Disputing Vatican II's authority: Gherardini

September 03, 2013
Source: District of the USA

Are Catholics required to give their full assent to Vatican II's documents? The respected theological author, Msgr. Gherardini. asks this same question that affirms the position of Archbishop Lefebrve and the SSPX.

On December 2, 2011, L’Osservatore Romano published an article by Msgr. Fernando Ocariz, titled, “On Adherence to the Second Vatican Council on the Occasion of the 50th Anniversary of Its Convocation.” The Spanish theologian, a member of Opus Dei, who was one of the Roman experts during the recent doctrinal discussions between the Holy See and the Society of St. Pius X, means to answer through this article the “questions posed, even in public opinion, on the continuity of certain Conciliar teachings with previous teachings of the Church’s Magisterium.”

In his latest book published in French, Le Concile Vatican II: un debat qui n’a pas eu lieu [The Second Vatican Council: A Debate That Has Not Taken Place], Msgr. Brunero Gherardini, former professor of ecclesiology at the Pontifical Lateran University and director of the international theological journal Divinitas, wonders:

how can it be coherent to declare that such a radical overturning of the Tridentine tradition is also perfectly coherent with the preceding magisterium, and constitutes validly infallible, irreformable, dogmatic material? I candidly admit that I do not understand." (p. 82-83)

And then to immediately give the example of the Decree on Ecumenism, Unitatis redintegratio...." (p.83)

Contradiction or Non-contradiction with Tradition?

In his article, Msgr. Ocariz admits, “there remains space for legitimate theological freedom to explain in one way or another how certain formulations present in the Conciliar texts do not contradict Tradition....” A little earlier, he recognized, “A number of innovations of a doctrinal nature are to be found in the documents of the Second Vatican Council: on the sacramental nature of the episcopate, on episcopal collegiality, on religious freedom, etc.”

At the end of his book, Msgr. Gherardini writes:

To summarize, we can say that philologically, historically, exegetically and theologically it is hard to find justification:

a) for the collegiality of bishops, as described in Lumen gentium 22 and 23;

b) for the manipulation that Dei Verbum 8-12 works on vital Church doctrines as Tradition, and those, which are no less important, the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible;

c) for other innovations (…) which concern the sacred liturgy, soteriology, the relationship between Christianity, Judaism, Islam and other religions in general." (p.90)

Different degrees of adherence to various conciliar documents

Msgr. Ocariz affirms that “it is not pointless to recall that the pastoral design of the Council does not mean that it was not doctrinal,” and he distinguishes:

Naturally not all the affirmations contained in the Conciliar documents have the same doctrinal value and therefore not all require the same degree of assent.

1. Those affirmations of the Second Vatican Council that recall the truths of the faith naturally require the assent of theological faith, not because they were taught by this Council but because they have already been taught infallibly as such by the Church, either by a solemn judgment or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium. The same full and definitive assent is required for the other doctrines set forth by the Second Vatican Council which have already been proposed by a previous definitive act of the Magisterium.

2. The Council’s other doctrinal teachings require from the faithful the degree of assent called 'religious submission of will and intellect.' It is about a 'religious' assent, which is thus not based on purely rational motives. This adherence does not take the form of an act of faith, but, rather, one of obedience. It is not merely disciplinary, but well-rooted in our confidence in the divine assistance given to the Magisterium, and therefore 'within the logic and under the impulse of obedience to the faith' (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction Donum Veritatis, May 24, 1990, n. 23). (…)

3. Documents of the Magisterium may contain—as is the case in the documents of the Second Vatican Council—elements that are not exactly doctrinal and whose nature is more or less circumstantial (descriptions of the state of a society, suggestions, exhortations, etc.). Such matters are received with respect and gratitude, but do not require an intellectual assent in the strictest sense (cf. Instruction Donum Veritatis, nn. 24-31)."

While reiterating, too, the different degrees of authority assigned to the various conciliar texts (p. 76 et seq.), Msgr. Gherardini offers a quadruple distinction subject to clarification to open the debate:

It seems to me that to begin, and always after having considered all the implications, a good critic should consider the Second Vatican Council on four distinct levels:

a) the generic level of the ecumenical council as an ecumenical council;

b) the specific level as pastoral;

c) the level of reference to other councils;

d) the level of innovations." (p. 84)

On the last three levels, he wrote:

At the pastoral level (b):


the theological-dogmatic discourse is not necessarily related to the variety and complexity of all that is meant by ‘pastoral.’ I say ‘not necessarily’ in reference to the exception of catechesis on revealed truth and the dogmas of the faith, as well as the fact that catechesis is a part of what is here considered pastoral, but is not pastoral. Ultimately, even this second level, which undoubtedly belongs to the supreme and solemn conciliar teaching domain, does not express in itself an irrevocable, infallible, dogmatic validity, because in principle, pastoral neither defines truth nor condemns error." (p.86)

The level of reference to preceding councils (c):


clearly shows the link of the Second Vatican Council with previous dogmatic teaching, the one according to which the Church is mistress and pillar of truth. The truths that the magisterial intervention of the Church raises to dogmas of faith, and as such offers to all her members, without exception, are those explicitly or implicitly revealed by God and entrusted to the Church herself, so that she keeps them, interprets them and transmits them with absolute fidelity. Only some of these truths can be found in the Second Vatican Council, as it refers directly or implicitly to the councils that had defined them: these are especially the truths relating to the nature of the Church, her hierarchical structure, the apostolic succession of the Roman Pontiff and the bishops, to the true jurisdiction deriving from it, universal for the pope as united to the See of Rome by Peter, locale of the successors of the apostles.


Therefore, it is at this third level that the magisterium of the Second Vatican Council also assumes an incontestable dogmatic validity. A validity which nevertheless remains restricted within the limits of the very level that accommodates it, without it conferring a different formalitas to the whole Council, and without specifically transitioning from a pastoral magisterium to a dogmatic magisterium in absolute terms. It is not without reason—it seems to me—that I have said in other places that the magisterium is dogmatic when it reverts to the preceding magisterium, and not beyond its limits. It follows that a dogmatism like this can neither be denied, because the evidence supports it, nor extended beyond this same limit, because ‘relative’ and ‘absolute’ are two different things." (pp. 86-87)

On some irreconcilable novelties with the claim to an irrevocable and dogmatic Magisterium

At the level of the innovations of Vatican II (d), Msgr. Gherardini wrote:


Gaudium et Spes must be read carefully and without preconceived ideas: one could ask, after all, what connection can the vast majority of subjects treated therein, not only in the second part, but also in the first part of the text, have with the nature and specific apostolic activity of the Church. This novelty situates the Church on the level as States and their institutions; it makes the Church one speaker among others, and robs her not so much of her function as the critical conscience of history, but rather of her nature as sacramentum Christi [sacrament of Christ] and of her subsequent responsibility concerning eternal salvation.


Either the Church is the sacrament of Christ, completely willing to apply the suprema lex salus animarum [supreme law of the salvation of souls], even if it is at the cost of having to once again extend her arms on the Cross, or she loses her identity. Many share the belief that, following the Council’s direction, this is precisely what happened and what continues to happen.


But novelties are not just the prerogative of Gaudium et Spes. They are also scattered throughout each of the documents of Vatican II, and certain ones of them are integral novelties.


Certain ones of them, in particular, seems to me to not be compatible with the claim of an irrevocable and dogmatic magisterium. The fact of having shifted the axis of the balance between revealed truth and religious freedom, the fact of having fixed one or other innovation—especially religious liberty—on unclear biblical foundations, all that so to try to give theological credibility to an ideal social act of tolerance, organization and government.

It is precisely Gaudium et Spes which did away with the concept of asking Revelation to solve temporal problems and which dared to wait for the Church to come up with solutions that are not hers to make. That which conforms with the rational nature of man and depends upon the methodical use of reason will essentially give glory to God the creator and supreme ruler of creation, and not purport to have a place of honor among revealed truth, nor to transfer the justification for its choice of the rational and natural domain onto the revealed and supernatural domain.

And since a truth of reason is by its nature subject to the vagaries of discussion and dispute, the conciliar innovations regarding civil matters, or those of a greater socio-political character,—to the extent that they are always debatable and fluid—not only make the dogmatic character of Vatican II problematic, but also cast a shadow over the conciliar credibility of objectives that are not directly related to the specificity of ecclesiastical ministry." (pp. 87-90)

For a sure and objective evaluation of Vatican II

At the end of his article, Msgr. Ocariz wishes for a “a serene and joyful acceptance of the Magisterium, the authentic interpreter of the doctrine of the faith,” while acknowledging, “even if there remain aspects that are not entirely understood,” and accepting that “there remains legitimate room for theologial freedom and further opportune in-depth study.”

Already in his book Vatican II: A Debate To Be Opened, Msgr. Gherardini addressed to Benedict XVI the filial question of giving a “grandiose and, if possible, final clarification of the last council concerning each of its aspects and contents.” And he added:

Indeed, it would seem logical and, it seems to me, urgent that each of these aspects and contents be studied in themselves and in the context of all the others, while carefully observing all the sources, and from the specific viewpoint of continuity with the previous Magisterium, be they solemn or ordinary. On the basis of a scientific and critical work as full and irreproachable as possible, in relation to the traditional Magisterium of the Church, it will then be possible to draw material from it for a sure and objective evaluation of Vatican II." (p. 260)

He concluded:

In the case where all or part of this continuity could not be scientifically proven, it would be necessary to say it with impartiality and frankness, in response to the half-century-long demand for clarity." (p. 261)

These few quotes from the article by Msgr. Ocariz and works of Msgr. Gherardini cannot give an exhaustive account of the question; even less can they replace the debate that needs to be done. They simply suggest that this debate has begun to open.

(Sources: L’Osservatore Romano / Vatican II: a Debate To Be Opened / Vatican II: a Debate That Has Not Taken Place—The passages highlighted in bold and the headings by the editor—DICI no. 246, 9-11-2012)