Are All The Teachings of Vatican II Inerrant?

The recent discussion on Vatican II — and the suggestion from the far right that it should be rejected as a whole — brought up in interesting point. Saint Robert Bellarmine believed that every teaching of every Ecumenical Council was inerrant. The point was raised by Dr. Robert Fastiggi:

St. Robert Bellarmine, at the end of De Conciliis, Liber II, chapter IX says “we hold by Catholic faith that legitmate councils confirmed by the Supreme Pontiff cannot err” (ex fide Catholica habeamus concilia legitima a Summo Pontifice confirmata non posse errare).

According to Bellarmine, Doctor of the Church, a legitimate Ecumenical Council, one confirmed by the Roman Pontiff, is not able to err (non posse errare). And he states that we hold this “by the Catholic faith”, which seems to mean as an article of the Catholic faith.

So if that is true, then the Second Vatican Council, which was invoked by Pope Saint John XXIII and for a while held under his guidance, then approved by Pope Saint Paul VI, is certainly a legitimate Council confirmed by the Supreme Pontiff. Moreover, Pope John Paul I took his papal name after his desire to continue show approval for the Council and a desire (unfulfilled) to continue its teachings. Then Pope Saint John Paul II taught from the documents of the Council continuously during his entire Pontificate. And Pope Benedict XVI did the same. Finally, we see that Pope Francis has tried to follow John Paul II in his teachings, and has certainly continued teaching from Vatican II. It could not be more clear that the Council is legitimate, ecumenical, and approved by the Roman Pontiffs.

Personally, I’ve found no teachings in any of the 21 Ecumenical Councils that I would consider to be in error at all. I have not found any grave error. But I also have not found even that limited type of error, which is possible in non-infallible teachings of the Roman Pontiff. Despite all the controversy over the Second Vatican Council, I’ve never seen anyone present an alleged error along with a convincing theological argument. They simply assume that the Council erred gravely.

Formerly, I held the opinion that an Ecumenical Council could teach either infallibly or non-infallibly, and any non-infallible teachings were subject to the limited possibility of error (but free from all grave error). However, after considering the teaching of Bellarmine and the fact that I can’t find any errors in any Council’s teaching, I have changed my position. I now hold that every teaching of every Ecumenical Council is inerrant.

As Dr. Fastiggi pointed out, this does not extend to decisions on discipline or matters of prudential judgment. As for discipline, these decisions can never err to the extent of harming the Church gravely. The Church cannot lose her indefectibility by a misjudgment on discipline. Prudential decisions can err, but these are usually not matters that would cause grave harm to the Church.

The implication is that all of these claims against the Second Vatican Council are false accusations. It cannot be true that there are any errors in the teachings of that Council. We still require a confirmation from the Magisterium of the teaching of Saint Robert Bellarmine on this point. But I notice that none of the detractors of Vatican II spend any time presenting a theological argument that an error exists. They just point out how the teachings of the Council conflict with the teachings of the conservative Catholic subculture or with traditionalism or with their own ideas. And that is the real disagreement here — not what Vatican II taught, but WHO is the Teacher.

It has become crystal clear that the leaders of the conservative Catholic subculture want the position held by the Pope and the body of Bishops; they want the authority of Popes and Councils to teach and to decide on matters of discipline. They are so much like the Pharisees whom Jesus rebuked that I wonder at how they do not see the parallels. The Pharisees opposed Jesus because all the people followed Him, and that is what they wanted and couldn’t have.

{20:14} And when the settlers had seen him, they discussed it among themselves, saying: ‘This one is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance will be ours.’

They are figuratively destroying one Pope and Council after another, so that nothing will be left standing that the faithful can turn to for authoritative teachings but themselves. They want the faithful to treat their decisions on discipline and doctrine as if it were from Christ Himself (which it clearly is not). They want the influence of Vatican II and of the recent Popes. They want the teaching authority of Ecumenical Councils and Popes. But they can’t have what they want.

Years ago, the conservative Catholics prided themselves on defending the Magisterium, and they criticized liberal Catholics for picking and choosing what they would accept — cafeteria Catholics. And now the shoe is on the other foot. It is the conservatives on the far right who now pick and choose what they will accept, even to the extent of picking and choosing which Ecumenical Councils they will accept. And while they used to support and defend Pope Saint John Paul II, now they treat him with disregard and pick out various decision and teachings of the Pope-Saint to criticize and condemn. They should be judged by their own condemnation of this type of behavior not so many years ago.

There are no errors in the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. None. Nada. Not a single error on any significant point of faith, morals, or salvation. And these teachings have now been taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium across several Pontificates. The infallible teachings of Vatican II are not in error. And if you can’t accept Vatican II and the recent Popes, who have a never failing faith, then perhaps you should leave the Catholic Church, and join the heretics and schismatics in the SSPX.

Note: this should not be controversial. The Bishops and priests of the SSPX are in a state of formal heresy and formal schism. They ordain Bishops apart from the Church. Their Bishops are not in communion with the Roman Pontiff, nor with the body of Bishops who accept the Pope. There is nothing left to complete the schism, it is both material and formal. (This is not a judgment of the souls of these persons, but only of their public acts.) It is quite telling that Catholics on the far right admire the SSPX, join them at times in their Masses, and want the Church Herself to be more like them.

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

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3 Responses to Are All The Teachings of Vatican II Inerrant?

  1. Matt Z. says:

    Servant of God Father John Anthony Hardon SJ echoes you, there are no errors in Varican II!

  2. Matt Z. says:

    There is countless audio on Servant of God Fr.John Hardon and I have listened to so many I cannot remember which audio it was on. It could be one of his Eucharistic conferences but I’m not sure. Why he isn’t a Saint yet is beyond me.

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