Everything You Wanted To Know About Infallibility But Were Afraid To Ask: Part 8
May 2008 Print
Si Si No No #81
Religious Liberty and the Ordinary Magisterium
Fr. Jean-Michel Gleize
In a book published in March 2007, Fr. Bernard Lucien1 devoted six studies to the question of the authority of the Magisterium and its infallibility:
What we maintain, which many so-called "traditionalist" authors deny, is that the infallibility of the ordinary and universal Magisterium of the Church applies to the central affirmation of the Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis Humanae.
Religious Freedom: Infallible?
Fr. Lucien asserts that the teaching of Vatican II on religious freedom is infallible because it is the equivalent of a teaching of the universal and ordinary Magisterium. We know that the pope can exercise the Magisterium infallibly and that he can do so whether alone or with the bishops. Three unique circumstances in which the supreme authority enjoys infallibility can be distinguished: 1) an act of the physical person of the pope speaking ex cathedra; 2) an act of the moral person of an ecumenical council, which is the physical assembly of the pope and the bishops; and 3) the body of acts, unanimous and simultaneous, that emanates from all the pastors of the Church, the pope and the bishops, but dispersed and not gathered together. The teaching of the pope speaking ex cathedra and that of an ecumenical council correspond to the infallibility of the solemn or extraordinary Magisterium, while the unanimous teaching of all the bishops dispersed, under the authority of the pope, is the teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium.
This ordinary and universal Magisterium is the subject of the dogmatic constitution Dei Filius of Vatican I. It states that:
Further, by divine and Catholic faith, all those things must be believed which are contained in the written word of God and in tradition, and those which are proposed by the Church, either in a solemn pronouncement or in her ordinary and universal teaching power, to be believed as divinely revealed.2
And in the letter Tuas Libenter of December 21, 1862, Pope Pius IX speaks of the "ordinary teaching power of the whole Church spread throughout the world" (Dz. 1683). During the First Vatican Council, in a speech of April 6, 1870, the official representative of the Pope, Msgr. Martin, gave the following clarification to the text of Dei Filius:
The word universal means about the same thing as the word used by the Holy Father in the apostolic letter Tuas Libenter, namely the Magisterium of the whole Church spread throughout the world.
It is clear, then, that the ordinary and universal Magisterium is to be distinguished from the Magisterium of an ecumenical council, just as the Magisterium of the pope and the bishops dispersed is distinguished from the Magisterium of the pope and the bishops assembled.
On one hand, Vatican II is an ecumenical council. But on the other hand, Pope Paul VI twice stated that this council had refrained from pronouncing with its extraordinary teaching power any dogmas bearing the note of infallibility. The Council simply intended to vest its teachings with the authority of the supreme ordinary Magisterium, which is clearly authentic [By the expression "authentic Magisterium," theologians today commonly mean non-infallible teaching–Ed.]. While Vatican II, as any legitimately convoked ecumenical council, could have been the organ of a solemn teaching of the Magisterium, it did not desire to exercise its authority as such, and that is why, as Paul VI stated, its teachings do not have the weight of solemnly defined dogmas. But neither are they teachings of the ordinary and universal Magisterium since by definition an ecumenical council does not correspond to this category of the Magisterium.
Fr. Lucien claims the contrary. According to him, the infallible ordinary and universal Magisterium can be exercised when the bishops and the pope are dispersed as well as when they are assembled in council. According to his hypothesis, an ecumenical council can exercise both types of infallible teaching authority: that of the solemn or extraordinary Magisterium and that of the ordinary and universal Magisterium. The declarations of Paul VI exclude the possibility of a teaching of the extraordinary Magisterium at Vatican II. Therefore, if one is to maintain that the teachings that issued from Vatican II are infallible, they can only be so by virtue of the ordinary and universal Magisterium. This is what remains to be examined.
Rupture or Continuity?
The declarations of Vatican I and of Pope Pius IX show very well that there is a radical difference between the infallibility of a council and that of the ordinary and universal Magisterium. But there is something even more serious. The present successor of St. Peter, Benedict XVI, recognizes this opposition between Vatican II and Pius IX in the epilogue of a book he published in 1982, Principles of Catholic Theology.3 While still cardinal, Joseph Ratzinger stated, "with the vigor and theological clarity for which he is renowned,"4 this formal and irremediable opposition. Explaining how the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) "has come to be increasingly regarded as the true legacy" of Vatican Council II,5 the future Pope Benedict XVI remarked: "If it is desirable to offer a diagnosis of the text as a whole, we might say that it is a revision of the Syllabus of Pius IX, a kind of countersyllabus."6 Indeed, "the text serves as a countersyllabus and, as such, represents, on the part of the Church, an attempt at an official reconciliation with the new era inaugurated in 1789."7
Fr. Lucien constructs his reasoning to show that, far from there being a rupture, there is an integral continuity between Vatican II and Pius IX, between the teaching of the Council on religious freedom and the antecedent Tradition.
St. Vincent of Lerins's Rule to the Rescue of Vatican II?
If one wishes to assert such continuity, it becomes necessary to see in the teachings of Vatican II a development of truths that would have been heretofore held in a vague and implicit state in the Church's preaching.8 Fr. Lucien develops at length the question of the passage from implicit to explicit in the Church's teaching. The reader cannot but become aware of it by seeing the care and the abundance of references he uses over some 20 pages9 in order to establish the real import of the canon of St. Vincent of Lerins. This is precisely the crux of the problem our author has set himself to resolve: in order to deny the contradiction between Pius IX's Quanta Cura and Vatican II's Dignitatis Humanae, he must see in the latter document a development of the former. Vatican II would thus have taught not different truths, but the same truth presented in different, more precise, terms. Fr. Lucien desires to prove that the teaching of Vatican II on religious liberty is a dogmatic clarification of the teaching of Pius IX, a teaching perfectly homogeneous with Tradition.
The Real Meaning of St. Vincent de Lerins's Rule
The labor is in vain. St. Vincent's canon is undoubtedly of great interest. It is not for a mere nothing that Cardinal Johann Baptist Franzelin devoted Theses 23 and 24 of his celebrated treatise On Divine Tradition to the exegesis of the Lerinien rule. It is true that it is possible to misunderstand its true import: it is not as easy to read as it may seem. Fr. Lucien thinks that the traditionalists have misread this text, and that the correct reading would condemn their refusal of the Council. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even if one has grasped the true significance of the Commonitorium, there is nothing in it that would justify seeing in Vatican II a legitimate development of traditional teaching. Quite the contrary, the criterion "always and everywhere" perfectly justifies the attitude of Archbishop Lefebvre and all of those who have decided to refuse the Council's teachings.
St. Vincent's Rule
St. Vincent of Lerins enounces his famous rule in these terms:
In the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense "Catholic"....This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent.10
Cardinal Franzelin argued that this rule could be understood both affirmatively and exclusively of the whole truth, and only the truth, believed everywhere, always, and by all. But in the spirit of St. Vincent of Lerins, this adage must be understood only in an affirmative sense, and not in an exclusive sense, of truths believed explicitly. All the truths that today demand explicit belief by the members of the Church have been believed everywhere, always, and by all; but they have been so in one manner or another, either explicitly or implicitly. It does not follow that only the truths that have been explicitly believed everywhere, always, and by all can and must oblige explicit faith in the Church today. Other truths were at first believed only implicitly and not always nor everywhere nor by all in an explicit manner before becoming the object of an explicit and unanimous belief. This is, for example, the case of the truth of the Immaculate Conception.
Franzelin explains in detail the difference between explicit and implicit belief in Thesis 23:
There is a difference between revealed truths, and this shows that it is neither necessary nor desirable that all revealed truths be contained in one and the same manner in the preaching of the apostles and in the course of tradition.11
The truths which had to be believed explicitly from the start were preached and transmitted from the apostolic age in an explicit manner. These are the principle mysteries of the Catholic Faith, which correspond to the twelve articles of the Creed. But, Franzelin remarks, these explicitly revealed truths possess a great fecundity:
They can correspond in an infinite number of ways to the exigencies of different epochs. They oppose very different errors which human weakness or perversity can invent. Thus the matter is clear: none of the revealed dogmas was proposed or enounced by the apostles in a manner to make clear all these different modalities, which would have been morally impossible. That was unnecessary, since, as Christ had promised and instituted, the successors of the apostles were to receive the charism of infallibility at the same time as they received the doctrine, so as to be able to respond to the demands of every age by proposing and explaining revealed truths.
In his Thesis 9, Franzelin sums up St. Vincent's Rule this way:
The teachings of Tradition that all must believe explicitly have always received a perfectly unanimous assent. However, objective revelation can contain points of doctrine which, at one time or another, have not elicited a clearly expressed unanimity or which in reality have not received unanimity. That is why it is impossible for a revealed doctrine, after being unanimously defended and explicitly professed among the successors of the apostles, to be denied within the Church. And reciprocally, it is impossible for a doctrine, after having been denied and condemned unanimously, to be defended. But it may happen that a perfect unanimity will arise only after a doctrine has elicited different opinions.12
This gives us a negative criterion: the Church's current explicit teaching cannot contradict previous explicit teaching.
Example: Religious Freedom
Freedom of conscience and worship did not receive explicit condemnation in the documents of the Magisterium until the time when human weakness and perversity had perfected this pernicious error. Pope Gregory XVI was more or less13 the first to denounce this error in the Encyclical Mirari Vos of August 15, 1832. From that moment, it was incumbent on faithful Catholics to adhere explicitly to the condemnation. The successors of Gregory XVI in the 19th century, from Pius IX (with Quanta Cura) to Leo XIII (with Immortale Dei) constantly reiterated this teaching.14 The Encyclical Quanta Cura of December 8, 1864, (DS 2896) corresponds to an act of the solemn [or extraordinary] Magisterium, bearing the notes of ex cathedra infallibility.15 From this moment at which the Magisterium proposed a truth with all the requisite clarity, Cardinal Franzelin observes,
the question having been clarified, this dogma henceforth belongs to the body of explicit Catholic belief and plain teaching. With this clear consensus and explicit teaching, the dogma can no longer be the object of a disagreement or "obscuring" within the Church.16
No consensus that might develop in opposition to this explicit belief could ever prevail. Here we can apply the rule expressed above by Franzelin: "It is impossible for a doctrine, after having been denied and condemned unanimously, to be defended."
Fr. Lucien's Sophism
This example illustrates why we cannot follow Fr. Lucien's analysis. The explanation he gives of St. Vincent's Rule is taken from Franzelin's treatise; this is uncontested. But far from parrying the argumentation of the Society of Saint Pius X, it serves rather to confirm it. The teaching of Vatican II on religious freedom as it figures in the Declaration Dignitatis Humanae is in formal opposition to the constant, explicit teaching of the Church since Popes Gregory XVI and Pius IX. It can in no way serve as the basis of a legitimate consensus nor prevail against the traditional doctrine. The present-day unanimous consensus of the explicit teaching of the Church is what defines the acts of the ordinary and universal Magisterium. But the teaching that issued from Vatican II cannot claim to represent this consensus, since it contradicts what has been believed explicitly always, everywhere, and by all.
The Ordinary Universal Magisterium, Organ of Tradition
One might however object that for the last 40 years, the entire Teaching Church dispersed in the episcopal college comprising the Pope and the bishops in their dioceses unanimously teaches the principle of religious freedom. Would this not constitute the expression of the infallible ordinary universal Magisterium? The infallible teaching of the post-Council would thus be the echo of the authentic teaching of the Council.
In order to respond fully to this objection, let us remark that, in order to be universal, the teaching of the ordinary Magisterium of the college of bishops dispersed throughout the world must fulfill two conditions: there must be current universality in space, or unanimity; there must also be universality in time, or continuity. These two factors are required for the universality that formally defines the ordinary Magisterium.
Unanimity and Continuity
Actual universality in space concerns the teaching subject. The ordinary universal Magisterium is, from this perspective, the preaching of the episcopal college; the unanimity from which it results is the unanimity of the bishops of the present moment in history. If, by considering the viewpoint of the subject, one should say that the Magisterium is the unanimity of all the bishops and all the popes from St. Peter and the apostles, one would destroy the very notion of the ordinary Magisterium.
Continuity concerns the object taught. It refers to a universality that is not only in space but also in time. The ordinary universal Magisterium is the proposition of revealed doctrine. This doctrine is substantially immutable, which means that it remains unchanged both in time and in space, not only from the ends of the earth, but also from one end of history to the other. The ordinary Magisterium is by definition a traditional Magisterium: it is a Magisterium that preaches today and cannot be in disagreement with the Magisterium of yesterday, as St. Paul says in the Epistle to the Galatians,1:8-9: "But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema. As we said before, so now I say again: If any one preach to you a gospel, besides that which you have received, let him be anathema."
These two constituent properties are observable in reality: they are evident to the faithful and enable them to recognize the infallibility of a teaching. That is why the current unanimity and continuity are not only elements that enter into the definition of this teaching; they are also criteria of visibility. But there is an order between the two, for the criterion of current unanimity depends on the criterion of continuity. If the pastors are currently unanimous, it is because their teaching is the constant teaching of one and the same unchangeable deposit of faith.
Current unanimity in space, at the level of the teaching subject, constitutes a criterion of visibility. Franzelin explains in Thesis 9:
Once the existence of the authoritative, continuously living Magisterium, which is the organ established for conserving Tradition, has been ascertained, it suffices to demonstrate that unanimity of faith among the successors of the apostles has materialized at one time or another in order to be able to solidly establish that a point of doctrine belongs to divine revelation and the apostolic tradition.
We have an example of the use of this criterion with Pope Pius XII's proclamation of the dogma of the Assumption. In the Bull Munificentissimus Deus of November 1, 1950, defining the dogma, the Pope alludes to the consultation that took place beforehand on May 1, 1946, during which he tried to verify that the truth of the Assumption was the object of the unanimous, present-day preaching of the pastors in the Church:
This "outstanding agreement of the Catholic prelates and the faithful,"17 affirming that the bodily Assumption of God's Mother into heaven can be defined as a dogma of faith, since it shows us the concordant teaching of the Church's ordinary doctrinal authority and the concordant faith of the Christian people which the same doctrinal authority sustains and directs, thus by itself and in an entirely certain and infallible way, manifests this privilege as a truth revealed by God and contained in that divine deposit which Christ has delivered to his Spouse to be guarded faithfully and to be taught infallibly.
This criterion is first of all negative: the doctrine is not contested by anyone within the Church, and there is no divergence among the prelates. But this criterion is also positive: the pastors all employ the same expressions; they all quote the same authoritative sources; they quote one another mutually; and in particular, they all refer to the same teaching of the Sovereign Pontiff given in a reference work. Through all these signs, unanimity can be observed and the infallible teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium ascertained.
The Criterion of Continuity
The Magisterium is constant when traditional
The teaching of the ordinary universal Magisterium cannot be reduced to a teaching subject. An act of teaching presupposes both a teaching subject–the teacher–and an object taught–the doctrine. And the object taught must obey very precise rules. For the act of teaching with the Church's Magisterium has an essential property: it must be traditional. It must be a teaching in which the teacher always proposes the same substantial object. That is why, if we consider things not only in relation to ourselves but as they are in themselves, universality as regards the object–continuity through time–precedes and governs universality as regards the teaching subject–unanimity in space–because it is the object taught that defines an act of teaching. The Church's Magisterium is a function of a very particular teaching, for its purpose is to conserve and hand down without substantial change the unalterable deposit of truths already revealed and attested by Jesus Christ.
This reality has two consequences. Firstly, the traditional Magisterium of the Church differs from the teaching authority of science, for the latter advances through research, and its goal is the discovery of new truths, whereas the former does not seek to discover new truths, but must rather hand down definitively revealed truth, without possibility of substantial change. But secondly, the traditional Magisterium of the Church is also different from the foundational Magisterium [teaching authority] of Christ and His apostles. Christ attests the truth for the first time, for He reveals it, which is why His word alone is authoritative and cannot be judged in relation to a preceding testimony. Contrariwise, the Church's Magisterium attests the truths already attested by Christ and the apostles; it bears witness to a witness, and that is why its word holds true if and only if it remains faithful to the word of Christ and His apostles, already well known by all, at the very least in the Apostles' Creed and the catechism.
the criterion of continuity, touchstone of current unanimity
This is why the bishops cannot be actually unanimous, in formal agreement as bishops, in such a way as to constitute the infallible teaching body of the ordinary universal Magisterium, unless they are in agreement with all the past explicit Tradition by their continuing to hand down the same revealed deposit. If one can observe in the teaching of churchmen that "a change has been introduced in the profession of faith that was till then the object of universal assent, the yes replacing the no or vice-versa," by that very fact this preaching "is no longer that of the Church of Christ."18 The continuity of the teaching is the basis of the unanimity of the teachers. And we see very well that at the time of the Second Vatican Council (and ever since) the Decree on Religious Freedom did not establish unanimity among the pastors.
This continuity of a substantially immutable teaching can be ascertained by simple natural reason. Thus a break or discontinuity in this teaching can also be ascertained by reason following the simple rules of logic: even a non-Catholic journalist is perfectly capable of recognizing one, should the pope innovate by contradicting his predecessors. In fact, many observers, even non-Catholics, grasped the import of Vatican II's aggiornamento when they hailed the Declaration on Religious Freedom as an unprecedented novelty: at last, they crowed, the Church is abandoning its reactionary obscurantism and recognizing the claims of the modern world. Was this not also the observation of Cardinal Ratzinger in his Principles of Catholic Theology (1982), detailed above, when he employed the expression "countersyllabus"? The faithful Catholic too, whose mind is enlightened by faith, is quite capable of perceiving the rupture.
not Protestant private judgment
The application of this rule does not constitute an exercise of private judgment in matters of faith. Protestant private judgment establishes an antagonism between the current judgment of the faithful and the current judgment of the Magisterium; reversing due order, Protestantism holds the private judgment of the believer as the rule of the magisterial judgment in every period of history. What we are saying is something completely different: the conflict we observe (which is the one St. Paul spoke of) is occurring between the past and the present, between the Magisterium of yesterday and the new Magisterium of today. Consequently there is a rupture in the teaching of the Magisterium, and the faithful merely makes a note of it.
It is true that the object vouched for as such cannot be the criterion making known the validity of the testimony that guarantees it. But the object proposed by the Church's Magisterium is not like other things guaranteed by some authority, for it is not an object guaranteed for the first time by the Magisterium. Rather, it is an object already vouched for by Christ and the apostles once and for all because divinely revealed. The Magisterium cannot change the fundamental, initial testimony of the Word Incarnate. That is why an object already guaranteed for the first time by Christ and the apostles is the rule according to which the object proposed by the Church's Magisterium must be judged. A Catholic can therefore perfectly judge the teaching of the present because, if he judges the present, he does not do it like a Protestant, according to his own lights. The Catholic can and even must judge the teaching of the present because he does so by the light of past teaching. It is the past that judges the present, because it is the truth already revealed by Christ and handed down by the Magisterium of yesterday that governs the Magisterium of today.
the intelligibility of dogma
In other words, even if it is incomprehensible and obscure (because it is vouched for and not evident), dogma is intelligible. It is presented as a logical proposition in which a predicate is attributed to a subject. Even though the faithful does not understand the link between the two, he knows that if this link exists, the proposition is true and thus the opposite proposition is false. He also knows that the Magisterium cannot contradict itself by sometimes affirming that the link exists, and sometimes denying it. If faithful Catholics are denied the ability to compare current doctrine with the doctrine of all time and to verify the continuity of the Church's teaching, then they are forbidden to understand what they are saying when they make a profession of faith; a blind obedience to pure formulae devoid of meaning would be required of them. But the Catholic Church has never professed such a nominalism.
a negative criterion
We can say that a negative criterion exists: the absence of continuity in explicit teaching is a criterion by which one can conclude that current teaching does not belong to the deposit of faith and thus no longer reflects the exercise of an authentic ecclesiastical teaching authority faithful to its function. This negative criterion is well summed up in certain expressions of St. Paul. As Cardinal Billot remarked:
St. Paul speaks of false doctrine as "strange" doctrine. "...thou fulfillest the charge I gave thee, when I passed into Macedonia, to stay behind at Ephesus. There were some who needed to be warned against teaching strange doctrines..." (I Tim. 1:3)....If from one age to another someone gives an explanation of a dogma of faith that is different from the one previously given, this explanation will be considered heterodox, in opposition to orthodoxy, and it can easily and without private judgment be recognized as an heretical affirmation from the simple fact that it is absolutely new, that is, if it introduces a meaning different from the meaning received from Tradition.19
Vatican II Condemned by the Ordinary Universal Magisterium
With this negative criterion we return to the rule enounced by St. Vincent of Lerins as explained by Cardinal Franzelin–and, following his lead, Fr. Lucien himself: That which has been believed explicitly, continually in time, everywhere, and by all is a truth of Catholic faith, against which no contemporary consensus can ever prevail. The religious liberty preached since Vatican II goes against the explicit, constant, and unanimous teaching of the Church; it is the chief manifestation of the new "heresy of the 20th century," the modernist heresy.
Translated exclusively by Angelus Press from the Courrier de Rome (Feb. 2008, pp.1-6). Abridged 25% by James Vogel, Assistant Editor on the staff. Fr. Jean-Michel Gleize, a Frenchman, a graduate of the French École Nationale des Chartes, was ordained in 1996 at Écône, and has been professor of philosophy and theology at the seminary there ever since.
1 Fr. Bernard Lucien (b. 1952) was ordained a priest at Ecône in 1978. He left the Society of Saint Pius X to join the sedevacantists. In a study published in 1988, he demonstrated the contradiction between the traditional teaching of popes (Gregory XVI and Pius IX) and the doctrine of Vatican II on religious freedom. In 1992, he abandoned sedevacantism to join the "Ecclesia Dei" groups and justify the teachings of Vatican II. After having been a member of the Institute of Christ the King, and having taught at the Fraternity of St. Peter and at the Barroux Monastery, he is now a priest of the archdiocese of Vaduz in Liechtenstein. In conservative conciliar circles, Fr. Lucien is looked upon as an expert on the Magisterium and infallibility. He can be reproached with the same reproach Archbishop Lefebvre made of all the sedevacantist priests who left him, several of whom subsequently adopted the attitudes of Vatican II diametrically opposed to sedevacantism: his analysis is the work of a pure theoretician (trained in mathematics), always torn between two extremes (either Vatican II is wrong and Paul VI was not pope, or else Paul VI was pope and Vatican II is right.
2 Henry Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma, tr. by Roy J. Deferrari from the 30th ed. of the Enchiridion Symbolorum [hereafter abbreviated Dz.] (1955; reprint, Loreto Publications, n.d.), 1792.