As a fervent supporter of Vatican 2 I was horrified to find that there are some Catholics who want to undo all that the Council stood for, but I see now that I was wrong. As I get older the Church becomes more and more precious to me in spite of all its faults. As I see it, it lost its way after the conversion of Constantine, becoming both involved and infatuated with power, a wrong direction that was followed for centuries. I was enthralled, therefore, and still am by Vatican 2’s vision of aggiornamento, returning to the faith and theology and practices of the early Church in order to address the modern world. But looking back now, I see that our naïve expectation that after the Council we would get a wonderful church did the Council no service, for what is wonderful about the Church is that it is not wonderful. It is not a congregation of saints, a body of the elect standing apart from humanity, but a very human institution, all too often all too human, deeply embedded in humanity.
It is for that reason that the members of the Church suffer from the defect from which all humans suffer. We have universal minds trapped in local circumstances, planet sized brains cooped up in five foot six bodies. ‘I would be a king of infinite space were I not bounded in a nutshell’ says Hamlet, putting the point memorably well. We each have our own precious splinter of truth but no more. But we are all too prone – those universal minds screaming to get out – to behave as if we had the whole truth and those who disagree with us none at all. Indeed, perhaps none are so misguided as those who have the grand vision, such as that of Vatican 2, and would leave out and condemn those who have not, for leaving people out is no part of the grand vision, and certainly not part of the Church’s.
I come to think of St Paul’s metaphor of the church as the Body of Christ more and more fascinating. Each cell of the trillions in a human body has its own part to play, its own and not that of any other. Yet the essence of the whole body is in the DNA of every cell. A cell outside the body is meaningless, a dead scrap of tissue, but conversely there would be no body if it were not made up of all its uniquely functioning cells. And it is only when you have a body with a strong heart and head, a commanding central authority, that the functional variety of the cells becomes possible. Otherwise you just get difference followed by separation. What I love about the Church is its variety, that the one faith can include Carthusians in their cells at one end and Irish travellers with blazing bad taste sacred hearts in their caravans at the other,
I see now that a church that can include those who would undo the work of Vatican 2 is an essential part of the vision of Vatican 2. When I heard that Benedict XVI was going to allow the Tridentine form of Mass in Latin I was horrified. What a retrograde step. What a return to the bad old times. Now I see what a wonderful initiative it was. How impoverished is a post –Vatican 2 church that has no place for the very words that Campion spoke. A church that has no room for such variety is simply replacing one monolith by another, the very monster Vatican 2 was supposed to dethrone. We need the traditionalists to tell us that the liturgy has become banal. The Church is a living body with a history. We need all that Baroque counter-Reformation piety at the Brompton Oratory not just to remind us but to keep us in living contact with our own history. For what do living bodies have that theories do not? They have history that can only be forgotten at the price of a return of the repressed.
What do secure families do? They quarrel, because they know that the family is strong enough to accommodate passionate disagreements, passionate because the quarrelers care so much about the family. Let’s have variety. Let’s have passionate disagreement. Vive la foi. Vive la difference. Just remember that kindness is all. And the splinter you can see with your own eye is not the whole ship.