The magisterium: not frozen in time
In his letter to the world’s bishops the decision to lift the excommunication of four SSPX bishops, Pope Benedict makes it abundantly clear that he does not intend to renounce the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. This should be no surprise; the Holy Father has been as clear in his defense of Vatican II as he has been in criticizing those who see the Council as a break with Catholic tradition.
Nevertheless it cannot be denied that some hard-core traditionalists, including many in the SSPX, have held out the hope that this Pope would come around to their point of view, and jettison some of the Vatican II teachings that they find objectionable. During the past week my colleague Jeff Mirus spent hours responding to email messages from traditionalists who objected to his Commentary essay criticizing the radical traditionalist position. We won’t end this debate anytime soon, and I realize that I’ll soon be on the receiving end of those email complaints. Still in justice it should be said that the Pope’s letter clearly vindicates Jeff’s position. The authority of Vatican II is not up for grabs; the Pope is not going to say that the SSPX has been right all along and the Vatican must now fall into line with the self-proclaimed guardian of “the Tradition.”
The reality—the Catholic reality—is that the Holy Spirit guides the Church at all times. And “at all times” must, perforce, include the years since the opening of the Council. Or as the Holy Father put it, “One cannot freeze the magisterial authority of the Church in 1962.”
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