Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Anniversary of the Opening of the 2nd Synod of Constantinople (5th Ecumenical), May 5, 553

From Pope St. Gregory the Great, Letter to Constantius, Bishop of Milan (Letters IV.39):

"Further, as to what you write of your having been unwilling to transmit my letter to Queen Theodelinda on the ground that the fifth synod was named in it, if you believed that she might thereby be offended, you did right in not transmitting it. We are therefore doing now as you recommend, namely, that we should only express approval of the four synods. Yet, as to the synod which was afterwards held in Constantinople, called by many the fifth, I would have you know that it neither ordained nor held anything in opposition to the four most holy synods, seeing that nothing was done in it with respect to the faith, but only with respect to persons; and persons, too, about whom nothing is contained in the acts of the Council of Chalcedon but, after the canons had been promulged, discussion arose, and final action was ventilated concerning persons. Yet still we have done as you desired, making no mention of this synod."

From Christopher Ferrara & Thomas E. Woods, The Great Façade, pp. 327, 332:

"[Vatican II is] not without historical precedent. There was a roughly analogous situation much earlier in the Church’s history, of which traditionalists and neo-Catholics alike are possibly unaware: the Second Council of Constantinople, held in 553. In 1934, Msgr. Philip Hughes described it as “the strangest of all the general councils.” This was an ecumenical council, the fifth of the twenty-one the Church has convened from Nicea to Vatican II. Strictly speaking, it taught nothing erroneous. Yet, as Vatican II has proven to be, Constantinople II was an unmitigated disaster, and was recognized as such by a great many contemporary observers. Neo-Catholics who condemn traditionalist critics of Vatican II ought to become familiar with this ill-starred council....

If Pope St. Gregory could advise silence about the fifth ecumenical council, it cannot be inherently unlawful to advise a similar approach to an ambiguous council of our own time. Certainly it was legitimately convoked, and holds the status of an ecumenical council. Everyone recognizes that. But if it has introduced only confusion and discord, why insist on treating it as an idol, emphasizing it to the exclusion of all else, when history proves such an attitude to be neither necessary nor desirable?"

From Thomas E. Woods, Jr. "An Ambiguous Council" in Catholic Family News, March 2002 [IX:3], p. 18:

"A Catholic has to be free to say of the Second Council of Constantinople what is obvious to anyone who has ever studied it: it did nothing to bring back the Monophysites [heretics] into the bosom of the Church, and in fact alienated many of them still further. Given the confusing nature of what the council was attempting to do, orthodox Catholics, for their part, could not help but be perplexed and demoralized by this council, and indeed for decades afterward whole areas of the West refused to acknowledge it as an ecumenical council at all, convinced that it had in some way repudiated or vitiated the teaching of [the Fourth Ecumenical Council, of] Chalcedon.

St. Isidore of Seville did not have a kind word to say about Constaninople II. Basing ourselves, therefore, on the testimony of human reason, we are surely free to conclude that this council, although it taught nothing certainly erroneous, was an appalling catastrophe that ought never to have been convoked. It is not possible to image any grounds on which even the most hardened neo-Catholic could describe this fifth ecumenical council as an unequivocal boon.

The example of the Second Council of Constantinople serves to demonstrate not only the confusion that an ecumenical council can introduce into the Church even without teaching dogmatic error, but also that the entire life of the Church need not be organized around the decrees of the most recent council.

Today we hear ceaseless exhortations to the effect that we must all imbibe the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, that the entire life of the Church must be reordered in conformity with its decrees, that indeed all the Church's activity take place in light of the council. Following Constantinople II, on the other hand, when churchmen could see that the most recent council had caused only division, confusion, and strife, we hear no such exhortations. As we have indicated, Pope St. Gregory the Great actually counseled a bishop troubled by the council simply to remain silent on the matter, holding fast to the Catholic faith as expounded at the [previous] Council of Chalcedon. Gregory and the other popes of the sixth and seventh centuries were intelligent enough to see that an obsessive emphasis on "the council" would have perpetuated schism and continued to demoralize the orthodox party. Whenever possible, then, they simply igonred it.

Why not, then do the same with Vatican II? If one ecumenical council [especially with Vatican II being merely a pastoral rather than a dogmatic council] can be acknowledged as unhelpful at best and damaging to the Church at worst, then surely another one can. Why not follow Pope St. Gregory the Great's advice to the bishop of Milan: just say nothing about it?"

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