CNS makes the same “Copernican Revolution” error about the CDF’s “Doctrinal Preamble” for the SSPX

A long time reader alerted me to a video put out by the Rome office of Catholic News Service about the recent development in the talks between the Holy See and the Society of St. Pius X.  You can read about the “Doctrinal Preamble” here.  The CNS video features commentary by Carol Glatz and my friend and fellow Minnesotan John Thavis.  The video reveals high production values.  It is a great idea that they have these videos, provided they offer some accurate and interesting features.

The video in question is in a queue of videos HERE. Look for “Unity with Traditionalists”, at the time of this writing at the top of the queue.  They report on the topic rather as if it were a mission to the Sultan of Pulo Prabang, but let that pass.

As I watched the video, my impression was that they were doing a pretty good job.  I object to their use of the phrase “bargaining table”, since the talks the Holy See and SSPX have been engaged in are not really negotiations, in the sense of what businesses do, or countries looking towards a treaty.  With allowances for the journalists need to use shorthand and common parlance we let that slide.

At about 1:12 into the video, however, they went off the rails with this statement (my transcription from the video and my emphases):

I think the Vatican wanted to make clear to the Society that they were not willing to let these talks drag on forever.  At the same time the Vatican appeared to offer the group some wiggle room on the Second Vatican Council.  It said there could be legitimate discussion about some of the content of Vatican II documents and the teaching of the Popes who implemented the Council.  Well, that was new and unusual.  I really can’t remember another Vatican statement that says there’s room for disagreement with Church teachings.

To my friend Mr. Thavis, I suggest a review of my entry here which I posted in the wake of a claim made on an Italian language and then an English language site that what Pope Benedict and the Holy See was doing in view of the SSPX was tantamount to a “Copernican revolution”.

A couple things must be repeated.  We don’t know for sure the content of the “Doctrinal Preamble”.  It hasn’t been released.  But from what has been said about it but good sources, if the Holy See is saying that there can be “wiggle room”, as Mr. Thavis put it, some measure of dissent from some of the content of the documents of the Council and subsequent Magisterium,. dissent from the texts themselves and not merely the interpretation of the texts, then the “Doctrinal Preamble” would be repeating… I repeat… repeating what the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith already wrote in 1990 Instruction Donum veritatis “On the ecclesial vocation of the theologian”. Especially relevant are Donum veritatis 6, 21-22, 24, and 30-34.

There are levels of assent which Catholics must give to different levels of Magisterial teachings. Catholics are, of course, bound to accept (and not dissent from) teachings which are definitive. But there are other teachings which are not at that level. Though they cannot simply be brushed aside, dissented from freely, they do not bind in the same way that defined or infallible teachings do. There is some “wiggle room”.

The late Card. Dulles book Magisterium: Teaching and Guardian of the Faith is very useful on these points. Every seminarian and parish priest – and Vaticanista – should have this book.   I direct your attention to pp. 97-98.

In any event, is not helpful for CNS to suggest that what the CDF may be saying to the SSPX is “new and unusual”…. because it isn’t either new or unusual. such a thing.

In my previous entry about this matter, I asserted that were such an idea to get hold, it would be possible for liberals – who will fiercely oppose reunification of the SSPX – to claim that the Holy See caved into the SSPX.  In fact it would also be possible for less than well-read traditionalists to claim that the Holy See caved into the SSPX.  But that is not what is going on.

If the speculation about the “Doctrinal Preamble” is accurate, the Holy See has not caved in on the texts of the Second Vatican Council. Donum veritatis laid out the possibility of and parameters of dissent in 1990. The theologians of the SSPX can work with the divinely constituted Magisterium along the lines already laid down in 1990.

The Rome office of CNS would do well to get this straight for their future reportage.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Rich says:

    I would like to here Mr. Travis’ definition of what a “Pastoral Constitution” is.

  2. From the September 14 communique of the Holy See:

    This preamble enunciates some of the doctrinal principles and criteria of interpretation of Catholic doctrine necessary for ensuring fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church and to the “sentire cum Ecclesia”, while leaving open to legitimate discussion the study and theological explanation of particular expressions and formulations present in the texts of the Second Vatican Council and of the Magisterium that followed it.

    Is this a case where context is much (if not everything)? While nothing in this explicit statement (aside from whatever the preamble itself says) may be genuinely new—in the context of Vatican documents that specialists are familiar with, but most laymen, priests, and bishops will likely never read, or perhaps even hear of—the open suggestion in a press release for all to see, of some “flexibility” in regard to re-interpretation of not only the implementation of Vatican II but the actual texts of the Council in this context, seems new and significant to me.

    If closer to the “tectonic shift” that some have suggested, than to the “Copernican revolution” in the interpretation of Vatican II that some hope for in the interest of reconnecting with tradition.

    If so, I wonder further whether Pope Benedict may be using the SSPX more to his own end (the hermeneutic of continuity), than the SSPX is using him to its.

  3. Papabile says:

    No one ever said that one could disagree with conciliar decisions? Paul VI said it himself most recently when he functionally restated what the Nota Praevia to Lumen Gentium previously said.

    “There are those who ask what authority, what theological qualification, the Council intended to give to its teachings, knowing that it avoided issuing solemn dogmatic definitions backed by the Church’s infallible teaching authority. The answer is known by those who remember the conciliar declaration of March 6, 1964, repeated on November 16, 1964. In view of the pastoral nature of the Council, it avoided proclaiming in an extraordinary manner any dogmas carrying the mark of infallibility.
    (Pope Paul VI, General Audience, December 1, 1966, published in the L’Osservatore Romano 1/21/1966)

  4. Mike says:

    And, it seems to me, the further one gets from the texts of the council and the Maigsterium–ie, your parish council’s decision to have a drum set at the Youth Mass, the only obligation is to charity and politeness as these people are instructed properly.

  5. “I really can’t remember another Vatican statement that says there’s room for disagreement with Church teachings.”

    Of course the Vatican statement says no such thing, there actually being no room for faithful Catholics to disagree with “Church teachings” (properly understood).

    Among the CNS video’s several levels of error or misunderstanding may be a confusion between “Church teaching” and commonly accepted teachings of (instead) the so-called spirit of Vatican II.

  6. Joshua08 says:

    I am glad the Nota Praevia was mentioned. But that note went a bit further than what was quoted. It stated that only those teaching were binding which the council declared as such, and said that the rest was to be accepted according to the mind of the council, as understood by the style, accepted methods of interpretation, etc. It seems to me, considering how much text the Council produced (far more than any other), and also that it commented on many things that are not integral to the faith (the Decree of Media Communications comes to mind) that, aside from lacking solemn dogmatic pronouncements, the rest of the council has to be weighted on different levels. I don’t think the call for a supranational authority that would negate individual nation’s need for defense and recourse to war is on the same level as its condemnation of abortion, indiscriminate destruction in war, etc, though both are in the same document (Gaudium et spes)

  7. chcrix says:

    “I really can’t remember another Vatican statement that says there’s room for disagreement with Church teachings.”

    “Of course the Vatican statement says no such thing, there actually being no room for faithful Catholics to disagree with “Church teachings” (properly understood).”

    Another important point to keep in mind is that many of the things that sail under the flag of ‘Church Teachings’ from V2 are not in fact Church teachings. That has been one of the objectionable methods (dare I call it a scam?) practiced by certain V2 partisans.

    Though the modern world can’t see it, there is far more intellectual freedom within the Church than canards about Roman rigidity allow for.

  8. kgurries says:

    I think we can safely say that the doctrinal preamble will be compatible with (not contrary to) the CDF instruction Donum Veritatis (1990). There are different levels of assent — but no so called right to dissent. Even if some formulas are open to discussion and interpretation — it does not follow that Catholics are free to dissent from the teaching itself.

  9. RichardT says:

    Fr X said: ” I object to their use of the phrase “bargaining table”, since the talks the Holy See and SSPX have been engaged in are not really negotiations, in the sense of what businesses do, or countries looking towards a treaty.”

    It is certainly not like business negotiations, because ultimately most of those can be solved by money (if the seller won’t guarantee X, then the buyer wants a lower price to cover that risk).

    But it does seem quite like some treaty negotiations between countries. Both sides have certain lines that they will not cross, but the best negotiators try to find a form of words that each can accept.

    And the other important thing to remember is that signing the treaty is not the end of the process, but the start of the next phase. All you’ve really done is set out the framework that the relationship has to be built around.

  10. abdiesus says:

    While Fr. Z’s statements regarding the precedent which exists for the content so far revealed by the parties concerned in the document under discussion, within what the CDF already wrote in it’s 1990 Instruction Donum veritatis “On the ecclesial vocation of the theologian” is indubitably correct on a technical level, nevertheless, I believe that those who have used such terms as either “Tectonic shift” or “Copernican revolution” are most likely not intending their assessment to be applied in that technical way at all.

    It seems to me, just on the face of it, that what is intended is something similar to what I have felt in attempting to parse what has so far been revealed, and that is, at a purely functional, practical (but not technical) level, such verbiage, coming as it does from the CDF itself in this particular context, *does* represent a huge shift for most of those within the Church who hear/read it. The shift in this case is not, as Fr. Z has pointed out, in what is objectively the case with respect to the previous CDF Instruction Fr. Z noted, but rather lies in the clarity with which is expressed such open willingness to apply the same standards to traditionalists, as are currently, and as have been routinely in the past, applied to progressives. This is indeed a huge shift – at least in practical, functional terms, because, as has been pointed out both here and elsewhere many times in the past, in purely functional, practical terms, the *commonly accepted* interpretation of Vatican II simply *has* functioned, for most people, as a bedrock, foundational, (one might even say at a “presuppositional” level) “Super Dogma” that trumps everything and anything which came before. *This* common understanding of Vatican II is what is so severely shaken *in people’s minds* by the verbiage which has so far been revealed, and it is *this* I believe which justifies such terms as “Tectonic shift” or “Copernican revolution”. People who have come to depend upon a certain sort of interpretation of Vatican II will necessarily feel that such verbiage has “pulled the rug out from under their feet”.

    Another way to look at the use of the term “revolution” in this context is to recognize that in order to have an *actual* revolution, it is not usually sufficient to merely have a technical description of the theoretical principles which would support such a revolution on file in some dusty bureaucratic vault somewhere. It most often is necessary for those principles to actually be applied and “acted upon” in a series of concrete, real-world events, in order for them to even be taken seriously in the first place, and then to have a chance at impacting anything beyond the minds of those who composed the documents. Until this happens, they are only theoretical or technical truths with potential applicability. When this finally happens, then you can actually start speaking of a “revolution”.

    I think that the time for the revolution is at hand – a revolution in the interpretation of the Conciliar documents in the light of the Church’s Tradition, and a revolution in the evaluation of the application of those Concilar documents (e.g. in the Novus Ordo Missae, the Liturgiam Horarum etc.) in the light of the Usus Antiquior. The only question at this point is, will those who have the ball in their court find the necessary intestinal fortitude in view of the risks involved to “seize the day” (say, hasn’t someone come up with a clever Latin motto like that? ;D) so that this process of re-intepretation/re-evaluation can procede, and this revolution/rebirth can flourish for the good of the whole Church?

    Mater Ecclesiae: Ora pro nobis!

    Pax Christi,
    Jeff Holston

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