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

Friday, February 03, 2012

A Tale of Two Syllogisms

What has become more and more evident by following the ongoing dialogue between the SSPX and representatives of the Holy See is two contrasting syllogisms with respect to the nature of the Magisterium and its exercise during and after Vatican II.  It is significant to note that both parties are in agreement concerning the "incontestable principles" of the major premise.

MAJOR PREMISE: The teaching authority or Magisterium of the Church enjoys the "certain charism of truth" in matters of faith.  All authentic acts of the Magisterium enjoy the divine assistance necessary for the indefectible transmission of the Faith.  The doctrine proposed by the authentic Magisterium is binding on the faithful to the degree that it demands our assent. 

MINOR PREMISE:  The documents of Vatican II promulgated by the Pope are authentic acts of the Magisterium.

CONCLUSION: The teachings of the Second Vatican Council demand an appropriate level of assent by the faithful and are guaranteed to be free from doctrinal errors against the faith.   

SSPX OBJECTION 1: : But the council introduced novel doctrines that contradict the former Magisterium and Tradition.  
SSPX OBJECTION 2: Furthermore, the council was merely "pastoral" in nature and therefore it did not have the intention to bind or demand the assent of the faithful.

ROMAN RESPONSE 1: 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." (Msgr. Ocariz)   
ROMAN RESPONSE 2: "...the pastoral motivation of the Council does not mean that it was not doctrinal – since all pastoral activity is necessarily based on doctrine. But, above all, it is important to emphasise that precisely because doctrine is aimed at salvation, the teaching of doctrine is an integral part of all pastoral work. Furthermore, within the Documents of the Council it is obvious that there are many strictly doctrinal teachings: on Divine Revelation, on the Church, etc." 

MAJOR PREMISE: The teaching authority or Magisterium of the Church enjoys the "certain charism of truth" in matters of faith.  All authentic acts of the Magisterium enjoy the divine assistance necessary for the indefectible transmission of the Faith.  The doctrine proposed by the authentic Magisterium is binding on the faithful to the degree that it demands our assent.

MINOR PREMISE:  It is evident that the documents of Vatican II (a merely "pastoral council") contain doctrinal errors against the faith.

CONCLUSION: The erroneous teachings of the Second Vatican Council are the fruit of a merely "pastoral magisterium" and not legitimate or authentic acts of the Magisterium, properly speaking, demanding the assent of the faithful.

ROMAN OBJECTION: No, you must obey the legitimate authority and give due assent to the doctrine proposed by the Magisterium, otherwise you contradict the "incontestable principles" that you have affirmed in the "major premise" and effectively become protestant. 

SSPX RESPONSE: "...the exercise of the magisterium is the employment of a function: even if most of the time this usage is correct, it always remains possible that the titular of a function may exercise the act defectively, which amounts to failing to accomplish the act...It thus appears that this magisterium was marked by a grave deficiency in its very act...when a council produces bad teaching, it is not the work of the magisterium; in fact, it is contrary to the magisterium, that is to say, against Tradition." (SSPX)

Indeed, these disparate points of view are nothing new.  The same basic lines of argumentation go back to the 70's as expressed in a letter from Pope Paul VI to Marcel Lefebvre:

“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)...

Again, you cannot appeal to the distinction between what is dogmatic and what is pastoral, to accept certain texts of this Council and to refuse others.  Indeed, not everything in the Council requires an assent of the same nature: only what is affirmed by the definitive acts as and object of faith requires an assent of faith.  But the rest also forms part of the solemn Magisterium of the Church, to which each member of the faithful owes a confident acceptance and a sincere application.
You say moreover that you do not always see how to reconcile certain texts of the Council, or certain dispositions which We have enacted in order to put the Council into practice, with the wholesome Tradition of the Church...Absolutely secure counsellors, theologians, and spiritual directors would be able to help you...and We are ready to facilitate this fraternal assistance for you.” (Pope Paul VI, Letter to Archbishop Lefebvre, October 11, 1976; taken from Apologia Pro Marcel Lefebvre, Davies, Angelus Press, 1979, vol. I, p. 322)

Indeed, in his letter, Pope Paul VI firmly rebukes Marcel Lefebvre for characterizing Rome as "Neo-Modernist" and "Neo-Protestant" and calling the Archbishop's behavior "contradictory" by attempting to defend the authority of the Magisterium by opposing the Pope and the Council.  The Holy Father had indicated that the root of the "problem is theological" insofar as the Archbishop adheres to an "ecclesiology that is warped in essential points" as well as a "distorted" concept of Tradition.  From the perspective of the Holy See, these are precisely the "theological" and "doctrinal" points that must be overcome.  From the perspective of the SSPX, however, the problem lies with Rome and its "defective" and "contradictory" teachings issued from the council.

Q. Can the Church err in what she proposes for our belief?  
A. No, the Church cannot err in what she proposes for our belief, since according to the promise of Jesus Christ she is unfailingly assisted by the Holy Ghost.


Anonymous Craig said...

Thank you. Finally, a straightforward synopsis of the primary issues.

I've heard/read bits and pieces that confirm what is written, but this brings the entire situation into better view.

Sadly, I believe the position of SSPX is untenable.

February 05, 2012 6:34 AM  
Blogger Ben Trovato said...

Thanks you, Keith.

A very interesting analysis. I have a lot of sympathy for the SSPX and the late Archbishop Lefebvre.

I have rather less sympathy with much that has been done in and to the Church in the name of the Council.

Nonetheless, I believe Archbishop Lefebvre was wrong to proceed with the ordinations and thus incur excommunication; and that the Society is wrong now; and for much the same reason: Ubi Petrus, ibi ecclesia.

February 12, 2012 4:16 AM  
Blogger K Gurries said...

Thanks very much. The main objective of this post is to summarize the opposing arguments that are central to the "doctrinal preamble" being worked out between the Holy See and the SSPX. Obviously, this involves the fundamental question of the various levels of "assent" due to teachings proposed by the Magisterium (including Vatican II). I attempted to present the logic of each argument as fairly and objectively as possible. I would hope that representatives from each side would find this a reasonable summary of their own position -- even if it highlights the obstacles that remain.

February 12, 2012 10:09 AM  
Anonymous Picard said...

As in the past I was often very critical re your arguments and I am still so re some of them - but here I give you great applause, Mr. Gurries and thank you.

Yes, very clear (and fair, objective) summarizing. Very good.

But well, you seem right that now the sspx-arguments seem like this.

But in the past and also now by some sspx-theologians or in some texts the argument went/goes an other way:

The premise one of the Romans is objected or better: modified or interpreted: in a way similar Radaelli argues the sspx argues (like myselfe) that level-3-teachings (non-infallible) are really non-infallible and can entail real errors then (re doctrine).

But there is a connected argument then, similar to the "only pastoral-Council-argument": because the circumstances and the wording show clearly that the bishops did not want to bind all Catholics absolutely and definitely (irreversibely), therefore we have only level-3-teachings (only authentic) and inside this third level it is some lower level and the assent so is very low and not at all unconditional, so there is really the possibility of a doctrinal error.

I know, you often rejected that argument but me and others gave you enough quotes to establish this position at least as a possible theological opinion.

Best wishes
In CHrist through Mary

June 23, 2012 5:53 AM  

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