WADE ST. ONGE

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Hermeneutic of Continuity, Part II: "Churches" or "Ecclesial Communions"?


            In our last article, we demonstrated how Dr. Alan Schreck, as many orthodox Catholics do, erroneously applies the hermeneutic of discontinuity to the use of the terms “heresy” and “heretic” before Vatican II and the non-use of those terms in the Council. We will now do likewise with the term “church” as it was used before and at Vatican II.

            Dr. Schreck, after praising Vatican II for abandoning the use of the word “heretic” in reference to Protestants, also added: “Not only do Catholics recognize these baptized believers as Christians, but at Vatican II the Catholic church officially recognized for the first time the bodies to which these Christians belong as ‘churches and (ecclesial) communities.’” [page 204] Rather than seeing “churches” and “ecclesial communities” as two different terms being applied to two different situations and groups, he makes them out to be synonymous and to be applied to all, as is evident from his use of the term “Protestant church[es]” which he uses twice more going forth.

            Although in the last article we were not able to get into the footnotes, we will do so here. As in the previous matter, the Council Fathers were also careful to footnote seemingly revolutionary statements. A footnote was inserted after the word “Churches” (“but not ecclesial communities”), and it refers to three ecumenical councils -- the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 [Constitution IV], the Second Council of Lyons from 1274 [Profession of Faith of Emperor Michael Palaiologi], and the Council of Florence held in 1439. [Session VI] In the citation from Lateran IV, the council refers to the schismatic East as the “Greek church”, while in the Council of Florence, the proclamation of union refers to the schism as “the wall that divided the western and the eastern church”.

            Dr. Schreck, in a previous book, Catholic and Christian, explained that from the beginning, the word “church” was used not only to refer to the one universal church or body of believers, but was also used synonymously with “diocese” or “parish” to refer to a local church or body of believers under a bishop or a pastor. Hence we can and often do speak about the “Church in Saskatoon” to refer to the Saskatoon diocese, or the “Church in Estevan” to refer to St. John the Baptist parish in my hometown. But the term has also been used on a much broader scale to refer to a conference of bishops or to the bishops in a particular region or country. Hence we can and often do speak of the “Canadian Church” to refer to those dioceses under the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), or “the Church in North America” (or the Church in Asia or the Church in Africa as Pope John Paul II did in a series of apostolic exhortations), or, as has been done since the second century, refer collectively to the Latin-speaking dioceses as the “Western Church” and the Greek-speaking dioceses as the “Eastern Church”. These terms continued to be used by the Catholic Church even after the schism.

            Because the Eastern communions are merely in schism rather than heresy and have preserved valid orders and a valid episcopate, the territories ruled by their bishops remain local or “particular churches”, even though these particular churches are in “schism” or no longer in communion or in union with the universal Church Jesus Christ established under the headship of the Pope. As such, the Magisterium has, ever since the schism occurred in the eleventh century, continued to refer to the schismatic Eastern communions as the “Eastern Church”.

            At Vatican II, the Magisterium chose to speak of the Eastern Church in the plural, as the Eastern Churches, for two reasons: first, because there are other schismatic churches which have preserved valid orders, such as the Nestorian churches (although these also profess heresy); and second because, in order to prevent the confusion seen with Dr. Schreck, namely, that of denominationalism or that there are multiple churches rather than just one (the Catholic Church), the East is spoken of as a collection of dioceses or local churches. Thus, if Dr. Schreck is correct that there has been a “radical departure” (which there has not been), it is a change in the opposite direction -- from referring to the Eastern Orthodox collectively as a “Church” to speaking of them as a collection of local churches or dioceses/eparchies separated from Rome.

            This was all made clear by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in the year 2000 when it issued Dominus Iesus, a document correcting various misunderstandings that had arisen in the area of ecclesiology because of the application of the hermeneutic of discontinuity. Seven years later, the CDF issued an even more explicit response to some questions regarding certain aspects of the doctrine on the Church, following the apparent failure of its previous attempt at correcting the errors perpetuated by scholars such as Dr. Schreck. The response from the CDF affirms that it remains true and a valid teaching of the Church that “the Church of Christ is the Catholic Church” but that the word “subsists in” was used at Vatican II in order to better indicate that elements of truth and sanctification, such as baptism and Holy Scripture, are efficaciously used in communions which are separated from the one Church of Christ through schism or heresy.

            The CDF went on to answer the question, “Why does the Second Vatican Council use the term ‘Church’ in reference to the oriental [Eastern Orthodox] Churches separated from full communion with the Catholic Church?” The answer begins with a restatement of the passage in Unitatis Redintegratio which used the term and explained the rationale for it, and then added, “The Council wanted to adopt the traditional use of the term”. In other words, the Council was not stating something “for the first time” in some “radical departure” but was employing a term in line with its “traditional use”.

            Not only does Dr. Schreck make this error with regards to the Eastern Orthodox, but he also falsely states that Vatican II called Protestant bodies “churches and ecclesial communions”. However, the Magisterium gave and still gives two very different definitions to both of these terms, and applies “churches” only to the Eastern Orthodox, while the term “ecclesial communions” is reserved for the Protestant bodies. In Dominus Iesus, the CDF declares that “the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery [ie. Protestant communions], are not Churches in the proper sense”. (paragraph 17) This was also stated in the 2007 response -- two years after Dr. Schreck revised and re-published his book under a different title, but with the same errors.

            If we are to fully and properly implement Vatican II, we must not use it in isolation but read it in light of the broader Tradition of the Church. Dr. Schreck and other orthodox Catholics must heed the advice of St. Vincent of Lerins in his Commonitorium -- a book that is a must-read today in order to avoid the errors of isolating Vatican II from the tradition -- who begins his work by citing Moses: “Ask thy fathers, and they will declare to thee: thy elders and they will tell thee.” (Deuteronomy 32:7) 

Hermeneutic of Continuity and Ecumenism, Part I: "Heretics" or "Separated Brethren"?


            While writing my self-published manuscript, New Things and Old: Re-Implementing Vatican II, I came to the realization that Vatican II had its own emphases and omissions and could only be understood in light of past Magisterial teaching and the sources of the Tradition, for if taken by themselves the documents could lead even orthodox Catholics to formulate or embrace ideas or reach conclusions that were erroneous and run contrary to Catholic teaching.

            This tendency was addressed by Pope Benedict XVI, who spoke of “two hermeneutics” or methods for how Vatican II should be interpreted and understood – the “hermeneutic of continuity and reform” and the “hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture”.

            The “hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture” was (and still is) employed by not only “liberals” in the Church, but also certain “traditionalists” -- the former believing that there were radical changes and for the better, while the latter believing there were novel and revolutionary teachings and for the worse.

            The “hermeneutic of continuity and reform”, on the other hand, is used by “orthodox” Catholics, who see Vatican II as merely developing certain doctrines but teaching nothing contrary to what was officially taught before.

            However, what has happened and continues to happen is that in certain areas, orthodox Catholics unwittingly and thus innocently apply the wrong hermeneutic, believing that certain previous Magisterial statements contradict Vatican II and therefore must not have been infallible as they are “in error”. In doing so, they make the same mistake that certain traditionalists do.

            One of the most common areas that this has occurred in is ecumenism. Let us take for example an excerpt from The Catholic Challenge, written by my former theology professor, Dr. Alan Schreck. Dr. Schreck states in pages 203-204, “After the Protestant Reformation, it was common for Catholics and Protestants to think of each other as ‘heretics’ (those who believed false doctrine)”. But, he joyfully goes on to exclaim, “what a radical departure from such a posture is the teaching of the Second Vatican Council!” which declared that “‘All those justified by faith through baptism are incorporated into Christ. They therefore have the right to be honored by the title of Christian, and are properly regarded as brothers in the Lord by the sons of the Catholic Church’ (UR [Unitatis Redintegratio], no. 2)”. He goes on to say, “Not only [this], but at Vatican II the Catholic church officially recognized for the first time the bodies to which these Christians belong as ‘churches and (ecclesial) communities,’” the terms, it later becomes clear, Dr. Schreck sees as synonymous and interchangeable and pointing to the same thing. However, if we examine Dr. Schreck’s commentary, we will discover that he employed the wrong hermeneutic, for by using the hermeneutic of continuity, you come up with the following:

            Regarding the term “heretic”, we must begin by first finding out what it means and how it has been used by the Church. The word comes from the Greek airesos, meaning “sect”, and was used by St. Peter in Scripture to refer to splinter groups such as the Gnostics. (2Peter 2:1) From “heresy” comes “heretic”, and the term has been used since the beginning to refer to “the formal denial or doubt by a baptized person of any revealed truth of the Catholic faith”. [Attwater, Donald, ed. A Catholic Dictionary. New York: MacMillan Company, 1951]

            A distinction, however, has long been made between “formal” and “material” heresy. St. Thomas in his Summa Theologica (II-II q.11, a.1) states that when “the heretical tenets [arise from] ignorance of the true creed, erroneous judgment, imperfect apprehension and comprehension of dogmas”, then “such heresy is merely objective, or material”, for “one of the necessary conditions of sinfulness -- free choice -- is wanting”. However, when “the will … freely incline[s] the intellect to adhere to tenets declared false by the [Magisterium]”, as in the case of “intellectual pride [or] the allurements of political or ecclesiastical power”, then the heresy is “freely willed” and thus it is “formal” and “carries with it varying degree[s] of guilt”.

            The Reformers have always been accused of formal heresy, but not necessarily Protestants who were born into those communions, as the Catholic Dictionary witnesses to: “It can hardly be doubted that the vast majority of non-Catholic Christians are in good faith and labouring under invincible ignorance. It is amusing to note, in this age when many people [anti-Catholic Protestants] boast that they are heretics and resent any stigma of orthodoxy, that the Church refuses them both the name and the odium attaching to it” [emphasis mine].

            At times the Magisterial documents before Vatican II did refer to Protestants as “heretics”. However, these documents refrained from using the term “heretic” when addressing Protestants in a fraternal spirit of invitation and dialogue, using them only when addressing the Catholic faithful alone and when the negative connotations attached to the term were fitting, such as when referring to non-Catholic Christians in certain anti-Catholic activities of theirs. In fact, some Popes before Vatican II used the term later adopted by Vatican II -- “separated brethren” or “separated children”, as Pope Pius XI did in Mortalium Animos [paragraph 12] and as Pope Pius XII did in Orientalis Ecclesiae. [paragraph 38] That the more negative terms are no longer seen can be attributed to the fact that since Vatican II, the Magisterium has so seldom spoken negatively about anyone or any movement (the wisdom of which could be debated).

            However, that is not to say the Magisterium never does. Pope John Paul II, when speaking negatively and critically about the proselytizing of Catholics in Latin America by  Protestant groups, refers to them as “sects” (which is what “heresy” literally means) [Ad Limina Address to the Bishops’ Conference of Brazil, September 5, 1995]. Cardinal Ratzinger also used the same term in The Ratzinger Report to refer to certain proselytizing Protestant groups. [pages 117-118] The fact remains that Protestants are still “material heretics” and the communions they belong to “heretical”, even if the Magisterium generally opts not to use the terms.

            As we can see, this apparent “radical departure” spoken of by Dr. Schreck did not really take place at Vatican II and still does not exist. If the quotation he gave seems like a “radical departure” to him, it is first of all because he knows not the Catholic Tradition, and secondly because he failed to look into the footnotes made by the Vatican II Fathers, who were very careful to root any teaching that could be seen as revolutionary in the sources of Tradition. This, however, is beyond our scope.

            In our next article, we will examine the issue of giving the title “Church” to the Eastern Orthodox and Protestant communions.