1. “The raucous shouting of those who through disagreement rise up against one another, the incomprehensible chatter, the confused din of uninterrupted clamouring, has now filled almost the whole of the Church, falsifying through excess or failure the right doctrine of the faith...”1 Quoting the words of the Bishop of Caesarea, the pope’s Address of December 22, 2005, compares the post-conciliar period with the period following the First Council of Nicaea. The two situations are not quite the same, and Benedict takes care not to blacken the tableau of the last fifty years. But, with this small reservation, in his eyes the comparison is not inappropriate, and it even appears useful to him for trying to comprehend the underlying reasons for the persistent malaise in the Church today, long after the close of the Twenty-first Ecumenical Council. In the pope’s mind, the same causes produce the same effects: like that of Nicaea, the reception of Vatican II occurred with some difficulty.
2. As did the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith before, the reigning Sovereign Pontiff has been attempting to draw lessons from an all too obvious failure. Before, it was in 1988 in a speech delivered to the Episcopal Conference of Chile by Cardinal Ratzinger. The 1988 speech, together with The Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church, is the primary antecedent of the argumentation of 2005. The earlier speech was analyzed at the time in the November 1988 issue of Courrier de Rome, the French version of SiSiNoNo, in an article entitled “Cardinal Ratzinger demonstrates a state of necessity in the Church.” That newspaper took up the same topic several times in its November 1989, April 1991, September 1991, and March 1992 issues. Cardinal Ratzinger’s explanation was that the teachings of Vatican II are consistent with Church Tradition and do not stand in need of reform; some revision of their application (or “reception”) would be needful to put an end to simple abuses. For, thought the future Benedict XVI, “many presentations give the impression that with Vatican II everything changed, and that what came before it is no longer of value.” Twenty years later, Cardinal Ratzinger having become pope still remains convinced that this explanation is the right one. The December 22, 2005, speech decries the same false presentations and what he calls “the hermeneutic of rupture.” The solution would be to return to a hermeneutic of “renewal in continuity,” a continuity which would be that “of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us….remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.”
3. Does such an assessment sufficiently account for the facts? For it is a question of explaining the facts. Facts tend to speak up first and often more tellingly than all the ensuing speeches. The Council of Nicaea convened to put an end to a disorder that had already been introduced into the Church. We can well see how the Arian heresy progressively retreated and disappeared thanks to the application of the teachings of the First Ecumenical Council. On the other hand, we are obliged to note that such has not been the case with Vatican II. It is a widely recognized, established fact that disorder entered the Church after the Council. For the last fifty years, disorder has taken hold and become the norm. Is this merely the result of two conflicting interpretations? There is no alternative but to acknowledge that there are also two magisteriums: the magisterium of all time and the new magisterium born of the last Council. The renewal, as Benedict XVI describes and wishes it, would prove their continuity. But unity cannot be defined only as unity in time, for the unity of the Church is not merely chronological. More deeply, it involves unity of faith, the unity of the same meaning of the same divinely revealed truth.
4. Examination of the texts reveals that this [pre- and post-conciliar] unity has been seriously undermined since the last council by the very teachings of Vatican II. As the Courrier de Rome article of November 1988 (page 4) demonstrates, “some texts of the Council express a departure from Tradition, and can in no wise be reconciled with it. It is not only that, as Cardinal Ratzinger thinks, ‘many presentations give the impression that with Vatican II everything changed, and that what came before it is no longer of value”; no, there are texts of the Council that constitute a change from what preceded it and that consequently compel us to choose between Vatican II and Tradition. Texts like Nostra Aetate on the non-Christian Religions, Unitatis Redintegratio on ecumenism, and Dignitatis Humanae on religious freedom effectively lead us reasonably to wonder, as did Cardinal Ratzinger, ‘if the Church of today is really the same as yesterday’s, or if it has been replaced by another one without anybody bothering to tell the Catholics.’” The explication of this rather surprising fact is to be found in the explicit intention of Pope John XXIII and Paul VI: “Proclaiming this council to be ‘pastoral’ and not dogmatic, putting the stress on aggiornamento and ecumenism, these Popes at the outset deprived the council and themselves of the intervention of the charism of infallibility which would have protected them from all error.”2 Should the Council be accused or excused? In other words, did Vatican II fulfill the conditions of a magisterial act beyond doubt and beneficial for the whole Church?
One must have recourse to the texts to get a serious answer.3 Considering these texts, we are obliged to say that it would be much too simple to exculpate Vatican II. And to avoid begging the question, there is no need to measure Vatican II by our own standard. One need only subject the Council to the test of its own continuity.
5. The proper object of an act of the magisterium is the revelation transmitted by the Apostles, that is, the deposit of faith to be guarded sacredly and faithfully set forth always in the same meaning. Vatican Council I reiterated this twice: (1) In the dogmatic constitution Pastor Aeternus on the Church: “The Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter that by His revelation they might disclose new doctrine, but that by His help they might guard sacredly the revelation transmitted through the apostles and the deposit of faith, and might faithfully set it forth”;4 (2) in the dogmatic constitution Dei Filius on the Catholic faith: “The doctrine of faith which God revealed has not been handed down as a philosophic invention to the human mind to be perfected, but has been entrusted as a divine deposit to the Spouse of Christ, to be faithfully guarded and infallibly interpreted. [That is why] that understanding of its sacred dogmas must be perpetually retained, which Holy Mother Church has once declared; and there must never be recession from that meaning under the specious name of a deeper understanding. ‘Therefore…let the understanding, the knowledge, and wisdom of individuals as of all, of one man as of the whole Church, grow and progress strongly with the passage of the ages and the centuries; but let it be solely in its own genus, namely in the same dogma, with the same sense and the same understanding’ (Instruction of Vincent of Lerin, n. 28).”5 And so, “If anyone shall have said that it is possible that to the dogmas declared by the Church a meaning must sometimes be attributed according to the progress of science, different from that which the Church has understood and understands: let him be anathema.”6 Pius X’s Anti-Modernist Oath in its fourth affirmation confirms Vatican I on all these points of doctrine: “I accept sincerely the doctrine of faith transmitted from the apostles through the orthodox fathers, always in the same sense and interpretation, even to us; and so I reject the heretical invention of the evolution of dogmas, passing from one meaning to another, different from that which the Church first had….”7
6. As Pius XII teaches in Humani Generis, the function of the magisterium is “to illumine and clarify what is contained in the deposits of faith obscurely and implicitly.”8 Pius XI affirms the same thing in the Encyclical Mortalium Animos of January 6, 1928, when speaking of the solemn magisterium of ecumenical councils: “But in the use of this extraordinary teaching authority no fresh invention is introduced, nothing new is ever added to the number of those truths which are at least implicitly contained within the deposit of Revelation divinely committed to the Church; but truths which to some perhaps may still seem obscure are rendered clear, or a truth which some may have called into question is declared to be of faith.”9 Pius XII further explains that in the work of rendering doctrine more explicit, “it is clear that the method whereby clear things are explained from the obscure is wholly false; but rather all should follow the opposite order.”
7. Therefore it is hard to grant the hermeneutic of reform (or of renewal in continuity) proposed by Benedict XVI in his Address of December 22, 2005,10 on the following two points: firstly, when this reform pretends to justify the introduction of novelties contrary to Tradition, when it says that Vatican II set itself the task of redefining the relationship of the faith of the Church with some essential elements of modern thought; and secondly, when this reform pretends to establish renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church by calling in question objective teaching of the magisterium on essential points.
8. In light of the principles indicated above, the right “hermeneutic” or manner of understanding the texts of Vatican Council II would be to proceed in accordance with the truth stated by Vatican I, according to which “that understanding of its sacred dogmas must be perpetually retained, which Holy Mother Church has once declared.” This truth requires that the teaching of Vatican II be interpreted in light of truths already taught by the constant magisterium, such that things contrary to Tradition are to be rejected, ambiguities are to be interpreted according to Tradition, and things consistent with Tradition are to be accepted.
9. At least on three points, the doctrinal teaching of the Second Vatican Council seems to us to be irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Catholic faith as it has been set forth in previous documents of the Church’s magisterium and therefore unacceptable. These points are the following:
10. The doctrine on religious freedom as it is expressed in No. 2 of the Declaration Dignitatis Humanae and in Nos. 2104-2109 of the new 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church contradicts the teachings of Gregory XVI in Mirari Vos and of Pius IX in Quanta Cura as also those of Pope Leo XIII in Immortale Dei and those of Pope Pius XI in Quas Primas. Vatican II declares that everyone has the right not to be hindered by any authority whatsoever from exercising the worship of the religion of his choice, true or false, provided that this exercise not injure the common good of civil society. The Tradition of the Church proclaims the social kingship of our Lord Jesus Christ, teaches that civil authorities have a duty to repress or moderate the external exercise of false religions for the sole reason that this exercise violates that of the Catholic religion, and condemns the principle according to which “that is the best condition of civil society, in which no duty is recognized, as attached to the civil power, of restraining by enacted penalties, offenders against the Catholic religion, except so far as public peace may require.”
11. The doctrine on ecumenism and the non-Christian religions as it is expressed in No. 3 of the Decree Unitatis Redintegratio, as also in No. 819 of the new Catechism of 1992; in No. 2 of the Declaration Nostra Aetate, as also in Nos. 839-848 of the new Catechism of 1992; and in No. 8 of the Constitution Lumen Gentium, as also in No. 816 of the new Catechism of 1992, contradicts the teachings of Pope Pius IX in Propositions 16 and 17 of the Syllabus of Errors and those of Pope Pius XI in Mortalium Animos. Vatican II declares that the communities separated from the Roman Catholic Church retain elements of truth and sanctification leading to Catholic unity, that they are not without signification in the mystery of salvation, and that the non-Christian religions possess a ray of the truth that enlightens all men. The definition of the Church as sacrament also adopted by Vatican II favors in its very ambiguity an ecumenical and latitudinarian notion of the Church. The Tradition of the Church teaches that our Lord Jesus Christ instituted only one visible society in which men are assured of finding salvation, which is the Roman Catholic Church; unless a man lawfully belongs to the Church as a full member or else is united to it by at least implicit supernatural desire, no one can be saved, no one can find any element of truth or sanctification, no one can receive any light of truth. The non-Catholic religions as such place an obstacle to the salvific action of Christ and the Holy Spirit.
12. The doctrine on collegiality as expressed in No. 22 of Lumen Gentium, including No. 4 of the Nota praevia, seriously departs from, so as to cast in doubt, the teachings of Vatican I in the Constitution Pastor Aeternus on the oneness [unicity] of the subject of supreme power in the Church. Vatican II teaches that the College of Bishops united to the pope as to its head is also, in addition to the pope considered alone, the subject of the primacy. Vatican I teaches that only St. Peter and his successors are the subject of the primacy. The definition of the Church as “People of God” and the idea of the common priesthood of the faithful understood in the true and proper sense of the term both tend toward a democratic and egalitarian conception whereby the Church appears much more as a communion than as a hierarchical society.
13. Moreover, the Short Critical Study of the New Order of Mass addressed on September 3, 1969, to Pope Paul VI by Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci, armed with proof, challenged the perfect orthodoxy of the new rite. The Cardinals wrote: “The Novus Ordo Missae…represents, both as a whole and in its details, a striking departure from the Catholic theology of the Mass as it was formulated in Session 22 of the Council of Trent.” The two Eminences did not fear to express also a prudent reservation as to the validity of celebrations carried out according to the new rite by priests who would no longer receive traditional training. The Society of Saint Pius X has never asserted “that the Novus Ordo Missae celebrated according to the rite set out in the Roman publication is of itself invalid or heretical.”11 But it does deem, following Archbishop Lefebvre, that “this rite of itself does not profess the Catholic faith in as clear a manner as the ancient Ordo Missae and consequently it can favor heresy.”12
14. Finally, as Pope John Paul II declared in the Apostolic Constitution Sacrae Disciplinae Leges of January 25, 1983, the teachings of Vatican Council II present “a new visage of the Church,” which must inspire in its turn the canonical legislation of the new Code of 1983. In a certain sense, this new Code of Canon Law constitutes in particular “a great effort to translate this same doctrine, that is, the conciliar ecclesiology, into canonical language.”13 The principled reservations that must be held concerning the teachings of the Council can apply, then, to this new legislation. Recourse to the 1917 Code of Canon Law should not be considered a practice peculiar to the Society. It indicates a prudential measure that is objectively valid for every Catholic faced with the serious issues the new legislation, in itself questionable, raises.
15. Should we accuse or excuse the Council? We have had recourse to the texts in order to have a serious answer.14 Considering these texts, we are well obliged to say that it would be much too simple to exculpate Vatican II. And to avoid begging the question, there is no need to measure Vatican II by our own standard. One need only subject the Council to the test of its own continuity. We can repeat here what Archbishop Lefebvre already wrote15 and conclude that the thing chiefly responsible for the evils currently besetting the Church is nothing else than the Council itself, of which the seriously erroneous or ambiguous texts are the primary source of the great marasmus observed by the Sovereign Pontiff. To wish to remedy these evils and to recover from a mortal sickness without addressing their root cause would be illusory. Mgr. Lefebvre rarely spoke of Vatican II as magisterium. When he did, the locutions he employed show that this word cannot be applied to the last Council and the post-conciliar period in its proper and usual sense. He evoked “a magisterium that destroys the [constant] magisterium and destroys Tradition”;16 “a new magisterium or a new conception of the Church’s magisterium, a conception that is modernist besides”;17 “a progressively ill-defined magisterium”;18 “an unfaithful magisterium, one that is not faithful to Tradition”;19 “a magisterium that is not faithful to the magisterium of all time”;20 “a new magisterium.”21 In official correspondence addressed to the prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the founder of the SSPX did not hesitate to express the following judgment in speaking about Vatican II: “A new magisterium without roots in the past, and all the more if it is opposed to the magisterium of all times, can only be schismatic and heretical.”22 And toward the end of his life he added: “Either we are with his predecessors who proclaimed the truth of all time and who are in agreement with the Church from the Apostles to Pope Pius XII, or else we are with the Council and we are against the predecessors of the current popes. You have to choose. There’s a choice to be made. It is obvious that Tradition lies with the 250 popes who have preceded Pope John XXIII and Vatican Council II, or else the Church has always been in error. There is the situation in which we find ourselves. We have to be firm, clear, resolute, and unhesitating.”23 This is, one might say, the Credo of the Society of Saint Pius X because it is the Credo of the Church facing the errors of the modern world. The deep-seated evil of the present time has arisen because, under cover of Vatican II, these errors have become prevalent within the Church. And if the Society of St. Pius X desires more than ever an authentic reform, it is only so that the Church can at last parry the grave deficiencies that have been paralyzing the exercise of its magisterium since the last council and recover its perpetual youth.
1 St. Basil, De Spiritu Sancto, XXX, 77; PG 32, 213 A; SCh 17 ff., p. 524, quoted by Benedict XVI in his Christmas Speech to the Roman Curia of December 22, 2005.
2 Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, They Have Uncrowned Him (1987; English version: Angelus Press, 1988), Ch. XXIV, p. 163-4.
3 Cf. ibid., Ch. XXXII, “A Suicidal Liberalism: The Post-Conciliar Reforms.”
4 DS 3070 (Dz. 1836).
5 DS 3020 (Dz. 1800).
6 DS 3043 (Dz. 1818).
7 DS 3541 (Dz. 2145).
8 DS 3886 (Dz. 2314).
9 Angelus Press edition, p. 13, §14.
10 “The steps the Council took towards the modern era which had rather vaguely been presented as ‘openness to the world’, belong in short to the perennial problem of the relationship between faith and reason that is re-emerging in ever new forms….The Second Vatican Council, with its new definition of the relationship between the faith of the Church and certain essential elements of modern thought, has reviewed or even corrected certain historical decisions, but in this apparent discontinuity it has actually preserved and deepened her inmost nature and true identity” [emphasis added]. [Text online at the Vatican’s website, www.vatican.va.]
11 Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, Letter to Cardinal Ratzinger, April 17, 1985.
12 “Mgr Lefebvre et le Saint Office,” Itinéraires, No. 233, May 1979, pp. 146-7.
13 John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution Sacrae Disciplinae Leges, January 25, 1983: “Fundamentalis illa ratio novitatis, quae, a traditione legifera Ecclesiae numquam discedens, reperitur in Concilio Vaticano II, praesertim quod spectat ad eius ecclesiologicam doctrinam, efficiat etiam rationem novitatis in novo Codice.”
14 Lefebvre, They Have Uncrowned Him, Ch. XXXII, pp. 231-34.
15 Ibid., p. 233.
16 Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, Conference at Ecône, September 29, 1975, Vu de Haut, No. 13, p. 23.
17 Ibid., January 13, 1977, Vu de Haut, No. 13, p. 51.
18 Ibid., p. 52.
19 Lefebvre, Conference at Angers, November 20, 1980, Vu de Haut, No. 13, p. 53.
20 Lefebvre, Conference at Ecône, April 10, 1981, Vu de Haut, No. 13, p. 55.
21 Ibid., p. 56.
22 Letter to Cardinal Ratzinger dated July 8, 1987; English version in Archbishop Lefebvre and the Vatican, 2nd ed. (Angelus Press, 1999), p. 22.
23 Archbishop Lefebvre, Homily, May 14, 1989 at Ecône, Vu de Haut, No. 13, p. 70.