In my final post of KIKO’S DEFORMED VIEW: A PRIEST-LESS CHURCH, I made note of what is almost everywhere called the radical break between the pre- and post-Vatican 2 Church (also called the hermeneutic of rupture). I made the comment that if there is radical rupture, it is caused by vague language intended for understandability but resulting in theological confusion and liturgical chaos. Indeed, the language of theology, of liturgy, and of the Church, is very specific, very technical, and very precise. It must be so. Often enough, souls really do hang in the balance.
[And if there IS a rupture of doctrine between pre- and post-conciliar Church, then Magisterium is broken, and infallibility is off the board. In other words, we as Roman Catholics are SOL.]
So with a mind of living up to his name, a reader has asked for a clear example of any Vatican 2 document that is vague so perhaps we can be convinced that I’m not making all of this up. So here you go.
FYI: I feel like I'm being way too technical, as if I'm being asked to give a lesson on the minutiae of 14th Century Japanese textile techniques, but all the same, I’ll oblige.
AMBIGUITY IN GENERAL:
THE TONE OF TWO COUNCILS
There are several compositions drawn from the Vatican II documents, but there are in particular four constitutions. How are these constitutions and several other documents, vague or ambiguous? Because at the very outset, the V2 documents rejected the old way of laying out the canons of a council, from the Council of Jerusalem to Nicaea to Chalcedon to Lateran 4 to Vatican 1 and all those in between. In all of these, the dogmatic works are not long nor vague, but clear and to the point. One example is from Vatican I (which I’ll use throughout as an example for comparison).
In Vatican I’s Dei Filius, or the Dogmatic Constitution of the Catholic Faith, Pius IX states that because of ecumenical councils,
- “the sacred doctrines of the faith have been defined more closely, and set forth more fully, errors have been condemned and restrained, ecclesiastical discipline has been restored and more firmly secured, the love of learning and of piety has been promoted among the clergy, colleges have been established to educate youth for the sacred warfare, and the morals of the Christian world have been renewed by the more accurate training of the faithful, and by the more frequent use of the sacraments. Moreover, there has resulted a closer communion of the members with the visible head, an increase of vigor in the whole mystical body of Christ, the multiplication of religious congregations and of other institutions of Christian piety, and such ardor in extending the kingdom of Christ throughout the world, as constantly endures, even to the sacrifice of life itself.”
Just read how the Supreme Pontiff phrases it: it’s authoritative, it’s clear, and it’s unequivocal. “Increase in vigor.” Wow. Everyone knows what’s going on. You might not like it, but it’s there in black and white.
Likewise, in all of these prior councils, there were clear statements from the council fathers, saying precisely, “Here is the true Catholic faith; he doesn’t not accept it, let him be anathema,” in other words, outside the Faith.
For example, Vatican I’s two great doctrinal contributions concerned 1) the knowledge of God by reason alone, and 2) the infallibility of the Pope.
On the knowledge of God, the canons state:
- “1. If anyone shall say that the One True God, our Creator and Lord, cannot be certainly known by the natural light of human reason through created things; let him be anathema.”
On the infallibility of the Pope, the canons state:
- “9. Therefore…we teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman Pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals. Therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the Church, irreformable. So then, should anyone, which God forbid, have the temerity to reject this definition of ours: let him be anathema.”
I’ll say it again: just read how the Supreme Pontiff phrases it: it’s authoritative, it’s clear, and it’s unequivocal. Everyone knows what’s going on. You might not like it, but it’s there in black and white. [PS: there's nothing there about the bishops, fyi].
If you read ANY of the Vatican II constitutions, this is not so. They are far longer, far more verbose, and use what I consider to be an overwhelming number of Biblical citations that don’t lead to clarity on the points that need it but instead flower it up. Time and space prevent a full study, but read any of the documents here, here, here, or here, and you’ll see what I mean. If nothing else, note the tone difference. Rather than teach clearly, they are (if you will) more like theological reflections on Church teaching.
Likewise, there are NO canons arising from Vatican II constitutions. Canons were considered to authoritarian, too Neo-Thomist, too Manualist, to (God help us) preachy. Men needed to read for themselves and discover the wonder of faith on their own—which is funny, since that’s exactly Luther’s proposition that got Protestants in trouble in the first place (and was condemned by Trent and re-affirmed by Vatican I in Dei Filius, , para.5): what Francis today would call the primacy of the conscience.
VATICAN II’S SPECIFIC AMBIGUITY
For the sake of time, we’ll stick to one document to pick out ambiguities that lay in a text: Lumen Gentium (“Light to the Nations”), or Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (LG). Because these are ambiguities, every milkmaid in Germany (as the saying goes) thinks she understands what the statements mean, but their opinions disagree and none hold up to scrutiny. This is dogmatic language here, so the Council Fathers ought to be bringing their A-game. It’s not like we hold councils every day. But they didn't.
For ease in understanding, let’s restrict ourselves to Chapter Three, which deals with the hierarchy, since these are issues on our minds right now, and we’ll limit the scope to the first few paragraphs:
Ambiguity #1: Chapter 3 (On the Hierarchical Structure of the Church), para 18:
- “18. For the nurturing and constant growth of the People of God, Christ the Lord instituted in His Church a variety of ministries, which work for the good of the whole body. For those ministers, who are endowed with sacred power, serve their brethren, so that all who are of the People of God, and therefore enjoy a true Christian dignity, working toward a common goal freely and in an orderly way, may arrive at salvation.”
THE AMBIGUITY: The Lord Himself instituted in His Church various ministries, and the ministers of these ministers are endowed with sacred powers. Ministers are therefore those who take on Holy Orders. That’s great, but what about nuns? What about music ministry? What about teaching ministries and youth ministry and on and on? These aren’t ministries then, are they? Or are they?
WHY IT MATTERS: this has everything to do with the role proper to each of us in the Church. If I, Glaucon, am considered a minister in my ministry on par with my priest in his ministry, we’re really on the same level, which isn’t true at all. This ambiguity—especially in the West—promotes an egalitarianism that makes every flake out there declare they’re starting a new ministry that’s going to save the Church or save the world. Their ambiguous language offers more questions than answers, and that defeats the purpose.
Ambiguity #2 Chapter 3 (On the Hierarchical Structure of the Church), para 18:
- “And all this teaching about the institution, the perpetuity, the meaning and reason for the sacred primacy of the Roman Pontiff and of his infallible magisterium, this Sacred Council again proposes to be firmly believed by all the faithful.
Continuing in that same undertaking, this Council is resolved to declare and proclaim before all men the doctrine concerning bishops, the successors of the apostles, who together with the successor of Peter, the Vicar of Christ the visible Head of the whole Church, govern the house of the living God.”
THE AMBIGUITY: The Council puts forth a belief but does not command or adjure or require or solemnly declare nor defines nor any other word of this type, but rather proposes and resolves, as though they are asking our permission. So is this doctrine no longer defined in the same way since the language is clearly softer, if not nuanced? Is it more collegial now? Are we making room for a more collegial atmosphere at the expense of Vatican I?
WHY IT MATTERS: The relationship of the Pope to the bishops is more than just "greatest among equals" and we all know it, else there wouldn’t be near the issue with the Orthodox that there is. Lack of clarity is a major sticking point in any ecumenical efforts with the any of the Calcedonian Orthodox Churches. Likewise, this softness in language begs the question of whether the Pope’s magisterium actually is dependent on the bishops themselves, or instead on himself—which itself is crucial, particularly if the history of the Church from 400-1000 AD is to be coherent at all in the summoning of councils or declaring dogmas in the first place. Their ambiguous language offers more questions than answers, and that defeats the purpose.
Ambiguity #3 Chapter 3 (On the Hierarchical Structure of the Church), para 20:
- “Therefore, the Sacred Council teaches that bishops by divine institution have succeeded to the place of the apostles, as shepherds of the Church, and he who hears them, hears Christ, and he who rejects them, rejects Christ and Him who sent Christ.”
Because of the gross negligence of bishops who ran wild before Trent and certainly at other times, the Pope tightened the grip on the bishops and their reign (not to mention the political implications of being a bishop in those days). This is one of the purposes of canon law: to make clear the scope of such episcopal power. But this says that if we reject the bishops, then we reject Christ and therefore the Father. So is absolute obedience what’s required (provided its not sinful)? And how would I know something questionable is sinful if the bishop is the great teacher and shepherd of his flock? Or does this mean that we can’t reject the episcopacy in principle, meaning the whole concept of bishops, but my specific bishop is ok? Or does it mean if I reject my lawfully provided bishop, then I’m rejecting Christ?
WHY IT MATTERS:
If you live on Guam, this whole question requires absolutely no explanation. Apuron played that role of demagogue in bishop’s clothing, and yet I still had people on Guam (before the pedophilia accusations came out) tell me, “Yes, but he’s the bishop.” Their ambiguous language offers more questions than answers, and that defeats the purpose.
Ambiguity #4: Chapter 3 (On the Hierarchical Structure of the Church), para 21:
- “But Episcopal consecration, together with the office of sanctifying, also confers the office of teaching and of governing, which, however, of its very nature, can be exercised only in hierarchical communion with the head and the members of the college.”
THE AMBIGUITY: If for a bishop the office of teaching and governing comes by virtue of his episcopal consecration, and can only be exercised in communion with the head and members of the college, then which comes first, the head [the Pope] or the college [the bishops]? In other words, do these two offices flow first or primarily from the Papacy which they’ve already established is infallible, or from the college of bishops? Or is he just another in the college of bishops but with “papal superpowers?” If it is both, then what happens when there is a schism in the Church and the college is divided—then where is the office derived? What happens if the Pope is deposed (God forbid)? Can the Pope even BE deposed? To belabor the point, which came first, the college of bishops or the Pope? Is it Papal Supremacy or episcopal collegiality with the primacy, or is there not primacy?
WHY IT MATTERS: The reality is that if we are serious about Magisterium, it’s not just on the Pope but on the bishops to teach it since they have the authority. But with bishops not knowing how to teach anything but basic platitudes and quotes from the Catechism which is based heavily on these very Vatican II documents, there’s real confusion, especially when the bishop is like Apuron who barely knows this vague theology and who governs in a thoroughly unchristian way that is unworthy of the Christian life by any estimation—which Hon defended when he told the priests to (in essence), “Shut up and obey your bishop.” Their ambiguous language offers more questions than answers, and that defeats the purpose.
Ambiguity #5: Chapter 3 (On the Hierarchical Structure of the Church), para 22:
- “But the college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is understood together with the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter as its head. The pope's power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact.”
THE AMBIGUITY: Ok, so if the bishops have no authority unless with the Pope, then who has the final say if Pope Francis declares that he divorced and remarried can start receiving Communion? Or Lutherans? Or whoever is of good will and clear conscience? And if the bishops reject this because it violates what's always been taught magisterially, can they depose him, even though his power of primacy is overall and remains whole and intact? And by what authority are they acting, since the Pope represents the unity of the Church just as each bishops represents the unity of the faithful of his diocese [for Guam, the irony of that last statement leaves me SMH]?
WHY IT MATTERS: I’ve already touched on it, but when really considered, because the bishops at Vatican 2 are making a real doctrinal move to collegiality but without flat-out making a decree, we have no idea what any of this means beyond symbolic, poetic language. That’s not doctrine; it’s as much a pep rally chant as “Be aggressive, BE-BE-AG-GRES-SIVE!” Great on style, flabby on substance. Their ambiguous language offers more questions than answers, and that defeats the purpose.
Ok so that’s five examples taken from five simple paragraphs just on the hierarchy. I didn’t even bother touching the part about the laity which is fraught with issues, nor did I touch the theological radioactive DMZ that is liturgical renewal (Vatican II went WAY beyond changing the Mass to the vernacular, and we'll talk about that redaction of the Gospel soon enough.
But one last example from Lumen Gentium shows what seems to almost everyone who can read that there’s a serious disconnect between two Vatican II documents: on one side is the consistency of Church teaching on the issue of salvation outside of the Church, and on the other side is the issue of ecumenism. We read in LG para 14:
- “Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved.They are fully incorporated in the society of the Church who, possessing the Spirit of Christ accept her entire system and all the means of salvation given to her, and are united with her as part of her visible bodily structure and through her with Christ, who rules her through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops.”
BUT, in another Vatican II document, Unitatis Redintegratio (On Ecumenism) para 3, we read:
- “For men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect… But even in spite of them it remains true that all who have been justified by faith in Baptism are members of Christ's body,(21) and have a right to be called Christian, and so are correctly accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church.”
So which is it?: we must be part of her visible bodily structure, or don’t we? If not, can’t I just be a Baptist and attend at Harvest? Maybe if I feel like the Eucharist, can’t I just go to an Orthodox Church, since it is indeed valid with valid Orders and so valid bishops? And if I do have to be part of the visible structure, then what's with the whole "men who believe... are in communion?" You can't have it both ways.
THAT’S what I mean by ambiguous language and equivocal terms. Words like primacy, communion, and proclaim have specific meanings, and when bishops misuse them, they lead all of us (to borrow a phrase) on the short route to chaos.
And they’ve done a mighty fine job so far.
I'm not dumb. Actually, some people think I'm fairly smart. And yes, I do know the answers that theologians give that solve the riddles here. But that's just it: it's not a crossword, it's a dogmatic constitution. Why can't they just be clear. That's what conciliar documents are for. You don't need an mechanical engineering degree to ride a bike, do you? Why all the nuance?
And don't doubt it: all the council fathers were well-trained in the old school theology methods, so they knew how to write. So this writing here is intentional. Vagueness and ambiguity are the point. If you make a soft enough statement, you can spin it to anything you want.
I do accept Vatican II. I really do. I just think we seriously need a Vatican III to formally make the declarations we so desperately need instead of more apostolic exhortations that not only muddy the waters but muddy the Faith, and maybe--just maybe--the bishops will start to get with the preaching and teaching program.
Nah. Probably not.