January 2012 Print

The History of the Preparatory Schemas

Fr. Philippe Lovey, SSPX

The Second Vatican Council spanned four years with four sessions held from the fall of 1962 to the fall of 1965. Its history, however, would be incomplete if we did not include the preliminaries which were to set the agenda for the Council. For over two years, 150 Cardinals and religious superiors, including Archbishop Lefebvre, met to produce what was meant to be the blueprint of the Council texts. We wish to examine this history, however briefly, as to the content, the conflict, and finally the dismissal of these pre-conciliar texts.1

In the mind of Archbishop Lefebvre, the schemas of the Theological Commission clearly presented Catholic doctrine. They give us an idea of what the Council might have been. The drafting of studies in preparation for the Council was entrusted to several commissions, but the leading role was naturally given to the Theological Commission. Practically all the other commissions had some areas that overlapped its purview, but the Theological Commission alone was entitled, by its very object, to rule on everything pertaining to the purity of Catholic doctrine. This was explained by Cardinal Ottaviani to Cardinal Bea during the debate on religious toleration: “First of all, I must quite confidently assert that I do not concede that the Theological Commission is required to discuss doctrinal matters with the other Commissions. In this matter, the Commission is fully independent because doctrine is concerned, and not mixed matters….The Secretariat for relations with non-Catholics should have delivered its schema to the doctrinal Commission for review because it was not treating a sociological question only, but a doctrinal one. Now we note for the record that there is disagreement on certain points, and these are indeed points of doctrine.”2

Cardinal Ottaviani’s remark is of capital importance because it exposes the radical incompatibility and the lack of competence of the non-theological commissions to interfere in a field outside their particular domain. A glance at the general outline adopted by the two commissions (the Theology Commission and the Commission for Christian Unity) reveals the encroachment on all key points: the nature of the Church, the episcopacy and the Holy Father, the role of the laity, ecumenism, religious tolerance, the holy sacrifice of the Mass, and the relation between Tradition and Sacred Scripture. On each of these directly or tangentially doctrinal subjects, the two commissions prepared separate schemas. The goal of the Secretariat for Christian Unity was clear: to promote the ecumenical movement and to conserve it by the perpetuation of the Secretariat at the time of the Council.3 Thus there were two schemas on a single subject, revealing two mutually exclusive conceptions of Catholic doctrine. It was as if the Pope had made use of Hegelian dialectics in order to arrive at a satisfying result.

The Theological Commission had prepared studies of an admirable theological clarity. The influential minority group within the Central Preparatory Commission nevertheless managed to systematically bend the structure of the schemas. To give an example, we shall take a look at the attack orchestrated by the opponents of Cardinal Ottaviani on the nature of the Church. The following excerpt alone will suffice to make clear what was at stake in subsequent battles, which were essentially the same. Ottaviani described the Church before explaining the principles that dictated the Commission’s draft:

“There is only one true Church of Jesus Christ…which the Savior acquired on the Cross, which He united to Himself as the body to its head and the bride to her husband, and which, after the Resurrection, He confided to the government of St. Peter and his successors: the Church which alone bears the name of the Roman Catholic Church.5 The first principle [underlying the document] is that Jesus Christ willed that the salvation of every human being should be realized by union with the person of the God-Man, but He also willed that that union here below could only be realized in a social body, which He called His Church. The second principle is that there is no real distinction between the visible Roman Catholic Church and the Mystical Body of Christ which is the Church.…The visible Church and the Mystical Body of Christ are one and the same reality considered from different aspects….”5

A Door Wide Open

Cardinal Bea showed that the Secretariat for Christian Unity was one of the groups imbedded in the preparatory commissions to prepare the way for ecumenism: “The Secretariat for Christian Unity has treated of these questions with a great deal of care, and on several occasions has requested that the Theological Commission institute a joint commission, which has always been rejected. That is why we have submitted this schema to him.…The Catholic Church as means of salvation is not of ‘absolute necessity for salvation’ in the sense that God, in His loving-kindness and wisdom, has not willed to impose on men the unjust yoke of embracing in re, in order to be saved, an institution they have never heard of, and which the Catholic Church does not impose. The only thing required of men is the upright intention by which they would accept the Church if they knew of it and recognized it as the means of salvation.”

Cardinal Ottaviani, highly displeased by this intervention because it tended to broaden as far as possible the concept of membership in the Church, made this reply: “I understand [Cardinal Bea’s] zeal, since to him has been entrusted the Secretariat for Non-Catholics, and he will certainly do what he can so that the Council leaves a door wide open to them, but we mustn’t exaggerate! We must not say that as soon as someone is baptized he becomes a member of the Mystical Body even though he is not a member of the Church. Such an affirmation is dangerous…The Catholic Church and the Mystical Body are identical…Whereas the Commission has taken the greatest care to show that only Catholics are really members of the Church (the consequences of the opposite doctrine are truly dreadful and would cast doubt on the universality and infallibility of the Second Vatican Council), it has on the other hand worked to explain clearly that not all the ties between the sons of the Church and the separated brethren have been destroyed.”6

These debates alone suffice to show that the modernist group was already preparing the way which would prevail later in the Church thanks to the adoption of the ambiguous terms they managed to foist upon the Church, a ‘spiritual’ Church encompassing in concentric circles all the children of men. But to do so it was necessary to get rid of the identity between the Mystical Body of Christ and the Roman Catholic Church. This they succeeded in doing by the introduction of the pernicious term subsistit in in the Constitution Lumen Gentium. The debate over the question of tolerance versus the religious freedom of false cults was highly contentious. Cardinal Bea succinctly summed up what was at stake: “The Secretariat [for Unity] was not interested in merely practical considerations, but addressed the theological principles. The two drafts concur on many points, but they totally differ on the fundamental question.” It could not be better said, since he granted to error, to false religions, a right that truth alone can claim.

A Conspiracy?

In hindsight, knowing that the results of Vatican II are so opposed to the majority of the original blueprints raises questions as to how such a change can have occurred. Romano Amerio considers the question whether “the unexpected change in its course was due to a concerted plan made before the council, and outside it, or whether it was an effect of the natural dynamism of the council itself.”7 Was there a tiny group of conspirators who took upon themselves the task of building the Temple of Solomon upon three words which have become famous (Aggiornamento, Pastoral, Ecumenism). Already in March 1962, Msgr. Suenens began besieging John XXIII. He complained of “an excessive number of schemas prepared with an eye to their being discussed in the Council.” Later, he wrote him a note suggesting that he curtail the Council and give it a genuinely pastoral direction, a note that entered fully into the outlook of John XXIII, who verbally approved it. A confidence of Msgr. Villot to Henri Denis on June 20 completes the idea of Cardinal Suenens’s plan, providing its purpose: “At the instigation of the Cardinals of Malines (Suenens) and of Munich (Döpfner), who spoke to the Pope recently about it, in the months preceding the Council there may be a fairly strong push for the reconsideration of the somewhat narrow-minded approach to issues. There again, the beginning of the Council stands a fair chance of being rather lively.”8

Different Goals

Two weeks before its opening, Cardinal Bea declared: “We must help the Holy Father achieve his goals for the Council, the ones he expresses in his radio messages and in his exhortations. These are not the same as those of the schemas, either because the Theological Commission, which directs them, is closed to the world and to ideas of peace, justice, and unity, or because of the division of the work and a lack of co-ordination. They’ve made room for everything except the Holy Spirit.”9

The maneuvering that resulted in a break in the legal framework of Vatican II, as noted by Professor Amerio, had been anticipated by the French Consul at Treves, M. Marcel Schublin. On July 26 of that year, he observed that “beginning in the first general congregation, an outstanding man will have to step forward to launch and to compel the debates everyone is awaiting. It is surely more than a matter of protocol that in this solemn hour, all eyes are on the Church of France.”10

“During the first general congregation,” Fr. Henri Denis reported, “Cardinal Liénart of Lille took the microphone, dismissed the order of the day, and moved that the Council Fathers establish their own lists of candidates for the commissions. He was seconded by Cardinal Frings. It was the moment of an inevitable crystallization: Two thousand bishops could not have been put to such trouble merely to ratify antiquated and unpastoral texts and to recall the preparatory commissions after they had been dismissed.”11


Paradoxical Outcome

Romano Amerio summed up the situation perfectly: “A distinctive feature of Vatican II is its paradoxical outcome, by which all the preparatory work that usually directs the debates, marks the outlook and foreshadows the results of a council, was nullified and rejected from the first session onward.…” This departure from the original plan happened “by an act breaking the council’s legal framework.” This act was repeated at the time of the rejection of the schema on the sources of Revelation without the required majority vote. A papal decision overrode the regulations governing the conciliar assembly.12


The conclusion is inescapable: Vatican II, from October 13, 1962, onward, was already “revolutionary”! To get back to the “spirit” of the Council, then, would mean giving up the consequences of the revolution in order to return to the origin of the revolution. No, the only solution to the current crisis is a return, not to Vatican II, but to what it “disintegrated”—to the spirit that especially inspired the preliminary doctrinal schemas, authentic guardians of the deposit of faith, witnesses of Tradition.

1 Extracts from Église et Contre-Église by Fr. Philippe Lovey (Versailles: Courrier de Rome, 1996), pp. 111-47.

2 Acta, Series II, Vol.II, Pt. IV, p. 691.

3 Fouilloux, Vatican II commence (Catholic Univ. of Louvain, 1993), p. 52, n. 74.

4 Acta, Series II, Vol. II, Pt. III, p. 988.

5 Ibid., pp. 994-95.

6 Ibid., p. 996.

7 Iota Unum, No. 43.

8 Fouilloux, op. cit. p. 135.

9 Ibid., p. 72, note 56.

10 Ibid., p. 10

11 Ibid., p. 63.

12 Amerio, Iota Unum, Nos. 41, 42.