Luther and Vatican II: were you there? Can you help?

Thirsty Gargoyle posted a link to this Catholic Herald article from 2005 on the Second Vatican Council. It’s a discussion between various Roman Catholics on the effects of Vatican II, which had ended forty years previously, and it contains one intriguing exchange concerning the relationship of Vatican II to the Reformation:

At one point, concert pianist Stephen Hough says:

It strikes me, in a way, that the council was the continuation of the Reformation. It was the real Counter-Reformation. Not just a reaction to Luther, but an acknowledgement that a lot of what Luther was saying was true. The Council took so much of what was true about what the Reformers were saying. The Church was eventually able to say it in a way that was acceptable to Catholics.

Historian Desmond Seward replies:

I agree with that entirely. I’m a great admirer of Luther, who very nearly got it right. If the Dominicans had been given a free hand he probably would have.

Like Thirsty Gargoyle, I am fascinated by these tantalisingly brief comments, especially that final reference to “if the Dominicans had been given a free hand”. My understanding had been that the Dominicans were, if anything, Luther’s most implacable opponents, especially during the crucial period from 1517 to 1519, rather than being thwarted bridge-builders.

Anyone have any idea what Desmond Seward was referring to here?


5 thoughts on “Luther and Vatican II: were you there? Can you help?”

  1. My money’s on Seward originally meaning the Augustinians, not the Dominicans, but either he or the Cath Herald’s printer’s devil slipped ‘twixt cup and lip. A Lutheran pastor, now deceased, once told me how he had been very hospitably hosted by an order of Augustinian monks who still pray daily for “Brother Martin” and seemed to think he had been misunderstand by the Vatican at the time.

    1. Yes, it does make sense, but I’m not entirely sure that is what Seward meant. For starters, it’s hard to characterise Vatican II as a victory for Augustinianism. It seems to have been much more influenced by mid-20th century Dominicanism (Schillebeeckx etc.). I’m not even sure how much of a force Augustinianism could be said to be in the modern RCC.

      1. Some would say that the Pope is a bit of an Augustinian (not an Augustinian monk, of course, but Augustinian in his intellectual heritage and loyalty).

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