Rorate Caeli

Canon Law, justice, and the hermeneutic of continuity

Another path exists in which a proper comprehension of canon law gives way to a process of interpretation that is part of the search for truth regarding law and justice in the Church. As I pointed out to the Federal Parliament of my country, in the Reichstag in Berlin, true law is inseparable from justice. This principle obviously also applies to canon law, in the sense that it can not be locked within a merely human system legal, but must be connected to a just order of the Church, in which there is a higher law. In this context, positive human law loses the primacy attributed to it, since law is no longer identified with it alone; in this, however, human law is valued as an expression of justice, primarily for what it declares regarding divine law, but also for what it introduces regarding self-determination as a human right.
It follows that the interpretation of Canon Law must take place within the Church. ... The sentire cum Ecclesia has a meaning also in discipline, motivated by the doctrinal foundations that are always present and operative in the legal norms of the Church. In this sense, also to Canon Law must be applied that hermeneutic of renewal in continuity of which I have spoken regarding the Second Vatican Council, so closely related to the current canonical legislation. Christian maturity leads to loving the law ever more and to wishing to understand and apply it faithfully.
Benedict XVI
January 21, 2012


  1. I'm an attorney, and what our Holy Father is speaking might be termed legalese; that is, you might seem smart simply by phraseology. And our Holy Father is brilliant.

    But, to simplify the Holy Father is verbosely saying just two things: the SSPX is not the arbiter of doctrine, and Vatican II is a "renewal".

    Well, with all respect to our Holy Father, I respectfully disagree.

    Vatican II was not a "renewal", it was an aberration and a disaster on an epic scale.

    What happened to SSPX, and the Latin Mass, was a violation of both law and justice.

  2. Peter8:13 AM

    I totally disagree with Kinght of Malta!

    The Holy Father stats that: "canon law, ... must be connected to a JUST order of the Church, in which there is a HIGHER law"

    Isn't this what Abp. Lefebvre and the SSPX have been saying for the last 40 years!? "We oppose certain particular laws of the Church in order to save these fundamental laws. By using some of these particular laws against us, the fundamental laws are destroyed. It is contrary to the welfare of souls, contrary to the mission of the Church. [Archbishop Lefebvre: 20 Years of Struggle]19 Jan. 2012 quote from SSPX.Org

    I believe the Holy Father is setting the groundwork for the regularization of the SSPX and hope Bp. Williamson will stop his anti-Roman (Anglican dare I say) rantings and behave as a ROMAN Catholic for a change.

  3. Anonymous9:23 AM

    Mes Amis,

    The Holy Father was not referring to the Lefebvrien situation yesterday. He was aiming to discredit the novel but growing theory that some cardinals are advancing, namely that the Judge in a nullity case has the power to create a ground of nullity out of thin air, based upon the circumstances of the case, and decree nullity of a marriage. The Holy Father insisted on the need for the law to be followed under pain of invalidating a judgment for nullity.

    It was a landmark allocution.

    Curial Canonist

  4. The first paragraph sounds great, but what the heck does this mean?

    In this sense, also to Canon Law must be applied that hermeneutic of renewal in continuity of which I have spoken regarding the Second Vatican Council, so closely related to the current canonical legislation. Christian maturity leads to loving the law ever more and to wishing to understand and apply it faithfully.

    Does the recent approving nod and wink toward the Neocatechumenal Way provide an example of “that hermeneutic of renewal in continuity . . . regarding the Second Vatican Council”?

  5. In fact, due to the self-evident rupture accruing from liturgical and pastoral revolutions since the Vatican Councils in the 1960s, the new church demonstrates itself incapable of justice because it is compromising the truth. Even Our Blessed Lady has admonished it for this at Akita. Ecumenically, interreligiously, liturgically and pastorally, the new ecclesiastical infrastructures have been protestantised. There is papal privilege for essentially non-Catholic sect-like elements such as The Neo-Catechumenal Way and Anglicans while traditional groups such as The Confraternity are made to appear right-wing extremists out-of-favour with contemporary tastes and trends.

    Moreover, this situation has nothing at all to do with Bishop Williamson as some infer. It is to do with fear of an episcopal backlash as far as open schism with The Vatican. This is one salient reason why John Paul II (RIP) lacked the necessary courage to give intended concessions to The SSPX in the first place. North of The Mediterranean are many diocese already effectively in open rebellion against papal initiatives.

  6. Xavier Rynne1:46 PM

    I think Benedict is so emotionally invested in the concept of Vatican II as a good event for the Church, due to his own involvement in it as a peritus, and in the vindication of his own judgment, that he can't just come out and forthrightly put it in its proper place. It will take a future pope to do that.

  7. Prof. Basto1:48 PM

    Knight of Malta and Peter, I respectfully disagree. The Holy Father was speaking at the opening of the judicial year of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota.

    What makes you think that he was speaking about the SSPX? Is it possible, just possible, that the situation of the SSPX was not the target of the Holy Father's remarks?

    In my understanding, what the Holy Father does here is a twofold criticism:

    - he criticizes a positivist reading of the law, based on the texts only, and makes reference to his speech to the German Bundestag;

    - but he also criticizes an approach to canon law that obliterates the value and force of the legal norms altogether, and tht is concerned just with finding a solution to the specific case at hand, based on what the officer in charge considers to be appropriate. The pope denounces this praxis as a replacement of one positivism with another, in which the role of the interpreter becomes paramout, but lacking the understanding that there is an objective legal order that must be followed.

    Then the Holy Father points to a kind of a "middle way": The Law in general, and Canon Law in particular, must be applied with justice. But respect for the objective legal order is also an expression of justice.

    Therefore, the interpreter must apply the Canon Law with justice, but he must seek a just solution within the framework of the Corpus of legal norms of the Church: he cannot just ignore the legal texts.

    On the contrary, the boundaries of interpretation are dictated by the possibilities of meaning of the legal texts (hence the Pope's reference to canon 17, that mentions the "proper meaning of the words in the text and in context" as a basic interpretative key).

    Within those boundaries, and recognizing that respect for the laid down legal order is also an expression of justice, the interpreter must seek a just solution to the case, so that his search remains a search for "juridical truth", in the sense that the correct solution is found as a research within the objective Law binding on the Church.

    The pope recognizes, though, that such interpretative work is not a mere logical exercise, but must take into account the realities of the Church as a whole, and that, in particular, the interpreter must be guided by the "sentire cum Ecclesia".

    He indicates that the interpretative key known as the "hermeneutic of renewal in continuity", in reference to the reforms of Vatican II, must be applied also to the matters of ecclesiastical discipline, and and that such hermeneutic must also guide, therefore, the application of the present canonical legislation.

  8. Prof. Basto,

    You are absolutely correct and that is a great summary of this great speech. It was the most relevant address by the Holy Father on Canon Law in his entire pontificate.

    Thank you,


  9. This speech amounts to a characteristic attempt to justify what can now only be described as the post-conciliar "rupture". It is dressed up canonically to appear as a justification for all the relentless and destructive liberal novelties and changes inflicted on the church. The typical excess of words attempt to make us believe that within the defintions of canon law all that has been done is a continuity and encapsulates the necessary character of justice. The juxtaposition of "renewal" betrays the liberal modernist mind from which it emanates, with all due respect to the papal office. This is the philosophy that has rewritten menaings and significations in order to " raze bastions" and bring about a Novus Ordo.

  10. William6:50 PM

    The Pope said "A", he said "B", "C"...


    What did His Holiness say?

  11. What Prof. Basto said.

  12. Sometimes I come across as a fireball in here, but I have four daughters, and if you ever met me i'm the most diminutive man you'll ever meet!

    I know this is off-topic, but my daughters and I all love In the Endby Snow Patrol.

    We must always Accentuate the Positive, and Eliminate the Negative, and Spread Joy up to the Maximum in the words of the great Bing Crosby!

  13. As one who is the same age as Israel, I have to write that this post V2 continuity of the repetitious use of the word hermeneutics in regards to an obviously not putative continuity in the Church continues to make me suspicious.

    Here is the Catholic Encyclopedia on Hermeneutics:

    Though the influence of hermeneutics is so far-reaching, its efficiency must not be overestimated. Hermeneutics doe not supply a deficiency of natural ability, nor does it rectify false philosophical principles or perverse passions, nor again does it impart the needed philological and historical erudition. Secondly, of itself hermeneutics does not investigate the objective truth of a writer's meaning, which has been established by its canons; it does not inquire what is true or false, but only what the writer intended to say. Hence a hermeneutic truth may be an objective falsehood, unless the writing subjected to the hermeneutic rules be endowed with the prerogative of inerrancy