Longer than I expected, this post continues our brief reflections on Vatican II. While the SSPX will not accept that Council as a point of authentic pastoral governance, Liberals seem to see it in very Protestant terms, for while Protestants say “Scripture alone” Liberals tend to see Vatican II as “The Council alone”, failing to harmonise it’s teaching with that of Trent and Vatican I. For liberals Vatican II is seen as bringing new teaching as well as new disciplines. This is clearly erroneous in that we can neither add to nor subtract from the Deposit of Faith, nor can we contradict Traditional Doctrine since it forms, along with Scripture, “one sacred Deposit of the Word of God” (Dei Verbum 10). In what follows, bold italics highlight Council fundamentals; my simple thoughts, which take the Council at face value, follow in red. It goes without saying that I stand to be corrected by Rome if I err in these reflections.
· On the Supreme Authority of the Pope and limit of collegiality:
But the college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is understood together with the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter as its head. The Pope's power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power. The order of bishops, which succeeds to the college of apostles and gives this apostolic body continued existence, is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church, provided we understand this body together with its head the Roman Pontiff and never without this head. This power can be exercised only with the consent of the Roman Pontiff. For Our Lord placed Simon alone as the rock and the bearer of the keys of the Church, and made him shepherd of the whole flock.
This collegial union is apparent also in the mutual relations of the individual bishops with particular churches and with the universal Church. The Roman Pontiff, as the successor of Peter, is the perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity of both the bishops and of the faithful.
The individual bishops, however, are the visible principle and foundation of unity in their particular churches, fashioned after the model of the universal Church, in and from which churches comes into being the one and only Catholic Church. For this reason the individual bishops represent each his own church, but all of them together and with the Pope represent the entire Church in the bond of peace, love and unity. (Lumen Gentium 22,23)
[Bishops are still to be obedient to the Pope; while they are associated with him in pastoral concern for the whole Church and teach the whole Church in union with him, yet they govern their Diocese by his gift. Even the episcopate as a whole body is, in that it is a body without a head, impotent without him.]
An episcopal conference is, as it were, a council in which the bishops of a given nation or territory jointly exercise their pastoral office to promote the greater good which the Church offers mankind, especially through the forms and methods of the apostolate fittingly adapted to the circumstances of the age. (Christus Dominus 38)
[Bishops Conferences have sometimes acted as though they are a governing body. This stifles the individual Bishop within his own territory, yet Bishops are not governed by the Episcopal conference, and are not to allow themselves to be governed by it, which would amount to a dereliction of duty to form his own flock. ‘Presenting a united front’ will be no defence before God for a Bishop who fails to govern his flock by his own hand. Note Apostolos suos (P.1998, Pope John-Paul II): “Bishops, whether individually or united in Conference, cannot autonomously limit their own sacred power in favour of the Episcopal Conference, and even less can they do so in favour of one of its parts, whether the permanent council or a commission or the president. This logic is quite explicit in the canonical norm concerning the exercise of the legislative power of the Bishops assembled in the Episcopal Conference: ‘The Conference of Bishops can issue general decrees only in those cases in which the common law prescribes it, or a special mandate of the Apostolic See, given either motu proprio or at the request of the Conference, determines it’. In other cases ‘the competence of individual diocesan Bishops remains intact; and neither the Conference nor its president may act in the name of all the Bishops unless each and every Bishop has given his consent’”.]
· On salvation outside the Catholic Church:
Moreover, some and even very many of the significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church: the written word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, and visible elements too. All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to Christ, belong by right to the one Church of Christ.
It follows that the separated Churches and Communities as such, though we believe them to be deficient in some respects, have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Church. (Unitatis redintegratio 3)
[Whatever efficacy other communities have for giving access to salvation (and that efficacy is not denied) yet that efficacy derives from the Catholic Church, so it is the Catholic Church which remains the one Ark of Salvation: Protestants are not saved by Protestant communities or non-Christians saved by non-Christians religions; they are saved because, by their search for truth (which is Christ Himself. Jn.14:6), they are in an imperfect union with the Catholic Church, outside of which there is no salvation. While we acknowledge that in their general teaching (teaching that is not ex cathedra) popes can err, interesting texts from the past might be helpful for those who would limit the saving action of grace to the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church:
Pope Gregory VII to the Muslim King Azir, 1070: “We believe and profess one God, though in different ways, and praise and worship Him daily as the Creator of ages and ruler of this world”
Pope Pius IX, 1885: “That there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church must be held as a matter of faith…on the other hand, it must likewise be held as certain that those who are ignorant [unacquainted] of the true religion, if this ignorance is invincible, are not subject to any guilt in this matter in the eyes of God, and who can presume to set limits to such ignorance?”
1950–Decree of the Plenary Council of India, confirmed by Pope Pius XII in 1951: “We acknowledge that there is truth and goodness outside the Christian religion, for God has not left the nations without a witness to Himself”.]
We believe that Our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, in order to establish the one Body of Christ on earth to which all should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the people of God.
(Unitatis redintegratio 3)
[Christ established one Church under Peter, and all should be fully incorporated into this Church (united with this Church). Clearly then, union with Rome under Peter and his successors remains the goal of ecumenism.
Mystici Corporis (1943) 41,102,103, 1943, Pope Pius XII: “They, therefore, walk in the path of dangerous error who believe that they can accept Christ as the Head of the Church, while not adhering loyally to His Vicar on earth. They have taken away the visible head, broken the visible bonds of unity and left the Mystical Body of the Redeemer so obscured and so maimed, that those who are seeking the haven of eternal salvation can neither see it nor find it.
Let us then re-echo that divine prayer of our Savoir to the heavenly Father: "That they all may be one, as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us; that the world may believe that Thou hast sent Me."
We desire nothing more ardently than that they may have life and have it more abundantly. Imploring the prayers of the whole Church We wish to repeat this solemn declaration in this Encyclical Letter in which We have proclaimed the praises of the "great and glorious Body of Christ" and from a heart overflowing with love We ask each and every one of them to correspond to the interior movements of grace, and to seek to withdraw from that state in which they cannot be sure of their salvation. For even though by an unconscious desire and longing they have a certain relationship with the Mystical Body of the Redeemer, they still remain deprived of those many heavenly gifts and helps which can only be enjoyed in the Catholic Church. Therefore may they enter into Catholic unity and, joined with Us in the one, organic Body of Jesus Christ, may they together with us run on to the one Head in the Society of glorious love. Persevering in prayer to the Spirit of love and truth, We wait for them with open and outstretched arms to come not to a stranger's house, but to their own, their father's home.”
A note here on the word ‘subsists’: this has been explained by Rome in terms compatible with previous Catholic teaching, that is, “ . . . the Council chose the word subsistit precisely in order to make it clear that there exists a single 'subsistence' of the true Church, while outside her visible structure only elementa ecclesiae exist, which — as elements of the Church — tend and lead toward the Catholic Church" (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Notification on the book "Church: Charism and Power" by Fr. Leonardo Boff, AAS 77 (1985), 758-759.). Elements outside the Catholic Church lead to the Catholic Church as the one Church of Christ. Further, "The interpretation of those who would derive from the formula subsistit in the thesis that the one Church of Christ could subsist also in non-Catholic churches and ecclesial communities is therefore contrary to the authentic meaning of Lumen Gentium” (Dominus Jesus, n. 6, August 2000, footnote 56.) We can also usefully note that when we say something ‘is’, it can cease to be, but susbistit includes ‘perpetuity’; a permanence of being. This is surely a fitting thing to say about the Catholic Church which will endure forever.]
· On Religious Liberty:
On their part, all men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and His Church, and to embrace the truth they come to know, and to hold fast to it.
[Men are still bound by conscience to seek out the Truth and the Catholic Church.]
Religious freedom, in turn, which men demand as necessary to fulfil their duty to worship God, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society.
[It is not the Church which is to concede religious liberty, but the State.]
Therefore it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.
(Dignitatis Humanae 1)
[Since the Church in Council declares it is the State which must grant religious liberty, she leaves her previous teaching untouched -and we may still desire a Catholic State even if it is no longer necessary.]
Whatever else is said concerning the developing of Doctrine, we cannot contradict the above statements of Vatican II nor the Infallible statements of Trent, otherwise what is newly said is a distortion of Doctrine, not a development of Doctrine. Personally, I’m not sure how many Catholics I know today who would accept all that Trent and Vatican II teach (Liberals want to exchange Trent for what they perceive as arising from the so-called ‘spirit’ of Vatican II; extreme Traditionalists do not see that there is authentic continuity with the past in Vatican II). It seems that extreme Traditionalists (which, for me, does not include the SSPX as exemplified in Bishop Fellay) are in danger of painting themselves into a corner by equating the abuses of the Liberals and the weaknesses of some in the post-Conciliar Hierarchy with the Council itself. Liberals on the other hand, are painting themselves into a corner in which there is no authentic Faith, only subjective interpretations of the Church’s Scripture and Tradition, and Canon Law all-but ditched. That is why I support Bishop Schneider’s idea of a new Syllabus of Errors, and why I think we need Popes and Bishops to fight for the Faith against the political correctness of the times; Popes and Bishops willing to discipline those who do not promote Vatican II in continuity with Tradition; those who take liberties with liturgy, distort Doctrine, ignore Canon Law, and those who consistently and wilfully desert their priestly obligations. Pope John XXIII might have thought what was needed was exhortation rather than correction (mercy not severity), but who responds to exhortations if there is no penalty for failing to respond? Do criminals cease in their criminality simply because a judge has exhorted them to this before sending them home? Distortions of Doctrine, liturgical liberties and the contorting of Canon Law must come to an end. For this we need Bishops who truly hold to the Deposit of Faith and who have the eternal good of souls before their eyes and in their hearts. Many- if not all- have the latter; but not all it seems, have the former. How could they? After all, most of them and their theological advisors were formed or at least re-moulded in the heady days following Vatican II, when its so-called ‘spirit’ led the way.