(The Authority of the Ordinary Magisterium)
By Dr. Art Sippo
While I agree with you that Vatican II's declarations must be accepted with "religious submission" of mind and of will, this is not because it any new infallible statements. Granted it reiterated doctrines that had already been infallibly defined, but in regard to any new statements, particularly the ones you list in your article "No Salvation Outside the Church" (e.g. the Council's declaration on Religious Liberty), I'd have this to say: Surely the Pope who approved the statements of Vatican II should know what its status is as regards infallibility or non-infallibility, and Paul VI had this to say:
"In view of the pastoral nature of the Council, it avoided any extraordinary statements of dogmas endowed with the note of infallibility, but it still provided its teaching with the Authority of the Ordinary Magisterium which must be accepted with docility according to the mind of the Council concerning the nature and aims of each document" (General Audience, 12 January 1966).
Please don't misunderstand my comments as implying that I don't believe one is morally bound to accept the teachings of Vatican II. On the contrary, I do. This is because the Church is our Mother and we can trust her not to deceive us even when there is the theoretical possibility that that this might occur. There is the remote possibility that my food might be poisoned, but it would be ridiculous of me to refrain from eating for this reason! (For a full explanation of the infallible/non-infallible binding statement controversy, please see Father William Most, Catholic Apologetics Today, TAN Books.)
Take care and God bless.
Thank you for your note. The question of the status of the documents of VCII has been tendentious. Some very reactionary elements in the Church have acted as if the documents lacked any Magisterial standing because of the "pastoral nature of the council" and could thus be set aside. Others more cautiously have depicted the documents as only part of the Ordinary Magisterium, which required religious submission and thus did not consider them infallible. Others have acted as if they all represented acts of the extraordinary Magisterium.
In fact, it is much more complicated than any of these options. While many of the documents were Pastoral Constitutions, there were 2 Dogmatic Constitutions: Lumen Gentium (On the Church in the Modern World) and Dei Verbum (On Divine Revelation) which were completions of the original work of Vatican I which had been interrupted by the Italian Revolution in 1870. If you look at the end of Lumen Gentium in the VCII document collection by Fr. Flannery, you will see that the CDF clearly stated that part of the document did represent authentic new teaching that was binding on the Church. Dei Verbum definitively settled a serious question on the proper way of interpreting the teaching of the Council of Trent on the relationship between Scripture and Tradition. Trent had not clarified whether we were dealing with two separate sources or one source in two forms. DV definitively settled the question in favor of the latter solution.
As regards Dignitatits Humanae (Declaration on Religious Liberty), it was NOT a Pastoral Constitution, but a declaration of teaching. This is a different kind of document. It is not a solemn definition but it is at least as definitive as an encyclical. The document reaffirmed previous Catholic teaching on the relationship between Church and State but definitely broke new ground. It defined for the first time the meaning of the "Public Order" and established that the just order in a state is inseparable from the objective moral order. The facile separation of "Public Order" from the "Common Good" postulated by some Catholic scholars was thereby rejected. There was also a clear apology for the excesses of the Inquisition and a recognition that the moral order requires that States organize their laws recognizing the dignity of the human person. This was all new.
Some people have argued that DH was only a pastoral document and therefore not irreformable. I don't agree. This was a General Council of the Church. It is clear that doctrine developed here and subsequent Popes have always referred to the documents as part of the Magisterium. While this was not a solemn declaration of a dogma, what was taught meets the criteria for infallible teaching as part of the Ordinary Magisterium. In the same way, Cardinal Ratzinger and the CDF have made it clear that it is infallibly taught that women cannot be ordained even though we have had no ex cathedra statement on this.
The quotation by Pope Paul is merely saying that there were no solemn dogmatic definitions at VCII by which opponents were anathematized and excommunication was threatened if one did not submit. This had been common in most other Councils of the Church. Here, we were not trying to condemn heretics, but to clarify Catholic doctrine and to build bridges to our separated brethren and to all people of good will. This did not exclude definitive and infallible teaching or new and irreformable developments in doctrine.
It is not necessary for a doctrine to be defined by the Extraordinary Magisterium in order to be infallible. The Ordinary Magistrerium is good enough. Pope Pius XII in Humani Generis (para 20) clearly taught that the words of Jesus in Luke 10:16 applied to the Ordinary Magisterium:
Luke 10:16 "He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me."
You can't get more infallible than that.
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