The endless Conciliar Revolution

Par l'abbé Claude Barthe

Français, italiano

This is the title of the conclusion of historian Yvon Tranvouez’s last book L’ivresse et le vertige: Vatican II, le moment 68 et la crise catholique[1] (“Inebriation and vertigo: Vatican II, the events of 1968 and the Catholic crisis). As an historian, Tranvouez considers Vatican II a global event. By assimilating it to the Revolution, he implicitly brings the question of the debate in 1989 on the French Revolution’s bi-centennial: Is this “conciliar revolution” complete or is it not? Complete, that is either by a definitive victory (as it was for the French Revolution with the advent of the Ferry government in 1880), or by a restoration which would put an end to the era represented by Vatican II.  Either way, we must say the Revolution is not complete.

The chapters of Tranvouez’s book discuss topics such as the Catholic crisis in Christian land (Britanny, France) during a winding up of ten years (1965-1975), or also the impact of human sciences on the clergy (when the clergy had the leisure to take an interest in it). It also delivers two spirited studies, should we say, studies on the psychology and history of both Bernard Besret, the notorious Prior of Boquen Abbey who drew the conciliar texts (religious life) before translating them in the “spirit”, and Michel de Certeau, Jesuit, “the highlight of the show on the leftist Catholic scene”, as difficult to understand as he is surprisingly clairvoyant on the depth of the religious crisis opened by the Council. Indeed, among other things he had pointed out as soon as 1976 that the Lefebvre dossier had established a new state of forces (what a surprising recent motu proprio has just shown).

Tranvouez, a little bit in the manner of his confrere Guillaume Cuchet in his book Comment notre monde a cessé d’être chrétien: Anatomie d’un effondrement[2] (“How our world ceased to be Christian: Anatomy of a collapse”) – and again, recently, in Le catholicisme a-t-il encore de l’avenir en France[3], (“Does Catholicism still has a future”), made a judgement eventually very critical over the discourse the ecclesiastic institution holds and tells itself in regards to its recent history, a history entirely dedicated to Vatican II.

But, as it is, Vatican II became an outdated council. In the 1960’s, it wanted to make the Christian message audible to the world of Kennedy America and to respond to what it considered the interrogations of the time. But the world, since then, has completely changed and, in any case, it no longer poses questions to the Church (supposing it really did pose questions then: rather, they were strong suggestions to obtain particular assents and which have now become strong imperious demands). In fact, this is what Tranvouez ingenuously considers as “integrist emigration”, that cannot be reduced, which mainly explains the constant dwelling on Vatican II. Rather, we believe that the guilty conscience is what truly creates a constant discourse of justification and celebration.

“The rumination of Vatican II is all the more surprising that it s, if we think about it, at the same time, equivocal and useless, writes Tranvouez. Equivocal rumination, indeed, because it is factitious: “the artificial reactivation of the conciliar myth” of a Church united in an intense internal reform is, first of all, unreal ad intra, as Michel de Certeau had noted regarding the Lefebvre dossier, the Church having become more polyphonic than ever and, second of all, illusory ad extra, with the world, since the optimism of the 1960’s has vanished. Useless rumination, since now both progressives and conservatives claim Vatican II as their inspiration.

Certainly, the major problem is today “the divorce between the contemporary mentality and the Christian message” (can it be any different?), but the message renovated by the Council, all mystery being gone with the Latin being gone (not to mention a predication so dull), is even more incomprehensible – and more evidently uninterested for “the men of today”, as we would say.

Interesting is the parallel that the historian makes between the history of the French Revolution and the history of Vatican II: the opening of the Council in 1962 resembles the opening of the Estates General, with transactional documents between the old one and the new one which are no better fit to the situation of the Church created by the conciliar deflagration than was the Constitution of 1791 a good fit to a France through a time of revolution; May 1968 had the same accelerating effect as the war of 1792 on the revolutionary process; but already, like the Revolution, the Council had strayed off course, what Jacques Maritain denounced in Le paysan de la Garonne, in 1966; 1978, election of John Paul II, like a 18 Brumaire (from the French Revolutionary calendar, actually 9 November 1799), followed by a development: Benedict XVI, in 2005, and his “blocking” (though very relative); then Francis in 2013 and his tentative of a remake of Vatican II (which is producing a Synod on the synodality of a church engaged in a synodal process).

“Turned into an object of celebration, Vatican II today is a vintage item at best and kitsch at worst.”

Rev. Fr. Claude Barthe

[1] Desclée de Brouwer, August 2011.
[2] Seuil, 2018.
[3] Seuil, September 2021.