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Bishop Athanasius Schneider:
Abuse of Vatican II leading to a Protestantization of the Church
Abandon the failed "hermeneutic of continuity"

by Christopher A. Ferrara
July 21, 2017

Bishop Athanasius Schneider, whom I have had the privilege of interviewing at length for The Fatima Center, is perhaps the only clear voice of opposition among the episcopate to the ecclesial trends of the past four years, which have exacerbated alarmingly what was already, as His Excellency puts it, an “unprecedented crisis of the Church comparable with the general crisis in the 4th century, when Arianism had contaminated the overwhelming majority of the episcopacy, taking a dominant position in the life of the Church.”

It is surely no coincidence that Bishop Schneider is named after Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria, who was essentially the one firm and unwavering voice of episcopal opposition to the Arian heresy.

Bishop Schneider’s view of Vatican II, presented in an exclusive interview with Rorate Caeli, is governed by the optimism every Catholic should have regarding the state of the Church today: “We must renew our faith in believing that the Church is in the safe hands of Christ, and that He will always intervene to renew the Church in those moments in which the boat of the Church seems to capsize, as is the obvious case in our days.”

That optimism, however, does not obviate the Catholic’s duty to oppose error and defend the truth in times of ecclesial crisis, as St. Athanasius did in the 4th century and as Bishop Athanasius does today. Thus, respecting Vatican II, the Bishop rightly counsels that while “Vatican II was a legitimate assembly presided by the Popes and we must maintain towards this council a respectful attitude. Nevertheless, this does not mean that we are forbidden to express well-founded doubts or respectful improvement suggestions regarding some specific items, while doing so based on the entire tradition of the Church and on the constant Magisterium.”

We have heard much concerning a “hermeneutic of continuity” respecting the numerous problematic statements in the Council’s documents.  But the very need for a “hermeneutic” to demonstrate the Council’s “continuity” with the prior constant teaching of the Magisterium indicates grave deficiencies in the Council’s documents.  When confronted with these deficiencies, says the Bishop, the only proper “hermeneutic” — i.e., governing principle of interpretation — is reference to “Traditional and constant doctrinal statements of the Magisterium during a centuries-old period,” which “constitute a criterion of verification regarding the exactness of posterior magisterial statements,” meaning the novelties in the texts of Vatican II. 

As the Bishop further explains:

“In case of doubt the statements of the constant Magisterium (the previous councils and the documents of the Popes, whose content demonstrates being a sure and repeated tradition during centuries in the same sense) prevail over those objectively ambiguous or new statements of the Vatican II, which [are difficult to] concord with specific statements of the constant and previous Magisterium (e.g. the duty of the state to venerate publicly Christ, the King of all human societies, the true sense of the episcopal collegiality in relation to the Petrine primacy and the universal government of the Church, the noxiousness of all non-Catholic religions and their dangerousness for the eternal salvation of the souls).”

Moreover, “Vatican II must be seen and received as it is and as it was really: a primarily pastoral council. This council had not the intention to propose new doctrines or to propose them definitively.”  Nor does any Pope or Council approved by a Pope have any authority to propose new doctrines. For as the First Vatican Council declared: “The Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter that by His revelation they might make known new doctrine, but that by His assistance they might inviolably keep and faithfully expound the Revelation, the Deposit of Faith, delivered through the Apostles.” 

Regarding the vaunted “hermeneutics of continuity,” Bishop Athanasius notes that it simply does not work with certain of the Council’s statements — such as those pertaining to the novelties of “collegiality, religious liberty, ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue, and the attitude towards the world” — which lack “a definitive character, [and are] apparently or truly non-concordant with the traditional and constant statements of the Magisterium.”  As to these statements, he rightly observes, the various attempts to reconcile them with prior teaching produce only “forced interpretations, which are not convincing and which are not helpful to arrive at a clearer understanding of the immutable truths of the Catholic faith and of its concrete application.”

Rather, says the Bishop, one should simply recognize honestly that “There have been cases in history, where non-definitive statements of certain ecumenical councils were later – thanks to a serene theological debate – refined or tacitly corrected…” The Bishop cites as an example “the statements of the Council of Florence regarding the matter of the sacrament of Orders, i.e. that the matter was the handing­ over of the instruments, whereas the more sure and constant tradition said that the imposition of the hands of the bishop were sufficient, a truth which was ultimately confirmed by Pius XII in 1947.” 

Suppose, the Bishop argues, that “after the Council of Florence the theologians would have blindly applied the principle of the ‘hermeneutics of the continuity’ to this concrete statement of the Council of Florence (an objectively erroneous statement [which, like the novelties proposed in the Second Vatican Council, was not supported by any definitive decree]), defending the thesis that the handing-over of the instruments as the matter of the sacrament of Orders would concord with the constant Magisterium, probably there would not have been achieved the general consensus of the theologians regarding the truth which says that only the imposition of the hands of the bishop is the real matter of the sacrament of Orders.”

The same process of correction must be applied to the many problematical statements in the documents of Vatican II, a Council whose ambiguous “pastoral” texts are unlike those of any other Council in the history of the Church.  “There must,” Bishop Athanasius concludes, “be created in the Church a serene climate of a doctrinal discussion regarding those statements of Vatican II which are ambiguous or which have caused erroneous interpretations. In such a doctrinal discussion there is nothing scandalous, but on the contrary, it will be a contribution in order to maintain and explain in a more sure and integral manner the deposit of the immutable faith of the Church.”

Indeed, without this process of correction, the Church will continue to suffer from the crisis provoked by “infallibilization” of “some statements of Vatican II… which are objectively ambiguous or… difficultly [sic] concordant with the constant magisterial tradition of the Church,” such that “a healthy debate with a necessarily implicit or tacit correction was blocked.”

Worse, warns the Bishop, the Modernist partisans of the Vatican II “renewal” of the Church are “abusing [the Council’s] less clear or ambiguous doctrinal statements in order to create another church – a church of a relativistic or Protestant type.

In sum, the Bishop declares: “We must free ourselves from the chains of the absolutization and of the total infallibilization of Vatican II.”

To which I can only add a hearty Amen, and a prayer for the day when the human element of the Church finally moves past that ill-starred Council and back onto the path of Tradition.  That day is as inevitable as the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.