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

Thursday, December 08, 2011

On Adhesion to the Second Vatican Council

As the drama in the dialogue between Rome and the SSPX continues to unfold, a very relevant essay on the nature of adhesion to the Magisterium of the Second Vatican Council was published in the December 2, 2011 edition of L'Osservatore Romano penned by Msgr. Fernando Ocáriz.



This essay addresses several important aspects concerning the nature and levels of assent owed to the Magisterium in general and the various teachings of the Second Vatican Council in particular.  Some of the key points raised in the essay are among the following:


1. The pastoral motivation behind the Second Vatican Council does not imply that it was void of doctrinal content.  


2. The fact that the Second Vatican Council did not solemnly define dogmas explicitly invoking the charism of infallibility does not imply that its doctrinal "teaching is therefore to be considered "fallible" - in the sense that what is proposed is somehow a “provisional doctrine” or just an “authoritative opinion”. Every authentic expression of the Magisterium must be received for what it truly is: a teaching given by Pastors who, in the apostolic succession, speak with the “charism of truth” (Dei Verbum, n. 8), “endowed with the authority of Christ” (Lumen Gentium, n. 25), “and by the light of the Holy Spirit” (ibid.).


3. "Those affirmations of the Second Vatican Council that recall truths of the faith naturally require the assent of theological faith, not because they were taught by this Council but because they have already been taught infallibly as such by the Church, either by a solemn judgement or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium. So also a full and definitive assent is required for the other doctrines set forth by the Second Vatican Council which have already been proposed by a previous definitive act of the Magisterium." 


4. "The Council’s other doctrinal teachings require of the faithful a degree of assent called 'religious submission of will and intellect'.   Precisely because it is “religious” assent, such assent is not based purely on rational motives.  This kind of adherence does not take the form of an act of faith.  Rather, it is an act of obedience that is not merely disciplinary, but is well-rooted in our confidence in the divine assistance given to the Magisterium, and therefore 'within the logic of faith and under the impulse of obedience to the faith'" (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction Donum Veritatis, 24 May 1990, n. 23).


5. If the Magisterium has the "charism of truth" when it proposes Catholic doctrine - it does not not imply that every utterance or passage is doctrinal and requiring the assent of the faithful.  The non-doctrinal elements included in Magisterial texts are contingent and ultimately fallible.  "Documents of the Magisterium may contain elements that are not exactly doctrinal — as is the case in the documents of the Second Vatican Council — elements whose nature is more or less circumstantial (descriptions of the state of a society, suggestions, exhortations, etc.). Such matters are received with respect and gratitude, but do not require an intellectual assent in the strictest sense (cf. Instruction Donum Veritatis, nn. 24-31)". 


6.  Where there exist "difficulties in understanding the continuity of certain Conciliar Teachings with the tradition, the Catholic attitude, having taken into account the unity of the Magisterium, is to seek a unitive interpretation in which the texts of the Second Vatican Council and the preceding Magisterial documents illuminate each other. Not only should the Second Vatican Council be interpreted in the light of previous Magisterial documents, but also some of these earlier magisterial documents can be understood better in the light of the Second Vatican Council."


7. The Second Vatican Council proposed some innovative doctrines.  "These are innovations in the sense that they explain new aspects which have not previously been formulated by the Magisterium, but which do not doctrinally contradict previous Magisterial documents. This is so even though, in certain cases — for example, concerning religious freedom — these innovations imply very different consequences at the level of historical decisions concerning juridical and political applications of the teaching, especially given the changes in historical and social conditions."  


8. "An authentic interpretation of Conciliar texts can only be made by the Magisterium of the Church herself."


9. "Nevertheless, there remains space for legitimate theological freedom to explain in one way or in another how certain formulations present in the Conciliar texts do not contradict the Tradition and, therefore, to explain the correct meaning of some expressions contained in those passages."


10. "An assessment of the teaching of these Popes and the corresponding assent of the Episcopate to that teaching should transform a possible situation of difficulty into a serene and joyful acceptance of the Magisterium, the authentic interpreter of the doctrine of the faith. This must be possible and is to be hoped for, even if aspects that are not entirely understood remain. In any case, there remains legitimate room for theological freedom and for further opportune in-depth study.



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