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No. 148 Roman Theological Forum | Article Index | Study Program Sept 2010

The Second Vatican Council: A Needed Interpretation

by John F. McCarthy

On March 25 of last year, Monsignor Gherardini brought out a critical appraisal of the documents of the Second Vatican Council and of their implementation (Brunero Gherardini, Concilio Ecumenico Vaticano II: Un discorso da fare), which has now been translated into English by the Franciscans of the Immaculate under the title of The Ecumenical Vatican Council II: A Much Needed Discussion (Casa Mariana Editrice, Via Piano della Croce 6, Frigento [AV] Italy 83040). All of the following page references are to this English edition.

While acknowledging the many good effects of the Council, Msgr. Gherardini asks whether its pastoral purpose has been realized, in view of the ”tainted philosophies” that have flourished in its wake within the Church. He observes that the openings toward the spirit of this world recommended by the documents of the Council have not been kept within prudent limits in the aftermath. Instead, a “progressivist” interpretation of the Council documents has had full sway and a liberal hermeneutic based ambiguously on the heresy of Modernism condemned by Pope Pius X, leading to the “silent apostasy” (Pope Paul VI) that now exists within the Church.

Msgr. Gherardini treats at length a fundamental question regarding the nature of the Second Vatican Council. At its opening on October 11, 1962, it was characterized by Pope John XXIII as a “pastoral council” at which new dogmatic definitions were not to be sought, but rather it “would concentrate its forces upon the effort to make Christ present to contemporary man, to his mentality, to the culture of the new times” (words of Gherardini, p. 42). And so, to this day it is not clear whether any of the teachings proper to this council has dogmatic force. When an ecumenical council presents itself under the category of pastoral, he points out, “deliberately qualifying itself as being pastoral in character, then it excludes in this fashion any intent of a defining nature” (p. 29). Gherardini notes that the question of interpreting statements of the Council as dogmatic or pastoral was treated by the General Secretariat of the Council, which declared to the Assembly that “the text will always have to be interpreted in the light of the general rules known to everyone” (p. 56), and also that the mind of the Council “is made manifest both by the doctrine treated and by the tone of the verbal expression” (p. 58). Gherardini concludes that the teachings that are proper to the Second Vatican Council “cannot be considered dogmatic” because they lack the required form for defining truths (p. 59).

The meaning of a “pastoral council” is one of the many ambiguities embedded in the documents of the Second Vatican Council. Gherardini claims, and it is commonly known, that a multitude of liberal thinkers were ready to twist the meanings of these ambiguities away from disciplined Catholic theological interpretation to innovations influenced by “false and tainted” modern philosophies. He presents many examples of this twisted thinking and names several of the intellectual leaders of the movement. Early in January of 1967, a little more than a year after the close of the Second Vatican Council, I asked a bishop who had been a Father of the Council why so many ambiguities had been left in the documents, and he replied that, in the circumstances, it was necessary to leave these ambiguities, but all that was needed to remove this problem was for the pope to come out afterwards and clarify them. However, more than forty-three years after this conversation, most of the ambiguities have never been clarified by a pope. And so, it is fitting that an appeal is now being made for the present pope to do the job that still remains to be done.

The expression “pastoral council” is, indeed, ambiguous. The word “pastoral” means, in general, pertaining to shepherds and rural life, but can mean also “an official letter or document, as on doctrine or religious observance, issued by a bishop or group of bishops to persons within their jurisdiction.”1 And so, by this definition, a pastoral council may issue documents regarding doctrine as well as discipline or religious observance. But the Second Vatican Council was proclaimed by Pope John XXIII and his successors as a pastoral council in contrast to a dogmatic council and, therefore, as presenting a message groomed to contemporary man. Gherardini points out that the vagueness of this characterization, while it has enabled some to interpret the aim of the Council simply as an expression of the essential apostolicity of the Church, has been understood by many others as a breaking open of the dogmatic-juridical defenses of the Church, as a permission to ignore the limitations placed upon sacred ministry by the Council of Trent, and even to legitimize disruptive initiatives (Gherardini, pp. 68 and 75). For instance, Gaudium et spes, “On the Church in the World of This Time,” is noted, in the judgment of Gherardini, “not for any doctrinal impact,” but rather “for its novelty of attitude, appraisals, movement, and action introduced into the very heart of the Church without, however, an evident or necessary connection with her truths” (p. 76). And so, we may say, it devolves upon the contemporary Magisterium to find and develop this connection with the truths entrusted to the Church.

Actually, Gherardini is here only repeating what Pope Benedict XVI himself has proclaimed in calling for a “hermeneutic of continuity” to replace the widespread “hermeneutic of rupture” that we have been enduring since the end of the Second Vatican Council. Pope Benedict referred to the practical consequences of what he called “the hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture” with regard to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council in his Address to the Roman Curia of December 22, 2005.2 Again, with reference to the reform of the sacred liturgy, Benedict observes in his apostolic exhortation Sacramentum caritatis, there is a “need for a hermeneutic of continuity also with regard to the correct interpretation of the liturgical development which followed the Second Vatican Council.3

But first, says Gherardini, there must be “an attentive, scientific analysis of the individual documents, of their content as a whole, of each of their arguments, of their immediate and remote sources,” to avoid the ongoing repetition of a hermeneutic of rupture (p. 297). This would be a grand undertaking that Gherardini himself doubts can be accomplished, since the minds and resources needed are probably not available. I would personally be satisfied if Pope Benedict would himself just go ahead and clarify these ambiguities one by one.

The openness in the wording of the documents of Vatican II has let into the Church movements “tainted with idealism, positivism, existentialism, and even historical and dialectical materialism,” or, in simpler terms, with “indifferentism and relativism” (p. 82). Thus, in Gherardini’s estimation, the Council assumed a focus upon the dignity of man and the unity of the human race which called for an updating (aggiornamento) that would embrace “a substantial reformulation of the Faith” according to which any simple absolute truth would be unthinkable to modern thought (p. 176). Yes, that is the way that some liberal thinkers have interpreted the documents of the Council, but it is not what the documents unambiguously say. So the need of clarification of the words of the Council documents is evident.

How did Pope John XXIII, in his opening address to the participants of the Second Vatican Council express the pastoral character of this great assembly? Let us review a few selections of the thoughts that he conveyed. He said that (all) ecumenical councils, “send out in every direction the light of truth, they direct into right paths the individual, domestic, and social lives of people, and they constantly stir up and strengthen spiritual energies ascending toward real and everlasting benefits.4 Therefore, its activity was to be aimed at the shining forth of truths as well as to their practical application. The Pope went on to say that “the greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more effectively.5 Pope John continued this thought by adding that “it is necessary first of all that the Church never turn her eyes away from the sacred patrimony of truth received from the Fathers.6 And finally, he said, that this Twenty-First Ecumenical Council “wishes to pass on the whole Catholic doctrine, not reduced, not distorted, which, in the midst of difficulties and contentions, has emerged as the common patrimony of men.7

From these four quotations, Pope John XXIII’s intent that the Second Vatican Council would preserve whole and entire the perennial teaching of the Roman Catholic Church is evident. The Council was to guard the sacred deposit of the doctrine of the Church and to aim at teaching it more effectively. And in undertaking more effective ways to present the doctrine of the Church, the Council was not to depart to any degree from “the sacred patrimony of truth received from the Fathers” of the Church.” Hence, as far as the “pastoral” aim of the Council is concerned, it was the obvious intent of Pope John XXIII that there was to be no breaking open of the dogmatic-juridical defenses of the Church or permission to ignore the limitations placed upon sacred ministry by the Council of Trent or permission to pursue activities of rupture from the traditions of the past.

But it has, indeed, seemed to many that Pope John XXIII in this address called also for a recasting of the traditional Catholic teaching to conform to “the methods of research and the literary forms of modern thought.” Thus, an early and widely circulated translation of this document words the passage as follows.

But from the renewed, serene, and tranquil adherence to all the teaching of the Church in its entirety and preciseness, as it still shines forth in the Acts of the Council of Trent and First Vatican Council, the Christian, Catholic, and apostolic spirit of the whole world expects a step forward toward a doctrinal penetration and a formation of consciousness in faithful and perfect conformity to the authentic doctrine, which, however, should be studied and expounded through the methods of research and through the literary forms of modern thought (emphasis added). The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another. And it is the latter that must be taken into great consideration with patience if necessary, everything being measured in the forms and proportions of a Magisterium which is predominantly pastoral in character.8

Of course, the question immediately arises of what Pope John meant by the studying and expounding of the authentic teaching of the Church “through the methods of research and through the literary forms of modern thought.” But did Pope John really say that at all? I include here a more literal translation of my own of the same passage.

But it is needful at present that the whole of Christian doctrine, no part having been subtracted from it, in these times of ours be taken up by everyone with renewed intent and with serene and peaceful minds, based upon that precise manner of conceiving words and putting them together which shines forth especially from the Acts of the Council of Trent and the First Vatican Council. It is necessary that, as all sincere promoters of Christian, Catholic, and apostolic affairs heartily desire, this same doctrine become more widely and deeply known and that minds be more fully imbued with and formed by it. It is necessary that this certain and immutable doctrine, to which loyal obedience is to be given, be studied and expounded in a way that our times require [emphasis added]. For the deposit of the Faith itself, that is, the truths contained in our venerable doctrine, is one thing, while the manner in which these same truths are expressed, of course always in the same sense and with the same meaning (eodem sensu eademque sententia) [emphasis added], is something else. Certainly, a lot of effort and possibly patience will need to be put into developing this approach, because ways will have to be brought in which are more adapted to a magisterial stance that is especially pastoral in character.9

It needs to be noted that, in the commonly circulated English translation of this passage of Pope John XXIII’s opening discourse, the words “through the methods of research and through the literary forms of modern thought” do not appear at all. This is an unwarranted expansion of the Pope’s words “in a way that our times require” (“ea ratione quam tempora postulant nostra), and it has been used since the end of the Council to promote the idea that Pope John wanted the Church to switch over to a modern use of language not clearly distinct from an approach based upon the philosophies of the Enlightenment, while the Pope actually avoided using the ambiguous term “modern” and thus suggesting that the Church should open her doors to these rationalist ideas.

But did Pope John really avoid using the word “modern?” A little earlier in the same English translation appearing in Abbott-Gallagher and in many other publications we hear the Pope saying:

In order, however, that this doctrine may influence the numerous fields of human activity, with reference to individuals, to families, and to social life, it is necessary first of all that the Church should never depart from the sacred patrimony of truth received from the Fathers. But at the same time she must ever look to the present, to the new conditions and new forms of life introduced into the modern world (emphasis added), which have opened new avenues to the Catholic apostolate.10

Again the Pope stresses the need never to depart from the sacred patrimony of truth received from the Fathers, while bringing in the current need to adapt its expression to the new conditions of the times. However, he does not speak of these new conditions as having been “introduced into the modern world, but says rather that the Church must “regard the present times, which have brought in new conditions of things” (“ut praesentia quoque aspiciat tempora, quae novas induxerunt rerum condiciones.11 The word “modern” does not occur at all in this passage and we also find several similar and unfounded occurrences of the word “modern” in this widely disseminated translation of the discourse.

  • The translation speaks of voices “from the fourth century to the Middle Ages, and from there to modern times.12 But the Latin original says “from the fourth century to the Middle Age and recent times” (a saeculo quarto ad Medium usque Aevum et recentia tempora).13

  • The translation has Pope John speaking of “modern conditions of faith and religious practice,”14 while the Latin original says “Faith, religious practice in our age (hac nostra aetate Fides, religionis usus).”15

  • The translation has Pope John referring to “these modern times,”16 whereas the Latin says “the present conditions of human society” (“in praesentibus humanae societatis condicionibus”).17

  • The translation has Pope John remarking about “these new conditions of modern life,”18 whereas the Latin original says “these new conditions of things brought in” (has novas inductas rerum condiciones).19

  • In the translation, the Pope speaks of “ancient and modern theologians,”20 whereas the Latin original says “old and more recent theologians” (theologi veteres et recentiores).21

  • Finally, the translation in point has the Pope speaking about “the modern expectations and needs of the various peoples of the world,”22 whereas the Latin original speaks only of “the desires and needs of various peoples (“variarum gentium optatis ac necessitatibus”).

  • What we see in these citations is a consistent effort on the part of the translators to insert the word “modern” into passages of Pope John’s address where there had been a meticulous effort to avoid it because of the philosophical and theological implications of the word. It is customary to speak of “modern times” as the period of history from about the year 1500 A.D. to the present, and there is no problem with regard to this in reference to political events, technological advances, and other such things. But the problem with regard to the inauguration of the Second Vatican Council is the ambiguous nature of the word vis-à-vis Catholic doctrine and theology. Thomas Aquinas, a great theologian of the Middle Ages, uses the word “modern” to designate New Testament as opposed to Old Testament times. In recent times, the word is inadequately distinguished from the Modernism condemned by Pope Pius X in 1907. Hermann Gunkel, the founder of the form-criticism of the Old Testament was a complete Modernist. Rudolf Bultmann, the most celebrated founder of the form-criticism of the New Testament, was a thoroughgoing Modernist, and his parading of a Modernist notion of “modern man” occasioned one of the most prominent theological debates of the twentieth century. His concept of “modern man,” as opposed, for instance, to what he considered to be the primitive thinking of Catholic believers, was based on nineteenth-century Rationalism and on an exaggerated notion of the superiority of contemporary Rationalist thinkers to the supposed naiveté of the inspired writers of the Bible.23 The secular humanist culture of our times is deeply imbued with this idea.

    During the Council and in the post-conciliar era, the insertion of the words “modern” and “literary forms of modern though” into the Pope’s inaugural address has helped some liberal scholars to persuade bishops that Pope John XXIII had in general recommended for the Second Vatican Council such things as the adoption of Gunkel and Bultmann’s novel theory of literary genres and other “genres of modern thought” in the interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures. This imposing of the word “modern” has had its impact upon the recent history of the Church.24 Note, for instance, that the title of the pastoral constitution Gaudium et spes of the Second Vatican Council “on the Church in the World of This Time” has been rendered into English as “on the Church in the Modern World.” This verbal imposition of the word “modern” has influenced many to forget that Pope John XXIII had actually insisted several times in his address that the traditional teaching of the Church be preserved untouched and that the approach of the Ecumenical Councils of Trent and Vatican I was to be retained. Pope John did say that the present times had brought in new conditions and new forms of living waiting to be addressed, but he did not say that the traditional Catholic frame of reference from which these new conditions and forms of living were to be addressed should be changed to new forms of thinking, even though many pastoral workers have understood him in this way.

    The pastoral nature of the Second Vatican Council, Gherardini observes, placed the Fathers of the Council in a position, not so much of confrontation with “modern culture” as of sympathy and dialogue. This could have been understood in general as a missionary attitude, if, in the implementation, the errors with which modern Western culture is imbued had been avoided. These errors included radical pluralism concerning matters of faith (p. 201). Many of the Fathers of the Council were listening to the voices of periti who were pushing the notion of pluralism, and Pope Paul VI referred favorably to this pluralism early in his pontificate, but he pulled away after he realized that a radical pluralism undermining the faith was in operation. Pastoral ideas were being proposed at the Council and afterwards which contained alien elements that had not been synthesized with Catholic tradition and have still not been synthesized to the present day. Thus, for instance, a dualism has arisen between the results of modern Catholic exegesis and Catholic theology, as Pope Benedict XVI has pointed out,25 and this is a dualism in operation between poorly digested novel ideas and the traditional thinking of the Church. As a result, Gherardini can point to many previous teachings of the Church that have been virtually put aside in much contemporary Catholic teaching for lack of understanding, such as the Syllabus of Errors of Pope Pius IX, the encyclical Mirari vos of Pope Gregory XVI regarding the error of “indifferentism,” and the encyclical Pascendi Dominici gregis of Pope Pius X, outlining the errors of Modernism.

    The dualism in much of Catholic research and teaching today must urgently be overcome. The answer to this problem is to complete a task that has not been accomplished for centuries, and that is, using the basic frame of reference received from the Catholic past, to examine the fabric of what is called “modern thought,” distinguishing the truth from the falsehood in which much of it is enveloped, and synthesizing the true elements with the body of traditional Catholic thought. A good start has already been made by Catholic thinkers over the past five centuries, but the job has never been completed. First of all, the framework of the Catholic approach must be clearly recognized and defined, following the example of great Catholic writers like St. Thomas Aquinas, who knew very well the Catholic viewpoint from which he was speaking. Then begins the analysis of the works of influential modern writers, delving at length into what they teach, and not just expressing a judgment in a few paragraphs, as has often been done in the past. I am referring to writers such as René Descartes, Immanuel Kant, Hermann Gunkel, Rudolf Bultmann, Sigmund Freud, and many, many others. The aim is to avoid using their undigested ideas by synthesizing their good elements with an uncorrupted body of doctrine through the use of an effective Catholic frame of reference. A positive result will be an escape from the error-ridden culture of the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century and the Rationalism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

    In the area of philosophy, take the example of cosmology, a Scholastic discipline that has been almost abandoned in Catholic studies of our time. Certainly, the reasonings of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas need to be updated in view of the findings of contemporary chemistry, physics, and astronomy. But the philosophical opinions of empirical scientists untrained in philosophical thinking need also to be corrected from the viewpoint of disciplined thinking in a revamping of the traditional corpus of this field. The same is true for biology, psychology, ethics, and natural theology. The Catholic discipline of apologetics, which has been quietly put aside, needs to be restored. The Darwinian theory of biological evolution needs to be reexamined from a disciplined philosophical point of view, so as to weed out its overshadowing errors. The Rationalist form-critical method of Gunkel, Bultmann, et al. needs to be analyzed and corrected on a more logical and theological level in the search for a better understanding of the Sacred Scriptures.

    Gherardini avers that the declaration Dignitatis humanae of the Second Vatican Council “has little or nothing in common” with the previous teachings of the Church, such as Mirari vos of Pope Gregory XVI, Quanta cura and the Syllabus of Errors of Pope Pius IX, Immortale Dei of Pope Leo XIII, Pascendi dominici gregis of Pope Pius X, and Humani generis of Pope Pius XII (p. 217). Certainly Dignitatis humanae has little in common with the liberal and inauthentic interpretations that some have given to the Conciliar decree, but the task is to show how the wording of Dignitatis humanae, properly interpreted, does not conflict with these previous expressions of the teaching of the Church. A formidable undertaking? Yes, but one that can be accomplished by competent scholars under the leadership of the pope. Gherardini recognizes the positive aspects of the Second Vatican Council, for which, he says, it will be adjudged one of the great ecumenical councils in historical retrospect, provided that its continuity with the preceding councils comes to be established (p. 283).

    The Council Fathers aver that the Church has the mission “to enlighten the whole world with the message of the Gospel and to gather together into the one Spirit all men of every nation, race, and culture,” and this “renders possible sincere dialogue and strengthens it” (Gaudium et spes, no. 92). The Council Fathers say a little further on that they are eager for a dialogue which, “conducted with appropriate discretion and leading to truth by way of love alone, excludes nobody,” and so, they say, they would like to include in this dialogue “those who respect outstanding human values without realizing who the author of those values is, as well as those who oppose the Church and persecute her in various ways.” And their reason is that “Since God the Father is the beginning and the end of all things, we are all called to be brothers; we ought to work together without violence and without deceipt to build up the world in a spirit of genuine peace” (ibid.).

    Gherardini notes that this paragraph of Gaudium et spes could be interpreted as the expression of a search for the universal brotherhood of mankind, setting up as the new purpose of the Catholic Church to help all men, whether or not they explicitly recognize the existence of God, to achieve a sharper insight into their full human destiny, and thereby lead them to make the world more accommodating to themselves, apart from any felt relationship to God (p. 220). But this would be a false interpretation of this pastoral constitution, even though the ambiguity of some of the wording of these passages points to a needed clarification on the part of the pope. But this humanistic interpretation of the mission of the Church in Gaudium et spes is uncalled for because, in the midst of these same quotations from para­graph 92 of Gaudium et spes, we find the following statements:

  • The desired dialogue with all men stems from the mission of the Church “to enlighten the whole world with the message of the Gospel;”

  • This mission of the Church requires first the creation of “mutual esteem, reverence, and harmony” among the members of the people of God;

  • It asks the future members of this dialogue to pattern themselves and their activity “more and more after the spirit of the Gospel;”

  • It says that, “since God the Father is the beginning and the end of all things,” we are called upon to work together as brothers “to build up the world in a spirit of genuine peace.”

  • The spirit of genuine peace is the peace of Christ. Therefore, for the needed clarification of this passage of Gaudium et spes, it is clear from these four citations that the universal brotherhood of mankind to which the document refers is the brotherhood of all men as descendants of Adam and Eve, of which Our Lord Jesus Christ became a participant by his conception in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and that the help for all men which the Church is called upon to supply is the mercy and grace of Jesus in the light and spirit of the Gospel.

    CONCLUSION. As Monsignor Gherardini points out in detail and at length, an authoritative clarification of the troublesome ambiguities in the wording of the documents of the Second Vatican Council is urgently needed. This solemn assembly was intended as a pastoral council in the sense that it would apply the truths of the Catholic Faith to the new situations that have arisen since the Council of Trent. Any pastoral use of the established teachings of the Church would have to be done, as Pope John XXIII declared in his opening address, “eodem sensu eademque sententia,”(“with the same meaning and the same judgment”), therefore, without any new or different interpretation of these truths. The pastoral task of the Council was to mandate how the Church, using her unchanging viewpoint and frame of reference, was to enter into fruitful dialogue with modern movements and ideas that were dominant in the world but which had not been sufficiently analyzed and addressed by her pastoral activity. It was not to be the role of this council to condemn errors, because the errors had been sufficiently condemned in the prior teaching of the Church, but rather to find ways to penetrate and evangelize non-Catholic circles in a positive way. Unfortunately, many in the Church adopted what they called the “spirit of the Council,” and sought to modify the teaching and activity of the Church from the viewpoints of ideas and movements that were outside the Church. This “revolution” needs now to be reversed in terms of a “hermeneutic of continuity.”

    What is often referred to as “modern thought” has been largely derived from the naturalistic and anti-Catholic “Enlightenment” of the eighteenth century, flowing into the Rationalism of the nineteenth century. The updating (aggiornamento) called for by Pope John XXIII was not intended to imbibe the poison of this movement, but to analyze carefully its ideas, retaining what was salutary and rejecting what was harmful. This approach would be positive in the sense that, in a spirit of Christian charity, it would address this and other movements with sympathy for the persons engaged in them and really strive to guide them to a more Catholic point of view. The “forms of modern thought” needed to be baptized. Perhaps, at the time when the Second Vatican Council was convened, the Church had for a long time taken refuge in a kind of doctrinal cloister from which alien ideas had been excluded by means of the Index of Prohibited Books and other protective measures, while those erroneous movements outside the Church were simply left to “stew in their own juice,” but this had been found harmful both to them and to the Church. The “reconciliation with the world” described by Msgr. Gherardini (p. 46) would now have to clarified to show that it leads ultimately to the conversion of the world to the perennial faith, hope, and charity of the Church.

    For this work of conversion an updated Catholic apologetics was sorely needed. Unfortunately, the opposite happened after the Council, in the sense that the existing apologetics was deemphasized, and many Catholic intellectuals began a mistaken semi-conversion to alien ideas in the form of a dualism of conflicting systems. “Pluralist man” (p. 75) became the central theme of a “tainted approach” to theology and Scriptural exegesis (pp. 82 and 284). The Church now needs to recover from this sad condition by a positive effort of academic study which will sift the data of modern thought, incorporate what is true, and reject what is false. It was not the task of this council to condemn errors which had already been condemned, but it is now the task of Catholic writers to identify the errors for what they are and to build on whatever true elements they may contain. The opportunity at this time to strengthen and expand our traditional philosophy and theology through the use of a hermeneutic of continuity, keeping intact the “sacred deposit of Christian doctrine,” is immense.

    One of the areas needing to be reexamined from a sound Catholic point of view is the notion of the “modern mind” and of its religious impact in the form of Modernism. Still waiting is a competent analysis of the so-called “literary forms of modern thought.” The scant analysis given so far by Catholic exegetes to the false underlying principles of the form-critical method of Hermann Gunkel and Rudolf Bultmann urgently needs to be corrected. A competent critique of the “form-critical” approach, which originated from outside the Catholic Church, will include a clearing away of the dualism in effect among many Catholic exegetes and theologians through the employment of a Catholic frame of reference that is consciously differentiated and rigorously followed.

    Scholastic philosophy needs to be updated and reinvigorated, especially in the areas of cosmology and psychology. Areas that are now staked out by non-Catholic and even atheistic thinkers, such as the over-reaching world-view of Darwinian evolution, are waiting for a correction from the viewpoint of solid Catholic philosophy and theology. As regards writing technique, the making of explicit references to the sources of ideas expressed in philosophical and theological essays needs to be reinstated in place of the current custom of often giving few references and leaving the readers to assume that many ideas of others are actually original ideas of the authors of the essays.

    The seeming conflict of Dignitatis humanae with the teaching in previous encyclical letters of the popes can be resolved by accurate study of the Conciliar decree and its interpretation in terms of a hermeneutic of continuity. In Gaudium et spes, the Council Fathers looked forward to a dialogue with “all those who believe in God and who preserve in their traditions precious religious and human elements,” to be conducted “solely by love for the truth and, of course with fitting prudence, excluding no one on our part”.26 Love for the truth alone is a very high motive for entering into dialogue with non-Catholics and with the world in general, but, unfortunately, the dialogue has not always been con­ducted with an appropriate discretion leading to the truth. Part of the discretion sometimes lacking in the dialogue has been the absence of a fully adequate Catholic frame of reference from which the Catholic party could enter fruitfully into the dialogue.

    If a new effort of interpretation of the decrees of the Second Vatican Council, under the leadership of the pope and following the path of a hermeneutic of continuity, is undertaken, the likely result would be an invigorating advance in the life of the Church and many new insights into the pastoral challenges of our time.


    1 Webster’s New College Dictionary (2007).

    2 AAS 98 (2006), pp. 44-45; L'Osservatore Romano, English edition, January 4, 2006, p. 4.

    3 Sacramentum caritatis, note 6.

    4. . . et veritatis lucem quoquoversus emittunt, vitam singulorum hominum, domestici convictus, societatis in rectas semitas dirigunt, spirituales vires excitant atque stabiliunt, ad vera et sempiterna bona continenter animos erigunt” (Enchiridion Vaticanum, 6th ed. , Bologna, Edizioni Dehoniane [1967], no. 32). The English translation above is my own.

    5Quod Concilii Oecumenici maxime interest, hoc est, ut sacrum christianae depositum efficaciore ratione custodiatur atque proponatur.” (ibid. no. 45). The English translation above is my own.

    6. . . in primis necesse est, ne Ecclesia oculos a sacro veritatis patrimonio a maioribus accepto umquam avertat”( Enchiridion Vaticanum, no. 49 [my translation]).

    7 . . . integram, non imminutam, non detortam tradere vult doctrinam catholicam,quae, licet inter difficultates et contentiones, veluti patrimonium commune hominum evasit” (Enchiridion Vaticanum, no. 52 [my translation]).

    8 See the text of this translation in W. Abbott – J. Gallagher, The Documents of Vatican II (CORPUS BOOKS: New York/Cleveland, 1966), p. 715.

    9Verumtamen in praesenti oportet ut universa doctrina christiana, nulla parte inde detracta, his temporibus nostris ab omnibus accipiatur novo studio, mentibus serenis atque pacatis, tradita accurata illa ratione verba concipiendi et in formam redigendi, quae ex actis Concilii Tridentini et Vaticani Primi praesertim elucet; oportet ut, quemadmodum cuncti sinceri rei christianae catholicae, apostolicae fautores vehementer exoptant, eadem doctrina amplius et altius cognoscatur eaque plenius animi imbuantur atque formentur; oportet ut haec doctrina certa et immutabilis, cui fidele obsequium est praestandum, ea ratione pervestigetur et exponatur, quam tempora postulant nostra. Est enim aliud ipsum depositum Fidei, seu veritates, quae veneranda doctrina nostra continentur, aliud modus, quo eaedem enuntiantur, eodem tamen sensu eademque sententia. Huic quippe modo plurimum tribuendum erit et patienter, si opus fuerit in eo elaborandum; scilicet eae inducendae erunt rationes res exponendi, quae cum magistero, cuius indoles praesertim pastoralis est, magis congruant (Enchiridion Vaticanum, no. 55).

    10 Abbott-Gallagher, op. cit., p. 714.

    11 Enchiridion Vaticanum, no. 49.

    12 Abbott-Gallagher, op. cit., p. 710.

    13 Enchiridion Vaticanum, no. 29.

    14 Abbott-Gallagher, op. cit., p. 712.

    15 Enchiridion Vaticanum, no. 35.

    16 Abbott-Gallagher, op. cit., p. 712.

    17 Enchiridion Vaticanum, no. 40.

    18 Abbott-Gallagher, op. cit., p.713.

    19 Enchiridion Vaticanum, no. 43.

    20 Abbott-Gallagher, op. cit., p. 715.

    21 Enchiridion Vaticanum, no. 54.

    22 Abbott-Gallagher, op. cit., p. 718.

    23 See, for instance, R. Bultmann, “New Testament and Mythology,” in H.W. Bartsch, ed., Kerygma and Myth: A Theological Debate, vol. I (London: SPCK, 1953) pp. 1-44.

    24 Note that the English translation of the address that I have been quoting is not a translation of the original Latin text; it is rather a translation of an Italian translation of the original text that Gherardini calls “explosive” (p. 177). And the translations into some other major European languages were also made from this parallel Italian version given in the Enchiridion Vaticanum, which also has inserted in it in several of these quoted instances the word “modern.”

    25 “Therefore, for the life and the mission of the Church, for the future of faith, this dualism between exegesis and theology must be overcome. Biblical theology and systematic theology are two dimensions of the one reality, what we call Theology” (Benedict XVI to the 2008 world Synod of Bishops, quoted with explanation in Living Tradition 143 – concluding words of the intervention).

    26 “Animum nostrum proin etiam ad omnes convertimus qui Deum agnoscunt et in traditionibus suis pretiosa elementa religiosa et humana conservant . . . . Desiderium colloquii, quod sola caritate erga veritatem ducatur, servata utique congrua prudentia, ex nostra parte neminem excludit . . . . (Enchiridion Vaticanum, no. 92). The translation is my own.

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