Our friends at Rorate have published part of something from Messa in latino, speculation about the “Doctrinal Preamble” offered by the CDF to the SSPX during their meeting of 14 September, last. I wrote about that here.
The speculation rises to a climax in an assertion that the “Doctrinal Preamble” might constitute a “Copernican Revolution” concerning the documents of the Second Vatican Council and subsequent Magisterial teaching.
Again, what Rorate posted from Messa in latino is a long piece of speculation about the hypothetical text of the “Doctrinal Preamble”. From my reading of what they posted, if the speculation is correct, nothing new has been offered.
As much as I enjoy astronomical comparisons, the claim about a “Copernican Revolution” isn’t accurate. It suggests something new and challenging has been offered. Not quite.
First, the hypothetical “Doctrinal Preamble” is supposed to say that the SSPX must express concerns in a respectful manner. That was already a point made in the conditions for further dialogue offered by the Holy See and accepted by the SSPX in 2008. Nothing new there.
More importantly, the speculation on the hypothetical “Doctrinal Preamble” offered by Messa in latino and Rorate presents this (their translation and my emphases and comments):
In practice, it is asked of the Fraternity to sign the profession of faith which every Catholic must hold; it seems pretty feasible. But some could fear that this obligation of “religious assent of mind and intellect“, if applied to certain Conciliar teachings, could curtail, even if it would not nullify (under certain conditions, it is possible to dissent – but not loudly – from non-definitive teachings), the right of criticism to the Council. And here is the great innovation. [Ooops... no.]
As the official communiqué of the Holy See reports, the Preamble leaves “open to legitimate discussion the study and theological explanation of particular expressions and formulations present in the texts [Keep, now, your focus on the issue of "texts".] of the Second Vatican Council and of the Magisterium that followed it.” Let it be noted that the object of this discussion, which is expressly recognized as “legitimate“, is not merely the interpretations of the documents, but the very texts of the latter: the “expressions or formulations” used in the conciliar documents. If the words used in the preamble, and thus in the official communiqué, have a sense, there is here a Copernican revolution in the approach to the Council: [No.] that is, the displacement from a mere exegetical level to a substantive one.
I suggest to that writer, and the readers here, a close review of the CDF’s 1990 Instruction Donum veritatis “On the ecclesial vocation of the theologian”. Especially relevant are Donum veritatis 6, 21-22, 24, and 30-34.
One also needs an understanding of the levels of assent which Catholics must give to different levels of Magisterial teachings. Catholics are, of course, bound to accept (and not dissent from) teachings which are definitive. But there are other teachings which are not at that level. Though they cannot simply be brushed aside, dissented from freely, they do not bind in the same way that defined or infallible teachings do. There is some room.
For readers of English, I suggest the authoritative reading of Donum veritatis by the late Card. Dulles in his useful book Magisterium: Teaching and Guardian of the Faith. Every seminarian and parish priest should have this book. Know a seminarian or priest? Get him this book now.
I direct your attention to pp. 97-98:
If, in an exceptional case, one feels justified in dissenting, the next question is what to do about it. One option is to remain silent, so as not to trouble other believers and cause division in the Church. If can be assumed that if the Magisterium has erred, it will correct itself. Many of the older textbooks recommend a silentium obsequiosum (reverent silence). Donum veritatis speaks of situations in which the theologian will be called “to suffer for the truth, in silence and prayer, but with the certainty that if the truth is really at stake it will ultimately prevail. [citing Dv 31; 123] Today it is not uncommon to hold that dissenters who are qualified experts should make their disagreements known, with the aim of being corrected by colleagues or, alternatively, to “provoke a stimulus to the Magisterium to propose the teaching of the Church in greater depth and with a clearer presentation of the arguments.” An expressed dissent can be private, if it is shared only with a relatively small group, or public, if shared with a wide audience. According to Donum veritatis, theologians who have difficulty in accepting some doctrine would generally do well to enter privately into communication with a few colleagues, to see how they react, and perhaps also to make their difficulties discreetly known to hierarchical teachers, for the reasons mentioned above. The development of doctrine has sometimes been assisted by expressions of dissatisfaction with previous deficient formulations. This observation of the CDF is noteworthy, since it is relatively new for theologians to receive official encouragement to express their problems with current magisterial teaching.
Dulles goes on to address the situation of dissenters who take out ads, have press conferences, use the media to promote their own positions and, thereby, and usurp the authority of the divinely constituted Magisterium.
The point is that, if the speculation about the hypothetical “Doctrinal Preamble” is accurate, then there is nothing new in the proposition that theologians can offer differing views not only about the interpretation of documents of Vatican II and subsequent Magisterium, but also about the texts themselves. That is not new. It is already explained in Donum veritatis, which was issued by the CDF under then-Prefect, Card. Ratzinger.
Focus on the idea of dissent from texts and not just interpretation of texts and you will not go down the rabbit hole.
If the speculation about the hypothetical “Doctrinal Preamble” is accurate, the “Doctrinal Preamble” would not constitute a “Copernican Revolution”.
Furthermore, it is not helpful to suggest such a thing.
The suggestion that the “Doctrinal Preamble” might constitute a “Copernican Revolution” because the hypothetical “Doctrinal Preamble” might say that the SSPX can challenge texts, will simply incite liberals to claim that the Holy See has caved in to the Lefebvrists. That would not be what is going on.
If the speculation about the “Doctrinal Preamble” is accurate, the Holy See has not caved in on the texts of the Second Vatican Council. Donum veritatis laid out the possibility of and parameters of dissent in 1990. The theologians of the SSPX can work with the divinely constituted Magisterium along the lines already laid down in 1990.
Certainly Card. Ratzinger had in mind primarily liberal dissenters when Donum veritatis was issued. But he most certainly would have had some part of his attention focused on the SSPX, which had just broken with Rome two years before Donum veritatis was issued.
The CDF/SSPX “Doctrinal Preamble” is important. But! … we still don’t have the text of the “Doctrinal Preamble”! Speculation abounds.
We don’t want floating around, however, the claim that the Holy See or the Holy Father is making “Copernican” moves when it comes to dissent from documents, the texts, of a Council.
Donum veritatis of 1990 led the way.
Nihil novi sub sole.