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Cardinal Zen sees Vatican II as a ‘light’ that still leads the Church today

‘Vatican II happened 50 years ago, but it surely doesn’t belong to the past.’
Wed Jul 29, 2020 - 6:47 pm EST
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Cdl. Joseph Zen, bishop emeritus of Hong Kong. Salt and Light Media / YouTube

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July 29, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – Cardinal Joseph Zen has waded into the debate, given new impetus recently by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, regarding Vatican II and its relation to current problems in the Catholic Church. 

The 88-year-old retired Bishop of Hong Kong ultimately views the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) as a work of God within the Church that still acts as guiding light today.

“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,” he wrote July 19 on his blog

Acknowledging the many criticisms of Vatican II – which he said come from both “extreme conservatives” and “extreme progressives,” – Zen urged against underestimating God’s work through the Council.  

“There is a saying, not far from the truth: an Ecumenical Council starts from human efforts, then comes the devil to make trouble, but at the end the Holy Spirit brings everything to a Happy Ending,” Zen noted.  

Zen does indeed clearly see the devil as having made plenty of “trouble” in the five decades since the close of Vatican II, and he is careful to stress that the work of the Holy Spirit begun at the historic conclave continues today.    

Zen’s blog comes at a time when prominent voices in the Church, including Archbishop Viganò and Bishop Athanasius Schneider, have called for an open and honest debate about the truth of what happened at Vatican II and whether the Council and its implementation contain errors that have harmed the faith. Bishop Schneider recently gave an interview where he lists several problems in various Vatican II documents that he says lead to “relativism.”

In Zen’s blog, he explained that when he was in Rome working on his doctoral thesis from 1961 to 1964 as Vatican II took place, he was aware of the “fierce battles along the stereotype of divide between conservatives and progressives.”

“In spare time, I enjoyed, like other young priests and seminarians in Rome, all the daily hot news and gossips about the Council,” Zen recalled. “Council Fathers accusing each other with leaflets flying over Saint Peter’s square … The jokes!” 

“The polarization between the Conservatives and Progressives did not disappear after the Council,” Zen observed. “Those who had difficulty to understand, or even refused to accept the ‘novelties’ in (the) Council’s decisions: they are the extreme conservatives; but there are also extreme progressives who claim that now on everything can change in the Church.” 

Despite the conflicts and ongoing disputes among the Council Fathers, God’s work emerged. “The fruit of Vatican II are those 16 Documents, especially the 4 Constitutions,” Zen said.

“Through those documents you hear the real voice of the Holy Spirit,” he declared. 

Yet the conflict between conservatives and progressives at the Council continues, obscuring Christ’s intentions and the work of the Holy Spirit to enliven the Church.  

“The extreme conservatives say: the Church after the Vatican II is no more the Catholic Church I received baptism in,” Zen said. “But you were baptized in a Church which believes in one apostolic Church, led by the Pope and the Bishops as authentic teachers of faith.”

“The extreme progressives say: before the Council nothing was allowed to change, now with Vatican II many changes have been made, so, many things should be allowed to change also in the future,” he said. “Yes, but only by a decision of the legitimate authority, not by an arbitrary choice of anybody, and surely not by undoing the past. 

“The Holy Spirit of today doesn’t contradict the Holy Spirit of yesterday,” he said. 

The purpose of Vatican II was not to ‘deny our past or to follow secular fashions’

In a swipe against those who go too far in their desire to modernize the Church, who proclaim that “Latin is invented by the devil!” Cardinal Zen urged, “Come on! The Church saved the Greek-Roman Culture (philosophy literature, art, music) and used it to educate the invading ‘barbarians,’ after the fall of Roman Empire, laying the foundation of the modern European civilization.”

“The Tridentine theology mainly in Latin saved the faith of the Church of the lay, and the Tridentine liturgy in Latin with the Gregorian chant (including the ‘dies irae’) nourished the piety of generations and sustained the courage of innumerable martyrs,” he continued.

“It sounds blasphemous to say that Vatican II had to clean the Church of the Tridentine ‘dirt,’” he added. 

The purpose of Vatican II was not to “deny our past or to follow all the secular fashions,” Zen said, yet “Vision is looking ahead, not backwards.”  

He quoted Pope John XXIII’s speech opening the Second Vatican Council on October 11, 1962: 

From the renewed, serene and calm adherence to all the teachings of the Church, in its integrity and precision, as resplendent mainly in the conciliar acts of Trent and Vatican I, the Christian and Catholic spirit of the entire world awaits to go one step further towards a doctrinal penetration and a formation of consciences that is in a more perfect correspondence with fidelity to authentic doctrine, studying it and exposing it through the forms of research and the literary formulas of modern thought.

Cardinal Zen sees Vatican II as an important milestone in the life of the Church.

“Let us admire the divine plan, the one history of salvation. Human freedoms may fail, but God guides the Church securely to the goal. It’s a journey in continuity not through ruptures,” he declared, offering a brief litany to underscore his point:

  • The history of Israel was a continuous alternation of fidelity and unfaithfulness. But the true faith of Abraham, through Mary, Jesus and the Apostles, has been transmitted to us.

  • The Old Testament belongs to us too, and the Church of the New Testament is open to everybody.

  • The psalms are prayers which fit every situation of our life. The voice of the prophets rings still relevant to the Church in modern society.

  • We must be grateful to Greek culture just for the word “Homoousios” which helped the Church to express with exactitude the divine nature of Jesus, true God and true man.

  • The Latin language was instrumental to keep the many European and missionary Churches united to Rome. The rich heritage of centuries of liturgical music and ceremonials nurtured the piety of believers. Why should we be surprised, if today’s young people, while sincerely accepting the Church’s liturgical reform, still appreciate the Tridentine Mass?

  • The Church carries on her journey “admist world’s tribulation and God’s consolation” (St. Augustine “City of God”) “to come to unity in our faith and in our knowledge of the son of God, until we become the perfect Man, fully mature with the fullness of Christ himself” (Eph. 4:13)

“Vatican II is very aware that errors persist in the world, but the Council doesn’t intend to condemn them, it wants to help man to realize how those errors, especially a willful refusal of God, are not conducive to real human happiness,” Zen said. 

“Guided by the Holy Spirit the Ecumenical Councils are the milestones on the journey of the Church through centuries, accumulating a rich heritage, showing ever brighter the true face of Christ, the Redeemer of mankind,” he wrote. 

“The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the modern world, the most typical expression of the Council’s Vision, lists all the threats to and anxieties of modern man,”  Zen noted, “but is fully confident that the Church is able to come to man’s aid, if only she succeeds to reveal to him the true face of Jesus.”


  carlo maria viganò, catholic, john xxiii, joseph zen, second vatican council, vatican ii

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