Vs. Pasqualucci Re Vatican II #10: “Pastoral” Council Only?

Vs. Pasqualucci Re Vatican II #10: “Pastoral” Council Only? July 19, 2019

[see the Master List of all twelve installments]

Paolo Pasqualucci (signer of three of the endless reactionary-dominated “corrections” of Pope Francis), a Catholic and retired professor of philosophy of the law at the University of Perugia, Italy, wrote “‘Points of Rupture’ of the Second Vatican Council with the Tradition of the Church – A Synopsis” (4-13-18), hosted by the infamous reactionary site, One Peter Five. It’s an adaptation of the introduction to his book Unam Sanctam – A Study on Doctrinal Deviations in the Catholic Church of the 21st Century.

Pope Benedict XVI, writing as Cardinal Ratzinger, stated that the authority of Vatican II was identical to that of the Council of Trent:

It must be stated that Vatican II is upheld by the same authority as Vatican I and the Council of Trent, namely, the Pope and the College of Bishops in communion with him, and that also with regard to its contents, Vatican II is in the strictest continuity with both previous councils and incorporates their texts word for word in decisive points . . .

Whoever accepts Vatican II, as it has clearly expressed and understood itself, at the same time accepts the whole binding tradition of the Catholic Church, particularly also the two previous councils . . . It is likewise impossible to decide in favor of Trent and Vatican I but against Vatican II. Whoever denies Vatican II denies the authority that upholds the other two councils and thereby detaches them from their foundation. And this applies to the so-called ‘traditionalism,’ also in its extreme forms. Every partisan choice destroys the whole (the very history of the Church) which can exist only as an indivisible unity.

To defend the true tradition of the Church today means to defend the Council. It is our fault if we have at times provided a pretext (to the ‘right’ and ‘left’ alike) to view Vatican II as a ‘break’ and an abandonment of the tradition. There is, instead, a continuity that allows neither a return to the past nor a flight forward, neither anachronistic longings nor unjustified impatience. We must remain faithful to the today of the Church, not the yesterday or tomorrow. And this today of the Church is the documents of Vatican II, without reservations that amputate them and without arbitrariness that distorts them . . .

I see no future for a position that, out of principle, stubbornly renounces Vatican II. In fact in itself it is an illogical position. The point of departure for this tendency is, in fact, the strictest fidelity to the teaching particularly of Pius IX and Pius X and, still more fundamentally, of Vatican I and its definition of papal primacy. But why only popes up to Pius XII and not beyond? Is perhaps obedience to the Holy See divisible according to years or according to the nearness of a teaching to one’s own already-established convictions? (The Ratzinger Report, San Francisco: Ignatius, 1985, 28-29, 31)

For further basic information about the sublime authority of ecumenical councils and Vatican II in particular, see:

Conciliar Infallibility: Summary from Church Documents [6-5-98]

Infallibility, Councils, and Levels of Church Authority: Explanation of the Subtleties of Church Teaching [7-30-99]

The Bible on Papal & Church Infallibility [5-16-06]

Authority and Infallibility of Councils (vs. Calvin #26) [8-25-09]

The Analogy of an Infallible Bible to an Infallible Church [11-6-05; rev. 7-25-15; published at National Catholic Register: 6-16-17]

“Reply to Calvin” #2: Infallible Church Authority [3-3-17]

“On Adhesion to the Second Vatican Council” (Msgr. Fernando Ocariz Braña, the current Prelate of Opus DeiL’Osservatore Romano, 12-2-11; reprinted at Catholic Culture) [includes discussion of VCII supposedly being “only” a “pastoral council”]

Pope Benedict on “the hermeneutic of reform, of renewal within continuity” (12-22-05)

The words of Paolo Pasqualucci, from his article, noted above, will be in blue:


12.   [On] the question of the nota theologica of the documents of Vatican II, Msgr. Gherardini (and certainly he is not the only one) does not consider it to be a dogmatic council, because it neither defined dogmas nor condemned errors, not even in the two constitutions specifically named “dogmatic”, and it expressly declared that it was not dogmatic but, on the contrary, pastoral (see the Notifications in the Appendix to LG:  “Taking conciliar custom into consideration and also the pastoral purpose of the present Council, the sacred Council defines as binding on the Church only those things in matters of faith and morals which it shall openly declare to be binding.”) But in fact there are not dogmatic definitions in any conciliar document on “matters of faith and morals.” However the apologists of the Council claim it exudes a new type of “infallibility”, somehow implicit in the same pastoral nature of the documents. But this is impossible because the dogmatic character of a pronouncement of the extraordinary Magisterium must result from certain, comprehensible and traditional signs and cannot be “implicit”.

“On Adhesion to the Second Vatican Council” (Msgr. Fernando Ocariz BrañaL’Osservatore Romano, 12-2-11):

[I]t is not pointless to recall that the pastoral motivation of the Council does not mean that it was not doctrinal – since all pastoral activity is necessarily based on doctrine. But, above all, it is important to emphasise that precisely because doctrine is aimed at salvation, the teaching of doctrine is an integral part of all pastoral work. Furthermore, within the Documents of the Council it is obvious that there are many strictly doctrinal teachings: on Divine Revelation, on the Church, etc. As Blessed John Paul II wrote: “With the help of God, the Council Fathers in four years of work were able to produce a considerable collection of doctrinal statements and pastoral norms which were presented to the whole Church” (Apostolic Constitution Fidei Depositum, 11 October 1992, Introduction).

Assent Owed to the Magisterium

The Second Vatican Council did not define any dogma, in the sense that it proposed no doctrine with a definitive act. However, even if the Magisterium proposes a teaching without directly invoking the charism of infallibility, it does not follow that such a teaching is therefore to be considered “fallible” – in the sense that what is proposed is somehow a “provisional doctrine” or just an “authoritative opinion”. Every authentic expression of the Magisterium must be received for what it truly is: a teaching given by Pastors who, in the apostolic succession, speak with the “charism of truth” (Dei Verbum, n. 8), “endowed with the authority of Christ” (Lumen Gentium, n. 25), “and by the light of the Holy Spirit” (ibid.).

This charism, this authority and this light were certainly present at the Second Vatican Council; to deny this to the entire episcopate gathered to teach the universal Church cum Petro and sub Petro, would be to deny something of the very essence of the Church (cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration Mysterium Ecclesiae, 24 June 1973, nn. 2-5).

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. The various levels of assent owed to doctrines proposed by the Magisterium were outlined in Vatican II’s Constitution Lumen Gentium (n. 25), and subsequently synthesised in the three clauses added to the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed in the formula of the Professio fidei published in 1989 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and approved by Blessed John Paul II.

Those affirmations of the Second Vatican Council that recall 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 judgement or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium. So also a 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.

The Council’s other doctrinal teachings require of the faithful a degree of assent called “religious submission of will and intellect”.

“A Pastoral and Dogmatic Council” (Randall Smith, The Catholic Thing, 7-19-14):

We all have things that bother us more than they probably should. For me, one of those things is when I hear someone describe the Second Vatican Council as a “pastoral, not a dogmatic” council. “So you haven’t actually gotten around to reading any of the documents, then, I take it,” I’m always tempted to reply.

The numbers alone tell the tale. Of the fifteen official documents of the Second Vatican Council, three have the title “Constitution.” Two of these have the title “Dogmatic Constitution,” the one on the Church (Lumen Gentium) and the one on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum). Then there were three “declarations”: one on Christian education (Gravissimum Educationis), one on the relationship of the Church to non-Christian religions (Nostra Aetate), and one on religious freedom (Dignitatis Humanae). Along with these, there were eight “decrees” on: (1) the mission activity of the Church, (2) the ministry and life of priests, (3) the apostolate of the laity, (4) the training of priests, (5) the renewal of religious life, (6) the pastoral office of bishop, (7) ecumenism, and (8) the Catholic churches of the Eastern Rite.

Notably, only two of these documents (out of fifteen) contain the word “pastoral” in their titles: The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) and the Decree Concerning the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church (Christus Dominus). And both of those are “doctrinal” through and through.

Now look, please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not arguing that the Second Vatican Council wasn’t in important ways pastoral. The problem, rather, is the dichotomy some people like to set up – which the Council clearly didn’t – between “pastoral,” on the one hand, and “dogmatic,” on the other, as though these were two very different ways of being “religious.” To set up this sort of dichotomy in the Council is not only to violate the “hermeneutics of continuity” with the Church’s centuries-old tradition that Pope Benedict has insisted upon. It is to attribute to the Council a rupture in a “hermeneutics of continuity” with itself. . . .

Vatican II was a great pastoral council precisely because it was a great dogmatic council. Thinking you can give adequate pastoral care without proper doctrinal formation is like thinking you can do heart surgery without the wisdom gained in medical school.

“Vatican II Was First-Class” (Charlotte Hays, National Catholic Register, 10-10-12):

Critics have accused the Second Vatican Council of many things, but Cardinal William Levada says one criticism in particular lacks any credibility — the claim that Vatican II was in any way a “second-class council” whose teachings, therefore, aren’t binding on Catholics.

Cardinal Levada, who stepped down in June as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, refuted this notion . . .

The claim, made by followers of the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, is based on the idea it was “merely” a pastoral council that didn’t define dogma.

“It is true to say that Vatican II was by intention a ‘pastoral’ council,” Cardinal Levada told his CUA audience, “[because] it was decided a priori that its broad scope of ecumenical dialogue (with other Christians) and interreligious dialogue (with other religions) and with the society of the ‘world’ did not call for the formulation of new dogmas to correct errors of faith, as was the case in previous councils.”

But this did not make it any less authoritative than the rest of the 21 ecumenical councils that have occurred during the Catholic Church’s 2,000-year history, the American cardinal stressed.

“One cannot infer that the Council’s teachings are not ‘doctrinal,’” he said. “Teaching the gospel of life and salvation is the chief ‘pastoral’ task of bishops; it is doctrinal in its principles and pastoral in its applications. So, too, the teaching of the ‘universal ordinary magisterium’ — the apostolic College of Bishops, together with their head, the Pope — should not be considered ‘second-class teaching’ or ‘optional’ and not necessary to accept.” . . .

“Rather than pastoral or doctrinal, we should say of the Council that it was pastoral and doctrinal.”

“A cliché, a council, and, finally, Pope Francis” (John W. O’Malley, America, 7-7-16):

From the moment the Second Vatican Council opened, it has consistently been described as a pastoral council, sometimes so insistently and unthinkingly that the expression has become a cliché. The word cliché implies that while the description might well express a truth, it at the same time trivializes the council and produces yawns. . . .

The cliché as currently understood tends to trivialize the council, principally by implying, at least for some commentators, that the council’s decrees are less substantial, more contingent, more subject to reform or even dismissal than those from the supposedly great doctrinal councils of the past. Vatican II, like certain beers and soft drinks, is council lite—no heavy calories! . . .

[I]f we judge a council’s dignity and gravitas by the number and importance of its doctrinal decrees, does not Vatican II really qualify as a council lite or council not-so-serious? After all, Vatican II did not define a single doctrine. In Vatican II there are no dogmas in the sense of solemn definitions, like the definition of papal infallibility of Vatican I. Yes, that is true. Vatican II did not define a single doctrine, but that does not mean it was not a teaching or doctrinal council. (Every dogma is a doctrine, but not every doctrine is a dogma.) The council did not define any doctrines because it adopted a mode of discourse different from that operative in councils that produced definitions, most notably Vatican I.

Not defining certainly does not necessarily mean that the council’s more important teachings are less binding or less central to the Christian religion, solemnly approved as they were the largest and most diverse gathering of prelates by far in the entire history of the Catholic Church and then solemnly ratified by the supreme pontiff, Paul VI. We must remember, moreover, that the “Constitution on the Church” and the “Constitution on Divine Revelation” are specifically designated as “dogmatic constitutions.” If, indeed, we look at the number and importance of Vatican II’s teachings, the council is not council lite but the very opposite. . . .

Vatican II was pastoral through its teachings, that is through its doctrine. . . .

“Reading the Documents of Vatican II” (Marcellino D’Ambrosio, Crossroads Initiative, 8-6-18):

A decision was made before the first document was written that the audience of this council, the readership to which the documents were to be addressed, was not just the academics and clergy. No, the vocabulary of the documents was to be biblical, not scholastic, the style pastoral, not academic, so that the council’s teaching would be accessible to all literate Christians, indeed, even to all people of good will. The documents of Vatican II have since been poured over by experts of all kinds, and indeed should be. Their content is indeed rich and profound. Yet it must be remembered that first and foremost this is was a pastoral council and its documents are like pastoral letters written to encourage, nourish, and enlighten the sheep. . . .

[W]e must stop and correct a serious misconception. Many rightly note that Vatican II did not define any new dogmas as did many previous Councils, such as Nicaea, Trent, and Vatican I. It is also true that Vatican II was primarily a “pastoral” council.

Yet it is most decidedly NOT true that Vatican II offers us no serious doctrinal teaching and therefore its authority is not to be taken too seriously. Calling two of its constitutions “dogmatic” makes it very plain that this council does indeed teach doctrine in a most serious way. And while it does not define new dogmas, it passes on, reaffirms, clarifies and develops revealed doctrine in the most authoritative fashion possible short of an infallible definition. The response of the faithful must be “the religious submission of intellect and will” to this important expression of the Church’s Universal Episcopal Magisterium which is an expression of the Papal Magisterium as well, since the successor of Peter signed each one of its documents.


Photo credit: [Max PixelCreative Commons Zero – CC0 license]


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