Pope Francis sides with Pope Benedict’s criticism of the Spirit of Vatican II and the hermeneutic of rupture

Pope Francis has released a letter he has written to  Archbishop Marchetto that indicates that he sides with Pope Benedict’s criticism of the Spirit of Vatican II and its hermeneutic of rupture. Fr Z’s Blog comments that this of huge importance for the Church because, quoting Sandro Magister, Pope Francis is signalling that he is resoundingly supporting the ‘bête noire’, the most unyeilding critic, of the so called Bologna School that promotes the hermeneutic of discontinuity. The occasion of Pope Francis’ letter is the publication of Archbishop Marchetto’s latest book, ‘Pontifical primacy and the epicopacy: from the first millennium to the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council’.

Pope Francis writes:

‘The topic of the book is an homage to the love that you have for the Church, a love that is, at the same time, loyal and poetic. Loyalty and poetry are not an object for the market: they cannot be bought or sold, they simply are virtues rooted in a heart of a son who feels the Church to be his Mother; or, to be more precise, and to say it with a familiar Ignatian “tone”, as “Holy Mother Hierarchical Church”.

You have manifested this love in many ways, including correcting an error or imprecise comment on my part – and I thank you for that from my heart – but above all it is manifest in all its purity in the studies on the Second Vatican Council. I once told you, dear Archbishop Marchetto, and today I wish to repeat it, that I consider you to be the best interpreter of the Second Vatican Council. I know that this is a gift from God, but I also know that you made it bear fruit.’

By declaring Archbishop Marchetto ‘the best interpreter of Vatican II Pope Francis is also supporting Pope Benedict’s insistent criticism of the hermeneutic of rupture. In his 2005 Christmas address Pope Benedict XVI contrasted the false ‘hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture’ with the authentic ‘hermeneutic of reform in continuity’. The Tablet was wrong to state that the Holy Father talked of tension between continuity and reform, he talked of reform in continuity which,in the words of Blessed John XXIII ‘transmit the doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion”.

Here is the section of  text of Pope Benedict XVI’s Christmas address:

‘On the one hand, there is an interpretation that I would call “a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture”; it has frequently availed itself of the sympathies of the mass media, and also one trend of modern theology. On the other, there is the “hermeneutic of reform”, of renewal in the continuity of the one subject-Church which the Lord has given to us. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same, the one subject of the journeying People of God.

The hermeneutic of discontinuity risks ending in a split between the pre-conciliar Church and the post-conciliar Church. It asserts that the texts of the Council as such do not yet express the true spirit of the Council. It claims that they are the result of compromises in which, to reach unanimity, it was found necessary to keep and reconfirm many old things that are now pointless. However, the true spirit of the Council is not to be found in these compromises but instead in the impulses toward the new that are contained in the texts.

These innovations alone were supposed to represent the true spirit of the Council, and starting from and in conformity with them, it would be possible to move ahead. Precisely because the texts would only imperfectly reflect the true spirit of the Council and its newness, it would be necessary to go courageously beyond the texts and make room for the newness in which the Council’s deepest intention would be expressed, even if it were still vague.

In a word:  it would be necessary not to follow the texts of the Council but its spirit. In this way, obviously, a vast margin was left open for the question on how this spirit should subsequently be defined and room was consequently made for every whim….’

Archbishop Marchetto delivered a lecture in 2007 criticising the Bologna school and its hermeneutic of rupture under the title, ‘Hermeneutic interpretations of Vatican Council II ‘. The following excerpts indicate his defense of the hermeneutic of continuity:

‘The focus on discontinuity is also the result of the current general historiographical tendency that (after and against Braudel and the Annales) privileges, in historical interpretation, “the event,” understood as discontinuity and a traumatic transformation. So then, in the Church, if this “event” is not so much an important fact, but a rupture, an absolute novelty, the emergence “in casu” of a new Church, a Copernican revolution, in short the transition to a different form of Catholicism – losing its unmistakable characteristics – this perspective cannot and must not be accepted, precisely because of the uniqueness of Catholic identity. ‘

‘Here I will cite just one passage, in which Paul VI attests that “it would not, therefore, be accurate to think that Vatican Council II represents a breach, a rupture, or a liberation from Church teaching, or that it authorizes or promotes adherence to the mentality of our age, in what is ephemeral or negative about it” (“Insegnamenti di Paolo VI [Teachings of Paul VI]“, vol. IV, 1966, p. 699). ‘

‘And what do we say in this regard? We repeat, first of all, that we do not accept the perspective of separating the event from the conciliar decisions, and we reiterate that this is, for us, a great event, not a rupture, a revolution, the creation almost of a new Church, the rejection of the great Council of Trent and Vatican Council I, or of any previous ecumenical Council. There was certainly a change of direction, but to use a traffic metaphor, this was not a “U-turn.” There was, in short, an “aggiornamento,” and this term explains the event well, with the combination of “nova et vetera,” of fidelity and openness, as demonstrated moreover by the texts approved at the Council – all the texts. ‘

I will cite just one passage from this: “The Church has always understood the rules for a correct hermeneutic of the contents of dogma. They are rules that are contained within the fabric of the faith, and not outside of it. To interpret the Council while supposing that it involves a rupture with the past, while in reality it adheres to the course of the perennial faith, is decidedly misleading.”

Finally, the address that Benedict XVI gave to the Roman Curia on December 22, 2005, sounded extraordinarily sweet to our ears. In it, he pointed out the correct hermeneutics of the Council, which is not of rupture. I encourage you to read it attentively (see “L’Osservatore Romano,” December 23, 2005, pp. 4-6).  The Magisterium has now clearly indicated the correct way to interpret Vatican Council. For this we are profoundly grateful to the Lord, and to the pope. ‘

Protect the Pope comment: Why is Pope Francis’ declaration of support for Archbishop Marchetto as the  best interpreter of the Second Vatican Council so important? The argument between proponents of the hermeneutic of continuity and those who argue for a hermeneutic of rupture is a debate about the future of the Catholic Church. Dissenters such as The Tablet and A Call to Action support the hermeneutic of rupture because they want to re-invent a secularised Church.  Pope Francis has clearly signaled that he sides with those The Tablet would dismiss and ridicule as conservative proponents of ‘continuity’ who they misrepresent as seeking to fossilise the Church in amber.



9 comments to Pope Francis sides with Pope Benedict’s criticism of the Spirit of Vatican II and the hermeneutic of rupture

  • Rifleman819

    What spin will the Tablet put on this?

  • Bob Hayes

    Wonderful news. Deo gratias.

  • Augustine

    The Tablet’s headline:

    “Shock…horror….Pope Francis is a Catholic”

    Just at random I turned to my copy of the Documents of the Second Vatican Council a few moments ago and read:

    “This Sacred Council accepts with great devotion this venerable faith of our ancestors regarding this vital fellowship with our brethren who are in heavenly glory or who having died are still being purified; and it proposes again the decrees of the Second Council of Nicea, the Council of Florence and the Council of Trent.”

    (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church – Lumen Gentium paragraph 51.)

    Unfortunately this is only likely to be useful for people who can be bothered to read what Vatican II actually said.

  • BJC

    The Tablet will turn a blind eye as usual and print something on the “hermeneutic of rupture” instead. It’s just a cult.

  • Wake Up England

    High time The Tablet was banned from sale in all churches.

    It most certainly should not be permitted to call itself Catholic.

  • The “hermeneutic of rupture” already stands condemned by the Canons of Vatican I and the Popes are only confirming this. Canon 3 on Faith and Reason states:

    “3. If anyone says that it is possible that at some time, given the advancement of knowledge, a sense may be assigned to the dogmas propounded by the Church which is different from that which the Church has understood and understands: let him be anathema.”

    While it is possible for understanding of the dogmas of the faith to deepen over time, any deeper understanding can never contradict what the Church has always understood. Those who would see Vatican II as being the ground zero for a totally new understanding of the faith do not hold the Catholic Faith. The Church will be the same subject at the end of time as she was on the day of Pentecost – no matter how much “singing a new Church into being” the heretics attempt.

  • Michael B Rooke

    Full in the panting heart of Rome.

  • Denis

    If you have a chance, go to Fr Ed Tomlinson’s Ordinariate blog and take a look at the wonderful thread “Papal Continuity”
    Something said on this site many times.

  • Nicolas Bellord

    Going back to the report of the Pope’s interview with the atheist Scalferi, the founder of “la Repubblica”, it now appears that the latter sent the text to his Holiness writing:

    “Keep in mind that I did not include some of the things that you said to me. And that some of the things that I attribute to you you did not say. But I put them there so that the reader may understand who you are.”

    Truly astonishing that it ended up on the Vatican’s website although now removed!

    Thanks to Sandro Magister for this:


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