In Praise of Rupture

In his 2005 Christmas address to the Curia, Pope Benedict contrasted a “hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture” with a “hermeneutic of reform” in describing the effects of the Second Vatican Council. At that time Benedict spoke of “renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church, which the Lord has given to us.”

Since then, the discussion has drifted somewhat confusingly to the point where a “hermeneutic of continuity”— which is not quite the same thing as a hermeneutic of reform — is held up as desirable. Benedict himself contributed to the confusion by referring to a “hermeneutic of continuity” in his post-synodal exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis. This imprecise contrast of discontinuity and rupture on the one hand, with continuity on the other, has now become common in the discourse concerning changes coming forth from the Council. Reform must include both continuities and discontinuities, but the multi-dimensional subject of “reform” has slipped into the background as “continuity” has risen to take its place.

Simon A. Schrott has competently charted the territory of these terminological confusions in a recent article in Studia Liturgica (“The Need for Discontinuity: Considerations on a Hermeneutic of Liturgical Reform According to Sacrosanctum Concilium,” Studia Liturgica Vol. 41, No. 1, 2011). He concludes that Benedict’s earlier formulation of a “hermeneutic of reform” corresponds more closely to the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. His evaluation and conclusions are sound; there is no need to reproduce that discussion here. I raise it simply to acknowledge the importance of the point: we need greater clarity and precision – and we need to speak of reform, with both continuity and discontinuity contained within it.

Let us now turn to another aspect of the developing discussion, one that has remained constant, namely: the word “rupture.” This word is freighted with universally negative associations. A rupture is a life-threatening emergency when it happens to your appendix; the rupture of a water main causes floods and property damage; rupture is what happens in human relationships when trust is broken and angry words fly. We can find people who will argue for discontinuity, but who could praise rupture?

I would like to say a word in praise of rupture. A single word, but an important one.


Quite simply, none of us would be here if it weren’t for rupture.

Let’s not lightly assume that “mother church” suffers no pain in the process of childbirth, nor that the new life brought into the world by Vatican II could have gotten here in any other way than via rupture.