Word on Fire, Bishop Robert Barron’s production company, recently posted “Vatican II FAQs” on its website.
Here, I will reproduce the twelve questions that are posed therein, along with portions of the answers given (in boldface), along with valuable information that Bishop Barron fails to provide.
He and/or his staff members are, of course, most welcome to rebut any of the points that I will raise in this post, in which case, I will gladly publish their remarks.
- What is Vatican II?
Vatican II, or the Second Vatican Council, was the twenty-first (and most recent) ecumenical council of the Catholic Church. Ecumenical councils, which go back to the Council of Nicaea in 325, are gatherings of bishops from around the world, under the leadership of the pope, to authoritatively discuss and define Church doctrine and discipline.
While it is true that Vatican II is widely considered the twenty-first ecumenical council of the Catholic Church, it is most unlike the twenty that preceded it.
According to the 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia:
Ecumenical Councils are those to which the bishops, and others entitled to vote, are convoked from the whole world (oikoumene) under the presidency of the pope or his legates, and the decrees of which, having received papal confirmation, bind all Christians. [Emphasis added]
It is part of the very essence of ecumenical councils to produce that which binds all Christians. Even in the answer given by Bishop Barron, it is clear that he understands the degree to which the act of defining is endemic to all ecumenical councils.
Given the fact that Vatican II chose to avoid teaching (much less defining) anything that is binding on the faithful, its place on the list of general councils is dubious at best.
To remove all doubt on this point, consider the following explanation given by the Holy See’s Theological Commission as found in the Appendix to the document Lumen Gentium:
… the sacred Council (Vatican II) defines as binding on the Church only those things in matters of faith and morals which it shall openly declare to be binding.
The Second Vatican Council, in the sixteen documents it produced, defined and openly declared exactly nothing “as binding on the Church.”
NB: The lack of intent to do what the Church does is sufficient to invalidate even a putative sacrament! While an ecumenical council is not a sacrament, it most certainly is the case that binding the faithful is what the Church does when she so gathers. It is, therefore, entirely reasonable to consider Vatican II something other than a valid ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church.
- Did Vatican II define any new dogmas or condemn any heresies?
No. Unlike many other ecumenical councils, Vatican II did not in an extraordinary way define any new dogmas of the Church or condemn any heresies.
Let’s be perfectly clear, Vatican II did not define anything in any way, “extraordinary” or otherwise.
But it is not unique in this respect. In fact, three ecumenical councils—the First Lateran Council (1123), the Second Lateran Council (1139), and the Third Lantern Council (1179)—were disciplinary councils. Not only did these ecumenical councils not define any new dogmas, they did not address matters of doctrine at all.
The abovementioned councils were, unlike Vatican II, binding. That, however, is not the most noteworthy thing that makes Vatican II unique; it plainly contradicted that which was previously taught by the Church (as we will see below), something a valid general council simply cannot do.
- Was Vatican II merely a “pastoral” council?
No. While the Council did not define any new dogmas (see question 2), and while its aims were largely pastoral, Vatican II also reaffirmed dogmas of the faith and developed key doctrines. In other words, the Council’s substance—as the names of its four constitutions make clear (see question 1)—are not merely dealing with pastoral matters.
Whereas Bishop Barron insists that key doctrines were “developed” at Vatican II, others (such as the present writer) would argue that key doctrines were flatly contradicted. I will provide specific examples momentarily.
This aside, given that the Council does not teach anything whatsoever that is binding upon the faithful, a Catholic who chooses to cling exclusively to that which was taught prior to Vatican Council II can be absolutely certain that he or she is standing on solid ground.
- Are Vatican II’s teachings infallible and binding, or fallible and optional?
This is a false dilemma. First, as stated in question 3, Vatican II does affirm infallible dogmas of the faith. These affirmations require the assent of faith on the part of Catholics.
To the extent that Vatican II repeated any of the dogmas of the faith faithfully, Catholics were already bound to give them the assent of faith; i.e., this requirement has no basis in the Council itself.
But even when they are not affirming infallible dogma, the Second Vatican Council presents the teachings of the ordinary and universal Magisterium through an ecumenical council of the Church. This means that these teachings are assisted by the Holy Spirit (CCC 688)…
Let’s stop here for a moment:
We’ve already discussed why the place of Vatican II on the list of ecumenical councils is dubious; it lacked any intent whatsoever to bind the faithful. The assistance of the Holy Spirit most certainly exists in cases where the faithful are being bound. It is for this reason that the faithful can always be certain that Holy Mother Church will never bind her children to anything that is false and therefore harmful.
In cases where that which is given to the faithful is proven to be false and therefore harmful, one can be certain that the Holy Spirit was not operative. One can also be certain that it did not come from Holy Mother Church. We will consider some of the false and harmful teachings of Vatican II shortly.
Beyond this, just as a matter of simple observation, it is patently obvious that the Holy Spirit was not operative at Vatican II as even its staunchest defenders will admit that one of its most abundant fruits has been confusion. This is the opposite of what the Counselor, who leads the Church in all truth, provides.
But it gets worse. The reason Vatican II caused so much confusion is because it plainly contracted Catholic doctrine, something the Holy Ghost can have no hand in doing. For now, one example alone will suffice:
Catholic tradition over the centuries is replete with citations from the Saints, the Doctors of the Church and holy popes expressing, with unassailable clarity, that the Catholic Church is the exclusive and solitary community of salvation established by Christ, outside of which one cannot be saved. For example:
“Where Peter is therefore, there is the Church. Where the Church is there is not death but life eternal … Although many call themselves Christians, they usurp the name and do not have the reward.” – Saint Ambrose
And yet, Vatican Council II teaches otherwise:
It follows that the separated Churches and Communities as such, though we believe them to be deficient in some respects, have been by no means deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Church. (UR 3)
As St. Ambrose makes plain, the so-called “Christian” communities apart from Peter have no efficacy unto salvation. It is blasphemous, therefore, to suggest that the Council was assisted by the Holy Ghost in teaching otherwise.
Bishop Barron continues:
This means that these teachings are assisted by the Holy Spirit, are promulgated by the pope in communion with the “authentic teachers of the apostolic faith endowed with the authority of Christ” (CCC 888), and require “religious assent which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it” (CCC 892). In short, the teachings are guarded from doctrinal error and are binding on all Catholics; they are not optional.
Bishop Barron is just plain wrong, not because I say so, but because the Holy See and the Council itself says so.
Under discussion in the answer he has given are two types of binding teachings; those to which we are bound to give the assent of faith, and those to which we are bound to give religious assent. The propositions set forth by the Council fall into neither category.
While Bishop Barron is insisting that the teachings [of the Council] … are binding on all Catholics, this is factually incorrect as the previously given citation found in Lumen Gentium makes perfectly clear:
… the sacred Council (Vatican II) defines as binding on the Church only those things in matters of faith and morals which it shall openly declare to be binding.
Again, folks, this isn’t complicated; absolutely nothing was defined and declared as binding by the Council. Nothing. I challenge Bishop Barron, and anyone else who wishes to accept it, to cite anything from Vatican Council II that is openly declared as binding.
- Did Pope Paul VI say that Vatican II was ordinary, pastoral, and fallible?
On January 12, 1966, Pope St. Paul VI said in an audience: “Given the Council’s pastoral character, it avoided pronouncing, in an extraordinary manner, dogmas endowed with the note of infallibility.” This quote has often been used to suggest the Council’s teachings and decrees are not binding on Catholics.
It is a mystery to me why anyone would cite this quote from Paul VI to suggest that its teachings are not binding. Let me repeat: They are not binding, according to the explanatory note found in Lumen Gentium.
No nuance can possibly change that fact.
- Are Catholics free to ignore, disparage, or reject Vatican II?
No. In light of questions 1–5, this is not a valid option for Catholics.
At this point, it is clear that these are not “Frequently Asked Questions,” but rather a series of rhetorical questions aimed at convincing the poorly informed that the Second Vatican Council is binding, when clearly it is not.
So, why is it so important for some “conservatives,” like Robert Barron, to labor as mightily as they do to convince the naive otherwise?
The answer appears obvious enough: Treating the Council’s teachings as if they are binding is the price of admission to the counter-church to which they belong (more on that momentarily). What they are truly laboring to do, whether they are fully conscious of it or not, is to convince themselves they still dwell within the Holy Roman Catholic Church.
- Could parts of Vatican II’s doctrine be removed or reversed in the future?
No … The doctrine articulated by Vatican II is, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, part of the Catholic Church’s official magisterial teaching. It may be deepened or clarified in the future, but it cannot be removed or reversed.
As discussed above, the guidance of the Holy Ghost cannot be reconciled with the confusion and falsehood produced by the Council. These things are mutually exclusive.
That said, interesting, is it not, that the conciliar neo-modernists are quite comfortable with seeing the doctrines of the faith overturned at Vatican II, but yet they cannot bear to imagine that its own decrees could be subject to the same?
- Is Vatican II in continuity with tradition, or a rupture?
I will not take up space needlessly by repeating Bishop Barron’s answer as it is entirely obvious; he steadfastly believes that Vatican II is in continuity with tradition. I’ve provided sufficient evidence to the contrary already.
- Did thinkers behind Vatican II deliberately use ambiguity to change Church teaching?
Theologian Edward Schillebeeckx has been quoted as saying, “We have used ambiguous phrases during the Council and we know how we will interpret them afterwards.” The suggestion is that conspirators planted certain phrases within the Vatican II documents that appeared vague and innocent on the surface, but would later be exploited by those wishing to overturn traditional Church teaching.
However, this quotation is not found in Schillebeeckx’s own writings but in a book titled Open Letter to Confused Catholics, written years after the Council by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.
Having taken a shot at Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre (red meat for the neo-con masses), perhaps Bishop Barron would like to address the following from one of his own, Cardinal Kasper, who stated in the official newspaper of record for the currently Unholy See:
“In many places, [the Council Fathers] had to find compromise formulas, in which, often, the positions of the majority are located immediately next to those of the minority, designed to delimit them. Thus, the conciliar texts themselves have a huge potential for conflict, open the door to a selective reception in either direction.” (L’Osservatore Romano, April 12, 2013)
Bishop Barron did not mention this quote, but it does seem that he may have had it in mind when he went on to audaciously suggest that previous ecumenical councils employed “somewhat ambiguous statements,” even going so far as to name the Councils of Trent and Nicaea as examples.
None of the venerable councils of the past left the door open to multiple interpretations; their teachings were clear, they had the force of law, they were binding (unlike Vatican II), and their acceptance was always vigorously enforced.
- Did Vatican II forbid Latin, Gregorian Chant, pipe organs, and ad orientem worship in the Mass?
No. Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, did not forbid any of these things.
A broken clock is right twice a day! That said, Sacrosanctum Concilium is very much to blame for the liturgical disaster that is the Novus Ordo Missae. [See HERE]
- Does supporting the Traditional Latin Mass mean you have to reject Vatican II—or vice versa?
This question is better stated: Does adhering to the one true faith mean one has to reject Vatican II? The answer is a resounding YES for reasons already given. It also means that one must reject the Novus Ordo Missae as it too contains doctrinal error. [See HERE]
- Did Vatican II cause the erosion we are seeing the Church—clerical corruption, the rise of the “nones,” the drop in vocations, the lack of belief in the Real Presence?
Just as one would expect, Bishop Barron insists that Vatican II is blameless for the devastating collapse of the Catholic Church – bankrupt dioceses, closed parishes, men abandoning the priesthood and religious life in droves, etc. – that began in the mid 1960s, just as the conciliar shockwaves were making themselves felt throughout the world.
As evidence, he provides a list of familiar but irrelevant “proofs,” including:
Catholic Church membership has significantly increased since Vatican II, with the most dramatic growth in Africa.
The question that must be asked is membership in what? The answer, even by Bishop Barron’s own insistence, is a church that binds its members to the teachings of Vatican II. This church believes such things as:
– Every protestant community that calls itself “Christian” is used by Christ as a “means of salvation,” even though those communities reject the Most Holy Eucharist, reject the priesthood, reject the papacy, reject the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, reject the sacrament of Confession, etc., some of them even celebrating abortion and homosexuality! (see UR 3)
– Catholics and the Jews of our time have been made one in the Cross of Christ, the very Cross at which Jews scoff and the same Blessed Lord that they mock. (see NA 4)
– The Church of Christ merely “subsists” in the Catholic Church. (LG 8)
Is it the Catholic Church that binds its members to such things? Certainly not!
For those who still have any doubt on this point, just take a look at how the church of Vatican II celebrates “the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass” with its bishop in Africa where it is growing dramatically:
Bishop Barron couldn’t ignore the collapse of the Church in the west entirely, and so he deflected blame for that fact upon “the spirit of the age.” In other words, he believes that the sexual revolution of the 1960s is the reason so few self-identified Catholics in this post-conciliar period go to Mass or believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist!
He seems to have forgotten, or never truly believed, that it is the Catholic Church that forms civilized society and not vice versa.
Bishop Barron went on to quote Fulton Sheen who offered another oft repeated yet totally irrelevant argument, which goes like this: Historically, as in the case of venerable councils like Nicaea and Trent, it has always taken several generations for the “yeast to spread through the dough.”
And so, Sheen declared:
“If a General Council did not provoke the spirit of turbulence, one might almost doubt the operation of the Third Person of the Trinity over the Assembly.”
I must confess that at one time, before God in His mercy opened my eyes to the truth, I used to make the same argument. In reality, however, the “turbulence” surrounding many of the general councils of the past had to do with the fact that they were convened in times of trouble to combat a particular heresy, and they did so with binding definitions.
Vatican II was called for entirely different reasons, at a time when the Catholic Church was flourishing in much of the world – the doctrines of the faith were being taught without ambiguity, they were firmly held by the faithful, Mass attendance was high and, here in the United States, seminaries were filled beyond capacity!
In other words, Vatican II introduced mayhem where once there was none! There simply is no comparison to be made between the present post-conciliar period and the tumultuous years before and after the great general councils of the past.
Bishop Barron concluded by making a statement with which all of us can agree:
We are all living through this time of great turbulence.
Indeed we are, and the reason is plain: Vatican II was precisely what John XXIII had hoped it would be, “a new Pentecost,” that is to say, it was the birth of a new church, one quite unlike the one founded by Christ – a church with its own erroneous beliefs, its own doubtful sacraments and its very own protestantized rite, all of which have been deceptively packaged in such a way as to fool the naïve into believing that it’s Catholic.
Fulton Sheen knew it was coming, even though, having been hypnotized by the Council, he failed to realize that he lived to see the day, saying in 1947:
He [Satan] will set up a counter-church, which will be the ape of the [Catholic] Church, because he, the devil, is the ape of God. It will be the mystical body of the anti-Christ that will, in all externals, resemble the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ.
That counter-church is here, folks. Robert Barron is one of its celebrity clerics, and Vatican II is its binding manifesto. Accept any one of them as Catholic at your own peril.