The Battle Over Vatican II: Navigating Modernity, Synodality, and the Liturgy Wars

Catholics love anniversaries. A few months ago, in October 2022, the Vatican marked the sixtieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s opening. The celebration occurred at a time of intense ecclesial tension. It took the Council of Trent at least a century to be fully received, and Vatican II is on the same trajectory. Ongoing debates over the council’s meaning evidence that fact, and it is those debates that will guide the implementation of the council in coming years.[1] Most recently, tensions have boiled over the ongoing Synod of Synodality; Pope Francis has explicitly situated this initiative as a key reception of the council’s vision of communion and collegiality. Varying assessments of that effort represent the ongoing “battle” over Vatican II. Today, virtually all ecclesiological discourse revolves around the council and its legacy.

The year 2022 also marked the seventh anniversary of Laudato Si’, a number not without theological significance. I would like to suggest that Pope Francis’s widely acclaimed 2015 social encyclical has served as a significant, though underappreciated, reception of the Second Vatican Council. To read the council through Laudato Si’ can highlight a constellation of conciliar emphases that both deepen and complicate its reception. Laudato Si’ certainly calls for environmental action, but it can also yield abundant ecclesiological fruit.[2] What follows considers four themes, roughly corresponding to the four conciliar constitutions.

A Christ-Centered Listening to the Cries of the Poor and the Earth

The foundational claim of Vatican II is that God has spoken in Christ. Those who place a priority on Dei Verbum underscore this Christo-centric orientation of the council.[3] At first, the claim may seem unremarkable, if not obvious. In an age that Charles Taylor characterizes as that of “the buffered self,” however, the claim is a decisive one.[4] Whereas modernity conceives of the human person as autonomous and, by extension, self-contained, the council conceives of the human person as dialogical and, by extension, ecstatic. To be human is to be addressed by a Thou. Human beings are veritable hearers of the Word through whom “the invisible God (see Col 1:15, 1 Tim 1:17) out of the abundance of His love speaks to [people] as friends (see Ex 33:11; John 15:14–15) and lives among them (see Bar 3:38), so that He may invite and take them into fellowship with Himself” (Dei Verbum §2). This Christological anthropology, famously echoed in Gaudium et Spes §22, reveals the suffocating confines of a purely human humanism.

So too does it position the entire Church and the entire human race in a posture of attentiveness. The very first verb of Dei Verbum is audiens, “hearing” (DV §1). Rather than being a master or possessor of revelation, the believer is one who humbly yet radically listens. Rather than being a master or possessor of reality, the human person is one who humbly yet radically listens. According to Dei Verbum, the only sufficient starting point for being human is recognizing one’s own insufficiency. And this acknowledgement manifests itself through an attentive openness to the other so as to respond to God’s call in Christ. 

Listening plays a similarly foundational role in Laudato Si’. Pope Francis structures the encyclical around the see-judge-act methodology characteristic of Catholic social reflection. Here, one becomes aware of a problem, assesses underlying causes and potential theological responses, and acts accordingly. Under the auspices of raising awareness (“seeing”), the first chapter of Laudato Si’ describes a number of problems in our common home. The use of this method captures the priority of attentiveness; it is only through awareness that responsible judgment and action can follow. The aim of this awareness, says Pope Francis, “is not to amass information or to satisfy curiosity, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it” (Laudato Si’ §19). In particular, Laudato Si’ enjoins readers “to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (LS §49). That is, one’s listening should privilege all the ways that our common home suffers, from massive social inequalities to massive deforestation.

Paralleling the objectives of Dei Verbum, the admonition to listen in Laudato Si’ serves as a crucial antidote to the contemporary buffered self. Throughout Laudato Si’, Pope Francis decries “modern anthropocentrism,” the sinful though culturally normalized illusion that I myself stand at the center of the universe (LS §116). Such a tendency promotes a “practical relativism,” in which one gives “absolute priority to immediate convenience and all else becomes relative (LS §122). At a systemic level, this anthropocentric, practical relativism produces a “globalization of indifference,” a cultural dynamic named in Laudato Si’ and repeatedly throughout Pope Francis’s pontificate (see LS §52). Like the indifferent rich man in Jesus’s parable, too stuffed with stuff and consumed by consuming, we (at least those of means in the West) fail to notice the poor Lazarus at our door (see Luke 16:19–31). Abetted by technologies tailored to our personal preferences, we content ourselves with the islands of our own particular knowledge and concern (see LS §47). In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis hopes that an attentive, merciful, and painful awareness to the cries of our common home might interrupt and liberate our myopic horizons.

Laudato Si’ adds a prophetic bite to the foundational opening of Dei Verbum. The auricular emphases of each text convey what Peter Joseph Fritz identifies as the “ethos” of Catholicism, which he defines as “a way of being . . . that seeks, receives, and responds to divine revelation with radical openness.”[5] They do so in complementary ways. On the one hand, Laudato Si’ draws out the ethical implications of this openness to Christ, reminding us that a Christian’s posture of listening becomes evident insofar as it extends to those who are suffering. On the other hand, Dei Verbum tethers that directive to Christ. Genuine listening to the cries of the poor and the earth originates only in a more foundational listening to the Word of God spoken in Christ. Laudato Si’ confirms the timeliness of the council’s call to listen for today, a time simultaneously cacophonous and fatuous.

An Integral Communion Ecclesiology

As the starting point of Dei Verbum intimates, one of the prime achievements of Vatican II is its recovery of the Church as first and foremost a theological reality that, through Christ, participates in God’s own triune life. The primary name for that reality is communion, a term that carries much biblical and theological weight (see, e.g., 1 Cor 12:12–27). Lumen Gentium defines the Church as “a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race” (Lumen Gentium §2). The council’s ecclesiology of communion grounds what Richard Gaillardetz deems its “noncompetitive theology of the Church.”[6] To name the Church as communion is to affirm that, grounded in the Holy Spirit’s work of unity, all the Church’s members comprise and build up the Body of Christ and thus each other in indispensable, distinct, and other-oriented ways (see Eph 4:12–16). The final report of the 1985 Extraordinary Synod, which charted guiding magisterial principles for interpreting Vatican II, declared that “[t]he ecclesiology of communion is the central and fundamental idea of the council’s documents” (c.1). The noncompetitive ecclesiology envisioned by the council is an enduring insight. It is the theological inspiration for the Synod on Synodality. It can offer much to the polarization and isolation of today.

Communion also plays a focusing role in Laudato Si’. The name Pope Francis gives it is “integral ecology.” At the encyclical’s launch, Cardinal Peter Turkson remarked that the pope “puts the concept of integral ecology at the center” of Laudato Si’. Integral ecology focuses the entire encyclical and represents its most substantive contribution. A recurring refrain of the encyclical, “everything is interconnected,” best encapsulates its meaning. It signifies the nexus of what Pope Francis names as “three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth itself,” a nexus that possesses deep biblical precedent (LS §66). Like the Church, this integral ecology finds its theological basis in the Trinity (see LS §240). Like the ecclesiology of the council, the integral ecology of Laudato Si’ betokens a vision and understanding of communion distinctive in a fragmented world.

Pope Francis underscores how integral ecology yokes together what earlier papal reflection distinguished as concerns for “human ecology” and concerns for “natural ecology.” Matters of human ecology include those issues that pertain to the flourishing of human life, such as the protection of the unborn, the preservation of the family, and the support for just economic practices.[7] Matters of natural ecology include those issues that pertain to the flourishing of the natural world, such as the cleanliness of water sources, the conservation of forests, and the promotion of biodiversity. The integral ecology of Laudato Si’ reminds readers that all these concerns form a single piece; once again, the cries of the earth and the poor intersect. Thus, this integral ecology can challenge those environmentalists who isolate advocacy for the environment from advocacy for human welfare or, even worse, pit them against each other.[8] It can also challenge U.S. Catholics who, determined by American partisan loyalties, downplay care for creation for the sake of pro-life issues, or vice-versa.[9] An integral ecology reminds the Church that to promote one ecology is to promote the other; they cannot be ultimately separated. One could say that an integral ecology affords a noncompetitive way to value the concerns of both natural and human ecologies.

The integral ecology of Laudato Si’ represents a notable reception of the communion ecclesiology of the council. It orients this communion ecclesiology in a missionary, social-ecological direction. The communion that is the Church is not static but a centripetal dynamism of gathering rooted in the Trinity and extended towards all creation. As Jesus commanded his disciples at the end of Mark’s Gospel: “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15). Perhaps no one took that imperative more seriously than the encyclical’s inspiration, Saint Francis of Assisi, preacher to the birds. This evangelical task requires the healing of fractures within those three intertwined relationships of God, humanity, and the rest of creation.

So too can the integral ecology of Laudato Si’ broaden one’s conception of the communion that constitutes the Church. In his 1953 The Splendor of the Church, Henri de Lubac defines the Church as “that gigantic organism which includes all the host of the angels as well as [people], and even extends to the whole of the cosmos as well.”[10] The influence of de Lubac’s book on Lumen Gentium has been noted; the first and last chapters of The Splendor of the Church and Lumen Gentium share the same headings.[11] The integral ecology of Laudato Si’ supports reading the communion ecclesiology of the council based upon a definition like de Lubac’s. That is, Laudato Si’ proposes a cosmic communion ecclesiology. In so doing, it deepens the conciliar vision of the Church as communion, a communion always in contact with the world.

Assessing the Modern World

The nature of that contact has loomed large in histories of the council. A popular historical narrative of Vatican II goes something like this. For much of the eighteenth through early twentieth centuries, the Catholic Church was suspicious and often outright condemnatory of all things modern.[12] Vatican II definitively overcame this parochial siege mentality, moving the Church towards a more affirming posture to modern developments. The paradigmatic document in this story is Gaudium et Spes. It locates the Church in a position of compassionate solidarity, identifying the Church with the “joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the [people] of this age” (Gaudium et Spes §1). This presence better allows the Church to appreciate the achievements of modernity. It lauds, for instance, “progress in the practical sciences and in technology,” acknowledging how “in our times [people have] won superlative victories, especially in [their] probing of the material world and in subjecting it to [themselves]” (GS §15). It affirms various aspirations of the modern world, such as when it states that “Christ is now at work” in “animating, purifying and strengthening those noble longings . . . by which the human family makes its life more human and strives to render the whole earth submissive to this goal” (GS §38). Those are bold words. Viewed in light of the pernicious effects of something like mountaintop removal mining, such paeans to rendering the earth submissive should make one pause!

The use of this language reveals a notable lacuna in Gaudium et Spes. As some have noted, Vatican II finally engaged modernity right at the dawn of postmodernity.[13] Indeed, the environmental movement embodies one expression of the postmodern suspicion of modern pretensions of master narratives, neutral objectivity, and incessant progress. Several key conciliar theologians believed that a text like Gaudium et Spes sometimes capitulated too much to the headiness of the age. Even Karl Rahner, who for many epitomizes the spirit of Vatican II, could admit almost two decades after Gaudium et Spes that the “undertone” of the document “is too euphoric in its evaluation of humanity and the human condition.”[14] Though they inhabit two very different theological universes, Rahner finds an echo in Joseph Ratzinger. He critiques the technological face of this euphoria in particular. Noting tensions in the drafting of Gaudium et Spes, he observed how “there remained, despite all disavowals, an almost naïve progressivist optimism which seemed unaware of the ambivalence of all external human progress,” at times forgetting “the distance between technological and human progress.”[15] While various passages in Gaudium et Spes do ultimately capture this ambivalence (e.g. GS §§8, 13), it remains a tension in the text nonetheless. It has remained a tension in the council’s aftermath.

Laudato Si’ offers its own particular reading of modernity. Both Pope Francis’s fans and detractors view him as a quintessentially modern pope.[16] However, Laudato Si’ is far from modern! “The present ecological crisis,” observes Pope Francis, “is one small sign of the ethical, cultural and spiritual crisis of modernity” (LS §119). The ecological crisis points to the ambivalence of the modern world. The pope calls the world to “finally leave behind the modern myth of unlimited material progress” and to “redefin[e] our notion of progress” (LS §§78, 194).[17]

Inspired by the critique of modernity found in the early twentieth-century theologian Romano Guardini, Pope Francis identifies the “technocratic paradigm” as the chief threat to our entire common home, to human and natural ecologies alike. While Pope Francis applauds various achievements of modern technology, he refrains from referring to them as divinely ordained (see LS §102). More fundamentally, however, Pope Francis worries about how “humanity has taken up technology and its development according to an undifferentiated and one-dimensional paradigm” (LS §106). This paradigm, inspired by Baconian and Cartesian promises of mastery, reduces the world to an object that one can control and manipulate at will. The anthropocentric tendencies discussed earlier in this article, which Pope Francis characterizes as “modern” (LS §115), only exacerbate this presumption. For him, the environmental crisis most palpably signals this cultural malaise. Again, think of mountaintop removal practices.[18] By the same token, Pope Francis also lists practices like abortion as linked symptoms of this technocratic modernity (e.g., LS §117). On the whole, Pope Francis presents a scathing critique of the modern world in Laudato Si’, one that cannot but stand in tension with certain conciliar treatments of the same topic.

This diagnosis of the technocratic paradigm and modern anthropocentrism demands that one revisit the assessment of the modern world offered in Gaudium et Spes. Rusty Reno goes so far to say that Laudato si’ reverts to pre-conciliar anti-modernism. While that point is overstated in characteristic editorial fashion, Laudato Si’ does complicate the popular reception of Gaudium et Spes. The encyclical confirms the suspicions of people like Rahner and Ratzinger. It should foreground those passages in Gaudium et Spes that capture the ambivalence of the modern project. Above all, the ecological crisis demands that one cultivate a certain eschatological humility in assessing modern technical achievement, as valuable as many of those achievements have been. Only in this way might those very legitimate accomplishments remain servants rather than become masters. The Gospel, as Ratzinger puts it, “reveals a realm which the technological cannot redeem. It remains true in the end that the world is not redeemed by machinery but by love.”[19] Or, as Pope Francis puts it in Laudato Si’, our common home (and the modern age) needs care, and that care ultimately originates not in human ingenuity but in the gift of God’s mercy in Christ.

A Eucharistic Ethos

Receptivity to Christ provides a nice segue into the final area of reception. One of the major achievements of Vatican II is its reprioritization of the liturgy in the Church’s life. Sacrosanctum Concilium famously describes the liturgy as “the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed” as well as “the font from which all her power flows” (Sacrosanctum Concilium §10), a point reechoed in Lumen Gentium (see LG §11). It is a conciliar claim that has been taken for granted. Most of the reception of Sacrosanctum Concilium has centered on the liturgy wars: Latin or vernacular, ad orientum or versus populum? Pope Francis’s 2021 motu proprio, Traditiones Custodes, has only inflamed these post-conciliar liturgical tensions. One ironic result of these debates has been the isolation of the liturgy from the broader Catholic ethos, the reduction of the liturgy to a battlefield over various rubrics and aesthetics. On the other side, much contemporary Catholic theology—especially moral theology—rarely arises from a liturgical foundation, opting for various nontheological (and often ideological) foundations instead.

Liturgical debates and theological engagement with an array of disciplines are not without merit; nevertheless, largely forgotten today is the breadth of the council’s liturgical vision. Christopher Ruddy has tried to retrieve the “doxological ecclesiology” of Vatican II.[20] That is, rooted in Christ’s own glorification of the Father in the Spirit (see John 17), the primary purpose and end of the Church is the praise of God and, by extension, the sanctification of humanity and the entire world. Lumen Gentium, for instance, identifies “the intimate vocation of the Church” as “communion with one another in mutual charity and in one praise of the most holy Trinity” (LG §51). Sacrosanctum Concilium speaks of how Christ “continues His priestly work through the agency of His Church, which is ceaselessly engaged in praising the Lord and interceding for the salvation of the whole world” (SC §83). The seventh chapter of Lumen Gentium describes the Church’s final eschatological end as doxological (see LG §48–51). In its eighth and final chapter, it presents the Blessed Virgin Mary as the “type and exemplar” of the Church (LG §53): she who in her Magnificat exclaimed, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” (Luke 1:46–47) in response to God’s saving work. Despite its prominence, this overarching vision of the council escapes the attention of many.

Laudato Si’ represents a definitive confirmation of this doxological vision of the Church and its mission. Laudato Si’, after all, literally means “praised be!” in Italian. Doxological language both begins and concludes the encyclical. And doxological language fills the encyclical, such as when it decries biodiversity loss because “thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence” (LS §33). Pope Francis describes his papal namesake, Saint Francis, as the “example par excellence . . . of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically,” demonstrated most vividly when “he would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise” (LS §§10–11). In ordering creatures like birds to praise God, Saint Francis understood the doxological essence and mission of the Church in a capacious, integral way. Nowhere is this doxological sensibility better conveyed than in his famous Canticle of the Creatures wherein Francis incorporates all creation—from “brother sun” to “sister water”—in the praise of God (see LS §87). It is that admonition to praise, first rendered in Italian as “Laudato Si’,” that gives the encyclical not only its title but its telos. The centripetal dynamism of an integral ecology receives life from and is directed towards this cosmic chorus of praise.

Finally, in a way that distinguishes Laudato Si’ from any other social encyclical, Pope Francis devotes a lengthy section of his encyclical to a meditation on the sacraments in general and the Eucharist in particular. “It is in the Eucharist,” Francis tells readers, “that all that has been created finds its greatest exaltation” (LS §236). It is in the Eucharist that the doxological essence of the Church and the doxological vocation of all creation finds its most concrete expression. I have argued at length that, upon closer inspection, this reflection on the Eucharist shapes the entire encyclical, implying an entire Eucharistic way of life and an entire Eucharistic social and environmental ethic.[21] The receptive theocentricity of this praiseful thanksgiving can counter the tyrannical anthropocentrism of the technocratic paradigm. Far from segregating the Church’s work of praise to an hour on Sundays or to subjective preference up for debate, Laudato Si’ realizes the council’s vision of praise shaping every component of the Church’s life.

That particular emphasis of Laudato Si’ provides a healing salve for the contemporary Church. Pope Francis has identified “spiritual worldliness” as “the worst thing that can happen to the church.”[22] A spiritually worldly Church is one that, cloaked in religious language, acts as purely human institution serving only its own preservation and performing only earthly functions. This spiritual worldliness is pervasive. The doxological ecclesiologies of the council and Laudato Si’ can counter this predominant temptation. As Ruddy suggests, the recovery of a doxological ecclesiology can offer a counterweight to a Church tempted to an acedia that masquerades as a busyness, the reduction of the Church to an NGO; praise, after all, entails the joyful affirmation of being qua being and reminds worshippers that they are made for something other than just doing. It can also offer a counterweight to any tendencies towards ecclesial self-referentiality, whether in the form of criminal coverups or bureaucratic machinations; praise entails the ecstatic orientation that befits the patristic image of the Church as a moon, as reflecting (not generating) the light of Christ, the only true Lumen Gentium. [23] So too can the doxological ecclesiology of Laudato Si’ help overcome unfortunate divides that have arisen in the Church today. Against those who identify as “liturgy Catholics” and those who identify as “social justice Catholics,” Laudato Si’ illustrates quite well how the work of praise and the work for justice form a coherent whole.[24] The doxological vision of Laudato Si’ serves as a reminder that the primary task of the Church is to praise God, not ideological factionalism. Set within a common doxological vocation, one that is inherently noncompetitive, such tensions should become creative rather than divisive. Indeed, it is this capacious vision of praise that animates the synthetic worldview that characterizes the integral ecology of Laudato Si’. From that primary posture of praise, all else follows.


In 2023, as has been the case for the last sixty years, the Second Vatican Council remains a neuralgic point for many Catholics in the know. The debates have been fractious, and those debates have come to overshadow the primary legacy of the council. That legacy is best stated by the conciliar historian, John O’Malley. Commenting on the fifth chapter of Lumen Gentium (“The Universal Call to Holiness in the Church”), he writes, “Holiness, the council thus said, is what the Church is all about. This is an old truth, of course, and in itself is not remarkable. Yet no previous council had ever explicitly asserted this idea and certainly never developed it so repeatedly and at length.”[25] To a modern world and perhaps even a modern Church that appeared to live as if God did not exist, the council exhorted all members of the Church to a Christologically-determined life of full-throated, kenotic, and joyful holiness.

Pope Francis expressed similar sentiments in his homily during the council’s sixtieth anniversary. He begged Catholics to “rediscover the council in order to restore primacy to God, to what is essential: to a Church madly in love with its Lord and with all men and women whom he loves; to a Church that is rich in Jesus and poor in assets; to a Church that is free and freeing.” That is, the ressourcement of the council was ultimately a return to Christ and his love, poverty, and liberating friendship—nothing less than holiness.[26] As Pope Francis went on to say, such a return can help overcome the temptation “to let ourselves be caught up in the winds of worldliness in order to chase after the fashions of the moment or to turn our back on the time that Providence has granted us,” the temptation “to enclose ourselves within the confines of our own comforts and convictions,” and the temptation of “polarization” in which people prefer “[t]o be on the ‘right’ or ‘left’ rather than with Jesus.” Recalling Pope John XXIII’s opening speech of the council, Gaudet Mater Ecclesia, Pope Francis urged the Church to “be overcome with joy. If she should fail to rejoice, she would deny he very self, for she would forget the love that begot her.” Such rejoicing, such praise, conveys the true holiness of the Church; that call sustains the Church’s listening and communion, and it is that call that constitutes the Church’s greatest gift to the modern world and its violent contradictions.

And this is why, upon its release, I was immediately enthralled by Laudato Si’, that call to rejoice and praise. It awakened in me what Bernard Lonergan described as the “deep but obscure conviction that one cannot get out of trying to be holy.”[27] The Catholic call to care for our common home, after all, places everything one does and everything one decides—from the length of a commute to the clothes one buys—within the domain of discipleship and the Kingship of Christ, regardless of one’s state of life (see LS §211, 230). At an even more fundamental level, Laudato Si’ charted a compelling vision of the Church and her mission in a way that reflected the Council’s lofty goals: a Church who listens to Christ despite the cost, a Church whose mission knows no bounds, a Church able to offer some alternative to the nihilism of modern technocratic anthropocentrism, and a Church whose primary purpose is the glorification of God. Given that it serves as another key reception of Vatican II, I hope that the Synod on Synodality challenges in these similar ways. Holiness, after all, is preeminently participatory; it is a call to cruciform transformation for all. Whether it is on the seventh or sixtieth anniversary of the Synod’s conclusion, I hope we will be discussing how the Synod, like Laudato Si’, invited the Church to orient herself towards an all-encompassing, Christ-centered holiness and thus advanced the challenging legacy of the council.

[1] See Ormond Rush, Still Interpreting Vatican II: Some Hermeneutical Principles (New York: Paulist Press, 2004), 52­–68.

[2] For one such attempt, see Richard Lennan, Tilling the Church: Theology for an Unfinished Project (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2022), xi–xvi.

[3] See, e.g., Jared Wicks, Investigating Vatican II: Its Theologians, Ecumenical Turn, and Biblical Commitment (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2018), 223.

[4] See Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007), 37–42.

[5] Peter Joseph Fritz, Karl Rahner’s Theological Aesthetics (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2014), 11–12.

[6] See Richard R. Gaillardetz, An Unfinished Council: Vatican II, Pope Francis, and the Renewal of Catholicism (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2015), 91–113.

[7] See John Paul II, Centesimus Annus (May 1, 1991), §38. See also LS §155.

[8] Think of Alan Weisman’s popular environmental book The World Without Us (New York: Picador, 2008).

[9] See Michael Lipka and Gregory A. Smith, “Like Americans Overall, U.S. Catholics Are Sharply Divided by Party,” Pew Research Center (January 24, 2019).

[10] Henri de Lubac, The Splendor of the Church, trans. Michael Mason (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 51–52.

[11] See Paul McPartlan, “Ressourcement, Vatican II, and Eucharistic Ecclesiology,” in Ressourcement: A Movement for Renewal in Twentieth-Century Catholic Theology, ed. Gabriel Flynn and Paul D. Murray (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 392–93.

[12] Somewhat infamously, Pope Pius IX condemned the following proposition in his Syllabus of Errors: “The Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself, and come to terms with progress, liberalism and modern civilization” (§80).

[13] See Gerard Mannion, Ecclesiology and Postmodernity: Questions for the Church in Our Time (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2007), 28–29.

[14] Karl Rahner, “On Christian Pessimism,” in Theological Investigations XXII, trans. J. Donceel (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1991), 158.

[15] Joseph Ratzinger, Theological Highlights of Vatican II (New York: Paulist Press, 2009), 227.

[16] At the four-year mark of his pontificate, the Human Rights Campaign praised Pope Francis’s “efforts to modernize the Church.” More recently, Cardinal Gerhard Müller has lamented Pope Francis’s agenda of “modernization” in the Church (as discussed in Austen Ivereigh, “The Anti-Francis Gatekeepers,” Commonweal Magazine [January 27, 2023]).

[17] For similar sentiments, see also LS §19 (where Pope Francis recalls “a period of irrational confidence in progress and human abilities”) and LS §113 (where Pope Francis lauds the “growing awareness that scientific and technological progress cannot be equated with the progress of humanity and history”).

[18] See Shirley Stewart Burns, Bringing Down the Mountains: The Impact of Mountaintop Removal on Southern West Virginia Communities (Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University Press, 2007).

[19] Ratzinger, Theological Highlights of Vatican II, 229. See also his Joseph Ratzinger, “Technological Security as a Problem of Social Ethics,” Communio 9, no. 3 (Fall 1982): 238–46.

[20] See Christopher Ruddy, “‘In My End Is My Beginning’: Lumen Gentium and the Priority of Doxology,” Irish Theological Quarterly 79, no. 2 (2014): 144–64. For a soteriological, systematic treatment of this theme, see Khaled Anatolios, Deification through the Cross: An Eastern Christian Theology of Salvation (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2020).

[21] See Lucas Briola, The Eucharistic Vision of Laudato Si’: Praise, Conversion, and Integral Ecology (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2023), esp. chapters 2 and 5. The themes discussed in this article all find more detailed consideration in this book.

[22] Jorge Mario Bergoglio, “What I would have said at the Consistory: Interview with Sefania Falasca,” 30Days, Issue 11 (2007).

[23] See Ruddy, “‘In My End Is My Beginning,’” 161–64.

[24] See Francis, Gaudete et Exsultate (March 19, 2018), 104–8.

[25] John O’Malley, What Happened at Vatican II (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008), 51.

[26] Robert P. Imbelli, Rekindling the Christic Imagination: Theological Meditations for the New Evangelization (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2014), 79.

[27] Bernard J. F. Lonergan, “Horizons,” in Philosophical and Theological Papers 1965–1980, vol. 17 of Collected Works of Bernard Lonergan, ed. Robert C. Croken and Robert M. Doran (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004), 20.

Featured Image: Van Gogh, Fishing boats on the beach at Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, 1888; Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-Old-100. 


Lucas Briola

Lucas Briola is an assistant professor of theology at Saint Vincent College (Latrobe, PA). His most recent book, The Eucharistic Vision of Laudato Si' Praise, Conversion, and Integral Ecology, was published in 2023 by The Catholic University of America Press.

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