Above is a link to a National Catholic Register interview with the vice president of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, Archbishop J. Augustine DiNoia. In it he discusses the Society of Saint Pius X, the Second Vatican Council, and the idea that there could be “errors” within the Council.
The whole interview is good to read, but there are a couple of quotes I just wanted to comment on:
The [reform of the] liturgy has been a factor; it was a terrible revolution and shock for people.
A lot of people born after the Council, and with no experience of the Traditional Latin Mass, don’t always fully appreciate what a huge change in the Mass took place from the Tridentine Mass to the Novus Ordo. What many, if not most, people understand as the Catholic Faith comes from their liturgy every Sunday. Most Catholics do not go around reading Council documents (they’re not as crazy as I am 🙂 ). For such a huge, sudden change from the older form of the Mass to the newer form made it seem for many people that My religion is gone, disappeared. Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, has also criticized the suddenness and drastic nature of the changes that took place in the 1970’s.
The next quote I wanted to discuss was this:
I’ve tried to find an analogy for this. Let’s say the American Constitution can be read in at least two ways: Historians read it, and they are interested in historical context: in the framers, intentions of the framers, the backgrounds of framers and all of that historical work about the Constitution. So, you have a Constitution you can study historically and shed a great deal of light on the meaning of it.
However, when the Supreme Court uses the Constitution, when it’s read as an institutional living document upon which institutions of a country are based, it’s a different reading. So what the framers thought, including not only experts upon whom they’re dependent — they are parallel to the bishops, and the experts are parallel to the periti [theologians who serve participants at an ecumenical council].
Those documents have an independence from all of them. I often say that what Council Fathers intended doesn’t matter because it’s how you apply it today that matters. It’s a living document.
The “living document” approach, both to the United States Constitution, and to Church documents, always makes me uneasy. The term “living document” indicates that the truth contained in such documents can be interpreted differently from one age to the next. Yet truth doesn’t change. Because God does not change His mind. What was evil two thousand years ago is evil today, and will be evil two thousand years from now. And the same goes for good. Evil doesn’t become good, and good evil, as the times change.
Now the U.S. Constitution is different since it is a document written by men and not protected by the Holy Ghost. Church documents must be able to be clearly understood, and normally the popes have immediately provided “keys” to understanding Council documents, often in the form of “anathemas”. If a document from the Second Vatican Council clearly contradicts an earlier encyclical or council document, then there is a big problem. For if the Church is protected from error, She is protected from error. Period.
By the way, this is a point my by Archbishop DiNoia, and it is a good one.
But that doesn’t mean closing ones eyes to apparent breaks in Tradition contained in the Council documents, ones that were seized upon by Modernists and the resulting havoc within the Church. Now, by saying the documents of the Second Vatican Council must be read in light of Sacred Tradition helps take care of this. But I wish 40 years hadn’t gone by before a pope, in this case our current Holy Father, Benedict XVI, made the case that the Second Vatican Council must be understood through a Hermeneutic of Continuity with Sacred Tradition (as opposed to a break) in his Christmas Message in 2005.
There are doctrinal developments here and there. And the society thinks, of course, that the whole teaching on religious liberty is a departure from the tradition. But some very smart people have tried to point out it’s a development that is consistent.
One of these very “smart people” who state that religious liberty is consistent with Catholic Tradition is George Weigel (I would suggest reading his book Witness to Hope). But I would insist on not dodging the question of whether the Church previously taught that, what was then known as “Religious Indifferentism” (see Mirari Vos), can “develop” into a teaching proclaiming “Religious Liberty” (see Dignitatis Humanae). Can something that was condemned before, under one name, now be championed with another name?
This is one of the points of the doctrinal discussions between the Society of Saint Pius X, and the Vatican. The SSPX insisted on this being answered, and I believe rightfully so. Also note that I think the question has been being tackled, as shown by the first part of the CNS interview with Bishop Bernard Fellay (shown below).
(look at video at time 1:24)
Bishop Fellay mentions that the Second Vatican Council is presenting religious liberty in a “very very limited” sense, and that Rome has agreed with this. And yet, with the Fortnight for Freedom and everything going on in the United States and around the world, religious liberty is being presented as a God-given right. Could it just be that the document Dignitatis Humanae is being misinterpreted (maybe on purpose)? Was it written in a vague (or purposely vague) sense? Here’s a question — Is Mirari Vos wrong? Or Quanta Cura written by Pope Pius IX? Or Immortale Dei by Pope Leo XIII? Or Quas Primas by Pope Pius XI? These encyclicals being wrong would be just as big a problem as Dignitatis Humane being wrong.
You can see the problems with these questions not being answered. If the Church is really protected from error by the Holy Ghost, then all these documents must be true.
Let’s get the interpretation of the Council documents right, once and for all!