Anything but the Pope’s Interpretation of Vatican II is Heresy!

My, my, this is upping the ante.

As is well known, there is a lively discussion about the meaning of Vatican II, about what “hermeneutic” to employ for interpreting it. There are those who emphasize the “newness” of the Council – such as eminent scholar Fr. John O’Malley, SJ. Then there is Pope Benedict XVI and his “hermeneutic of renewal in continuity” which downplays the newness. As far as I know, the heaviest heavy duty scholarship on this is from the “Bologna School,” Alberigo and the rest, and they tend to tend toward the “newness” side.

But now the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Gerhard Muller, has made an astonishing claim: anything but the Pope’s view is heresy! As CNS reports,

What Pope Benedict XVI has termed “the hermeneutic of reform, of renewal in continuity” is the “only possible interpretation according to the principles of Catholic theology,” Archbishop Gerhard Muller said in remarks published Nov. 29.

“Outside this sole orthodox interpretation unfortunately exists a heretical interpretation, that is, a hermeneutic of rupture, (found) both on the progressive front and on the traditionalist” side, the archbishop said.

And there you have it.



  1. My question is, what does he mean heretical on either side? The devil being in the detail, so His Eminence should once and for all give us the detail. Otherwise, what are we to think?

  2. Since, unless I didn’t get the e-mail to the contrary, the CDF prefect is not infallible, his statement is merely opinion. Or something might have been lost in the translation following the principles of LA. SIGH!

    1. @Fr Ron Chochol – comment #2:
      This is a good point, and I thought about noting this in my post. This is Muller’s opinion, nothing more. But that’s not nothing, either.

  3. Maybe the Prefect is preparing the Catholic world, SSPX and the progressive counterpart in particular, for Pope Benedict’s upcoming encyclical on faith that might highlight post-Vatican II heresies by the return to anathemas but in a reformed way within continuity of the past and not in the form of a rupture with that past, but I’m not clairvoyant.

      1. @John Molnar – comment #14:
        John – take note from Allan: “…..might highlight post-Vatican II heresies by the return to anathemas but in a reformed way within continuity of the past and not in the form of a rupture with that past….”

        His usual mantra which means nothing.

        Compare his oft quoted line with this from George Orwell’s book, “Animal Farm”:

        “The original commandments are:

        1.Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
        2.Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
        3.No animal shall wear clothes.
        4.No animal shall sleep in a bed.
        5.No animal shall drink alcohol.
        6.No animal shall kill any other animal.
        7.All animals are equal.
        Later, Napoleon and his pigs secretly revise some commandments to clear them of accusations of law-breaking (such as “No animal shall drink alcohol” having “to excess” appended to it and “No animal shall sleep in a bed” with “with sheets” added to it). The changed commandments are as follows, with the changes bolded:

        4 No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets.
        5 No animal shall drink alcohol to excess.
        6 No animal shall kill any other animal without cause.
        Eventually these are replaced with the maxims, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”, and “Four legs good, two legs better!” as the pigs become more human. This is an ironic twist to the original purpose of the Seven Commandments, which were supposed to keep order within Animal Farm by uniting the animals together against the humans, and prevent animals from following the humans’ evil habits.

        Through the revision of the commandments, Orwell demonstrates how simply political dogma can be turned into malleable propaganda.”

        One wonders about this *hermeneutical* experiment?

  4. The solution might be found in the definition of the terms involved. If you define “renewal in continuity” broadly enough, it might be a big enough tent to fit most theologians.

    Likewise, we would need to have a common definition of “newness.”

    Who is the target here? Archp. Muller suggests both: hardline traditionalists (primarily in the SSPX) on the one hand, and the most adventurous progressive theologians on the other (the most exotic neo-Rahnerians, I suppose) who really do see a complete rupture in Vatican II – that (apparently irreformable) doctrines really were overturned, contradicted, rather than developed. And I expect that Muller wants to define those camps as tightly as possible.

    1. @Richard Malcolm – comment #5:
      I once heard of a theology professor (of long tenure at CUA) claim that irreformable doesn’t mean it can’t be reformed. Where do you categorize that?

  5. Whatever he really meant, we see more confirmation that the new CDF Prefect will be a lot noisier and stir the pot a good deal more than his predecessor.

    But that’s been his reputation in Germany for a while now. With both liberals and traditionalists both.

  6. What sane person would claim that nothing changed at Vatican II?

    What sane person would claim that everything changed?

    If we can rule out the nutters on both sides, then it’s clear that some things did change, and some didn’t. Just as some things changed at Vatican I, and at Trent, and all the way back, and some didn’t.

    As far as I can see, “the hermeneutic of reform, of renewal in continuity” means no more than this. Some things changed at Vatican II. Some didn’t. I can certainly sign a new “anti modernist” oath to that effect.

    But what changed? What stayed the same? The shibboleth-slogan “hermeneutic of reform, of renewal in continuity” provides no answers.

    1. @Jonathan Day – comment #8:
      You are correct. There were new ideas which led to new practices. I am of the opinion that this “hermeneutic of continuity” idea has been used to resurrect the EF and give it credibility. It also has undermined the liturgical reform. Massimo Fassioli in his new book True Reform speaks of how Pope Benedict XVI and the Curia seem to espouse a “disposibility” approach to the liturgical reform of Vatican II.

  7. Methinks the good archbishop is a bit of a provocateur. I don’t think he’s saying anything more than this: When all is said and done, there is a way of understanding Vatican II which draws us closer to Christ as the way, the truth, and the life. But there is also a way of understanding Vatican II that compromises Christ as the way, the truth, and the life in favor of novel and fantastical views. He directs these words to the wing nuts on both the right and left side of the spectrum. Keep in mind that Mueller is no friend of the SSPXers. He might just as well have said that with regard to understanding the meaning of Vatican II “in medio stat virtus”.

  8. His further comments in the interview clarify a bit, by underscoring the continuity residing in the Church. The Council did not produce a new church but was an act of the Church, the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. This is what SSPX rejects outright, and one might say, *some* who, in favor of the Council, reject the pre-VII ecclesial community we’ve been calling the Catholic Church. By denying that the Council was an act of the selfsame Catholic Church, these groups fall into heretical teaching. Seems pretty logical.

    What that doesn’t resolve, or clarify even, are the debates over extent and limits of reform/change granting the non-ruptured identity. It seems that is the issue that commands much of our attention, yes, and where studies of O’Malley, and others can help. But, of course, even those kinds of studies don’t allow us to practice a kind of Catholic ‘constitutionalism’.

  9. Cindy Wooden Catholic News Service reported the following on Jul. 25, 2012 about an interview given by Muller to the Vatican Newspaper:

    He (Muller) said his job in Rome will be “to relieve part of his work and not bring him problems that can be resolved” at the level of the congregation. ”

    “The Holy Father has the important mission of proclaiming the Gospel and confirming his brothers and sisters in the faith. It’s up to us to deal with the less pleasant matters so that he will not be burdened with too many things, although, naturally, he always will be informed of important matters.”

    Muller said he knows the problems and challenges facing the church are serious, including “the problem of groups — of the so-called right or left — that occupy much of our time and attention.”
    However, he said, a bigger danger is losing sight of “our principal task, which is to proclaim the Gospel and explain in a concrete way the doctrine of the church.”

    His job is to be the bad cop. To get the cultural warriors of the right and left in line and out of sight so that B16 and his year of faith can take center stage as the good cop. Talk about B16’s interpretation of Vatican II not your own.

    The Vatican newspaper said it interviewed Muller in his office, but it also asked him how it was that Pope Benedict not only chose him, but decided to give him the apartment where he had lived as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and where he still keeps many of his books.

    Muller, 64, said he would define the 85-year-old pope as “a paternal friend, since he’s older than I am by a generation.”

    Muller was not elevated to Cardinal in the last consistory. One explanation is that B16 wanted to balance out the emphasis on the curia in the next last consistory. Another might be that he does not want Muller to be seen as a rival to Bertone.

    But he also might want to mentor how Muller performs in the bad cop role. There was much more to how B16’s did his role as bad cop than most of us know (after all he did become Pope!). Specifically, B16 used the power of CDF both to cause trouble for bishops and cardinals and then to befriend them in ways that made them beholden to Ratzinger.

    Therefore B16 may be doing a lot of mentoring to see that Muller performs the CDF role of keeping things under control very well without stirring up trouble as Bertone has done at State. B16 would not make the mistake of trying to be his own secretary of state at his age nor care to replace Bertone, but he might be able to get the Vatican into better shape indirectly through mentoring Muller about Ratzinger’s old position.

  10. As Catholics, and as a Catholic priest none the less, I would hope that you would accept the opinions and teachings of the Holy Father as nothing less than definitive.

    1. @Dave Jaronowski – comment #17:
      Nowhere in Catholic tradition or teaching does it say that we should accept the “opinions” of the Holy Father as “nothing less than definitive.” You’re over-shooting. And misinformed.

  11. Fr. John Naugle : @Richard Malcolm – comment #5: I once heard of a theology professor (of long tenure at CUA) claim that irreformable doesn’t mean it can’t be reformed. Where do you categorize that?

    A curious claim, and I’m curious which prof made it.

    I could fall back on pat Newman categories – we can “develop” irreformable doctrine, but we can’t contradict it – so it will, in the end, depend on how we define “reform” here. Constantinople did not overturn the Christological formula of Nicaea, but it did develop it.

    If I had anything in mind, it was Thomas Pink’s argument that Dignitatis Humanae truly altered reformable teachings on Church and state from the 19th century.

  12. Todd Flowerday :“Otherwise, what are we to think?”

    We are not to think. We are to follow.

    Right, “Then Jesus said to his disciples: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and think for himself.” Or something like that; I’m not great at quoting the Bible.

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