THE CHALLENGE OF OPPOSING INTERPRETATIONS
by Athanasius Schneider
[. . .] For a correct interpretation of Vatican Council II, it is necessary to keep in mind the
intention manifested in the conciliar documents themselves and in the specific words of the
popes who convened and presided over it, John XXIII and Paul VI.
Moreover, it is necessary to discover the common thread of the entire work of the Council,
meaning its pastoral intention, which is the "salus animarum," the salvation of souls. This, in
turn, depends on and is subordinate to the promotion of divine worship and of the glory of
God, it depends on the primacy of God.
This primacy of God in life and in all the activity of the Church is manifested unequivocally by
the fact that the constitution on the liturgy occupies, conceptually and chronologically, the first
place in the vast work of the Council. [. . .]
The characteristic of the rupture in the interpretation of the conciliar texts is manifested in a
more stereotypical and widespread way in the thesis of an anthropocentric, secularist, or
naturalistic shift of Vatican Council II with respect to the previous ecclesial tradition.
One of the best-known manifestations of such a mistaken interpretation has been, for
example, so-called liberation theology and the subsequent devastating pastoral practice.
What contrast there is between this liberation theology and its practice and the Council
appears evident from the following conciliar teaching: "Christ, to be sure, gave His Church no
proper mission in the political, economic or social order. The purpose which He set before her
is a religious one" (cf. "Gaudium et Spes," 42). [. . .]
One interpretation of rupture of lighter doctrinal weight has been manifested in the pastoralliturgical field. One might mention in this regard the decline of the sacred and sublime
character of the liturgy, and the introduction of more anthropocentric elements of expression.
This phenomenon can be seen in three liturgical practices that are fairly well known and
widespread in almost all the parishes of the Catholic sphere: the almost complete
disappearance of the use of the Latin language, the reception of the Eucharistic body of
Christ directly in the hand while standing, and the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice in
the modality of a closed circle in which priest and people are constantly looking at each other.
This way of praying – without everyone facing the same direction, which is a more natural
corporal and symbolic expression with respect to the truth of everyone being oriented toward
God in public worship – contradicts the practice that Jesus himself and his apostles observed
in public prayer, both in the temple and in the synagogue. It also contradicts the unanimous
testimony of the Fathers and of all the subsequent tradition of the Eastern and Western
Church.These three pastoral and liturgical practices glaringly at odds with the law of prayer
maintained by generations of the Catholic faithful for at least one millennium find no support in
the conciliar texts, and even contradict both a specific text of the Council (on the Latin
language: cf. "Sacrosanctum Concilium," 36 and 54) and the "mens," the true intention of the
conciliar Fathers, as can be seen in the proceedings of the Council.
In the hermeneutical uproar of the contrasting interpretations, and in the confusion of pastoral
and liturgical applications, what appears as the only authentic interpreter of the conciliar texts
is the Council itself, together with the pope.
One could make a comparison with the confused hermeneutical climate of the first centuries
of the Church, caused by arbitrary biblical and doctrinal interpretations on the part of
heterodox groups. In his famous work "De Praescriptione Haereticorum," Tertullian was able
to counter the heretics of various tendencies with the fact that only the Church possesses the
"praescriptio," meaning only the Church is the legitimate proprietor of the faith, of the word of
God and of the tradition. The Church can use this to fend off the heretics in disputes over true
interpretation. Only the Church can say, according to Tertullian, "Ego sum heres
Apostolorum," I am the heir of the apostles. By way of analogy, only the supreme magisterium
of the pope or of a future ecumenical council will be able to say: "Ego sum heres Concilii
In recent decades there existed, and still exist today, groupings within the Church that are
perpetrating an enormous abuse of the pastoral character of the Council and its texts, written
according to this pastoral intention, since the Council did not want to present its own definitive
or unalterable teachings. From the same pastoral nature of the texts of the Council, it can be
seen that its texts are in principle open to supplementation and to further doctrinal
clarifications. Keeping in mind the now decades-long experience of interpretations that are
doctrinally and pastorally mistaken and contrary to the bimillennial continuity of the doctrine
and prayer of the faith, there thus arises the necessity and urgency of a specific and
authoritative intervention of the pontifical magisterium for an authentic interpretation of the
conciliar texts, with supplementation and doctrinal clarifications; a sort of "Syllabus" of the
errors in the interpretation of Vatican Council II.
There is the need for a new Syllabus, this time directed not so much against the errors
coming from outside of the Church, but against the errors circulated within the Church by
supporters of the thesis of discontinuity and rupture, with its doctrinal, liturgical, and pastoral
Such a Syllabus should consist of two parts: the part that points out the errors, and the
positive part with proposals for clarification, completion, and doctrinal clarification.
Two groupings stand out for their support of the theory of rupture. One of these groupings
tries to "Protestantize" the life of the Church doctrinally, liturgically, and pastorally. On the
opposite side are those traditional groups which, in the name of tradition, reject the Counciland exempt themselves from submission to the supreme living magisterium of the Church,
from the visible head of the Church, the vicar of Christ on earth, submitting meanwhile only to
the invisible head of the Church, waiting for better times. [. . .]
In essence, there have been two impediments preventing the true intention of the Council and
its magisterium from bearing abundant and lasting fruit.
One was found outside of the Church, in the violent process of cultural and social revolution
during the 1960's, which like every powerful social phenomenon penetrated inside the
Church, infecting with its spirit of rupture vast segments of persons and institutions.
The other impediment was manifested in the lack of wise and at the same time intrepid
pastors of the Church who might be quick to defend the purity and integrity of the faith and of
liturgical and pastoral life, not allowing themselves to be influenced by flattery or fear.
The Council of Trent had already affirmed in one of its last decrees on the general reform of
the Church: "The holy synod, shaken by the many extremely serious evils that afflict the
Church, cannot do other than recall that the thing most necessary for the Church of God is to
select excellent and suitable pastors; all the more in that our Lord Jesus Christ will ask for an
account of the blood of those sheep that should perish because of the bad governance of
negligent pastors unmindful of their duty" (Session XXIV, Decree "de reformatione," can. 1).
The Council continued: "As for all those who for any reason have been authorized by the Holy
See to intervene in the promotion of future prelates or those who take part in this in another
way, the holy Council exhorts and admonishes them to remember above all that they can do
nothing more useful for the glory of God and the salvation of the people than to devote
themselves to choosing good and suitable pastors to govern the Church."
So there is truly a need for a Syllabus on the Council with doctrinal value, and moreover there
is a need for an increase in the number of holy, courageous pastors deeply rooted in the
tradition of the Church, free from any sort of mentality of rupture, both in the doctrinal field and
in the liturgical field.
These two elements constitute the indispensable condition so that doctrinal, liturgical, and
pastoral confusion may diminish significantly, and so that the pastoral work of Vatican Council
II may bear much lasting fruit in the spirit of the tradition, which connects us to the spirit that
has reigned in every time, everywhere and in all true children of the Catholic Church, which is
the only and the true Church of God on earth.
HERE is the whole text of his speech.
HERE is an article on the call for a new Syllabus of Errors.
HERE is an PODCAzT on his speech.