The Second Vatican Council’s New Theology

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The Second Vatican Council’s New Theology
The Second Vatican Council’s New Theology

Many people wonder whether the current crisis in the Church began with the Second Vatican Council. Others believe that the crisis predates the council, and therefore the latter cannot be accused of causing it.

The reality is more complex. If the Church were not in crisis, the Second Vatican Council, with all its innovations in terms of doctrine, pastoral policy, liturgy, and discipline, would have been impossible. On the other hand, although the council is not at the origin of the current crisis, it made it deeper and universal. It also effected an almost complete change of mentality among Catholics, leading them on the one hand to abandon the spirit of sacrifice, piety, and the sense of sacrality, and, on the other, to draw closer to the world, its pomps, and works.

The “European Alliance” or “Rhine Group”

After the Second Vatican Council, documented studies were published showing that, from its beginning, a well-organized minority of progressive bishops and theologians, with well-defined methods and goals, managed to take control of its operations and outcome.

In January 1967, shortly after the end of the council, Fr. Ralph M. Wiltgen, S.V.D., published The Rhine Flows Into the Tiber: The Unknown Council.1 It became famous and was translated into French. The book’s title summarizes its thesis: From the beginning, the Second Vatican Council was dominated by an alliance of progressive European bishops and theologians from countries bordering the Rhine River—France, Germany, and Holland.

During the council in Rome, Father Wiltgen staffed a news agency called Divine Word News Service, which issued media releases in six languages. That gave him access to “all official correspondence, documents, and working papers received by the council fathers from the council’s secretariat.” He also had “access to all correspondence and documentation sent by the Rhine group to its members. . .”2

No one challenged the facts presented in the well-informed and documented book. On the contrary, French Dominican priest Yves Congar—the European Alliance’s leading and possibly the council’s most influential theologian—stated: “Father Wiltgen . . . was remarkably well informed and his report, which shows the unfolding of the entire council, is full of precise details. . . . In short, the Rhine was in reality that broad current of vigorous Catholic theology and pastoral science which had got underway in the early 1950s and, with regard to liturgical matters and biblical sources, even earlier than that . . .”3

In 2010, historian Roberto de Mattei published his magnificent The Second Vatican Council: An Unwritten Story.4 It confirmed and expanded the picture painted by Father Wiltgen, adding new documents and considerations. For example, de Mattei highlighted the role of Brazil’s Bishop Hélder Pessoa Câmara—a great friend of Cardinals Montini (the future Paul VI) and Suenens, primate of Belgium—as one of the organizers of the progressive current.5

Prof. de Mattei studies the council’s ideological background, its neo-modernist roots, and mentions important reactions against this theological trend, emphasizing, among other things, the role of Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, especially with his 1943 book In Defense of Catholic Action.6

The Nouvelle Théologie

The “alliance” Father Wiltgen described and which Roberto de Mattei called a “network of relations,”7 was a vast neo-modernist theological current or movement, known as the nouvelle théologie (new theology).8 The doctrines of this current, which the Dominican priests Marie-Michel Labourdette9 and Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange denounced in 1946,10 were condemned by Pope Pius XII in 1950 in the encyclical Humani Generis. Its leading representatives, including Fr. Yves Congar and Fr. Henri de Lubac, S.J., were barred from higher education teaching posts.11

Pope John XXIII, however, rehabilitated this neo-modernist current by inviting Fathers Congar, de Lubac, and Jean Danielou, S.J., to be experts at the council. In his book on the council, Fr. John W. O’Malley wrote: “The theologians of ‘la nouvelle théologie’ like Henri de Lubac and Yves Congar were rehabilitated at Vatican II.”12

Writing about Vatican II, French historian Philippe Levillain says that at the Preparatory Theological Commission of the Council, “among the consultants one could note the presence of Fathers Congar, de Lubac, Hans Kung, etc. The entire click of theologians implicitly condemned by the encyclical Humani Generis in 1950 had been called to Rome by the will of John XXIII.”13

In his book, Nouvelle ThéologieNew Theology: Inheritor of Modernism, Precursor of Vatican II, which had vast repercussions, Jürgen Mettepenninghen speaks of an “implicit ‘rehabilitation’ of the nouvelle théologie during Vatican II.” He explains: “Indeed, the council does appear to represent a moment of transformation in the reception of the nouvelle théologie. Not only were several representatives of the movement granted the opportunity to participate in the council itself, but their influence, as we can see from the acta [records] of the council and different council diaries, turned out to be quite considerable.”

Mettepenninghen goes on to comment: “[T]he Second Vatican Council itself . . . ultimately appropriated the central features of the ambitions of the nouvelle théologie. . . . [T]he deposition of Roman neo-scholasticism and the assimilation of the nouvelle théologie allow us to speak . . . of the rehabilitation of [Fathers] Chenu, Congar, and de Lubac during the council.” And he concludes, “[T]he council transformed the negative connotations associated with the nouvelle théologie into positive connotations . . .”14

According to the Catholic progressive magazine Informations Catholiques Internationales, Father Congar “directly inspired ten of the sixteen [conciliar] texts.”15 Father Congar himself recognizes his active participation in the writing of eight of the conciliar documents: “I contributed: [to] Lumen Gentium . . . De Revelatione . . . De ecumenismo . . . Declaration on non-Christian Religions . . . Schema 13 [Gaudium et Spes] . . . De Missionibus . . . De Libertate religiosa . . . De Presbyteris.”16

In the Shadow of Teilhard de Chardin

In his study on the nouvelle théologie, Father Garrigou-Lagrange emphasized the role of the pantheistic evolutionary theories of Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. in this neo-modernist movement.17 Although Father Teilhard de Chardin was banned from publishing his writings, they were mimeographed and circulated in seminaries and religious communities. His theories destroyed any possibility of immutable dogmas or the distinction between the natural and the supernatural. Naturalism was one of the characteristics of the nouvelle théologie, especially in the writings of Fr. Henri de Lubac, S.J.,18 a disciple of Father Teilhard de Chardin, about whom he wrote numerous books.19

In his book, Principles of Catholic Theology, published in 1982, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger highlights Father Teilhard de Chardin’s influence on the doctrines of Vatican II, and especially in Gaudium et Spes.

Cardinal Ratzinger speaks of the optimism regarding “progress” that prevailed at the time of the council and comments:

In the Catholic domain, Vatican Council II fostered participation in this general movement. . . . The impetus given by [Father] Teilhard de Chardin exerted a wide influence.  With daring vision, it incorporated the historical movement of Christianity into the great cosmic process of evolution from Alpha to Omega.…

The council’s ‘Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World’ took the cue; [Father] Teilhard’s slogan ‘Christianity means more progress, more technology’ became a stimulus in which the council fathers…found a concrete hope that was easier to interpret and disseminate than was the meaning of the complicated discussions about the collegiality of the bishops, the primacy of the pope, Scripture and tradition, priest and laity.20

Father Garrigou-Lagrange’s study shows that, by accepting a relativist and evolutionist concept of truth, the nouvelle théologie fell into the same error as the modernists. He cites the condemnation by Saint Pius X in the decree Lamentabili Sane: “Truth is no more immutable than man himself, inasmuch as it is evolved with him, in him, and through him.”21 He also cites the encyclical Pascendi, in which, speaking of the modernists, the saintly pope says, “they pervert the eternal concept of truth.”22

In 1946, Pope Pius XII pointed out the gravity of this change in the concept of truth: “If one thought that one had to agree with an idea like that, what would become of Catholic dogmas, which must never change? What would happen to the unity and stability of faith?”23

John XXIII’s Opening Speech of the Council and the Nouvelle Théologie

On August 12, 1950, with the encyclical Humani Generis,24 Pope Pius XII published the much-awaited condemnation of the nouvelle théologie.

One of the central points of the nouvelle théologie was the abandonment of the use of scholastic philosophy, and especially Thomism, in theology. For this reason, Pius XII defended scholastic philosophy, which the Church’s Magisterium always accepted as the most suited as an aid to theology:

The Church demands that future priests be instructed in philosophy “according to the method, doctrine, and principles of the Angelic Doctor” (C. I. C.-1917 can. 1366, 2) since, as we well know from the experience of centuries, the method of Aquinas is singularly preeminent both of teaching students and for bringing truth to light; his doctrine is in harmony with Divine Revelation, and is most effective both for safeguarding the foundation of the faith and for reaping, safely and usefully, the fruits of sound progress.

Now, in his opening speech of the council, titled Gaudete Mater Ecclesiae (October 11, 1962), Pope John XXIII asked that the council adopt modern thought, which implied abandoning Thomism—the goal of the nouvelle théologie.

Comparing some of the condemnations made by Pius XII in the encyclical Humani Generis with the text of this speech, one cannot fail to see the similarity between those condemnations and what John XXIII presents as the council’s purpose.

Pius XII condemned the use of modern philosophy

[According to the innovators], a way will be found to satisfy modern needs that will permit of dogma being also expressed by the concepts of modern philosophy, whether of immanentism or idealism or existentialism or any other system.25

In the following paragraph, the pope refutes that assertion:

It is evident . . . that such tentatives not only lead to what they call dogmatic relativism but that they actually contain it. The contempt of doctrine commonly taught and of the terms in which it is expressed strongly favor it”.26

Further on, Pius XII insists:

[T]hey seem to imply that any kind of philosophy or theory, with a few additions and corrections if need be, can be reconciled with Catholic dogma. No Catholic can doubt how false this is, especially where there is question of those fictitious theories they call immanentism, or idealism or materialism, whether historic or dialectic or even existentialism, whether atheistic or simply the type that denies the validity of the reason in the field of metaphysics.27

John XXIII, on the contrary, ordered it

Catholic doctrine, he says, “was to be studied and expounded [by the Council] ‘by using modern methods of research and the literary forms of modern thought.’”28

John XXIII justifies the use of modern philosophies, saying: “The substance of the ancient doctrine of the Deposit of Faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another.”29

Now, the truths of faith are expressed through concepts and words that convey their substance. Thus, modern philosophies cannot be used to express dogma, as they neither accept the principle of cause and effect nor that of non-contradiction.30

On the other hand, as Pius XII stated, the Church carefully examined the notions and words used by the Magisterium to express dogma. Therefore, they must not be changed: “[S]ome of these notions have not only been used by the ecumenical councils but even sanctioned by them so that it is wrong to depart from them”.31

A Council That Did Not Condemn Errors

In his opening speech, John XXIII also stated that the magisterium of Vatican II would be “predominantly pastoral in character.”32 For this reason, parting from prior Church practice, it would neither proclaim new truths nor condemn errors: “The Church has always opposed these errors. Frequently she has condemned them with the greatest severity. Nowadays, however, the Spouse of Christ prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity.”33

So, unlike previous councils, Vatican II would not condemn the errors of the times, whether theological or philosophical. French historian Philippe Levillain assessed this accurately: “The first definition of the council, clear and decisive, was negative. Vatican II will not pass condemnations. On this point, the words of John XXIII hardly allowed any interpretations.”34

If so, this amounts to a change in the purpose of ecumenical councils and the Church’s own magisterial office.

Studying the bishops’ magisterium, Spanish Jesuit theologian Fr. Joaquín Salaverri says that, gathered in a council, they “define doctrine because that is proper to the ecumenical council; make definitive decrees establishing the doctrine that must be accepted or believed; and condemn, by anathema, those who hold or believe contrary opinions.”35

Pope Pius IX expounded this purpose of an ecumenical council in his document convening the First Vatican Council. In it, the pope that defined the Immaculate Conception explained that councils are called by the popes “to define dogmas, condemn scattered errors, propose, illustrate and develop Catholic doctrine, maintain and strengthen ecclesiastical discipline, and correct the corrupt customs of peoples.”36

Some councils had a narrower purpose, for example, those of a judicial character, or those called to convoke a Crusade against the Muslims, to address disciplinary problems, or abuses by the Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire.37

For this reason, after expounding the truth of dogma, ecumenical councils synthesized and condemned the opposite errors, issuing anathemas against those who subscribed to them. For example, the First Vatican Council condemned the following error as anathema: “If anyone shall have said that it is possible that to the dogmas declared by the Church must sometimes, according to the progress of science, be attributed a meaning different from that which the Church has understood and understands: let him be anathema.”38

The Danger of Misunderstood Mercy

In addition to abandoning a council’s very purpose, Pope John XXIII gave as a reason not to condemn errors, the fact that today the Church would rather use mercy. However, one of the spiritual works of mercy is “to admonish sinners.”

According to Saint Thomas Aquinas, fraternal correction is required by charity when it comes to individual correction and has no social repercussions. Another correction is that required by justice, “which is procured not only by warning one’s brother, but also, sometimes, by punishing him, that others may, through fear, desist from sin.” This correction, he continues, is the obligation of prelates, “whose business it is not only to admonish, but also to correct by means of punishments.”39

As Saint Thomas also stated, the danger of understanding mercy only as an act of charity, without taking into account the common good and the duty of justice, leads to the dissolution of society: “Mercy without justice is the mother of dissolution; [and] justice without mercy is cruelty.”40

Utopian Optimism

In addition to its serious doctrinal aspects, one cannot fail to point out the utopian optimism of the council’s inaugural speech.

In 1962, when the speech was delivered, Communism dominated much of the world. It ruled large swaths of Europe and Asia and had penetrated the Americas, on the island of Cuba. Millions of Catholics were persecuted, and the Church had its freedom restricted.

However, the pope failed to mention Communism, its errors, or how to fight against it, and so did the council, which never uttered the word. There was also the West’s increasing neo-paganization, however, the abandonment of religious practice, immorality of fashions and customs, and the family’s gradual destruction. Inside the Church, there were the nouvelle théologie’s widespread errors, the clergy and laity’s lack of zeal, and a desire to please the world.

This utopian optimism led the pope to pejoratively call those concerned with the situation, “prophets of doom.” “In these modern times, they can see nothing but prevarication and ruin.”41 “We feel we must disagree with those prophets of doom, who are always forecasting disaster, as though the end of the world were at hand.”42

Such an expression, which was surprising on the lips of a pope who had just invoked mercy, did not go unnoticed. Giacomo Cardinal Biffi (1928–2015), a former archbishop of Bologna, observed with wit and a touch of irony:

In the history of Revelation, the true prophets were the ones who usually announced chastisements and calamities, as in Isaiah (chapter 24), Jeremiah (chapter 4), and Ezekiel (chapters 4–11). Jesus himself, in chapter 24 of the Gospel of Matthew, would have to be counted among the “prophets of doom”: his proclamation of future triumphs and impending joys do not usually relate to existence here on earth, but rather to “eternal life” and the “Kingdom of Heaven.” But the people in the Bible who usually proclaim the imminence of tranquil and serene times are, instead, the false prophets (see chapter 13 of the Book of Ezekiel).43


The “Spirit of the Council”

John XXIII’s speech was of great importance in creating the “spirit of the council,” a spirit of abandoning tradition and giving up the fight against the errors of the modern world.

No one can better describe what that spirit was than Fr. Joseph Ratzinger, a theologian who had intense  participation in the council’s four sessions. He described his impressions in a book published shortly after the conciliar event, titled Theological Highlights of Vatican II.

About John XXIII’s inaugural speech, Father Ratzinger comments that the pope “disavowed all merely negative condemnations,” and “the Council was not to engage in scholastic disputation” but should engage in “dialogue with the present time.”44

For Father Ratzinger, “The atmosphere of the council was predetermined by the generous spirit of this pope who in this markedly differed from the pope (Pius IX) who had called Vatican Council I.” John XXIII, he continues, influenced the council to have “openness and candor,” in a sense very different from the “anti-Modernistic neurosis which had, again and again, crippled the Church since the turn of the century.” According to Father Ratzinger, at the council, this “neurosis” “seemed to be approaching a cure.”45

Later, commenting on the discussion of the text on the sources of Revelation, prepared by the Roman Curia, Father Ratzinger criticizes its “‘anti-Modernist’ mentality,” “marked [by] the Syllabus of Pius IX” “with excessively one-sided zeal.” An attitude consistent with a mindset that “reache[d] its zenith in the various measures of Pius X against Modernism” and continued “until its last reverberation sounded in the encyclical Humani Generis of Pius XII.” “This document,” he comments, “pursued once more the line of thought of Pius IX and Pius X.”46

Still, for Father Ratzinger, the big question at the council was to choose between an “intellectual position of ‘anti-Modernism’” that he describes as “the old policy of exclusiveness,” the fruit of  “an almost neurotic denial of all that was new,” or, on the contrary, changing to a position of “positive encounter . . . with the world of today.”47 According to him, “[t]he council had resolutely set itself against perpetuating a one-sided anti-Modernism and so had chosen a new and positive approach.”48

Years later, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger expressed his agreement with the council’s break with the position of the previous popes who condemned the errors of the French Revolution, liberalism, and Modernism.

In Principles of Catholic Theology, Cardinal Ratzinger notes the optimism that guided the council. Referring to the constitution Gaudium et Spes, he writes: “The text and, even more, the deliberations from which it evolved breathe an astonishing optimism. Nothing seems impossible if humanity and Church work together.”49

He states that Gaudium et Spes was the fruit of a new position of the Church vis-à-vis the world, proposed by John XXIII in his opening speech.

The affirmation of the present that was sounded in Pope John XXIII’s address at the opening of the council is carried to its logical conclusion; solidarity with today seems to be the pledge of a new tomorrow.

Speaking of Gaudium et Spes, he goes on to say,

If it is desirable to offer a diagnosis of the text as a whole, we might say that (in conjunction with the texts on religious liberty and world religions) it is a revision of the Syllabus of Pius IX, a kind of countersyllabus.

And in a footnote, he adds,

The position taken in the Syllabus was adopted and continued in Pius X’s struggle against “Modernism.”50

Cardinal Ratzinger goes on to say that the positions taken by Popes Pius IX and Saint Pius X were aimed at the situation of the world arising from the French Revolution. Gaudium et Spes, he says, “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.”51

In short, the “spirit” that dominated the Second Vatican Council and inspired its texts, marked by “an astonishing optimism,” was a “spirit” of abandoning the Church’s Tradition, and especially her militant and anti-worldly spirit. The new “spirit” turned especially against the Council of Trent and the First Vatican Council, as well as the Syllabus of Pius IX and the encyclical Pascendi of Saint Pius X. It was the same spirit that animated the liberals in the nineteenth century, the modernists at the beginning of the twentieth century, and the nouvelle théologie.

The Council, a Coherent Whole

Vatican II texts are not a series of writings independent from one another and gathered together in a collection. On the contrary, they form a coherent whole, with the same inspiration and purpose. They mutually support one another.

Many people claim that Vatican II also has traditional statements that counterbalance innovations. However, the former are not set in opposition to the latter, to condemn them; they simply “coexist.” For progressives, two contradictory statements can both be considered true. This is because modern, phenomenological, and existentialist philosophies reject the principle of cause and effect and the principle of non-contradiction.

In the encyclical Humani Generis, Pius XII pointed out this dialectical aspect of nouvelle théologie’s followers. “[T]hey say, reality, especially transcendent reality, cannot better be expressed than by disparate teachings, which mutually complete each other, although they are in a way mutually opposed.”52

Changing the Concept of the Church

In the 1989 essay “A Half Century of Ecclesiology,” Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J. shows the role played by Fr. Yves Congar’s ecclesiology53 in the lead-up to the council. He goes on to say: “The ecclesiology of Vatican II, in its main lines, is well known. Generally speaking, it followed the directions of the nouvelle théologie rather than those of neo-scholasticism . . . ”54

Indeed, following the nouvelle théologie, the council abandoned the concept that the Catholic Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, taught by Popes Leo XIII, Pius XI, and Pius XII.

In Humani Generis, his encyclical condemning the nouvelle théologie, Pius XII states that its followers reject this truth: “Some say they are not bound by the doctrine, explained in Our Encyclical Letter of a few years ago [Mystici Corporis Christi, 1943], and based on the Sources of Revelation, which teaches that the Mystical Body of Christ and the Roman Catholic Church are one and the same thing.”55

The encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi itself reiterates that the Mystical Body of Christ is the Catholic Church:

The doctrine of the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church, was first taught us by the Redeemer Himself (no. 1).

If we would define and describe this true Church of Jesus Christ—which is the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church (cf. Vat. Council, Const. de fide cath., c. 1)—we shall find nothing more noble, more sublime, or more divine than the expression “the Mystical Body of Christ” (no. 13).

[T]his Mystical Body which is the Church (no. 34).56

The entire encyclical revolves around these two fundamental statements:

  1. The true Church of Christ “is the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church” (no. 13);
  2. The Mystical Body of Christ is the Catholic Church (no. 1).

In his 1896 encyclical Satis Cognitum, Leo XIII taught that: “[T]he mystical body of Christ is the true Church, only because its visible parts draw life and power from the supernatural gifts and other things whence spring their very nature and essence” (no. 3).57

And in his 1928 encyclical Mortalium Animos, Pius XI taught that: “For since the mystical body of Christ, in the same manner as His physical body, is one (1 Cor. 12:12), compacted and fitly joined together (Eph. 4:16), it were foolish and out of place to say that the mystical body is made up of members which are disunited and scattered abroad: whosoever, therefore, is not united with the body is no member of it, neither is he in communion with Christ its head (see Eph. 5:30; 1:22)” (no. 10).58

Replacing “Est” With “Subsistit in

Now, in the council’s first session, in December 1962, the text of the schema on the Church given to the council fathers stated: “The Roman Catholic Church is the Mystical Body of Christ.”59

Several cardinals and bishops of the nouvelle théologie current stood up to challenge this statement from Mystici Corporis Christi. They claimed that the Mystical Body of Christ was broader than the Catholic Church, that it also included protestants.

Cardinal Lienart, Bishop of Lille, France, one of the leaders of this current, argued that “The Mystical Body is . . . much more inclusive than the Roman Church on earth. . . . And what of the separated Christians . . . I would not dare to say that they in no way belong to the Mystical Body of Christ, despite their not being incorporated into the Catholic Church.”60

Then Cardinal Montini, who would soon be elected pope, also stood up in support of those who opposed the doctrine taught in Mystici Corporis Christi.61

The council fathers abandoned the traditional and clear formula of identifying the Mystical Body of Christ with the Catholic Church on the grounds of the false premise that the Mystical Body of Christ was broader than the Catholic Church. This false premise constitutes the basis of ecumenism.

Fr. Boaventura Kloppenburg, O.F.M. recalls: “After long debate, the is was replaced by subsists in, ‘so as to be more consonant with the teaching about ecclesial elements to be found elsewhere than in the Roman Church.’”62

In the many debates that followed the council, philological subtleties were invoked to prove the council’s “continuity” with the Magisterium’s previous teaching. Thus, they found in the verb “to subsist” (subsistit in) the same meaning as the verb “to be” (est).63 Well then, if the meaning was the same, why did they have to change the expression? And why did those demanding the change argue that there was no perfect identity between the Catholic Church and the Mystical Body of Christ because the latter also included protestants?

Does the Holy Spirit Sanctify Outside the Catholic Church?

In one paragraph, the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium (L.G.), clearly affirms the need to belong to the Church to be saved: “Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved (no. 14).

However, the very next section contradicts this. Referring to those who “do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter” (i.e., heretics and schismatics), L.G. asserts that the Holy Spirit “is operative among them with His sanctifying power,” strengthening many “to the extent of the shedding of their blood” (no. 15).

This statement contradicts the Council of Florence: “[The Council] firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that those not living within the Catholic Church, not only pagans but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life, but will depart ‘into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels’ [Matt. 25:41], unless, before the end of life, the same have been added to the flock.”64

It also runs counter to what Pius XII teaches in the encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi:

Finally, while by His grace He [the Holy Spirit] provides for the continual growth of the Church, He yet refuses to dwell through sanctifying grace in those members that are wholly severed from the Body. This presence and activity of the Spirit of Jesus Christ is tersely and vigorously described by Our predecessor of immortal memory Leo XIII in his Encyclical Letter Divinum Illud in these words: “Let it suffice to say that, as Christ is the Head of the Church, so is the Holy Spirit her soul.”65

Indeed, if the Holy Spirit, the Church’s uncreated soul, were to grant sanctifying grace to those who are in heresy and schism, there would be no need to belong to the Catholic Church to be saved. It is very different from saying that the Paraclete grants actual graces to every man, which He does, even to those in paganism, heresy, and schism. He does this so that, by corresponding to them, the non-Catholic may convert and join the Catholic Church, and thus be saved.66

Does the “Plan of Salvation” Include Jews and Muslims?

For Lumen Gentium, the Church would be “related” in a special way to the Jews: “[O]n account of their fathers, this people remains most dear to God” (no. 16). Jews would thus participate in the “plan of salvation.”

The document also discusses Islam: “But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these, there are the Muslims, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God.”67

This claim that Christians and Muslims worship the one God together is yet another manifestation of the dialectical aspect of the conciliar documents, denying the principle of non-contradiction. For, while Catholics believe and profess the doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity and worship the One and Triune God, Muhammad’s followers not only deny this truth but fight it, accusing Christians of being polytheists.68

Would This “Plan of Salvation” Also Include “Goodwill” Atheists?

L.G. goes on to speak of those who seek the “unknown God,” or those who, with no guilt of their own, have “not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God” (no. 16)—that is, “goodwill” atheists.69

In short, the Catholic Church is allegedly linked to heretics and schismatics, to those who deny the Holy Trinity, to animists, pantheists, and even atheists.

L.G.’s doctrine on the Church (completed by Unitatis Redintegratio, on ecumenism, and Nostra Aetate, on dialogue with non-Christian religions), did not remain on paper but was put into practice. One of the many examples of this can be seen in the inter-religious gathering at Assisi, on October 27, 1986. It saw the presence of thirty-two Christian and eleven non-Christian groups. Both Christian and pagan prayers were said, and ceremonies were held.70 The same goes for the Abu Dhabi meeting, on February 4, 2019. Its Document on Human Fraternity claims that God wills “pluralism and the diversity of religions.”71

“Hermeneutic of Continuity” or “Hermeneutic of Truth”?

It is generally accepted that the texts of Vatican II are ambiguous. Thus, it becomes necessary to resort to a special interpretation—the so-called “hermeneutic of continuity”—to discover a traditional meaning for the texts.

Hermeneutics is the science of text interpretation. It cannot be subordinated to a predetermined conclusion. A scientific interpretation of texts cannot start from a conclusion reached before any analysis.

Therefore, conciliar texts cannot be interpreted using a hermeneutic that foreordains there is continuity between all teachings of Vatican II and earlier Church Magisterium.

The role of hermeneutics is simply to interpret words and concepts according to their natural meaning and the laws of logic. The result of this analysis may show continuity or rupture. In any case, it must be a judgment that always follows the analysis. It must never precede it.

Moreover, it is characteristic of the Church’s Magisterium to be clear, with no need for a laborious interpretation to grasp its meaning. Our Lord Jesus Christ did not establish an ambiguous Magisterium. On the contrary, He sent the Apostles to preach the Gospel to all peoples (see Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:15), and commanded: “But let your speech be yea, yea: no, no: and that which is over and above these, is of evil.” (Matt. 5:37).

A “Pastoral” Rather Than A Dogmatic Council

In addition to the doctrinal issues discussed briefly above, Vatican II differed from previous councils on its insistence in presenting itself as a “pastoral council.”72

In an ecumenical council, the pope summons the world’s bishops to address the problems of the universal Church under his direction and authority. It is intrinsic to the nature of such a gathering for it to be an occasion for the bishops’ extraordinary magisterium.73 Accordingly, when they manifest the clear intention of defining or condemning a doctrine, ecumenical councils are infallible.

Things did not work this way with the Second Vatican Council. At the opening, John XXIII stated that its teaching would be “a magisterium which is predominantly pastoral in character.” And, in closing the council, Paul VI declared that in it “the teaching authority of the Church . . . [had not wished] to issue extraordinary dogmatic pronouncements.”74

Furthermore, in the January 12, 1966 general audience, Paul VI reaffirmed that “[G]iven the pastoral character of the council, it avoided pronouncing, in an extraordinary way, dogmas endowed with the note of infallibility; but it nevertheless endowed its teachings with the authority of the supreme ordinary magisterium.”75 At another general audience, on March 8, 1967, the same pontiff confirmed that the council had, as one of its programmed items, “not to issue new solemn dogmatic definitions.”76

Objection: The Holy Spirit Would Not Allow . . .

Many of Vatican II’s defenders rely on an a priori argument: The Holy Spirit assists councils. Therefore, He could not allow the Second Vatican Council to fall into error.

Now, this argument leads to the following absurdity: Since Vatican II abandoned doctrines taught by the Council of Trent and the First Vatican Council, as well as the common teaching of the popes against liberalism, ecumenism, and the principles of the nouvelle théologie, from Gregory XVI to Pius XII (i.e., from 1831 to 1958), then one must conclude that either the Paraclete assisted the Second Vatican Council and abstained from helping these earlier two councils and some 120 years of papal magisterium, or then vice versa. But the Holy Spirit could not have assisted both terms of comparison since, as a “spirit of truth” (John 14:17), He cannot contradict Himself.

Here one confuses “assistance” by the Paraclete, that is, an effect of God’s special providence for His Church, with a direct government that replaces men or eliminates their free will or the tendency to evil inherited with original sin.77

One must keep in mind that this special action of Divine Providence favors good but also often allows evil to occur in the human element of the Church as a trial or punishment for our sins.78

Therefore, one cannot use the argument of the Holy Spirit’s assistance to the Church to justify deviation, recklessness, or scandal, as if the evil were positively desired by the Divine Will and not merely permissively tolerated.

Thus, in his encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, Pope Pius XII explains that due to our inclination to evil, “at times there appears in the Church something that indicates the weakness of our human nature.” “That regrettable inclination to evil,” he says, is manifested “even at times in the most exalted members of His Mystical Body.” However, he adds that God allows this to happen “for the purpose of testing the virtue of the shepherds no less than of the flocks and that all may increase the merit of their Christian faith.”79

Vatican II chose not to use the infallible magisterial power, and, therefore, its teachings may contain errors.80 Divine Providence allows error in the non-definitive magisterium, but these errors are then corrected and are not incorporated into the Deposit of Faith.81

Pope Paul VI on the Post-conciliar Church: “Not a Sunny Day” but “Self-destruction” and “the Smoke of Satan”

In an allocution to the students of the Pontifical Lombard Seminary, on December 7, 1968, Pope Paul VI affirmed: “The Church finds herself in an hour of disquiet, of self-criticism, one might even say of self-destruction. It is like an acute and complex interior upheaval, which no one expected after the Council. One thought of a blossoming, a serene expansion of the mature concepts of the Council.”*

The same Pope Paul VI in the allocution Resistite fortes in fide, of June 29, 1972, referring to the situation of the Church, commented that: “[T]he smoke of Satan has entered into the temple of God through some crack.” There is doubt, uncertainty, complexity, restlessness, dissatisfaction, confrontation. People no longer trust the Church. … It was thought that after the Council, the history of the Church would enter a sunny day. It entered instead a cloudy, stormy, dark, skeptical, and uncertain day.”**

* Paul VI, Insegnamenti di Paolo VI, vol. 10, 707–9. (Our translation and emphasis.)
** Paul VI, homily “Resistite fortes in fide” (on the 9th anniversary of his coronation), Jun. 29, 1972, (Our translation and emphasis.)

What Is, After All, the Nature of Vatican II?

To answer this question, we outline here what was presented above:

  1. Unlike previous ecumenical councils, the Second Vatican Council did not want to proclaim dogmas or condemn errors;
  2. It was presented by both the pope that convened it and the one that closed it as being “predominantly pastoral in character.” Nevertheless, it was predominantly doctrinal;
  3. Although calling itself an “ecumenical council,” it did not want to use the prerogative of infallibility in theological matters of fundamental doctrinal importance, for example, in the constitution Lumen Gentium (on the Church);
  4. Finally, it was an act of the extraordinary episcopal magisterium that had only the authority of the supreme ordinary magisterium.

In conclusion, it can be said that the Second Vatican Council is entirely different from previous councils and that its real nature is confusing, as are its texts.

Luiz Sérgio Solimeo is a Catholic scholar, teacher and writer of many books, essays and articles. In 1960 he joined the Brazilian Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, Property (TFP). He currently teaches philosophy and history at the American TFP’s Sedes Sapientiae Institute.

This page was edited on September 7 2020, at 5:25 PM EST


  1. Ralph M. Wiltgen,S.V.D., The Rhine Flows Into the Tiber: The Unknown Council (New York: Hawthorne Books, 1967).
  2. Ralph M. Wiltgen, S.V.D., The Rhine Flows Into the Tiber: A History of Vatican II (Rockford, Ill.: TAN Books, 1985), 2. In this article, we quote from this 1985 edition, with a slightly modified subtitle.
  3. Révue des Sciences Philosophiques et Théologiques (Paris, 1977), quoted in Wiltgen, The Rhine Flows Into the Tiber, 2. (Our emphasis.)
  4. Roberto de Mattei, The Second Vatican Council: An Unwritten Story, ed. Michael M. Miller (Fitzwilliam, N.H.: Loreto Publications, 2012).
  5. Prof. de Mattei mentions the conversations that Bishop Pessoa Câmara had with Cardinal Suenens, at the very first session. The latter was one of the council’s most important figures since Paul VI made him one of the four moderators. The Brazilian bishop suggested that Cardinal Suenens assume the leadership of the progressives. The cardinal replied: “Everybody knows about your friendship with [Cardinal] Montini: why are you thinking about me and not about him for … the council leadership?” The bishop answered: “We must reserve [Cardinal] Montini as the successor to [Pope] John.” Cardinal Suenens, he adds, was “completely in agreement.” (Hélder Pessoa Câmara, Lettres Conciliaires, vol. 2, 657, quoted in de Mattei, Second Vatican Council, 193).
  6. Ibid., 55–71.
  7. Ibid., 218.
  8. Here we take this designation in its broad sense, including the biblical, liturgical, ecumenical, and theological movements of reformist, neo-modernist, and Protestant orientation that emerged in Europe around the 1930s. Saint Pius X, in the introduction to the Anti-Modernist Oath, denounced the existence of a “secret association” (clandestinum foedus) formed by the modernists. Though condemned by the Supreme Authority, the plotters continued operating in Catholic seminaries and universities, “injecting the virus of their doctrine into the veins of Christian society.” (Motu Proprio Sacrorum Antistum, Sept. 1910, (Our translation.)
  9. Marie-Michel Labourdette, O.P., “Fermes propos,” Révue Thomiste 47 (1947): 5–19. For a good summary of the polemic see Philip J. Donnelly, S.J., “Current Theology Theological Opinion on the Development of Dogma,”
  10. Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., “La nouvelle théologie òu va-t-elle?” Angelicum 23, no. 3/4 (1946): 126–45. For an English translation, see “Where is the New Theology Leading Us?” trans. Suzanne M. Rini, Catholic Family News Reprint Series,; see also Aidan Nichols, O.P., “Thomism and the Nouvelle Théologie,” The Thomist 64 (2000): 1–19.
  11. See Jurgen Metterpenningen, Nouvelle Théologie–New Theology: Inheritor of Modernism, Precursor of Vatican II (London-New York: T & T Clark International ‒ A Continuum Imprint, 2010), 42, 96.
  12. John W. O’Malley, What Happened at Vatican II (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2008), 43. (Our emphasis.)
  13. Philippe Levillain, La Mécanique Politique de Vatican II: La Majorité et l’Unanimité dans un Concile (Paris: Éditions Beauchesne, 1975), 77.
  14. Metterpenningen, Nouvelle Théologie, 6, 36.
  15. Informations Catholiques Internationales, no. 336 (May 15, 1969), 9.
  16. Yves Congar O.P., My Journal of the Council (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2012), 871.
  17. Fr. Aidan Nichols, O.P. writes, “Who was thus placed in the line of fire [of Garrigou-Lagrange’s essay]? Those specifically mentioned, all Jesuits, were Bouillard, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Gaston Fessard, de Lubac, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, but above all Daniélou.” Nichols, “Thomism and the Nouvelle Théologie,” 4.
  18. Commenting on Fr. Henri de Lubac’s book Supernatural, Giuseppe Cardinal Siri (1906–1989) says that this Jesuit “asserted that the supernatural order is necessarily implied in the natural order. As a consequence of this concept inevitably resulted that the gift of supernatural order is not gratuitous because it is indebted to nature.” Joseph Siri, Gethsemane: Reflections on the Contemporary Theological Movement (Chicago, Ill.: Franciscan Herald Press, 1981), 55–6.
  19. Fr. de Lubac published a series of books on Fr. Teilhard de Chardin that were translated into English: The Religion of Teilhard de Chardin (1967); Teilhard de Chardin: The Man and His Meaning (1965); Teilhard Explained (1968); Teilhard Postume (1977). (See de Mattei, The Second Vatican Council, fn. 327.)
  20. Joseph Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987), 334. In a footnote, Cardinal Ratzinger adds, “On the subject of [Fr.] Teilhard’s influence on Vatican Council II, cf. the study by Wolfgang Klein, Teilhard de Chardin und das Zweit Vatikanische Konzil (Paderborn: Schöningh, 1975).” Ibid., fn. 3.
  21. Saint Pius X, decree Lamentabili Sane, July 1907, no. 58,
  22. St. Pius X, encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis, no. 13,
  23. Pius XII, allocution Quamvis Inquieti, Sept. 17, 1946, For an English translation, see Fr. Richard Cipolla, “Pius XII Addresses the Jesuits: ‘Let What Is Certain and Firm Be Distinguished From What Is Offered as Conjecture,’” Rorate Caeli, Feb. 3, 2014,
  24. Pius XII, encyclical Humani Generis, Aug. 12, 1950, no. 31, (Our emphasis.)
  25. Ibid., no. 15. (Our emphasis.)
  26. Ibid., no. 16. (Our emphasis.)
  27. Ibid., no. 32. (Our emphasis.)
  28. Wiltgen, Rhine Flows Into the Tiber, 14. (Our emphasis.) See also Walter M. Abbot, S.J. and Joseph Gallagher, eds. The Documents of Vatican II (New York: Guild Press-America Press-Association Press, 1966), 715. We rely here on the text of the opening speech as published the following day by L’Osservatore Romano and reproduced by almost all collections of Vatican II documents in different languages. The speech’s Italian text published in L’Osservatore Romano differs a bit from the Latin version. It is more explicit in its acceptance of modern methodology and thought. (See Romano Amerio, Iota Unum, trans. John P. Parsons [Kansas City, Mo.: Sarto House, 1996], 78.) The Latin text is the official one from the strictly canonical standpoint. But the Italian version is important to know the pontiff’s mind and his intentions in holding the council. It seems to be the original, all the more so since, in a speech to the cardinals, John XXIII quoted the Italian text from L’Osservatore. This shows that L’Osservatore’s version expressed well John XXIII’s thoughts and intentions for the council. See “Discorso Del Santo Padre Giovanni XXIII Al Sacro Collegio e Alla Prelatura Romana In Occasione Della Solennità Del Santo Natale,” Dec. 23, 1962,
  29. Wiltgen, Rhine Flows Into the Tiber, 14 (our emphasis); See Abbott and Gallagher, Documents of Vatican II, 716.
  30. See Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange, La synthèse thomiste, troisième partie (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1947),
  31. Pius XII, encyclical Humani Generis, no. 16. (Our emphasis.)
  32. Wiltgen, Rhine Flows Into the Tiber, 15; Abbot and Gallagher, Documents of Vatican II, 715.
  33. Ibid., 716.
  34. Levillain, La Mécanique Politique de Vatican II, 57.
  35. I. Salaverri, De Ecclesia Christi, vol. 3, no. 559, in Sacrae Theologiae Summa (Madrid: Biblioteca de Auctores Cristianos, 1958). (Our emphasis.)
  36. Pius IX, bull Aeterni Patris, Jun. 29, 1868, (Our translation and emphasis.)
  37. For example, the First Lateran Council (1123) “abolished the right claimed by lay princes, of investiture with ring and crosier to ecclesiastical benefices and dealt with church discipline and the recovery of the Holy Land from the infidels.” The First Council of Lyons, in 1245, “excommunicated and deposed Emperor Frederick II and directed a new crusade, under the command of St. Louis, against the Saracens and Mongols.” The Council of Vienne (1311-1313) was specially convoked to rule on “the crimes and errors imputed to the Knights Templars, the Fraticelli, the Beghards, and the Beguines, with projects of a new crusade, the reformation of the clergy, and the teaching of Oriental languages in the universities.” J. Wilhelm, s.v. “General Councils,” in The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908), accessed Aug. 26, 2020, from New Advent:
  38. Dogmatic Constitution Dei Filius, Apr. 24, 1870, canon IV, n. 3, (Our translation.)
  39. Summa Theologica, II–II, q. 33, a. 3, c. (Our emphasis.)
  40. St. Thomas Aquinas, Super Matthaeum, ch. 5, lect. 2, no. 7. (Our translation.)
  41. Abbott and Gallagher, Documents of Vatican II, 712.
  42. Wiltgen, Rhine Flows Into the Tiber, 14.
  43. Giacomo Biffi, Memorie e Digressioni di un Italiano Cardinale (Siena, Italy: Cantagalli, 2007), 178. (Our translation and emphasis.)
  44. Joseph Ratzinger, Theological Highlights of Vatican II (New York: Paulist Press, 1966), 22.
  45. Ibid., 27. (Our emphasis.)
  46. Ibid., 40–2. (Our emphasis.)
  47. Ibid., 44. (Our emphasis.)
  48. Ibid., 48. (Our emphasis.)
  49. Joseph Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987), 380. (Our emphasis.)
  50. Ibid., 380–1, and fn. 16. (Our emphasis.)
  51. Ibid., 382. (Our emphasis.)
  52. Pius XII, encyclical Humani Generis, no. 32.
  53. “In the years between Mystici Corporis and Vatican Council II, the most influential ecclesiologist was undoubtedly [Fr.] Yves Congar.” Avery Dulles, “A Half Century of Ecclesiology” Theological Studies 50, no. 3 (Sept. 1, 1989): 424.
  54. Ibid., 429.
  55. Pius XII, encyclical Humani Generis, no. 27. (Our emphasis.)
  56. Pius XII, encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, Jun. 29, 1943, (Our emphasis.)
  57. Leo XIII, encyclical Satis Cognitum, Jun. 29, 1896, (Our emphasis.)
  58. Pius XI, encyclical Mortalium Animos, Jan. 6, 1928, (Our emphasis.)
  59. Bonaventure Kloppenburg, O.F.M., The Ecclesiology of Vatican II (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1974), 63. (Our emphasis.)
  60. Ibid., 64-5
  61. See ibid., 65.
  62. Ibid., 66.
  63. See Christopher J. Malloy, “Subsistit In: Nonexclusive Identity or Full Identity?” The Thomist 72, no. 1 (Jan. 2008): 1–44.
  64. Bull Cantata Domino, Feb. 4, 1442, in Heinrich Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, 714, (Our emphasis.)
  65. Pius XII, Mystici Corporis Christi, no. 57. (Our emphasis.)
  66. “In the present order [after Jesus consummated the Redemption and founded his Church], no supernatural grace is given except in order to the Church of Christ. For this reason, the Holy Spirit impels and helps men to come to the knowledge of the truth and then be incorporated as members of the Church.” Ludovico Lercher, S.J., Institutiones Theologiae Dogmaticae (Barcelona: Herder, 1945), vol. 1, 252.
  67. Lumen Gentium, no. 16. (Our emphasis.)
  68. See Luiz Sérgio Solimeo, Islam and the Suicide of the West (Spring Grove, Penn.: The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property, 2018), 118.
  69. Can someone profess atheism without guilt? Man can know God naturally, through reason. He also receives actual graces to help come to this knowledge.
  70. See Henry Sire, Phoenix from the Ashes (Kettering, OH: Angelico, 2015), 382–8; William F. Murphy, “Remembering Assisi After 20 Years,” America 195, no. 12 (Oct. 23, 2006),
  71. Luiz Sérgio Solimeo, “Theological and Canonical Implications of the Declaration Signed by Pope Francis in Abu Dhabi,”, Feb. 27, 2019,
  72. “[A] Magisterium which is predominantly pastoral in character.” John XXIII, allocution Gaudet Mater Ecclesia, Oct. 11, 1962, part 6, no. 5, (Our translation.)
  73. See the above section, “A Council that did not condemn errors.”
  74. “Address of Pope Paul VI During the Last General Meeting of the Second Vatican Council,” Dec. 7, 1965,
  75. Paul VI, general audience, Jan. 12, 1966, (Our translation and emphasis.)
  76. Paul VI, general audience, Mar. 8, 1967, in L’Osservatore Romano, Argentine edition, Mar. 21, 1967, (Our translation.)
  77. See E. Magenot, s.v. “Assistance du Saint-Esprit,” in Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique (Paris: Letouzey et Ané, 1931), vol. 1, 2nd part, cols. 2123–2127.
  78. See R. Garrigou-Lagrange, s.v. “Providence. Théologie, L’Infallibilité,” in Ibid., vol. 13, 1st part, col. 1015.
  79. Pius XII, encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, Jun. 29, 1943, no. 66.
  80. See Arnaldo Vidigal Xavier da Silveira, Can Documents of the Magisterium of the Church Contain Errors? (Spring Grove, Penn.: The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property—TFP, 2015).
  81. “However, it is not to exclude, absolutely, that the [Magisterium’s] error be remedied by the Holy Spirit by making the faithful sufficiently perceive the error to deny it their internal assent.” Lercher, Institutiones Theologiae Dogmaticae, no. 499, 297. (Our translation.)

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