good Pope Benedict's third General Audience address about St Bonaventure, in which the Supreme Pontiff, referring to Bonaventure's theology of history, demonstrates how Joachimism is false, and how, just as Bonaventure's wisdom defeated the Franciscan spirituals of his day, so we should avoid the error of those who ceaselessly invoke the "spirit of the Council" while pretending that what we need is to sweep away all hierarchy and doctrine.
Joachimism, of course, is the belief that history is divided into three eras, and that, just as the era of the Father and of the Old Testament and of the Jewish Church is over and gone, so too the era of the Son and of the New Testament and of the Catholic Church is past, and (heralded by St Francis) what has now come is the third and final era, that of the Spirit and of the "Eternal Gospel" and of spiritual men, with no Church anymore.
The parallels between Joachimism and the nonsense dissenters promulgate about the "spirit" of Vatican II and even Vatican III (their hoped-for, fondly imagined future Council at which everything restrictive will be abolished and everything forbidden be allowed) are obvious. Even the way that self-styled progressives have hijacked Bl John XXIII, who was no liberal, parallels the Joachimite belief in a Papa Angelicus who would drastically change the Church.
Consider the dismissive way that "progressives" consider everything in the Church from the age of Constantine (when allegedly she was corrupted by power - already a current debate in the time of Dante) till 1965 to be clericalist, obscurantist and corrupt... consider their hope for a future Utopia (indeed, a No-Place), when their project of mocking and rejecting all Catholic truth and practice will be complete.
But the Pope repeats forcefully what Bonaventure so rightly said: Opera Christi non deficiunt, sed proficiunt – the works of Christ fail not, but they prosper. Indeed new good things arise, and old things are revitalized: the wise steward brings forth things both old and new from the garner. Christ's work will never fail, but in every age flourish anew, just as St Francis and St Dominic were raised up in their day, revitalizing the Church, ancient but ever-new, with their own innovative charisms, yet in substantial continuity with the past.
Here is the philosophical rejection of the hermeneutic of rupture, and the affirmation of the hermeneutic of continuity. Here is one central message of this Papacy, guided by the thought of St Bonaventure that the young Ratzinger diligently studied long years before. It would be mad and self-contradictory to imagine building a new Church, and condemning the old: in such a case, Christ's promises would have failed, and we'd be better off being Jews.
After all, the theology of history presented by Abbot Joachim of Fiore smacks of Tritheism not orthodox Trinitarianism: there are not three gods, each better than the next, but one God in three Persons, Whose final Word is Christ, and Whose Holy Spirit reveals to us the depths of Christ's message without changing it. Similarly, all newfangled attempts to reject 1600 years of Church history as evil are frankly laughable, and evidently self-contradictory: and to work for a wholesale rejection of doctrine and practice is just to be another Protestant, five hundred years too late.
The Pope speaks:
We know, in fact, how after the Second Vatican Council, some were convinced that everything should be new, that there should be another Church, that the pre-conciliar Church was finished and that we would have another, totally "other" Church. An anarchic utopianism! And thanks be to God, the wise helmsmen of Peter’s Barque, Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II, on one hand defended the novelty of the council and on the other, at the same time, defended the uniqueness and continuity of the Church, which is always a Church of sinners and always a place of grace.
The Church is one and the same, always both ancient and new: as Hermas wrote in the subapostolic age, in The Shepherd, she appeared to him a beautiful woman, the spotless Spouse of the Lord, appearing both young and old, for such she is:
For she had appeared to me, brethren, in the first vision the previous year under the form of an exceedingly old woman, sitting in a chair. In the second vision her face was youthful, but her skin and hair betokened age, and she stood while she spoke to me. She was also more joyful than on the first occasion. But in the third vision she was entirely youthful and exquisitely beautiful, except only that she had the hair of an old woman; but her face beamed with joy, and she sat on a seat. (3rd Vision, Chapter X)
He notes further that she appeared to him at first as old and frail, not because she was, but because he was mired in sin; then she appeared old but partly young as he gradually sloughed off his spiritual blindness and folly; only when he had regained righteousness did he perceive her truly. Let fools attend! It is our faults that make us spurn the Church of the Living God, to our peril.
Sancta Mater Ecclesia is beautiful, without spot or wrinkle, but she has the white hair of the old, betokening her age, which yet not makes her frail, but rather the Lord renews her youth as the eagle's. The works of Christ do not fail, but prosper.