There are a number of Traditionalist groups who reject the Second Vatican Council and the changes that followed. They consider those who have accepted the changes to be what they call "The Conciliar Church." They somehow imagine that members of this "Conciliar Church" are no longer Catholic and that they themselves are the loyal remnant.
Traditionalists are well aware that ecumenical councils have always spoken with authority. They try to get around this by claiming that Vatican II was a pastoral and not a doctrinal council. A pastoral council, they contend, can teach error and thus does not require assent. But no such distinction exists. An ecumenical council is an ecumenical council. When Pope John XXIII called the council pastoral he was referring to its approach. He wasnít creating a new non binding class of council. What sense would that even make? Why summon 2600 bishops to Rome if their work would ultimately be meaningless?
Traditionalists prefer the style employed by the Council of Trent where anathemas were issued against heresies. They see Vatican IIís kind words to other religions as being contradictory to the work done at Trent. But that is simply not so. Trent was convened to address attacks on the faith by former Catholics (heretics). Thus anathemas would be a natural part of their work. Vatican II was, among other things, concerned with bringing the message of Christ to the world, thus its pastoral approach. If you want to communicate the Gospel effectively you begin by drawing attention to what is good in others as the apostle Paul did in Acts 17:22-23. You donít foster effective communication with condemnations.
The "pastoral argument" becomes even more untenable when you consider two of the documents produced by the council. For instance: "Dogmatic Constitution on the Church" and "Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation." Use of the word Dogmatic would seem to indicate that these documents were something more than friendly suggestions.
In "Humani Generis" Pope Pius XII leaves no doubt as to the authority of the proclamations of a general (ecumenical) council. He wrote: "If the General Council in its official documents purposely passes judgment on a matter up to that time under dispute, it is obvious that the matter, according to the mind of the council, cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion..."
Even if for some reason the council were not ecumenical its teachings would still require assent as they were promulgated by Pope Paul VI. Any teaching promulgated by a pope is authoritative by virtue of the Churchís Ordinary Magisterium (Vatican I, session 3, chapter 3).
Traditionalists try to back up their arguments by quoting council documents out of context. For instance, I received the following concerning "Lumen Gentium ":
But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place among these there are the Moslems, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind (No. 16).
Ask any Moslem if he adores Jesus as God. He does not and therefore he denies the one true God. Therefore Vatican II is in error when it equates Islam with Catholicism. Jesus established one Church and it has no equal.
There is no claim here of spiritual equality. This passage is merely affirming the traditional Church teaching that those outside the Church can get to heaven. The subject is treated in greater detail a few sentences later: "Those who through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do His will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience Ė those too may achieve eternal salvation."
The document affirms other traditional views of the Church:
1. All men are called to the
union of the Catholic Church (1:3).
2. The Church has the mission to proclaim the kingdom of Christ to all peoples (1:5).
3. Christ is the one mediator (1:8).
4. The Church is necessary for salvation (2:14).
5. Whoever knows this and leaves the Church cannot be saved (2:14).
Traditionalists are scandalized by the liturgical abuses that plague many Catholic churches today. They are appalled by Catholic universities that routinely alter Church doctrines to make them more acceptable to the modern world (Modernism). On these points their outrage is justified. Indeed, every Catholic should be outraged by such behavior. However, dissent within the Church never justifies schism. As someone once said, "You donít leave Peter because of Judas." If anything you stay and work for change.
For those who prefer the Latin Mass there are legitimate options. You can check with your diocese to see if there are any offered in your area. Or you can contact groups like The Fraternity of St. Peter (www.fssp.com) or The Institute of Christ the King (www.institute-christ-king.org). Schismatic groups such as the Society of St. Pius X should be avoided at all costs as support for such groups results in automatic excommunication.
Some Traditionalists are more creative than others. Within the movement there is a group known as the Sedevacanists. This group realizes that Catholics are supposed to be obedient to the pope. And yet they have been at odds with every pope since the council. Their solution to this dilemma Ė they claim there hasnít been a pope since 1958. How do they know there hasnít been a pope since 1958? Because every one who has occupied the office since that time has disagreed with them. Therefore they must be heretics and thus not real popes.
There are a couple of things wrong with this argument. First of all, not agreeing with someoneís private interpretation of Church documents does not constitute heresy. Secondly, even if they were guilty of heresy they would still have been popes. Pope Pius XII, the last real pope according to Sedevacanists, tells us as much in his apostolic constitution "Vacantis Apostolicae Sedis." He wrote: "None of the cardinals may in any way, or by pretext or reason of any excommunication, suspension, or interdict whatsoever, or of any other ecclesiastical impediment, be excluded from the active and passive election of the supreme pontiff. We hereby suspend such censures solely for the purpose of the said election; at other times they are to remain in vigor" (no. 34).
Passive election refers to the cardinal himself being elected pope. This may seem odd at first glance. But it is actually necessary. Heresy can be a purely internal disposition without any outward manifestation. If a pope were a heretic and kept it to himself no one would know. If being a heretic would negate a papal election and you could never know for sure if a pope were a heretic, it follows that you could never know if we had a pope. If this were the case the Church would be in a constant state of chaos. We see this same principal applied to the Eucharist. The validity of the Eucharist does not depend on the worthiness of the priest. If it did you would never know if you were receiving a validly consecrated host.
Itís true that a heretical pope should step down as he would have no right to be pope. But if he didnít step down he would still be pope. And the Church would be protected from his heresy by papal infallibility. If any pope planned on formally teaching heresy, weather on purpose or unknowingly, the Holy Spirit would not allow it. We have Christís word on that (Matthew 16:18).
There isnít enough room in a short essay to adequately address all of the complaints Traditionalists have against the Church. However, some are worthy of note. They believe that only Catholics can be saved. This idea was condemned by Pope Pius IX in his encyclical, "Quanto Conficiamur Moerore," No. 7. They believe that Christ died only for the elect. This idea was condemned by the Council of Trent, session 6, chapter 2 as well as 2 Corinthians 5:15. Some Traditionalists, such as the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, even appoint their own bishops. This was condemned by Pope Pius XII in "Ad Apostolorum Principis" and it results in an automatic excommunication for all involved.
So when Traditionalists say they reject Vatican II it is only the tip of the iceberg. In practice they also reject Trent, Vatican I, Pope Pius IX, and Pope Pius XII. Iím sure with a little more research this list would only grow.
Copyright © 2006 StayCatholic.com
For Further Study
Full text of Ecclesia Dei (The Excommunication of
Archbishop Lefebvre) (Free)
The Words of Consecration (Free)
Pope Pius V & Quo Primum (Free)
CD - More Catholic Than The Pope by Patrick Madrid & Peter Vere
Free Online Book - A Prescription Against Traditionalism by by I. Shawn McElhinney
Prev. Essays Next