Monday, August 22, 2011

Berry: Ecumenical Councils are Not Entirely Infallible


From Sylvester Berry's The Church of Christ (1927), pp. 458-9.  Available from ITOPL.


Don Paco said...

Footnote 2 reads:

2 Cardinal Bellarmine, "De Conciliis," I, 17.

M.T. Chair said...

At the same time, however, one ought to point out that the teachings of papally-ratified ecumenical councils are always and in and of themselves *authoritative* and therefore binding on the conscience of the Roman Catholic under pain of mortal sin. The idea that unless something is infallible, it is not binding, is a very wide-spread error in our times.

Don Paco said...

True, it is a common error (especially among Feeneyites). I did not mean to say that what is non-infallibile is non-binding.
We are supposed to accept all of the Church's non-infallible teachings, especially those in an Ecumenical Council, with religious assent or obsequium religiosum (though this must not be confused with the assent of faith, such that if one rejects such a teaching, one is not necessarily in heresy or guilt of a sin against the faith, but is simply guilty of the sin of disobedience).

The issue here is whether Vatican II is infallible. One common objection is that it is automatically infallible because it is an Ecumenical Council, and all Ecumenical Councils are infallible. We have answered the objection before:

But I found this text by Berry to be interesting because it explicitly reaffirms that answer we wrote.

The deeper issue is that V2 at the very least appears to affirm erroneous doctrines (e.g., in Dignitatis Humanae). So one naturally wonders whether, because it is an Ecumanical Council, one has to assume a priori that these are only apparent (and not real) errors, or if there is really the possibility that these are in fact errors.

The fact that the Council is not infallible (which we have demonstrated) means that there is the real possibility that these are in fact errors, and not merely appearances of error--the possibility, not the actual existence, of errors.

So one can obediently give the Council religious assent and still legitimately wonder whether it is in error: doing so is not an act of disobedience. Thus, we can expect the Holy See to clarify whether it is in error or at least to explain why it is not in error (i.e., explain how what is taught in V2 is not in conflict with previous encyclicals, etc.).

M.T. Chair said...

Don Paco, you said:

>> Thus, we can expect the Holy See to clarify whether it is in error or at least to explain why it is not in error (i.e., explain how what is taught in V2 is not in conflict with previous encyclicals, etc.). <<

Can you give me one example from history where the Holy See ever convicted an ecumenical council of its own of error?

Besides, if the council can give error, how do you know the Holy See's "explanation" or "refutation" of the council isn't itself in error?

The problem of Vatican II allows only for two possible conclusions: either the council taught no error, or the authority from which the teachings came is a false authority.

Don Paco said...

No, there are no examples in the history of the Church--to my knowledge--of the Church correcting an Ecumenical council. I've only heard of a Council being 'ignored' (because it was suspicious of error), but not corrected.

But, I'm not sure what you want to prove with this, because you certainly don't want to say that if something had never happened, then it can never happen.

The Church could guarantee that it's correction is free from error by using the charism of infallibility.

This would be the extreme, and for that reason very unlikely in our age, but it would not be the only way to deal with the problem. It would not need to 'correct' the Council or even use the charism of infallibility; it could simply reaffirm the traditional teachings (referring to pre-conciliar texts) and say this is the only orthodox way of interpreting the Council, warn the faithful of problematic or confusing texts fom the Council, and henceforth use this as reference, without putting much emphasis on the Council texts.

Don Paco said...

Your two alternatives are a false dichotomy. There is a third possibility. The Council taught errors, and it stems from the non-infallible teaching authority of the Church.

I'm not saying it taught errors, but simply that it did not exercise infallibility, which ipso facto means it COULD teach error. Therefore, there CAN be errors in the Council documents, and Holy Mother Church has the right (and duty) to point them out if there are any, or at least to clarify how apparent errors are not errors despite appearances.

M.T. Chair said...

Don Paco,

To my knowledge, the Novus Ordo Church has long affirmed that there is no contradiction between Vatican II and prior teaching. (It has always, of course, failed to demonstrate this, but it certainly has asserted it.) What is more, in "Ecclesia Dei" (1988), John Paul II accused Abp. Lefebvre of a "contradictory" and "incomplete" understanding of Tradition. It's not like these things have never been addressed. The Novus Ordo Church has long said that Vatican II is true.

Besides, since in 1983 there was published a Code of Canon Law *based upon* the new teachings of Vatican II, and since the universal discipline of the Church DOES fall under infalllibility, it has thereby "canonized", so to speak, the Second Vatican Council's teachings - assuming it were the Catholic Church, that is.

OK, just for the record then, let us note that the Church has indeed never "corrected" an ecumenical council or insinuated one is in error (we can discuss Constantinople II if you like). This would be absurd, anyway, since the very same authority which promulgated the council would be the one claiming it was in error! "Make up your mind already" would be the response of a reasonable person to such a scenario.

You said that one can wonder whether a conciliar non-infallible teaching is in error, while at the same time giving religious assent. Are you saying, then, that the Church can bind her faithful to error - UNDER PAIN OF MORTAL SIN? Are we obliged to assent to what is NOT the Truth (and therefore not of Christ) - or else the life of Christ in our souls will be destroyed? Does this make sense?

On a more practical note, can you tell me how you would accomplish giving religious assent to both "Quas Primas" and "Dignitatis Humanae" at the same time?

Lastly, please allow me to refer anyone interested, to the five ways the Church teaches *infallibly* through the ORDINARY Magisterium, as expounded by the late Fr. Sixtus Cartechini in a 1951 book used by the Holy Office. The five ways are summarized in a talk given by Mr. John Daly on the subject: