Review of Moving Beyond Vatican II by Eric Sammons

Eric Sammons article Moving Beyond Vatican II ( major point is as follows.

So, how should Catholics approach Vatican II? First, to be clear, this is not a call to “reject” Vatican II or to declare it heretical. It’s a call to stop being handcuffed to that council, to move beyond it. Too often we’ve had binary debates about Vatican II: you either have to follow it slavishly (or, more precisely, follow a specific interpretation slavishly), or reject it completely. We need to put Vatican II in proper perspective—both the good and the bad—and stop seeing every problem through a Vatican II lens. Perhaps the council doesn’t have the answer to our problems; or, even more controversially, perhaps the Vatican II solution isn’t the proper solution for today. ” (Bold mine)

There are several things Eric says that are true, but I would disagree with the major thesis. The reason I disagree that we should look beyond Vatican II for the problems of today is that the magisterium’s teaching does not say that. In fact, the popes and bishops have not said that we should move beyond it. The popes have been pretty consistent at saying we need to implement it in our lives and use it as a touch stone.

There have only been 21 ecumenical councils, of which Vatican II was the last, over the 2000 years of the church. There have only been 3 in the last 400 years. It would seem that the influence of councils should last about 100 years, not the 50 since Vatican II. That is just a number game not anything definite.

Yet, what sources does Eric have to say that we should look beyond Vatican II. Of course there is a need to always move further, but what Pope has been saying that. What I see is that Francis and the Popes before him have continually held Vatican II to be a touchstone for their pontificates.

The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council has been a gift of the Spirit to his Church. For this reason it remains a fundamental event not only for understanding the Church’s history at this end of the century, but first and foremost for exploring the abiding presence of the risen Christ beside his Bride in the course of world events.” ( The Celebration of the Great Jubilee 27 February 2000)

— Pope St. John Paul II

The Second Vatican Council was an extraordinary time of reflection, dialogue and prayer which aimed to renew the gaze of the Catholic Church on herself and on the world. [It involved] a reading of the signs of the times in view of an update oriented by a twofold faithfulness: faithfulness to the ecclesial tradition and faithfulness to the history of the men and women of our time.

— Pope Francis

“Vatican II happened 50 years ago, but it surely doesn’t belong to the past, its light still leads the Church through the darkness of her journey today”

— Cardinal Zen

Cardinal Ratzinger: “To defend the true tradition of the Church today means to defend the Council … And this today of the Church is the documents of Vatican II, without reservations that amputate them and without arbitrariness that distorts them” (The Ratzinger Report, p. 31)

Eric makes a good point that not all council are perfect (read the quote below). Yet, I would not go as far as him to say a council would fail simply because seven months after the council Martin Luther rebelled. That has happened after every council. Go into the history and you will find splinter churches being created after several ecumenically council even beginning with the first 7. After the Church Fathers declared several points about Jesus’ divinity and humanity or about Mary several bishops left the church and started other ones.

In the early 16th century, when the Church was in desperate need of reform, Pope Julius II convoked the fifth Lateran Council. Sadly, the council failed; the reforms it sought did not take hold, and seven months after the council’s close Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses, instigating the Protestant Reformation. It took the Council of Trent decades later to truly begin the process of reform. That didn’t make Lateran V an invalid council; it was just an inconsequential council (or a “waste of time,” as Ratzinger would call it). 

If Martin Luther was a big deal seven months afterwards, how much more the persecution of the early church by Saul soon after it just got started with Peter and the Apostles themselves. Look what Ven. Fulton Sheen has to say “The tensions that developed after the Council are not surprising to those who know the whole history of the Church. It is a historical fact that whenever there is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit as in a general council of the Church, there is always an extra show of force by the anti-Spirit or the demonic. Even at the beginning, immediately after Pentecost and the descent of the Spirit upon the apostles, there began a persecution and the murder of Stephen. If a general council did not provoke the spirit of turbulence, one might almost doubt the operation of the third Person of the Trinity over the assembly.” Treasure in Clay by Bishop Sheen – Trouble is a sign that it was the Holy Spirit.

Also comparing to Vatican II to Lateran V ” Sadly, the council failed; the reforms it sought did not take hold ” is not the greatest. Vatican II’s reforms did take hold – Liturgy is definitely not the same, liturgical calendar is different, so much is different!

Eric does make a point, quoting Joseph Ratzinger “Not every valid council in the history of the Church has been a fruitful one; in the last analysis, many of them have been a waste of time.” The Church will be guarded in her teaching at the councils! – yet perhaps not all the stuff that was needed ended up being discussed so its purpose failed to accomplish some goals.

Yet is that true with Vatican II. Partly – yes not all its goals were accomplished. The problem is the Popes don’t think that is true of Vatican II. Pope after Pope says it is a touchstone. Thus, if we want to claim we need to move beyond because it failed, then you need to change the Pope’s will. If you claim that we need to move beyond because we need even more to meet today’s challenges, not because Vatican II failed but because we need more teaching then I will listen more willingly.


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