The spirit of Vatican II

The spirit of Vatican II urges us to balance what the Magisterium says with other points of view throughout the Church. Magisterial teaching is referred to as the “official” teaching of the Church, as if there were another, rival teaching that could trump the Pope.

But what does Vatican II itself say about this? After speaking of the college of bishops and the collegiality that characterizes the episcopal office, Vatican 11 declares that not even bishops, acting apart from the Pope, have any authority in the Church:

The college or body of bishops has for all that no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff, Peter’s successor, as its head, whose primatial authority, let it be added, over all, whether pastors or faithful, remains in its integrity. For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as the Vicar of Christ, namely, and as pastor of the entire Church) has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered. (Lumen Gentium, no. 22)

Obviously, if even bishops, singly or collectively, have no authority apart from the Pope, no other group in the Church has such authority. No other group has the role of accepting or rejecting papal teaching and advising the faithful that they may rightly reject papal teaching.

In a word, according to, Vatican II, the Pope is “the supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful,” (Lumen Gentium, no. 25) the successor of St. Peter, the Vicar of Christ on earth. He is head of the college of bishops. He can himself, independent of the bishops, exercise the supreme Magisterium.

In light of this, there seems simply to be no way to read the teachings of Vatican II and find in them any basis for the post-conciliar view promoted by some theologians that papal teaching can be legitimately rejected by Catholics.

Yet some theologians continue trying. They suggest that Catholics are bound only by Church teaching that is infallible by dint of being formally and solemnly defined. According to them, such instruments of the Magisterium as encyclicals should be treated with respect, but Catholics have the option of setting their teaching aside.

Is there any support in Vatican II for such a conception? Is acceptance on the part of the faithful limited to solemnly defined teachings, clearly infallible for that reason? The Second Vatican Council also answers this question clearly and forcefully:

This loyal submission of the will and intellect must be given in a special way to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he does not speak ex cathedra, in such wise, indeed, that his supreme teaching authority be acknowledged with respect, and that one sincerely adhere to the decisions made by him, conformably with his manifest mind and intention, which is made known principally either by the character of the documents in question, or by the frequency with which. a certain doctrine is proposed, or by the manner in which the doctrine is formulated. (Ibid.)

–from What Went Wrong with Vatican II

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