Did the Second Vatican Council Change the Faith?

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by Michael Lofton  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  May 15, 2015   

Br. Seraphim Speaks About the Hermenutic of Continuity

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Brother Seraphim was recently walking around the monastery garden when he was stopped by a fellow monk who had some questions.

Br. Nephal: Brother Seraphim, I believe the faith of the Church after the Second Vatican Council had to be changed in order to survive our contemporary age. What do you think?

Br. Seraphim: Well, Br. Nephal, first I have to ask why you believe this.

Br. Nephal: Because the way the Church used to be was outdated and no longer relevant to today's society; so it came time to create a new Church that would be presentable to the world. Don't you believe this was the case?

Br. Seraphim: I don't believe the Second Vatican Council created a new Church or a new faith. In fact, this was one of the things Pope John XXIII, in his opening speech for the Council, explicitly said the Council was to guard against.

The greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously. … In order, however, that this doctrine may influence the numerous fields of human activity, with reference to individuals, to families, and to social life, it is necessary first of all that the Church should never depart from the sacred patrimony of truth received from the Fathers. But at the same time she must ever look to the present, to the new conditions and new forms of life introduced into the modern world, which have opened new avenues to the Catholic apostolate.

In other words, the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine, or the Catholic faith, was to be maintained, not changed into something else to accommodate the modern world.

Br. Nephal: But wouldn't you agree the Church was outdated before the Second Vatican Council?

Br. Seraphim: Not in its faith. The Church's faith is not meant to conform to the culture; the culture is meant to conform to the Church. The Council did not intend to change the faith of the Church; it simply intended to change the way the Church's faith was presented to the world. Pope St. John XXIII also said:

The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another. And it is the latter that must be taken into great consideration with patience if necessary, everything being measured in the forms and proportions of a Magisterium which is predominantly pastoral in character.

In other words, the faith of the Church was to be maintained, but the way it was presented was to be reformed, and this is what the Council did.

Br. Nephal: It seems we have two different views of the Second Vatican Council.

Br. Seraphim: I think so. In fact, there are actually names for our two different approaches. Your approach is called the “hermeneutic of discontinuity,” and my approach is called the “hermeneutic of continuity” or the “hermeneutic of reform.” In fact, Pope Benedict XVI, in an address to the Roman Curia in 2005, spoke of these two approaches.

The question arises: Why has the implementation of the Council, in large parts of the Church, thus far been so difficult? Well, it all depends on the correct interpretation of the Council or — as we would say today — on its proper hermeneutics, the correct key to its interpretation and application. The problems in its implementation arose from the fact that two contrary hermeneutics came face to face and quarreled with each other. One caused confusion, the other, silently but more and more visibly, bore and is bearing fruit. On the one hand, there is an interpretation that I would call “a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture”; it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. On the other, there is the “hermeneutic of reform,” of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us.

Br. Nephal: Which one did Pope Benedict endorse in that address?

Br. Seraphim: He endorsed the hermeneutic of continuity, the view that there is continuity between the faith of the pre-conciliar and post-conciliar Church, not a rupture.

Br. Nephal: Why can’t the Church change its faith?

Br. Seraphim: In the words of Pope Benedict:

The nature of a Council as such is therefore basically misunderstood. In this way, it [the hermeneutic of discontinuity] is considered as a sort of constituent that eliminates an old constitution and creates a new one. However, the Constituent Assembly needs a mandator and then confirmation by the mandator, in other words, the people the constitution must serve. The Fathers had no such mandate and no one had ever given them one; nor could anyone have given them one because the essential constitution of the Church comes from the Lord and was given to us so that we might attain eternal life and, starting from this perspective, be able to illuminate life in time and time itself. Through the Sacrament they have received, Bishops are stewards of the Lord's gift. They are “stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor. 4:1); as such, they must be found to be “faithful” and “wise.” (cf. Luke 12:41–48)

Keep in mind this wasn't simply Pope Benedict's view of the Council. It was the view of Pope St. John XXIII and Bd. Pope Paul VI, who both presided over the Council. Pope Benedict confirmed this:

The hermeneutic of discontinuity is countered by the hermeneutic of reform, as it was presented first by Pope John XXIII in his Speech inaugurating the Council on 11 October 1962 and later by Pope Paul VI in his Discourse for the Council's conclusion on 7 December 1965. ...

In other words, the Church can't change the Faith because the Magisterium is the steward of the Faith, not its author, Who is the Lord.

Br. Nephal: You've given me much to think about. I may have to change my understanding of the Church and of the Second Vatican Council.

 

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