A Pastoral Council has the Same Weight as a Dogmatic One

America magazine recently reported on a four-day conference at Georgetown University that commemorates of the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. The conference included many high-profile guests.

French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, the current president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, opened by saying that “without pronouncing dogmatic sentences…the Second Vatican Council expressed its teaching on many questions which occupy the conscience and activity of man.”

In his answer to a question about how the Second Vatican Council should be characterized, Cardinal Tauran said that “Vatican II is a great theological council with strong focus on the church.”

Drew Christiansen, writing for American magazine, notes that:

Behind the cardinal’s diplomatic wording was the allegation from the council’s critics that as a pastoral council, Vatican II was not nearly as significant as the dogmatic councils of the past with their definitions and anathemas.

Christiansen then notes the response of John O’Malley, S.J., who proceeded to dismantle this interpretation of the council. O’Malley said: “If, indeed, we look at the number and importance of Vatican II’s teachings…Vatican II is not Council Lite but the very opposite.”

According to Christiansen, O’Malley then listed several teachings that show that the council was not “Council Lite”:

– What God has revealed is not a set of propositions but (Christ’s) very person;

– Sacred Scriptures is inerrant only in what “serves to make the people of God live their lives in holiness and increase their faith”;

– The purpose of church is to promote the holiness of its members;

– “‘The people of God’ is a valid, crucially important and, moreover, traditional expression of the reality of the church”;

– The church has “the responsibility of exerting itself for the well-being of the world”;

– “The dignity and excellence of political freedom”;

– Freedom to follow conscience in choice of religion; and

– “The dignity of conscience, ‘that most secret core and the sanctuary of the human person.’”

O’Malley’s statements are a powerful response to the critics of the council who erroneously believe that a council must be full of condemnations and apologetic statements.

npc

Share:

18 comments

  1. Sacred Scriptures is inerrant only in what “serves to make the people of God live their lives in holiness and increase their faith”.

    Sorry, this is an heretical statement. Try again, Fr. O’Malley.

    As for the general point, Vatican II has moments of dogmatic teaching, but its overall character was very clearly stated to be different from the preceding councils, and different precisely by not defining truths or anathematizing errors.

  2. Peter, I disagree with your assessment. (No fighting allowed.) Can you expand upon Scripture and inerrancy further? I think this is a wonderful quote, and I wonder why your reaction is so strongly against it. Thanks.

  3. Fr. O’Malley turns an inclusive statement into an exclusive one. The actual words of the Council: “Now what was handed on by the Apostles includes everything which contributes toward the holiness of life and increase in faith of the peoples of God.” (Dei Verbum 8).

  4. Without going into the validity of the various examples provided by O’Malley, I have always been puzzled by the ‘pastoral council’ claim – or even the wording of Cardinal Tauran. Perhaps “dogmatic sentences” refers to a particular literary genre such as the anathemas of Trent? Vatican II did pronounce on some dogmatic matters of speculation (I’m thinking here of LG’s attribution of governing munus to bishops at their ordination, or the teaching that Episcopal ordination was a proper sacrament and the episcopate a separate degree of holy orders).

  5. I think O’Malley actually captures the meaning of the Council quoting Scripture itself:

    “Therefore “all Scripture is divinely inspired and has its use for teaching the truth and refuting error, for reformation of manners and discipline in right living, so that the man who belongs to God may be efficient and equipped for good work of every kind” (2 Tim. 3:16-17, Greek text).”(DV 11)

    I suppose you could quibble about whether that is all that Scripture should be used for, about O’Malley’s use of the word “only.” But isn’t it clear that the only important use is “the reformation of manners and discipline in right living” or as O’Malley puts it: “live their lives in holiness and increase their faith.”?

  6. The Council, regarding inerrancy, taught (DV 11):

    “Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation.”

    As made clear in the recent work from the Pontifical Biblical Commission (The Inspiration and Truth of Sacred Scripture), and indeed from any investigation of the various drafts of DV, the key phrase here is “for the sake of salvation”.

    Basically, this phrase was included in substitution for one which would have limited inerrancy merely to faith and morals, which was considered unacceptable. So inerrancy must cover somewhat more than that.

    On the other hand, this phrasing clearly responds to the concerns expressed at the Council that Scripture is not totally inerrant (i.e. it is not intended to be a modern science or history textbook for example, and should not be used as one). So inerrancy must cover somewhat less than that.

    And the Council does not appear to have been any more specific than that.

    In terms of Fr. O’Malley’s phrasing, mostly charitably we could accept it aims to capture the idea of “for the sake of salvation”.

    However, his phrasing does tend to suggest the “limited inerrancy” (i.e. to faith and morals) which the Council rejected, and therefore the better view is I think that his phrasing should be judged deficient on that basis.

      1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt:

        The precise extent of the something more is undefined, but none the less it appears clear that is what the Council taught. In the work of the Pontifical Biblical Commission I noted, The Inspiration and Truth of Sacred Scripture – The Word that Comes from God and Speaks of God for the Salvation of the World, there is a brief outline at Pages 70 to 72 of the relevant history.

        The English edition, including those pages, can be accessed via the Google Books preview of the work.

      2. @Fritz Bauerschmidt:

        Another relevant book on this subject, the relevant parts of which can be seen via the Google Books preview, is the collection of essays edited by Scott Hahn titled For the Sake of Our Salvation: The Truth and Humility of God’s Word.

        A number of the chapters provide some further detail regarding the debates at the Council regarding if inerrancy could be limited to merely faith and morals.

  7. NB this might not be O’Malley’s exact phrasing. What is quoted is a journalist’s summary.

  8. “In view of the pastoral nature of the Council, it avoided any extraordinary statements of dogmas endowed with the note of infallibility but it still provided its teaching with the authority of the Ordinary Magisterium which must be accepted with docility according to the mind of the Council concerning the nature and aims of each document.” (Paul VI, general audience of 12 Jan, 1966).

    This doesn’t make Vatican II unique (who can forget the glories of Vienne?), but it does nonetheless make for a different beast from one of the many councils that did engage its extraordinary magisterium. “Significance,” therefore, strikes me as the wrong metric to argue. Vatican II was certainly “significant” in transforming the terms of Catholic debate (ad intra and ad extra), but the pronouncements of its ordinary magisterium lack the irreformability of less-influential and therefore less-“significant” decrees like Munificentissimus Deus, which defined a dogma pretty much in the absence of disagreement about it.

  9. Remember the old apologetics that said Latin was used by the Church because it was a universal language being dead and so unchanging and subject to shifting meaning. Every time in PT that the Council comes up all kinds of interpretations are dragged out and flung in diagreement. It might have helped if the official language had been French. That at least is protected by the French Academy though they have lost out to “le weekend” and “le baby-sitting.”

    1. @Halbert Weidner:

      The interpretive issues surrounding Vatican II have more to do with its imprecise use of Latin, rather than any imprecision in Latin itself.

      Vatican II did not aim for razor sharp precision in its definitions – Indeed it often aimed for broad and vague language which could receive a broad consensus.

  10. From my understanding, there was concern that “faith and morals” might be interpreted as limiting inerrancy to portions of scripture similar to how it was used by Vatican I in the context of papal infallibility. In fact, the entire language of inerrancy was rejected and the emphasis shifted from the inerrancy of biblical propositions, which is the sense in which the Protestants use it, to the inerrancy of divine purpose, i.e., “for the sake of salvation.” Yet even this was not to be interpreted as merely an inerrancy of an underlying truth. Even in its literal form, complete with the historical and scientific impossibilities, there is an inerrant purpose.

  11. Scott Smith : @Halbert Weidner: Vatican II did not aim for razor sharp precision in its definitions – Indeed it often aimed for broad and vague language which could receive a broad consensus.

    So O’Malley has one interpretation and Brant Pitre has another. This is expected, even intended. Attempts to pigeonhole it into a single possible interpretation are probably misguided.

    I’ve just read some of Pitre’s article in Hanhn’s book and I find it less than convincing. The situation seems to be more “V2 said the bible doesn’t err on faith or morals” than “V2 said the bible is inerrant on some issues, including faith and morals.” These are very close formulations, but the reserve in the first is characteristic. Maybe the bible is inerrant about some other things, but the Church makes no statement about them now. That seems more likely, and more likable, than the messy “things we will not identify now were taught inerrantly, along with faith and morals.”

    In any event, these are different interpretations that are rooted in the text of Dei Verbum.

    1. @John Mann:

      From my understanding, there was concern that “faith and morals” might be interpreted as limiting inerrancy to portions of scripture similar to how it was used by Vatican I in the context of papal infallibility.

      That seems to have been one concern – That limiting inerrancy to “faith and morals” would limit inerrancy only to those parts of Scripture relevant to “faith and morals”.

      In fact, the entire language of inerrancy was rejected and the emphasis shifted from the inerrancy of biblical propositions, which is the sense in which the Protestants use it, to the inerrancy of divine purpose, i.e., “for the sake of salvation.”

      It does not seem to me that one could say that. It still speaks of Scripture being without error, just perhaps with a more positive approach to expressing it, in line with the general approach of Vatican II.

      Yet even this was not to be interpreted as merely an inerrancy of an underlying truth. Even in its literal form, complete with the historical and scientific impossibilities, there is an inerrant purpose.

      I think a both/and, not an either/or, is operative here.

      @Jim McKay:

      So O’Malley has one interpretation and Brant Pitre has another. This is expected, even intended. Attempts to pigeonhole it into a single possible interpretation are probably misguided.

      Well, as I say, it is not precise. It leaves a number of possible theological positions as within bounds, while still excluding the extremes.

      The situation seems to be more “V2 said the bible doesn’t err on faith or morals” than “V2 said the bible is inerrant on some issues, including faith and morals.”

      Some of the other chapters, Joseph C. Atkinson’s in particular from Page 214 on, provide a better outline than Brant Pitre as to why your second formula is a better reflection of the Council’s teaching.

      It should be noted however, some of the views in that book tend push more towards an unmodified pre-Council version of inerrancy, which while I think remains more or less in bounds is not required by the teaching of the Council itself. The pre-Council version of inerrancy may however provide some guide as to the type of “something more” which might be covered by DV teaching on inerrancy.

      more likable, than the messy

      I am not a massive fan of how the Council choose to define matters, nor the messiness of them. But both issues are characteristic of the Council, and we must deal with what the Council taught, not what we may wish the Council had taught.

      In any event, these are different interpretations that are rooted in the text of Dei Verbum.

      Well, as I say, it is not precise. It leaves a number of possible theological positions as within bounds, while still excluding the extremes.

  12. Which parts of Scripture pertain to faith and morals, and which parts don’t?

    And what is meant by “faith”: “faith in God” or “the Catholic/Christian faith”?

    And what is the precise meaning of “inerrant” in regards to Scripture, anyway? If the infancy narratives pertain to faith, and are therefore inerrant, does that mean they are in fact accurate and error-free accounts of Jesus’s nativity, or simply that what they hand on in regards to our faith about Jesus’s conception and birth (e.g. virgin birth) is error-free?

    1. @Jeffrey Pinyan:
      Dei Verbum 11:4-5 says: the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation.

      People frequently equate fact with truth. This is not a responsible way to interpret the scripture as there are contradictions of facts. In the infancy narrative Luke tells us that Joseph & Mary went from Nazareth to Bethlehem to enroll in the census, but Matthew tells us merely that “Jesus was born in Bethlehem” and the magi, after a long journey of perhaps as long as two years, visited them in “the house” which was in Bethlehem.
      Recognizing that the biblical authors used such literary devices as hyperbole, and were acquainted with midrash allows us to accept both stories as presenting theological truths without being upset that the facts don’t agree.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *