:

Yeah, I see what you’re saying. The sense was, okay, in the modern world, I mean really the truth of Christianity is that, I mean, this intense, passionate love of God for humanity, such that he became one of us, that he forgives all of our sins. You would think this is the message that the modern world is looking for, but it doesn’t look for it. It keeps trying to look away from it. It keeps trying to get away from it. Primarily, I think because I think this is kind of basic theology is that what’s required in order to receive that love is change, and we don’t want to change. We want to keep doing the thing that we’ve been doing. So I mean, the carrots there, but it’s not appealing enough for us to say, “Oh yeah, so I’ll give up the sexual immorality. I’ll give up the consumerism. I’ll actually love my neighbors wherever they are in the world in whatever their condition.” Well, that’s too hard. It needs a proposition that is maybe more challenging than the council anticipated.

Michael Lofton:

I agree. And that’s why I think that it would be helpful to take the intention of the council fathers, but also couple it with the pre-conciliator approach. And here’s how I think it would be helpful to do so, because I don’t think it’s helpful to just say, “Let’s just press the reset button and just pretend the council never happened and just go back to the way things were.” I don’t think that that’s realistic. But I also don’t want to say, “Well, the way that we’re currently implementing the council is really effective, or that maybe the way that we’re approaching people is really effective.” How about we say, you know what? We can speak of non-Catholics in this positive sense, and we can say, “Yes, here’s the things we agree on.” But then always couple that with the proclamation of, but you know what? You still need to formally enter into communion with Christ’s church, or you are in danger, and here’s what will happen as a consequence if you reject Christ in his church.

And then we explain to people the consequences of not being in communion with Christ versus being in communion with Christ. And when you do that, I think they will then see their need for entering the Catholic Church. Unfortunately today, we’re not telling people of their need. All we’re doing is just saying, “Well, here’s some things that you do, Mr. Non-Catholic.” It’s good, and we agree with this, but we never end up challenging the endowment saying, “But that’s not good enough for your salvation. You need to come and enter into Christ Church and repent of this other era.” We’re not giving that message in many cases.

Cy Kellett:

No. So if the core of the council is this idea that Christ is the light of nations, then that it’s primary mission that it gives us is evangelization. And I think all the popes who have initiated and received the council would agree that the primary thing here is evangelization. Then you look 60 years on, are we evangelizing well? And it just looks like a disaster. It doesn’t look like we’re evangelizing well at all. Something’s not connecting, Michael.

Michael Lofton:

I agree with you. It’s not, and that wasn’t the intention of the council fathers, they had multiple documents where they’re reiterating the necessity of, again, the church for salvation and also the need to evangelize people. However, since we ended up taking approach that was, let’s talk about the positive things. I think, and in some ways we kind of lost our fervor because the way that unintentionally became translated in the average person was, it’s not as necessary to evangelize people because these people have, to a degree, the truth and all truth belongs to God. So there’s a degree in which they’re in union with God because of the truth that they have. Again, I don’t think that was the intention of the council fathers, but that’s the way it was digested. And I think that that’s counterintuitive. So I’m in agreement with you there.

Cy Kellett:

It also was received into an atmosphere of intense change otherwise. I mean, some of the change that the church has experienced really has nothing to do with the church. We didn’t cause the media revolution, the technology revolutions, and I was talking about how the council was received in the ’70s. Well, all of what I said was true, but if you really lived through the ’70s, you remember the number one controversy was about Humanae Vitae. It didn’t even have anything to do with the council, which is about how do we integrate this new technology where we can control fertility properly as Catholics?

So the church didn’t invent that technology. So do you see what I’m saying, is that in addition to the internal problems of maybe an overly optimistic view of human nature, there was also an intensity of attack against human nature in that same period with new tools, new weapons in the quiver of the enemy. And they’ve been very, very successful. They’ve been very powerful. I guess, I want to say that in order to say it’s almost like the council was received into a hurricane. So it’s something natural, but if it’s received into a hurricane, the reception’s going to be difficult no matter what we do.

Michael Lofton:

Absolutely. Because of the external circumstances that were taking place in the world. I mean, just think about it. You have the sexual revolution taking place at this time, and so that very quickly dampened some of the fruit of the Second Vatican Council. Some people think that, well, it’s because of Vatican II, that we have this crisis today in society. I don’t say that. I do think that there are some aspects of Vatican II that we could legitimately criticize, but I think that the reason why we have what’s going on in society today was because of things that were taking place in society outside of the church, especially the sexual revolution. In fact, you reminded me of something there. Ralph McInerny, the author, the Thomas Catholic author, he wrote a book called ‘What Went Wrong with Vatican II’, and his main thesis there was, it wasn’t so much Vatican II that was the problem in the post-conciliator period.

What really went wrong is a lack of reception of Humanae Vitae because of the sexual revolution. And then people who are in dissent from the magisterium of Paul, the 6th in relation to Humanae Vitae. And from that, things went out of control. That might be an oversimplification, but I do think there’s some truth to that. And so I want to say, at the end of the day, the way I evaluate Vatican II is, it didn’t cause the problems, but I don’t know if it prepared us best for the problems that we’re facing today. So perhaps it’s time for the magisterium to reevaluate its approach, but that’s ultimately up to the magisterium to evaluate, not up to individual layman.

Cy Kellett:

But how can we square that theologically? That you say, this is a council, it’s called by a Pope. Everything about it is legitimate. Clearly there’s great work of the Holy Spirit being done there. How can you say it could have been better? Is that really Catholic to say, “Yeah. It was an official, important, maybe tremendously important, but it could have been better.” Is that really Catholic to talk that way?

Michael Lofton:

It is. And we could say that of the Council of Nicaea, Nicaea 1 in 325. I mean, we could say this with plenty councils. Did Nicaea 1 do enough to safeguard the deity of the Holy Spirit that would be contested 60 years after Nicaea 2? No. They in fact, deliberately did not speak about whether or not the Holy Spirit is fully divine. They only weighed in on the question of whether Jesus is fully divine. But if they had weighed in on that, we wouldn’t have had all of the problems after the Council where people were contesting the deity of the Holy Spirit. And so we then had to have another ecumenical council, Constantinople 1 in 381, to address the fact that, well, Nicaea didn’t really engage that question. And then the third ecumenical council, fourth and fifth and so on, all of those councils after that were called because Nicaea did not settle everything. And it perhaps could have been more clear on some points.

And so I think we could say the same thing. Vatican II and what it teaches, we can accept. We don’t have to reject any of that, but we could perhaps say, but you know what? Some of the approaches it took, maybe that hasn’t worked out very well, and maybe that could be reevaluated today. And specifically what I’m thinking of here is not reevaluating the doctrines, but just asking the question, this approach of just saying other religions, let’s just talk about what we have in common. Has that really worked out? Have we really seen people say because of that, they have come to a knowledge of the fullness of the faith?

I don’t know if we could really say that. So perhaps we need to have a stronger proclamation of their need to enter the church, and perhaps we should also engage a more church discipline, because that was another thing that Vatican II did. In the opening speech of John the 23rd, he spoke about avoiding things like anathemas and excommunications, rather just kind of engaging in this approach of a medicine of mercy. There’s an extent in which that’s helpful, but at the end of the day, sometimes anathemas are needed and sometimes excommunications are needed. And what happened is we ended up focusing so much on the approach of mercy that we’ve kind of left excommunications and church discipline in the dust. Maybe we need to reevaluate that.

Cy Kellett:

Yeah. And what would you say? I mean, I just think that there’s so many people that will not hear that as a genuine desire that you express, that idea you just expressed emerges from a genuine desire for the truth to be proclaimed clearly so that it’s decisive in people’s lives. So it doesn’t just sit there as an indecisive possibility, but that it’s decisive and performative in people’s lives. But instead, they’ll hear it as, “He’s a reactionary.”

Michael Lofton:

A reactionary. Well, there’s a sense in which we need to avoid formulating our position just in opposition to something and being reactionary. There’s a sense in which that could be a danger. But there’s also another sense in which we could say, “Well, is it possible for us to formulate our position based upon, not necessarily opposition to something, but just seeing that one particular approach did not necessarily work very well for us?” And so maybe upon those grounds, we should reevaluate some things.

Cy Kellett:

Fair enough. It really is a beautiful… It’s strange that it’s still thought of as a pastoral council. And in this conversation, my sense is deepened that it was wildly successful in expressing Catholic doctrine and less successful pastorally that the council’s own intention, it has not been a ringing success.

Michael Lofton:

I agree with you. I think we could do better in implementing the Second Vatican Council. And that’s something that I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful that we’re going to have very strong leadership at one point or another in the church’s history that’s going to properly implement the Second Vatican Council and/or maybe move beyond some of its approaches in saying, “Okay, well, for our day and age, perhaps this isn’t the best way to move forward. Perhaps we should engage the culture in this other way.”

Cy Kellett:

Yeah. Well, the modern world presents us with a tremendous difficulty. It certainly presents us all kinds of tools. We’re using some of those tools now in this conversation, but it presents us with a tremendous difficulty of how to communicate the truth of the person of Jesus Christ in a way that saves souls. And we haven’t cracked that nut yet. That nut is yet to be cracked.

Michael Lofton:

And that was one of the calls of the Second Vatican Council. It released the document on social communication and media, and it wanted us to take the gospel through media and proclaimed the gospel message. Unfortunately, I don’t think we have really heard that call, at least not in a very effective way right now. That’s not to say that we haven’t at all, no Catholics have been communicating the Gospel of Christ and social media. Obviously, we’re here hopefully doing that ourselves. But I think on the whole week, we haven’t really been very successful here. And in fact, we’ve kind of given the people the impression through media that we can be lax or dissent from the church’s teaching authority.

Cy Kellett:

Michael, thanks. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk about the Second Vatican Council. I’ll be curious to hear what people have to say about it. Michael Lofton has been our guest, check out all his work at reasonandtheology.com is where you can find it. And you’re in the midst of a PhD where your thesis is on the magisterium.

Michael Lofton:

That’s right. On the magisterium. Can the church teach air? Those kinds of questions.

Cy Kellett:

Oh, okay. All right. I’m looking forward to finding out. I hope the answer is no, that the church cannot teach air.

Michael Lofton:

Right. And it very much relates to questions from the Second Vatican Council because some people teach the Vaticans who taught air, so it’s very much related there.

Cy Kellett:

Well, so again, Michael, it’s been a wonderful association. I hope it will go on for a long time, this association of Catholic Answers and you and your ministry. And I want to thank our listeners, thank you for joining us on Catholic Answers Focus. If you want to comment on this one, I imagine that this might be one that will garner lots of comments. Send us an email, [email protected] and we’ll get it. Maybe you have an idea for a question that we didn’t address, or a way we could go deeper into the subject. We’re always happy to do that. Or maybe you want to challenge something that you heard. Whatever it is, we’re happy to hear from you.

If you’d like to support us, there’s a few ways you can support us. One, wherever you’re watching or listening, if you give us that five stars and maybe a few nice words that will help to grow the podcast, also tell your friends about it. And if you’d like to support us financially, it costs a few dollars to do this. You can support us financially by going to givecatholic.com, and you can give in any amount, from 50 cents to $50 billion. We’ll take any amount in between those two. I’m Cy Kellett, your host. Michael Lofton, as I said, has been our guest. We’ll see you next time. God willing, right here on Catholic Answers Focus.

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