Rorate Caeli

The myth of the Hermeneutic of Continuity

The following Rorate translation was first published by our Spanish-language partners "Adelante la Fe." 

Interview of José María Permuy, conducted by Javier Navascués

Papolatry is a widespread phenomenon in the Catholic Church. Many Catholics take as infallible everything the Pope says, failing to realize that the successor of Peter is only infallible under very specific and limited conditions and when he speaks ex cathedra, which in practice occurs only rarely. Conservative groups, together with many members of the Church, cherish an especial veneration for the Second Vatican Council and its documents. In effect, they elevate what was merely a pastoral council to the level of infallible dogma. In accordance with Benedict XVI’s thesis of the hermeneutic of continuity, they would interpret the Second Vatican Council in the light of Tradition, without rupture or break, without the least error, approving of everything. This cannot be.

José María Permuy, a professional in the field of education, a lecturer and author of many articles on the traditional teachings of the Church, explains on this occasion why it is not possible to speak of “hermeneutic of continuity” in its proper sense.

Why cannot this concept be accepted?

Because it is a half-truth, well-intentioned as it may be. It is certain that there are conciliar texts that are susceptible to two or more interpretations. There, precisely, lies the problem. If these texts were clear, there would be no room for diverse interpretations. The fundamental problem, therefore, is not the subjective interpretations that are made, but the ambiguities and the objective contradictions made in some of the affirmations of the Second Vatican Council in comparison with the Magisterium of all time.

It is true that over the years the Popes have tried to clarify doctrinal issues, such as the primacy of the Pope or the necessity of Christ and His one true Church for salvation. 

It is no less certain that on other occasions, the Popes, including Benedict XVI, have promoted, in theory or in practice, conciliar ideas contrary or alien to the Tradition of the Church, such as the separation of Church and State, ecumenical and interreligious prayer meetings, the recognition of the “martyrdom” of heretics and schismatics, the translation of the Mass into the vernacular and the progressive introduction and permission for Communion in the hand, extraordinary Eucharistic ministers, altar girls, etc… Francis is doing nothing but taking these erroneous ideas to their logical conclusions.

If the Popes themselves have fallen into heterodox interpretations in several important areas, it is because the conciliar documents themselves have allowed it. It is evident that had they adhered to such encyclicals as Mortalium animos, Mediator Dei, Quas primas, Vehementer nos, and Immortale Dei, the heterodox interpretations would have been impossible.

What did the Second Vatican Council mean for the Church?

Because of the Council, the existence of a false “church” became more apparent—a parasite upon the one true Church of Christ, the Catholic Church. Fortunately the Church is one and indivisible. Doctrine does not change. The unity of its government, under the authority of the Vicar of Christ, does not change, even if at times, as St. Thomas Aquinas teaches, in imitation of the Apostle St. Paul, the faithful have the right and even the duty to confront the Holy Father and to correct him if he takes decisions that put the integrity of the doctrine of the Faith or the salvation of souls at risk.

Up until the Second Vatican Council, heretics either left the Church or were expelled from Her. The heterodox were admonished and chastised. Today they dwell in the Church’s very bosom. They are cardinals, bishops, priests, theologians. They are not leaving. They do not wish to leave. They wish to remain within and work to enshrine their errors in theory, or at least in practice. To make things worse, the Popes scarcely intervene. Sometimes, they not only fail to oppose these new and heterodox tendencies, but they themselves are their followers, or even their authors.

The gates of hell shall not prevail. This is a promise of our Divine Saviour. But it does not mean that, as Paul VI warned, the smoke screen of Satan has not infiltrated the Church and turned it down a path of self-destruction. Will Satan and his destructive minions bring down the Church? No. Could they inflict serious damage upon Her? Certainly. Such is our current situation.

Is there a distinction to be made between parts of the conciliar documents that are erroneous, those that are ambiguous, and those that are indifferent?

In this regard, to be honest and unbiased, we must begin by recognizing that there are not only parts that are erroneous, ambiguous and indifferent; nearly the entirety of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council is fully orthodox, edifying, in conformity with the extraordinary Magisterium and the ordinary universal Magisterium of the Church, and therefore with Catholic Tradition.

However, as is well known, to be a heretic it suffices to deny one single truth of the Faith, even if one were to be a passionate defender of all the rest.

Not every theological error is a heresy. Nonetheless it remains an error, and as such, dangerous and unacceptable. The Second Vatican Council contains affirmations that are indifferent, for instance sections that deal with methods of communication and other such things with no direct relation to faith and morals.

It contains ambiguous documents, such as Dignitatis humanae, which on the one hand claims to leave intact the traditional Catholic doctrine on the duty of society towards Christ and the true religion, but on the other hand maintains, in opposition to the Traditional Magisterium, that the State must respect, as a right, the freedom to promote false religions in the public sphere.

There are also errors, for example when it is affirmed, without further explanation and in contradiction with what was established at the Ecumenical Council of Florence, that heretics and schismatics can be martyrs if they shed their blood for confessing Christ.

And let us not forget the deliberate omissions, such as the absence of an explicit moral condemnation of Communism.

This interview is not the time for an exhaustive enumeration of the ambiguities and errors of Vatican II. For a closer study of the theme, I recommend three works: Iota unum by Romano Amerio, Il Concilio Vaticano II. Un discorso da fare by Brunero Gherardini [translated into English as The Ecumenical Vatican Council II: A Much-Needed Discussion] and the Si Si No No series on “The Errors of Vatican II.”

So therefore, not everything taught in this Council is part of Tradition…

Absolutely not. In matters such as religious liberty, relations between the Church and the political community, and the role of false religions with heretical and schismatic groups with regard to the salvation of mankind, to take only a few examples, its teachings are novel and incompatible with Tradition.

Archbishop Lefebvre was opposed to the errors of the Council and firm in defense of Tradition…

Archbishop Lefebvre certainly was, I do not know if he was the first, but certainly the most prominent shepherd of the Church who, from the very beginning until his death, perseveringly denounced the errors, contradictions, omissions and ambiguities of the Second Vatican Council.

Today, as we watch, stunned, while day after day Francis pushes the worst of the Second Vatican Council to its most extreme and nefarious consequences, the figure of Archbishop Lefebvre shines forth ever more brightly as a man of prophetic vision.

Why do conservative groups blindly defend the Council?

It is not easy to find an explanation. In fact, there are many different motivations, and not all are caused by bad faith or bad will. In the case of some bishops, priests, and superiors of religious orders and congregations, it is quite possible that although they want to convince themselves that they are acting out of obedience, the fear of reprisals weighs on them: loss of their positions or even their livelihoods; the risk of an intervention by the Holy See into their communities…

Another motive is what many call papolatry. It is the belief that the Popes can never err when speaking of faith or morals. The First Vatican Council defined the infallibility of the Pope under certain conditions: [among others,] that he expressly wishes to define, as definitive, a truth regarding faith or morals.

This implies that, should these conditions not exist, the Popes are not necessarily aided by the Holy Ghost with the charism of infallibility; they can err, also in matters of faith and morals. If this were not so, the First Vatican Council would have declared that the Pope cannot err when he speaks of faith and morals, period, no further distinctions, nuances, clarifications or disquisitions needed.

What is more, the Popes, even without speaking or writing heresy, are not exempt from the possibility of sinning by favouring it, either by action or by omission, as demonstrated by the case of the anathematized Pope Honorius I.

Another reason that non-progressive Catholics defend the Second Vatican Council is that, like Benedict XVI, they believe the obscure and ambiguous passages in the Council texts can be reinterpreted in the light of Tradition.

By this they mean that whenever an obscure paragraph occurs, the light of traditional doctrine should be projected onto it and everything will become clear. They fail to recognize that the evil is that the paragraph, itself, should be obscure at all. Furthermore, not everyone has the knowledge of the traditional Magisterium of the Church to reinterpret these obscure passages correctly. The Second Vatican Council has become, de facto, almost the only magisterial text of reference for all Catholics. Where do we receive instruction about the teachings of Trent, or the Magisterium of the Popes prior to Vatican II?

For this reason, what is needed is not to project light onto obscure passages, but rather to change these passages so that in themselves, and for all those who read them, they are clear.

There are also those who take advantage of the fact that in the documents of Vatican II, there are obscure expressions or statements on some topics, side by side with others that are perfectly clear and in accordance with Tradition. They emphasize the latter, and gloss over the former. They do the same as the progressives do, but in the inverse.

Javier Navascués has written for the Periodico de Aragón and Canal 44 of Zaragoza. He has also worked as an announcer and screenwriter for a number of Catholic media groups such as NSE, EWTN, Radio Maria, and others, most recently at Agnus Dei.