Lérinian hermeneutics and the disputed teachings of Vatican II

Fr. Thomas G. Guarino correctly judges that the Catholic Church has made significant use of Lérinian thought as a crucial hermeneutical key in dealing with the central problem of the Second Vatican Council.

In his new study, titled The Disputed Teachings of Vatican II: Continuity and Reversal in Catholic Doctrine, Msgr. Thomas G. Guarino, who is professor of systematic theology at Seton Hall University, gives an impressive analysis of Vatican II’s teachings to see whether they represent development or change in light of the thought of Vincent of Lérins (AD 434).

The fifth-century monk’s thought has been utilized by the Catholic Church—down to and including Vatican II—as the only legitimate way to deal with continuity amidst change. Do its teachings, for example, on revelation, particularly scripture and tradition (Dei Verbum), religious freedom (Dignitatis Humanae), on ecumenism (Unitatis Reintegratio), and the corresponding ecclesiology of Lumen Gentium, the theology of religions of Nostra Aetate, represent continuity or rupture with the antecedent Catholic tradition? Is it a matter of profectus or permutatio fidei? This question represents, in nuce, the central problem of Vatican II: “How are tradition and novelty, continuity and discontinuity, theologically reconciled?”

Being of one mind with the Church on this matter, Guarino’s starting point for dealing with the question of doctrinal development is the distinction between truth and its historically conditioned formulations that Pope John XXIII invoked in Gaudet Mater Ecclesia, his opening address at Vatican II. John stated:

What is needed is that this certain and unchangeable doctrine, to which loyal submission is due, be investigated and presented in the way demanded by our times. For the deposit of faith, the truths contained in our sacred teaching, are one thing, while the mode in which they are expressed, but with the same meaning and the same judgment [‘eodem sensu eademque sententia’], is another thing.

The subordinate clause, which I have cited in its Latin original, is part of a larger passage from Vatican I’s Dogmatic Constitution on Faith and Reason, Dei Filius (1869-70), which is earlier invoked by Pius IX in the bull of 1854, Ineffabilis Deus, also cited by Leo XIII in his 1899 Encyclical, Testem benevolentiae Nostrae. And this formula in Dei Filius is itself taken from the Commonitórium primum 23 of Vincent of Lérins:

Therefore, let there be growth and abundant progress in understanding, knowledge, and wisdom, in each and all, in individuals and in the whole Church, at all times and in the progress of ages, but only within the proper limits, i.e., within the same dogma, the same meaning, the same judgment (in eodem scilicet dogmate, eodem sensu eademque sententia).

Furthermore, there is a crucial difference for Vincent between change and development (progress). Development must occur within the “proper limits, i.e., within the same dogma, the same meaning, the same judgment [in eodem scilicet dogmate, eodem sensu eademque sententia].”

Clearly, Guarino is not arguing that a new and different meaning must be given to dogmas in order to make them acceptable to our times. This is evident from his explanation of key concepts like ressourcement and aggiornamento. Vatican II’s project is a form of renewal theology in which the Church returns to authoritative sources of the faith aiming at renewing the present. Although the truths of the faith may be expressed differently, we must always determine whether those re-formulations preserve the same meaning and judgment (eodem sensu eademque sententia), and hence the material continuity, identity, and universality of those truths, even with the reformulations’ correction, modification, and complementation. According to Vincent’s interpretation of dogma, and, Guarino argues, of Vatican II’s teachings, linguistic formulations or expressions of truth can vary in our attempt to deepen our understanding, as long as they maintain the same meaning and mediate the same judgment of truth (eodem sensu eademque sententia).

In fact, this distinction between truth and its formulations has ecumenical significance. Other Christian traditions may have a deeper grasp and hence a more articulate but nevertheless complementary formulation of some aspect of the revealed mystery of revelation shared alike by Catholics and Protestants (Unitatis Redintegratio 17).

Moreover, Guarino argues that there is continuity underneath the surface contradictions of, say, Pius XI’s encyclical Mortalium animos of 1928 and Vatican II’s Unitatis Redintegratio. However, like the Dutch Reformed master of dogmatic and ecumenical theology, G.C. Berkouwer (1903-1996), Guarino is fully conscious that the matter regarding the nature of that continuity must be addressed. Berkouwer explains: “That harmony [in dogmatic development] had always been presumed, virtually self-evidently, to be an implication of the mystery of the truth ‘eodem sensu eademque sententia’.” He adds, “Now, however, attention is captivated primarily by the historical-factual process that does not transcend the times, but is entangled with them in all sorts of ways. It cannot be denied that one encounters the undeniable fact of the situated setting of the various pronouncements made by the Church in any given era.”

How, then, exactly, is a single and unitary revelation homogeneously expressed, according to the same meaning and the same judgment, given the undeniable fact, says Berkouwer, “of time-conditioning, one can even say: of historicity”? Berkouwer insightfully states, and Guarino agrees, “All the problems of more recent interpretation of dogma are connected very closely to this search for continuity.… Thus, the question of the nature of continuity has to be faced.”

Guarino faces this question in Chapters 2, 4-5, by developing a hermeneutical framework accounting for the manner in which new doctrinal formulations mediate the universality and material identity—a dogmatic conceptual hard core—of the permanent meanings and propositional truths of Christian dogmas, such as that of the Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement, and so forth, according to the same meaning and same judgment (eodem sensu eademque sententia). The meanings of those propositions are true if (and only if) what they assert is in fact the case, being the way things are; otherwise, they are false. In short, regarding the status of meaning, the way things are, objective reality, states of affairs, is what makes “meanings” true or false. Guarino calls this type of legitimate theological pluralism commensurable pluralism, a type that is consistent with the realist underpinning of the hermeneutic of continuity because “any change envisioned by Vatican II raised the question of material identity over time, and this inevitably entails the veracity and reliability of divine revelation itself.”

Moreover, Guarino squarely faces the issue of reversible teaching. These teachings are by their nature reformable and revisable, being non-definitive, such as the Church’s teaching on, for example, church/state relations, ecumenical relations, and religious liberty. These teachings do not possess the doctrinal weight of being infallible and irrevocable in any sense whatsoever. Guarino, for one, argues that Vatican II reversed the Church’s teaching on ecumenism but not the first principle of Catholic ecclesiology that is de fide teaching and hence infallible, namely, the Church of Jesus Christ is realized per se and per essentiam in the Catholic Church. Yes, Vatican II’s Lumen Gentiun did assert that there are elements of truth and sanctification outside the Church’s visible boundaries; also that these elements or vestiges are present with varying degrees in these other churches, and hence the Church of Jesus Christ is efficaciously present in these particular churches, meaning thereby that they participate formaliter et substantialiter in Christ’s Church.

However, Guarino also argue that Unitatis Redintegratio rejected, in unison with Pius XI’s Mortalium Animos, ecclesiological relativism, a false irenicism, and hence an ecclesial indifferentism. Thus, reflecting on the meaning of “subsistit in” (Lumen Gentium 8), he argues that the following dilemma should be avoided.

  • either correctly affirming that the Church of Christ fully and totally subsists alone in its own right in the Catholic Church, because the entire fullness of the means of salvation and of unity, which is not found in any other church, is present in her; and then implausibly denying that Orthodoxy and the historic churches of the Reformation are churches in any real sense whatsoever, such that there exists an ecclesial wasteland or emptiness outside the Church’s visible boundaries.
  • or rightly affirming that they are churches in some sense, in a lesser or greater degree to the extent that there exists ecclesial elements of truth and sanctification in them, but then wrongly accepting ecclesiological relativism or pluralism—meaning thereby that the one Church of Christ Jesus subsists in many churches, with the Catholic Church being merely one among many churches.

Guarino assists us in avoiding this dilemma by drawing on the concepts of analogy and participation, of primary and secondary analogates. He argues:

In Vatican II’s understanding, there exists full but not exhaustive identity between the church of Christ and the Catholic Church. The point is crucial lest some think that Christ’s church is a Platonic idea, not fully realized in any one denomination. But that is the thinking neither of [Gerard] Philips [the moderator of Vatican II’s Theological Commission] nor of Vatican II. As Philips plainly states, the church of Christ is ‘fully present’ in the Catholic Church. Other churches participate—truly, intensively, and substantially—in Christ’s church to a greater or lesser extent. To invoke again the traditional terms, the Catholic Church is the per se realization of Christ’s church—but not exhaustively so. Other churches are the church of Christ by participation, per participationem.

Thus, the Catholic Church is the primary analogate of the church of Christ; the other churches by virtue of their participation in Christ’s church, which is shown in the elements of truth and sanctification realized in them to a greater or lesser extent, are the secondary analogates. Concludes Guarino, “Vatican II’s accent on the analogical similarity of other churches to Catholicism is one of the council’s most significant theological fruits. It has given rise to a vibrant ecumenical spirit within the Catholic Church.”

Analogical and participatory thinking helps us to give an account of unity and diversity within the One Church. Yet, Guarino’s correctly judges that this thinking is open to abuse in developing the theology of religions presupposed by Nostra Aetate because it overlooks the human resistance due to sin, and hence the distortion, misinterpretation, and rejection of God’s general and special revelation.

The documents of Vatican II are, however, interpreted in another way, which I will call Neo-Traditionalism. The Neo-Traditionalists are anti-Modernists to the degree that they do not acknowledge that theological Modernism had actually identified a real problem in upholding the permanence of meaning and truth. Therefore, the Neo-Traditionalists absolutize continuity of dogmatic truth without displaying any appreciation for the historical nature of those truths’ human formulations. As Jaroslav Pelikan describes the position that I am calling Neo-Traditionalism: “Tradition without history has homogenized all the stages of development into one statically defined truth.” Thus, Neo-traditionalism takes, for example, Pius XI’s of 1931 as the normative teaching of the Church on ecumenism, and hence rejects Unitatis Redintergatio.

Finally, a Neo-Modernism has surfaced in the so-called “new paradigm,” or “pastorality of doctrine” approach of, e.g., Richard Gaillardetz and Christoph Theobald, S.J. These approaches (1) fixate on the historical-factual process, (2) the corresponding idea that truth-claims do not transcend the historical process, as well as (3) the rejection of propositional truth and the attendant idea of propositional revelation. Theobald, for one, collapses the distinction between the substance of the deposit of faith and its formulation into a historical context, without attending to the “Lérinian” subordinate clause—eodem sensu eademque sententia—while also dismissing the notion that unchanging truths and their formulations are distinguishable within the deposit of faith. He does not hesitate to draw the conclusion: the substance of the deposit of faith as a whole is “subject to continual reinterpretation [and re-contextualization] according to the situation of those to whom it is transmitted.”

This “pastorality of doctrine” approach is a Neo-Modernism because it expresses merely an instrumentalist view of doctrine, in which doctrines are not absolute truths, or objectively true affirmations about state of affairs. Hence, the “pastorality of doctrine” approach sets loose a perpetual hermeneutics that entails historicism and a denial of revealed truth’s enduring universal validity.

Guarino correctly judges that the Catholic Church has made significant use of Lérinian thought as a crucial hermeneutical key in dealing with the central problem of Vatican II: “How are tradition and novelty, continuity and discontinuity, theologically reconciled?” His work is a landmark study in interpreting Vatican II.

The Disputed Teachings of Vatican II: Continuity and Reversal in Catholic Doctrine
by Thomas G. Guarino
Eerdmans, 2018
Paperback, 214 pages


If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.


About Eduardo Echeverria 21 Articles
Eduardo Echeverria is Professor of Philosophy and Systematic Theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. He earned his doctorate in philosophy from the Free University in Amsterdam and his S.T.L. from the University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum) in Rome.

14 Comments

  1. “Analogical and participatory thinking.” Ed, really? Cone on. We can argue, for half a century now, about whether Vatican II was a development or a disjuncture. But does anyone seriously doubt that after the council there came a massive sea change regarding beliefs about inerrancy and Scripture?Regarding missions? Or regarding Universalism and Hell? Come on. Therese are *foundational* beliefs, and it is obvious watching Francis that we are adrift in a sea of fluidity about all of them. The Council may have brought many blessings, but it also brought a curse. We are living under it.

  2. It was a bad Council. We know this by its fruits. You will keep having to toss these word salads and twisting your logical pretzels until you accept this undeniable fact. Call me a NeoTraditionalist if you will; I call myself a Catholic.

    • Usually when someone uses the term word salad, it just means they did not understand the article, or did not want to understand it because it goes against their breakaway sect ideology.

      • Usually when someone accuses a faithful Catholic of having a breakaway sect ideology based on the use of two words it is because they have made a rash judgment.

  3. It looks like Msgr. Guarino has written a very informative and important work. I think it should be noted, though, that the ecclesial communities that lack apostolic succession, true bishops, and the true Eucharist are not Churches in the proper theological sense. They might contain authentic ecclesial elements, but they cannot be considered Churches like the Eastern Orthodox Churches that are in apostolic succession, have true bishops, and the true Eucharist. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith made this clear in no. 17 of Dominus Iesus (A.D. 2000):
    “On the other hand, the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery, are not Churches in the proper sense; however, those who are baptized in these communities are, by Baptism, incorporated in Christ and thus are in a certain communion, albeit imperfect, with the Church.” Perhaps in a loose, non-technical sense we can refer to “the Lutheran Church” or “the Presbyterian Church,” but they are not Churches in the proper theological sense. They should be referred to as ecclesial communities.

    • My dear friend, Of course the ecclesial status of these communities are not Churches in the proper sense. Guarino never affirms that they are. Neither do I. That is why he appeals to the concept of analogy. Still, there are degrees of ecclesiality in them determined by the extent (greater or lesser) that there exists ecclesial elements of truth and sanctification in them. Other churches are the church of Christ by participation, per participationem. So, if we speak of the ecclesial status of these non-Catholic communities we do so in an analogical sense. Thanks, Bob.

  4. Hermeneutic methodology determines exegetic interpretation. Vat II a pastoral council has legitimacy insofar as its hermeneutics adhere to Lérinian sensu eademque sententia. Eduardo Echeverria identifies Guarino’s major thesis that the “pastorality of doctrine approach [Theobald] sets loose a perpetual hermeneutics that entails historicism and a denial of revealed truth’s enduring universal validity”. An example is the open ended idea of religious freedom in Dignitatis Humanae that neglects reasonable boundary to freedom [a significant critique was authored by Thomas Pink, Conscience and Coercion that underscores the coercive authority granted the Church by Christ]. The main interest in this article is the relation of the Modernist pastoral approach drawn illegitimately, despite omissions made by Courtney Murray SJ author of Dignitatis from Vat II that employs a hermeneutic of historiography in which time supersedes space [as referenced by Pope Francis space implying isolated events within time], rather than textual exegesis to the New Paradigm of Pope Francis, Fr Antonio Spadaro SJ. The Pope has consistently remarked that his intent is to complete the mission of Vat II which to date is pastoral rather than dogmatic theological. Apart from the related question of ecclesiology discussed by Fastiggi, who correctly calls Protestant denominations ecclesial communities [consistent with Benedict XVI] rather than churches Echeverria’s argument is well made and relevant to our current crisis.

  5. Especially in Europe, “time” is passing through “space” devoid of the Gospel (and increasingly, of remnants of Christendom). Now, tell me, what’s the point of this much vaunted discussion of doctrinal “development”?

    Unless the point – as the Amazon Synod is apt to exhibit – is to develop out of Christianity altogether. Doing so by using an “appropriated” Christ – much developed to fit the age – as the vector in doing so.

    • A good description Stephen of the false hermeneutic employed to radically change Sacred Scripture and the very essence of the Church. “Appropriated Christ” is on the mark. It’s use of contrasting concepts such as Peron’s Reality is greater than Ideas translated by then aficionado Beroglio into Reality is greater than Rules. The false narrative now is that if events are static time is not but ‘greater’. It directly repudiates the eternal character of the Word. Apostasy pure and simple.

  6. “Other Christian traditions may have a deeper grasp and hence a more articulate but nevertheless complementary formulation of some aspect of the revealed mystery of revelation shared alike by Catholics and Protestants.”

    Heresy!

    “10. So, Venerable Brethren, it is clear why this Apostolic See has never allowed its subjects to take part in the assemblies of non-Catholics: for the union of Christians can only be promoted by promoting the return to the one true Church of Christ of those who are separated from it, for in the past they have unhappily left it.”

    Mortalium Animos
    On Religious Unity
    Pope Pius XI – 1928

    “These teachings are by their nature reformable and revisable, being non-definitive, such as the Church’s teaching on, for example, church/state relations, ecumenical relations, and religious liberty. These teachings do not possess the doctrinal weight of being infallible and irrevocable in any sense whatsoever.”

    I have a hard time believing this to be true. Either the Catholic Church is the Church of Christ and all humans are obliged in conscience to enter it and all states are obliged to either lend it support or at least not hinder it, or the Catholic Church is not what it claims to be.

    “Yes, Vatican II’s Lumen Gentiun did assert that there are elements of truth and sanctification outside the Church’s visible boundaries; also that these elements or vestiges are present with varying degrees in these other churches, and hence the Church of Jesus Christ is efficaciously present in these particular churches, meaning thereby that they participate formaliter et substantialiter in Christ’s Church.”

    Heresy!

    “Thus, the Catholic Church is the primary analogate of the church of Christ; the other churches by virtue of their participation in Christ’s church, which is shown in the elements of truth and sanctification realized in them to a greater or lesser extent, are the secondary analogates.”

    Heresy!

    There is one true Religion, the Catholic Church and there is and can be no “participation” of any false religion with the true Religion. If you are not with Christ, then you are against Him. If you are not inside the Church, then you are outside it.

    Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus!

    J+M+J+

  7. This claim simply does not hold water. The fact that an authoritative teaching may not be definitive does not mean it is changeable or reversible. Such an idea would pave the way for the wholesale dissolution of doctrine and morals.

    Being non-definitive simply means that the full exclusion of possible error has not been totally established. That means, or should mean, that error has to be objectively established, if that is going to be the claim. Not that any group of popes can change whatever they feel like.

  8. Dare I invoke the labored slogan of the failed council, or its spirit, or whatever? Read the signs of the times, Professor Echeverria. The erroneous council took a sledge hammer in order to, ostensibly, make Catholicism more accessible and ultimately more convincing to the post-war globe.
    That’s the best spin one can provide it.
    A fine work of art is never restored or enhanced with the mendacity of the hammer. Grasp the sable brush.
    Given the behavior of the secular materialists who brutally hijacked the council 13 October 1961, their deliberate crafting of the documents with ambiguity and juicy poetics, and the position we find ourselves today – in the midst of a berserk pontificate and yet another reptilian synod – Guarino’s mulling and your analysis is simply an exercise in futility. I can only compare it to providing a narcotic to the opioid addicted. Counterproductive, an exercise in futility and pastoral malpractice.
    The human soul is broken and academic confections are no substitute for the lived out perennial Magisterium which is constituted by Holy Scripture and the Apostolic Tradition. Authentic theological reflection will not be reduced to illicit cohabitation with the pathological zeitgeist. The conciliar enterprise is a train wreck and the body count continues to mount. 2+2=5?

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. MONDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit
  2. The Spirit versus the letter: Responding to a false view of doctrinal development – Catholic World Report

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All comments posted at Catholic World Report are moderated. While vigorous debate is welcome and encouraged, please note that in the interest of maintaining a civilized and helpful level of discussion, comments containing obscene language or personal attacks—or those that are deemed by the editors to be needlessly combative or inflammatory—will not be published. Thank you.


*