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"Not all of
Vatican II
is binding"

Analyzing the comments of
Cardinal Brandmuller



According to a recent CNS article on the SSPX and the Vatican, Cardinal Brandmuller says:[1]

"There is a huge difference between a great constitution," like the Vatican II constitutions on the church, the liturgy and divine revelation, "and simple declarations," like the Vatican II declarations on Christian education and the mass media.

"Strangely enough, the two most controversial documents" for the SSPX - those on religious freedom and on relations with non-Christians - "do not have a binding doctrinal content, so one can dialogue about them," the cardinal said.

Here we have yet another prelate re-emphasizing the fact that the texts of the Second Vatican Council are not binding. Though these admissions would have been welcome even earlier, the growing number of such statements shows that perhaps the wind is starting to blow in a different direction. One can imagine how much differently the 1970’s and 1980’s may have been if one did not have to pretend that Vatican II contained the same doctrinal content as Nicea or Trent.

The 16 texts of Vatican II are titled in different ways. Here are a few examples among the most controversial texts: Some are called: Dogmatic Constitution (Lumen Gentium), Decree (Unitatis Redintegratio) Declaration (Dignitatis Humane; Nostra Aetate), and Pastoral Constitution (Gaudium et Spes.)Obviously they do not have the same value and the same level of importance. For instance, the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium speaks about the nature and definition of the Church whereas its equivalent, Gaudium et Spes, speaks of the Church in its relation with the present world.

This being said, clarity is still needed as to the clear theological category or qualification of each group of texts. The documents of Vatican II, in many cases, remain an enigma to theologians with no key to open them and clarify things. We are in the midst of a fog with no way to distinguish.

Cardinal Brandmuller’s statement, however, needs to be nuanced. It is fair enough to say that Dignitatis Humanae and Nostra Aetate are the target of the SSPX and it is fair to say that Archbishop Lefebvre refused to sign two of these “minor” documents (Dignitatis Humanae and Gaudium et Spes). It is not so fair to give the impression that, having reduced the value of the declarations, all will be wonderful with the SSPX. Indeed, Cardinal Brandmuller almost implies the ability to continue informal doctrinal criticisms by insisting on the non-binding nature of these documents.

Our objections to Vatican II remain. To cite only one: in Lumen Gentium, we object very strongly to collegiality as expressed in #22, and to the famous phrase “subsistit in” (#8), which paves the way to the ecumenism of Unitatis Redintegratio, a very ecumenical decree to which our objections are known.

All the key theologians involved with the neo-modernist movements (Rahner, Congar and de Lubac) themselves admitted the extreme importance of these changes which the SSPX objects to, whether they belonged to constitutions or decrees or simply pastoral texts. For instance, the seemingly minimal text of Gaudium et Spes was for de Lubac the one which best revealed the spirit of the Council. The declaration of Dignitatis Humanae was for Rahner one of the most important achievements of Vatican II.

But perhaps their time has come and gone. Has a more candid analysis of the post-conciliar situation of the Church led those like Cardinal Brandmuller to admit the possibility of discussing the texts of the Council? If he is not the first to say so, let us at least hope he is not the last.


1 Published by Cindy Wooden on May 21, 2012 under the title, "Regarding SSPX, Vatican officials discuss levels of church teaching". © 2013                    home                    contact