Sunday, October 18, 2015

Louis Bouyer: About A Council

The first ten chapters of Louis Bouyer's Memoirs are characteristic of Franco-Germanic charm, or at least what we imagine it to be. Then Bouyer was exposed to the Theology department at Notre Dame and to Fr. Danielou in European settings. And then came the Council. His chapter on Vatican II and the subsequent section on friendship are eye opening reads given to us by someone who knew the characters of "the Council", its preparatory commission and the liturgical reform on a personal level. Rather than dilate upon these topics, I give some favorite memories from Bouyer below:

"The worst of it was that the same Pizzardo would remain, for an entire generation, at the head of a Roman congregation that was supposed to run all ecclesiastical studies. As a colleague once said: had the KGB undertaken to undermine the Catholic Church from within, it could hardly have picked a better man!"

"As soon as I had come into the Catholic Church, and even before that, it had been easy for me to notice that as far as the Catholic pioneers of ecumenism were concerned....., and also as far as its most tenacious enemies were concerned, such as, at the time, the future Cardinals Bea, Journet, or Paul Philippe, simply being a convert disqualified one from being involved in these issues. For the former, this stemmed from the idea of ecumenism, creeping at the time, triumphant today, that Eric Mascall has quite accurately dubbed 'Alice in Wonderland Ecumenism:' 'Everybody has won, and all must have prizes!' In other words: it is out of the question that anything should change on either side, the important thing being to agree that one may behave or believe as he pleases...."

"In the best-case scenario, that of a truly ecumenical council in the traditional meaning of the term, i.e. actually representative of an undivided Christendom, the most that divine assistance can ensure for the Apostles' successors is the absence of any possible error in the doctrinal definitions such assemblies venture to produce. But, short of this extreme case, any dosage of approximation, insufficiency, or simple superficiality are expected from even so sacrosanct an assembly."

"Under different circumstances, [the liturgical reform commission] might have accomplished excellent work. Unfortunately, on the one hand, a deadly error in judgment placed the official leadership of this committee in the hands of a man who, though generous and brave, was not very knowledgeable: Cardinal Lercaro. He was utterly incapable of resisting the maneuvers of the mealy-mouthed scoundrel that the Neapolitan Vincentian, Bugnini, a man as bereft of culture as he was of basic honesty, soon revealed himself to be."

"The idea was to obviate the Holland-born fashion of Eucharists being improvised in complete ignorance of the liturgical tradition going back to Christian origins."

"But what can I say, at a time when the talk was of simplifying the liturgy and of bringing it back to primitive models, about this actus poenitentialis inspired by Father Jungmann (an excellent historian of the Roman Missal—but who, in his entire life, had never celebrated a Solemn Mass!)? The worst of it was an impossible offertory, in a Catholic Action, sentimental 'workerist' style, the handiwork of Father Cellier, who with tailor-made arguments manipulated the despicable Bugnini in such a way that his production went through despite nearly unanimous opposition...." Bouyer goes on to tell that he found the Sanctus, or something like it, in an early text, which justified its continuing existence to the archaeologists who wanted to expunge it! He does admit that the Pauline Mass has the added benefit of older prefaces and disused Lenten collects, but laments that they were mangled to soften their message.

On the kalendar in Paul VI's Missal: "Because these three hotheads obstinately refused to change anything in their work and because the pope wanted to finish quickly to avoid letting the chaos get out of hand, their project, however insane, was accepted!"

On pp.224-225 of the new English translation, Bouyer goes on to tell of how Bugnini and his handlers would expurgate the psalms and the liturgy for the dead by telling them that the pope wanted these changes and meanwhile tell Paul VI that the committee unanimously wanted these same changes he personally opposed, guilty the committee into obedience and Montini into despair: "In such cases, he didn't hesitate to say: 'But the Pope wills it!' After that, of course, there was no question of discussing the matter any further."

On Paul VI:

"Along with his exquisite tact, there was in this pontiff a mean streak that very few people seem to have suspected."

"I shall say that finding myself here at the end of the race renew the sympathy I had to Paul VI. He, too, was perpetually more attracted to the Benedictine tradition than to any other.... 'When all is said and done, the two of us are just failed Benedictines'!" "

"At any rate, since I am not in too bad a position to speak of him, I shall only say that just as John XXIII was far from being the revolutionary he has so often been described as, his successor has never at all been the frightened reactionary some have stupidly invented. As a matter of fact, he was the true liberal. He succeeded an undeniable though intelligent conservative, but could not allow a proper freedom to degenerate into pure (or rather impure!) license."


  1. "...the mealy-mouthed scoundrel that the Neapolitican Vincentian, Bugnini, a man as bereft of culture as he was of basic honesty, soon revealed himself to be."

    In a way, a full stack of Michael Davies treatises cannot have quite the persuasive power of this condemnatory description of Msgr. Bugnini - not least because there was hardly anyone better positioned to know.

    The Consilium's saga truly is a sordid tale, the full extent of which we are only becoming aware now.

    1. Not only that. The picture that emerges from synthesizing the testimonies of the various players is much more nuanced than all the common narratives.

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