Skip to main content

At the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Vatican II, Fr. Alvaro Calderon gave a great lecture on the level of authority this robber council can lay claim to, and of the level of assent the faithful owe to it's teachings: absolutely zero, nil and nada! At the same time this is a timely reminder to not be led astray by the false arguments of pushy sedevacantists and to avoid the bitter fruits and divisions that more often than not accompany them. Let us rather follow the great Archbishop Lefebvre in patiently staying the course between liberalism and sedevacantism, until such time as God intervenes through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, as She promised us at Fatima.


Introduction

Over the years of this Symposium it has become clear that the difficulties caused by the Second Vatican Council are serious and many; but in their variety we can point to three common features: confusion, proscription and connectivity.

The problems arising from Vatican II are a cause for confusion for two reasons. First, because the innovators that dominated the Council were prudent enough not to be explicit so as to avoid open confrontation with the traditional message of the majority. Second, because the modern ideas that animated them are essentially and deliberately ambiguous, since they do not make use of the means that give rigor to ideas, which they did with the intention of dwelling in the peaceful realm of doctrinal pluralism. They are also proscribed errors, because when one manages with heroic effort to clarify the conciliar ideas behind the haziness of their texts, one finds that in most cases we’re dealing with errors that have already been explicitly condemned by the anti-modernist magisterium of the previous one hundred years. And finally, they are all connected because, in spite of the confusion in which they are wrapped, we have been able to see that the novelties contained in the various Council documents are all closely linked with each other.

So far we have been focusing on destroying the various errors of the Council by explaining them, because once the veil of confusion that protects them has been removed, their character as condemned errors appears. But since these errors are all connected as in a single structure, there is a second way to destroy that whole edifice. While the first is by tediously demolishing it piece by piece, from the roof down to the foundations, the second way is to strike with one single blow the crucial point where all their various forces converge. At the end of our Symposium, we had to attack the cornerstone that supports the whole of the Council's construction, and which prevents the weight of all the previous condemnations from causing it to collapse. And this crucial cornerstone is none other than the authority of the Council. The constant recourse to the authority of the Council is what gave the later Popes the enormous energy they needed to stop the Church’s anti-liberal momentum and to force in into the opposite direction. At the same time it is also that which nullifies our own resistance. But we can be more precise, because authority is divided into doctrinal and disciplinary, and this latter is subordinate to the former. Therefore, the fundamental problem that we must solve is the one posed by the doctrinal authority of the Second Vatican Council, that is, the value of its magisterium.

We need to solve this problem in the light of two premises, each of which presents its own difficulties. As a major premise we need to look at what are the true criteria for judging the value of the magisterium of an ecumenical council, a doctrine that still has many gray areas among theologians. And as a minor premise, it is necessary to explain how the conciliar magisterium was effectively exercised, which is an extremely confused matter amidst the confusing problems of Vatican II. From the different positions one can take on both premises, a diversity of solutions to this question emerges.

Criteria for Judging the Value of the Teachings of an Ecumenical Council

The necessity and nature of the criteria for judging the value of the magisterium arises from considering the very purpose of the ecclesiastical magisterium. The theological virtue of faith is infallible in its inner act, so that it believes only what God revealed and because God revealed it. But the believer is not able to discern with certainty the infused character of their [the magisterium’s] acts, and therefore neither which of their objects or propositions are revealed.1 In order to make up for this defect and so that His faithful might know with certainty divine Revelation, Our Lord endowed the Church with the charism of the magisterium, by which, thanks to a special assistance of the Holy Ghost, they could define and explain the revealed Deposit [of the Faith], in His name and with His authority, until He returned. This magisterium, then, is ranked beneath Revelation and beneath the Faith : it is regulated by divine Revelation, for the Holy Ghost does not assist it for anything else [than to pass on Revelation]; and it is in turn then the immediate rule of the Catholic Faith, because the time of new revelations and of the prophecies of the Old Testament is over, and the authority of Christ and the Apostles has now in the time of the Church been succeeded by the divine authority of those who exercise the charism of the magisterium. If the believer wants to know with certainty what God taught us and what consequences can be drawn from it, he has no other recourse than to consult the ecclesiastical magisterium. Hence the importance of knowing the criteria that allow us to discern the value of their judgments.

The authentic organs of the Church's magisterium are the Pope and the bishops. We speak of "organs", that is, instruments, because the power or authority they exercise belongs first and foremost and absolutely only to Christ, the principal Master, while the Pope and the bishops only possess this power in a secondary and dependent way, as instruments. And we say "authentic", because they participate in divine authority in a habitual and proprietary way, while there are other subsidiary organs, such as the members of Roman congregations, who do so in a casual and delegated way. Authentic organs can act in four ways: the Pope alone; the Pope and the bishops gathered in an ecumenical council, the Pope in communion with the bishops all over the world and the bishops alone. In these four ways, only in the first three can the magisterium be exercised at its supreme level, because the fullness of the magisterial authority resides only in the Pope.

As for the exercise of the magisterium, we must first of all distinguish the authentic magisterium exercised by authentic organs acting formally as such [authentic organs], from the private or simply theological magisterium, exercised by these same ones but not in the name and person of Christ but in their own name and according to the personal authority they may have as theologians in the Church. The exercise of the authentic magisterium is, in turn, divided into infallible and simply authentic. The magisterium is infallible in those acts in which the authority of Christ is fully at stake. And it is simply said to be authentic when this is not [infallible], as we shall come back to later. And finally, the infallible magisterium is divided into extraordinary and ordinary. Since our listeners are not laymen, let us just add something about this last distinction – we refer to other works whoever wants a better explanation on the various points we mention.

  • We call as infallible extraordinary magisterium the one who can regard himself as such in a single act, considered absolutely and by himself, in whom the words of Christ are fulfilled in a very strict way: "Qui vos audit me audit et qui vos spernit me spernit" (Lk 10:16). It is called "extraordinary" because it is only exercised in the ex cathedra definitions of the Pope, which always have a certain solemnity which is greater than that of his ordinary acts, and in the definitions and anathemas of an ecumenical Council, an extraordinary way par excellence, because such an assembly only gathers in order to deal with the most serious questions in the life of the Church.
     
  • On the other hand, we call it the ordinary infallible magisterium when the note of infallibility is reached not by one but by a number of diverse acts of the magisterium which complement each other to teach the same truth, even if it is expressed in different words or contexts. This is the mode of supreme magisterium exercised above all - though not only - by the Pope and the bishops scattered in their respective dioceses, called "ordinary" both because it arises in general from the daily preaching of the Pastors and because it has been the mode of transmission of most of the fundamental truths of the Catholic faith. Although the above points out its importance, it has as a defect in the sense that the truths taught are not expressed in a single way and with a single sentence, so that extraordinary definitions are always necessary to clarify the sense, strengthen the certainty in the faithful and avoid the subtleties of heresy.

We cannot do away with these terms because they are customary among theologians, but let us note that especially in our case they lend themselves to confusion, because an ecumenical council is an extraordinary organ of the supreme magisterium and in this sense its magisterium could on a whole be called "extraordinary". However, not all of its acts are infallible in an extraordinary way and some may be infallible in a way we have called ordinary, as we will soon explain further. So we keep these names in their strictest sense as adjectives of infallibility and not of anything else.

As for the nature of the criteria we are looking for, let us first point out their general characteristic : they retain a human aspect. The ecclesiastical magisterium works as an organ or instrument of Jesus Christ. Hence, although it has essentially a divine aspect in the sense that it leads unfailingly to the truth, at the same time it retains nevertheless in an accidental way a human aspect because it is being exercised through men and for men who are still on pilgrimage in their faith. Therefore the criteria for judging the ecclesiastical magisterium are analogous to the criteria for judging all human teachers. So, let us give the criteria that should guide the theologian in judging the value of the judgments of an ecumenical council, going - as it should - from more to less. First, the criteria for judging what belongs to the infallible and extraordinary magisterium, then to the infallible and ordinary magisterium, and finally to the simply authentic magisterium.

The First Vatican Council defined the criteria for judging when we’re dealing with the infallible extraordinary magisterium of the Pope alone, criteria which were established by taking the very nature of the exercise of the magisterium in consideration. And since the magisterium of an ecumenical council "enjoys the same infallibility as the ex cathedra definitions of the Roman Pontiff"2, the criteria for judging it are also analogous, with the only difference being that in this case we’re not dealing with a physical person but with a moral person - the conciliar assembly. The criteria look at four aspects :

  • As for the subject, the Council must be legitimate, properly convoked, presided over and confirmed by the Pope in order to potentially possess the supreme magisterial authority; and it’s acts must be issued as such.
     
  • As for the matter, it must be a doctrine of "faith or morals". Although. as we mentioned before, the magisterium is only exercised in matters which have a necessary connection with Revelation, either directly (as a primary object) or indirectly (as a secondary object), the constitution Pastor Aeternus does not [explicitly] include this very connection as a criterion because it is not always manifest.
     
  • As for the audience, the teaching should be directed to the universality of the faithful [the universal Church], and not to any particular diocese or person, nor to those who do not profess the Catholic faith.
     
  • As for intention, the proposition must be worded in such a way that the faithful may receive it as infallibly true, with divine faith if the object is Revealed, and excluding any possibility of error if it is only a matter related to the deposit of Faith. This intention must be made manifest, either by the text or by the context; and it must be judged in a human way, according to the ways and customs of an upright magisterium.

A Council exercises the infallible magisterium in an ordinary way in those judgments which considered in themselves clearly do not have the above characteristics of the infallible extraordinary magisterium. Considered however in light of the previous teachings of the Councils and Popes, or of the teaching of the universality of the bishops in their dioceses, or of the universal belief of the faithful, they do reach characteristics analogous to the four we’ve just laid out.

All the rest of the magisterium of a legitimate ecumenical Council which is exercised as such and which does not reach the manifest degree of infallibility in an extraordinary way, is simply authentic magisterium. That it is not infallible does not [necessarily] mean that it is not assisted by the Holy Ghost. But this assistance is not full and is only given according to various degrees - this is a point of great importance but it is difficult and little studied by theologians. As for the criteria for determining the degree of this assistance, and therefore of the authority to be recognized in their teaching, one must consider [their teaching] humanly and according to the same four aspects:

  • With regard to the subject, the authority of a council depends first and foremost on the way in which the Pope commits his authority to it, which in actual reality can be very diverse and difficult to pin down: he can confirm some acts and not others, and he can approve them to a greater or lesser degree.
     
  • With regard to the matter, according to the human way of knowing something, one can only have total certainty in universal matters, whereas the certainty is less certain or there is only probability when the matter is more specific. And therefore, unless stated otherwise, the authority of the magisterium is simply authentic and is more or less engaged to the extent that the matter is more or less universal. Moreover, since certainty is usually only achieved after diligent research, the ecclesiastical magisterium tends to engage its authority more or less according to the degree of maturity with which a doctrine is being developed in the Church.
     
  • On the part of the audience, there are more demanding audiences for whom the teacher must speak with greater precision and there are others that are less demanding. Thus, a declaration of the Pope before bishops and doctors is more engaging his authority than a sermon to the faithful.
     
  • With regard to the intention, the same and materially identical proposition can be proposed by the teacher with different species of magisterial intention: as a question or a problem, as a certain judgment or as a more or less probable opinion. This intention may be manifested by the context, as in the aspects so far considered, but it may also be explicitly signified by words (perhaps, surely, certainly) or by gestures, and by either allowing or condemning the opposite sentence.

In terms of criteria, one can make a mistake by overemphasizing either the divine character of the ecclesiastical magisterium or it’s human character. An exaggeration of the divine aspect leads to the maximization of infallibility, leaving little room for the simply authentic magisterium; this is the mistake being made today by "sedevacantism" on the one hand, and - if we may use the term - by "ecclesiadeism" on the other. And the exaggeration of the human aspect leads to the minimization of infallibility, a mistake made by today’s "neo-modernism" on the one hand and by what we might call "critical traditionalism" on the other hand. All these errors have, in our opinion, a common root: the homogenization of the simply authentic magisterium. Since this mode of teaching is by definition not infallible, everything is put together in the genre of opinion, without taking sufficient account of the great diversity that its degrees can have. The judgments on universal matters proposed by the magisterium without clearly reaching the notes of infallibility but taught however with great solemnity - as is the case with many encyclicals - enjoy so much certainty that it is of no theological importance to decide whether or not they are infallible. On the other hand, the occasional statements of a Pope, which do not cease to be classified under authentic magisterium, nevertheless have an authority practically equal to that of his magisterium as a private doctor, just like for example the sermons of St. Leo or St. Gregory the Great3

Having set out the universal principles for judging an act of the conciliar magisterium, let us now move on to the minor premise : how authority was in fact exercised at the Second Vatican Council.

How the Magisterium Was Exercised at the Second Vatican Council

The exercise of the Magisterium in a Council depends formally and ultimately on the way in which the Roman Pontiff commits his own authority to it. However, at the Second Vatican Council, John XXIII and Paul VI adopted a liberal attitude, binding traditional forces and unleashing modernist ones. Consequently, the conciliar magisterium responded substantially, both in mode and content, to the influences of liberal neo-modernism, something never before seen in the Church. This fact, which started abruptly but at the same time sneakily and forcefully from the very beginning of the Council, gradually became apparent in their declarations and institutions. For this reason, forty years later it is easy to explain what in the confusion of the moment only the most clairvoyant understood.

The "liberal transfiguration" of authority happened abruptly at the Council because the very nature of these assemblies provides such an opportunity, both on account of the collegial way of exercising supreme authority and on account of the purpose of reforming that justifies its convocation. And this [in turn] was made possible in a sneaky and pervasive way (two apparently contradictory terms) because as the successors of St. Pius X did not continue with the painful work of uprooting weeds, traditional wheat and liberal tares have long since grown in the Church in different environments, and while avoiding contact with each other, they have come to form two languages so different that few have come to know the adversary's language. In this way, the Conciliar Popes, with a liberal but "bilingual" background, were able to speak and act in a way that was clearly understood and aggressively applauded by the modernist faction, but which left the traditional majority in confusion and perplexity.

The preparation of the Council was traditional, because it could not be otherwise in a Curia made according to the old regime. But when John XXIII opened the doors of St. Peter's to his brothers in the episcopate, he began to be effectively liberal. In his inaugural address he clearly announced it, although in a codified language. The liberals accused the [previous] councils of being condemnatory, pessimistic, scholastic and divisive. The Pope announced a council of charismatic inspiration, with an optimistic vision of modernity, which he would not condemn but, on the contrary, from which he would take his language, and with the aim of ecumenical unification. Finally, he announced the first liberal council in the history of the Church. And these were not just words, as he graciously allowed all the preparatory schemas to be thrown out, he imposed silence on the Curia whose old voice no longer corresponded to the new mind of the Conciliar Popes, he opened doors and windows to the experts of the new theology, to the observers of false religions, to the ambassadors of Freemasonry and Communism, to the journalistic voice of the world - being the first council that was not isolated [from the world] for it's deliberations. Paul VI would seal this transfiguration with his solemn gesture of the deposition of the papal tiara. Beware, this is not a simple resignation of authority, nor even a weakening. It is a shift towards the democratic mode demanded by liberalism and, as we know, there is no worse tyrant than the liberal.

The thought of modernism, like that of the Gnosticism of all times, is simple and poor, but it boasts of being profound thanks to the mist of confusion that surrounds it. It seems to us that in order to understand sufficiently the way in which the Council understands and has exercised its authority, it is enough to consider three points: the "sensus fidei", "dialogue" and "pluralism".

  • The traditional doctrine of the sensus fidei has served the new theology to justify modern immanentism in concepts that escape the letter of Pascendi. Lumen Gentium takes a democratic turn by affirming that the Holy Ghost does not first inspire the hierarchy and through it the faithful, but immediately inspires the universality of believers - even non-Catholics. This doctrine is embedded in that of the common priesthood, more in a general sense because it is less digestible by traditional doctrine.
     
  • If only the hierarchy is inspired - as the traditional doctrine says - the means to keep the Church in the truth is the magisterium itself. But if everyone is a little inspired, the means that is imposed is dialogue. This new methodology, canonized by Paul VI in Ecclesiam Suam, gives a privileged place to the neo-theologian, who appears as an inspired mediator between the mute People of God - who feel but do not know how to express themselves - and a hierarchy whose function is to unify common feeling.
     
  • But in order not to fall into fundamentalism and return to the war of religions, we must not seek excessive doctrinal unification - a great sin of the other councils - and therefore we must promote cultural pluralism. This principle finds its ultimate justification in the doctrine of the inadequacy of language to express reality, which since Kant inhabits modern thought.4 In the conciliar language it is translated into the axiom of "the inadequacy of dogmatic formulas".

As we mentioned before, these ideas held up in the Council documents were not dead letters but explain the effective exercise of authority in the tumultuous sessions of the Council. The new conception of the sensus fidei demanded that all humanity participate in the Council. The dynamics of the dialogue called for an attitude of respect in the hierarchy of modern thought and the Council documents were written by the experts of the new theology, who became - according to the then Cardinal Ratzinger - "true teachers of the Church and even teachers of bishops" (in the presentation of the instruction Donum Veritatis). Respect for pluralism inaugurated the ambiguity that will remain the hallmark of the new magisterium.

After the Council, this new mentality would become institutionalized in the transformation of the Curia, especially with the new Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and in the scourge of "official but not hierarchical" commissions, such as the International Theological Commission and the various commissions of ecumenical dialogue, which institutionalize the role of theologians as mediators of dialogue between the top and the grassroots.

Conclusion

We reach the conclusion by considering the minor premise (the concrete exercise of conciliar authority) in the light of the major (the universal criteria for valuing the magisterium). We conclude, first of all, that the Second Vatican Council did not exercise an extraordinary infallible magisterium, because it lacks at least the intention to propose itself as such. This point does not seem to offer any further discussion because not only was the explicit intention to impose any doctrinal sentence lacking, but - in response to the liberal mentality - the intention to not impose any doctrine with infallibility was explicitly manifested. It remains, then, to value the Council as a simply authentic magisterium, on which we come to a double conclusion.

The conciliar magisterium could not compromise its divine authority to a greater or lesser degree. As we pointed out above, divine authority, or in other words, the assistance of the Holy Ghost does not commit itself in the same way in the various acts of an authentic magisterium, and can go from almost full to almost null. and these degrees must be judged in the same way as we judge the rest of the human magisterium. Well, considering the liberal mode that the Popes wanted to give to the exercise of authority in the Council, we must conclude that the assistance [of the Holy Ghost] cannot be any more than the minimum, for the following reasons :

  • He who seeks to reach the truth through dialogue does not seek to teach as a teacher, because dialogue itself is opposed to the magisterium, they are complete opposites5. However, the liberalism of the Conciliar Popes prompted them to place themselves before the bishops in an attitude of dialogue and to place the Council in a dialogue with the Church, with religions and with the world. There was, therefore, no exercise of formal and explicit teaching.
     
  • Moreover, as the neo-modernist version of the sensus fidei teaches that the voice of the people is the voice of God and that this voice speaks through the mouth of the neo-theologians, the liberal dynamics printed in the Council turned the "periti" into "teachers of the bishops" - this is not a suspicion but a clear fact that was denounced at the time and that in these years of the Symposium we have been able to fully verify, seeing how the Council documents are animated by a doctrine which on the eve of the Council was only known in the rather closed circles of the new theology. Now, the Holy Ghost does not assist theologians, but only the hierarchy. Therefore, if it does not rely on the authority of its own charism but, by reversing order, becomes a disciple of the new science, the magisterium that results from such an assembly has little divine value.

This vice that affected the Council - and continues to affect the subsequent magisterium - implies then an essential defect that destroys the four notes of discernment, by domino effect, from the last to the first:

  • With regard to the intention, because the Council did not want to impose a magisterium but to propose a dialogue.
     
  • With regard to the audience, because the whole of humanity had to participate in the dialogue and so they addressed their voice not only to the Catholic faithful "but to all men" (Gaudium et Spes n.2).
     
  • With regard to the the matter, because in its willingness to dialogue, the Council accepted modern opinions that do not come from Revelation but rather from the Revolution.
     
  • With regard to the subject, since the Popes were submissive to dialogue they did not confirm the Council by subordinating it to their personal charism, in persona Christi, but rather by subordinating themselves to the “sensus fidei”, thus acting in Persona Populi [in the name of the people] and in a way, in Persona Humanitatis [in the name of humanity].

The conciliar magisterium not only lacks authority, it is reprehensible. To the extent that the magisterium is simply authentic [as opposed to infallible], it is not assisted by the Holy Ghost, and it must be judged in the same way according to the criteria with which private doctors are judged. Pius XII, for example, deserved great scientific authority as a private theologian, and his occasional lectures are worth more for his personal authority than for their inspired authority, which is insignificant. Given, then, that the liberal vice takes away from the Council the security of divine assistance, it must be judged like the conclusions of any congress of theologians are judged. But, as we said, it is clear that the doctrine that animates the conciliar documents responds to that of the new theology, repeatedly condemned by the previous Popes in general terms for its intrinsic relativism. Therefore, the conciliar doctrine not only lacks value as a simply authentic magisterium, it is not only exempt from simple theological authority, but it is, on the whole, reprehensible, at least for being impregnated with the relativism of modern thought, as evidenced by the deliberate ambiguity of its language.

As an immediate corollary, it must be said that the Council's declarations cannot contribute anything to the ordinary way of the magisterium, since the vice that affects them prevents them from being linked to the declarations of the previous authentic magisterium. If there is one page, for example, that seems to reaffirm and advance traditional teaching, it is precisely the one that deals with the authority of the hierarchical magisterium, in Lumen Gentium, no. 25. Can we at least rescue this text? No, by the way, because in the previous chapter this same document has subordinated the hierarchical office to the sensus fidei, which obliges us to understand the doctrine of No. 25 in a very different way from that taught by Vatican I. Moreover, the very notion of infallibility is blurred by the contention that dogmatic formulas are always inadequate to express the revealed mystery, always allowing for a certain pluralism.

We conclude our presentation by expressing the vehement desire that this Symposium for the Fortieth Anniversary of the Second Vatican Council solemnly declares the nullity of the Council's magisterium. Because the vast multitude of our works has proven that their doctrine is perverted no matter which angle one looks at it, and it is incoherent and even scandalous that we should treat their texts in this way without making it very clear that we cannot consider them in any way an authentic magisterium.

Doctrinal Authority of Vatican II

 

 

  • 1. See our article “The infallibility of the ‘sensus fidei’ according to Vativan II”, in the acts of the Second Symposium of Paris, page 141
  • 2. Schema “De Ecclesia”, preparation of Vatican II
  • 3. A common vice among theologians is that of using interchangeably as arguments of equal authority, for example, a doctrinal encyclical of Pius XII and one of his casual speeches.
  • 4. Paul VI, Paterna Cum Benevolentia exhortation, 8-12-1974: "We admit the fact that a balanced theological pluralism finds its foundation in the very mystery of Christ, whose inscrutable riches surpass the capacity for expression of all times and all cultures".
  • 5. The Socratic or catechetical dialogue, in which one only asks questions and the other only answers, is not a dialogue in itself but a teaching method of a good teacher. This was not what Paul VI proposed: "The dialectic of this exercise of thought and patience forces us to also discover the elements of truth in the opinions of others" (Ecclesiam Suam n.69).