The spirit of Vatican II Print
By Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J.   
Monday, 04 October 2010

I have no difficulty in speaking of the spirit of the council, nor did the Synod of Bishops in 1985. But the spirit should not be driven against the letter; style should not eclipse substance. As most of the letters to the editor [of America magazine] recognize, the council fathers were not starry-eyed liberals. The council documents did affirm the need to preserve the apostolic heritage of faith, sacraments and ministry. To a degree that seems surprising in view of the popular impressions of the council, the council fathers affirmed continuity with the past, including the Council of Trent, the First Vatican Council and the teaching of Pope Pius XII.

Since the council, the popes and the synods of bishops have been laudably conscious of their responsibility to guard the deposit that has been entrusted to them (1 Tm 1:14). They have found the council documents very helpful for that purpose, when those documents are read for their substance rather than their style. At times the Roman authorities have found it necessary to speak more plainly and less diplomatically for the sake of truth and fidelity. Dominus Iesus did precisely that in its treatment of the uniqueness of Christ and of the Catholic Church. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith seems to have learned from hard experience that when you couch unpopular teachings in “polite” language, people easily conclude that you didn’t really mean what you said.