Monday, April 10, 2006

Is Vatican II infallible? (Part 6 of 6)

A post by Don Paco.

How should we interpret the doctrines contained in the documents of Vatican II that seem to contradict traditional Catholic teaching?

–We should interpret its teachings in light of previous (that is, pre-Vatican II) teaching.

If Vatican II is part of the authentic Magisterium of the Church, then it must be compatible with the venerable teachings of that Magisterium. In theory, we have to adhere to it with “religious assent” (assensus religiosus). But what happens when non-infallible teaching seems to contradict other teachings to which we owe the same kind of assent? Obviously, it would be contradictory and irrational (and hence, contrary to human nature) to give any kind of assent to truly contradictory statements. But when it is a question of apparently contradictory statements, the issue requires much prudence in interpretation. When a non-infallible teaching seems to contradict the previous official teaching of the ordinary Magisterium, one has to determine first whether a true contradiction is at stake. When faced with this difficulty (for there are, in fact, many doctrines in Vatican II that are difficult to reconcile with previous teaching), this is what I do:

1) First, I try to understand both the “new” teaching and the traditional teaching.

2) Second, I try to reconcile the new in light of the old, because the old is always clearer and it is generally the new teaching that needs clarification/explanation. If the new teaching is part of the authentic Magisterium, then it must be very clearly compatible with previous official teaching.

3) Third, if the new teaching, to my mind, cannot be reconciled, I simply suspend judgment on the new teaching and hold firmly to the old. So I don’t deny the new, but simply remain in aporia (state of puzzlement).

We could discuss some of these apparently contradictory teachings later.

I leave you with Cardinal Ratzinger’s address, given on July 13, 1988, to the Chilean Bishops in the city of Santiago de Chile:

There is a glaring contradiction in the fact that it is just the people who have let no occasion slip to allow the world to know of their disobedience to the Pope, and to the magisterial declarations of the last 20 years, who think they have the right to judge that this attitude is too mild and who wish that an absolute obedience to Vatican II had been insisted upon. In a similar way, they would claim that the Vatican has conceded a right to dissent to Lefebvre, which has been obstinately denied to the promoters of a progressive tendency. In reality, the only point, which is affirmed in the agreement, following Lumen gentium 25, is the plain fact that not all documents of the Council have the same authority. For the rest, it was explicitly laid down in the text that was signed that public polemics must be avoided, and that an attitude is required of positive respect for official decisions and declarations… The Second Vatican Council has not been treated as a part of the entire living Tradition of the Church, but as an end of Tradition, a new start from zero. The truth is that this particular Council defined no dogma at all, and deliberately chose to remain on a modest level, as a merely pastoral council; and yet many treat it as though it had made itself into a sort of ‘superdogma’ which takes away the importance of all the rest.

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