Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Correct Hermeneutic (Interpretation) of the Council


The Church has always known the rules for a correct hermeneutic of the contents of dogma. They are rules inscribed within the texture of faith and not outside it. To read the council supposing that it involves a rupture with the past-whereas in reality it situates itself in the line of the abiding faith-is decisively misleading. That which has been believed 'by all, always, and in every place' is the authentic newness that permits every epoch to feel itself enlightened by the word of God's revelation in Jesus Christ. Pope John Paul II, 2000[1]

Avery Cardinal Dulles has written an essay on the Vatican II Constitution Lumen Gentium (On the Church) in a new anthology edited by Matthew L. Lamb and Matthew Levering and entitled, Vatican II: Renewal Within Tradition. I highly recommend this work. Cardinal Dulles comments on popular views of the Council and make the following comparisons which popularize a radical interpretation of the Council's impact on Ecclesiology (the doctrine of the Church). The following chart is adapted from his essay, (p. 25).


Before the Council

After the Council

The Church is regarded as an institution founded by Christ with definite and immutable structures.

The Church as a pilgrim community constantly restructuring itself to suit the times.

The Church is regarded as necessary for salvation.

The Church is regarded as one of many places in which people could live a life of grace.

The Catholic Church saw herself as the sole legitimate Church.

The Church is regarded herself as one of many realizations of the Church of Christ, all imperfect.

The Church is saw herself as a divinely instituted monarchy in which all authority descended from the pope.

The Church is regarded as the People of God that governed itself through consensus.


Cardinal Dulles maintains; "All of these generalizations, I maintain, are false. They overlook the nuances both in the preconciliar period and in Vatican II." (p.25)

He notes, "Any aggiornamento that was accomplished was intrinsically connected with the principal of resourcement. "Every renewal of the Church," for the council, "essentially consists in an increase of fidelity to her own calling" (UR 6). (p. 26). In 1985 Pope John Paul II convened an extraordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishop because he was concerned about misinterpretations of Vatican II. The final report of the Synod taught that the teachings of the council should be interpreted "in continuity with the great tradition of the Church" and which includes previous councils and popes. (p. 26)


[1]From an address in Italian John Paul II, "Udienza al convegno internazionale di studio," in Il Concilio Vaticano II: Recezione e attualita, ed. Rino Fisichella (Rome: San Paolo, 2000), 739, a quoted in Dulles, p. 26.


Dulles, Avery Cardinal "Nature, Mission, and Structure of the Church" in Matthew L. Lamb and Matthew Levering, eds. Vatican II: Renewal Within Tradition. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).


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