Koblerís Key to the Council
REVIEW: Kobler, John F., C.P.
by Paul Zarowny, Ph.D.
Whatever its multiple shortcomings, my book on the Council is the only published attempt to provide a synthesis, at least in a seminal way, of the religious ontology shaping the sense of the Council.
priest Fr. John F. Koblerís
Pastoral advice of an ecumenical council is not protected by the guarantee of infallibility. It may be questioned, re-examined, and, if found wanting, abandoned.
agrees with traditionalists that Vatican II was a pastoral council. He affirms that it was called because of Cold
War paranoia that the
Pope John XXIII (or later Paul VI) and the bishops gathered in Rome not to define any doctrine, but to search out what the Catholic Church could contribute to resolving these global crises in order to stave off nuclear self-destruction, and ease political and economic tensions. Most of the European-educated bishops had been schooled in Husserlís "phenomenological reduction" or epoche, so they naturally applied that method to the questions at hand.
Put very simply, the phenomenological method is to "suspend" all of oneís knowledge about a thing, and then to look at the thing "from every possible angle" until one intuits the thingís true essence, after which one can restore all of the previously suspended information, incorporating the past knowledge into the new understanding.
According to Kobler, the bishops set to the side all that they had previously known about the Catholic Church and looked at it as an experienced phenomenon -- that is, as an object of sense perception. Previously the Church had usually been thought of as the Mystical Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ or the Kingdom. But these concepts were otherworldly, triumphal, and not perceivable as sense phenomena. Hence the bishops, adopting a suggestion made by Dom Anscar Vonier, O.S.B. in 1937, decided that what one can objectively say about the Church is that it is a group of People who are united by their belief and worship of God -- a People of God.
Lumen Gentium describes the phenomenological nature of this People of God: bishops in apostolic succession, united under the bishop of Rome and assisted by priests and religious, preaching the Gospel which Christ had taught the apostles and bringing the grace-giving sacraments Christ had established to the laity of the world, worshipping God as Christ had taught and honoring the exemplary saints who had lived the Gospel message, especially the Blessed Virgin Mary.
There is a gestalt-shift in Lumen Gentium, from the Church focusing on the salvation of souls, preparing them for an eternal after-life, to the Church focusing on spreading the social aspects of the Gospel within this world, now.
... I have tried to explain the strategic vision of Vatican II as a transcendental-pragmatic constructed in a phenomenological way. The ecclesial image, or myth, of the People of God is the theme chosen by the Council to exemplify this new modality of religious reflection. The "theory" of this notion of the Church may be found in Lumen Gentium, but this "theory" finds its concrete, mundane horizon (or applied practical sense) in Gaudium et Spes. In order to be incarnated in today's dislocated world, however, the People of God must assume their global responsibilities as the functionally operative Catholic paradigm for human progress and development.
The phenomenologist Max Scheler held that people need "ideal model persons" after whom they can pattern their value systems and whose actions they can imitate. For Scheler, the model may be a pleasure-seeker, a hero, a genius or a saint -- for sensual, societal, intellectual or spiritual values, respectively. In Chapters 7 and 8 of Lumen Gentium, the Council fathers posit the communion of saints and the Blessed Virgin Mary as phenomenological value models for Catholics to emulate as they adopt the gestalt-shift of seeing the Church as the People of God.
Gaudium et Spes the goals of the People of God are outlined: the Church
must work to promote social justice, economic equity, political freedom and
This is confirmed by the fact that Paul VI in his closing address to the bishops at Vatican II said: "The old story of the Samaritan has been the model of the spirituality of the Council."
Kobler identifies the long-term objective of the Council as being the formulation of a theological anthropology. The documents provide the basis for a theophanized anthropogony consisting of "fully mature spiritual persons" who would, through the grace of the sacraments, strive to imitate the communion of saints and the Blessed Virgin Mary by doing the will of God on Earth as it is in Heaven, thus bringing about a Peaceable Kingdom -- or at least one peaceable enough to avoid nuclear warfare.
The substance of John XXIII's renewal program can be summed up in two words: Humanae Salutis.... The substance of Paul VI's renewal program can be summed up in three words: totus homo phaenomenicus, i.e., the whole man as a phenomenological reality (or the "phenomenon of man" in all its contemporary dimensions).
Pope John called the Council and gave it its pastoral orientation in the service of mankind. Paul VI, however, was the great theorist of Vatican II, orchestrating how its complex goals were to be achieved. His choice, it seems, was to provide a study of the "phenomenon of man" in all its dimensions, both religious and humanistic. This involved a creative use of phenomenology to reflect on, analyze, and resynthesize the experiences of the corporate ecclesial consciousness.
The Council's idea was that if Catholics renewed their lives by taking a fresh phenomenological look at the Gospel message they would set such an example of love and understanding that non-Catholics throughout the world would be amazed, think "Why don't we act more like those Catholics?" and follow their lead. Then the Cold War would cease, the nuclear arms race would end, the gap between the haves and have-nots would narrow, materialism would wane, and humanity would be transformed. Mankindís evolution would be advanced -- not by biology, but by social action.
In order to bring about this anthropological ascent, the Council fathers needed to alter the Life-World (Lebenswelt) of Catholics radically. According to Husserl, a Life-World is a perceptual horizon shared by a number of people. This intersubjectivity or transpersonal psychology is called "communio" in the Council documents.
In Edmund Husserl's final book, The Crisis of the European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology (1936), he deplored the dissociation of modern society, and said that the solution would need to be a new, spiritual Life-World as the foundation for a renewal of civilization. Whether inspired by Husserl, or simply thinking along a parallel path, the Council fathers carried out the program which Husserl had proposed, using Catholicism as the basis for a worldwide, cross-cultural, ecumenical spiritual renewal.
What John XXIII
and Vatican II have been trying to tell us is that the moral agnosticism or
indifferentism of the modern world is obsolete.... It is no longer adequate to the problems at
hand. The world of "modern secular
man", the world most of us grew up in and so took for granted, effectively
came to an end on August 6, 1945, with the destruction of
The nuclear Cold War motivated the Church to volunteer and offer its solution to the danger of mutually assured destruction.
The well-kept secret of Vatican II has now been revealed: the ultimate practical goal of the Council was, and is today, to solve the contemporary crisis of mankind by working to establish a new civilization of love. The word "civilization" is not employed here as a metaphor but designates a concrete reality.... As the Church once founded the historical reality designated "Christendom", so she is now in search of a new global civilization of love embracing all men.
The Council fathers believed that the Catholic Church could actually achieve this goal because the Church is, according to Lumen Gentium, the Sacrament of Christ, the sign of Christ-in-the-world, and is thus the means of conferring God's supernatural grace upon mankind. This grace would first transform the People of God to live kinder, gentler lives -- once they had been properly trained in the teachings of Vatican II -- and by their example, as Servant Leaders (spoudaioi), they would guide all others into a New Civilization of Love and Harmony.
In this way, the Church would truly be the Humanae Salutis -- the salvation of humanity from nuclear self-annihilation. The Council fathers believed that only the Catholic Church had the people, the organization, the intellectual heritage, the perfect message from the perfect teacher, and the access to supernatural grace necessary for the task.
To the extent that Vatican II employed phenomenology to reflect on contemporary human experiences, the Council's portrait is presented through the medium of presentday human dynamism as discerned by the moral consciousness of the Church. In this medium the portrait is simultaneously projecting a vision of a new humanity (anthropogony) in this world. The Logos provides the "form" or meaningful content to the "matter" (hyletic data) which consists of our human instincts, sentiments and emotions in conformity with that arcana res, the Great Grace-dynamis, the res et non sacramentum abiding in the core of the ecclesial consciousness. In this sense Vatican II's pastoral theology is a concretization of an experimental pneumatology. As a "portrait-in-depth", it is also a three-dimensional, theomorphic one. As an "anticipatory scheme", this portrait is also an eschatological projection pastorally adapted to the needs of our dislocated world. By that I mean that it is also a therapeutic strategic vision of a global community of love, the necessary ground or foundation for a new Era of Harmonization.
The project depends upon phenomenology replacing scholasticism as the "thought of the Church." Or, to be more precise: subjective, phenomenological versions of scholasticism, such as transcendental Thomism, have replaced the traditional, objective versions of scholasticism. This paradigm shift had its roots in the 1932 meeting of the Sociťtť Thomiste in Juvisy, where the guest speakers were phenomenologists who explained and took questions on the philosophies of Husserl and Heidegger.
The project also required that Biblical studies and liturgical rites make phenomenological turns in the documents Dei Verbum and Sacrosanctum Concilium. Using Husserl's epoche, the two-fold Rule of Faith -- Scripture and Tradition -- became three-fold, with the addition of a "Living Magisterium" which interprets the first two, thus emphasizing the human experience over objective facts. The Liturgical Commission applied the epoche to the Mass, and intuited its essence as a participatory celebration, a memorial meal subject to cultural variations and adaptations.
It is frequently opined by traditionalists that the documents of Vatican II contain ambiguities, and are an admixture of tradition and modernism. But following Koblerís insight, I believe the Council documents are completely consistent.
In short, Vatican IIís use of phenomenology is a modally different way of re-presenting the truths and values traditionally found in Catholicism. It involves, however, an unfamiliar pastoral shift which employs a mystagogical catechesis to reorient such truths and values toward the service of humanity in crisis. Truths and values, which were previously oriented in a predominantly doctrinal and christocentric way, have been pastorally redirected to serve the moral purposes of anthropocentric concern. Naturally, this pastoral readjustment has to be held in a salutary dialectical balance.
The phenomenological method assimilates past knowledge into its new outlook on a subject. During the epoche, all received wisdom must be set aside, but after the fresh new outlook has been intuited, all past wisdom must be reinstated in a manner supporting the new perspective.
Kobler does have a serious apprehension that too few bishops, priests, religious, theologians and laymen understand the larger agenda of Vatican II. He believes that they are caught up in analyzing and implementing minutiae of the Councilís aims, and are not concentrating on the end game of creating a new type of existentially mature human being capable of ushering in an era of global peace and justice.
Presently there is a widespread opinion in the Church that there is no generally accepted paradigm or conceptual formula whereby theologians can discern the authentic sense of Vatican II. As a result, theologians are functioning like hardworking codebreakers while the rest of the Church is improvising its way into the future in a decidedly pluralistic way.
Assuming for the moment that this phenomenological interpretation of Vatican II is in substance correct, we find ourselves confronted with an enormous practical problem. Our present intellectual tools for dealing with the magnitude of the Councilís religious and pastoral enterprise are woefully underdeveloped! The inadequacy of our intellectual tools suggests that we are morally ill-equipped to grapple with the contemporary crisis of mankind in a significant way. However dismaying, or even utopian, the pastoral program of Vatican II may appear, reflection on todayís dislocated world tells us it is a necessary one.
An evangelical zeal permeates Koblerís text, as he urges his fellow Catholics on toward that lofty utopian goal.
But -- and this is quite important for traditionalists -- he admits that Vatican II was a pastoral experiment, and that if the Councilís gestalt-shift does not advance the cause toward attaining a new civilization of global harmony, then the enterprise should be re-evaluated and its failing formulae should be discarded.
As a pastoral council Vatican II has applied the deposit of faith (or "faith-theory") in a ≠discernment process analyzing both contemporary human experience and the problems of todayís world. This was done in order to develop a formation program adequate to the challenges of evangelizing our dislocated world. The formulas of Vatican II are not chiseled in granite!
Kobler, not surprisingly, casts this prospect as an opportunity to use phenomenology again to formulate a better, more successful plan which can overcome stubborn obstacles.
Additionally, Kobler warns of the danger of religious enthusiasm metastasizing into gnosticism.
It is, however, the potential for tragedy in both of these mass movements which should make us pause and reflect about defunct Nazism and its more vigorous counterpart, Marxism, flourishing in the world today. The same potential for tragedy is latent even in any religious movement which aspires to touch menís lives in the profound depths undertaken by both Rosenberg and Marx.
While Kobler believes wholeheartedly in the vision of the Council, he is by no means confident that the Church will collectively be able to achieve the Council fathersí goals of peace and harmony.
I take Kobler to be a "friendly witness" for the traditionalistsí case regarding the problems of Vatican II. I think he is correct in his interpretation of the Council documents. His identification of the role Husserlís phenomenological reduction played in the writing of the documents provides a Rosetta Stone for deciphering the supposed "ambiguities" in the texts. His presumption that the Council was convened as a reaction to the Cold War places it in its proper historical context. His explanation of the Councilís long-term objective being the genesis of a theophanized anthropogony raises the issue of the wisdom and practicality of the Councilís goals.
Pastoral advice of an ecumenical council is not protected by the guarantee of infallibility. It may be questioned, re-examined, and, if found wanting, abandoned. We no longer accept the pastoral advice of Lateran IV that non-Catholics should be made to wear distinctive clothing.
If Kobler is correct, then I think the very use of phenomenology either to replace or to supplement scholasticism needs to be addressed, along with the resulting pastoral gestalt-shift from a Christ-centered perspective to a man-centered perspective. If Kobler is correct, and the Church is currently engaged in the pursuit of causing an evolutionary advance of the human species, I believe the Catholic in the pew has a right to be told this in plain and simple language, and that the continuation of this project should be open to debate.
has been over forty years since the bishops met at Vatican II, and much has
changed in the world. The Cold War has
ended, the Berlin Wall has fallen, and Marxism has allegedly been consigned to
the dustbin. Antagonism with the
communist Soviet bloc and Maoist China, poised to lead mankind in world
revolution, has transmogrified into economic competition with capitalistic
Zarowny holds a Ph.D. in Theology from
Copyright 2007 by Paul Zarowny
 Kobler, John F. Vatican II, Theophany and the Phenomenon
 For Husserl, there are two kinds of people: trained phenomenologists who use the epoche to think about something, and unenlightened people whose thoughts are confined to the "natural attitude."
 Vonier, Anscar. The People of God.
 Kobler, op. cit., p. 309.
 Eph. 4:24, Col. 3:10.
 Kobler, op. cit., p. 5.
 Ibid., p. 203.
 Ibid., p. 83.
 Ibid., pp. 137-138.
 Ibid., p. 253.
 Husserl, Edmund. Die Krisis der europa®ischen Wissenschaften und die transcendentale Pha®nomenologie: eine Einleitung in die pha®nomenologische Philosophie. Pheīnomeīnologie, Meīlanges. Belgrad, 1936.
 Kobler, op. cit., pp. 25-26.
 Ibid., p. 49.
 Ibid., pp. 199-200.
 Husserl held that using the epoche allowed one to know things in themselves, rejecting the Aristotelian principle that one must know a thing through its causes.
 Kobler, op. cit., pp. 166-167.
 Ibid., pp. 240-243.
 Ibid., p. 249.
 Ibid., p. 203.
 Ibid., p. 242.
 Ibid., p. 223.
 Ibid., p. 37.
 Ibid., pp. 37, 300-309.
 Ibid., p. 301. Kobler is referring to Alfred Rosenberg, whose book Der Mythus des 20. Jahrhunderts (1930) promulgated the Nazi intersubjective "Life-World" of an "Aryan master race."
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