A few days ago, columnist Sandro Magister reported on a conference talk given in Rome in December, in which the patristic theologian Bishop Athanasius Schneider proposed a way to promote the Holy Father’s “hermeneutic of continuity”: a papal document to correct erroneous interpretations of the documents of Vatican II, and clarify the intentions of the Council Fathers and Popes Paul VI and John XXIII.

Here’s a thumbnail summary of the talk:

Expounding a key passage from Sacrosanctum Concilium, Bp. Schneider develops seven essential points for building a true theology of pastoral care, in seven duties:

1. to proclaim the Gospel to all non-believers
2. to proclaim the faith to the faithful
3. to preach repentance to the faithful
4. to prepare the faithful for the sacraments
5. to teach the faithful all the commandments of God
6. to promote the apostolate of the lay faithful
7. to promote the vocation of all to holiness

This, the Bishop declares, is the real spirit (mens) of the Council and the real purpose of the Council, and rooted in the Church’s perennial tradition. He supports this theme with extensive quotations from the speeches of Pope Paul VI and Pope John XXIII at the Council.

He goes on to discuss modern errors (liberation theology, liturgical distortions), and suggest two needs in the Church to bring about reform:

  • a document from the Pope to present authoritative interpretations of the Council, in continuity with tradition, and against theories of rupture between the Council and the Tradition
  • courageous pastors who will carry out the pastoral mission defined by the Council.

I’ve translated the full text, which follows.

Proposals for a correct reading of the Second Vatican Council

The primacy of the worship of God as the basis of all true
pastoral theology.
Conference held at Rome December 17, 2010.
author is auxiliary bishop of Karaganda (Kazakhstan).

by Athanasius Schneider

  1. The theological foundation of pastoral theology

To speak correctly of pastoral theory and practice, it is
necessary first to be conscious of their foundation and their
theological aim. The aim of the Church is the aim of the Incarnation:
“propter nostram salutem.” This is how the faith and the
prayer of the Church are expressed: “Qui propter nos homines et
propter nostram salutem descendit de caelis et incarnatus est…. et
homo factus est.”
This salvation means the salvation of the
soul for eternal life. The purpose of the Church’s whole juridical
and pastoral order also consists of this salvation, as the last canon
of the Code of Canon Law tells us: “prae oculis habita salute
animarum, quae in Ecclesia suprema semper lex esse debet.”

(can. 1752)

The content of the salvation of the human soul consists of
holiness, of renewal and indeed perfection of the original human
dignity in Christ. God has created man according to His image and His
likeness (Gen. 1:26) and this work is marvelous, as the Church says
in the liturgy. “Deus, qui humanae substantiae dignitatem
mirabiliter condidisti”
. But more marvelous yet is the renewal
and the perfecting of this image that has come by the work of the
Redemption: “mirabilius reformasti”. Renewal, new
perfection, holiness consist of the unimaginable grace of man’s
participation in the Divine nature itself: “Divinitatis esse
. This participation in the divine nature means being
adopted sons of God, being sons in the Only Son, Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ, the only Son of God by nature, made himself the
first-born of many brothers by His true incarnation: “primogenitus
in multis fratribus”
(Rm 1:29). By means of His redemptive
sacrifice Christ offers man the grace of Divine life. The same Divine
life in the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is present in the
humanity of the Son of God: “in ipso inhabitat omnis plenitudo
divinitatis corporaliter”
, in Him all of divinity dwells bodily
(Col 2:9). Christ incarnate is full of grace and truth (Jn 1:14). The
Holy Spirit shares the grace of Divine sonship and all the other
necessary graces of holiness from this font of Divine life by means
of the Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ, in the liturgy
of the sacraments. Thus we can better understand what the Second
Vatican Council taught:

Liturgia est culmen ad quod actio
Ecclesiae tendit et simul fons unde omnis eius virtus emanat.

(Sacrosanctum Concilium, 10)

The liturgy is the summit toward which
the action of the Church tends, and, at the same time, the fountain
from which all her energy flows. Apostolic work, in fact, is ordered
so that all who have become sons of God by means of faith and baptism
may join in assembly, praise God in the Church, and take part in the
sacrifice and at the table of the Lord. (SC, 10).

  1. A pastoral vademecum of the Second Vatican Council

In the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum
, in the context of the discourse on the primacy of
worship and adoration that is to be rendered to God, the Council
presents a solid synthesis of a sound and theologically valid
pastoral theology, a sort of pastoral vademecum with the
following seven characteristics:

The Church announces the
good tidings of salvation to those who do not believe, so that all
men may know the true God and Jesus Christ whom
He has sent, and may be converted from their ways,
doing penance [Jn. 17:3; Lk. 24:17; Ac 2:38]. To believers also the
Church must ever preach faith and penance, she must prepare them for
the sacraments, teach them to observe all that Christ has commanded
[Mt. 28:20], and invite them to all the works of charity, piety, and
the apostolate. For all these works make it clear that Christ’s
faithful, though not of this world, are to be the light of the world
and to glorify the Father before men. (SC, 9).

From this brief synthesis given to us by the Council we can
establish the following seven essential notes of pastoral theory and

  1. The duty to proclaim the Gospel to all non-believers (SC, 9).

Such a proclamation must be explicit: that is, faith in Jesus
Christ, to which one arrives by the grace of conversion and
repentance. Therefore there is no room for a theory and a practice of
so-called “anonymous Christianity”, there is no acceptance of
alternative ways of salvation other than the way of Christ: Christ is
the one Mediator between God and men. This is what the Council
teaches in the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, saying:

Church, now sojourning on earth as an exile, is necessary for
salvation. Christ, present to us in His Body, which is the Church, is
the one Mediator and the unique way of salvation. (n. 14)

In paragraph n. 8 of the same Dogmatic Constitution, the Council
says: “Unicus Mediator Christus” (see also ibid.,
n. 28). Human beings who are saved in eternity are saved by their
acceptance of the merits of the one Mediator, Jesus Christ, in their
earthly life (ibid., n. 49). The Second Vatican Council
teaches, presenting the following quotation from the Council of
Trent: “per Filium eius Iesum Christum, Dominum nostrum, qui
solus noster Redemptor et Salvator est”
(ibid., n. 50).
In the Declaration on Religious Liberty the Council teaches that
every man is redeemed by Christ the Savior and is called to Divine
sonship, which can be received only by means of the grace of faith
(Dignitatis humanae, 10).

Pope Paul VI, in his address at the opening of the second session
of the Council in 1963, taught: “Jesus Christ is the only and the
highest Teacher and Pastor, and the one Mediator between God and
men.” (Sacrosanctum Oecumenicum Concilium Vaticanum II.
Constitutiones, Decreta, Declarationes,
Città del Vaticano 1966,
p. 905). The same Pope repeated at the Council the following year:
“Jesus Christ is the one Mediator and Redeemer” (ibid., p.
989). The teaching of the Council continues: “Now, since he who
does not believe is already judged, the words of Christ are at one
and the same time words of judgment and of grace, of death and of
life.” (Ad gentes, 8). Missionary activity is a sacred duty
of the Church, because it is the will of God Himself who insists upon
the necessity of faith in Christ and of baptism for eternal life
(ibid., n. 7).

  1. The duty of proclaiming the faith to the faithful (SC, 9)

The primary task of the Church consists in taking care that the
faith of the faithful grow and be protected from the danger of error:
therefore this means to take care for the purity, the completeness,
and the vitality of faith. Already in his address at the opening of
the Second Vatican Council, Blessed Pope John XXIII declared
unequivocally, in a yet more effective way, how the principal duty of
the Council was to be the protection and the promotion of the
doctrine of the faith: “ut sacrum christianae doctrinae
depositum efficaciore ratione custodiatur atque proponatur”

(loc. cit., p. 861). The Blessed Pontiff continues,
maintaining how, in the exercise of this her duty in our time, the
Church may never take her eyes away from the sacred patrimony of the
truth, received by Tradition. The Council must transmit Catholic
doctrine in its integrity, without diminishing it and without
distorting it: “integram, non imminutam, non detortam
tradere vult doctrinam catholicam.”
Pope John very
realistically observes how this may not be appreciated by everyone.
It is therefore necessary, says the Pope, that the whole of Christian
doctrine be received in our days by all, without omitting a single
part: “oportet ut universa doctrina christiana, nulla parte inde
detracta, his temporibus nostris ob omnibus accipiatur.”

(ibid., 864)

In receiving and promoting the entire doctrine of the faith, we
must follow a way that is accurate as to its form and concepts,
following the example of the Council of Trent and the First Vatican
Council, as as Pope John XIII reaffirms. In the Declaration on
Religious Liberty the Council admonishes the faithful to “let
them be about their task of spreading the light of life with all
confidence and apostolic courage, even to the shedding of their
blood.” (DH, 14) Furthermore they have “a
grave obligation… ever more fully to understand the truth received
from Him, faithfully to proclaim it, and vigorously to defend it.”
(ibid.) In the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes,
the Council exhorts: “Love
and good will, to be sure, must in no way render us indifferent to
truth and goodness. Indeed love itself impels the disciples of Christ
to speak the saving truth to all men.” (n. 28). Pope
Paul VI, in the address at the opening of the second session of the
Second Vatican Council affirmed: “The foundation for renewal of the
Church must be a more exacting study and a richer promotion of Divine
truth.” (loc. cit., p. 913)

In the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity the Council expresses
itself in these terms: “In our own times, new problems are arising
and very serious errors are circulating which tend to undermine the
foundations of religion, the moral order, and human society itself.”
(Apostolicam actuositatem, 6). In the Pastoral Constitution
Gaudium et Spes, the Council observed how grave moral errors
were being spread, already then, and exhorted all Christians to
defend and promote the natural dignity and the high, sacred value of
the matrimonial state (n. 47). The Council, in the same document,
reproves immoral customs in relation to marriage and to the virtue of
chastity, saying that “polygamy,
the plague of divorce, so-called free love and other disfigurements
have an obscuring effect” on the dignity of marriage
and the family. “In
addition, married love is too often profaned by excessive self-love,
the worship of pleasure and illicit practices against human
generation. Moreover, serious disturbances are caused in families by
modern economic conditions, by influences at once social and
psychological, and by the demands of civil society.”
(ibid.) The Council gives an unequivocal teaching on marital
chastity: “Relying on
these principles, sons of the Church may not undertake methods of
birth control which are found blameworthy by the teaching authority
of the Church in its unfolding of the divine law. (Pius
XI, Casti Connubii). All
should be persuaded that human life and the task of transmitting it
are not realities bound up with this world alone. Hence they cannot
be measured or perceived only in terms of it, but always have a
bearing on the eternal destiny of men.” (ibid.,
n. 51).

In the Decree on Missionary Activity, the Council
exhorts that every form of indifferentism, syncretism, confusion be
excluded (AG, 15). In the Constitution Gaudium et Spes, the
Council rejects a purely worldly and anti-religious humanism (n. 56).
The same conciliar document speaks of atheistic humanism which not
only threatens the faith, but even exercises a negative and
globalizing influence on all the spheres of social life:

Growing numbers of people
are abandoning religion in practice. Unlike former days, the denial
of God or of religion, or the abandonment of them, are no longer
unusual and individual occurrences. For today it is not rare for such
things to be presented as requirements of scientific progress or of a
certain new humanism. In numerous places these views are voiced not
only in the teachings of philosophers, but on every side they
influence literature, the arts, the interpretation of the humanities
and of history and civil laws themselves. As a consequence, many
people are shaken. (ibid., 7).

Pope Paul VI, in his homily at the last public session of the
Second Vatican Council, affirms that the Council is proposing to the
people of our time a theocentric and theological doctrine about human
nature and the world (loc. cit., pp. 1064-1065). In the homily
given at the seventh public session of the Second Vatican Council,
October 28, 1965, Pope Paul VI explains that despite the general
pastoral nature of the council, it intends to propose the perennial
and authentic doctrine of the Church, excluding doctrinal relativism;
the Council is fulfilling a work

that does not historicize, does not
relativize, according to the metamorphoses of secular culture, the
nature of the Church, always the same and faithful to herself as
Christ willed her and as authentic tradition perfected her, but makes
her better suited to carry out her mission of doing good in the
renewed conditions of human society. (loc. cit., pp.

In his speech given the same year, 1965, on the occasion of the
eighth public session of the Council, Pope Paul VI criticized the
behavior of those who incorrectly and abusively misinterpret the
intention of Blessed Pope John XXIII on the Church’s pastoral
adaptation to the new needs of our time (“aggiornamento”).
Furthermore, the Pope expounds the spirit of the Council in this
regard and puts everyone on guard against doctrinal and juridical
relativism, stating that Pope John XXIII

certainly did not want to attribute to
this programmatic word the meaning that some are trying to give it,
as if it were to agree to ‘relativize’ everything in the Church
according to the spirit of the world today: dogmas, laws, structures,
traditions, whereas the sense of the Church’s doctrinal and
structural stability was so alive and firm in him as to make it the
cornerstone of his thought and of his work. Aggiornamento will
mean from now forward, for us, wise penetration of the spirit of the
Council celebrated and faithful application of its norms issued in
happy and holy wise. (loc. cit., pp. 1053-1054).

In the original Latin text, Paul VI does not use the word
“aggiornamento” but the word “accommodatio”.
The famous expression “aggiornamento” of Blessed John
XXIII has become legendary by now. In his original intention, this
expression has nothing to do with a doctrinal, legal, or liturgical

The new pastoral and benevolent attitude of
patient understanding and of dialogue with society outside the Church
does not involve doctrinal relativism. Pope Paul VI defends the
Council from such a possible accusation in the aforementioned homily
during the seventh public session: “This attitude … was strongly
and continuously operating in the Council, to the point of suggesting
the suspicion to some that a tolerant and overpowering relativism
toward the outside world, to fleeting history, to cultural fashion,
to temporary needs, to the thoughts of others, had dominated persons
and acts of the ecumenical synod, at the expense of the fidelity owed
to tradition and to the detriment of the religious orientation of the
council. We do not believe that this misfortune should be imputed to
it, in its real and deep intentions, and in its authentic
manifestations” (loc. cit., p. 1067). Here, Paul VI is
defending only the real and deep intentions and authentic
manifestations of the Council, not entering into the merits of

The Council expressly rejects any kind of religious
syncretism in missionary activity and requires that the particular
traditions of peoples be enlightened by the light of the Gospel,
always leaving intact the primacy of the Chair of Peter (AG, 22).

  1. The duty of preaching repentance to the faithful (SC, 9)

One cannot speak of a true pastoral doctrine and practice without
the essential element of repentance in the life of the Church and of
the faithful. Every true renewal of the Church in history took place
with the spirit and the practice of Christian penitence. The Dogmatic
Constitution Lumen Gentium, n. 8 states that the Church must
continually advance on the road of penitence and of renewal. Then it
says that the faithful have to conquer in themselves the reign of sin
by self-denial with a holy life (ibid., n. 36). In missionary
activity the children of the Church must not be ashamed of the
scandal of the Cross (AG, 24).

We can understand the true spirit of this conciliar teaching about
the necessity of penance better if we consider the fact that, on July
1, 1962, the Feast of the Most Precious Blood, in view of the
imminent opening of the Council, Blessed Pope John XXIII dedicated an
entire encyclical to the necessity of penitence under the title
“Paenitentiam agere”. It deals with a pressing invitation
to the Catholic world and an exhortation to a more intense prayer,
and a penitence beseeching Grace upon the coming Council. The Pope
indicated the thought and the practice of the Church, as in the
example of preceding councils, recalling the need for interior and
exterior penitence as a cooperation with the Divine redemption.
Concretely Pope John XXIII recommended in each diocese a penitential
intercessory event, explaining how

with the works of mercy and of penance
all the faithful seek to beseech God almighty and implore of him that
true renewal of the Christian spirit which is one of the principal
aims of the council. (n. II, 2)

The Pope continues:

In fact, Our predecessor Pius XI of
venerable memory rightly observed: «Prayer and penance are the two
means set at the disposition of God in our era to redirect to Him
poor humanity which is wandering without a guide; it is they that
take away and repair the first cause and principle of our confusion,
which is the rebellion of man against God.» (Encyclical Caritate
Christi compulsi
)” (ibid.)

John XXIII directed the following ardent exhortation to the
bishops: “Venerable brothers, make every effort without delay by
every means that is in your power, so that the Christians entrusted
to your care may purify their spirit with penance and arouse
themselves to greater fervor of piety.” (n. II, 3)

The spirit of penitence and expiation must always animate every
true renewal of the Church, as Pope John XXIII hoped would be
produced by the Second Vatican Council. This attitude protects the
Church from the spirit of worldly activism. As the Pope taught in the
end of his encyclical:

a wonderful, what a heartening spectacle of religious fervor it will
be to see the countless armies of Christians throughout the world
devoting themselves to assiduous prayer and voluntary self-denial in
response to Our appeals! This is the sort of religious fervor with
which the Church’s sons and daughters should be imbued. May their
example be an inspiration to those who are so immersed in the affairs
of this world as to be neglectful of their duties towards God.

In the following words we can grasp that true spirit that animated
the Pope of the Council and certainly the pars maior et sanior
of the Conciliar Fathers:

must repudiate it [worldly hedonism] with all the energy and courage
displayed by the martyrs and those heroic men and women who have been
the glory of the Church in every age of her history. If everyone does
this, each in his own station in life, he will be enabled to play his
individual part in making this Second Ecumenical Vatican Council,
which is especially concerned with the refurbishing of Christian
morality, an outstanding success. (ibid., n. II,

  1. The duty to prepare the faithful for the sacraments (SC, 9)

The Council, in the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium,
teaches that the sacraments are the principal means by which all the
faithful of every state and condition are called by the Lord to the
perfection of holiness (n. 11). The principal end of the sacraments
consists, according to Sacrosanctum Concilium n. 59, in the
sanctification of men, the edification of the Mystical Body of
Christ, and in the worship due to be rendered to God. Rarely in the
history of the Church has the supreme Magisterium so insisted on the
importance and the centrality of the sacred liturgy, and particularly
of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, as the Second Vatican Council in fact
has done. The fact that the first document of the Council to be
debated and approved was dedicated to the liturgy, that is, to Divine
worship, is meaningful and manifests this clear message of the
primacy of God: God and the worship of adoration which the Church
renders to Him must occupy the first place in all the life and
activity of the Church. Sacrosanctum Concilium teaches us:
“Sacra Liturgia est precipue cultus divinae maiestatis”
(n. 33), and by this the worship of the Divine majesty must be the
summit of all the activity of the Church: “Liturgia est culmen
ad quod actio Ecclesiae tendit et simul fons unde omnis eius virus
(n. 10).

The sacred liturgy is primarily and necessarily the true font of
the Christian spirit, says the Decree on the Formation of Priests
(Optatam totius, 16). The purpose of all the sacraments is
found, in turn, in the eucharistic mystery, maintains the Decree on
the Ministry and Life of Priests, quoting St. Thomas Aquinas:
“Eucharistia est omnium sacramentorum finis” (Summa
, III, q. 73 a.3 c) and adds: “In Sanctissima enim
Eucharistia totum bonum spirituale Ecclesiae continetur”
Thomas, Summa Theologica, III, q. 65, a. 3, ad 1),
(Presbyterorum Ordinis, 5). The same document says again that
the Eucharist is the source and summit of all evangelization, and
with all the more reason, the Eucharist is the source and summit of
all the pastoral life of the Church. In Sacrosanctum Concilium
we find this synthesis: “Particularly from the Eucharist, Grace is
derived in us, as from a spring, and the sanctification of men and
the glorification of God in Christ toward which all the other
activities of the Church converge as toward their end, are obtained
from it with the greatest efficacy.” (n. 10).

  1. The duty to teach the faithful all the commandments of God
    (SC, 9)

Another element of pastoral activity is this: “To
believers also the Church must … teach them to observe all that
Christ has commanded” (SC, 9). The Pastors of the Church
therefore have the duty to teach the Divine laws and commandments in
all their integrity. In the Declaration on Religious Liberty the
Council states: “the highest norm of human life is the
divine law – eternal, objective and universal – whereby God
orders, directs and governs the entire universe and all the ways of
the human community” (DH, 3). The Pastoral Constitution
Gaudium et Spes maintains: “Man has in his
heart a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of man;
according to it he will be judged.” (n. 16) The same
pastoral document states: “Spouses
should be aware that they cannot proceed arbitrarily, but must always
be governed according to a conscience dutifully conformed to the
divine law itself, and should be submissive toward the Church’s
teaching office, which authentically interprets that law in the light
of the Gospel.” (Gaudium et Spes, 50)

The Council continues, saying: “This split between
the faith which many profess and their daily lives deserves to be
counted among the more serious errors of our age.” (ibid.,
n. 43) Such an error has become even more manifest in recent years in
which one observes the phenomenon of people who, while professing to
be Catholics, at the same time support laws contrary to the natural
law and to the Divine law, and openly contradict the Magisterium of
the Church. These words of the Council echo now: “Let
there be no false opposition between professional and social
activities on the one part, and religious life on the other.”
(GS, 43) Moral, domestic, professional, scientific, social life must
be guided by the faith and so ordered to the glory of God. (ibid.)
Let us observe again, in these teachings of the Council, the
importance of the primacy of the will of God and of His glory in the
life of every one of the faithful and in all the Church. The Council
affirms this not only in a document on the liturgy, but in the
pastoral document par excellence: the Pastoral Constitution
Gaudium et Spes.

  1. The duty of promoting the apostolate of the lay faithful (SC,

Another essential point of pastoral life is this: “To
believers also the Church must ever … invite them to all the works
of charity, piety, and the apostolate.” (SC, 9) In this
point lies the great historic contribution of the Second Vatican
Council to elevating the dignity and the specific role of the lay
faithful in the life and activity of the Church. One can say that
this is an organic development and a crowning of the Magisterium of
Pope Paul VI regarding the question of the lay faithful. The Dogmatic
Constitution Lumen Gentium gives us a formidable synthesis on
the question of the lay faithful in the Church and in the world, with
a solid theological foundation and a clear pastoral direction,

let the laity also by their combined efforts remedy the customs and
conditions of the world, if they are an inducement to sin, so that
they all may be conformed to the norms of justice and may favor the
practice of virtue rather than hinder it. By so doing they will imbue
culture and human activity with genuine moral values; they will
better prepare the field of the world for the seed of the Word of
God; and at the same time they will open wider the doors of the
Church by which the message of peace may enter the world. Because of
the very economy of salvation the faithful should learn how to
distinguish carefully between those rights and duties which are
theirs as members of the Church, and those which they have as members
of human society. Let them strive to reconcile the two, remembering
that in every temporal affair they must be guided by a Christian
conscience, since even in secular business there is no human activity
which can be withdrawn from God’s dominion. In our own time, however,
it is most urgent that this distinction and also this harmony should
shine forth more clearly than ever in the lives of the faithful, so
that the mission of the Church may correspond more fully to the
special conditions of the world today. For it must be admitted that
the temporal sphere is governed by its own principles, since it is
rightly concerned with the interests of this world. But that ominous
doctrine which attempts to build a society with no regard whatever
for religion, and which attacks and destroys the religious liberty of
its citizens, is rightly to be rejected. (n. 36)

Here the Council
condemns secularism without using the word, citing Leo XIII
(Encyclical Immortale
, Nov.
1, 1885: ASS 18 (1885), pp. 166ff. Idem,
Encyclical Sapientiae

Jan. 10, 1890: ASS 22 (1889-90), pp. 387ff. Pius XII, Discourse Alla
vostra filiale
March 23, 1958: AAS 50 (1958), p. 220), who said that “the
legitimate healthy laicity of the State is one of the principles of
Catholic doctrine.” (ibid.)
The Pope continued, saying: “the life of individuals, the life of
families, the life of greater and smaller collectivities, will be
nourished by the doctrine of Jesus Christ, which is the love of God
and, in God, the love of neighbor.” This doctrine finds in its
essential elements a clear echo both in the Dogmatic Constitution on
the Church and in the Pastoral Constitution of the Second Vatican

On the proper vocation
of the laity, the Council says: “It is proper to the laity to seek
the kingdom of God, dealing with temporal things and ordering them
according to God.” (Lumen
31) In the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, the Council speaks
of the idolatry of temporal things because of an excessive confidence
in the progress of the natural sciences and of technology. (AA, 7)
The Council continues, affirming that matrimonial and familial life
is the place where the Christian religion permeates all the
organization of life and transforms it more every day. At the same
time, the Christian family proclaims in a clear voice the present
power of the kingdom of God and the hope of eternal life. In this
way, with its example and with its witness, it accuses the world of
sin and illuminates those who seek the truth (ibid.)
We can observe here how current is this expression of the Council:
the Christian and
Catholic family is a living accusation to the world, accusing the
world of sin.

The particular form of
the apostolate of the laity consists in the witness of the life of
faith, hope, and charity: it excludes, therefore, an apostolate of
activism and of worldly interests. We can locate within the Decree on
the Laity a brief vademecum
of the lay apostolate, where the Council teaches that the internal
form of the lay apostle must be conformation to the suffering Christ,
and that the purpose of his apostolate is the eternal salvation of
the people of the world. The Council says: “They should all
remember that they can reach all men and contribute to the salvation
of the whole world by public worship and prayer as well as by penance
and voluntary acceptance of the labors and hardships of life whereby
they become like the suffering Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 4:10; Col. 1:24).”
(AA, 16). Often the lay apostle puts even his life in danger due to
his fidelity, says the Council. (ibid.,
n. 17)

  1. The duty of
    promoting the vocation of all to holiness (SC, 9)

The final essential note
of pastoral activity in the Church consists of promoting the vocation
of all to holiness, saying that the followers of Christ, being not of
this world, must be yet the light of the world. (SC, 9) More
specifically, the Council deals with this theme in the fifth chapter
of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen
nn. 39-42: “De
universali vocatione ad sanctitatem in Ecclesia”
In this one can see the truly historic and most specific contribution
of the Second Vatican Council. Holiness consists fundamentally in the
imitation of Christ, of Christ poor and humble, of Christ who carries
the Cross, says the Constitution Lumen
n. 41. The imitation of Christ reaches its peak in martyrdom, in the
courageous witness of Christ before men. (ibid.,
n. 42). The Council says: “All must be ready to confess Christ
before men and follow Him on the way of the Cross during
persecutions, which are never lacking to the Church.” (ibid.)

  1. The authentic
    intention and purpose of the Second Vatican Council

For a correct reading of
the texts of the Second Vatican Council, it is necessary to take
account also of the specific characteristics of the time in which it
developed. In the homily of Pope Paul VI during the last general
congregation of the Second Vatican Council on Dec. 7, 1965, the
Pontiff gives the following description of the historical period in
which the Second Vatican Council was celebrated:

is necessary to remember the time in which it was realized: a time
which everyone admits is orientated toward the conquest of the
kingdom of earth rather than of that of heaven; a time in which
forgetfulness of God has become habitual, and seems, quite wrongly,
to be prompted by the progress of science; a time in which the
fundamental act of the human person, more conscious now of himself
and of his liberty, tends to pronounce in favor of his own absolute
autonomy, in emancipation from every transcendent law; a time in
which secularism seems the legitimate consequence of modern thought
and the highest wisdom in the temporal ordering of society; a time,
moreover, in which the soul of man has plumbed the depths of
irrationality and desolation; a time, finally, which is characterized
by upheavals and a hitherto unknown decline even in the great world
religions. It was at such a time as this that our
council was held to the honor of God.
, pp.

According to an
expression of Blessed Pope John XXIII in the speech given at the
final general congregation of the first session of the Council,
December 7, 1962, the one purpose of the Council and the one hope and
confidence of the Pope and the Council Fathers consists in this: “To
make ever more known to the men of our time the Gospel of Christ,
that it be practiced willingly and that it penetrate deeply into
every aspect of society.” (loc.
, pp.
881-882). Can there be a more authentic and more Catholic pastoral
principle and method than this?

In the address for the
closing of the first session of the Second Vatican Council, Dec., 8,
1962, Pope John XXIII presented the true purpose of the Council and
its desired spiritual fruits in this way: “So that the Holy
Church, firm in faith, strengthened in hope, and more ardent in love,
may flourish with a new and youthful vigor, and, fortified by most
holy laws, be more effective and more resolute in fulfilling the
Kingdom of Christ.” (Handwritten letter to the bishops of Germany,
January 11, 1962)…Now the Kingdom of Christ on earth will be
enlarged with new growth. Now the good tidings of the redemption of
man will resound louder and sweeter in the world; thereby the supreme
rights of almighty God, the bonds of fraternal charity among men, the
peace that was promised on this earth to men of good will shall be
confirmed.” (loc.
., p.
891). According to the intention and desire of the holy pontiff John
XXIII the Second Vatican Council was to contribute strongly to the
following end: “that in the whole human family the fruits of faith,
hope, and charity may grow most abundantly.” According of the words
of John XXIII, in this consists the singular importance and dignity
of the Council (ibid.)

  1. The challenge of
    contrasting interpretations

For a correct
interpretation it is necessary to take account of the intention
manifested in the conciliar documents themselves and in the specific
words of the conciliar Popes John XXIII and Paul VI. Finally, it is
necessary to discover the thread leading through all the work of the
Council, which is the salus
that is, the pastoral intention. This, in turn, depends on and is
subordinate to the promotion of Divine worship and the glory of God,
that is, it depends on the primacy of God. This primacy of God in the
life and all the activity of the Church is shown unequivocally in the
fact that the Constitution on the Liturgy intentionally and
chronologically occupies the first place in the vast work of the
Council. The seven essential notes for pastoral theory and practice
are found exactly in the Constitution that deals with the worship of
God and the sanctification of men, in n. 9 of Sacrosanctum
and they are: 1. The urgency to preach Christ to non-believers so
that they may be converted; 2. The greatest care about preaching the
doctrine of the faith; 3. The essential role of penitence in the life
of the Church; 4. The sacraments as principal means of salvation and
sanctification, where the Eucharist occupies the central and
culminating place; 5. The integrity of moral doctrine; 6. The
apostolate of the lay faithful in the Church and in human society; 7.
The universal vocation to holiness.

The characteristic of
rupture in the interpretation of the conciliar texts is shown in the
most stereotypical and widespread way in the thesis of an
anthropocentric, secularizing, or naturalistic shift by the Second
Vatican Council in regard to the preceding ecclesial tradition. One
of the most well-known manifestations of such a confused
interpretation was, e.g., the so-called Theology of Liberation and
the subsequent devastating pastoral practice. The contrast between
that theology of liberation and its practice, and the Council,
appears evident in the following conciliar teaching: “the proper
mission that Christ has entrusted to His Church is not of the
political, economic, or social order: in fact, the end that he has
set is in the order of religion.” (GS, 42). The same document then
says that the nature and the mission of the Church are not tied to
any particular political, economic, or social system. (ibid.)
The Constitution Gaudium
et Spes

quotes the following words of Pius XII:

divine Founder, Jesus Christ, has not given it any mandate or fixed
any end of the cultural order. The goal which Christ assigns to it is
strictly religious. . . The Church must lead men to God, in order
that they may be given over to him without reserve…. The Church can
never lose sight of the strictly religious, supernatural goal. The
meaning of all its activities, down to the last canon of its Code,
can only cooperate directly or indirectly in this goal. (Pius XII,
Address to
the International Union of Institutes of Archeology, History and
History of Art
March 9, 1956: AAS 48 (1965), p. 212)

An interpretation of
rupture of doctrinally lesser weight is shown in the
pastoral-liturgical field. One can cite under this topic the loss of
the sacred and sublime character of the liturgy and the introduction
of more anthropocentric gestural elements. This phenomenon makes
itself evident in three liturgical practices well known and
widespread in nearly all the parishes of the Catholic world: the
nearly total disappearance of the use of the Latin language, the
reception of the Eucharistic Body of Christ directly on the hand and
standing, and the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice in the
modality of a closed circle in which priest and people continually
look each other in the face. This manner of praying, that is: not all
facing in the same direction, which is a more natural bodily and
symbolic expression with respect to the truth of everyone being
spiritually turned toward God in public worship, contradicts the
practice that Jesus Himself and His Apostles observed in public
prayer at the temple or in the synagogue. Moreover, it contradicts
the unanimous testimony of the Fathers and all the prior tradition of
the Eastern and Western Church. These three pastoral and liturgical
practices, in noisy rupture with the laws of prayer maintained by
generations of faithful Catholics for nearly a millennium, find no
support in the conciliar texts, but rather contradict either a
specific text of the Council (on the Latin language, see Sacrosanctum
n. 36, §
1; 54), or the “mens”,
the true intention of the conciliar Fathers, as can be verified in
the Acts of the Council.

In the
hermeneutical uproar of contrasting interpretations and in the
confusion of pastoral and liturgical applications, the Council itself
united with the Pope appears as the one authentic interpreter of the
conciliar texts. One could make an analogy with the confused
hermeneutical climate of the first centuries of the Church, provoked
by arbitrary biblical and doctrinal interpretations on the part of
heterodox groups. In his famous work De
praescriptione haereticorum

Tertullian was able to set against the heretics of various
orientations the fact that only the Church is the legitimate owner of
the faith, of the word of God, and of tradition. With that in the
disputes on true interpretation, the Church can drive the heretics “a
limine fori”
Only the Church can say, according to Tertullian: “Ego
sum heres Apostolorum”

37, 3). Speaking analogically, only the supreme Magisterium of the
Pope or of a future Ecumenical Council will be able to say:
“Ego sum heres Concilii Vaticani II”

In the decades
past there have existed, and exist to this day, groupings within the
Church that commit an enormous abuse of the pastoral character of the
Council and of its texts, written according to that pastoral
intention, since the Council did not wish to present its own
definitive or irreformable teachings. From the pastoral nature of the
Council’s texts it is evident that its texts are, on principle,
open to further completion and to greater doctrinal clarification.
Taking account of the experience of several decades since then, of
interpretations doctrinally and pastorally confused, and contrary to
the continuity, over two millennia, of doctrine and prayer of the
faith, the necessity and the urgency rise for a specific and
authoritative intervention by the pontifical Magisterium for an
authentic interpretation of the conciliar texts with completions and
doctrinal clarifications: a type of “Syllabus
errorum circa interpretationem Concilii Vaticani II”
There is need for a new Syllabus, this time directed not so much
against errors coming from outside the Church, but against errors
spread within the Church on the part of those who maintain a thesis
of discontinuity and rupture with its doctrinal, liturgical, and
pastoral application. Such a Syllabus would consist of two parts: a
part marking errors and a positive part with propositions of
doctrinal clarification, completion, and precision.

Two groupings
that maintain the theory of rupture are evident. One such grouping
tries to protestantize the life of the Church doctrinally,
liturgically, and pastorally. On the other side are some
traditionalist groups that, in the name of tradition, reject the
Council, and avoid submission to the supreme living Magisterium of
the Church, the visible Head of the Church, submitting for now only
to the invisible Head of the Church, waiting for better times.

During the
Council, Pope Paul VI explained the meaning of true renewal of the
Church in this way:

think that the new psychology of the Church should develop along this
line: clergy and faithful
will find a wonderful spiritual work, to be discovered through the
renewal of life and activity according to Christ the Lord; and We
invite Our Brothers and Our Sons to this work: let those who love
Christ and the Church be with us in professing more clearly the
meaning of the truth, proper to the doctrinal tradition that Christ
and the Apostles inaugurated; and with that the meaning of the
discipline of the church and of the profound and cordial union, which
makes us all confident and united, as members of one body. (Paul VI,
at the eighth public session of the Second Vatican Council,

Nov. 18, 1965, loc.
p. 1054)

Pope Paul VI,
explaining the mens
of the Council, affirmed in his speech during the eighth public
session: “So that all may be strengthened in this spiritual
renewal, we propose to the Church to recall fully the words and
example of Our last two Predecessors, Pius XII and John XXIII, to
whom the Church herself and all the world are indebted; and to that
end, we direct that the processes of beatification of those Supreme
Pontiffs, most excellent and devout and dear to us, be begun
canonically. In this way, the desire expressed by both the one and
the other will be seconded, in a sense, by countless voices; in this
way the patrimony of their spiritual heritage will be secured for
history; and it will prevent that any motive other than the
veneration of true sanctity – that is, the glory of God and the
edification of His Church – would recompose their authentic and
dear image for our veneration and for that of future ages.” (Paul
VI, Address
at the eighth public session of the Second Vatican Council,

Nov. 18, 1965, loc.

p. 1054)

In substance,
there were two impediments against the true intention of the Council
and its Magisterium bearing abundant and lasting fruits. One was
found outside the Church, in the violent process of cultural and
social revolution in the 1960s, which, like every powerful social
phenomenon, penetrated within the Church, contaminating vast ranges
of people and institutions with its spirit of rupture. The other
impediment showed itself in the lack of wise and intrepid Pastors of
the Church who would be ready to defend the purity and integrity of
the faith and of the liturgical and pastoral life, not letting
themselves be influenced either by praise or by fear (“nec
laudibus, nec timore”).

The Council of
Trent stated in one of its last decrees on the general reform of the
Church: “The holy synod, shaken by such grave evils that burden the
Church, cannot fail to recall that the most necessary thing for the
Church of God is… to choose the best and most suited pastors; with
all the more reason, inasmuch as our Lord Jesus Christ will call
negligent pastors, unmindful of their duty, to account for the blood
of those sheep who might perish because of bad governance.” (Sessio
XXIV, Decretum de reformatione
can. 1) The Council continues: “Thus to all who for any reason have
received from the Holy See any right to intervene in the promotion of
future prelates, and to those who take part in other ways… the holy
Council exhorts them and admonishes them to recall foremost that they
can do nothing more useful to the glory of God and to the salvation
of peoples, than to dedicate themselves to choose good and suitable
pastors to govern the Church.” (ibid.)

Thus there truly
is the need for a conciliar Syllabus with doctrinal value, and
moreover there is need to increase the number of holy, courageous
pastors, profoundly rooted in the tradition of the Church, free from
any type of mentality of rupture whether in the field of doctrine or
of liturgy. In fact, these two elements constitute the indispensable
condition so that doctrinal, liturgical, and pastoral confusion may
diminish notably and the pastoral work of the Second Vatican Council
may bear many and lasting fruits in the spirit of tradition, which
joins us with the spirit that reigns at all times, everywhere, and in
all true children of the Catholic Church, which is the one and the
true Church of God on the earth.

December 17, 2010

Second Vatican Ecumenical Council: a pastoral council.
Historical-philosophical-theological analysis.

of studies on the Second Vatican Council toward a right hermeneutic
in the light of the Tradition of the Church, organized by the
Theological Seminary “Immacolata Mediatrice” of the Franciscans
of the Immaculate.

Maria SS. Bambina, via Paolo VI 21, Roma, December 16-18, 2010.


AA: Apostolicam actuositatem

AG: Ad gentes

DH: Dignitatis humanae

GS: Gaudium et spes

SC: Sacrosanctum Concilium


English translation by Richard Chonak.

The source text in Italian was provided by L’Espresso newspaper
at http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/1346289

English translations of the conciliar decrees and constitutions
were taken from vatican.va.

Thanks to Diane Korzeniewski of the Te Deum Laudamus blog for proposing the translation, obtaining permission from Bp. Schneider, and other support.

All rights reserved.