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

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Giovanni Cavalcoli: The Infallibility Of Vatican II

The ongoing debates between various theological experts (hosted by Sandro Magister) has produced a number of interesting exchanges and clarifications. For example, in one postcript, Fr. Giovanni Cavolcoli clarifies his position relative to the doctrinal authority of Vatican II.

All agree that there are three basic "degrees" of Catholic teaching.  The first and second degrees are infallible and definitive.  The third degree, however, while demanding religious assent is nevertheless reformable.  At the same time, however, it would be false to assume that this "reformability" implies the possibility of a contradiction between the various levels or degrees of doctrine.  So we are left with something of a parodox: if third degree doctrines can't contradict doctrines of the first and second degree then in what sense can these be fallible?  Fr. Cavalcoli resolves the problem by distinguishing between (a) the dogmatic order and (b) practical-pastoral directives.  The supreme magisterium can never defect with respect to the former (a) -- even if it is subject to err at times in the later (b).  The reason is that doctrines of the third degree can treat dogmatic elements that are proposed in a manner that is nevertheless comingled with non-dogmatic and contingent aspects:

"The third degree also admits the fallibility of opinions and doctrines of a pastoral, moral or legal character." (Adapted from Google Translation)

Therefore, the hermeneutic of reform in continuity presupposes that the development of newer points of doctrine (third degree doctrines) must be perfectly compatible and analogically homogeneous with previously declared doctrines of the first and second degrees.  At the same time, however, third degree doctrines are not irreformable and "definitive" insofar as they contain contingent aspects related to the pastoral-prudential order.  The proper understanding of these distinctions is the key to the hermeneutic of reform in continuity and protects us from the dangers of rupture theology.


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