Rorate Caeli

Fr. John Hardon’s Commentary on a Draft of the CCC (Part 2)

Continuing from the first part, published at Rorate Caeli yesterday (here).

Father John A. Hardon’s 1990 Comments on the “Revised Draft” of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (Part II)

Robert Hickson


“Love is the willingness to suffer with the beloved, for the beloved, and—most painfully—from the beloved. To include from our beloved Church. But, just as we would not have wanted to have abandoned Our Lord in Gethsemane, we must not abandon the wounded Church now in her need, in her own Passion....Would we not have wanted to have given Him then our loyal love in His Gethsemane? So, too, with His Church now. For, it was after He had received the Angel of Consolation in Gethsemane that Our Lord was to sweat blood—His Precious Blood. Let us more and more contemplate with love the Passion of the Lord—and the Passion of His Church now, too. That will help us.” (Father John A. Hardon, S.J., words spoken in the early 1990s to his assistant, in one their private conversations—emphasis supplied by Father Hardon orally.)

“This [unjust selective use and truncation of texts] may be said to be the fundamental flaw in methodology of the ‘Revised Draft.’ It corresponds to the fundamental flaw in [today’s] theology, which is the ambiguity about the essence of divine faith as a virtue of the intellect, and the act of faith as the assent of the intellect to God’s revealed truth.” (Father John A. Hardon’s 1990 Words of Commentary on the “Revised Draft” of the proposed universal catechism, as privately presented to Archbishop Jan Schotte, Secretary of the Synod of Bishops in Rome.)

In this second and final portion of Jesuit Father John Hardon’s confidential June 1990 Commentaries to Archbishop Schotte and Father von Schönborn concerning the “Revised Draft” of the proposed new Catechism of the Catholic Church, we propose to present in Father Hardon’s own lucid words his comparably deepening analysis of the “Revised Draft.” If our selection from pages 4-68 of the Dossier now engages further interest, we would hope to publish the entire historic Dossier somehow, Deo volente.

Even for those who have already read Part I of this two-part presentation, we should remember how Father Hardon has entitled his own private Commentary:

Basic Reservations on the Revised Draft of the Catechism for The Universal Church [sic]. The Ten Basic Reservations were personally submitted to Archbishop Jan Schotte, secretary of the Synod of Bishops, and also discussed with Rev. Christoph von Schonborn [sic], editor of the Catechism for the Universal Church. (pages 1-2)

All pagination (from pages 4-68) will be placed in parentheses in the body of our presentation of Father Hardon’s Commentaries, but the bold emphasis will be this writer’s added emphasis, unless otherwise stipulated. The emphases that are underlined—here converted into italics—are Father Hardon’s own emphases. Everything between the two rows of asterisks is taken directly from the Commentaries.

* * *

At the outset, it should be stated that the “Revised Draft” is not a summary of Catholic doctrine, but a compendium of Catholicism, Protestantism [“Old Testament Christianity”], and theological speculation. The “Revised Draft” consciously avoids anything that could be considered “defensive” of Catholic teaching, and least of all “polemic” in its treatment of Christian doctrine. The “Revised Draft” clearly states [at 0114] that the non-christian [sic] religions “reveal certain limits and errors that can disfigure the image of God and man.”

But its attitude towards Protestantism is different
. Thus, the following is stated in the opening paragraphs on “The Structure of this Catechism.”

0011 The plan of this catechism is based in part on the great tradition of the catechisms both of the Protestant Reformation (M. Luther, J. Calvin), and the Catholic Reformation of the sixteenth century. The exposition is structured round four “pillars”: the Apostles’ Creed, the Sacraments, the Commandments, and the “Our Father.”

Reading through the full text of the “Revised Draft,” it is clear that an ecumenical compendium is made of both the doctrines of the Catholic Church, and the teachings of the Christian churches which originated with Martin Luther and John Calvin. (4-5)

[After quoting at some length, and then specifically contrasting, the Roman Catechism mandated by the Council of Trent, and showing its own structural and doctrinal plan, Father Hardon says, on p. 6:]


But who would say there is less need to protect the integrity of Catholic doctrine in the twentieth century, than there was to safeguard revealed truth from error in the sixteenth century? The ecumenism ushered in by the Second Vatican Council is a great blessing. But it must be authentic ecumenism. It cannot mean compromising revealed truth which, the Council declared, is possessed in its fullness only by the Catholic Church of which the Bishop of Rome is the visible head. (6-7)


There are three ecumenical norms....(1.) Clear Presentation of the Whole of Catholic Doctrine....(2) Precise and Profound Explanation of Catholic Belief....(3) Love, Charity, and Humility. (7) What needs to be to re-examine the “Revised Draft” and make such revisions as are necessary in the light of the foregoing conciliar [“ecumenical”] norms. (8)


The “Revised Draft” does not deny that divine faith is the assent of the human intellect to God’s revelation. But neither is it clear and explicit in teaching this as irreversible [“irreformable”] Catholic doctrine. (9) What should be said is that “this faith is characterized by obedience of the intellect; confidence of the will in the faithfulness of God and in the truth of His word; action of our whole being according to that word, even if it seemed humanly impossible.” (9-10) In other words, divine faith is the submission of our intellect to the authority of God who reveals the truth. Then, building on this obedience of mind, we have trustful confidence of will in God’s fidelity to His promises. And finally we dedicate our whole being in response to what we believe is revealed truth. (10) This lack of clarity on the essence of faith as an assent of the intellect continues through the rest of the section of the “Revised Draft,” i.e. from 0312 to 0353. (10)


What is absolutely necessary for a Catholic Catechism is first, to make clear the basic meaning of faith. (10) What must be made explicitly plain is that divine faith is basically the submission of our intellect to the infinite mind of God....”with the inspiration and help of God’s grace” [Vat. I]. (10-11) It appears that the authors of the “Revised Draft” consciously avoided the full meaning of faith as given by the First Vatican Council. (11)


This is not theological subtlety, to insist that we must first assent to revealed truth, and then can confidently trust in God’s goodness. Why? Because at the heart of historic Protestantism is the contrary position. It claims that “fiducial faith” or trustful confidence in God’s mercy and not “dogmatic faith,” or acceptance by the intellect of God’s revealed truth, is the bedrock of Christianity. (12) Because the “Revised Draft” [0329-0330] is ambiguous on the essence of faith, its treatment of growth in faith and dangers to the faith is less than satisfactory. (12) [For example,] To grow in faith means six thing[s]. All of them require divine grace and our cooperation with the inspirations of the Holy Spirit. (12)


The concluding summary [of the Section of Faith, 0346-0353] “In Brief,” finally gives a more precise description of faith. It uses words like “recognize as true,” “corresponding to reality,” and says that “Faith is a supernatural gift which implants in the human intelligence.” The trouble is that for most of the preceding pages, the essential meaning of faith as “the assent of the intellect to God’s revelation” is less than clear. (15)


The “Revised Draft” is not forthrightly clear on the papal primacy. It is correspondingly not clear on the role of the Roman Pontiff in the Church’s extraordinary magisterium [as in Pius XII’s 1950 declaration of Mary’s Glorious Assumption]. And it is least clear on, and has avoided direct treatment of, the Church’s ordinary universal magisterium, whose infallibility depends on the papal primacy. (16)


[As to “what must, in justice, be called ambiguity about the papal primacy” (16)]: Nowhere is the authority of the Bishop of Rome clearly and explicitly declared to be a primacy of jurisdiction, not only over the Church at large, but also specifically over the bishops. (17) [Even]... the clear teaching of Lumen Gentium [LG 22] on this critical issue is, to say the least, obscured. (17) What is omitted from the foregoing paragraphs [LG 22] is the explicit teaching of Lumen Gentium that papal authority is also a primacy of jurisdiction over the bishops.(18)


The authors of the “Revised Draft” have done three things: (1) They have inverted the sequence of statements from Lumen Gentium. (2) They have selectively chosen certain statements and omitted others. (3) They have omitted the statements in which it [Lumen Gentium] explicitly declares that the papal primacy is also over the college of bishops. It will be instructive to quote the full context in Lumen Gentium from which the preceding [tendentiously selective and omitted] quotations are taken. (18)



Not surprisingly the “Revised Draft” associates infallibility first with the bishops and, then, by way of addendum, also with the Roman Pontiff. Again, it is worth quoting first from the “Revised Draft,” which quotes from Lumen Gentium, and then the full text in Lumen Gentium. (20) Given the magnitude of the subject, it is inconceivable that so little is said about infallibility. It is even more astounding, although predictable, that infallibility should be explained in such a way that it seems to reside essentially in the bishops and only consequentially in the Roman Pontiff. (20)


Like its treatment of the papal primacy, so here too the “Revised Draft” has taken great liberty [even] in its quotations from Lumen Gentium [LG 25, from the “Second Vatican Council”]. (21)

Lumen Gentium [LG 25] then goes on to speak about the ordinary universal magisterium, about which the “Revised Draft” says not a word....The full statement of Lumen Gentium, most of which is omitted in the “Revised Draft,” is indispensable for a correct Catholic understanding of papal infallibility and the Church’s extraordinary magisterium. (22) Having deleted most of what Lumen Gentium [LG 25] says about the Church’s extraordinary magisterium, it is no wonder the “Revised Draft” is simply silent about the infallibility of the ordinary universal magisterium. (23-24)



As already noted, the authors of the “Revised Draft” do indeed speak of “the infallibility of the apostolic magisterium.” But this minuscule statement not only fails to explain the infallibility of the ordinary universal magisterium. It ignores such infallibility with devastating consequences to a large part of the Church’s irreversible teaching, especially in the vast area of personal and social morality. (24)


Most of the dissenters from the Church’s teachings in the twentieth century have rejected the infallibility of the ordinary universal magisterium. Every single moral law governing the fifth, sixth and ninth commandments has been called into question. Contraception and abortion, fornication and adultery, masturbation and homosexuality are being defended by nominally Catholic writers and educators. Why? Because it is claimed that the Church has never spoken infallibly on these matters. (24)


The “Revised Draft” of the proposed Universal Catechism supports this view by its silence on the infallibility of the ordinary universal magisterium. [Even] The Second Vatican Council’s teaching on this crucial matter [in Lumen Gentium 25] is by-passed as though it did not exist. (24)


[Moreover,] The Church has the divine right to defend the unchangeable natural [moral] law, as Pope Paul VI declared in Humanae Vitae. It is irrelevant that so much of this doctrine has never been taught by the Church’s extraordinary magisterium. It has been taught infallibly by the Church’s ordinary universal magisterium. Yet the “Revised Draft” has chosen to ignore this indispensable truth of the Catholic faith. One plausible reason for this omission is to avoid taking a definite stand on such allegedly controversial matters as contraception and extramarital sexual relations. (25-26)


[Reservation 4.]


The subject of revelation is explained early in the “Revised Draft.” Chapter Two (pages 14 to 26) is entitled God Meets Man and has three articles, namely: “The Revelation of God”; “The Transmission of Divine Revelation”; and “Holy Scripture.” Within this section, Tradition is treated in Article 2 under “the Transmission of Divine Revelation.”....But both the explanation of Tradition and its relation to Scripture are seriously defective. (27)

Meaning of Tradition. The Second Vatican Council regularly speaks of Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture (Sacra Traditio et Sacra Scriptura), in that order, and all four words are capitalized. The “Revised Draft” avoids any quotation from Dei Verbum [of Vaticanum II] in which these two sources of revelation are thus juxtaposed and regularly speaks of “Holy Scripture” of “Sacred Scripture,” but never once uses the termHoly Tradition” or “Sacred Tradition.” In fact, the very title of one of the sub-sections is “Tradition and Holy Scripture.” (27)


The problem for the authors of the “Revised Draft” is that they fail to clearly correlate, as Verbum Dei [i.e., Dei Verbum] does, the two sources of revelation. They are preoccupied with emphasizing that revelation is contained in Sacred Scripture. Their preoccupation is understandable in view of the unqualified teaching of the Protestant Reformers that the Bible alone (sola scriptura) contains the whole of God’s revelation to the human race. (27-28)


The Council [Vatican II itself, in its Dogmatic Constitution, Dei Verbum] affirms that Tradition contributed to the formation of Scripture; that Tradition continued in apostolic tradition under the guidance of the Holy Spirit; and that the certitude of divine faith derives not only from Scripture but also from Tradition. But the “Revised Draft” presumes to say what neither the Council of Trent, nor the First Vatican Council, nor the Second Vatican Council teaches. (28)


Among these three [above-proposed] answers as to how Tradition and Scripture are related, the second one, that they have “One and the same content,” is unwarranted by any teaching of the Church’s magisterium and would, moreover, be a devastating compromise of historic Catholicism. (29)


The thrust of the “Revised Draft” is in the direction of the “tradition” of the “Protestant Reformation.” Nothing could be plainer from the writings of Martin Luther and John Calvin than that God’s revelation is all contained in the Bible. Luther and Calvin would agree that whatever the Catholic Church means by Sacred Tradition, it has “one and the same content” as Sacred Scripture. (29) Thus, the opening article of belief in John Calvin’s Geneva catechism, published in 1536, declares: First we affirm that we desire to follow Scripture alone as rule of faith and religion (Article 1). (30) Building on this premise, one after another of the doctrines of the Catholic Church are denied because they were “devised by the opinion of men apart from the Word of God” which is found exclusively in the Bible.


—Therefore, contrary to the tradition of the Roman Church which claims that the sacraments actually confer [produce] the grace they signify, [the Calvinist Catechism and doctrinal opinion is then quoted]....


—Therefore, contrary to the tradition of the Roman Church, no transubstantiation takes place in the Lord’s Supper. And the Mass of the Romanists is to be rejected....


—Therefore, contrary to the claims of the Roman Church that there is a source of revelation parallel with Sacred Scripture, this alleged Sacred Tradition does not even deserve to be called “human traditions.”....


—Therefore, contrary to the claims of the Roman Church that Sacred Tradition reveals Christ’s institution of an ordained episcopate and priesthood,....


There was more than academic value in quoting at length from the Geneva Catechism of John Calvin. It should at least show the risk of compromising Catholic belief which the authors of the “Revised Draft” are taking when they say


—that the plan of the Universal Catechism is based on the catechisms of the Protestant Reformation


—that Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture have “one and the same content.” On this basis, some of the cardinal truths of Christianity—which depend on revealed Tradition—would be removed (as they were by the Protestant Reformers) from the deposit of divine faith. (30-33)


There is one [only one!] reference in the “Revised Draft” [paragraph 2053] to the sacraments conferring grace ex opere operato. It occurs in a lengthy explanation of the epiclesis or invocation of the Holy Spirit to transform the gifts of bread and wine into Christ during the celebration of the Mass.....The foregoing passages [paragraphs 2052 and 2053] raise a number of serious problems:


The amount of attention given to the epiclesis reflects the ecumenical stress of the “Revised Draft.” Among the Eastern Orthodox, for example, many would say that the epiclesis, or invocation of the Holy Spirit is necessary for the consecration to take place at Mass. Yet, we have the teaching of the Council of Florence to the contrary [on 22 November 1439, in Exsultate Deo]:


The form of the sacrament of the Eucharist is the words of the Savior with which He effected this sacrament; for the priest effects this sacrament by speaking in the name of Christ. It is by the power of these words that the substance of bread is changed into the body of Christ, and the substance of wine is changed into His blood (Exsultate Deo, November 22, 1439 ). (34-35)


Later on, the “Revised Draft” does say [in paragraph 2432] that “the words of consecration...make sacramentally present under the species of bread and wine his body and Blood.” However, the necessity of the preceding epiclesis is left open. It should not be left open. The epiclesis is not essential for Eucharistic consecration. (35)


The explanation in the “Revised Draft” of ex opere operato is misleading in several ways:


—The Latin expression is not, as the authors claim, a mere “theological saying.” It is a defined doctrine of the Council of Trent (Decretum de Sacramentis, March 3, 1547).


The reason for the Church’s teaching was not, as the “Revised Draft” says, merely to show that “the sacraments the power of Christ acting in and through them.” No, the Council of Trent was declaring Catholic doctrine on the causality of the sacraments and thereby defending a revealed truth that was (and is) denied by all Protestants. Thus, the Lutheran Augsburg Confession “condemns those who hold that sacraments work justification ex opere operato (June 25, 1530). (35-36)


—To this day, no Protestant Catechism of confession of faith accepts the Catholic definition of a sacrament as a visible rite instituted by Christ which confers [produces] ex opere operato the grace which the rite signifies. (36)


—Referring to St. Thomas in this context is irrelevant. Aquinas lived 300 years before the rise of Protestantism, one of whose cardinal principles is the denial of the causality of the sacraments ex opere operato. (36)


—There is a studied preoccupation in the “Revised Draft” with “celebrating” the sacraments. The Authors of the proposed Universal Catechism have so exploited the “celebration” of the sacraments that the efficacy of the sacraments as sources of grace has been minimized to an extreme. This is consistent with the ecumenical focus of the “Revised Draft,” since Protestantism does not believe that the sacraments actually confer the grace they signify. (36)



The most glaring defect of the “Revised Draft” regarding sacramental efficacy is the one short paragraph [paragraph 2462] on the worship of the Blessed Sacrament....This is the only reference to the worship of the Blessed Sacrament, exactly 104 words in the total of some ten thousand words on the Eucharist [paragraphs 2401 through 2497]. What is most serious about this minimalization is the fact that it ignores the communication of grace by the Holy Eucharist as the Real Presence. (37)


What follows [on pages 38 through 43 on the Commentary] is a recommended addition to the proposed catechism. (37)....THE REAL PRESENCE—Adoration and Channel of Grace (38)....


Toward the end of the eleventh century, we enter on a new era in the history of Eucharistic adoration. A certain Berengarius (999-1088) publicly denied that Christ was really present under the species of bread and wine. The matter became so serious that in 1059 Pope St. Gregory VII ordered Berengarius to sign an act of faith in the Real Presence. Nine hundred years later, during the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI published Mysterium Fidei [promulgated on 3 September 1965], and quoted Pope Gregory’s profession verbatim. (39-40).... What Pope Paul VI emphasized was not only that Christ reserved in the Holy Eucharist should be adored by the faithful. The Savior is now living in our midst in order to communicate His grace. (40)....


The reason is that the Eucharist is the Incarnate Son of God who became, and remains the Son of Mary....[O]n the Eucharist as a channel of grace, Pope Paul VI distinguishes between the Eucharist as Sacrifice and Communion, and the Eucharist as Presence.... “He dwells with us full of grace and truth. He restores morality, nourishes virtues, consoles the afflicted and strengthens the weak.” [Paul VI, Mysterium Fidei] These verbs—restores, nourishes, consoles and strengthens—are all forms of divine grace which Christ confers by His presence in the Eucharist.(41)....


On the efficacy of the Real Presence, Paul VI adds a final touch to his teaching.... "But there must be a responsive faith on our part." (41-42)


Anyone who approaches this august Sacrament with special devotion, and endeavors to return generous love for Christ’s own infinite love, will experience and fully great is the converse with Christ. For there is nothing more consoling on earth, nothing more efficacious for advancing along the road of holiness (Paul VI). (42)


The important word in the last sentence is “efficacious.” Provided we approach the Real Presence with believing love, Christ will perform wonders of His grace in our lives. (42)



The underlying truth of faith in the Church’s Eucharistic teaching is the fact of “Christ’s consoling presence in the Blessed Sacrament.”....It is a sacrament, or better, it is the one sacrament which not only confers grace but contains the very source of grace, namely Jesus Christ. (42).... Jesus spoke with human lips when He preached the Sermon of the Mount....It is the same—now glorified—humanity who is present in the Eucharist. In order to draw on these resources of divine wisdom and power available in the Eucharist, we must have faith. (43)


That Latin phrase ex opere operato is no mere “theological saying.” It is not only an article of defined Catholic truth. It is a verifiable fact of experience provided by the Real Presence, for those who believe. (43)




While most of what the “Revised Draft” says about the Sacrament of Penance is excellent, several items are historically doubtful and doctrinally misleading [paragraph 2531]. The reason in both cases is a lack of clarity about the built-in efficacy of the sacraments to confer their divinely assured sacramental grace. (44)....


According to the “Revised Draft” [paragraph 2531], the Church’s discipline has changed drastically over the centuries. (44).... Certainly, there was public penance in the early Church. And no doubt many bishops demanded years of such penance from grave sinners. However [for example]—We have the testimony of Pope St. Leo I (459 A.D.) referred to before. According to the Pope, the rule from apostolic times was that a penitent could receive absolution after a secret and private confession to a priest. (44-45)....


—Church historians themselves are divided on the subject [of “rigorism in protracted penance” and “long-delayed absolution” or “even refusing absolution altogether”]. Those who understand the Catholic Church’s teaching on the sacrament of penance say the evidence is not conclusive, even on the prevalence of penitential rigorism, quite apart from its formal approval by Rome. (46)


[Additionally, the “Revised Draft” claims:] “Towards the end of the sixth century...Irish missionaries brought to continental Europe the practice of private penance....From then on the sacrament was performed in a more secret manner between the penitent and the priest” [paragraph 2531]. (46)


—The same adverse judgment as before must be made about this foregoing [and apodictic] statement. It is not historically provable and, indeed, is factually refutable. (46) Those who deny that Christ Himself instituted the sacrament of penance regularly appeal to these “facts” about the penitential rigor of the first five centuries. They argue that the merciful Christ could not have instituted an alleged sacrament which for so many centuries debarred sinners [for] up to a lifetime from reconciliation with God. (47)

Reservation 6


The “Revised Draft” in effect accepts the erroneous theory of the Fundamental Option. [Namely,] Only persons who have made the fundamental option to reject God are said to be liable to eternal punishment. Thus, the meaning of mortal sin is not that of the Church’s ordinary universal magisterium. (48)


This may seem like a hard judgment on the authors of the proposed catechism. They certainly teach the eternity of hell. They also explain, in their treatment of sin, the essential difference between mortal and venial sin. But there are questions which the authors raise, which may legitimately raise a doubt about their position on the theory of the Fundamental Option [paragraph 3077]. (48)....


On all these counts [the examples given above], the “Revised Draft” identifies mortal sin [i.e., “peccatum ad mortem” (1 John 5:16-17)] as do the fundamental optionists. For them, a mortal sin is NOT the fully deliberate commission of a serious offense against God. It is precisely what the authors of the proposed catechism call a mortal sin. The vocabulary of fundamental optionists is studded with such terms as “remaining obstinately in sin...hardening of the heart in mortal [thus serious] sin...rejecting the merciful love of God...proud rejection of God’s mercy.”(50)


What the “revised Draft” has done is identified “mortal sin” as “the sin against the Holy Spirit.” All other sins, on these terms, no matter how grave or obstinate are NOT mortal sins. They are, in the language of Fundamental Option, merely grave sins. (50)

Reservation 7


The “Revised Draft” does not use the Vulgate text of the Bible. This is contrary to the Church’s magisterial history over the centuries. (51) There are two serious consequences to avoiding the Vulgate text of Sacred Scripture. Both affect the soundness of the doctrine which the proposed Universal Catechism is to give the faithful. (51)


—By not using the Vulgate, the “Revised Draft,” in effect, proposes its own substitute text of Sacred Scripture. This is exactly what happened in the sixteenth century with the rise of Protestantism. Luther, Calvin, Cranmer, and Zwingli produced not only their own translation but their own choice of manuscripts on which to build their new form of Christianity. (51)


—By not using the Vulgate, the “Revised Draft” cuts itself off from the biblical tradition of the Catholic Church. The Church’s magisterium from the Council of Trent to the Second Vatican Council has built its teaching on the Vulgate text of Sacred Scripture. In departing from this biblical foundation, the proposed Universal Catechism would, in the words of Christ, be building on sand. (51)


If there is anything unstable and constantly shifting, it is the confusion of variants among the texts of the Bible now offered to the public. To buy into this instability would be calamitous. It would literally destabilize the faith among believing Catholics. (51)....


All the original founders of Protestantism acknowledge that the Bible is the only source of the Christian religion. But they also claimed that to understand it, it is sufficient to rely on one’s own private judgment. (51) This meant not only one’s private judgment in interpreting the meaning of Scripture. It also meant one’s private judgment in choosing manuscripts of the Bible and in translating the chosen texts from the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts chosen. (51) In other words, “private interpretation” of the Bible means private manuscript selection, private translation, and private explanation of the translated manuscripts. (51)


The history of Protestantism is the history of a medley of private interpretations of the Bible, which by now is somewhere at variance with every basic doctrine of the Catholic Faith. Perhaps without realizing it, the authors of the “Revised Draft” have opened the door to massive confusion by their removal of the Vulgate text of the Sacred Scriptures. (51).... [In addition to some anathemas and other clarifying declarations of the Council of Trent (8 April 1546), the declarations of the First Vatican Council (24 April 1870) and of Pope Pius XII’s Divino Afflante Spiritu (30 September 1943), we have the fact that]—Finally the Second Vatican Council, whose sixteen documents have several hundred citations from Sacred Scripture, uniformly used the Latin Vulgate text of the Bible. (54)


Whatever the reasons for not using the Vulgate in the proposed Universal Catechism, they have no grounds in the Catholic Church’s history and teaching. (54)


Moreover, [in addition to a “Severance from Catholic Biblical Tradition” (52)], the constant dependence on the “Revised Draft” on the conciliar documents of Vatican II would be negativized in practice. How seriously could anyone take the Second Vatican Council if the proposed catechism eliminated the very text of Sacred Scripture on which so much of the Council’s teachings depend? (54)

Reservation 8


The “Revised Draft” does not adequately explain the whole matter of development of doctrine....[as is inchoate in Vatican II’s Dei Verbum 8]. (55).... A clear explanation of what development means is critically important in modern times....The problem is that so many dissenters who still call themselves Catholic have pre-empted the idea of progress. They appeal to a “development” that rejects the unchangeable teaching of the Church on faith and morals. (56)


Part of the problem for the authors of the “Revised Draft” is that their underlying concept of faith is not clearly and essentially an assent of the intellect to God’s revelation. This colors everything which the proposed catechism touches. In this case, what practical meaning can development of doctrine have unless Catholic Christianity is the doctrinal society, empowered by Christ to preserve and promote the teaching of irreversible truths? (56-57) It is not coincidental, therefore, that the “Revised Draft” is so cavalier in speaking of doctrinal “formulations.” Thus we are told [in paragraphs 0331 and 0332, respectively] that,


–“We do not believe in formulae but in living realities referred to by the formulae which faith allows us to ‘touch’ (cf. Luke 8:46-48).”


–“Faith cannot be reduced to the repetition of formulae, but it needs formulae so that the revealed data can be transmitted and celebrated in community.” (57)


Many of the so-called formulae are irreversible doctrines of the Church. They are infallible either because solemnly defined or taught by the ordinary universal magisterium. To say “We do not believe in formulae” is out of order, to say the least, in a proposed catechism which does not clearly spell out the essence of divine faith as a virtue of the intellect. (57)


Reservation 9


The “Revised Draft” leaves open for speculation most of the Church’s irreversible teaching on Christian morality. (58) This is the most serious indictment on the “Revised Draft.” (58) The indictment is justified mainly because the authors of the proposed catechism have evaded teaching the infallibility of the universal ordinary magisterium. (58).... Throughout the present analysis of the proposed Universal Catechism it has been pointed out how the “Revised Draft” fails to take serious account of the irreversible character of the Church’s universal ordinary magisterium. The principal contents of this magisterium are the moral teaching of the Roman Catholic Church from apostolic times to the present day. (58)


Moreover, the main part of this teaching concerns sexual morality. This is not surprising, since marriage and the proper use of the procreative faculties have always been central to the human condition. Since the time of Christ, His teaching on marriage and chastity—both marital and extra-marital—has been the glory of Catholic Christianity and a stumbling block for those who found His teaching idealistic or even divisive among Christians. (58-59)


Within this moral teaching of the Catholic Church, her position on the sinfulness of contraception has been clear and consistent since the first century of the Christian era. (59)....


The real conflict is between those who insist that the Church’s doctrine in sexual matters is “non-infallible,” and the factual reality, that it is infallible, and therefore irreversible because it has been the consistent teaching of the Ordinary Universal Magisterium. So many advisors of the bishops’ conference denied [especially in and around 1968] the infallibility of the Ordinary Universal Magisterium [especially in Pope Paul’s 1968 Humanae Vitae, for example]....(59)....


Although Humanae Vitae dealt mainly with contraception, the implications of its doctrine cover the whole range of human morality. Consequently, if the teaching of Humanae Vitae can be reduced to a non-infallible status [see, as well, 60 ], then everything in the moral order that has been constantly taught by the Church’s magisterium over the centuries can be called into question. Popes can exhort or encourage the faithful to obey, but (on these premises) they cannot demand obedience in the name of God.” (59-60)


The aftermath of Humanae Vitae [promulgated 25 July 1968] is a clear proof of the foregoing. Literally the whole of natural and revealed morality is now [in 1990] being debated in nominally Catholic circles, as though issues like contraception and homosexuality, fornication, adultery and auto-eroticism were not forbidden by divine law. One further result is that even the crime of abortion is being defended by influential persons who claim to be Catholic. (60)....


This dissenting position of so many [episcopal] hierarchies [from Humanae Vitae] has produced massive confusion in the minds of millions of the faithful. It is therefore imperative that the proposed Universal Catechism not evade the [root] issue as the “Revised Draft” is trying to do.....The root cause [of the error] is the failure to understand clearly and correctly the infallibility of the Church’s ordinary universal magisterium. (61)....

Meaning of Ordinary Universal Magisterium. Any doctrine on faith or morals which has been taught by the whole hierarchical church in union with the bishop of Rome, always and everywhere as gravely binding on every one of the faithful belongs to the ordinary universal magisterium. (62)


The operative terms in this description are four:...and therefore, a “universality of episcopal authority”—a continuous “universality of time”—a “universality of place”—and a “universality of the subject of obligation.” All professed members of the Church are required to accept and follow what is thus taught. (62-63)....


The projected Universal Catechism has no choice. It must explain this teaching [on “the infallibility of the universal ordinary magisterium”] to the faithful. To avoid such teaching would be to perpetuate the acceptance of a grave moral error that is literally rocking the Catholic Church to her foundations. (64)

Responsibility of the Universal Catechism


The authors of the “Revised Draft” have done more than evaded their duty to instruct the faithful on the grave sinfulness of contraception. Their failure to explain clearly the infallibility of the universal ordinary magisterium has left open much of the Church’s moral teaching, including sexual morality, both within and outside of marriage. Most of this teaching has not been declared by the extraordinary magisterium. Yet, the Church teaches infallibly not only extraordinarily, but also ordinarily, as we have seen. Silence on the infallibility of the ordinary universal magisterium would be devastating, not only for the moral well-being of the Catholic Church, but for the future of true ecumenism, which the projected catechism is at such pains to promote [sic]. (64)

Reservation 10


The “Revised Draft” does not do justice to the teaching of the [Pastoral] Second Vatican Council. This failure is shown especially in the selective use of the conciliar texts. (65) This [unjust, selective use] may be said to be the fundamental flaw in the methodology of the “Revised Draft.” It corresponds to the fundamental flaw in theology, which is its ambiguity about the essence of divine faith as a virtue of the intellect, and the act of faith as the assent of the intellect to God’s revealed truth. (65)....

Papal Ex Cathedra Infallibility (66)....


The proposed catechism removes all the parts of Lumen Gentium 25 which are necessary to understand that [such solemn ] papal definitions

—are irreformable by their very nature, and not by reason of the assent of the Church

—are in no way in need of the approval of others

—do not admit of appeal to any other tribunal


Such omission [of Lumen Gentium 25 by the “Revised Draft”] leaves unclear what has vexed the Catholic Church for centuries, namely the supremacy of definitive papal teaching, with no dependence on episcopal approval, as claimed by Conciliarism and Gallicanism. (66)

Infallibility of the Ordinary Universal Magisterium. Having truncated Lumen Gentium on the Pope’s supremacy in defining infallibly, the projected catechism simply omits what Lumen Gentium 25 teaches about the infallibility of the ordinary universal magisterium. (66)....


By omitting to explain the infallibility of the ordinary universal magisterium, the “Revised Draft” leaves open all the consequences of contraception [See Humanae Vitae 17—“conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality” et al.]. (67).... With the spread of contraception, the logical result was abortion. The “Revised Draft” correctly condemns artificial contraception and direct abortion. But that is not enough. The contrary [moral] teaching of the Church has to be declared irreversible. Why? Because of the infallibility of the Church’s ordinary universal magisterium.


* * *


Some Implications of Father Hardon’s Commentaries and Fittingly Added Conclusions


Before he was to submit his frank commentary to Archbishop Schotte, Father Hardon reflected deeply and always prayerfully on all these substantively doctrinal and methodological matters and tendentious omissions—and usually he was on his knees in front of the Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle in the Jesuit Community at the University of Detroit. For, he often read his texts and even wrote his book-manuscripts before the Tabernacle wherever he was, even as a visitor.


From what he shared with me in person, or by phone, I know that he had much sorrow in his heart concerning this proposed new Catechism. After having read most of his commentary on the “Revised Draft,” a reader should now be able more fully to understand what Father Hardon meant when he poignantly and solemnly said to me: “We are witnessing a massive effort to re-make our historic Faith.”


Those who have the time and patience may now consider the extent to which Father Hardon’s corrective comments and constructive recommendations were incorporated in the first vernacular promulgation of the new Catechism (in French in 1992), and then in the later vernacular editions, as well as the final, official Latin edition promulgated by John Paul II in 1997.


There are other comments that Father Hardon made to me which he decided not to put in writing. However, he may have said such things in person to Father von Schönborn and especially to Archbishop Schotte. Father Hardon was especially attentive to the full Catholic doctrine of grace and thus also alert to a proper use of the language of grace, as well as to its distortions and omissions. He was also aware of the subtle forms of naturalism and nominalism.


If one reads again the cumulative sequence of his Commentary, one will better see the troublesome patterns he saw developing, as well as the inner logic of certain false premises. He often said to me “Starting points and first moves are important, as is likewise the case in athletics—and our sticking points are important, too!”


Although, as a faithful Jesuit with a fourth vow, Father Hardon was very careful not to criticize the pope—especially not a reigning Pontiff—his prayers for them were very specific (and I knew a few of them). More than once, when faced with certain disturbing “papal facts,” he would say to me, for example: “Robert, we are touching here upon a mystery.” (Those who knew Father Hardon personally, can you not hear him saying such words, and even imitate his voice?!)


May there be comparably virtuous priests today to comment faithfully—and with loyal love—on some of the things now developing in a purportedly “decentralizing” and “culturally sensitive” “Synodal Church.” For, the dialectical revolution on the nature and doctrinal boundaries of the Church—“De Ecclesia, Suo Magisterio” appears to be advancing, directly and indirectly, by the fast path and the slow path. And Father Hardon already saw such things in a more inchoate form.


May Father Hardon’s courageous Catholic witness be more widely and gratefully known. May he further inspire all of us to live up to the example he gave us, in light of the graces he received and so generously co-operated with: “Promptus ad Bonum.”


Father Hardon often said: “What we have is nature, what we need is grace!” And more and more grace. For, he always accented the comparative adjectives or adverbs, such as the word “more”—as in “to give more, to forgive more, to love more, to pray more, to endure more, to suffer more.” Sanctity, he carefully added, may thus be summed up in this word “more.”


Even when Father Hardon spoke of his own Jesuit motto—“Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam”—he always accented the comparative adjective “Maiorem”: “unto the greater glory of God.” For with the comparative in mind, he said, one may not and cannot so easily become complacent—or slothful or dubiously self-satisfied.


Promptus ad Melius, Promptus ad Maius—sub Gratia”: such was the generous and candid man I gratefully knew over the years: Father John Anthony Hardon, S.J. (18 July 1914–30 December 2000).