QUAERITUR: Was the Holy Spirit’s guidance at Vatican II infallible?

From a reader:

Was Vatican II an ecumenical council with infallible guidance by the Holy Spirit, or a pastoral council which is not infallible?

The Holy Spirit’s guidance is never anything but infallible.  Can the Holy Spirit make a mistake?

However, a lot can happen in the stages between the Holy Spirit’s guidance and the typewriter.

The Holy Spirit does not make mistakes.  We make mistakes even when the Holy Spirit is trying to help us.

The Second Vatican Council was an ecumenical Council.  Surely the Holy Spirit guided the Council (Cf. Vatican I, Session III, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith, 24 April 1870).  I don’t have any special insight into what way the Holy Spirit guided the Council.

The Holy Spirit didn’t personally write any of the documents of Second Vatican Council.

That said, the Second Vatican Council was just one of many Councils the Church has held, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and it wasn’t even the most important Council.

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  1. The Astronomer says:

    But Father, would you go so far as the say that the “Spirit of Vatican Two” is the same as the Holy Spirit? ;-)~

    [No. The Holy Spirit is God. I don’t know what the “Spirit of Vatican II” is, even though some have referred to it in tones that are best used for God alone.]

  2. DFWShook says:

    Ah, but to the progressives in the pews, if the documents Vatican II didn’t actually erase all that came before it, then “the spirit of Vatican II” certainly did.

  3. The question whether a given ecumenical council was infallible does not seem meaningful. What could it possibly mean to say that a (whole) council is infallible? What one can sensibly ask is whether a particular conciliar proclamation of doctrine is infallible.

    So the pertinent question would be whether the sixteen documents of Vatican II contain any (new) doctrinal statements that are infallibly proclaimed.

    Or were all its recommendations of a pastoral or prudential character conditioned by that particular time and its problems? And perhaps not now still relevant in a much different time with far different problems.

  4. Ezra says:

    Pope Benedict’s [then-Cardinal Ratzinger] own words, to the bishops of Chile in 1988, might help here:

    The Second Vatican Council has not been treated as a part of the entire living Tradition of the Church, but as an end of Tradition, a new start from zero. The truth is that this particular Council defined no dogma at all, and deliberately chose to remain on a modest level, as a merely pastoral council; and yet many treat it as though it had made itself into a sort of super dogma which takes away the importance of all the rest.

  5. robtbrown says:

    Henry Edwards,

    The infallibility of the Council primarily means that no text contradicts doctrine that has already been established.

  6. Kevin B. says:

    “…it wasn’t even the most important Council.”

    Objectively, no it wasn’t. But for the priests and bishops who were formed during those heady days, it was the defining event of their lives. Everything the Church does and does not do today is a reflection of how these men, now in their dotage, understood the Council. Some are extremely embittered about the pope’s “Marshall Plan.” They see it as a personal attack on everything they’ve ever worked for. As they go on to their eternal reward, it’s my hope that we can finally take more objective views of the Council and its very real problems.

  7. rfox2 says:

    robtbrown: The infallibility of the Council primarily means that no text contradicts doctrine that has already been established.

    This is not correct. The infallibility of a statement means that it is without error. A by product of infallibility is that the teaching will not contradict other infallible and/or dogmatic teachings of the Magisterium.

    Ezra: The truth is that this particular Council defined no dogma at all, and deliberately chose to remain on a modest level, as a merely pastoral council;

    Great quote. Paul VI as well as JP 2 said effectively the same thing.

    There was nothing new proposed at Vatican 2 that is also de Fide (dogmatic), but there were several restatements of previously held dogmatic teaching. The fact that a Council reiterated the teaching doesn’t make it any more or less infallible than it was before, but it does strengthen the obligation of the faithful to believe that teaching.

    However, it can be demonstrated that the documents of Vatican 2 (e.g. – Nostrae Aetate) that contain never before articulated teaching of the Magisterium. In fact, the teaching of Vatican 2, at points, does contradict previous teaching of the recent pontificates prior to John XXIII. So, then the question is, are those infallible by virtue of the fact that they were promulgated at an Ecumenical Council? The answer to that must be “no” because there are more extensive conditions for infallibility beyond the fact that the teaching was promulgated at an Ecumenical Council. Given that particular teachings are not infallible, it follows logically that they could be in error (look up information on the Council of Rimini, for example).

    Councils like Rimini prove, Q.E.D., that simply by virtue of the fact that an Ecumenical Council is held, that it will promulgate the teaching of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, I don’t see how anyone in good conscience could hold that Vatican 2 as a whole or in certain of it’s parts, is infallible.

  8. Alan Aversa says:

    @Ezra: This is true. Vatican II was not entirely infallible because it “ha evitato di pronunciare in modo straordinario dogmi dotati della nota di infallibilità [avoided pronouncing in an extraordinary way (new) dogmas endowed with the note of infallibility]” (Pope Paul VI audience, 12 January 1966) and “In view of conciliar practice and the pastoral purpose of the present Council, this sacred Synod defines matters of faith or morals as binding on the Church only when the Synod itself openly declares so,” which it never did (Council’s General Secretary, 16 November 1964).

    Also, cf. John R. T. Lamont (2008). "Determining the Content and Degree of Authority of Church Teachings". The Thomist 72: 371-407.

  9. Alan Aversa says:

    Also, I would say the Holy Ghost was certainly guiding the council in its refusal to declare dogma with anathemas. It would have been disastrous were heterodox doctrines codified infallibly this way.

  10. Ernesto Gonzalez says:

    The Council of Rimini is a bad example for the simple reason that its decrees were never approved by the Pope.

  11. rfox2 says:

    Apologies: in my last statement, I meant to say that: simply by virtue of the fact that an Ecumenical Council is held, it will NOT necessarily promulgate the teaching of the Holy Spirit. The bottom line is that an Ecumenical Council does not guarantee infallibility.

  12. anilwang says:

    Ezra’s point is crucial.

    There are numerous ambiguities in the VII documents, and as Father Zuhlsdorf points out, there are several gaps between the VII resolutions and the typewriter as well as between the documents and implementation (e.g. nowhere do the VII documents say that priests should stop facing ad orientum).

    But, if there is ambiguity, it has to be resolved wrt all other councils, and if there is a gap between the documents and implementation it has to be resolved wrt discipline. If such a resolution is not reached in this way (even Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre reached this resolution on VII, see http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=857 ), it’s out of the hands of the Holy Spirit and we deserve what we get from the opportunistic or weak willed or uneducated or naive or covetous (of Protestantism or Modernism) shepherds that literally decimated the Churches orders and priesthood and the faith of lay Catholics.

    Thankfully, we seemed to have turned a corner and are on our way back, but it may take a century or two in an increasingly hostile secular environment before the damage can be undone and the true fruit of VII can blossom. For the naysayers, there was a lot of good fruit…. Would Father Zuhlsdorf and father Richard John Neuhaus and Scott Hahn and … be Catholic if it were not for VII?

    Would we have had the new catechism which is crucial in not only combating secularism (especially wrt contraception and homosexuality and IVF since it clearly lays out the Catholic position without any weasel words that school boards and governments can exploit), but also in apologetics, and dispelling misconceptions preventing conversion (e.g. IMO Angelorum Coetibus be nearly as successful if the misinformation around Mary and other impediments was not so clearly dispelled officially in black and white).

  13. robtbrown says:

    rfox2 says:

    robtbrown: The infallibility of the Council primarily means that no text contradicts doctrine that has already been established.

    This is not correct. The infallibility of a statement means that it is without error. A by product of infallibility is that the teaching will not contradict other infallible and/or dogmatic teachings of the Magisterium.

    Huh? How does that differ from what I said? Aren’t “infallible and/or dogmatic teachings of the Magisterium” doctrine that has already been established?

    My point was that the question of the infallibility of the Council is not merely a matter of new teaching.

    However, it can be demonstrated that the documents of Vatican 2 (e.g. – Nostrae Aetate) that contain never before articulated teaching of the Magisterium. In fact, the teaching of Vatican 2, at points, does contradict previous teaching of the recent pontificates prior to John XXIII. So, then the question is, are those infallible by virtue of the fact that they were promulgated at an Ecumenical Council?

    Although Nostra Aetate takes a different angle than previous Ecclesiastical documents, I know of no contradiction. St Thomas himself says that a certain partial Revelation is to be found in non Christian religions, e.g., the teaching that there is something of the human essence that survives death or the existence of God. Theologians refer to them as dogmata (or fides) mixta–known through faith or reason. Of course, this is not the same as Supernatural Revelation–dogmata (or fides) pura that refers to Christ. On the other hand, it is not nothing even though it is subtle. More importantly, it raises certain pastoral and missionary questions.

    Unfortunately, a lot of people interpreted this to mean either that all religions are equal or that the difference is merely one of degree (cf the insidious works of Karl Rahner, in which the Christian Sacraments are not qualitatively different from the pagan version, only better).

    IMHO, Vat II marked a turn away from a univocal approach to theology. Unfortunately, in the minds of many it was a turn toward an equivocal approach (Rahner again)–thus all religions are about the same. As an unapologetic, unreformed Thomist, I consider theology to be analogical.

  14. FrAWeidner says:

    This discussion reminds me of the earlier comment thread in which I was jumped for saying that I personally believed that the internal logic of the Catholic faith required that a professing Catholic had to believe that Vatican II was divinely inspired in at least some of its pastoral motions, both overall and in each of its 16 documents. Someone asked me to name at least 5 examples of goods produced by Vatican II. I was stumped on that particular question at the time. It was, honestly, irrelevant to my particular argument, because I considered my reasoning to be deductive, not inductive. I like anilwang’s statements above. I love the Cardinal Ratzinger quote above and certainly do not disagree with it. I have been reading all of your comments, and feel I have a deeper understanding of these issues than when I made my original statements.

    In the meantime, I did think of one example of a pastorally declared argument of the Council which I believe to be sine-qua-non for our times: the universal call to holiness. Certainly, this teaching has been hijacked by a number of buffoons who have used it to suggest that the clerical state is not a higher calling than the lay state, the religious life is not a higher calling than the lay state, and the celibate state is not a higher calling than the married state – all three of which, if I’m not mistaken, would be heresy, statements against beliefs which one must hold as a Catholic. However, where taught and applied correctly, I think the teaching has been of great benefit to the Church and brought tremendous fruits. The idea that one must be holy according to one’s state in life is certainly of great help toward final perseverance and the spread of the faith. Furthermore, as a corrollary teaching and another example of something good that came from the Council, the teaching of the universal priesthood of the baptized (once again, not to be twisted into heresy or a clericalization of the laity, which is farthest from the point) has strengthened that missionary zeal which is part of our Catholic faith.

    So, I would say that the emphases on the universal call to holiness and the universal priesthood fo the baptized are two pastoral strategies of the Council which were 1) extremely beneficial to our times, 2) actually part of the deposit of the faith as found in Scripture and Tradition, and 3) most certainly dynamically de-emphasized and even treated with skepticism in Church life prior to the Council (cf. the doctrinal beating Opus Dei and similar movements underwent in the first half of the 20th century).

    Once again, for those irritated by the ambiguity of the Council, I hear you. Note that, as I said above, I absolutely oppose the heretical twistings of these doctrines to deprecate the ministerial priesthood, the religious life, and celibacy. However, I consider these doctrines, correctly stated, part of the deposit, very helpful to the spiritual lives of laypersons, and of great benefit to the life of the Church. I understand that some of a more traditionalist (SSPX) bent may oppose or deprecate these doctrines, perhaps simply because Vatican II taught them (irritation or alarm at their twisting not being relevant to the discussion). That’s between you and God, but please don’t spread your ideas to my parishioners, since my vocation and my job is their final perseverance, and your oppositions would be prejudicial to that. To wit, the last place in which I encountered someone opposing the universal call to holiness was NCFishwrap – a column in which the writer basically said that not all Christians had to be, or were called to be, holy, as God was loving and easygoing and would forgive everyone anyway. I hope we can all agree that that perspective is off base and even offensive to pious ears.

  15. wolfeken says:

    Father Weidner, I don’t think it’s mere buffoonery to witness the result of a so-called universal call to holiness coinciding with a massive vocations crisis, especially when the call was at a time of massive vocations success.

    Councils are called to solve problems. Was it really a problem prior to the 1960s that people felt like they were being left out of a call to holiness? Was the answer to give the Opus Dei position (when you clean your toilet you’re cleaning it for God) credibility to the extent that egalitarianism trumped vocations? What happened to the Baltimore Catechism and its illustration of the married couple as “good” and the priest and nun as “better” ?

    The fact that defenders of Vatican II have to reach for these obscure accomplishments shows what a horrible council it was — again, proving the Holy Ghost was at work when two popes declined to declare it anything more than merely pastoral.

    It is good that we are finally talking about Vatican II’s substance, not just how the Council makes someone feel. If someone is going to defend Vatican II, there is now an interest in hearing exactly what was good about something that — coincidentally, magically, or whatever — resulted in some of the worst controllable outcomes seen in the history of the Catholic Church.

  16. Fr_Sotelo says:

    I think that dissenting Catholics are fond of the “infallibility game.” The object of this game is to parse documents we don’t like, determine their level of infallibility, and then dismiss their teachings or ignore them based on our criterion of infallibility.

    I think that the whole question of whether Vatican II is infallible teaching is meaningless and unhelpful to the confession of the true Faith, and the efforts to evangelize unbelievers.

    What we know as reality is that Vatican II was legally and canonically convened by the Pope, attended by over 95% of the college of bishops, even those behind the iron curtain, including bishops from every rite of the Eastern churches. There was no coercion of the civil power to interfere with the council and each document was voted on by the entire episcopal college and promulgated by the Pope using the full and free exercise of the papal primacy.

    Dogmatic or pastoral? Infallible or proximate to infallibility? The theological hair splitting does not take away from the fact that Vatican II is an exercise of the solemn Magisterium of the Pope and college of bishops. The documents, therefore, are the most authoritative application of Catholic dogma to the pressing pastoral problems of the day.

    As such, they must be given the religious assent of faith, the benefit of the doubt, so to speak, that the Holy Spirit was acting through this council and is still guiding today’s Catholic through that Council’s documents. There is no other, higher authority to appeal to for the pastoral application of dogma to our problems today, not at least until another Council is convened. The energy spent on undermining Vatican II is so much better spent uniting under its authentic interpretation as presented by Benedict XVI.

  17. Fr_Sotelo says:


    Actually, who is in the position to pronounce on the fruits or spiritual goods from a council? Do you, I, or Fr. Weidner have a grasp on the spiritual good brought to, or not brought to, each soul in the entire world since Vatican II? I think not. In short, you are asking a question that only God can answer. Only God knows the fruits, or harm, that may come from the way people interpret a Council.

    Historians might give us their opinion, on the fruits of Nicea, or Lateran I, or Trent. But unless they are God, and they are not, they cannot fully grasp the good and bad that comes from the reactions of people to a council, or any change in the Church.

    So Father Weidner is right to say that speaking of the fruits of a council is not relevant to his argument that Catholics should see Vatican II as divinely inspired. If Catholics believe in the promises of the Lord Jesus, we should then logically believe that devine inspiration accompanies the ecumenical councils of the Church.

    Speaking of the fruits of a Council can be interesting, amusing, or at times even divisive, but must be done with the humility to know that only God can answer such a question in the final analysis.

  18. wolfeken says:

    Fr. Sotelo wrote: “Actually, who is in the position to pronounce on the fruits or spiritual goods from a council?”

    I think a child could observe the fruits of a council. After Trent, there was a successful counter-reformation with several hundred years of Catholics following the teachings of the Church and signing up to go the extra mile. After Vatican II, well, I would simply point to stats.

  19. FrAWeidner says:

    Wolfeken – three things:
    1) Wow. Just wow. To elaborate, your trashing of Opus Dei in your comment encapsulates the larger perspective expressed, and speaks libraries about that perspective in my book. Note that your specific comment flushes the Little Way down the referenced toilet as well. Oh, that’s right – the Little Flower was named a doctor after that horrible Council, so that’s no great loss (sorry for the sarcasm, but I’m *very* irritated).
    2) I went to great pains to distance the substance of the universal goal exhortation from egalitarianism. That’s a heretical twisting of it, not its point nor what it stated it was arguing.
    3) For the record, I don’t see the universal call exhortation as an “obscure accomplishment” but a massively necessary and centrally important emphasis. Once again, not what you or some protestantizer says it to be, but for what the Church teaches that it is.

  20. Matariel says:

    For me, it seems the main “problem” arising from the Second Vatican Council (and, concomitantly, the new Catechism) is an ecclesiological one. Before the Second Vatican Council, the so called “rigorist” position (not the Feenyite position) on the dogma of extra ecclesiam nulla salus was par for the course (and the Church Fathers, Doctors of the Church, and saints all had a general consensus that this was the definitive way to interpret this dogma).
    But after the council, now it is said in several documents that the Protestant sects themselves can be “means of salvation” and that the Church of Christ operates in them. Imagine if St. Alphonsus Liguori or some of the other Doctors of the Church heard that (in fact, they say quite the opposite). Secondly, instead of the Church of Christ being the Catholic Church, the Church of Christ now ambiguously subsists in the Catholic Church. These statements, at the very least are seriously wrongheaded. In one sense the Protestant sects may be considered salvific, but only indirectly as they compel people, with their partial truths, to ultimately find salvation in the Catholic Church– where alone salvation can be had.
    These are very clear ecclesiological contradictions/ambiguities that have caused confusion and falling away among Catholics. Before the Council, it seems, the Catholic Church is Christ’s one true Church, and after the Council it seems that it is just a Church par excellence, and that the Church of Christ really operates in Protestant ecclesial communities as well. Dominus Iesus did not solve this problem, although it did help a bit. There needs to be a final infallible statement once and for all on this matter, however, to reaffirm the unicity of the Catholic Church– to affirm that the Catholic Church is, indeed, the one Church of Christ, and that the Church of Christ both is and subsists completely in the One Holy Catholic Apostolic Roman Church.

  21. FrAWeidner says:

    And another thing – the decline of priestly and religious vocations isn’t a by-product of the universal call to holiness, but rather all-around indifferentism, the perspective expressed in that Fishwrap column I referenced. If people around ages 15-25 actually live the universal call wherever they are, they’re actually far more likely to pursue a priestly or religious vocation. The pre-Vatican II perspective is often the evil one’s trick of “I’m not holy enough for that.” The post-universal call perspective is, “I have to be holy no matter where I am,” and openness to the possibility of God’s call. The problem with the universal call is its misinterpretation (“everyone’s a winner, baby”). Where the universal call is actually put into practice is where, in 2011, vocations are growing.

  22. Joan A. says:

    “A lot can happen in the stages between the Holy Spirit’s guidance and the typewriter.”

    One of those brilliant Fr. Z insights that make his commentaries such a joy to read!

  23. wolfken: After Vatican II, well, I would simply point to stats.

    When I bless cars, they almost always get into a wreck soon thereafter. I always, inexplicably, felt badly about that. Then one day someone whom I had warned about my strange powers and the resulting collisions, said, after her own inevitable collision,

    “Thank you, Father, for blessing my care. Imagine how bad it would have been had you not blessed it!”

    Thus, dear wolfken, you open yourself to the response that, had there not been a Council, things might have been even worse from the 60’s onwards.

    But that is a hard position to defend.

    In the meantime, we must ponder the frightening statistics of what has happened since V2.

  24. Tom Ryan says:

    I once had this conversation with some traditional priests and seminarians over lunch. One said the Holy Spirit wasn’t at V2. The other said oh yes He was ; he was working overtime to prevent to heretics from defining anything.

    My response: He was there, he just wasn’t invited.

  25. danphunter1 says:

    I once heard a diocesan priest say that Vatican II was brought about by the Holy Ghost to purify the Church, to show who is really Catholic and whom is not.

  26. albizzi says:

    So far as neither new dogma nor dogmatic definition were issued during VAT II council, one may be free to ignore it.
    In my opinion this council was a catastrophe for the Church not so much by itself but because it triggered the spreading of the Modernist heresies at every level of the Church in the name of the so called “spirit of Vatican II”, so much that sometimes they look to be the Truth.
    This was easily predictable since a many among the main actors of that council were crypto-modernist themselves. Indeed is this an offense to say that these men were perjurers ? Of course, Pius X obliged them to take an oath against Modernism in the time of their ordination, and they did the exact contrary a few years later.To complete the disaster, Paul VI cancelled the oath against Modernism after he was elected to the Papacy.
    Another puzzling issue is the fact that John XXIII strictly forbade to address the question of Communism during the council while it was obvious that it was one of the major challenges the RCC was undergoing in that time.
    Therefore, one may say that yes, in a peculiar way, the Holy Spirit was muzzled by the Pope himself on that issue.

  27. wolfeken says:

    “The problem with the universal call is its misinterpretation…”

    Notice how there was no misinterpretation of the Council of Trent?

    This is precisely the problem of Vatican II. He can say this, and she can say that, and technically they’re both right. Younger Catholics are not looking for suggestions or ambiguity anymore — they are looking for truths and absolutes.

    Moreover, I think all of us — myself included — can use a lot more, not less, humility in our lives. If that means realizing I am not worthy to enter under His roof but only say the word and my soul shall be healed, then perhaps it is much better to have this “pre-Vatican II perspective” than simply reminding people they are holy. We are sinners and have to earn salvation — it is not a default position.

    Back to the point, though, I would like to see evidence that Vatican II’s universal call to holiness is having an overall positive effect, as the vocational numbers do not support the claim.

  28. FrAWeidner says:

    Wolfeken, I appreciate the rather measured response when I was perhaps less than measured in my own. Once again, however, it’s the straw man. The universal call to holiness calls upon people to be holy, as opposed to saying everyone is holy regardless. There’s a huge difference, and I have every certitude you’re a bright enough guy to know it. The universal call isn’t a slap on the back, but rather slaps a burden (albeit the light, easy one) on everyone’s back. Analogous, really, to what being called “Father” should be for a priest.

    Oh, and watch out for that language of “earning salvation.” The deposit says no one (other than Christ) can do that. We have to believe (gift), be baptized (gift), and live a persevering life of grace (often doesn’t look like a gift, but it is). There’s a response on our part there somewhere (if awfully hard to locate, except according to the most liberal pre-conciliar Jesuit schools of thought), but it’s all grace and mercy, with God as the primary agent of that work throughout. Including the condignly meritorious good works. And you are quite correct that humility, as well as penance and God’s mercy, play a huge role in our salvation.

  29. FrAWeidner says:

    “Back to the point, though, I would like to see evidence that Vatican II’s universal call to holiness is having an overall positive effect, as the vocational numbers do not support the claim.”

    Once again, for many years, the true interpretation of the universal call, to which Blessed John Paul and Pope Benedict have been trying to guide us, has not been universally attempted and applied until recent years. Where that has begun to happen, vocations have indeed increased (BTW, I would say that correct application of the universal call goes hand-in-hand, in a wider sense, with general fidelity within the mainstream Church to Blessed John Paul and Pope Benedict’s guidance. There’s a big difference between the post-conciliar Catholic ethos before Blessed John Paul, and after he had been pope for ten or fifteen years.). I don’t have access to diocese-by-diocese statistics, but priestly vocations, at least, and at least in many midwest U.S. dioceses, are up considerably. For example, the Diocese of Wichita had fifty seminarians last year.

  30. Michael J. says:

    I think the people are asking if it was an Infallible Council or a simple Pastoral Council, one that defined no new dogma and issued no anathema’s, because they want to know what they are obligated to follow. I think many want to simply ignore the Council altogether and go on as if it never occured. Is it possible to ignore what the Council taught and still be a Catholic in good standing or not? That is the question. It really is not hairsplitting, but a way to know what a good Catholic must believe about Vatican II. So, what must we believe of the Vatican II documents and teachings? Thank you.

  31. RickMK says:

    There is nothing unusual about an ecumenical council not being guided by the Holy Spirit.
    Just look at the Fourth Ecumenical Council, the Council of Chalcedon in the 400’s. That was a dogmatic Ecumenical Council, but in spite of that there was still one of its canons that was in error: the 28th canon, that Constantinople was the equal of Rome, and so could that one not be approved by Pope Leo, while everything else was. That should serve as proof that it cannot be assumed that ecumenical councils are always guided by the Holy Spirit.
    History is important!

    The main thing I am looking forward to with the, I think, inevitable final reunion of the SSPX with the Catholic Church, is that it will certainly clarify, once and for all, the definite status of Vatican II. I believe they will find a way for the SSPX to rejoin the Church while rejecting Vatican II. The FSSP did not have to accept Vatican II as a condition for being united with the Church, so I’m sure the SSPX will not have to either. But I do not think the SSPX is going to be as quiet about it.

    My thought is that what will happen is that Vatican II will be clarified as a purely pastoral council and not a dogmatic council. Since its intention was not to teach on matters of faith or morals, and infallibility only comes into effect when the pope or the bishops in union with the pope teach on matters of faith or morals, infallibility simply would not apply to Vatican II at all.

  32. benedetta says:

    It’s probably difficult to tease out but anecdotally I think that in terms of family life wherein parents have some conscious realization, even a little haphazard exposure to the genuine teaching of the universal call to holiness, vocations in the culture as it is have at least a fighting chance. The great majority of Catholics really have never heard of this. Perhaps a small percentage of a certain age hear it and think that it means an end to the clerical state altogether or some sort of half baked sharing idea. But, are people consciously saying, which is the state in life to which I am called, assuming that the call is to holiness for all, married or priesthood or religious life. For the great majority it doesn’t enter into the thought process at all, as precondition in terms of recognition of one’s calling. Most engaged couples do not express in pre-cana or in conference in planning marriage that they have become convinced that this is the means for them to holiness. But for the smaller percentage for whom this dawns, for whatever reason, I think there is greater likelihood that their children will be called.

    I don’t know that numbers always tell it all. If we are assessing the fruits then I should think we would consider qualities and not only quantity. Quantity is surely something. But sometimes very small communities and orders can cover quite a lot of ground with great zeal.

  33. Margaret says:

    I must pick up the Opus Dei thread for a moment, as I belong. Yes, actually, I do clean the toilets (and change the diapers and drive the van and scrub the floor) for the glory of God and the salvation of souls. So there. :)

    Opus Dei is not about “egalitarianism” in the sense that we disparage vocations to the priesthood or religious life. Far from it. God has blessed me with many children and it’s my sincere hope that they will receive the full spectrum of vocations available in the church. (If you’re taking notes, Lord, I’m especially partial to the Discalced Carmelites and the IVEs, but I’m not picky…)

    The universal call to holiness theme of Vat II really did address a need of the time, however, even if it has been hijacked into a false egalitarianism. Have you never met someone who was born and raised in the faith pre-Council, who feels that anybody who really takes the spiritual life seriously must necessarily have a religious/priestly vocation and conversely, feels that all the rest of us Catholics merely need to slide along, and as long as we don’t run around committing mortal sins all the time, that’s all God really asks. I have! I’ve met lots of people who think that way! The notion that somebody normal like a housewife or engineer or teacher or cabdriver shouldn’t just be sliding along, but trying to live the virtues to a heroic degree is just mind-boggling to these folks.

    Maybe this is more a California thing, but my sense out here is that the day-to-day preaching in the parishes never touches upon the universal call to holiness. Most people out here are convinced that Vatican II was all about ministry, and that all the “real” Catholics ought to read at Mass or help distribute Holy Communion. It makes me crazy. An hour a week of churchy “ministry” is easy. Struggling to live the virtues, seek God’s will in all things and lead others to know His love is a 24/7 proposition, and it is most certainly not easy…

    / Rant off

  34. benedetta says:

    Margaret, Interesting and great points. I agree that Second Vatican was hijacked in essence. When we went from being in dialogue and dynamic interaction with secular culture to proclaiming ourselves wholly one with it, allowing it to lead instead of the Holy Spirit, accusing any who wish to engage culture and exercise discernment as being one thing or another, of insisting that being in total attachment at all times with the culture (which has, no leadership, no consensus, and we find often enough, is based on neither fact, reason or attributes of truth, goodness or beauty, and this as agreed upon by secular analysis quite frequently) is the only way to go or else one is so many things including backward, fearful, cut off, condemnatory, naive, etc etc etc, well. And then to permit all of this to divide believer and family one from another in the faith. I don’t think we look to Second Vatican to blame for that. Growing up one heard Second Vatican as justification for just about everything conceivable yet we weren’t allowed to read or discuss it. In fact, the mere citation of authority doesn’t, pavlov style, assure that I will be convinced, believe or assent and really does nothing in terms of respecting my free will. But again it doesn’t seem, upon inquiry, that this was the design of Second Vatican.

  35. Kevin B. says:

    Margaret, I know exactly what you mean. The pastors and professional Catholics in my neck of California are constantly hectoring us to sing that Haugen Haas garbage, and outright state that if we don’t we are bad Catholics who aren’t participating at Mass. I rarely hear one word about holiness, virtue, or the salvation of souls. If it weren’t for the grace of God and the presence of the FSSP in my diocese, I might not be a practicing Catholic anymore.

    I think that is one of the greatest problems of Vatican II that Holy Mother Church will need to face someday. My insanely liberal home parish has done everything they have in the belief it is “what the Council wanted.” The Magisterium needs to settle these things once and for all: “Whosoever holds that Vatican II allows for erroneous position X, anathema sit.”

  36. Jenice says:

    My list of 5 good and fruitful things from the Council:

    It was, in fact, the universal call to holiness, and the Church’s saint-making abilities that drew me to Catholicism in the first place. I had been in and out of Christian churches, and had been frustrated because the promises of Scripture about transformation never happened to me. I finally figured out that what was missing were the sacraments. At the time I converted, I don’t think I knew that the call to holiness was a big part of V2, but somehow I got the message that holiness was the goal of my life.

    I also loved the clarification that the Council gave about the apostolate of the laity in Apostolicam actuositatem, as well as in the commentary from John Paul the Great that I read in further studies. I loved understanding that I was conformed in baptism to Christ’s 3 offices, and that was the source of my apostolate to convert the world to Christ. It gave me a sense of mission, and worth; prior to that it was easy for me to think that priests and nuns were WAY more important than we lay people, and I felt excluded since I obviously can’t be a priest, and I was already married before I became Catholic.

    Another passage I loved is from Gaudium et Spes (#22) that only in Christ can we understand ourselves. I have thought a lot about this passage, and find it very helpful in understanding myself, and in correcting the erroneous worldly anthropologies that abound in our day.

    And that the fullness of truth subsists in the Catholic Church, and that gregorian chant should be of primary importance in the liturgy.

  37. jlduskey says:

    I am troubled by Fr. Sotelo’s statement:
    “that the Holy Spirit was acting through this council and is still guiding today’s Catholic through that Council’s documents. There is no other, higher authority to appeal to for the pastoral application of dogma to our problems today, not at least until another Council is convened. ”
    Isn’t it true that documents issued by the Second Vatican Council were taken to Pope Paul VI for approval? Didn’t that action demonstrate that the Second Vatican Council recognized the authority of the Pope? The pastoral application of dogma to our situation in the Church today is subject to the living authority of the Successor of Peter. There is no need to refer back a century or two, or to wait for another Council to be convened at some time in the future. The Holy Spirit guides the Church today through the authority of Pope Benedict XVI. I don’t think Fr. Sotelo fails to recognize the authority of the Pope; I believe he failed to recognize that the above quoted statement was a contradiction.

  38. rfox2 says:

    Fr_Sotelo: I think that dissenting Catholics are fond of the “infallibility game.” The object of this game is to parse documents we don’t like, determine their level of infallibility, and then dismiss their teachings or ignore them based on our criterion of infallibility.

    I think that the whole question of whether Vatican II is infallible teaching is meaningless and unhelpful to the confession of the true Faith, and the efforts to evangelize unbelievers.

    Fr Sotelo, with all due respect, then how is one to go about confessing “the true Faith”?

    The word “infallibility” means without error. By definition, then, it refers to that which is true. You’re implying that it is a smoke screen by “dissenters” (and I’m assuming you mean both right and left leaning dissenters) to focus on the concept of infallibility. On the contrary, the Church has been defined by these discussions. There have been times in Church history when people have come to blows in the streets over the divinity of Jesus Christ. People have been exiled, imprisoned, and tortured over issues like this. And, the reason is that people are drawn to the truth (the Truth), they don’t want to be deceived, and they want to mold their lives accordingly. Sophists, revisionist historians, relativists (both moral and epistemological), libertines, Machiavellian politicians, and others want to blur the issue of truth. The doctrine of infallibility runs contrary to this, precisely because it states that there is a right and a wrong, and yes, YOU can be right or wrong.

    When rightness and wrongness involves one’s eternal destiny, the stakes are infinitely higher. The discussion about infallibility is not a purely academic discussion or well planned smoke screen. It boils down to, in a very concrete way, how we live and pray.

    Nostrae Aetate states in paragraph #3: The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God.

    I’ve gotten into arguments with people about the meaning of this statement, and it has acute bearing on the current situation in the world. I do not believe that Muslims worship the same God that Catholics do. And, Muslims themselves do not believe they worship the same “one God” that we do. In fact, they are deeply offended by that suggestion and rightly so! They believe in a different God, not the Triune God supremely revealed in Jesus Christ. Is this statement infallible? It has profound implications for the daily lives of Catholics if this is true or not. So, on the one hand, I hear theologians and priests vociferously argue about the interpretation of Vatican 2 because of it’s supposed importance, but when a concrete issue like this one in NA arises, they say: “Oh, you’re making a mountain out of a mole hill.” Just ignore that and take your medicine. No sir! Have you looked around the Church lately since the 1970’s to see how just this one statement is being lived out? It’s absurd.

    No, on the contrary, infallibility is of supreme importance for the faithful. Whether Vatican 2 is infallible in these novel teachings has direct, concrete importance to the daily lives of Catholics.

  39. wolfeken says:

    Excellent discussion here. We have come a long way when we can actually debate the merits and substance of Vatican II and not be branded a sedevacantist. Thank you SSPX? [Thank you…. Pope Benedict? Thank you… biological solution?]

    I would add a quote from Pope Benedict XVI, from when he was Cardinal Ratzinger. A very, very different Supreme Pontiff than JPII, sorry Opus Dei members.

    “Certainly the results (of Vatican II) seem cruelly opposed to the expectations of everyone, beginning with those of Pope John XXIII and then of Pope Paul VI: expected was a new Catholic unity and instead we have been exposed to dissension which, to use the words of Pope Paul VI, seems to have gone from self-criticism to self-destruction. Expected was a new enthusiasm, and many wound up discouraged and bored. Expected was a great step forward, instead we find ourselves faced with a progressive process of decadence which has developed for the most part under the sign of a calling back to the Council, and has therefore contributed to discrediting it for many. The net result therefore seems negative. I am repeating here what I said ten years after the conclusion of the work: it is incontrovertible that this period has definitely been unfavorable for the Catholic Church.”

  40. Fr_Sotelo says:


    Yes, the belief that the Church’s dogmas are infallibly taught is of absolute importance. But it is not important to assign theological notations to every statement of a church council, such as Vatican II, because by asking what part of Vatican II is infallible, the game-player is asking, “what is dogmatic?” so that they can dissent, even publicly.

    In the case of abortion and contraception teaching, since these are found in the “pastoral” document of Gaudium et Spes, the liberal states quite confidently that they are not dogmatic, not infallible, and therefore they have no obligation to give religious assent. But it is all a ruse, a game, and it does not hold water in Catholic Tradition. After Trent, St. Robert Bellarmine did not say, “now this section about offering Mass in Latin only is not infallible, so let’s ignore it or even protest it publicly.”

    The documents of Vatican II, including Nostra Aetate, constitute teaching of the Magisterium, and that should be enough for a faithful Catholic to give religious assent. And so, the crucial question is not, “what notation of certainty do the theological schools assign to this particular statement in this particular document?” Is it dogma? Promixate to dogma? Doctrine? Proximate to doctrinal teaching?

    Rather, the crucial question is, “did the Pope and college of bishops promulgate these documents as Catholic teaching, in an exercise of the most solemn teaching form (magisterium)?” Yes, they did. Therefore, the good Catholic should give religious assent.

    As far as #3 of Nostra Aetate, I don’t think it is making a mountain out of a molehole. I think it is, indeed, very important for the present-day Catholic to be respectful of Muslims. They are in error, but not every tenet of their faith is error. As far as their concept of God, it is true that they deny the trinitarian nature of God. But not knowing and understanding that God is a Trinity does not make it impossible to know the true God. Look at the preaching of St. Paul at the Areopagus. Small Catholic children also do not grasp the Trinitarian dogma–does that mean they are not praying to the same God as us, until they pass their First Communion exams?

    St. Paul defended the Athenian devotion to the unknown god as a devotion to the true God for whom every person searches in their spiritual questions, “indeed, He is not far from each one of us,” said the Apostle. St. Paul did not say that the Athenians would have to know everything about the true God to come into contact with the true God. If St. Paul was authorized to say such things to the Athenians, then Vatican II is authorized to say such things to Muslims, who unlike the Athenians, are not polytheists.

    The Muslims affirm and confess God’s unicity, His infinity, His perfection, His spiritual nature, and in affirming these, they are praying to the same God as we are. That doesn’t mean that each prayer is theologically correct, but St. Paul did not demand that of the Athenians either, in order to come into contact with the true God. And as far as the Muslims denying this proposition, that is irrelevant to objective truth. The Athenians would deny what St. Paul was teaching, but that did not make St. Paul wrong on these matters.

  41. Fr_Sotelo says:


    How unfortunate that you omitted the second part of that quote from the “Ratzinger Report,” for it clearly states Ratzinger’s thought on Vatican II. On page 30 of the “Ratzinger Report,” he states, and I quote:

    “Vatican II in its official promulgations, in its authentic documents, cannot be held responsible for this development which, on the contrary, radically contradicts both the letter and the spirit of the Council Fathers. I am convinced that the damage that we have incurred in these twenty years is due, not to the ‘true’ Council, but to the unleashing within the Church of latent polemical and centrifugal forces; and outside the Church it is due to the confrontation with a cultural revolution in the West: the success of the upper middle class, the new ‘tertiary bourgeoisie’, with its liberal-radical ideology of individualistic, rationalistic and hedonistic stamp.”

    You see, wolfeken, unlike those who focus on Vatican II as the source and cause of the sad statistics that follow in its wake, Ratzinger chooses to see the larger picture. Or to put it a better way, many who blame Vatican II for the present-day ills of the Church are exonerating and releasing from all guilt the radical feminists, the pro-aborts, the sexual revolutionaries, the no-fault divorce advocates, the media conglomerates, and the corrupt financial officers who have used all of the above to make profit off of the weaknesses from original sin.

    Ratzinger, on the other hand, did not give those movers and shakers a pass on society’s ills, nor on the effects of these ills for the Church. Looking at the falling away from Catholic Faith in the U.S., for instance, no-fault and easy divorce and contraception, along with Roe v. Wade had much more effect on the practical life of Catholics than Vatican II ever did.

  42. Nathan says:

    This is a fascinating and informative discussion! In my reading of the Council documents, it seems (from my lay, convert after the Council) perspective that, in order to approach the issue of infallibility of Vatican II, you have to first grapple with the question “what, exactly, did the Council teach?” All the commenters here seem to agree that the documents of Vatican II were not as clear as, say, Nicea or Trent or even “Pastor Aeternus.” Yes, the Council was an exercise of the Magesterium of the Church, and in this case it seems that it will take the Magesterium of the Church to straighten out what we (especially as laymen) are to take out of it to help fit us for heaven.

    Fr. Weidner, would you mind expanding a bit on the universal call to holiness? (Sorry, I’m a little slow with the concept.) Does that come primarily from “Lumen Gentium?” What made Vatican II’s teaching stand out from conditions prior to the Council? Without trying to seem cheeky, hasn’t the call to holiness always been universal? I mean, one could certainly take the documents of the pre-councilar 20th century popes (St Pius X exhorting frequent Holy Communion, Pius XI’s “Casta Connubi,” Pius XII’s encyclical on the Mystical Body Of Christ) as teaching a universal call to holiness. To borrow from a well-known priest here, “What did the Council Really Say?”

    In Christ,

  43. wolfeken says:

    I never said Vatican II was the “cause” of the negative outcomes. Rather, it was the tool used for the destruction that resulted in negative outcomes. Of course there was Modernism bubbling throughout the Cath0lic world prior to 1962.

    Roe v. Wade was not the cause of abortion. Feminists and politicians had already had many seeds in the ground, and then some. But it was the tool used that unleashed massive destruction.

    Not that I am comparing the novus ordo to abortion, but as long as you brought it up, I don’t think we would have seen the devastating results of homicide and Modernism, respectively, if not for Vatican II and Roe v. Wade, respectively. It takes something big and official to codify and legitimize a cause.

    Vatican II was the Roe v. Wade of liberal Catholicism and, like Roe v. Wade, has been strangely embraced by people who see it as invincible status quo. Hopefully both will be abolished in our lifetimes rather than the current strategy of re-defining and chipping away.

  44. wolfeken says:

    Yikes — and reverse my “respectively” orders please! Vatican II did not cause homicide.

  45. Wolfeken,

    May I interpret you as suggesting that Vatican II may have been a principal means by which those forces Cardinal Ratzinger mentioned (in the passage quoted by Fr. Sotelo) were unleashed within the Church, and by which the Church was exposed (through the famous open window) to cultural and societal forces from without?

    I wonder whether one could argue that, had the Council not prepared the wrong ground at the wrong time, neither the internal nor the external forces would likely have wrought such devastation on the Church.

  46. Fr_Sotelo says:


    One could argue that the events surrouding Vatican II were a means for unleashing “polemical and centrifugal” forces from within the Church, but the Church did not become “exposed” to cultural and societal forces from without by means of Vatican II. By existing within time and space, and being composed of members who are immersed in the world, the Church is ever exposed. The onslaught of these forces may not always be of the same intensity, but there is always the onslaught. As the old saying goes, “when the outer culture catches a cold, the Church sneezes.” We are never, as a Church, locked in a vacuum.

    Baroque Catholicism had no Vatican II. That did not stop the French Englightenment, atheism, plagues, the Reign of Terror, or the numerous anti-clerical revolutions which followed from decimating the Church and leaving it battered and beaten, until Blessed Pius IX lead the Church to a new resurgence growth and renewal.

  47. Fr. Sotelo,

    Of course it is true that the Church is ever under attack from without, and that–in times such as those you mention–it has suffered grievous damage.

    However, might the post-Vatican II era be a bit different in that–possibly as a consequence of the new openness to the world fostered by the Council–not only was the Church “battered and beaten” from without, it suffered even more grievously within as a result of errors from without that the Church absorbed into its blood stream during this period? Perhaps it is so that, even though some of the crises you mentioned may have decimated the body of Church, they may not have penetrated the mind of Church with such loss of faith and belief.

  48. rfox2 says:

    Fr Sotelo: thank you for the kind reply.

    “Religious assent” is a phrase that I’ve only seen referenced explicitly since Vatican 2, and I’m not sure what it means. It’s clear that it doesn’t mean “divine and Catholic faith”. If religious assent requires an explicit affirmation that a statement is true, I don’t see how that’s different from faith. Does it mean that the teaching is revealed truth? If not, I’m not sure I understand what the obligation is on the part of the faithful.

    Regarding St. Paul’s address to the Athentians as recorded in Acts 17, St. Paul was not codifying or affirming what the Athenians believed vis-a-vis their idols. In fact, St. Luke goes to great pains to tell us that St. Paul had spent some time in Athens, that he was distressed over their idolatry, that he had been reasoning with Jews and Greeks about the true nature of God and Jesus Christ. They begin to mock him publicly, so out of charity St. Paul addresses them concerning a particular idol called the “unknown god”. He says, in essence, “You don’t even know what you are worshiping, so let me tell you about the true God [once again].” ([] comment added) He doesn’t affirm them in their ignorance, or affirm their worship of the “unknown god”.

    While it’s true that we all have an analogical understanding of God, we don’t comprehend Him, nor is our nature capable of comprehending Him. So, in that regard, we are all “children” and our understanding of the Creator is vague and uncertain. However, there is a vast difference between a vague but true understanding of God, and an explicitly and consciously false idea about God. Vatican 2 seems to affirm the Muslims in their explicitly false notion of God, and that is the opposite of what St. Paul was doing in Athens. Jesus said in Matthew 7:9-10: ” “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?” If our children have a vague but true understanding of God, that’s a good thing. We don’t expect anyone in this life to have a comprehensive notion of God. But, if we know they are in error, and we love them, would we affirm them in that error? That is what Vatican 2 seems to be doing in Nostrae Aetate.

    The god in the mind of a Muslim is not the Triune God who has revealed Himself. That is a false god, a god constructed by man. I love people who are Muslim, and in fact I have Muslim friends, but I won’t affirm their erroneous notion of who God is, and they know that. They know we don’t worship the same God, even though they fully understand the Christian notion of a Trinity. These are intelligent people.

    I can’t in good conscience assent to those statements in NA. Does that make me a heretic? For that matter, orthodox Muslims wouldn’t assent to this statement in NA! Intelligent Muslims who are willing to talk about this (and I’ve been in mosques talking to Muslims about this…talk about a tense situation), do not respect Catholics who are wishy-washy about their own theology. Am I required to assent to NA in order to be Roman Catholic? I think that is the salient issue, regardless of the complicated (and unnecessary?) hermeneutical mess we find ourselves in regarding Vatican 2.

  49. albizzi says:

    My list of the bad fruits of the Council:
    – Huge deficit of religious vocations mainly in the priesthood
    – Confusion in the minds
    – Strong drop of mass attendance
    – Strong drop of confessions
    – Spreading of modernist heresies everywhere like: Everybody is saved whichever is one’s religion (denial of EENS dogma). Nobody goes into Hell since Hell doesn’t exist. Doubts about Mary’s virginity. Doubts about Jesus being the Son of God. Denial of the real Presence in the Eucharist (hence the lack of reverence). Etc… Etc…
    – Denial of the papal infallibility.
    – Liturgical abuses
    – Etc… Etc…

    Some may argue that these bad fruits would have have been harvested even if the council was not called. Possibly, but all began to appear together soon after the council’s end. The coincidence speaks by itself.

  50. Fr_Sotelo says:


    The notion of publicly dissenting from the Magisterium, and still considering oneself to be a good Catholic, is a more novel invention, and for this reason we do not see the Church having to define terms like “religious assent” until more recent times. However, Catholic theology has always allowed for different levels of submission of intellect and will according to the grade of certainty of a proposed doctrine or dogma. Not all faith is “catholic and divine faith” because not all teaching proposed by the Church reaches the level of definition seen with dogma.

    As far as the Athenians, St. Paul could not have been speaking of another “idol” because an idol refers to an image seen and fashioned by human hands. The altar and god spoken of by St. Paul was to an “unknown god.” An idol, however, is known and identified. To use the words of the Apostle in Acts 17: “Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.”

    St. Paul says that what they have been praying to as unknown is the “God who made the world.” He does not say that what they have been praying “as something unknown” is just another idol, but that which “I am going to proclaim to you.”

  51. Fr_Sotelo says:


    The fallacy of “the Muslims pray to a different god than we do” is that we are making a leap from things we can know (that the revelation of Mohammed is a false one) to matters which are truly hidden from us (what is in the mind of “the Muslims” when they pray to Allah, and which prayers are listened to by the true God).

    We can state without doubt that the true God has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, and any other revelations in any other religion are false.

    But it is leap, a huge leap, to go from studying the Islamic account of divine revelation, and finding it erroneous, to stating as objective fact that because of their errors, the Muslims pray to a different God. I don’t know who is able to read souls and determine what is going on in the spiritual life of a billion Muslims. And who pray tell, is this different God? There is only one God who exists, and can hear prayers. And finally, although I know that Christians of all stripes have made claims that God does not hear the prayers of non-Christians, because non-Christians pray to the wrong god, I also find such claims to be overreaching at the least, and haughty and presumptuous at the most.

    It seems to me that God elicits obedience and goodness from peope outside the Christianity, and even the Lord Jesus warned against the presumptions of His own people who would not receive Him in Luke 4:24: “I tell you the truth,” he continued, “no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosyf in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian. All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this.

    Of course many Muslisms are going to say that they are praying to a different God, because they consider the God of Christianity to be an idol and a figment of imagination. But that does not give us warrant to turn around and imitate such narrow and erroneous thinking.

  52. communio says:

    When the subject of Vatican II arises–and making sense of its fruits, its way and wherefore of encountering the modern world, the turmoil following in the wake of the Council, and its standing within the overall continuity of the Church’s history and mission–I think it’s well worth the effort to continually re-read and actually study one of Pope Benedict’s cornerstone addresses: his now famous Address to the Roman Curia (22 Dec 2005), aka the “hermeneutics of continuity” speech:

    “The Second Vatican Council, with its new definition of the relationship between the faith of the Church and certain essential elements of modern thought, has reviewed or even corrected certain historical decisions, but in this apparent discontinuity it has actually preserved and deepened her inmost nature and true identity.

    The Church, both before and after the Council, was and is the same Church, one, holy, catholic and apostolic, journeying on through time; she continues “her pilgrimage amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God,” proclaiming the death of the Lord until he comes (cf. “Lumen Gentium,” No. 8).

    Those who expected that with this fundamental “yes” to the modern era all tensions would be dispelled and that the “openness toward the world” accordingly achieved would transform everything into pure harmony, had underestimated the inner tensions as well as the contradictions inherent in the modern epoch.

    They had underestimated the perilous frailty of human nature which has been a threat to human progress in all the periods of history and in every historical constellation. These dangers, with the new possibilities and new power of man over matter and over himself, did not disappear but instead acquired new dimensions: a look at the history of the present day shows this clearly.

    On the contrary, it was certainly the Council’s intention to overcome erroneous or superfluous contradictions in order to present to our world the requirement of the Gospel in its full greatness and purity.

    The steps the Council took toward the modern era which had rather vaguely been presented as “openness to the world,” belong in short to the perennial problem of the relationship between faith and reason that is re-emerging in ever new forms. The situation that the Council had to face can certainly be compared to events of previous epochs.

    In his First Letter, St. Peter urged Christians always to be ready to give an answer (“apologia”) to anyone who asked them for the logos, the reason for their faith (cf. 3:15).

    This meant that biblical faith had to be discussed and come into contact with Greek culture and learn to recognize through interpretation the separating line but also the convergence and the affinity between them in the one reason, given by God.

    When, in the 13th century through the Jewish and Arab philosophers, Aristotelian thought came into contact with medieval Christianity formed in the Platonic tradition and faith and reason risked entering an irreconcilable contradiction, it was above all St. Thomas Aquinas who mediated the new encounter between faith and Aristotelian philosophy, thereby setting faith in a positive relationship with the form of reason prevalent in his time. There is no doubt that the wearing dispute between modern reason and the Christian faith, which had begun negatively with the Galileo case, went through many phases, but with the Second Vatican Council the time came when broad new thinking was required.

    Its content was certainly only roughly traced in the conciliar texts, but this determined its essential direction, so that the dialogue between reason and faith, particularly important today, found its bearings on the basis of the Second Vatican Council.

    This dialogue must now be developed with great open-mindedness but also with that clear discernment that the world rightly expects of us in this very moment. Thus, today we can look with gratitude at the Second Vatican Council: If we interpret and implement it guided by a right hermeneutic, it can be and can become increasingly powerful for the ever necessary renewal of the Church. “

  53. moon1234 says:

    Muslims: As far as their concept of God, it is true that they deny the trinitarian nature of God.

    NO ONE gets to the Father EXCEPT through me! Jesus

    I find it hard to believe that NA can contradict God (Jesus) himself. I can “possibly” accept that someone who does not KNOW about the triune nature may be given a pass by God, but someone who hears the truth and openly rejects it? Weren’t we told to shake the dust of their town from our sandles and move on?

    The Baltimore Catechism (No. 3) states as follows:

    Q. 1148. How do we offer God false worship?

    A. We offer God false worship by rejecting the religion He has instituted and following one pleasing to ourselves, with a form of worship He has never authorized, approved or sanctioned.

    The Church is not concerned with the subjective dispositions of men. This is for God to Judge. The Church is concerned with objective facts. Her judgments are objective. Pope St. Pius X, for this reason declared that “those who die as infidels are damned.”

    Pope Leo XIII, affirms in his encyclical “Satis Cognitum”: “Nothing is more dangerous than the heretics who, while conserving almost all the remainder of the Church’s teaching intact, corrupt with a single word, like a drop of poison, the purity and the simplicity of the faith which we have received through tradition from God and through the Apostles.”

    Although it is true to say that the reason that those outside the Church are not saved is not purely because they worship a false ‘god’ nevertheless there is still a clear connection. When Christ states, “No one comes to the Father but through me” (Jn. 14:6), this precisely means, if you don’t posses Christ, you can’t posses the Father (God) for Christ is that door to the Father. Hence without Christ there is no salvation from God. The relation is evident. Again this is confirmed by St. Irenaeus who wrote, “Thus, without the Holy Spirit, we cannot see the Word of God; and without the Son no one can go to the Father.”

    The only authentic prayer is true prayer addressed to the true God. Pope Leo XIII declares without hesitation that “the fitting and devout worship of God, which is to be found chiefly in the divine sacrifice and in the dispensation of the sacraments, as well as salutary laws and discipline . . . The (Catholic) Church alone offers to the human race that religion”

    I could go on and on with examples throughout Church history, both recent and ancient, but until VII and NA NON of the non-catholic faiths would be held as salvific, rather they were merely heretical and may contains elements of naturally revealed truth.

    NA is just ONE example of a significant departure from traditional Catholic teaching and belief. It leads the common person to deduce that all faiths lead to the one true God or that they posesses elements of truth. I am sure Wicca has elements of truth as well, but it is from the evil one. I would surely not believe that one could be saved by belief in this “faith”, yet this is what NA would lead many to believe.

  54. robtbrown says:


    Your comments smack of fideism.

    I can find nothing in Nostra Aetate that justifies your notion that anyone reading it would come away thinking that non Christian religions are salvific. It has been long held in the Church that any truth, no matter the source, is a preamble to the Faith. This is not only found in St Thomas’ Summa Theologiae but also in Veterum Sapientia.faiths lead to the one true God”.

  55. robtbrown says:

    Delete: faiths lead to the one true God”.

  56. moon1234 says:

    You need to take the Catholic hat off and try to read it as if you were non-catholic or a Catholic with very little to no formation. You have the benefit of a well formed conscience and that means you see no problems.

    Faith always trumps reason since reason is based on logic and no all things in this world can be logically comprehended. Take the trinity for instance. We understand God’s unique triune nature to a point, but the rest is taken on faith. You assertion that my comments “smack of fideism” just proves that when there is a lack of a response to individual points, which I gave, the tactic is to provide a pejorative label to someone or his words in an attempt to strengthen your position.

    My comments are not only mine. These are commonly held beliefs among many Catholics who believe that NA has done more to damage true ecumenisum and true belief that the Catholic Church is the one and only true Church that Christ established. Memebership in the Catholic Church is required in some way in order to be saved.

    Please examine the following comments and then tell me how NA does not lead one to think as follows:

    What can be true and holy in religions which worship false gods? Nostra Aetate in this context is a Magna Carta for heresy. The only means of salvation is the Catholic Church. One can be saved in non-Catholicism, but not by it.

    The Catholic Church does not reject anything of what is true and holy in these religions. It considers with respect these ways of acting and living, these rules and these doctrines, which , although they differ on many points from what It itself holds and proposes, nevertheless bring a ray of the Truth that enlightens all men. [Nostra Aetate, n. 2.]

    We are supposed to respect the polygamy and immorality of Islam, or the idolatry of Hinduism? Whatever sound elements are found in these religions, e.g., some primitive revelation, do not belong in their own right to these false religions whose attributes are aberrations from the Truth, Who is a Someone, not a something. Anything worthwhile that still subsists belongs by right to the sole true religion, the Catholic Church, which alone acts through them for salvific purposes.

    To speak of the values of salvation of another religion is heresy, as the practitioners thereof are saved in it by the Catholic Church, not by it of its own accord.

    Many documents released during and after VII contain similar vague and confusing statements that can easily lead the common man (and even some prelates) to fall into abject heresy. This why many people do NOT hold that councils are infallible nor that everything they proclaim is the work of the Holy Spirit. I think many in traditional circles feel that the Holy Spirit preserved the Tridentine Mass on purpose. The council could have easily revised the 1962 MR, but instead an entirely new missal was cobbled together.

    Many different viewpoints on the infallibility of the council.

  57. Fr_Sotelo says:


    Dr. Brown was not putting you down with the term fideism. If you look at the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia article on fideism, you will see why he compared your position to fideism http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06068b.htm. Specifically, from that article, I would quote the following words:

    “As against these views (of fideism), it must be noted that authority, even the authority of God, cannot be the supreme criterion of certitude, and an act of faith cannot be the primary form of human knowledge. This authority, indeed, in order to be a motive of assent, must be previously acknowledged as being certainly valid; before we believe in a proposition as revealed by God, we must first know with certitude that God exists, that He reveals such and such a proposition, and that His teaching is worthy of assent, all of which questions can and must be ultimately decided only by an act of intellectual assent based on objective evidence. Thus, fideism not only denies intellectual knowledge, but logically ruins faith itself.”

    When you say that “Faith always trumps reason since reason is based on logic and no(t) all things in this world can be logically comprehended” you are not asserting the traditional Catholic position. Faith does not “trump” reason, but rather faith and reason are each properly exercised in their proper realm. Before people can be expected to submit to the spiritual authority of the Catholic Church, and what it proposes as being revealed by God, the reason of a person must apprehend from objective evidence, outside and apart from faith, the logic or reasonableness of such claims.

    Quoting, to infidels and unbelievers, from the words of Christ, or Popes or Councils, and thereby asserting the authority of faith, cannot bypass the work of reason. This is why the Church has always trained priests in philosophy, as well as, and before, theology. From philosophy, we seminarians passed through fundamental theology and learned of the importance of apologetics in eliciting faith from non-Catholics. Before the heart can give the assent of faith, the mind of a person must sift through the objective evidence, the reasoning and apologetics, which will lead it to conclude that the claims of faith flow from demonstrable first principles.

  58. moon1234 says:


    Doesn’t your last paragraph turn our Lord’s words on end “Jesus saith to him: Because thou hast seen me, Thomas, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed.”

    This would seem to say that Jesus prefers faith in him without requiring physical proof of his existence. I have such a hard time with NA because it seems to permit those in error to persist in error without requiring them to convert to the one true Church.

    Reason can and should be used, but the inevitable scenerio will come up where reason can not provide an answer. For that we must have faith. NO ONE knows exactly what happens when we die. We can not observe the soul. We take that on faith and on what the Church teachs. Yet, NA seems to allow us to “recognize” those elements of truth in other faiths. This recognition, in modern man’s eyes, is tantamount to elevating the false religion to an equal footing with the one true Church.

    If Jesus says no one gets to the Father except through HIM, then how do Muslims get to the Father when they deny Jesus is God? This is NOT invincible ignorance. They are knowingly making a choice to reject God (In the 2nd person of the trinity). For NA to say that Muslims worship the same God, it would seem to be completly at odds with Jesus’ own words here on earth.

    This to me would be an example of where NA is just a document. It is not infallible and it does not draw on the traditions of the Church. Rather, it is an attempt by a modern Pope to reach out to those who persecute the Church in an attempt to make the Church relevent to them. What it actually does is confuse Catholics and cement non-catholics into believing they can be saved through a false religion that rejects the one true God.

    Before the fuill nature of the triune God was reveled to man by God himself (in Jesus) we probably could say we worshiped the same one true God. When those religions rejected Jesus, they rejected God. Hence they no longer worship the one true God. Rather they worship an idol they have made to suit their preference and not the God that has been divinely revealed. It is the same error that the Jews made 2000 years ago and that many continue to make today. Respecting a man for being a man is one thing. I will not however support his persistence in error, to do so would out not only my soul in jeopardy, but also those of the people with whom I should be working to bring into the faith.

  59. Supertradmum says:

    Many of the things in the Church which are blamed on Vatican II actually began as deviations before Vatican II and have nothing to do with the Council itself. For example, many of the liturgical changes happened much earlier. As to the documents, one must read them in context of the 2,000 year history of the Church. I admit that some comments in Lumen Gentium and in Gaudium et Spes can easily be taken out of context, or in some translations, even seem a deviations. One must not make quick judgments. I think the biggest problem was the inclusion of non-Catholics in the small groupings, or committees. Even though these people did not have “voting rights”, their influence as to the ecumenical influence, was considerable. I highly recommend The Rhine Flows into the Tiber.

  60. rfox2 says:

    Fr Sotelo: The fallacy of “the Muslims pray to a different god than we do” is that we are making a leap from things we can know (that the revelation of Mohammed is a false one) to matters which are truly hidden from us (what is in the mind of “the Muslims” when they pray to Allah, and which prayers are listened to by the true God).

    We can state without doubt that the true God has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, and any other revelations in any other religion are false.

    But it is leap, a huge leap, to go from studying the Islamic account of divine revelation, and finding it erroneous, to stating as objective fact that because of their errors, the Muslims pray to a different God.

    I agree that it is a huge leap to go from the stated tenets of any given religion to peering into the souls of individual adherents of that faith. Only God can do that unless he enables us to do so through divine grace. I agree on that point.

    However, as you state the situation, NA wants to have it’s cake and eat it too. If NA were referring, in the section I quoted, to the stated (objective) tenets of Islam, then to say that those tenets agree with the Catholic doctrine of God is clearly false. On the other hand, if the teaching is claiming to know the hearts and minds of Muslims, then it is far overextending it’s reach, and I don’t think even a Council is given the authority to make such a statement about individual human beings.

    So, either way you slice it, the statement, as it is given in NA, must be false. If we take the statement to refer to Islamic doctrine, then even Muslims (and I might add ANY Muslim who knows anything about their own faith and even a cursory knowledge of Catholicism) would strongly disagree with the statement. That isn’t a narrow minded point of view, that’s simply a fact.

    Thank you for indulging me in this conversation. I hope it’s helpful for others as well, because the important point that we’re discussing, and I’m sure has been discussed between the Vatican and the SSPX (and others), is the point you raise when you say The notion of publicly dissenting from the Magisterium, and still considering oneself to be a good Catholic, is a more novel invention. This is the crux of the issue of infallibility and Magisterial teaching. There is a difference between disagreeing with a “teaching” on the basis of Scripture and Tradition, holding those notions with high regard and having all due respect for one’s religious superiors both living and dead, and a disagreement that attacks the very foundations of Catholic faith by denying the very notion of perennial Truth. If NA is not infallible, and has not been decreed so by the Church, then it should be safe to disagree with it’s teaching or to say as modern theologians do, that the teaching is “reformable”. It is clearly not dogmatic, and thus, it is also clearly not infallible. If it isn’t infallible, then it could be wrong, and open debate can take place on the issue.

    However, left leaning prelates, local ordinaries, and local priests justify their heterodox views and behavior based on teachings like this, and it has obviously had a corrosive effect on the Church. They can’t be silenced, because “it’s a teaching of Vatican 2 that…” blah, blah, blah. BUT, if the statements they are supporting their views with are open to debate, and possibly false, then they should not be transforming the Church according to these debatable, and possibly dangerous, notions. The infallibility of theses statements has direct bearing on the daily lives of Catholics, and this has not been addressed by the Magisterium.

  61. rfox2 says:

    Supertradmum: Many of the things in the Church which are blamed on Vatican II actually began as deviations before Vatican II and have nothing to do with the Council itself. For example, many of the liturgical changes happened much earlier.

    Yes, this is a helpful observation. I’m not a member of SSPX, I don’t attend their chapels, and I don’t consort with them in any way. However, I am VERY sympathetic with some of their criticisms of Vatican 2 on the grounds that modernist notions found their way into the conciliar documents. I get the impression that this idea cannot be entertained by most modern conservative theologians, but I don’t understand why it is impossible IF the conciliar documents are fallible. Essentially, their question is, “Can a Council make a mistake?”. If the answer is no, isn’t that tantamount to saying that every single conciliar statement is infallible? If the answer is “yes”, then I don’t understand why the points they raise cannot be open to debate in the Church. I’m not sure why Catholics are being forced to agree with all of the possibly erroneous notions of Vatican 2, or at the very least, ostracized for disagreeing with those notions.

  62. Fr_Sotelo says:


    “Blessed are they that have not seen” is not a statement from Our Lord in support of fideism. That is because if human reason is used properly and observes objectively, it can arrive at a certain conclusion that God exists, and He is true, without physical evidence. In fact, if physical evidence is demanded, as the materialists do, the human mind would never assent to faith in anything that is spiritural in nature.

    Our Lord chides Thomas that he demanded physical evidence of the resurrection, when it would have sufficed to reason through the various other reasons for belief in the resurrection, (including Jesus’ clear and stated promises & prophecies, backed up by His miracles before Calvary and the Resurrection took place).

    As far as “Nostra Aetate” permitting people to remain in error instead of converting to the true Faith, I would need a quote. I don’t find it. More so, Nostra Aetate and the Church neither “permits” nor can it “compel” human reason to come out of error. Reason must be prepared with the preambles of faith, including a respectful approach to the unbeliever. St. Peter Canisius, who converted so many heretics in Germany, said the same thing about approaching those in error.

    At no time are the errors, or any activity of an immoral nature, of the Muslims, affirmed as true or holy by the Church in NA. Rather, what is affirmed as true is that Muslims define God as being spiritual (which is true), that they define Him as being transcendent (which is true), that they call upon him as the Merciful one (which is true), and that they ascribe to God limitless perfection (which is true). And in submitting to God and seeking His justice, they are doing something which the Church wishes to affirm. Based upon these common beliefs with the truths of Catholicism, the Church finds reason to enter into a respectful dialogue with the adherents of Islam.

    The missiology of the Church always used the tactic of affirming the true and good elements of a native culture as a step of “pre-evangelization.” Then when there was a relationship of mutual respect, the missionaries could then point out how the truths of Catholicism were indeed true, and how the falsehoods of other religions should be renounced. This was a process which took years in many cases, and it was not unheard of for overzealous and uncharitable missionaries to cause the efforts of the Church to collapse in certain regions.

    NA was never meant to be a document which bypassed all attempts at dialogue and mutual respect in order to immediately pronounce condemnations and syllabi of errors. But in its attempt to setup the open lines of communication which traditional missiology did, it has indeed been successful. There have been exaggerrations and abuses, by people who promote indifferentism and syncretism, but in those things they have departed from the teaching of Nostra Aetate.

  63. Fr_Sotelo says:


    “If NA were referring, in the section I quoted, to the stated (objective) tenets of Islam, then to say that those tenets agree with the Catholic doctrine of God is clearly false.”

    Your error here is in generalizing what the Church restricted with specific language. There is no assertion by Nostra Aetate that the Catholic Church now agrees with the “stated tenets” of Islam. That would be blatantly false. Or, as you put it, it would be “a disagreement that attacks the very foundations of Catholic faith by denying the very notion of perennial Truth.”

    But NA clearly states that what is affirmed with Islam is the confession of faith in one God, who is spiritual, merciful, transcendent, and to whose moral laws we must submit. In regards to other faiths, what is affirmed, and this is restrictive language, are those elements which are true and good. Nothing else is affirmed. Falsehood in other religions is not affirmed. Universal salvation is not affirmed. Having any mediator to the Father outside of Jesus Christ is not affirmed. Salvation outside the Church is not affirmed.

    It cannot be asserted with certainty that just because Jesus has been rejected as Savior, that therefore the person has no invincible ignorance. There can still be invincible ignorance even in people who have studied Christianity, because the conduct of some Christians can cause scandal, and therefore a mental or emotion block, in the reason, of otherwise reasonable people. If I were a Muslim and I was told I was going to hell, by people who did not seem like shining examples of holiness themselves, I would turn around and tell them to go to hell also, without nary a reasoned thought to what they were saying.

    If Catholics, possessing the full truth, at any time run around acting like Pharisees and condemning others and judging others outright, that full truth is not going to do much good for others. Nostrae Aetate saw this and set the foundation for a different way of dealing with non-Christians.

  64. rfox2 says:

    Fr Soleto: But NA clearly states that what is affirmed with Islam is the confession of faith in one God, who is spiritual, merciful, transcendent, and to whose moral laws we must submit. In regards to other faiths, what is affirmed, and this is restrictive language, are those elements which are true and good. Nothing else is affirmed.

    I agree that this is the affirmation that is in question. The question is whether or not a Catholic should affirm the “faith in one God” that a Muslim professes. NA takes it a step further, and makes this affirmation at a Magisterial level which is either a good thing, or a horrifically scandalous thing depending on your point of view. Palestinian Catholics may have a word or two to say about affirming Muslims in their radical monotheism, and the consequences that can have on day to day life, but that is another matter.

    This highlights the hermeneutical issue Catholics face today with Vatican 2. If the Magisterium is truly affirming Islamic radical monotheism, and they are promoting this affirmation, to ask the average Catholic to make this affirmation is nothing short of extreme equivocation. Yes, Muslims have faith in a single deity, who is radically one, and is spelled out in the statements of the Koran. That is their god. This is not the God who has revealed Himself. This is not the Triune God, revealed in Jesus Christ.

    I can’t comment on the state of mind of any Muslim. I don’t know, for any individual, whether they have truly rejected Jesus Christ. However, given what Muslims believe according to the tenets of their faith, and knowing the consequences of that belief if firmly held, it seems highly irresponsible for the prelates of the Roman Catholic Church to affirm the multitudes of Muslims in erroneous faith.

    Fr Soleto: If Catholics, possessing the full truth, at any time run around acting like Pharisees and condemning others and judging others outright, that full truth is not going to do much good for others. Nostrae Aetate saw this and set the foundation for a different way of dealing with non-Christians.

    This is a false dichotomy. It is a spiritual act of mercy to tell someone the truth. It is love. One can do that without being “Pharisaical”. Will the truth offend? Indeed, it will. We’re called to be ambassadors, and in representing Christ, we may offend, because for many He offends. That is the fault of the one receiving the message. I agree that we, as ambassadors, can be rude and offensive, but that isn’t necessarily the case in communicating the truth. NA doesn’t address this issue directly. However, if the intent on the part of the Council Fathers was to increase the success of missionary activity by taking a softer approach, that has CLEARLY failed. Well meaning Muslims now view Catholics who take a softer approach with disdain because we aren’t willing to stand up for what we supposedly believe is true. The same is true for Jews with whom I’ve had peripheral contact in the context of Catholic-Jewish dialogue in the city of Chicago. I’ve also had the same experience with Evangelical Christians. Affirming someone in error does not assist them in understanding the full truth, but rather, obscures that truth. When the average Catholic hears about this teaching, or reads it in context, they end up believing that there is no need to try and convert Muslims to the true Faith.

    This discussion highlights, in technicolor, why Vatican 2 is problematic. The lack of clarity of the documents, and the inability of Catholics to know what they should or should not adhere to, is destructive. The inability of us to interpret what the referent of “the one God” of NA 3 is, is highly illustrative of this.

  65. Fr_Sotelo says:


    I don’t find Nostra Aetate, as it is written, to be problematic, or ambiguous for that matter. However, if you begin to insert qualifiers into the document, it does become problematic. Yet it is the straw man you set up, not the document itself, that causes difficulty.

    If Aquinas could affirm the thinking of Aristotle, that God is an Unmoved Mover, or Pure Act, and not be condemned, I don’t see why the Magisterium should be condemned for affirming the Islamic proposition that God, Allah, is one, and merciful. This can be affirmed as better than being polytheistic or atheistic because it provides more common ground from which to enter dialogue. We are speaking of common tenets of truth held by the Church and non-Christians. If the radical monotheism of some Muslims leads them to behave in an immoral way towards Christians, this is not because they were affirmed by Nostra Aetate to do this, but because they are using religion as a pretext to commit violence on this with whom they disagree.

    Now, the Council did not merely affirm the radical monotheism of Islam, but rather states that the Church has a mission to promote an apologetic of going beyond affirmations towards announcing the true revelation of Jesus Christ. If you fail to mention this about NA, you are not being fair, or you are truncating the message of NA.

    After mentioning the tenets held in common between Islam and Judaism, and the Church, the document wraps up with the very important paragraph:

    “Besides, as the Church has always held and holds now, Christ underwent His passion and death freely, because of the sins of men and out of infinite love, in order that all may reach salvation. It is, therefore, the burden of the Church’s preaching to proclaim the cross of Christ as the sign of God’s all-embracing love and as the fountain from which every grace flows.”

    NA reaches a note of respect with non-Christians because the Church is still charged with preaching Christ as the source from which saving grace flows. If this respect makes some see us as weak, or wishy washy, we are in good company, for Christ Himself was painted this way. But the fact of the matter is that the Church is still growing in Africa, where she is surrounded by Muslims on all sides.

  66. rfox2 says:

    Fr Soleto: If Aquinas could affirm the thinking of Aristotle, that God is an Unmoved Mover, or Pure Act, and not be condemned, I don’t see why the Magisterium should be condemned for affirming the Islamic proposition that God, Allah, is one, and merciful. This can be affirmed as better than being polytheistic or atheistic because it provides more common ground from which to enter dialogue. We are speaking of common tenets of truth held by the Church and non-Christians.

    You’ve cited Aquinas a couple of times, so it might be interesting to note that he was no friend of Islam. Given the limitations of his time, he knew a great deal about Islam, and had some non-politically correct things to say about that faith. For example, here are some things he said about Islam in Summa Contra Gentiles, Book I, Chapter 6:

    * he called it a sect “committed to erroneous doctrines”
    * Muhammed “seduced the people by promises of carnal pleasure”
    * Muhammed was “he was obeyed by carnal men”
    * “the truths that [Muhammed] taught he mingled with many fables and with doctrines of the greatest falsity”
    * “[Muhammed] did not bring forth any signs produced in a supernatural way, which alone fittingly gives witness to divine inspiration”
    * “Those who believed in [Muhammed] were brutal men and desert wanderers, utterly ignorant of all divine teaching”
    *”[Muhammed] perverts almost all the testimonies of the Old and New Testaments by making them into fabrications of his own, as can be seen by anyone who examines his law”
    * finally, Aquinas states that “It is thus clear that those who place any faith in his words believe foolishly”

    It should also be mentioned that the SCG was commissioned by Raymond of Peñafort who was the head of the Dominican order at the time, to be a guide to those on mission to and who preached to Muslims in the 13th century. There is also another smaller work of Aquinas called De Rationibus Fidei in order to answer specific Muslim objections to the Catholic Faith. In the introduction to that work, Aquinas states:

    The Christian faith principally consists in acknowledging the holy Trinity, and it specially glories in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. For “the message of the cross”, says Paul (1 Cor 1:18), “is folly for those who are on the way to ruin, but for those of us who are on the road to salvation it is the power of God.”…[Muslims] ridicule the fact that we say Christ is the Son of God, when God has no wife (Qur’ân 6:110; 72:3); and they think we are insane for professing three persons in God, even though we do not mean by this three gods. … They also ridicule our saying that Christ the Son of God was crucified for the salvation of the human race (Qur’ân 4:157-8)

    Later on in a section about how to argue with unbelievers (Muslims in particular), Aquinas states:

    First of all I wish to warn you that in disputations with unbelievers about articles of the Faith, you should not try to prove the Faith by necessary reasons. This would belittle the sublimity of the Faith, whose truth exceeds not only human minds but also those of angels; we believe in them only because they are revealed by God. … Just as our Faith cannot be proved by necessary reasons, because it exceeds the human mind, so because of its truth it cannot be refuted by any necessary reason. So any Christian disputing about the articles of the Faith should not try to prove the Faith, but defend the Faith.

    In the Summa Theologica, Aquinas makes it very clear that explicit faith in the Trinity and in the Incarnation is necessary for salvation, for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. ST II-II, Q.2 articles 1-10 address this. He states in article 7, respondeo:

    After grace had been revealed, both learned and simple folk are bound to explicit faith in the mysteries of Christ, chiefly as regards those which are observed throughout the Church, and publicly proclaimed, such as the articles which refer to the Incarnation, of which we have spoken above (Question 1, Article 8).

    Aquinas wrote this in full knowledge of who the Muslims were, what they believed, and the preceding centuries of conflict with them. Was Aquinas being “pharisaical” about Catholic teaching? Domincans were risking their lives to deliver the Good News, even to those who knew what Catholics believed, and hated Catholics for it. They didn’t sacrifice an ounce of truth, and they didn’t equivocate on the definition of God, or the essence of Catholicism, who is Christ. They weren’t suffering any less violence at the hands of Muslims that Catholics do today in the Middle East.

    Yes, Aquinas used Aristotelian causation as a proof for the existence of God, but he never equated the god of Aristotle with the Catholic concept of the Triune God as He has revealed Himself. He would use analogy to express the truth about God, but he would never equivocate, and he would never let stand a contradiction, which NA 3 does implicitly.

  67. catholicmidwest says:

    The Holy Spirit is always infallible. It’s just that our understanding of the Holy Spirit isn’t always so clearly heard, and even more, it isn’t always so clearly applied.

  68. Fr_Sotelo says:


    I am not going to go into an apologetic in defense of Islam, much less attempt to show that their doctrine of God and the Catholic doctrine of God are the same. I do understand the differences, as does the Church. That is far beyond the issues of Nostra Aetate, which simply expressed esteem for the Muslims because they adore the “one God.”

    As I have said, if we go beyond the document’s actual words, to create controversies and issues which do not exist, then we are not trying to understand the document, but engage it in a polemic. Nostra Aetate simply points out, in a manner of respect, those beliefs in Islam and Judaism with which the Church finds common ground, as a preamble to dialogue and announcing the truth of Christ.

    You mentioned your concern about the Church affirming the falsehoods of Islam, or the immoral behavior of non-Christians, or encouraging people to stay in error, or the refusal to accept Christ, etc. Those are all valid concerns. But they are not promoted by NA, unless you insert and modify the document to create a different NA than that which is on paper. Now you wish to bring up Aquinas, as if the Church in the 20th century should be faulted for not speaking to non-Christians in the same way as the Church of the 13th century.

    Personally, I would like to think that the experience of 700 years is taken into account by the Church before it speaks to non-Christians and repeats what they have already heard before. I don’t see that there is much more I can add to this discussion, except to state that I believe I have responded to your concerns about the passage you cited.

  69. rfox2 says:

    Fr Soleto: As I have said, if we go beyond the document’s actual words, to create controversies and issues which do not exist, then we are not trying to understand the document, but engage it in a polemic.

    I’m not trying to create a straw man here. Here is what the text actually affirms:

    * Muslims adore “the one God…who has spoken to men”
    * they submit “to even His inscrutable decrees”
    * they deny the divinity of Christ, while revering Him as a prophet
    * they await the final judgement

    Now, if “the one God” is not identified with the one God of Catholicism, I’m not sure what God this is. Again, either the text is simply acknowledging the god of Islam, which cannot be identified with the Triune God, or the text is claiming to laud that which is in the inner hearts of Muslims. If it is the former, why would a Catholic in good conscience affirm this error? If it is the latter, then the text goes beyond the knowledge that God has given us as men, apart from particular, special revelation, and the text doesn’t indicate that.

    So, if the text is making referent to the former Islamic concept of God, then to affirm that seems like a grave error. I don’t think that the Council Fathers meant to simply state a fact, which was well known and obvious. They meant to affirm the Muslims in their own faith.

    A cursory look at the Qur’an shows what Muslims believe if they are “orthodox” Muslims:

    5:14: “And from those who call themselves Christians, We took their covenant, but they have abandoned a good part of the Message that was sent to them. So We planted amongst them enmity and hatred till the Day of Resurrection, and Allâh will inform them of what they used to do.”

    5:51: “O you who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians as friends, they are but friends to one another. And if any amongst you takes them as friends, then surely he is one of them. Verily, Allâh guides not those people who are the wrong­doers.”

    5:73: “Surely, disbelievers are those who said: “Allâh is the third of the three (in a Trinity).” But there is no god but Allâh. And if they cease not from what they say, verily, a painful torment will befall the disbelievers among them.”

    4:171: “Oh People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion, nor say of God anything but the truth. Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, was (no more than) a messenger of God, and His Word which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him. So believe in God and His messengers. Say not, ‘Trinity.’ Desist! It will be better for you, for God is One God, Glory be to Him! (Far exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth. And enough is God as a Disposer of affairs”

    5:72-74: “They surely disbelieve who say: Lo! Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary. The Messiah (himself) said: O Children of Israel, worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord. Lo! whoso ascribeth partners unto Allah, for him Allah hath forbidden Paradise. His abode is the Fire. For evil?doers there will be no helpers. They surely disbelieve who say: Lo! Allah is the third of three; when there is no God save the One God. If they desist not from so saying a painful doom will fall on those of them who disbelieve. Will they not rather turn unto Allah and seek forgiveness of Him? For Allah is Forgiving, Merciful”

    This is what the Muslims believe, and I haven’t even quoted the verses that are extremely harsh against Christians and Jews. It is very clear that NA 3 states that Muslims believe in “the God…who has spoken to men”. This makes the claim that the God that Muslims believe in has revealed Himself…how can that not be identified with the Triune God? Is there any other God? Further, the text makes the claim that the God that the Muslims know has “spoken to men”. Isn’t that an affirmation of the Qur’an? After all, JP 2 did kiss the Qur’an. Was he not following the teaching of NA 3?

    How would you address this passage from NA? You say that I’ve not spoken to what is actually present in the text, but I’ve quoted it verbatim and tried to offer the only interpretation that makes sense. Yet, I haven’t seen you offer a viable interpretation of the actual words themselves and how they may positively or negatively impact the daily lives of Catholics who want to know what they should believe.

    By the way, I would have been satisfied if the Council Fathers had taken into account merely the previous 50 years of Magisterial (primarily Papal) teaching prior to Vatican 2 from Leo XIII to Pius XII, let alone the previous 700 years. But the clear teaching of those papacies was cast aside for something new.

    Thank you, this has been an engaging conversation and it is greatly appreciated.

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