Sunday, March 8, 2009

Pastoral, Not Dogmatic

That the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) was a pastoral rather than a dogmatic council is a point of significance primarily to Catholics. What is of interest to me tonight is that there is often disagreement about this signal fact: curiously, I've come across apologists for the modernizing reforms of the past four decades who insist the council was dogmatic.

This is more than a quaint distinction; there are profound implications involved (e.g. a dogmatic council is divinely protected from teaching error; not so a pastoral one). To treat the matter properly is beyond the scope of this little blog, however. What I can do is provide a few authoritative sources who can dispel the notion that Vatican II was a council like any of the other 20 or so in the history of the Church. In fact, Vatican II was a novelty, one unlike any of the others.

But don't just take my word for it -- consider these examples, who make clear that Vatican II was pastoral and not dogmatic.* The sources are two Popes, a Cardinal, and an official Vatican commission. I've listed the quotations in chronological order; note that the final one is from then-Cardinal Ratzinger, who is now our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI.

"There will be no infallible definitions. All that was done by former Councils. That is enough."
- Pope John XXIII, "Gaudet Mater Ecclesia," October 11, 1962

"The salient point of this Council is not, therefore, a discussion of one article or another of the fundamental doctrine of the Church."
- Pope John XXIII, Opening speech to the Council, October 11, 1962

"In view of the 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."
- The Notificatio of March 6, 1964, of the Theological Commission of the Council concerning the authority of the Council


"The magisterium of the Church did not wish to pronounce itself under the form of extraordinary dogmatic pronouncements..."
- Pope Paul VI, discourse closing Vatican II, December 7, 1965

"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 dogmata carrying the mark of infallibility."
- Pope Paul VI, General Audience of January 12, 1966

"The rite [of the New Mass] by itself is not a dogmatic definition."
- Pope Paul VI, November 19, 1969, Apostolic Constitution, "Missale Romanum"

"Differing from other Councils, this one was not directly dogmatic, but disciplinary and pastoral."
- Pope Paul VI, August 6, 1975, General Audience

"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."
- Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, El Mercurio, July 17, 1988

* An important distinction to keep in mind is that when Vatican II quoted dogmatic statements from previous councils, those statements were of course dogmatic. By saying that Vatican II was pastoral what is meant is that the new or novel statements and teachings of the council were not dogmatic.

1 comment:

Anita said...

Sean, interesting perspective. I would never have thought or known about that distinction. Sheds a whole new light on what happened at Vatican II and the end results.