The interpretation of Vatican II and its connection with the current crisis of the Church

Guest Op-Ed – Bishop Schneider: The interpretation of Vatican II and its connection with the current crisis of the Church

Once again, we are honored to post this guest op-ed, submitted to us by His Excellency Bishop Athanasius Schneider. We not only allow but encourage all media and blogs to reprint this as well.

Posted by Adfero. at 7/21/2017
By Bishop Athanasius Schneider
Special to Rorate Caeli
July 21, 2017

The interpretation of Vatican II and its connection with the current crisis of the Church

The current situation of the unprecedented crisis of the Church is comparable with the general crisis in the 4th century, when the Arianism had contaminated the overwhelming majority of the episcopacy, taking a dominant position in the life of the Church. We must seek to address this current situation on the one hand with realism and, on the other hand, with a supernatural spirit – with a profound love for the Church, our mother, who is suffering the Passion of Christ because of this tremendous and general doctrinal, liturgical and pastoral confusion.

We must renew our faith in believing that the Church is in the safe hands of Christ, and that He will always intervene to renew the Church in the moments in which the boat of the Church seems to capsize, as is the obvious case in our days.

As to the attitude towards the Second Vatican Council, we must avoid two extremes: a complete rejection (as do the sedevacantists and a part of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) or a “infallibilization” of everything the council spoke.

Vatican II was a legitimate assembly presided by the Popes and we must maintain towards this council a respectful attitude. Nevertheless, this does not mean that we are forbidden to express well-founded doubts or respectful improvement suggestions regarding some specific items, while doing so based on the entire tradition of the Church and on the constant Magisterium.

Traditional and constant doctrinal statements of the Magisterium during a centuries-old period have precedence and constitute a criterion of verification regarding the exactness of posterior magisterial statements. New statements of the Magisterium must, in principle, be more exact and clearer, but should never be ambiguous and apparently contrast with previous magisterial statements.

Those statements of Vatican II which are ambiguous must be read and interpreted according to the statements of the entire Tradition and of the constant Magisterium of the Church.

In case of doubt the statements of the constant Magisterium (the previous councils and the documents of the Popes, whose content demonstrates being a sure and repeated tradition during centuries in the same sense) prevail over those objectively ambiguous or new statements of the Vatican II, which difficultly concord with specific statements of the constant and previous Magisterium (e.g. the duty of the state to venerate publicly Christ, the King of all human societies, the true sense of the episcopal collegiality in relation to the Petrine primacy and the universal government of the Church, the noxiousness of all non-Catholic religions and their dangerousness for the eternal salvation of the souls).

Vatican II must be seen and received as it is and as it was really: a primarily pastoral council. This council had not the intention to propose new doctrines or to propose them in a definitive form. In its statements the council confirmed largely the traditional and constant doctrine of the Church.

Some of the new statements of Vatican II (e.g. collegiality, religious liberty, ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue, the attitude towards the world) have not a definitive character, and being apparently or truly non-concordant with the traditional and constant statements of the Magisterium, they must be complemented by more exact explications and by more precise supplements of a doctrinal character. A blind application of the principle of the “hermeneutics of continuity” does not help either, since thereby are created forced interpretations, which are not convincing and which are not helpful to arrive at a clearer understanding of the immutable truths of the Catholic faith and of its concrete application.

There have been cases in the history, where non-definitive statements of certain ecumenical councils were later – thanks to a serene theological debate – refined or tacitly corrected (e.g. the statements of the Council of Florence regarding the matter of the sacrament of Orders, i.e. that the matter were the handing-over of the instruments, whereas the more sure and constant tradition said that the imposition of the hands of the bishop were sufficient, a truth, which was ultimately confirmed by Pius XII in 1947). If after the Council of Florence the theologians would have blindly applied the principle of the “hermeneutics of the continuity” to this concrete statement of the Council of Florence (an objectively erroneous statement), defending the thesis that the handing-over of the instruments as the matter of the sacrament of Orders would concord with the constant Magisterium, probably there would not have been achieved the general consensus of the theologians regarding the truth which says that only the imposition of the hands of the bishop is the real matter of the sacrament of Orders.

There must be created in the Church a serene climate of a doctrinal discussion regarding those statements of Vatican II which are ambiguous or which have caused erroneous interpretations. In such a doctrinal discussion there is nothing scandalous, but on the contrary, it will be a contribution in order to maintain and explain in a more sure and integral manner the deposit of the immutable faith of the Church.

One must not highlight so much a certain council, absolutizing it or equating it in fact with the oral (Sacred Tradition) or written (Sacred Scripture) Word of God. Vatican II itself said rightly (cf. Verbum Dei, 10), that the Magisterium (Pope, Councils, ordinary and universal Magisterium) is not above the Word of God, but beneath it, subject to it, and being only the servant of it (of the oral Word of God = Sacred Tradition and of the written Word of God = Sacred Scripture).

From an objective point of view, the statements of the Magisterium (Popes and councils) of definitive character, have more value and more weight compared with the statements of pastoral character, which have naturally a changeable and temporary quality depending on historical circumstances or responding to pastoral situations of a certain period of time, as it is the case with the major part of the statements of Vatican II.

The original and valuable contribution of the Vatican II consists in the universal call to holiness of all members of the Church (chap. 5 of Lumen gentium), in the doctrine about the central role of Our Lady in the life of the Church (chap. 8 of Lumen gentium), in the importance of the lay faithful in maintaining, defending and promoting the Catholic faith and in their duty to evangelize and sanctify the temporal realities according to the perennial sense of the Church (chap. 4 of Lumen gentium), in the primacy of the adoration of God in the life of the Church and in the celebration of the liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium, nn. 2; 5-10). The rest one can consider to a certain extent secondary, temporary and, in the future, probably forgettable, as it was the case with some non-definitive, pastoral and disciplinary statements of various ecumenical councils in the past.

The following issues – Our Lady, sanctification of the personal life of the faithful with the sanctification of the world according to the perennial sense of the Church and the primacy of the adoration of God – are the most urgent aspects which have to be lived in our days. Therein Vatican II has a prophetical role which, unfortunately, is not yet realized in a satisfactory manner.

Instead of living these four aspects, a considerable part of the theological and administrative “nomenclature” in the life of the Church promoted for the past 50 years and still promotes ambiguous doctrinal, pastoral and liturgical issues, distorting thereby the original intention of the Council or abusing its less clear or ambiguous doctrinal statements in order to create another church – a church of a relativistic or Protestant type.

In our days, we are experiencing the culmination of this development.

The problem of the current crisis of the Church consists partly in the fact that some statements of Vatican II – which are objectively ambiguous or those few statements, which are difficultly concordant with the constant magisterial tradition of the Church – have been infallibilisized. In this way, a healthy debate with a necessarily implicit or tacit correction was blocked.

At the same time there was given the incentive in creating theological affirmations in contrast with the perennial tradition (e.g. regarding the new theory of an ordinary double supreme subject of the government of the Church, i.e. the Pope alone and the entire episcopal college together with the Pope, the doctrine of the neutrality of the state towards the public worship, which it must pay to the true God, who is Jesus Christ, the King also of each human and political society, the relativizing of the truth that the Catholic Church is the unique way of salvation, wanted and commanded by God).

We must free ourselves from the chains of the absolutization and of the total infallibilization of Vatican II. We must ask for a climate of a serene and respectful debate out of a sincere love for the Church and for the immutable faith of the Church.

We can see a positive indication in the fact that on August 2, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI wrote a preface to the volume regarding Vatican II in the edition of his Opera omnia. In this preface, Benedict XVI expresses his reservations regarding specific content in the documents Gaudium et spes and Nostra aetate. From the tenor of these words of Benedict XVI one can see that concrete defects in certain sections of the documents are not improvable by the “hermeneutics of the continuity.”

An SSPX, canonically and fully integrated in the life of the Church, could also give a valuable contribution in this debate – as Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre desired. The fully canonical presence of the SSPX in the life of the Church of our days could also help to create a general climate of constructive debate, in order that that, which was believed always, everywhere and by all Catholics for 2,000 years, would be believed in a more clear and in a more sure manner in our days as well, realizing thereby the true pastoral intention of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council.

The authentic pastoral intention aims towards the eternal salvation of the souls — a salvation which will be achieved only through the proclamation of the entire will of God (cf. Act 20: 7). The ambiguity in the doctrine of the faith and in its concrete application (in the liturgy and in the pastoral life) would menace the eternal salvation of the souls and would be consequently anti-pastoral, since the proclamation of the clarity and of the integrity of the Catholic faith and of its faithful concrete application is the explicit will of God.

Only the perfect obedience to the will of God — Who revealed us through Christ the Incarnate Word and through the Apostles the true faith, the faith interpreted and practiced constantly in the same sense by the Magisterium of the Church – will bring the salvation of souls.

+ Athanasius Schneider,
Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Maria Santissima in Astana, Kazakhstan

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6 comments on “The interpretation of Vatican II and its connection with the current crisis of the Church

  1. en.news (July 21, 2017) headlines Bishop Schneider’s op-ed as Catholic Leaders Want to Create Another Protestant Church, because:

    [His Excellency] “argues against an absolutisation and infallibilisation of the Second Vatican Council … [because] there are texts in the Council that raise doubts or can be improved because they are ‘ambiguous’ or ‘have caused erroneous interpretations’ …. [He] recalls that Councils have made “objectively erroneous statements” in the past … [and] warns that a considerable part of the theological and administrative Catholic leadership is about to ‘create another church – a church of a relativistic or Protestant type.'”

  2. That has already happened, more or less. The warnings of Cardinal Ottaviani and Dietrich von Hildebrand are as true today as they were back in the 1960s.

    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ottaviani_Intervention

  3. [An assenting view]

    Bishop Athanasius Schneider: Abuse of Vatican II leading to a Protestantization of the Church: Abandon the failed “hermeneutic of continuity”

    by Christopher A. Ferrara
    July 21, 2017

    Bishop Athanasius Schneider, whom I have had the privilege of interviewing at length for The Fatima Center, is perhaps the only clear voice of opposition among the episcopate to the ecclesial trends of the past four years, which have exacerbated alarmingly what was already, as His Excellency puts it, an “unprecedented crisis of the Church comparable with the general crisis in the 4th century, when Arianism had contaminated the overwhelming majority of the episcopacy, taking a dominant position in the life of the Church.”

    It is surely no coincidence that Bishop Schneider is named after Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria, who was essentially the one firm and unwavering voice of episcopal opposition to the Arian heresy.

    Bishop Schneider’s view of Vatican II, presented in an exclusive interview with Rorate Caeli, is governed by the optimism every Catholic should have regarding the state of the Church today: “We must renew our faith in believing that the Church is in the safe hands of Christ, and that He will always intervene to renew the Church in those moments in which the boat of the Church seems to capsize, as is the obvious case in our days.”

    That optimism, however, does not obviate the Catholic’s duty to oppose error and defend the truth in times of ecclesial crisis, as St. Athanasius did in the 4th century and as Bishop Athanasius does today. Thus, respecting Vatican II, the Bishop rightly counsels that while “Vatican II was a legitimate assembly presided by the Popes and we must maintain towards this council a respectful attitude. Nevertheless, this does not mean that we are forbidden to express well-founded doubts or respectful improvement suggestions regarding some specific items, while doing so based on the entire tradition of the Church and on the constant Magisterium.”

    We have heard much concerning a “hermeneutic of continuity” respecting the numerous problematic statements in the Council’s documents. But the very need for a “hermeneutic” to demonstrate the Council’s “continuity” with the prior constant teaching of the Magisterium indicates grave deficiencies in the Council’s documents. When confronted with these deficiencies, says the Bishop, the only proper “hermeneutic” — i.e., governing principle of interpretation — is reference to “Traditional and constant doctrinal statements of the Magisterium during a centuries-old period,” which “constitute a criterion of verification regarding the exactness of posterior magisterial statements,” meaning the novelties in the texts of Vatican II.

    As the Bishop further explains:

    “In case of doubt the statements of the constant Magisterium (the previous councils and the documents of the Popes, whose content demonstrates being a sure and repeated tradition during centuries in the same sense) prevail over those objectively ambiguous or new statements of the Vatican II, which [are difficult to] concord with specific statements of the constant and previous Magisterium (e.g. the duty of the state to venerate publicly Christ, the King of all human societies, the true sense of the episcopal collegiality in relation to the Petrine primacy and the universal government of the Church, the noxiousness of all non-Catholic religions and their dangerousness for the eternal salvation of the souls).”

    Moreover, “Vatican II must be seen and received as it is and as it was really: a primarily pastoral council. This council had not the intention to propose new doctrines or to propose them definitively.” Nor does any Pope or Council approved by a Pope have any authority to propose new doctrines. For as the First Vatican Council declared: “The Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter that by His revelation they might make known new doctrine, but that by His assistance they might inviolably keep and faithfully expound the Revelation, the Deposit of Faith, delivered through the Apostles.”

    Regarding the vaunted “hermeneutics of continuity,” Bishop Athanasius notes that it simply does not work with certain of the Council’s statements — such as those pertaining to the novelties of “collegiality, religious liberty, ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue, and the attitude towards the world” — which lack “a definitive character, [and are] apparently or truly non-concordant with the traditional and constant statements of the Magisterium.” As to these statements, he rightly observes, the various attempts to reconcile them with prior teaching produce only “forced interpretations, which are not convincing and which are not helpful to arrive at a clearer understanding of the immutable truths of the Catholic faith and of its concrete application.”

    Rather, says the Bishop, one should simply recognize honestly that “There have been cases in history, where non-definitive statements of certain ecumenical councils were later – thanks to a serene theological debate – refined or tacitly corrected…” The Bishop cites as an example “the statements of the Council of Florence regarding the matter of the sacrament of Orders, i.e. that the matter was the handing­ over of the instruments, whereas the more sure and constant tradition said that the imposition of the hands of the bishop were sufficient, a truth which was ultimately confirmed by Pius XII in 1947.”

    Suppose, the Bishop argues, that “after the Council of Florence the theologians would have blindly applied the principle of the ‘hermeneutics of the continuity’ to this concrete statement of the Council of Florence (an objectively erroneous statement [which, like the novelties proposed in the Second Vatican Council, was not supported by any definitive decree]), defending the thesis that the handing-over of the instruments as the matter of the sacrament of Orders would concord with the constant Magisterium, probably there would not have been achieved the general consensus of the theologians regarding the truth which says that only the imposition of the hands of the bishop is the real matter of the sacrament of Orders.”

    The same process of correction must be applied to the many problematical statements in the documents of Vatican II, a Council whose ambiguous “pastoral” texts are unlike those of any other Council in the history of the Church. “There must,” Bishop Athanasius concludes, “be created in the Church a serene climate of a doctrinal discussion regarding those statements of Vatican II which are ambiguous or which have caused erroneous interpretations. In such a doctrinal discussion there is nothing scandalous, but on the contrary, it will be a contribution in order to maintain and explain in a more sure and integral manner the deposit of the immutable faith of the Church.”

    Indeed, without this process of correction, the Church will continue to suffer from the crisis provoked by “infallibilization” of “some statements of Vatican II… which are objectively ambiguous or… difficultly [sic] concordant with the constant magisterial tradition of the Church,” such that “a healthy debate with a necessarily implicit or tacit correction was blocked.”

    Worse, warns the Bishop, the Modernist partisans of the Vatican II “renewal” of the Church are “abusing [the Council’s] less clear or ambiguous doctrinal statements in order to create another church – a church of a relativistic or Protestant type.”

    In sum, the Bishop declares: “We must free ourselves from the chains of the absolutization and of the total infallibilization of Vatican II.”

    To which I can only add a hearty Amen, and a prayer for the day when the human element of the Church finally moves past that ill-starred Council and back onto the path of Tradition. That day is as inevitable as the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

  4. [A dissenting view]

    Bishop Schneider: Resurrecting a dead hermeneutic

    Louie Verrecchio
    July 25, 2017

    Bishop Athanasius Schneider has authored yet another essay (published at Rorate Caeli) on Vatican II, the issues stemming therefrom, and what he considers to be the way forward.

    Once again, His Excellency is being hailed for his efforts; one of the “money quotes” being:

    Some of the new statements of Vatican II (e.g. collegiality, religious liberty, ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue, the attitude towards the world) have not a definitive character, and being apparently or truly non-concordant with the traditional and constant statements of the Magisterium, they must be complemented by more exact explications and by more precise supplements of a doctrinal character.

    Let’s give His Excellency credit where credit is due; at least he recognizes that the Council and its deleterious effects are a serious problem – even if he stops well short of identifying it for what it truly is – the problem, and identifying the only way to truly address it. (More on that later.)

    As such, the path that Bishop Schneider has laid out, while winning the support of many thanks to its traditional-sounding guideposts, will only further guarantee that the conciliar crisis continues.

    In order to make sense, such as one is able, of Bishop Schneider’s thoughts, it may be useful to begin by considering his “orientation” with regard to the Council. He states:

    Vatican II was a legitimate assembly presided by the Popes and we must maintain towards this council a respectful attitude.

    A respectful attitude…

    This is a problem.

    Yes, but the Council was legitimate!

    It must be said that in spite of being convoked by the popes, having been presided over by him, and its decrees having receiving papal confirmation (presumably the benchmark for legitimacy that Bishop Schneider has in mind), the Council – being devoid of any intent to define and bind and therefore its utter lack of infallible character – is of questionable validity with regard to its status as an “ecumenical council.”

    In any case, while it is commonplace in our day for prelates to urge respect for things that are evil (e.g., false religions), due reverence for the Truth should preclude as much.

    As for the way forward, Bishop Schneider states:

    New statements of the Magisterium must, in principle, be more exact and clearer, but should never be ambiguous and apparently contrast with previous magisterial statements. Those statements of Vatican II which are ambiguous must be read and interpreted according to the statements of the entire Tradition and of the constant Magisterium of the Church.

    I’ve little doubt that every reader of this space knows very well what this is:

    It is nothing more than the failed conciliar implementation program that Benedict XVI famously articulated during his Christmas Address to the Roman Curia on December 22, 2005; best known as the “hermeneutic of continuity.”

    Bishop Schneider, for some reason, seems to believe that it is different, stating:

    A blind application of the principle of the “hermeneutics of continuity” does not help either, since thereby are created forced interpretations, which are not convincing and which are not helpful to arrive at a clearer understanding of the immutable truths of the Catholic faith and of its concrete application.

    It isn’t immediately clear to me why His Excellency believes that a distinction is to be made between his proposal and that of Pope Benedict. Perhaps it is with respect to a “blind application.”

    In any case, he goes on to say:

    As to the attitude towards the Second Vatican Council, we must avoid two extremes: a complete rejection (as do the sedevacantists and a part of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) or a “infallibilization” of everything the council spoke.

    As for why one mustn’t reject the Council completely, Bishop Schneider suggests that doing so would be like throwing the treasure out with the trash.

    At this one must ask, but where’s the treasure?

    In other words, what of value did the Council provide to the Church and her faithful that was lacking before 1960? What contribution did the Council make to the mission at hand – the salvation of souls?

    According to Bishop Schneider, strewn amid the conciliar garbage are four – count them, four – pearls of a great price to be found.

    He tells us that “the original and valuable contribution of the Vatican II consists in” the following:

    The universal call to holiness of all members of the Church (LG, Chapter 5)

    Not to be flippant, but anyone who has ever read the epistles of St. Paul alone realize that the Church has been calling all of her members to holiness from day one. I find it particularly irksome when it is suggested that the Council invented the idea, and frankly, I am surprised that Bishop Schneider is buying into this nonsense.

    The central role of Our Lady in the life of the Church (LG Chapter 8)

    Let’s be honest – the eighth chapter of Lumen Gentium came about because plans for a document on Mary was attacked by the ecumenists who feared upsetting the precious protestants.

    If pressed to specify precisely what the Council provided in the way of “original and valuable” teaching on Our Lady, I doubt that His Excellency would be able to deliver much.

    Perhaps I can help.

    The Council refers to Mary as she “who occupies a place in the Church which is the highest after Christ and yet very close to us.”

    Really? Mary – the Immaculate Conception, the Queen of Heaven and Earth – is very close to us?

    This tells us all we need to know about the Council’s contribution to Mariology.

    Oh, and guess who the Council Fathers were quoting here?

    Pope Paul the Pathetic.

    The importance of the lay faithful in maintaining, defending and promoting the Catholic faith and in their duty to evangelize and sanctify the temporal realities according to the perennial sense of the Church (LG Chapter 4)

    In this, one may say that the Council perhaps stressed the role of the laity as participants in the mission of the Church in a particular way (while failing, in my opinion, to stress nearly enough the laity’s dependence upon the clergy), but let’s not forget that Confirmation has long been understood to make one a “soldier for Christ.”

    In other words, it simply is not the case that the laity had never before been called to maintain, defend and promote the faith.

    In the primacy of the adoration of God in the life of the Church and in the celebration of the liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium, nn. 2; 5-10)

    Seriously? The first demand of justice (to offer unto God the adoration that He is due) just dawned on the Church at Vatican II and in such a way that this can be considered an “original” contribution of the Council?

    All of this having been said, if, just for the sake of argument, we grant that Vatican II really did gift the Church with these “original and valuable contributions,” the question remains:

    What are we to do about the garbage?

    Recall Bishop Schneider’s answer:

    New statements should never be ambiguous or contrast. Those that are must be read and interpreted according to tradition.

    We’ve been down this road before folks. Benedict launched the Church on this path in 2005 and pressed for its application for nearly eight years, and what have we to show for it?

    Bergoglio.

    Clearly, the only truly Catholic response to those things that should “never be;” in this case, statements that risk leading souls not to salvation but away from tradition is very simple: they must be rejected and condemned.

  5. I respect the efforts and good intentions of Schneider. May God bless him abundantly. I also respect Ferrara’s support of him.
    But Louie is the one who has really nailed the matter.

    The key to the whole matter is Schneider’s statement:
    “Traditional and constant doctrinal statements of the Magisterium during a centuries-old period have precedence and constitute a criterion of verification regarding the exactness of posterior magisterial statements. New statements of the Magisterium must, in principle, be more exact and clearer, but should never be ambiguous and apparently contrast with previous magisterial statements.”
    Which is absolutely dead on.
    Which is why the statement immediately following:
    “Those statements of Vatican II which are ambiguous must be read and interpreted according to the statements of the entire Tradition and of the constant Magisterium of the Church.”
    Is totally off.
    Because IF Vat II is a legitimate council, no amount of “reading” and interpretation, even from a pope, can supersede the meaning of the Vat II documents themselves. Those documents have higher authority — unless a pope wants to engage his infallibility to redefine their meaning, which ain’t gonna happen.
    Thus liberals will always have the right to appeal to their liberal interpretation.
    Remember, ambiguity is of the devil. He knows that a little *doubt* is all original sin needs to justify the evil it wants to do. As the legal axiom goes: A doubtful law does not bind (lex dubia non obligat).
    There are only two ways that Vat II can be made orthodox:
    1) The heretical or even merely doubtful statements must be officially *changed*.
    2) The heretical or even merely doubtful statements must be officially struck out.
    Either way, this amounts to what Louie asserts:
    “Clearly, the only truly Catholic response to those things that should “never be;” in this case, statements that risk leading souls not to salvation but away from tradition is very simple: they must be rejected and condemned.”

    Very insightful of Louie to note that Schneider actually proposes the same hermeneutic of continuity that he seems to condemn.

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