Tradition, Doctrine and Magisterium (Continued)
The 1928 encyclical Mortalium Animos condemns modern notions of ecumenism. It says the Catholic Church is the one true Church, to which separated Christian ecclesial communities should return. It says Catholics should not participate in prayers, meetings, worship, etc. with non-Catholic Christians.
Vatican II documents teach something else on what the Church is and how it relates to other religions.
The Catholic Church always identified itself as the one true Church founded by Jesus Christ. The Church of Christ is the Catholic Church. Today, this has changed: according to Vatican II and the new Catechism, the Church of Christ now “subsists in” the Catholic Church, raising a distinction between the two. Although the dogma “extra ecclesiam nulla salus” has been solemnly proclaimed multiple times by past popes, the new view is that the Church of Christ extends beyond the Catholic Church (imperfectly), due to “elements of the Church” present in other Christian groups. This is peculiar because Pius XII specified that to be a member of the Church, one must (1) be baptized, (2) profess the true faith, and (3) submit to authority.
A major innovation of Vatican II is the idea that other faith communities can be in imperfect or partial communion with the Catholic Church. The past teaching was that you are either inside or outside Christ’s visible Church on Earth. The traditional view was that heretics, schismatics, and non-Christians are not in the Church of Christ, and their religions are obstacles to, not vehicles of, salvation. Now it is said that these religions can have “elements of sanctification.”
Rather than evangelizing, the Roman Catholic Church now dialogues. A document approved by John Paul II says, “Dialogue [is] the meeting of Christians with the believers of other religious traditions so that they can work together in search of the truth and collaborate in works of common interest.” If the Catholic Church possesses the fullness of truth, why do Catholics need to “seek” truth with adherents of other religions?
Today, Church leaders discourage people from converting to Catholicism, even when they express the desire to do so. The Church leaders say it is not necessary for their salvation to become Catholic. For example, there is evidence that Pope Francis urged the U.K. evangelical “bishop” Tony Palmer not to become Catholic, and then, when he died, the pope ordered a Catholic bishop’s requiem Mass to be said.
In a statement in 2014, Pope Francis said to refugees of different faiths, “Sharing our experience in carrying that cross, to expel the illness within our hearts, which embitters our life: it is important that you do this in your meetings. Those that are Christian, with the Bible, and those that are Muslim, with the Quran. The faith that your parents instilled in you will always help you move on.” This confirms Muslims in their error. Such a view is condemned in the Syllabus of Errors, which among other things condemns the beliefs that “[e]very man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true” and “[m]an may, in the observance of any religion whatever, find the way of eternal salvation, and arrive at eternal salvation.”
In the 1993 Balamand agreement, the Roman Catholic Church agreed that it will not try to convert the Eastern Orthodox to Catholicism. The Church renounced “proselytism” – “according to which she presented herself as the only one to whom salvation was entrusted” – and agreed not to create new Catholic organizations where they do not already exist.
St. Paul said the pagans worship not gods, but demons. The Vatican II document Nostra Aetate praises pagan religions, but Tradition says they are religions that turn souls away from eternal salvation. John Paul II invited pagans to pray to their “gods” at the 1986 Assisi prayer meeting, even giving them Catholic churches in which to perform their pagan rites. Is this not a violation of the First Commandment?
John Paul II’s 1979 encyclical Redemptor Hominis supported the idea of common prayer with other religions. He said the 1986 interfaith gathering was based on Vatican II teachings. At the Assisi meeting, the Muslim prayer concluded thus: “Allah is He on Whom all depend. He begets not, nor is He begotten. And none is like Him.”
The Church and the Jews
Has doctrine regarding the Jews changed? The traditional Church teaching is that before the coming of Christ, Judaism was the true religion. But since Jews rejected and continue to reject the Messiah, what they now practice is a false religion. The time of the Old Covenant is over; all men are called to be saved according to the New Covenant. For salvation, just like everyone else, Jews must believe in Christ.
Tradition is expressed in the Good Friday prayer in the liturgy:
Let us pray also for the faithless Jews: that almighty God may remove the veil from their hearts; so that they too may acknowledge Jesus Christ our Lord. Almighty and eternal God, who dost not exclude from thy mercy even Jewish faithlessness: hear our prayers, which we offer for the blindness of that people; that acknowledging the light of thy Truth, which is Christ, they may be delivered from their darkness. Through the same Lord Jesus Christ, amen.
This prayer was revised by John XXIII and then Benedict XVI, but even their “softened” prayers still call for the conversion of the Jews.
But Nostra Aetate and other post-Vatican II pronouncements contradict traditional doctrine and have suggested that Judaism is still pleasing to God. The Good Friday prayer of the new Mass says nothing about conversion.
The Apostles put a great deal of effort into trying to convert the Jews and convince them of the truth the Jesus is the Christ. Our Lord commanded his disciples to go and baptize all nations, teaching all men to follow all his teachings – but today’s successors to the apostles appear to have aborted this mission when it comes to the Jews.
A BBC News article from a year ago reports:
The Vatican has told Catholics that they should not seek to convert Jews and stressed that the two faiths have a “unique” relationship. It is seen as a new Vatican attempt to distance itself from centuries of Christian-Jewish tension and prejudice. The document released on Thursday is not a doctrinal text, but a “stimulus for the future”, the Vatican says. It builds on the “Nostra aetate” (In Our Time) document which, 50 years ago, redefined Vatican ties with Judaism.
The new document is called “The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable” and was written by the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with Jews. It says, “[T]he Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews.” Judaism, it points out, “is not to be considered simply as another religion; the Jews are instead our elder brothers.” Turning to the vexed question of salvation, the document says, “[T]hat the Jews are participants in God’s salvation is theologically unquestionable, but how that can be possible without confessing Christ explicitly, is and remains an unfathomable divine mystery.”
Here are some more recent expressions of this post-Vatican II error I came across during my research:
- “The Old Covenant has never been revoked” (Pope John Paul II).
- “The Jewish wait for the Messiah is not in vain” (Pontifical Biblical Commission).
- “To proselytize [Jews] is not an attitude of love, nor is it one of knowledge!” (Cardinal Johannes Willebrands).
- “Campaigns that target Jews for conversion to Christianity are no longer theologically acceptable to the Catholic Church” (Cardinal William Keeler).
In 2001, Cardinal Walter Kasper said: “The only thing I wish to say is that the document Dominus Iesus does not state that everybody needs to become a Catholic in order to be saved by God. On the contrary, it declares that God’s grace, which is the grace of Jesus Christ according to our faith, is available to all. Therefore, the Church believes that Judaism, i.e. the faithful response of the Jewish people to God’s irrevocable covenant, is salvific for them, because God is faithful to his promises.”
Vatican II, Infallibility, and the Future
Vatican II was not infallible, which suggests to me that where the teachings of Vatican II conflict with those of Tradition and the pre-Vatican II Magisterium, the Vatican II teachings should be rejected. Some have pointed out that modern (i.e., false) ecumenism is a “pastoral program,” not a dogma, and therefore can be criticized and resisted. Along these lines, in 2016, Abp. Guido Pozzo, Secretary of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, said, “Nostra Aetate does not have any dogmatic authority, and thus one cannot demand from anyone to recognize this declaration as being dogmatic.”
John XXIII said in the Opening Address that Vatican II was not to be a doctrinal council concerned with defining any articles of Faith, but was to be a “pastoral” council.
Paul VI stated, “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 dogmas carrying the mark of infallibility.” Later he added, “Differing from other Councils, this one was not directly dogmatic, but disciplinary and pastoral.”
Cdl. Ratzinger also stated, “There are many accounts of it, which give the impression that from Vatican II onward, everything has been changed, and what preceded it has no value or, at best, has value only in the light of Vatican II. … 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.”
Cdl. Ratzinger added:
The Second Vatican Council has not been treated as a part of the entire living Tradition of the Church, but as an end of Tradition, a new start from zero. 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; and yet many treat it as though it had made itself into a sort of superdogma which takes away the importance of all the rest.
… All this leads a great number of people to ask themselves if the Church of today is really the same as that of yesterday, or if they have changed it for something else without telling people. The one way in which Vatican II can be made plausible is to present it as it is; one part of the unbroken, the unique Tradition of the Church and of her faith.
However, the sad fact is that in the preceding sections, we saw specific examples of how Vatican II documents and their implementation via the words and acts of Church leaders directly contradict Tradition and the Magisterium. Benedict XVI has dedicated a lot of effort to showing a hermeneutic of continuity between Vatican II and what preceded it. But undeniable evidence shows that the Church has changed dramatically since Vatican II and that modern Catholics believe and do things completely differently from Catholics of the past.
Alarmingly, there are those in positions of authority who want to continue “reforming” the Church. What doctrines or traditions will be undermined next – maybe or maybe not on paper, but certainly in practice? Some speculate that Pope Francis wants to end clerical celibacy. Some think it could be rewording the Church’s teaching on homosexuality to make it less judgmental and more welcoming. Others see evidence of a push by the pope for intercommunion with Protestants. Or it could be something else.
One thing is clear: since Vatican II, novelty reigns. Prelates in the highest positions propose changes to what we all presume are unchangeable doctrines. Sometimes their attitude seems to be, “We won’t change the doctrine; we’ll just change the wording or interpretations of a few documents, or change disciplines for pastoral reasons.” But how can doctrine be opposed to practice, and vice versa? That is schizophrenic. And contrary to truth.
My instinct is to avoid criticizing or questioning the hierarchy, to trustingly follow the pope, and accept with docility practices encouraged and teachings pronounced by competent authorities. It is only with great hesitation that I ask questions about these things. I was pushed up against the wall by continuous liturgical abuse, which forced me to investigate the source of these problems and consider how to respond. All I seek is to be united with the Church and her visible head, the Pope.
I don’t want to be distracted by news coming out of Rome and other places of strange teachings and activities in the hierarchy. I want to focus on working out my own salvation and properly living my state in life. Yet aren’t all the baptized called to read the signs of the times? As an individual Catholic, and as the head of a household, I need to figure out how to live the faith in our particular context.
Ignorance is not bliss; it is perilous for a soul. There is no need to fear the truth.
To summarize, what I have come to realize is that my specific personal experiences over the years are not isolated incidents of liturgical abuse and erroneous teaching, but are part of a systemic corruption or alteration of the faith for many in the Catholic Church. This corruption and agitation for change preceded Vatican II (many popes up to Pius XII warned of the evils of modernism inside the Church and of efforts by Freemasons, communists, and other enemies outside the Church), but Vatican II was the spark that caused an explosion of innovation and heterodoxy.
The error of Modernism is now dominant, and its fruits are confusion and apostasy. The strange teachings and bad liturgy I have been exposed to for years in mainstream “Novus Ordo parishes” are not the result of individual priests gone rogue, but the consequence of a Church-wide catastrophe of decades of bad formation, deficient catechesis, an invasion of worldliness, and fads of heterodoxy, all of which have gone unaddressed and uncorrected.
In my view, the solution is straightforward, but that does not mean that it is easy. We must do what Catholics have done during other crises, such as the Arian heresy and times of persecution: pray, hold fast to the traditions we have received, and participate only in faithful worship. Ignore strange doctrines, and avoid liturgies where things offensive to God may take place.
I hope my fidelity to the Church is not in doubt. As for this series of essays, I hope I have my facts straight; I know I may be mistaken in my analysis and conclusions, or I may misunderstand things, and I am open to correction. My sole desire is to live and die as a good Catholic. In our time, there is terrible disorientation and conflict within the Barque of Peter, but that is no reason to abandon ship.
Benjamin J. Vail, OFS is a Franciscan tertiary from the USA living with his family in Brno, Czech Republic.