Sunday, June 23, 2013

What do Stanley Kubrick and Vatican II have in common?

Several months back, I was emailing an individual in the Church hierarchy with questions about the Church and her direction since the Second Vatican Council.
This was still while I was feverishly searching for answers and fervently praying for God to give me - if possible - answers and - more importantly - direction.

Well as I have emailed to a number of friends (or former friends I might now say), I now attend mass at St. Margaret Mary in Allendale, a chapel run by the Society of St. Pius X.
God gave me that clarity, direction and many of those answers I was searching for in a sweeping act of mercy and grace.

I was reviewing some of my old emails and found that part of this dialogue with this man, let's call him "Novus Ordo Joe," responded to my questions about Vatican II with the following:

A few months ago, one of my sons brought the movie “Room 237” to my attention.  It is a documentary about Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film The Shining.  Here is an article from the NYT about it ( While I have not yet been to a screening, I have read much about
Gaudium et Stanley Kubrick?
this documentary and watched some similar videos on the web.  The premise is simple:  Kubrick was a genius who crafted The Shining to tell the basic plot (taken from a story written by Stephen King) but changed specific details and filmed/edited the visuals in order to also communicate another, deeper message.  But – and this the interesting part to me – no one in the documentary can agree on what that other message is.  One person says that all of the details in the film are about the Holocaust.  Another says that if you carefully examine the movie, it’s plain to see that it is about the genocide of Native Americans.  Another says that it is Kubrick’s not-so-veiled admission of his role in faking the Apollo 11 moon landing.  And so on … and on … and on … through nine different (and contradictory) interpretations.

My point is that these scholars, movie critics, Kubrick fans, college professors, etc. all look at the very same data (142 minutes of film) and come up with widely (and wildly) different interpretations of the exact same details.  But if you listen to them make their case … point-by-point … image-by-image … symbol-by-symbol … you can find yourself nodding your head, thinking “of course that’s what it all must mean,” and buying into their interpretation.  Until, of course, the next interpreter does the exact same thing … and the next … and the next.  Then you quickly realize that they all can’t be right and wonder if any of their interpretations are correct at all.  And, in the end, there’s no way of knowing which of them is right (or, in fact, if any of them are).

And that’s what came to my mind when I read your e-mail.  None of the content you shared is new to me.  I have read these same arguments for years from the pens (and keyboards) of others.  But here is my problem with it (and please understand that I only say this because you asked for my thoughts and I mean everything I am about to write with respect for you as a seeker of the Truth):  I am not the Magisterium … you are not the Magisterium … the websites and books and authors that interpret the details of the past five Popes to prove that they are heretics or sadly deluded modernists are not the Magisterium.

People who make the arguments who have listed below have dismissed the Magisterium and claimed to need “Tradition Alone” to judge whether or not anything is true or false, good or bad, necessary or superfluous.  And they now cherry-pick from the Tradition to prove their points. This is elevating their personal opinion and interpretation above that of the Church that Christ established and promised would never defect from the Truth. They got rid of the Magisterium Christ established … but then ended up establishing themselves as the judges of Truth in a Magisterium of their own making.
"You'll never know what it means!"

This is not Catholicism.

None of the interpreters of The Shining in “Room 237” are Stanley Kubrick … they can put out whatever theories they want but only Kubrick himself knows what he was doing when he crafted that movie …and unless he told someone or wrote it down before He died, any proposed deeper meanings – no matter how plausible – are simply alternative theories from people trying to personally interpret the data.  When it comes to the Church, however, our “Kubrick” is still alive.

Well, he is right about the last part. I am not the Magisterium. Although, Archbishop Lefebvre was part of the Magisterium and a close friend and favored prelate of Pope Pius XII, but that is another discussion...

Here was my response:
I find the Kubrick analogy to be at best a bad comparison and at worst an overall red herring. Kubrick is an "artist" of sorts whose intent is to create controversy and ambiguity. To cite your words, "this is not Catholicism." The popes have never had intent to deceive, confuse or confound. Emily Dickinson spent several years of her life living in the upstairs of a house talking to no one. After her death, they found a number of poems in a chest which to this day have their meaning debated. This is not the same situation as when encyclicals were written by Popes with the express intent of clearly conveying certain messages and clearly stamping out heresies and false doctrines.

Pope Benedict has first alluded to a "hermeneutic of continuity" and more recently to a "media hijacking" of the Council. It is true he is still alive (though threats of assassination have leaked and of a possible resignation). So, if he acknowledges that the Council was ambiguous and easy to misunderstand, why does he not, before he dies, put out a summary, a Syllabus of Errors version 2.0, of what is and what is not the correct understanding and interpretation of the Council? Because, I would say, those who ran the council intended for it to be ambiguous. Because many, the likes of Hans Kung, Congar, deLubac, Rahner, etc. wanted to open the windows to let the world into the Church (not to bring the Church to the world to convert it).

Finally, I am not advocating for "Tradition Alone." I can provide countless quotes from Sacred Scripture to you to support our Sacred Catholic Tradition. Ironically, the times I have done that with others they have accused me of advocating for Sola Scriptura and wanted to remind me that we have a Tradition...catch 22.

His response:
What you are doing is engaging in Protestantism: elevating your own personal interpretation of texts (whether Scripture quotes for the Protestants or Pope/Saint/Magisterial quotes for you) over the interpretation of Holy Mother Church, as embodied in the Successor of St. Peter in Rome and the Successors of the Apostles scattered throughout the world.
You may not like the comparison I made about Kubrick, but that does not change its validity.
The fact is you consider your own understanding/interpretation of these texts to be true and the Magisterium's self-interpretation of them to be false (or flawed).  This is Protestantism.

I understand your frustration.  As one who was a Protestant for many years, I know how it feels to be intellectually confident of my own interpretations and at the same time disappointed that the overwhelming majority of others disagree with what seems so clear to me

(Notice that he does not actually address any of my questions...he simply continues to reiterate a wrong interpretation without explaining the correct one, and makes [false and unfounded] accusations; this is a very common response by those whom I consulted in the last year. When they had no answers, they just resorted to saying "you're not the Magisterium, you're understanding is wrong." But they could never elaborate.)

My response:
I must disagree with your assertion that your Kubrick example is still valid whether or not I like it. I am not quite sure if you understood the foundation for my statement that it was a bad example. Kubrick intended to be ambiguous. People consider this artistic ambiguity to challenge the viewer. This is not the intent of a papal writing. Papal writing is intended to be (and is successful in its goal) to be clear to the faithful. To say the popes intended to be ambiguous, or even that they were somehow ambiguous...well let's consider the following scenario between a father and a son (that likened to Pope to laity):

ACTION: Son calls his mother a tricksome, wicked old hag
RESPONSE: Which is the more appropriate response of a prudent father?
a.) "Son, what you have just spoken. What you have just called your mother...this is truly perceived by many to be troublesome indeed. As to whether or not it is definitively right or wrong, however, well that is in fact in our modern times open to debate. Those of an older, more medieval, ultramontane, outdated position may state that to speak to one's mother in such a fashion is less than desirable. However, one need not go any further than to dial into ABC Family reruns of Full House to see DJ or Michelle talk to their father - played by the underrated yet oddly perverted Bob Saget - in a similar tone of disrespect or lack of consideration for his paternal authority. It can therefore be said that one could justify your reaction based on your surroundings and doing what your conscience has even perhaps told you to do. Above all, after all, one must follow his conscience which is indeed inspired by the seed of the Holy Spirit living within each man due to the innate human dignity of man made known to him by the incarnation of the man known as Jesus of Nazareth. I believe, as your father, that your actions could have been founded in good will and therefore perhaps are not as reprehensible as what those ultramontanes who would protest might say. Allow me to take some time to explain why the other avatars of the world's great faiths such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Islam - each avatar the Christ figure of their respective faiths - faiths worthy of great praise, respect and admiration for their truth of the one, true God - would agree with what we now have come to know in these modern times through historical-critical understanding of parental role and children's ethics. Son, let us first, however, take time to acknowledge and esteem the truths within those other great faiths and to pray that we - in our Catholic faith - may find 'mutual enrichment' to come to a 'greater understanding' of the truth and to hopefully correct any errors which our ancestors may have believed in the past."

b.) Son, if you ever speak to your mother like that again you better believe I will beat you so upside down and sideways from here into next week that you will be lucky if you can ever even speak again. This is the woman who carried you for nine months, birthed you, fed you from her bosom and loves you and would die for you. The fourth commandment says you will obey your mother. If you have a problem with something she says to you, you bite your tongue and do what she says anyway and maybe you can learn to bring it up more politely at a later time so that we can discuss as a family any misunderstanding you might have. In the mean time, as a punishment (aka penance), you are going to go split wood for an hour. Make no mistake about it, what you just did is evil and a grave sin. You will go to confession tomorrow first thing in the morning lest you should die at school tomorrow and lose your soul for having committed mortal sin. Do I make myself clear? Any confusion about what I have just said? I'll repeat it just to make sure we are on the same page. Raising your voice and profaning your mother is evil and comes from the devil. Understood?

You see, response A is like the writings during and since Vatican II. The average encyclical length is much longer than historical average of their predecessors. They are full of many words, and as I mentioned before, even the staunchest defenders of the post-conciliar Church and Vatican II have conceded that many of the texts were in fact ambiguous. Quite contrary, we could indeed sit down and go through the Syllabus of Errors by Pius IX to validate together that there is nothing left to the imagination or questionable about statements like the following:
15. Every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true - CONDEMNED

If I am misunderstanding that sentence, which quite clearly says that the notion of unrestricted religious freedom (and by association freedom of conscience) is condemned...please explain to me how I am misunderstanding that.

As for the accusation of Protestantism, from on the definition of Protestantism: "The meaning of the protest was that the dissentients did not intend to tolerate Catholicism within their borders. On that account they were called Protestants." 
I have no intent of not tolerating Catholicism. Quite the opposite! But I know that what has been written prior to 1962 is Catholicism and cannot be subject to revision. Pope Benedict XVI, on the other hand, is the one who stated quite clearly that Gaudium et Spes is a countersyllabus to the Syllabus of Errors (which Pius IX said no one could contradict lest he be anathema). 

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology, 1987, pp. 381-382
"Gaudium et Spes is a revision of the Syllabus of Pius IX, a kind of countersyllabus...Since then many things have changed."

Now, I beseech you to explain to me how I am misunderstanding that quote from our now present Pope.
Especially once one reads Gaudium et Spes and the Syllabus to find that they are quite a striking contrast (take numbers 4,5,8 & 9 from the Syllabus and compare, for example, to Gaudium's position on the evolutionary development of the human mind with respect to its own self-perception and self-knowledge and his yearning for all that the modern world can offer today).

Finally, as for knowing what it is like to be outnumbered:
We know that truth does not lie in numbers (St. Athanasius, or Jesus with just Mary, Mary Magdalene and St. John there with him on Calvary, or St. John of the Cross, or St. Catherine of Siena, or Noah, or Jonah, or Lot, or Amos, etc. etc. etc.). 
One quote from a book I highly recommend: "Amongst the illusions entertained by a certain class of Catholics, there is none more pitiable than the notion that the truth requires a great number of defenders and friends. To these people, numbers seem a synonym for force." - What is Liberalism? (Fr. felix Sarda y salvany 1899 - Imprimatur)

His response:
[None; no response...stopped emailing me after that]

My final email back (part of it):
As for your analogy of the Kubrick film, it turns out maybe you were correct. Walter Cardinal Kasper - not sure if you heard or not - said that the Vatican II documents were in fact ambiguous and able to be left open to interpretation in either direction.
So it turns out that Frs. Kung, deLubac, Congar, et al. do perhaps have a lot in common with Kubrick, aiming to please a broad audience and keeping things open to multiple interpretations.

"For most Catholics, the developments put in motion by the council are part of the church’s daily life. But what they are experiencing is not the great new beginning nor the springtime of the church, which were expected at that time, but rather a church that has a wintery look, and shows clear signs of crisis....In many places, [the Council Fathers] had to find compromise formulas, in which, often, the positions of the majority are located immediately next to those of the minority, designed to delimit them. Thus, the conciliar texts themselves have a huge potential for conflict, open the door to a selective reception in either direction." (Cardinal Walter Kasper,  L'Osservatore Romano, April 12, 2013)

When they "run amok" in The Shining...
I think the example given of the disrespectful child and the father's correct approach summarizes it best.
If children are given ambiguous directions, seldom or never reproached and rebuked, and allowed to run amok (0:28 from the trailer) and destroy things and to do what they want, never taught right from wrong and encouraged to hang out with/spend time with/get to know people of bad reputation and untruth...who is to blame?

Someone has to be held responsible...and I don't think it can be the children.

I don't think that "Good Pope John" meant for anyone 50 years later to be comparing his Council to Kubrick's ambiguous horror flick...although one may wonder whether or not he ever opened the doors and proclaimed, "Heeeeere's Johnny!" (1:39 in the trailer).

Praying as always for Holy Mother Church, for the conversion of sinners and the salvation of souls.

Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us.

~ Pax Christi sit semper Vobiscum

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