On Rupture Theology
In his Address of December 22, 2005 to the Roman Curia, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the need for a proper understanding of Vatican II and referred to it as the “hermeneutic of reform”. According to this view the council is rightly interpreted only when understood in substantial continuity with the past or as “renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.” The Holy Father contrasted this true understanding of the council with the “hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture” that “risks ending in a split between the pre-conciliar Church and the post-conciliar Church.” Given this basic definition of the “hermeneutic of rupture”, one can identify two basic classifications of “rupture theology” that can broadly be characterized as “progressive” and “reactionary”. These two variations of rupture theology are particularly distinguished by their unique understanding and approach to Vatican II, the magisterium of the Popes, Tradition and the development of doctrine. We will explore each of these areas while attempting to discover where the two sides of rupture theology either converge or find themselves radically opposed.
The Second Vatican Council
Rupture theology of either variety (progressive or reactionary) seems to express the following with respect to Vatican II:
“It asserts that the texts of the Council as such do not yet express the true spirit of the Council. It claims that they are the result of compromises in which, to reach unanimity, it was found necessary to keep and reconfirm many old things that are now pointless. However, the true spirit of the Council is not to be found in these compromises but instead in the impulses toward the new that are contained in the texts.”
In other words, they both understand Vatican II as something fundamentally “new” in the life of the Church insofar as it represents a “constituent that eliminates an old constitution and creates a new one”. In this sense, rupture theologians essentially view Vatican II as a new starting point for the Church where there is a substantial divide between the pre-council and post-council Church.
The Papal Magisterium
It has become commonplace in recent years to hear the voices of representatives of rupture theology dissenting from various acts of the Magisterium. Theologians of this persuasion will often attempt to justify a position of dissent on the pretext that Papal infallibility had not been expressly invoked. Progressives, for example, call into question authoritative (even definitive) teachings of the magisterium on contraception, the male priesthood, the sacrificial nature of the Mass, etc. Reactionaries, on the other hand, call into question the orthodoxy of some of the constitutions and decrees promulgated at Vatican II. In some cases, rupture theology will go as far as to accuse the Papal Magisterium of teaching doctrinal error against the faith or divinely revealed truth.
"...in the Apostolic See the Catholic religion has always been kept undefiled, and her well known doctrine has been kept holy...knowing full well that this See of Saint Peter remains ever free from all blemish of errors, according to the divine promise of the Lord Our Saviour..."
This teaching has been continually affirmed by the Popes. Pope Pius XI, for example, reminds us of the “perfect and perpetual immunity of the Church from error and heresy.” A few years later Pope Pius XII would affirm that the Church is “spotless in the Sacraments” and also “in the faith which she has always preserved inviolate…”
Some may ask whether the Second Vatican Council, by virtue of its "pastoral" character, can be considered an exception to the rule as if the divine assistance could somehow be suspended for a period of time and the Magisterium of the Popes could now suddenly defect from faith and morals. Pope Paul VI explicitly rejected such a notion:
“Nothing that was decreed in this Council, or in the reforms that We enacted in order to put the Council into effect, is opposed to what the two-thousand-year-old Tradition of the Church considers as fundamental and immutable. We are the guarantor of this, not in virtue of Our personal qualities but in virtue of the charge which the Lord has conferred upon Us as legitimate Successor of Peter, and in virtue of the special assistance that He has promised to Us as well as to Peter: ‘I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail’ (Lk 22:32).”
Degrees of Authority
Rupture theologians, however, are quick to point out that there are various levels of magisterial authority and not all magisterial teaching can be considered infallible insofar as they lack a definitive and irreformable character. Indeed, the concluding formula of the professio fidei of 1989 identifies three general categories or degrees of Catholic doctrine. The first degree concerns those truths of faith that are divinely revealed and involve the great dogmas of the faith (e.g., Creed, Christological and Marian dogmas, sacrificial nature of Mass, Papal Primacy & Infallibility, etc.). The second degree of doctrine concerns those definitive teachings that are connected to divine revelation by “logical or historical necessity” (e.g., moral teachings concerning abortion, contraception, euthanasia; the all male priesthood; the invalidity of Anglican Orders, etc). These first two degrees, therefore, concern truths that must be held as infallible. The third degree of doctrine concerns those authentic and non-definitive teachings that lead to a better understanding of faith and morals. This broad third category itself contains various levels of authority depending upon the extent that the teaching is of a general or particular nature as well as its frequency and “tenor of expression”.
The Prudential Order
Prudence is the habit of intellectual discernment regarding what should be done or left undone. The prudential order, therefore, involves practical reason or the application of reason to action. While speculative reason deals with universals and principles of a general order, practical reason, on the other hand, deals with the particular order or the application of general principles to individual cases. How do we identify magisterial acts that involve aspects belonging to the prudential order? Cardinal Journet provides a general description as follows:
“Thus then, God has not left us without guidance in the immense accumulation of ideas bearing on the speculative life, on private, economic and political morality, on artistic activity, in the spheres into which the full light of revelation has not yet descended and in which nevertheless convictions are formed, syntheses elaborated and decisive choices taken which may either open or obstruct the road to the fullness of the faith. He helps us through His Church to whom He entrusts a new mission, no longer that of irrevocably defining the data of the faith, but that of prudentially marking the truths which point towards the things of faith or the errors that turn men away from it, that of ratifying or rejecting certain suggestions of the theologians and the philosophers and certain beliefs of popular piety. In this sphere the Church acts no longer in virtue of her declaratory power, as a simple messenger or mandatory for utterances of divine origin. She acts now in virtue of her canonical power, as promulgator of what can fittingly be taught and believed if the minds of the faithful are to be kept from the dangers that threaten their faith.”
We can think here of various teachings that form part of the social doctrine of the Church. The social teachings will often involve prudential aspects where the weight of a given teaching may vary to the extent that it teaches principles of a general order or whether it addresses matters that relate to the particular order (i.e., the prudential application of general principles to particular circumstances). Doctrines of a general order will carry more weight and demand a higher degree of assent to the extent that it is “independent from contingent and variable elements”. In the area of liturgical discipline there are also many pastoral decisions that involve prudential judgement. We can consider here, for example, questions regarding liturgical orientation, the manner of distributing Holy Communion or the use of female altar servers. Many of these questions involve prudential judgement including the possibility of errors that lead to unintended results or harmful effects related to the spiritual life and the salvation of souls. Other examples involving the prudential order could include the practical guidelines for initiatives such as ecumenism or interreligious dialogue. The prudential judgement in such cases involves weighing the desired good effects against unintended yet possible harmful effects (e.g., scandal, indifferentism, etc.). Yet even such examples of pastoral and prudential error should not be confused with the teaching of heresy or defection from faith or morals, per se.
Therefore, some magisterial acts while resting on immutable principles or linked to infallible truths of faith yet commingled with certain “contingent” or “conjectural” elements may be subject to review and are “reformable” in light of changed circumstances or even subsequent correction on account of new research or some other prudential error. The CDF explains as follows:
“Finally, in order to serve the People of God as well as possible, in particular, by warning them of dangerous opinions which could lead to error, the Magisterium can intervene in questions under discussion which involve, in addition to solid principles, certain contingent and conjectural elements. It often only becomes possible with the passage of time to distinguish between what is necessary and what is contingent...When it comes to the question of interventions in the prudential order, it could happen that some Magisterial documents might not be free from all deficiencies. Bishops and their advisors have not always taken into immediate consideration every aspect or the entire complexity of a question.”
Therefore, it is important to distinguish these various aspects when considering Vatican II and its subsequent reforms. While we should never entertain the thought that the Magisterium, as such, has taught heresy, it is possible to consider deficiencies within doctrines of the third degree that involve matters related to the prudential order. The CDF instruction continues: “…some judgments of the Magisterium could be justified at the time in which they were made, because while the pronouncements contained true assertions and others which were not sure, both types were inextricably connected. Only time has permitted discernment and, after deeper study, the attainment of true doctrinal progress.”
“It is precisely in this combination of continuity and discontinuity at different levels that the very nature of true reform consists. In this process of innovation in continuity we must learn to understand more practically than before that the Church's decisions on contingent matters…should necessarily be contingent themselves, precisely because they refer to a specific reality that is changeable in itself. It was necessary to learn to recognize that in these decisions it is only the principles that express the permanent aspect, since they remain as an undercurrent, motivating decisions from within. On the other hand, not so permanent are the practical forms that depend on the historical situation and are therefore subject to change…Basic decisions, therefore,continue to be well-grounded, whereas the way they are applied to new contexts can change.”
Tradition and Doctrinal Development
Characteristics that divide “progressive” and “reactionary” rupture theologians can also be noted in their understanding and approach to sacred Tradition and the development of doctrine. The former tendency seeks “progress” by creating artificial novelties that more or less deliberately and explicitly reject the past (i.e., sacred Tradition and doctrinal development admit substantial change according to this view). In this sense, progressive rupture theologians “need to be reminded that Vatican II embraces the entire doctrinal history of the Church. Anyone who wishes to be obedient to the Council has to accept the faith professed over the centuries…”
In order to avoid the pitfalls of the theology of rupture one must retain simultaneously the Catholic doctrine on both Papal Infallibility and Indefectibility that rests on Peter’s unfailing faith. In addition, one must strive to maintain a “hermeneutic of continuity” where magisterial documents are understood within the full context of sacred Tradition and according to the mind of the Church guided by the living magisterium. In some cases one may find apparent discontinuities that are reconciled only by giving due consideration to contingent aspect as well as those aspects that relate to the prudential order. Some of the Vatican II documents, such as Dignitatis Humanae on Religious Freedom, for example, require a careful consideration of contingent and historical aspects. These resulted, for example, in some immutable principles being especially highlighted or newly applied in light of modern history and circumstances. Other Vatican II documents have either a pastoral goal or attempt to position the Church anew in her relations with society and other religions based on considerations of the requirements of circumstances in the modern era. While resting on immutable principles that remain sound, many aspects relate to the contingent and practical prudential orders. In this respect, and certainly without taking extremely rigid or “one-sided positions”, Catholics in good standing ought to be free to discuss in charity the prudential aspects of a question and the degree to which certain reforms, pastoral initiatives and disciplinary practices remain capable of meeting their stated goals for the good of the Church and the salvation of souls. This involves staying far away from rupture theology or the “hermeneutic of discontinuity” and pursuing a “hermeneutic of reform” in various areas that are in real need of reform.
 Cf. Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the Roman Curia, December 22, 2005
 It is not uncommon to hear even in some traditionalist circles, for example, the claim that Vatican II contained “doctrinal errors” that signify a break or rupture from the Faith and sacred Tradition. It is also important to recognize that not all traditionalists follow the “hermeneutic of rupture”. For example, Bishop Bernard Fellay (SSPX) had expressly distanced himself from the hermeneutic of rupture while expressing his will to accept Vatican II in the light of Tradition (Cf. Fellay, Press Release of March 12, 2009, DICI): “Far from wanting to stop Tradition in 1962, we wish to consider the Second Vatican Council and post-conciliar teaching in the light of this Tradition which St. Vincent of Lérins defined as ‘what has been believed at all times, everywhere and by all’ (Commonitorium), without rupture and in a perfectly homogenous development. Thus we will be able to contribute efficaciously to the evangelization requested by the Savior (see Matthew 28; 19-20)."
 Cf. DZ, #730
 Cf. First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ, July 18, 1870. In his official Relatio of July 11, 1870 on chapter four of the Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus Bishop Gasser stated the following: “This prerogative granted to St. Peter by the Lord Jesus Christ was supposed to pass to all Peter’s successors because the chair of Peter is the center of unity in the Church. But if the Pontiff should fall into error of faith, the Church would dissolve, deprived of the bond of unity. The bishop of Meaux speaks very well on this point, saying: ‘If this Roman See could fall and be no longer the See of truth but of error and pestilence, then the Catholic Church herself would not have the bond of a society and would be schismatic and scattered – which in fact is impossible.’” (Cf. Gasser, The Gift of Infallibility, Ignatius, 2008, pp. 24-25)
Indeed, the Catechism of the Council of Trent taught as follows: "That all, therefore, may know the true Catholic Church, the Fathers, guided by the Spirit of God, added to the Creed the word "APOSTOLIC;" for the Holy Ghost, who presides over the Church, governs her by no other than Apostolic men; and this Spirit, first imparted to the Apostles, has, by the infinite goodness of God, always continued in the Church. But as this one Church, because governed by the Holy Ghost, cannot err in faith or morals, it necessarily follows, that all other societies arrogating to themselves the name of Church, because guided by the spirit of darkness, are sunk in the most pernicious errors both doctrinal and moral." (Cf. Catechism of the Council of Trent, p. 102)
Cardinal Manning affirms that it is the "perpetual divine assistance, derived from the perpetual presence of the Spirit of Truth in the Church, which sustains the Faith of the See and of the successor of Peter, stable, indefectible, and infallible; that is, in one word, 'Yesterday, and today, and the same forever.' (Manning, The Oecumenical Council and the Infallibility of the Roman Pontiff, 1869, p. 150)
 Cf. Quas Primas, #22; See also Pope Gregory XVI (Mirari Vos, 9-10, 1832): "Furthermore, the discipline sanctioned by the Church must never be rejected or be branded as contrary to certain principles of natural law. It must never be called crippled, or imperfect or subject to civil authority. In this discipline the administration of sacred rites, standards of morality, and the reckoning of the rights of the Church and her ministers are embraced. To use the words of the fathers of Trent, it is certain that the Church "was instructed by Jesus Christ and His Apostles and that all truth was daily taught it by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit." Therefore, it is obviously absurd and injurious to propose a certain "restoration and regeneration" for her as though necessary for her safety and growth, as if she could be considered subject to defect or obscuration or other misfortune."
 Cf. Mystici Corporis, #66; In the same encyclical (n. 31), Pope Pius XII teaches as follows: "For both the juridical mission of the Church, and the power to teach, govern and administer the Sacraments, derive their supernatural efficacy and force for the building up of the Body of Christ from the fact that Jesus Christ, hanging on the Cross, opened up to His Church the fountain of those divine gifts, which prevent her from ever teaching false doctrine and enable her to rule them for the salvation of their souls through divinely enlightened pastors and to bestow on them an abundance of heavenly graces."
 Cf. Pope Paul VI, Letter to Archbishop Lefebvre, October 11, 1976; taken from Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre, Davies, Angelus Press, 1979, vol. I, p. 322
 The three degrees of doctrine outlined in the 1989 profession of faith are as follows: “ With firm faith I believe as well everything (ea omnia) contained in God's word, written or handed down in Tradition and proposed by the church--whether by way of solemn judgment or in the ordinary and universal Magisterium--as divinely revealed and calling for faith (tamquan divinitus revelata credenda).  I also firmly accept and hold each and every thing (omnia et singula) that is proposed by that same Church definitively (definitive) with regard to teaching concerning faith or morals.  Moreover, I adhere (adhaereo) with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings which either the Roman pontiff or the college of bishops enunciate when they exercise the authentic Magisterium even if they proclaim those teachings in an act that is not definitive” (Text taken from “Magisterium”, Avery Cardinal Dulles, Sapientia, 2007, p. 136).
 To each of the three levels of magisterial teaching corresponds a required level of assent. The highest degree of teaching requires the assent of “divine and Catholic Faith” (credenda). The second degree of teaching requires the assent of “ecclesiastical faith” (tenenda). The third degree of teaching requires “religious submission of will and intellect” (obsequium religiousum). (Dulles, op. cit., pp. 163-173)
 In this sense, magisterial teachings that define matters of faith and morals, per se, are necessarily “definitive” and irreformable in themselves and such teachings are protected from all types of error insofar as their definitive character necessarily abstracts from the practical prudential and contingent orders.
 Cf. Summa Theologica, ii-ii, q. 47, art. 1-3
 Cf. Journet, The Church of the Word Incarnate, Sheed and Ward, 1955, p. 351
 Cf. Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, #80
 Certain “gestures” toward non-Catholics could also be considered here. For example, Pope John Paul II reportedly kissed a Koran upon receiving it as a gift. Regardless of good intentions, such gestures involve the risk of misinterpretation and scandal among the faithful.
 The 1917 code, for example, reformed the teaching and practice concerning the payment of interest in connection with usury (C. 1543). Contingent aspects and changed circumstances required reform precisely in order to preserve the foundational immutable principles (Cf. Fr. Heinrich Pesch, Lehrbuch der Nationalokonomie, Edwin Mellen Press, Vol. 5-b, pp. 196-197).
 The Galileo case is often referenced as an example of a judgement involving both doctrinal and prudential errors. Journet notes, however, that the decree was “issued in revocable matter, and by a fallible authority.” According to Journet, the decree could not lay claim to an infallible prudential assistance since it was issued by a Roman Congregation in forma communi rather than forma specifica and therefore the canonical and prudential power was not fully engaged. It can also be argued that the censure against Galileo (suspect of heresy) was prudent at the time given the circumstances and the common understanding of science and scripture at the time. (Cf. Cardinal Journet, The Church of the Word Incarnate, Sheed & Ward, 1954, pp. 354-358)
 Cf. Donum Veritatis, 24. While noting the possibility of prudential error in rare and isolated cases, the CDF instruction asserts the following: “…it would be contrary to the truth, if, proceeding from some particular cases, one were to conclude that the Church's Magisterium can be habitually mistaken in its prudential judgments, or that it does not enjoy divine assistance in the integral exercise of its mission.” Therefore, the CDF instruction affirms: “The willingness to submit loyally to the teaching of the Magisterium on matters per se not irreformable must be the rule.”
 I am referring again here to doctrines of the third degree as outlined in the 1989 profession of faith (the third paragraph of the concluding formula). The official CDF commentary to the Professio Fidei highlights a particular distinction within doctrines of the third degree insofar as they relate to the prudential order and noting also the corresponding censures: “A proposition contrary to these doctrines can be qualified as erroneous or, in the case of teachings of the prudential order, as rash or dangerous and therefore ‘tuto doceri non potest’.” (Cf. AAS 90 (1998) 542-551, CDF doctrinal note on the concluding formula of the Professio Fidei, June, 29, 1998; Text taken from Dulles, op. cit., p. 169)
 Cf. Donum Veritatis, 24
 Cf. Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the Roman Curia, December 22, 2005
 Dissent against a particular level of doctrine carries a corresponding canonical censure. For example, dissent against the highest level of teaching (first degree) carries the canonical censure of “heresy”. Dissent against the second degree of doctrine is designated as “contrary to Catholic doctrine”. Dissent against doctrines of the third degree can carry the canonical censure of “erroneous”, however, those doctrines involving prudential aspects instead may carry the censures of “rash” or “dangerous”. (Dulles, op. cit., p. 169)
 Cf. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, TAN, 1974, p. 10
 Cf. Donum Veritatis, 38
 In the Biography of Archbishop Lefebvre, Bishop Tissier de Mallerais relates the following: “Once a schema was promulgated by the Pope, it was no longer a schema but changed in nature to become an act of the Magisterium. Archbishop Lefebvre himself underlined the weight of papal approval in his talk on September 15, 1976, when he admitted having signed lots of Council texts ‘under moral pressure from the Holy Father,’ because, as he said, ‘I cannot separate myself from the Holy Father: if the Holy Father signs, morally I am obliged to sign.’” (Cf. Marcel Lefebvre, Angelus Press, 2004, p. 312)
 Cf. Pope Benedict XVI, Letter to the Bishops of the World, March 10, 2009
 Again, this “reactionary” view of Tradition is not intended to apply to all varieties of traditionalists or to any particular congregation or community. It is true that this distorted view of Tradition has sometimes been attributed to Archbishop Lefebvre by the Popes (Cf. Pope Paul VI, Letter to Archbishop Lefebvre, October 11, 1976; taken from Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre, Davies, Angelus Press, 1979, vol. I, pp. 320-321; Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia Dei Afflicta, 1988; Pope Benedict XVI, Letter to Bishops, March 10, 2009), however, it must also be noted that Bishop Fellay (SSPX) has clarified his intention to view Vatican II in the light of Tradition and “without rupture and in a perfectly homogenous development.” (Cf. Fellay, Press Release of March 12, 2009, DICI)
 Cardinal Journet puts it as follows: “The handing on of the deposit involves its explanation. For there are two kinds of deposits, lifeless deposits, such as a gold ingot, which is kept just as it is, and living deposits, such as a plant, or a child, which are preserved by being allowed to grow. The evangelical deposit is of this kind” (Cf. Journet, What is Dogma?, Hawthorn, 1964, p. 53). Congar develops other aspects of the question as follows: “The conservative reflex is also shared at times by the most careful and best-informed men in history. Dedicated to the study of documents, they are apt to refuse to recognize the existence of definite ideas, albeit subconscious and unexpressed, beyond the explicit statement of a document. Since the advent of the historical and documentary sciences, that is, since the sixteenth century, there have been periodic protests against innovation, protests made in the name of textual authority, and against “living tradition”, in the name of the monuments of tradition. It is no coincidence that the expression “living tradition” was first used during the Jansenist debate. The Jansenists were followers of the sacred Text, men of the past and of the literal words of St. Augustine, who, according to them, condemned the practice of the time. Their conception of tradition was documentary, historical and static.” (Cf. Congar, The Meaning of Tradition, Ignatius, 2004, p. 118)
 Cf. Pope Benedict XVI, Letter to the Bishops of the World, March 10, 2009
 See, for example, “Religious Freedom and the Catholic Church” by Bishop Ketteler of Mainz (1862) available from The Remnant online: http://remnantnewspaper.com/Archives/2008-1115-religious_freedom_and_the_cathol.htm
 Cf. Pope Benedict XVI, Letter to the Bishops of the World, March 10, 2009