In Part 1 of this series, a brief overview of infallibility was provided to aid readers in grasping the various ways in which the Church so teaches.
We made note of the fact that the deposit of infallible teaching includes more than just divinely revealed truths as defined by either the extraordinary magisterium (Ecumenical Councils, Ex Cathedra pronouncements) or by the ordinary and universal magisterium (the bishops scattered throughout the world teaching in union with the pope); it also includes what are called the secondary objects of infallibility.
In light of the infallible authority with which the Church is endowed, the case was made in Part 1 that the Council’s teaching on religious freedom in Dignitatis Humanae was deliberately and repeatedly proposed in such a way as to make plain that it concerns a secondary object of infallibility.
We attempted to draw attention to the distinction between infallible definitions, which are irrevocable expressions of divinely revealed truth, the rejection of which is heresy, and Catholic teaching on faith and morals that is infallible in the sense that it is guaranteed to be true, the rejection of which is error.
In Part 2, for additional insight into the nature of Dignitatis Humanae, we will take a closer look at secondary objects of infallibility as taught by the eminent theologian Fr. E. Sylvester Berry:
SECONDARY EXTENT OF INFALLIBILITY
Since the Church is endowed with infallible authority for the express purpose of preserving intact the deposit of revealed truth and for expounding it without error, she must also be infallible in judging of doctrines and facts so intimately bound up with revealed truths that they cannot be denied or questioned without endangering revealed truth itself. Such doctrines and fact constitute the secondary object or extent of infallibility.
They fall within the province of infallibility only in so far as they are connected with revealed truth. This secondary or indirect extent of infallibility includes especially (a) theological conclusions, (b) truths of the natural order, (c) dogmatic facts, and ( d ) general disciplinary matters. (Fr. E. Sylvester Berry, D.D., The Church of Christ: An Apologetic and Dogmatic Treatise, 1927)
Fr. Berry went on to explain in greater detail the various categories set forth above, beginning with the following:
a) Theological Conclusions. A theological conclusion is a proposition logically deduced from premises, one of which is a revealed truth, the other a truth known by reason. (ibid.)
In this, as we shall see, Fr. Berry has provided us with precisely the category within which the teaching on religious liberty as presented in Dignitatis Humanae belongs according to the plain meaning of the text as written.
Below, provided once more, are relevant excerpts taken from the Declaration on Religious Freedom of Vatican II with emphasis added:
This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits. The council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself. (DH 2)
The declaration of this Vatican Council on the right of man to religious freedom has its foundation in the dignity of the person, whose exigencies have come to be fully known to human reason through centuries of experience. What is more, this doctrine of freedom has roots in divine revelation, and for this reason Christians are bound to respect it all the more conscientiously. Revelation does not indeed affirm in so many words the right of man to immunity from external coercion in matters religious. It does, however, disclose the dignity of the human person in its full dimensions. (DH 9)
In faithfulness therefore to the truth of the Gospel, the Church is following the way of Christ and the apostles when she recognizes and gives support to the principle of religious freedom as befitting the dignity of man and as being in accord with divine revelation. (DH 12)
In Part 1, we shed light on the fact that Dignitatis Humanae expressly declares, no less than five times in the excerpts given above, that its teaching is “intimately bound up with revealed truths,” to borrow a phrase from Fr. Berry. As such, it is already clear that the teaching under discussion concerns a secondary object of infallibility.
Here, I wish to call your attention to the fact that the authors of Dignitatis Humanae appear to have been at pains to assure that their teaching would be recognized even more specifically as a Theological Conclusion; i.e., they evidently used the definition of the term (e.g., as given by Fr. Berry) as a blueprint for how to present the conciliar doctrine on religious freedom. [NOTE: Msgr. G. Van Noort provides the same explanation of a Theological Conclusion as Fr. Berry (see Dogmatic Theology, Volume II, Christ’s Church).]
For example, the Council states (with italics added):
“The council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself … The declaration of this Vatican Council on the right of man to religious freedom has its foundation in the dignity of the person, whose exigencies have come to be fully known to human reason through centuries of experience.”
This corresponds directly with Berry’s (and Van Noort’s) explanation of a Theological Conclusion:
“A theological conclusion is a proposition logically deduced from premises, one of which is a revealed truth, the other a truth known by reason.”
In sum, one is hard pressed to deny that the teaching in Dignitatis Humanae is deliberately being proposed, in words well-chosen, as a secondary object of infallibility and, more specifically, as a Theological Conclusion.
At this, consider the statement from the Theological Commission that is published in the Appendix of Lumen Gentium:
Taking conciliar custom into consideration and also the pastoral purpose of the present Council, the sacred Council defines as binding on the Church only those things in matters of faith and morals which it shall openly declare to be binding.
In Part 1, we observed that the Council declared in Dignitatis Humanae [with italics added]:
“…this doctrine of freedom has roots in divine revelation, and for this reason Christians are bound to respect it all the more conscientiously.”
Christians are bound… It seems at least reasonable to consider that this language may be intended to indicate that the “doctrine of freedom” as taught, according to the mind of the Council, is to be considered binding.
In any case, the statement from the Theological Commission continues:
The rest of the things which the sacred Council sets forth, inasmuch as they are the teaching of the Church’s supreme magisterium, ought to be accepted and embraced by each and every one of Christ’s faithful according to the mind of the sacred Council. The mind of the Council becomes known either from the matter treated or from its manner of speaking, in accordance with the norms of theological interpretation.
The Council’s “manner of speaking” in the present case, as well as the “norms of theological interpretation,” make the mind of the Council perfectly plain; the conciliar doctrine on religious liberty is being taught as a secondary object of infallibility and, more specifically, as a Theological Conclusion.
As such, the faithful – provided Vatican II is a valid ecumenical council of the Holy Roman Catholic Church – have no basis for doubting, much less condemning, this doctrine.
Recall that we began this examination in Part 1 by acknowledging that practically every self-described “traditionalist” (aka Catholic) agrees that the Vatican II doctrine on religious liberty is a grievous error. We also provided the reasons why it is indeed erroneous.
If, however, this teaching – ostensibly a Theological Conclusion, no less – really did come to us from the Catholic Church via a valid ecumenical council, it simply is not possible for it to be false.
Fr. Ludwig Ott explains:
A Teaching pertaining to the Faith, i.e., theologically certain (sententia ad fidem pertinens, i.e., theologice certa) is a doctrine, on which the Teaching Authority of the Church has not yet finally pronounced, but whose truth is guaranteed by its intrinsic connection with the doctrine of revelation (theological conclusions). (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, pgs. 9,10)
Did you get that? The truth of a Theological Conclusion is guaranteed, i.e., the Church cannot err in teaching them, even if she has yet to formally define them.
Ott provides numerous examples of doctrines that fall within this category, including such fundamental beliefs as “The Hypostatic Union was never interrupted,” and “The Church is the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ.” The truth of these doctrines is guaranteed, even apart from a declaration of infallibility admonishing the faithful that they must be definitively held.
Can any individual with a genuine attachment to Catholic tradition deny these theologically certain teachings? Of course not!
Even so, many if not most self-proclaimed “traditionalists” (e.g., the leadership of the SSPX) continue to vehemently insist that A) the conciliar doctrine on religious freedom (a Theological Conclusion!) is false, and B) Vatican II is a valid ecumenical council of the Holy Roman Catholic Church.
These same persons often justify their rejection of the Vatican II teaching by arguing that only those doctrines “definitively” declared as infallible, with the admonition that they must be definitively held by the faithful, are guaranteed to be true. As the citations from Ott (above) make plain, however, this simply is not the case.
Hell bent and determined nonetheless to avoid the obvious conclusion that Vatican II is not a valid ecumenical council of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, and its true sponsor, the conciliar church, is not the Church of Christ but rather an imposter, it is sometimes argued:
“That Vatican II is a valid ecumenical council of the Church is a dogmatic fact!”
A similar argument is often made in response to doubts concerning whether or not Jorge Bergoglio was validly elected pope and whether he remains so today.
Fr. E. Sylvester Berry explains:
A dogmatic fact is one that has not been revealed, yet is so intimately connected with a doctrine of faith that without certain knowledge of the fact there can be no certain knowledge of the doctrine. (ibid.)
Fr. Berry further explains that Dogmatic Facts, like Theological Conclusions, are included within the secondary objects of infallibility. He continues:
It is evident, then, that the Church must be infallible in judging of such facts, and since the Church is infallible in believing as well as in teaching, it follows that the practically unanimous consent of the bishops and faithful in accepting a council as ecumenical, or a Roman Pontiff as legitimately elected, gives absolute and infallible certainty of the fact. (ibid.)
Those “traditionalists” who lean upon the Dogmatic Fact argument insist that “the practically unanimous consent of the bishops and faithful” is enough to prove beyond any doubt that both the Second Vatican Council, and the Bergoglian pontificate, are valid.
And yet, they give not a moment’s consideration to the fact that the conciliar doctrine on religious freedom has enjoyed the practically unanimous consent of the world’s bishops, teaching in union with every man who has laid claim to the Chair of St. Peter for more than fifty years, even as they publicly reject said teaching as false!
The bottom line is simple:
The positions taken by many if not most so-called “traditionalists” – specifically with regard to the Council’s validity, and the true identity of the conciliar church, to say nothing of the putative popes at the head of it – are inconsistent at best and dangerous at worst.
While viewing the entirety of the present situation through the lens of Catholic tradition, with consistency and honesty regardless of cost, will not solve the crisis at hand, it will reveal the truth, apart from which the faith will most certainly be lost.