Today, the first day of the Year of Faith proclaimed by the Pope, is also the 50th anniversary of the convening of Vatican II. George Weigel has an article on the Council at National Review Online. He writes of how different it looks 50 years out from how it looked at the beginning, when Hans Küng was riding high and so much doctrine seemed obsolete.
Then, in yet another unexpected twist in the story-line, two men of genius, both men of the Council, arose to provide the Church with authoritative keys for properly interpreting the documents of Vatican II. That, history will likely show, was the great task taken on by the unexpected Polish pope, John Paul II (who as a hitherto-obscure young bishop helped develop several council documents), and the even more unexpected Bavarian pope, Benedict XVI (who as a theologian in his mid-30s played a major role in articulating several of the council’s most important teachings on the nature of the Church as centered on the Gospel).
For Weigel, that key was "a hermeneutic of continuity". Everything new in the Council had to be interpreted in accord with the Tradition.
Thus, what was truly innovative at Vatican II — its repositioning of the Gospel at the center of the Church, understood as a “communion” of disciples; its reform of the Church’s worship; its insistence on the baptismal dignity and vocational responsibility of all Catholics, lay as well as ordained; its openness to new methods in theology; its teaching on religious freedom, on church-and-state, and on the Church’s ongoing debt to Judaism — has to be understood as securely grounded in the Church’s tradition. For without that grounding and that continuity, those welcome innovations would be so much flotsam and jetsam, adrift in the cultural whitewater of post-modernity.
I think it's more than that. "Continuity" we might think of as the "negative" principle, viz. the one that protects the Church from veering off into error. The "positive" key, though, i.e., the one that explains and unifies the "innovations" is, I claim, personalism—personalism understood not as a philosophical school of thought, but rather as "a turn toward subjectivity".
In other words, the Church was officially appropriating and making her own the central achievement of the entire modern period. She was showing how that achievement was, in truth, an authentic development of her doctrinal and cultural patrimony.
I agree with Weigel's conclusion.
What would come, after no little travail and darkness, was something unexpected and unimagined by most Catholics 50 years ago: the end of the Counter-Reformation and the emergence of Evangelical Catholicism — a culture-forming counterculture that offers the world friendship with the Lord Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the deepest aspirations of the human heart; a Church that is the world’s premier institutional defender of the dignity of the human person and of fundamental human rights.