August 13th, 2005


Theological Notebook: Art at the 20th World Youth Day

One of the things I'm pleased to see on the docket for next week's World Youth Day in Cologne is an art exhibit that has been creatively arranged both in terms of theology as well as art. Along with everything else, I was forever trying to expose my students in Church History and the other high school classes I taught to the huge diversity of perspectives and insights available in the spiritualities expressed in Christianity's 20-century artist tradition. So I'm glad to see that not only is this incredibly human aspect of our lives not being passed over at the gathering, but in fact is is being done with style and richness. Here's the description from the official website of World Youth Day XX.

In collaboration with the Vatican Fondazione Gioventù Chiesa Speranza (Youth Church Hope Foundation) the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum – Fondation Corboud presents precious works of mainly Christian art from late antiquity to the 20th century. Among the lenders will be important private, ecclesiastical and public collections from throughout the world.

The exhibition illustrates the development and transformation of the image of Christ from different viewpoints. A chronological presentation was intentionally rejected since the aim is not a predictable sequence of arbitrarily chosen illustrations of Christ, but rather an exciting and illuminating display comparable to an essay. Prominent examples of modern art reflect the topics of the Old Masters wherever possible. The artistic dialogues thus created between masterworks by e.g. Fra Angelico, Leonrado, Michelangelo, El Greco, Rubens on the one hand and Beckmann, Corinth, Picasso, Beuys, Warhol on the other might be of special interest for the many young visitors expected.

After a bit of digging around, I was also pleased to find a pretty good online representation of the exhibit.

Theological Notebook: Interpretations of Vatican II

I saw this the other day and wanted to post it. One of the controversial points of the Second Vatican Council of 1962-1965 is its "intent" or, more commonly, its "spirit." In a curious but understandable parallel to U.S. constitutional controversy, there is a disagreement between those who, in broad terms, interpret the Council according to the "word" of the documents as they are (not unlike the "strict constructionists" of America), and those who appeal to the "intent" of the writers (and not unlike the "broad constructionists"). In the simplistic liberal/conservative paradigm, it has been the "conservatives" of the Church--Vatican centralizers, those who view themselves as Traditionalists--who have favoured the "strict" reading, and the "liberals" who constantly appeal to the "spirit" in which the bishops of the Council intended their work to be understood.

Naturally, with something as monumental as the Council, interpretation of the documents is rather critical. Ever since I was at Notre Dame, I've gone out of my way to try to talk to Council Fathers who were still alive in order to try to get it "from the horse's mouth" as to what they actually understood themselves to be doing. Of course, this is another situation that is too big and complex to fit into such an "either/or" that people today love to demand, and I've talked to and read Council Fathers who have been of either "camp." I do think, though, a significant number of the Fathers have been of the "intent" camp--enough that it seems a cautionary criticism to those of the "strict" or "word" reading. So it is for all those reasons that the following article--dealing with just this issue--grabbed my attention.

Vatican II: The Real Untold Story
Cardinal Ruini definitively scraps the interpretations of the last Council as a rupture and a “new beginning” for the Church. And he calls for its history to be written at last, not from a partisan stance, but “according to the truth”

by Sandro Magister

ROMA, June 22, 2005 – Forty years after its closing, Vatican Council II is still waiting for its story to be written “not from a partisan stance, but according to the truth.” Cardinal Camillo Ruini made this statement while presenting a newly issued book, published by Libreria Editrice Vaticana. The author is Bishop Agostino Marchetto – a scholar of Church history who later served in the Holy See’s diplomatic corps and is now the secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People – and it is entitled “The Ecumenical Council of Vatican II: A Counterpoint to Its History.” The presentation of the volume took place in Rome on June 17, in the “Pietro da Cortona” room of the Capitoline Museums.

Why “counterpoint”? Cardinal Ruini explained immediately. Marchetto’s book acts as a counterpoint, or indeed as the polar opposite, to the interpretation of Vatican II that until now has monopolized Catholic historiography throughout the world. It is the interpretation advanced by the five-volume “History of Vatican Council II” directed by Giuseppe Alberigo and published in six languages between 1995 and 2001. In Italy, it was published by il Mulino and edited by Alberto Melloni.

Ruini began by making a “somewhat joking” comparison between the history of Vatican II as recounted by Alberigo and the history of the Council of Trent written by Fr. Paolo Sarpi, which was published in London in 1619 and immediately placed on the index of prohibited books. This was a brilliant and successful reconstruction, but it was highly inflammatory and partisan. Seventeen years later, a reply came to Sarpi from Jesuit Fr. Pietro Sforza Pallavicino and his “Istoria,” which was much more extensively documented but no less passionate and partial. It would be three centuries before the Council of Trent would see its first balanced and thorough history, which was published by Hubert Jedin between 1949 and 1975. And Ruini called for precisely this: a “great and positive history” of Vatican Council II, preferably before another three centuries go by. The final pages of Marchetto’s book, he said, give some indications for producing this “new and different” history.
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