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Key figure in dialogue with SSPX examines assent owed to Vatican II

December 02, 2011

Msgr. Fernando Ocariz, the vicar general of Opus Dei and one of the Vatican experts involved in discussions with the Society of St. Pius X, has written a lengthy article for L’Osservatore Romano on the assent that Catholics owe to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

“It is not pointless to recall that the pastoral motivation of the Council does not mean that it was not doctrinal--since all pastoral activity is necessarily based on doctrine,” writes Msgr. Ocariz, who has served as a consultor to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. “Furthermore, within the documents of the Council it is obvious that there are many strictly doctrinal teachings: on Divine Revelation, on the Church, etc.”

Msgr. Ocariz added:

The Second Vatican Council did not define any dogma, in the sense that it proposed no doctrine with a definitive act. However, even if the Magisterium proposes a teaching without directly invoking the charism of infallibility, it does not follow that such a 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,” “endowed with the authority of Christ.”

This charism, this authority and this light were certainly present at the Second Vatican Council; to deny this to the entire episcopate gathered to teach the universal Church cum Petro and sub Petro [with Peter and under Peter], would be to deny something of the very essence of the Church

Naturally not all the affirmations contained in the conciliar documents have the same doctrinal value and therefore not all require the same degree of assent …

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.

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.” This obedience to the Magisterium of the Church does not limit freedom but, on the contrary, is the source of freedom …

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.

“A number of innovations of a doctrinal nature are to be found in the documents of the Second Vatican Council: on the sacramental nature of the episcopate, on episcopal collegiality, on religious freedom, etc.,” Msgr. Ortiz added. “These innovations in matters concerning faith or morals, not proposed with a definitive act, still require religious submission of intellect and will, even though some of them were and still are the object of controversy with regard to their continuity with earlier magisterial teaching, or their compatibility with the tradition.”

Msgr. Ortiz continued:

In the face of such 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.

This is nothing new in the history of the Church. It should be remembered, for example, that the meaning of important concepts adopted in the First Council of Nicaea in the formulation of the Trinitarian and Christological faith (hypóstasis, ousía), were greatly clarified by later councils.”

“It does not seem superfluous to call to mind that almost half a century has passed since the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council and that in these decades four Roman Pontiffs have succeeded one another on the Chair of Peter,” he concluded. “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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  • Posted by: oakes.spalding7384 - Dec. 03, 2011 1:33 AM ET USA

    Consider this argument: A Note added to the Documents of Vatican II states: "In view of conciliar practice and the pastoral purpose of the present Council, this sacred Synod defines matters of faith and morals as binding on the Church only when the Synod itself openly declares so." Since as far as I am aware none of the statements on faith or morals were openly declared to be binding, the plain implication of the first claim is that they are not binding. Where does this argument go wrong?

  • Posted by: oakes.spalding7384 - Dec. 03, 2011 1:18 AM ET USA

  • Posted by: pdhow5802 - Dec. 02, 2011 8:16 PM ET USA

    In his book, Sources of Renewal Karol Cardinal Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II) wrote: “Vatican II, which, while preserving its pastoral character and mindful of the purpose for which it was called, profoundly developed the doctrine of faith and thus provided a basis for its enrichment." (Ibid, p 39). Pope John XXIII in opening the Council stated: "the greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council" was that "this certain and unchangeable doctrine, to which the obedience of Faith must be given, be studied thoroughly and explained in the way for which our times are calling...but nevertheless with the same meaning and the same sense." Vatican II is using the very words of both Vatican I and of St Vincent of Lerins, speaking for the Church of the Fathers. Pope John XXIII, in calling the Council, stated that the reasons he was doing so were of a character that could be broadly termed "pastoral," although Pope John himself, in using the word, merely spoke of the need today of a Church Magisterium "which is predominantly pastoral in character." Pope Paul VI similarly spoke of the "pastoral nature of the Council" in his Weekly General Audience of Jan. 12, 1966, but he didn't call it a "pastoral council" as if this were some new species of Church gathering which the faithful might go along with or not, as they chose. The following is an excerpt from _ The Pope, the Council and the Mass, by James Likoudis and Kenneth D. Whitehead. The term "pastoral council" as applied to Vatican II is merely a popular description and does not refer to any specific type of council recognized by the authority of the Catholic Church.... To convene a general council with a pastoral purpose, in short, was not to convene a new kind of Church council not binding on the faithful. What Pope John XXIII really said with regard to his reasons for convoking the Council was that "a Council was not a discussion of one article or another of the fundamental doctrine of the Church which has repeatedly taught...and which is presumed to be well known and familiar to all" (Opening Speech to the Council). And this concern of Pope John that doctrine be, at least in a sense, the greatest concern of the Council is entirely in keeping with the real meaning of the word "pastoral." For the word "pastoral" refers to the work of a shepherd; and Jesus, the Good Shepherd, taught plainly that "for this I was born and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth" (Jn. 18:37).

  • Posted by: wojo425627 - Dec. 02, 2011 4:38 PM ET USA

    There are 2 types of councils General and particular. General councils also called ecumenical are an assembly of all the bishops from around the world and is presided over by the pope or his legates or at best confirmed and approved by him. Particular, also called national or provincial councils, are an assembly of bishops of a nation or province. General councils are infallible on matters of faith, particular councils not. VII was addressing pastoral topics. There are no pastoral councils.

  • Posted by: jdieterich616502 - Dec. 02, 2011 1:52 PM ET USA

    I think the article does address that difficulty clearly. The section addressing pastoral applications of doctrinal Truth is very clear, and I believe that such a "Pastoral Council" is one intended to so so with regards to the whole of the content of the faith, which V2 did. Yes though, there is a need as was also mentioned to express clearly the continuity w/ the Tradition, but I think this is an issue more at fault with wrong interpretations of the conciliar documents, not the Council itself

  • Posted by: Lucius49 - Dec. 02, 2011 1:15 PM ET USA

    This is a very fine article but it does not change the initial difficulty as to what is a "pastoral Council"? Were the other Councils not pastoral? Plus there is a real need for clarification to show the continuity of the Council with the tradition. A group of theologians and scholars asked the Holy Father to do just that.