A collection of personal reflections. Copyright © 2005-2011 K. Gurries

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Msgr. Gherardini on Vatican II, Continuity and Rupture

The Ecumenical Vatican Council II: A Much Needed Discussion1 by Msgr. Brunero Gherardini offers many insights into Vatican II and the post-conciliar era.  Specifically, Msgr. Gherardini attempts to analyze key aspects of the Council in order to investigate whether there is substantial continuity or rupture from the previous magisterium.  Those looking for definitive and clear-cut answers may be somewhat disappointed in the book as the author does not pretend to provide any solid conclusions to the questions he raises.  While the author investigates various themes of the Council and offers his reasoning and opinions – he ultimately defers to the Holy Father by making a humble appeal to settle the question in a definitive manner.2  Throughout the work there is a consistent message in favor of a theological hermeneutic of continuity and against a theology of rupture.  In some places, however, one can detect the opening to the possibility of some type of discontinuity or rupture.  Consequently, this work is likely to be selectively used by advocates of each of the two opposing sides – depending upon their own particular “hermeneutic” – as further “proof” of their own position.  Indeed, the author seems to presuppose the necessity of continuity -- while at the same time leaving the door open to the possibility of of some type of rupture.


Continuity or Rupture?
The author’s preface seems to presuppose continuity (ruling out any discontinuity in essentials) with any authentic Ecumenical Council -- including Vatican II.  

A Christian, and even more so a priest, and more still a theologian, cannot consider an Ecumenical Council by the same standard as any other historical event.  A Council, in fact, is removed from overlapping and interlacing with the social-political events and transcends them all by virtue of its remote origin and its supernatural life-breath: the Holy Spirit promotes it and guides it.

At the same time, there always remains the risk that some will abuse their free-will and resist the Holy Spirit.  

This does not mean that the Holy Spirit may not encounter formal or material resistance from the free-willed men who give life to the conciliar event.  It is from this possibility that there arises the great risk which casts itself upon the background of the Council – this holds for every Council as such – namely, the possibility that it may even fail in some way.

If an “Ecumenical Council” should deviate from Faith and Morals then it cannot be an authentic Ecumenical Council at all.    

Someone has even gone further and has asked if an Ecumenical Council can fall into error in Faith and Morals.  The opinions are at variance, but only the possibility of perverse human freedom prevailing against the action of the Holy Spirit should univocally be agreed upon.  It is my opinion that this might be able to be verified, but in the very moment it is verified, the Ecumenical Council ceases to be such.

Error in Faith and Morals is formally excluded as a possibility in an authentic Ecumenical Council.  At the same time, however, this essential protection from defecting in faith and morals does not eliminate every possible risk.

At any rate, even if error in matters of Faith and Morals must be formally excluded as a possibility in an authentic Council, no one on principle can exclude the possibility of some formulations which are less than pleasing and even not completely in line with those of venerable ecclesiastical Tradition.  This is verified when new roads are attempted, enchanted by the siren of novelty and progress. (pp. 28-29)

All of this corresponds very well to the sentiments of Bishop Mario Oliveri expressed in his letter to the author.  First, the notion of discontinuity or rupture in the life of the Church is flatly rejected.

Your publication clearly demonstrates that there cannot be other than continuity in the Church – and this clarity of thought is customary for you by virtue of your intellectual acumen and likewise your very extensive experience as a Teacher.  The  mere thought that there could be “revolution, radical change, substantial mutation” on the level of truth and the supernatural life of the Church already deviates from sound theological reasoning because, as noted earlier, it deviates as well from sound philosophical reasoning.  It not only disturbs the faith, but reason as well.

At the same time, we must distinguish between substance and accidents.  There can be no question of substantial rupture – even if there can be discontinuity in accidentals.

The discussion is necessarily about continuity in substantialibus, and not in accidentalius; it is about continuity with all that which in sua material the Church has always believed, professed, taught, and lived in its true reality through the centuries…Your treatise, dear Professor, enables one to engage in a profound analysis of Vatican II and its teaching, as formulated in its Documents, in such a manner as to lead one to understand that even in those places where the language could lead one to think of a discontinuity with the theological content that is found in “the entire doctrinal heritage of the Church,” even there the content can only be said to be nove, and not nova.  And therefore a language of discontinuity in no way can alter the “doctrinal heritage of the Church,” but rather such language must be interpreted in a manner that one cannot say nova with respect to the Church’s Tradition.

And yet the Bishop (in agreement with the author) seems to leave an opening to the possibility of real or substantial rupture, however, the expression of things “nova” with respect to sacred Tradition can only derive from sources considered less than authentic and ultimately non-magisterial.

However, given the nature of the Council and the diversity in the nature of its Documents, I think one might be able to hold that if it were to emerge from a Catholic, theological hermeneutic that some passages, or some statements or assertions of the Council, not only say things which are nove, but also say things which are nova with respect to the perennial Tradition of the Church, one would not be presented with a homogenous development of the Magisterium: in such a case there would be a teaching which is not unchangeable, and certainly not infallible…(pp. 8-12)

The author seems to consider the possibility of error in Faith and Morals only in so far as the expression is less than an authentic act of the Magisterium.  But was Vatican II, in spite of its merely "pastoral" character, a true Ecumenical Council and an authentic act of the Magisterium?  Msgr. Gherardini gives an affirmative reply. 

Above all, it must be said – and in a clear and resounding way – that the Council was not a secret meeting like those which had already occasionally taken place, but which lacked form and especially substance; rather, this was a true and proper Ecumenical Council, with all of the approval of authenticity and conciliar validity. (p. 39)3
In the final analysis, and notwithstanding all of the critical analysis that can be applied to any Ecumenical Council (including Vatican II), there can be no question of a substantial rupture with sacred Tradition.4  In fact, Msgr. Gherardini goes so far as to say that "anyone who insists on proposing this [hermeneutic of rupture] in good faith would be, even without being aware of it, materially placing himself outside of the Church.  This was and continues to be the very attitude not only of the sedevacantists, and other opponents of the Council, but even the large number of the Council's enthusiasts for whom the celebration of Vatican II seemed to have deleted even the memory of the other Councils" (pp. 100-101).  The author clearly rejects the possibility of "rupture", however, neither does he embrace the "hermeneutic of continuity" as proposed by Pope Benedict XVI.5  One is left wondering what other viable option remains.    


1 English translation by the Fransiscans of the Immaculate (Casa Mariana Editrice, Italy).

2 Not satisfied with the December 2005 Address to the Roman Curia on the "herneneutic of continuity" (cf. AAS 98, 2006, 44-45), Msgr. Gherardini appeals for an "authoritative" declaration by the Holy Father (presumably in a form considered more "authoritative" than the 2005 Papal Address as well as the conciliar documents themselves) - "not with declamation, but demonstration..." (p. 297)  The author proposes the formation of special congresses and publications to undertake the necessary "scientific analysis" of the Council: "In this way it will be possible to know if, in what sense, and up to what point Vatican II, and especially the post-conciliar era, might be able to be interpreted along the lines of an indisputable, albeit developing, continuity, or to know if there may be elements foreign to or even hindering this continuity." (p. 300) 

3 These considerations suggest the following syllogism where the conclusion follows from two undisputed premises - each affirmed by the author:
Major Premise: All authentic Ecumenical Councils enjoy divine assistance and protection from error in Faith and morals.
Minor Premise: The Second Vatican Council was an authentic Ecumenical Council.
Conclusion: The Second Vatican Council enjoyed divine assistance and protection from error in Faith and morals. 

4 Indeed, this theme is repeated throughout the work.  For example, in one place Msgr. Gherardini makes the customary affirmation: "A Council, as I have repeatedly pointed out, is the undeniable guarantee of true Catholic doctrine, the supreme pinnacle of the authentic and solemn Magisterium of the Church."  This affirmation, however, is typically followed by pointing out some particular deficiency or apparent discontinuity: "...Yet, in DH we are given the impression that the ecclesiastical Magisterium has reduced itself to the level of an ethical State, a State which does not hesitate to make itself the foundation of morality over and above even the natural law." (p. 213) 

5 Indeed, Pope Benedict XVI noted that true reform involves both continuity and discontinuity -- but at different levels (i.e., by properly distinguishing the immutable from the contingent).


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