Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

Posts Tagged ‘Spirit of Vatican II’

Cardinal Biffi’s “Inconvenient Memoirs”

November 20th, 2010, Promulgated by Mike

There have been a few times I wish I knew some Italian.  This is one of them.

Giacomo Cardinal Biffi, the 82-year old Archbishop Emeritus of Bologna, Italy, has just published an updated version of his memoirs.  The book is in Italian and the dust jacket proclaims its title as  “Memorie e digressioni di un italiano cardinale.”  Google Translate assures me that this means “Memoirs and digressions of an Italian cardinal” but Sandro Magister renders it as “The Inconvenient Memoirs of an Italian Cardinal.”  Perhaps there’s an Italian idiom here that has escaped the good folks at Google or perhaps Sandro has simply come up with a better title.

With this update Cardinal Biffi has added about 100 pages of material to the original 2007 edition.  According to Sandro, major additions deal with the aberrations following Vatican II, the Church and the Jews, and the ideology of homosexuality.  There is also new material on chastity, Christianity’s conception of women, Pope Pius IX and the Ambrosian rite.

On Vatican II and its aftermath Sandro writes,

In order to bring a bit of clarity to the confusion that afflicts Christianity in our time, one must first distinguish very carefully between the conciliar event and the ecclesial climate that followed. They are two different phenomena, and require distinct treatment.

Paul VI sincerely believed in Vatican Council II, and in its positive relevance for Christianity as a whole. He was one of its decisive protagonists, attentively following its work and discussions on a daily basis, helping it to overcome the recurrent difficulties in its path.

He expected that, by virtue of the joint effort of all the bishops together with the successor of Peter, a blessed age of increased vitality and of exceptional fecundity must immediately benefit and gladden the Church.

Instead, the “postcouncil,” in many of its manifestations, concerned and disappointed him. So he revealed his distress with admirable candor; and the impassioned lucidity of his expressions struck all believers, or at least those whose vision had not been clouded over by ideology.

On June 29, 1972, on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, speaking off the cuff, he went to the point of saying that he had “the sensation that through some fissure, the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God. There is doubt, uncertainty, trouble, disquiet, dissatisfaction, confrontation. The Church is not trusted . . . It was believed that after the Council there would be a day of sunshine for the history of the Church. What has come instead is a day of clouds, of darkness, of seeking, of uncertainty . . . We believe that something preternatural (the devil) has come into the world to disturb, to suffocate the fruits of the Ecumenical Council and to prevent the Church from bursting into a hymn of joy for having regained full awareness of itself.” These are painful and severe words that deserve painstaking reflection.

How could it have happened that from the legitimate pronouncements and texts of Vatican II, a season followed that was so different and distant?

The question is complex, and the reasons are multiform; but without a doubt one influence was a process (so to speak) of aberrant “distillation,” which from the authentic and binding conciliar “reality” extracted a completely heterogeneous mentality and linguistic form. This is a phenomenon that pops up here and there in the “postcouncil,” and continues to advance itself more or less explicitly.

We can, in order to make ourselves understood, hazard to illustrate the schematic procedure of this curious “distillation.”

The first phase lies in a discriminatory approach to the conciliar pronouncements, which distinguishes the accepted and usable texts from the inopportune or at least unusable ones, to be passed over in silence.

In the second phase what is acknowledged as the valuable teaching of the Council is not what it really formulated, but what the holy assembly would have produced if it had not been hampered by the presence of many backward fathers insensitive to the breath of the Spirit.

With the third phase, there is the insinuation that the true doctrine of the Council is not that which is canonically formulated and approved, but what would have been formulated and approved if the fathers had been more enlightened, more consistent, more courageous.

With such a theological and historical methodology – never expressed in such a clear fashion, but no less relentless for this reason – it is easy to imagine the results: what is adopted and exalted in an almost obsessive manner is not the Council that in fact was celebrated, but (so to speak) a “virtual Council”; a Council that has a place not in the history of the Church, but in the history of ecclesiastical imagination. Anyone who dares to dissent, however timidly, is branded with the infamous mark of “preconciliar,” when he is not in fact numbered among the traditionalist rebels, or the despised fundamentalists.

And because the “counterfeit distillates” of the Council include the principle that by now there is no error that can be condemned in Catholicism, except for sinning against the primary duty of understanding and dialogue, it becomes difficult today for theologians and pastors to have the courage to denounce vigorously and tenaciously the toxins that are progressively poisoning the innocent people of God.

I believe then-Cardinal Ratzinger called this the “dictatorship of relativism.”  Cardinal Biffi is reminding us that this problem is not solely external to the Church.

With regard to the ideology of homosexuality Sandro reports,

Regarding the problem of homosexuality that is emerging today, the Christian conception tells us that one must always distinguish the respect due to persons, which involves rejecting any marginalization of them in society and politics (except for the unalterable nature of marriage and the family), from the rejection of any exalted “ideology of homosexuality,” which is obligatory.

The word of God, as we know it in a page of the letter to the Romans by the apostle Paul, offers us on the contrary a theological interpretation of the rampant cultural aberration in this matter: such an aberration – the sacred text affirms – is at the same time the proof and the result of the exclusion of God from the collective attention and from social life, and of the refusal to give him the glory that he is due (cf. Romans 1:21).

The exclusion of the Creator determines a universal derailing of reason: “They became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened. While claiming to be wise, they became fools” (Romans 1:21-22). The result of this intellectual blindness was a fall, in both theory and practice, into the most complete dissoluteness: “Therefore, God handed them over to impurity through the lusts of their hearts for the mutual degradation of their bodies” (Romans 1:24).

And to prevent any misunderstanding and any accommodating interpretation, the apostle proceeds with a startling analysis, formulated in perfectly explicit terms:

“Therefore, God handed them over to degrading passions. Their females exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the males likewise gave up natural relations with females and burned with lust for one another. Males did shameful things with males and thus received in their own persons the due penalty for their perversity. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God handed them over to their undiscerning mind to do what is improper” (Romans 1:26-28).

Finally, Paul takes pains to observe that the greatest abjection takes place when “the authors of these things . . . not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (cf. Romans 1:32).

It is a page of the inspired book, which no earthly authority can force us to censor. Nor are we permitted, if we want to be faithful to the word of God, the pusillanimity of passing over it in silence out of concern not to appear “politically incorrect.”

We must on the contrary point out the singular interest for our days of this teaching of Revelation: what St. Paul revealed as taking place in the Greco-Roman world is shown to correspond prophetically to what has taken place in Western culture in these last centuries. The exclusion of the Creator – to the point of proclaiming grotesquely, a few decades ago, the “death of God” – has had the result (almost like an intrinsic punishment) of the spread of an aberrant view of sexuality, unknown (in its arrogance) to previous eras.

The ideology of homosexuality – as often happens to ideologies when they become aggressive and end up being politically triumphant – becomes a threat to our legitimate autonomy of thought: those who do not share it risk condemnation to a kind of cultural and social marginalization.

The attacks on freedom of thought start with language. Those who do not resign themselves to accept “homophilia” (the theoretical appreciation of homosexual relations) are charged with “homophobia” (etymologically, the “fear of homosexuality”). This must be very clear: those who are made strong by the inspired word and live in the “fear of God” are not afraid of anything, except perhaps the stupidity toward which, Bonhoeffer said, we are defenseless. We are now even charged sometimes with the incredibly arbitrary accusation of “racism”: a word that, among other things, has nothing to do with this issue, and in any case is completely extraneous to our doctrine and our history.

The essential problem that presents itself is this: is it still permitted in our days to be faithful and consistent disciples of the teaching of Christ (which for millennia has inspired and enriched the whole of Western civilization), or must we prepare ourselves for a new form of persecution, promoted by homosexual activists, by their ideological accomplices, and even by those whose task it should be to defend the intellectual freedom of all, including Christians?

There is one question that we ask in particular of the theologians, biblicists, and pastoralists. Why on earth, in this climate of almost obsessive exaltation of Sacred Scripture, is the Pauline passage of Romans 1:21-32 never cited by anyone? Why on earth is there not a little more concern to make it known to believers and nonbelievers, in spite of its evident timeliness?

Why, indeed.

There is much more at  Sandro’s site.

The Holy Catholic Church – the New Israel

October 8th, 2010, Promulgated by Gen

We have been asked by a loyal reader to discuss the problems of the Church before the Second Vatican Council. This topic really appeals to me, so I decided to accept the suggestion and put the following forth as a piece of consideration for you all.

The Catholic Church, in Her most serene beauty, is charged by God to be an example of holiness, to attract all people, all nations, to Her for Him. By our reverence, by our piety, by our Christian zeal, and by our loving charity we are all called, as members of the Church Universal, to be examples of sanctity. Just as Israel was God’s chosen nation, a nation which would unify all others through its worship of Him, we are now God’s people, charged with that same exact mission. We must, by virtue of our liturgy, our outreach, our service, and our devotion, be witnesses, at all times, for God and His Church.

This being said, the Church is led by and comprised of sinners. We are all tainted by sin, and we are none of us perfect. Just as Israel was not perfect, but still charged to serve God in a special way, so too are we. Fr. Barron recently put out a video along these same lines, applying it to the sex abuse scandal. We can just as readily apply this to what was going on in the Church that prompted the Second Vatican Council.

Now, to begin with, there are two separate (and unequal) notions we will discuss. One is the Second Vatican Council. One is the politically-tinged and spiritually-crooked implementation thereof. We cannot deny that the Council sought, at its beginning, to restore the sacred. In like fashion, we cannot deny that the Council’s documents have been stripped clean of any meaning by the would-be-reformers in our midst. There was the possibility, a God-given opportunity, to turn Vatican II into another Trent. The documents themselves make that clear. However, the self-serving demeanor of our fallen nature becomes apparent when we see how the bishops implemented the Council. We were given a ravishingly beautiful thing that men, in their arrogance, sought to make more “beautiful.” We cannot improve on what God has given us in the Mass, and to presume to be able to do so is to steer the ship of our dejected nature into the rocky waters of doom.

In the 1950’s, our seminaries were full. Our parishes were vibrant. Masses were, by and large, uniform throughout the world. Children knew their Catechism. Nuns wore their habits. Priests showed reverence in more ways than we can possible conceive of now. However, behind this beautiful exterior of Bing Crosby-esque Catholicity lurked a menacing thing indeed. There a demon in the shadows, striking many with utmost subtlety. That demon was apathy. It would seize priests and turn them into mere reciters of prayers they didn’t care to study. It would seize nuns, and make them forget the reasons that they took the habit. It would seize altar boys, and make them unaware of the august service they were offering Our Lord in His dwelling place. It would seize holy mothers, who looked the part of a good Catholic, but who really lacked the faintest awareness of what the Mass really was. It would seize fathers, who instilled in their children the sense of indifference. Oh, go to Mass every Sunday, yes, but that’s just an obligation. It seized choirs and scholas, and made them unexcited to praise God in sacred song. It seized almost everyone, in one way or another. It is this apathy that the Second Vatican Council sought to address.

When Pope John XXIII called the Council, he did not know that it would open the doors for the things it did. I’m sure we have all heard the anecdotes about his dying words, “Stop the Council.” The Church, as the new Israel, can make mistakes. However, it can also bring so much good from them that it bears witness to the Divine. The goal was to address this apathy, but what happened was a morphing of it. We went from nuns forgetting their original charisms to nuns making up their own. We went from priests not understanding the Latin to priests declaring open war against Tradition. We went from scholas not taking joy in Gregorian Chant to scholas ceasing to exist because bishops permitted sacrilegious folk Masses, rock Masses, and “community” Masses wherein “everybody’s a priest.” This is not the work of the Holy Spirit. This is the work of Satan, using his demon of apathy. The apathy now rests in those who see these abuses in the Mass, who encounter heresy and dissent, and do nothing whatsoever to counter them. The prophets of the Old Testament saw what was happening to Israel – invasions, profanations of the Temple, heterodox priests – and preached the Word of God to anyone who would listen.

Vatican II wanted to instill in the Church a zeal for Her Tradition, not a hatred of it. Among the things which the Council did NOT decree are 1. communion in the hand, 2. altar girls, 3. total abolition of Latin, 4. total abolition of Gregorian Chant, 5. priest facing the congregation, 6. lay administrators, and scores of things which are so common in Rochester and beyond. These things were manipulated from the texts of the Council documents, and implemented against the will of Rome. What good is it to be a “Catholic” if you refuse to be “catholic”? Doing your own thing is not “One.” It is not “Catholic.” And it is certainly not “Apostolic.” It may be “Holy,” but there is nothing more “Holy” than humble obedience to the Church and Her Divine Founder. We bend the knee to God – not the other way around.

Yes, there were problems before the Second Vatican Council, genuine problems which were detrimental to the long-term survival of the Church. We truly did need a breath of fresh air, but we need to realize that this “breath” was supposed to come from God, not liberal bishops seeking to promote their own schismatic agendas. If the documents of the Council are accurately read without bias, you will see that nothing in them points to how things are now in the “Status Quo Church.” Either you’re doing the right thing or you’re not. There’s no “kinda sorta.” You practice Catholicism. You don’t manipulate it like some toy or craft project to make it your own.

The Church, as had been said by Pope Benedict and numerous other theologians, will get smaller before it gets bigger. It will hurt. It will make Our Lord Himself weep to see His Mystical Bride treated with scorn and contempt by those who are ordained to serve Her. But then, after a generation or two, the Church will be pure. Just as Israel was persistently punished for transgressions against God, so too do we see the fruits of disobedience. There’s no mistake there. God does not permit Himself to be mocked. And so, considering all this, we need to realize that there will always be problems in the Church – it is led by mortals. We must also realize that the Council itself was not an evil instrument of destruction. The evil comes from the inappropriate implementation across the globe. We must also realize that the problems we encounter in the Church are not signs that God has abandoned us, but that we have abandoned Him through our sacrilege.

Pray for the Church. Pray for Her bishops and priests. Pray for those who profess to love Her, but whose actions demonstrate only a love for self.

Our Lady, Help of Christians, pray for us!

Fraternal Darkness – of Masons, Catholics, and the Light of Lights

August 12th, 2010, Promulgated by Gen

One of my favorite channels on YouTube is from the Franciscan Friars, who run “Air Maria.” Every day they have masterful homilies, beautiful snippets of Roman orthodoxy, and examples of “liturgy done right.” Today’s homily stood out to me because of the title: Freemasonry – Fraternal Darkness. Usually the titles are very subtle, dealing with prayerful themes, saint stories, or other non-controversial topics of the same flavor. But today, we encounter the Church’s teaching on Freemasonry. This group, which, admittedly, does a great deal of good for various people, is, at its core, deeply and fundamentally anti-Catholic. There is in Freemasonry, however, a great sense of fraternity. That’s undeniable, from whatever angle you look at the group. The curious thing here, as we learned from Bishop Sheen in his talks about Satan, is that the Devil is a sower of discord. How could it be that a group such as the Masons, which is so intrinsically anti-Church, has these palpable bonds of fraternity? It’s simple, in my opinion. Now, while I am sure that Masons are not possessed like the girl in “The Exorcist,” I think that in their spiritual darkness, they band together because they are so permeated with common errors regarding Truth. Remember – the demons in the Scriptures may have been sowers of discord, but in the Gospels, the name “Legion” is used. It wasn’t one diabolical spirit, one Satanic influence, but several wrapped into one.

However, look at the other side of the coin – what do you see in the Church, as opposed to Freemasonry? You see several generations of priests and seminarians who have, in the words of one DoR priest, “never experienced the fraternity we were told we would.” The ranks of our priests have been cut apart by heretics, by dissenters, by lack-lustre theologians and liturgists who seek to glorify the Created in lieu of the Creator. That’s the diabolical spirit Sheen mentioned, this division. But consider this, friends. Since the Jubilee Year in 2,000, there has been a general upswing in the numbers of seminarians, priests, religious, and dedicated lay people. We aren’t really seeing that here, at least not yet, but we soon will. And what’s behind this upswing? Christ-centered fraternity.

For the first time since the mournful days of the hijacking of the Council’s implementation our seminarians, newly-ordained priests, our young men, our young women, are all on the same page. The young ones who are taking the places of the dying and retired servants of God are enthusiastic for the Faith, and not some “faith” given to them by schismatics – it’s the Faith given to us from Christ and His Apostles. It’s genuine Catholicism, and the liberals loathe this. Just like how the Masons hold their meetings in darkness, not permitting the light of day to penetrate, the dissidents refuse to open their hearts and minds to the light of reality. The young people are sticking together, and are doing so out of a love, not of self, not of each other, but of Our Lord and the Church which He founded, wed, and presents to us each and every moment of our lives.

When you base your life’s work on theory, on speculation, on “higher learning” which promotes the mentality of self-deification, you lose the firm foundation we have, collectively, in the age-old Tradition of the Catholic Church. Turn from the diabolically-enforced fraternity of darkness, which causes fear and division, and turn, rather, towards the fraternity of Christ. The liberals always love to say, “brothers and sisters,” or rather, “sisters and brothers,” but they don’t know what this means. They look at it as everyone being one big family, and that’s where their thinking stops (presuming it ever actually began). We look at this, and say, “What makes us brothers and sisters in Christ?” It’s the oneness of His body that yields to us the sacred bonds of fraternity. When we’re all doing our own things, that’s when we lose ourselves, our friends, our souls, and our own ability to discern that we have, in actuality, lost those things. Darkness prevents us from seeing, and this darkness invades us the moment we begin to say, “The Church teaches ‘X’ – I believe ‘Y.'” Where’s the fraternity in that? I suppose there’s a fraternity in being wrong together, but that’s just ludicrous. Who wants to base the sacred bonds of friendship off of something more akin to the Nazi generals’ friendship than that of the Church’s sacred unity?

People must learn to take their direction from someone other than themselves. When we’re doing our own thing, and focus solely on what’s fun, or exciting, or physically gratifying in some way, we turn from the portals of our souls, the portals which let the light of Christ shine into our beings. Who can, when he thinks clearly and unselfishly, turn from the Light of Lights? Often times we are seized by indecision, by greed, by lust, by avarice, and these become so penetrating and frightening to our comprehension, that we become detached from what God really wants. Time and time again, in the Catechism, we find passages saying, “This is sinful, but if the sinner is consumed by (insert deadly sin) and is unable to choose freely, his or her culpability is severely diminished.” You can find these passages especially in the section dealing with the 6th Commandment. We turn from light, and get lost in the darkness. While our sins do carry a definitive punishment, one cannot help but think that the mere experience of being lost, spiritually, is in itself a kind of penance. What greater pain is there for the Christian than to wander blindly, unaware of the danger, and then to find out that he or she has been walking in the bonds of diabolic fraternity, hand-in-hand with the Evil One. Behold the mercy of the Creator, friends. He gives us light, and we have the absolutely beautiful gift of being able to turn towards and walk by its radiance.

When the Church is left to do what She ought to, without the dull musings of men and women intent on their own agendas, we can experience a taste of Heavenly unity. One of the most beautiful things I myself have ever experienced was walking into a local adoration chapel, and knowing that every individual in there was doing the same thing – silently adoring the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the Light of Lights. That’s fraternity, and what a marked difference from the feigned unity of the Masons, of the “Reformers,” of the Protestants. The only true unity in this world comes from the Church founded by God, and not by humanity. What value is there in turning from the Light, which is God Himself, and turning instead towards the dark corner containing only doubt and uncertainty? There is no value in that. None whatsoever.

We must pray, friends, for the priests we have now. May they find the support they so desperately need. May they find the courage to do the right things, liturgically and theologically speaking, and not bend the knee to lay-appointed and lay-run councils. Priests have a God-given authority and they shouldn’t be afraid to exercise that. May they find the strength to reach out to each other and forge those bonds of fraternity so long tarnished and strained by error and heresy. We must pray, also, for those young men “waiting in the wings.” Thank God they have more support than any other generation in the past 40 years. Pray for our young women, that they might actually have the audacity to consider living the life of a religious, taking the veil and wedding their Mystical Spouse, Jesus Christ. What beauty there is in that! No man who becomes a priest and no woman who becomes a nun can be told that they’re “single.” They are wedded in a clear and permanent way to Our Lord. And thank God for that. May we be given more sources of Divine Light through their pious examples of genuine love. Only then can we begin to clear away the wreckage of  dissent and the progressives’ anger.

“It is Christ’s charity that drives us on: “caritas Christi urget nos” (2 Cor 5:14). The urgency is inscribed not only in things, it is not derived solely from the rapid succession of events and problems, but also from the very matter that is at stake: the establishment of authentic fraternity.” – Pope Benedict XVI’s Caritas in Veritate

Footnotes can be important

June 13th, 2010, Promulgated by Mike

Back in the late 1960s as I was beginning my career as a chemist at Eastman Kodak my supervisor – let’s call him “Tom” – handed me a technical paper and asked me to repeat one of the experiments described by the author.  The paper, written in German, dealt with the synthesis of a class of chemical compounds known as diazo sulphonates.  We were interested in exploring the photographic properties of these chemicals and needed some samples with which to work.

I scanned through the German text as Tom had done before me and decided it was a piece of cake.  The procedure involved dissolving one chemical in alcohol and a second in water, slowly adding the second solution to the first while gently stirring, waiting 20 to 30 minutes for crystals to separate out of solution, filtering off those crystals and, finally, letting them dry in the air.  Synthetic organic chemistry just doesn’t get any simpler than that.

When I repeated the preparation of the compound we wanted everything went exactly according to this script, with one exception:  The crystals I expected didn’t take several minutes to separate but appeared within seconds of mixing the two solutions.  Neither Tom nor I gave any thought to this anomaly and I filtered them off and set them out on a sheet of paper to dry.

A few minutes later, as Tom bent over to examine the long, needle-like crystals with a small magnifying glass, the entire mass – about 1/3 of an ounce – flared up in his face like so much black gunpowder lit with a match.  Fortunately, he was wearing safety glasses and only suffered some singed eyebrows and the equivalent of a bad sunburn on his forehead.

After the company fire department had left and Tom had returned from being checked out by the medical staff we sat down to try to figure out what had gone wrong.  It turned out the neither of us was particularly fluent in German and had translated only what we had felt to be important, totally ignoring a reference to a footnote in the text.  When we finally did translate that footnote we saw that it said, should crystals appear immediately, they would be the wrong compound and that one should continue stirring, as those crystals would soon re-dissolve and crystals of the desired compound would appear in 20 to 30 minutes.  That footnote went on to add that one of the author’s coworkers had mistakenly filtered off crystals that had appeared immediately and that material had turned out to be highly explosive.

That footnote, as it turned out, was important.

So why did I bore you with this long and somewhat technical trip down memory lane?  Because it serves as an analogy for one of the ways in which people Dr. Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ can get their theology so far off track.

Dr. Johnson was one of the speakers at Boston College’s April, 2004 Envisioning the Church Women Want Conference. (Bishop Matthew Clark was also a participant; see here.)  Dr. Johnson’s talk (available here) was entitled Coming in from the Cold; Women in the Past, Present and Future Church.

At one point in her talk she claimed that various scriptural passages seemed to argue for the full equality of men and women while others seemed to indicate that women should be subordinate to men.  She then went on to say (my transcription, beginning at the 18:13 mark),

How are we to sort this out?  We can quote texts back and forth … but how to discern the essence of the Good News?  The Second Vatican Council provided a very helpful criterion in the Decree on Revelation  … the council taught that what we need to believe in Scripture is, and I quote, “that truth which God wanted written down for the sake of our salvation.” … Salvation is the norm for what binds our consciences.

Dr. Johnson’s argument, then, is that we are now free to accept those biblical passages supporting the full equality of men and women and reject those that seem to argue for something less because the latter couldn’t possibly have been put there for the sake of our salvation.

But is that what Dei Verbum really says?

Here is the full text of section 11, direct from the Vatican web site, with the critical portion underlined:

Those divinely revealed realities which are contained and presented in Sacred Scripture have been committed to writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For holy mother Church, relying on the belief of the Apostles (see John 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-20, 3:15-16), holds that the books of both the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, with all their parts, are sacred and canonical because written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed on as such to the Church herself.(1) In composing the sacred books, God chose men and while employed by Him (2) they made use of their powers and abilities, so that with Him acting in them and through them, (3) they, as true authors, consigned to writing everything and only those things which He wanted. (4)

Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings (5) for the sake of salvation. Therefore “all Scripture is divinely inspired and has its use for teaching the truth and refuting error, for reformation of manners and discipline in right living, so that the man who belongs to God may be efficient and equipped for good work of every kind” (2 Tim. 3:16-17, Greek text).

Now I can see how, should one squint real hard and indulge in more than a bit of wishful thinking, one can get Dr. Johnson’s interpretation out of that passage, but I really do think that the true meaning is clear for any faithful Catholic.  The Council Fathers must also have sensed this potential for ambiguity because, just to remove any possible lingering traces of doubt as to precisely what they were asserting, they inserted a very interesting footnote in a very critical place.

Footnote #5 appears right in the middle of the sentence containing the “for the sake of our salvation” clause.  It reads as follows:

cf. St. Augustine, “Gen. ad Litt.” 2, 9, 20:PL 34, 270-271; Epistle 82, 3: PL 33, 277: CSEL 34, 2, p. 354. St. Thomas, “On Truth,” Q. 12, A. 2, C.Council of Trent, session IV, Scriptural Canons: Denzinger 783 (1501). Leo XIII, encyclical “Providentissimus Deus:” EB 121, 124, 126-127. Pius XII, encyclical “Divino Afflante Spiritu:” EB 539.

Catholic author and apologist Bob Sungenis has unpacked this footnote in a very helpful way:

To help show the continuity with previous papal and conciliar statements, Vatican II’s Fathers made six major citations in the footnote (#5) which comes at the end of Dei Verbum 11’s sentence affirming Scripture’s freedom from error. Two of the citations are from Augustine, whom, as we have seen earlier in his disputes with Faustus, was one of the staunchest defenders of a totally inerrant Scripture. Interestingly enough, the first citation is from The Literal Interpretation of Genesis. Here Augustine teaches about the harmony between science and Scripture, showing, in turn, that Vatican II’s respect of Scripture’s inerrancy extended to its affirmations about the physical creation, even though the Bible is not considered a scientific textbook. This clearly shot down König’s objection that the original drafts of Dei Verbum 11 did not allow “scientific freedom.” The second citation from Augustine (Epistle 82, 3) is the quote from the letter to Jerome we cited earlier, which affirmed total biblical inerrancy and attributed contradictions to manuscript variations and human frailties when engaging in biblical interpretation.

Another of Vatican II’s citations is from Trent’s The Canon of Scripture, which, interestingly enough, speaks of the salvific purpose of Scripture. Referring to both Scripture and Tradition, Trent states that they are “the source of all saving truth” (Denz 1501), which is very similar to Vatican II’s statement “for the sake of our salvation,” yet, as everyone knows, Trent never entertained the notion that Scripture contained errors in matters outside of salvation.

The most important addition to footnote #5 was the teaching of Pope Leo XIII in Providentissimus Deus stating that, since the sacred writers wrote only what the Holy Spirit wanted them to write, everything which they assert has Him for its author, and is therefore necessarily true. This coincides with the commission’s previous conclusion that the word “salvific” in Dei Verbum 11 did not imply a “material limitation” of the truth of Scripture. Since the quote from Providentissimus Deus includes Leo’s words concerning the Fathers and Doctors who “labored with no less ingenuity than devotion to harmonize and reconcile those many passage which might seem to involve some contradiction or discrepancy,” with little doubt this indicates that Vatican II agreed that steadfastness to preserve the inerrancy of Scripture should be constantly maintained in the Church.

Thus, should anyone be tempted to join Dr. Johnson in her novel reading of Dei Verbum, footnote #5 – with its multiple references to Papal encyclicals, Church Fathers and Doctors and the Council of Trent, all asserting the complete inerrancy of the Bible – makes it clear that Vatican II was not in any way endorsing the concept of limited inerrancy which she is espousing.

Dr. Johnson, just like Tom and myself, should have read the footnote.

Footnotes can be important.

[By the way, the Sungenis reference cited above is part of a much longer article dealing with the inerrancy of Scripture and the attempts of progressives at the Council to water down that – and other – Church teachings.  The entire article (which begins here) is well worth a read.]