The Infallible Teachings of Vatican II

The post considers three different positions on the authority of Second Vatican Council.

1. Some conservative Catholics claim that the Second Vatican Council was a “pastoral only” Council, and therefore they are justified in rejecting any and all of its content. They hold the view that Vatican II did not exercise the Magisterium of the Church, and therefore its documents contain no binding teachings, no doctrines at all.

2. A similar but more moderate view is that the Second Vatican Council exercised the Magisterium, but only at the level of non-infallible teachings. The claim is made that no teaching of Vatican II is infallible.

3. A third view takes the extreme position that Vatican II taught heresy, and therefore the Council lost its very ability to exercise the Magisterium.

The Authority of a Council

An Ecumenical Council is essentially the body of Bishops gathered with the Pope. Now it may be that the Pope participates by sending a representative, as has happened in past centuries. And not every Bishop in the world needs to participate. The body of the Council simply needs to represent the body of Bishops. But given that every Ecumenical Council (all 21 so far) consists of the Pope and the body of Bishops, every Ecumenical Council has the full authority of the Church.

The Church has two types of authority: (1) the spiritual teaching authority, also called the Magisterium, and, (2) the temporal authority. The Magisterium issues doctrines, which are teachings on matters of faith, morals, and salvation. The temporal authority issues rules and rulings, decisions on the form of the Mass, Church law, which are all matters of discipline. The Church has authority over doctrine and discipline.

The Magisterium teaches infallibly in any of three ways:
a. Papal Infallibility
b. Conciliar Infallibility
c. the ordinary and universal Magisterium
When the Magisterium teaches infallibly, the faithful are required under pain of heresy to adhere to all that is taught with the full assent of faith.

All other teachings of the Magisterium are non-infallible, and therefore subject to a limited possibility of error and reform. The faithful are required to adhere to the non-infallible teachings, despite the possibility of error, because no error or set of errors can ever lead the faithful away from the path of salvation. But while infallible teachings require the full assent of faith (theological assent; sacred assent), the non-infallible teachings required a lesser degree and different type of assent: the religious submission of will and intellect (religious assent; ordinary assent).

The faithful may sometimes dissent from a non-infallible teaching, without sin, if the basis for the dissent is teachings of Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium with greater authority and surety. However, no faithful dissent from an infallible teaching is possible.

Vatican II

The Second Vatican Council chose not to issue infallible Canons with attached anathemas, as many past Councils have done. However, this does not imply that the Council did not teach infallibly. The teaching of the Council in Lumen Gentium 25 on the infallibility of the Magisterium — including a restatement of the dogma of Papal Infallibility first issued at Vatican I, and definitions of Conciliar Infallibility and of the infallibility of the ordinary and universal Magisterium — would qualify as infallible teachings of the Council (in my opinion). And there may be other infallible teachings.

One might argue that Vatican II only exercised the non-infallible teaching authority of the Magisterium. But even if that were the case, many of the teachings of the Council have continued to be taught by the Bishops dispersed through the world and by each successive Pope. Therefore, these teachings are infallible under the ordinary and universal Magisterium, even if they are not infallible under Conciliar Infallibility.

All infallible teachings, whether they are issued under Papal Infallibility, or Conciliar Infallibility, or the ordinary and universal Magisterium, require the full assent of faith by all Catholics, under pain of heresy. Therefore, whosoever rejects all teachings of Vatican II, commits heresy against the ordinary and universal Magisterium, and is automatically excommunicated from the Church.

Reply to Position 1

The Second Vatican Council is sometimes called a “pastoral council” because the Fathers of the Council chose to teach at length, with many detailed explanations, rather than by issuing terse Canons with attached anathemas. However, this does not imply that the Council did not exercise the Magisterium, nor that its magisterial teachings are optional. Some Popes are called “doctrinal”, and other Popes are called “pastoral”, based on the manner that they choose to exercise the teaching authority of the Church. But even a “pastoral” Pope has the full authority of every successor of Peter.

Anyone who rejects all teachings of the Second Vatican Council, for any reason, thereby commits the sin of heresy and is automatically excommunicated. Anyone who rejects the authority itself of the Second Vatican Council, for any reason, thereby commits the sin of schism and is automatically excommunicated. Anyone who rejects any particular teaching of Vatican II, a teaching which has been subsequently taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, thereby commits the sin of heresy and is automatically excommunicated.

The authority of the Second Vatican Council is not reduced by the assertion that it was a pastoral council. Every Ecumenical Council has the full authority of the Pope and the body of Bishops.

Reply to Position 2

An argument can be made that some of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council fall under Conciliar Infallibility. But even if it were true that all its teachings were non-infallible, many of those teachings have since become infallible under the ordinary and universal Magisterium. Anyone who rejects the teachings of the ordinary and universal Magisterium commits the sin of heresy and is automatically excommunicated.

Reply to Position 3

Jesus promised that His Church would never fail, and the Magisterium has always understood this teaching to mean that the Church is indefectible. That is why Popes and Councils and the ordinary and universal Magisterium are able to teach infallibly. But this guarantee from Jesus also implies that neither the Pope, nor an Ecumenical Council, nor the body of Bishops dispersed through the world can ever fall into heresy.

If anyone claims that a Pope or Council or the body of Bishops has fallen into heresy, then it is the clamant himself who has fallen into heresy. For Jesus and the Holy Spirit prevent every Pope, every Ecumenical Council, and the body of Bishops from falling into heresy, so that the Church will remain indefectible and the path of salvation will remain secure.

Note to Conservative Catholics

Some of you have placed Conservatism above Catholicism. Some of you have placed yourselves above the Popes and the Bishops and the Ecumenical Councils, as if you were their judges. And you judge unjustly. How dare you exalt yourself above the Church, to judge Her. How dare you consider yourself to be greater than other Catholics, and greater than Popes and Councils, simply because you are more conservative. You are worshipping conservatism, not Christ.

Those Catholics who reject the Novus Ordo Mass, reject Christ. If you prefer the Latin Mass, fine; there is nothing wrong with such a preference. But if you absolutely will not attend any Mass, except the Latin Mass, you have rejected the authority of the Church to govern the Mass, and you have substituted your own judgment for Church authority — thereby committing the grave sin of schism. The Church has the authority to govern the form of the Mass. Jesus did not establish the Latin Mass, nor did He establish a Mass with immutable specifics. The Church has the authority to permit Mass in the vernacular, to change the form of the Mass, to permit Communion standing and in the hand, and to make other decisions pertaining to liturgical form and discipline. Whoever rejects the authority of the Church to make such decisions, rejects Christ and commits the sin of schism.

You do not become more faithful to Christ by becoming more conservative. You do not become more faithful to Christ by becoming a traditionalist, or a Latin Mass advocate, or by rejecting Vatican II. Sometimes the correct answer to a theological question is the liberal answer; sometimes it is the moderate answer; sometimes it is the conservative answer. Conservatism is not Catholicism. Jesus did not teach conservatism.

Whoever rejects the teachings of Vatican II, commits the sin of heresy by rejecting the teachings of the ordinary and universal Magisterium.

[Galatians]
{1:6} I wonder that you have been so quickly transferred, from him who called you into the grace of Christ, over to another gospel.
{1:7} For there is no other, except that there are some persons who disturb you and who want to overturn the Gospel of Christ.
{1:8} But if anyone, even we ourselves or an Angel from Heaven, were to preach to you a gospel other than the one that we have preached to you, let him be anathema.
{1:9} Just as we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone has preached a gospel to you, other than that which you have received, let him be anathema.

I have nothing to do with any Catholic who rejects the teaching authority of any Ecumenical Council, or of any Pope, or of the body of Bishops dispersed through the world. I have nothing to do with any Catholic who rejects the authority of the Church to decide questions of liturgical form.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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1 Response to The Infallible Teachings of Vatican II

  1. John Doe says:

    Excellent. I agree with everything you have written.

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