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Posted On: 08/08/20 21:41
Bishop Athanasius Schneider responses to some questions regarding “Second Vatican council appraisal, Universalism and Pachamama veneration”


The true meaning and the limits of the Magisterium of the Church (Pope, Ecumenical Council) and a possible correction of some affirmations of the Second Vatican Council

 Question (1) : Since Second Vatican Council documents are valid,How one can say an error found in some statements of it?  Even, in a dogmatic constitution like Lumen Gentium? Before second Vatican council ,Did any errors happen in any ecumenical council?

H.E Athanasius Schneider : The term “Dogmatic Constitution” does not mean that this is a document with an infallible teaching or that this document is presented in a definitive way, but only when a Council or a Pope declares explicitly, with expressions e.g. “Anathema sit” or “All faithful must accept this teaching as definitive” etc.

There happened, though rarely, doctrinal errors in Ecumenical Councils, which were later corrected by the Magisterium of the Church, e.g. the Council of Florence in the 15th century. This Ecumenical Council of Florence in its decree for the Armenians, which was not meant to be a definitive dogmatic judgment, made an objective doctrinal error in saying that the matter of the sacrament of Order is the “handing over of the instruments.” Whereas according to the longer and previous and unanimous tradition of the entire Church in the East and West, it was not the handing over of the instruments (chalice with paten, book etc.), but the imposition of the hands that was regarded as the decisive element (matter) of the diaconal, presbyteral, and episcopal ordinations. Even though it was not the mind of the Council of Florence to claim the necessity of the traditio instrumentorum for validity—as it was stated later by Pius XII—the Council incomprehensibly omitted to add any explanatory remark, so that its intention would be clear and would not lead to error and ambiguities. In such a grave matter as officially teaching about the essence of the sacraments, a Council is obliged to speak in a most unambiguous way. In fact, the Council spoke plainly, “The sixth is the sacrament of Orders. Its matter is the object by whose handing over the order is conferred. So the priesthood is bestowed by the handing over of a chalice with wine and a paten with bread; the diaconate by the giving of the book of the gospels.” This affirmation taken alone, by itself, is erroneous, independently of the intention. It later caused some Catholic theologians to assert in their dogmatic manuals that the traditio instrumentorum is necessary for validity. Even the Holy See did this in some of the editions of the Pontificale Romanum, in which one can find it stated that, if the handing over of the instruments had been omitted, it had to be supplied for the sake of the validity of the ordination. In 1947, Pope Pius XII officially corrected the objective theological error of the Ecumenical Council of Florence, which was also the error of St. Thomas Aquinas, by stating that the imposition of the hands is the only valid matter for diaconal, presbyteral, and episcopal ordinations. After the magisterial intervention of Pius XII, the dogmatic manuals and the rubric in some of the editions of the Pontificale Romanum had definitively to be corrected. Already in the year 1914, Cardinal W.M. van Rossum wrote concerning the Council of Florence’s affirmation on the matter of the Sacrament of Orders, that this doctrine of the Council is reformable and must even be abandoned (cf. De essentia sacramenti ordinis, Freiburg 1914, p. 186). And so, there was no room for a hermeneutic of continuity in this concrete case.

Pope Martin V approved the decrees of the Council of Constance (1414 – 1418) and even the decrees, which included also an erroneous teaching of that Council, which said that a Council is superior to a Pope, i.e. the error of “conciliarism”. However, in 1446 his successor, Pope Eugene IV, declared that he accepted the decrees of the Ecumenical Council of Constance, except those (especially of the sessions 3 - 5 and 39) which “prejudice the rights and primacy of the Apostolic See” (absque tamen praeiudicio iuris, dignitatis et praeeminentiae Sedis Apostolicae). The dogma of the First Vatican Council (1870) on papal primacy definitively rejected then (though without mentioning the Council of Constance) the conciliarist error of the Ecumenical Council of Constance. As already mentioned, Pope Pius XII corrected the error of the Ecumenical Council of Florence regarding the matter of the Sacrament of Orders. The foundations of the faith were not undermined by these rare acts of correction of previous affirmations of the non-infallible Magisterium, precisely because these concrete affirmations (e.g. of the Councils of Constance and Florence) were not infallible and they were not proposed as a definitive teaching of the Church.

There were other affirmations and decrees of Ecumenical Councils, which had not a doctrinal, but a pastoral or disciplinary character, but which were nevertheless wrong, and which later became obsolete or were in practice corrected by the popes.

The IV Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (870) harshly condemned Photios, Patriarch of Constantinople, in Canon 4, declaring that he was a “dangerous wolf in Christ’s flock and that he filled the entire world with a thousand riots and agitations, and that he was never a bishop, and all the churches and altars, consecrated by him, should be re-consecrated.” Yet the Byzantine Orthodox Church venerates this same Photios as “Saint Photios the Great and Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople,” and it celebrates his liturgical feast on February 6. With a future union of the Byzantine Greek Orthodox Church and the Holy See, Canon 4 of the IV Council of Constantinople would most certainly be corrected.

The III Ecumenical Lateran Council (1179) stipulated in Canon 26 that neither Jews, nor Muslims, could employ Christians as workers in their homes. It also said that Christians who dared to live in the homes of Jews and Muslims should be excommunicated. Can the Catholic Church today still maintain such an affirmation made by an Ecumenical Council?

The IV Lateran Council (1215) titled an entire Constitution (Constitution 4), “On the pride of the Greeks against the Latins” (De superbia Graecorum contra Latinos). Such an affirmation is surely offensive to our separated brethren. The same Council titled another Constitution (Constitution 26) “The Jews must be distinguished from the Christians by their clothing.” And Constitution 27 states that Jews should not hold public offices.  

The Ecumenical Council of Constance (1415), in its 13th session, excommunicates those priests who administer Holy Communion under both species. 

Not all pronouncements of the Magisterium of the Church (Councils, Popes) are automatically and always infallible. Who affirms this, contradicts Catholic doctrine. The Magisterium (Councils, Popes) is not God, only God is always infallible. The Magisterium is infallible only in very precise conditions, as the dogma of the First Vatican Council (Pastor aeternus, chap. 4) says: (1) the affirmation of the Magisterium must refer of Faith and Morals, (2) it should only reiterate or expose the deposit of Faith, which is the Divine revelation through all generations unchangingly in the same sense and in the same meaning transmitted, (3) it should not be a new doctrine, because the Holy Spirit was not given to the Magisterium of the Church, i.e. to the Pope or to the Ecumenical Council, to present a new doctrine, (4) it should be explicitly said that this concrete teaching must be hold by the entire Church, (5) the Pope or a Council should clearly signify that a concrete doctrine, which they teach, is being now defined, i.e. is being now proposed as a dogmatic definition.

If one of this conditions is lacking, a concrete affirmation of a Pope or of a Council has not the prerogative of infallibility, and consequently can contain errors, as it happened sometimes, though rarely, in the History of the Church, e.g. Pope Honorius I (7th century), Pope John XXII (14th century) and the Ecumenical Councils mentioned above, and also some affirmations of Vatican II (Lumen gentium 16, Nostra Aetate about Non-Christian religions, Dignitatis Humanae on religious liberty).

Indeed, Paul VI stated, the Council “avoided giving solemn dogmatic definitions, engaging infallibility of the ecclesiastical Magisterium” (General Audience, January 12, 1966). Therefore, there is no problem that the mentioned affirmations of Vatican II could or should be corrected in the future, so that they will be more evidently and without any shadow of doubt and ambiguity concordant with the constant teaching of the Magisterium of all ages.


Question (2): If any error happens in it, one says there are some errors in a particular statement and the other says there are some errors in some other statements of the Second Vatican Council, some says there are issues in previous ecumenical council documents. In this situation, what will be the basis of such claim (error in a Council document)?

H.E Athanasius Schneider: Some affirmations of the non-infallible teaching of some Councils or Popes were errors precisely because they contradicted and were in obvious rupture with the preceding and constant teaching of the Church during millennia. The criterion of examining if there were errors, is the constant and unchanging Tradition of the Church. The questioned expressions should be, furthermore, in themselves so clear and unambiguous, that there is no need of an interpretation or of a hermeneutic, as it is the case in some problematic statements of Vatican II.


Question (3): There are some erroneous statements in the council document. But there are people who believe that there are no errors in any Ecumenical Council documents (e.g.: Lumen Gentium 16). They strictly follow that "Muslims and Catholics are adoring together the same One God" (LG ,n.16). Then, what would be the state of their salvation (Faith and Salvation are correlated)?

H.E Athanasius Schneider: To state, as the Council did in Lumen Gentium n. 16, that Muslims adore together with us the one God (“nobiscum Deum adorant”), is theologically a highly ambiguous affirmation. That we Catholics adore with the Muslims the one God is not true. We don’t adore with them. In the act of adoration, we always adore the Holy Trinity, we don’t simply adore “the one God” but the Holy Trinity consciously—Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Islam rejects the Holy Trinity. When the Muslims adore, they do not adore on the supernatural level of faith. Our act of adoration is radically different, it is essentially different. Precisely because we turn to God and adore Him as children constituted in the ineffable dignity of divine filial adoption, and we do this with supernatural faith. However, the Muslims do not have supernatural faith. They have a natural knowledge of God. The Koran is not the revelation of God, but a kind of anti-revelation of God, because the Koran expressly denies the divine revelation of the Incarnation, of the eternal divinity of the Son of God, of the redemptive sacrifice of Christ on the Cross, and therefore denies the truth of God, the Holy Trinity. This ambiguous affirmation of the Second Vatican Council must be corrected. This affirmation is not infallible and was not meant by the Council to be such. In some way, we can accept the affirmation of Lumen Gentium, but then we must give a long explanation. Of course, when a person sincerely adores God the Creator—as I assume the majority of simple Muslim people do—they adore God with a natural act of worship, based on the natural knowledge of God, the Creator. Every non-Christian, every non-baptized person, including a Muslim, can adore God on the level of the natural knowledge of the existence of God. They adore in a natural act of adoration the same God, whom we adore in a supernatural act and with supernatural faith in the Holy Trinity. But these are two essentially different acts of adoration: the one is an act of natural knowledge and the other is an act of supernatural faith. The acts of adoration, and the acts of knowing on which they are based, are substantially different, though the object is the same in that it is the same God. The affirmation of the Second Vatican Council should have been written more precisely, in order to avoid misunderstandings. Perhaps it could be formulated in this way: “Muslims adore God in an act of natural worship, and thus in a substantially different way than we Catholics do, since we adore God with supernatural faith. If the phrase had been formulated in this or some similar way, it would have avoided wrong applications in interreligious dialogue.


Question (4): A practical tool to avoid confusion about Second Vatican Council documents "syllabus of errors" (once happened in the history of church, issued by Pope Pius IX on 1864  which condemns 80 errors of those times). Can this tool be applied for the documents of an Ecumenical Council ?   

H.E Athanasius Schneider: Since some errors of Ecumenical Councils had been in posterior times corrected, as for instance the doctrinal errors of the Councils of Florence and of Constance, the pastoral wrong affirmations of other Councils like the IV Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 870 (polemic and uncharitable expressions against the Patriarch of Constantinople), the III Ecumenical Lateran Council in 1179, the IV Lateran Council in 1215 with their discriminations laws against Jews. Therefore, it would be not against the practice of the Church to publish in the future a kind of syllabus, i.e. a list with corrections of some ambiguous or wrong affirmations of Vatican II.


Question (5): With regards to the freewill and grace, some Catholics argued that Adam did original sin and it affects the entire humanity (physical evil and moral evil). Only Adam and Eve gave personal consent as "yes to sin" and the entire humankind are suffering due to it. if one man's free choice brought the entire humankind to fall, then the other man's (Jesus) free choice brought back the redemption of humankind. Adam's personal choice brought death  and Jesus's personal choice brought eternal life. So they claimed that "No personal consent required by individuals. Our lord Jesus said yes to God in his free will, Jesus saved every human and no one will go to hell". As a catholic bishop, How can you evaluate such statement?

H.E Athanasius Schneider: People who think like this: "no personal consent required by individuals, our lord Jesus said yes to God in his free will, Jesus saved every human and no one will go to hell", commit a heresy, because it is a Divinely revealed truth about the possibility of eternal condemnation of human souls. The Church taught this infallibly and in a definitive way. “Hell exists, and that those who are condemned to hell for any unrepented mortal sin are eternally punished there by divine justice (see Mt 25:46). According to the teaching of the Holy Scripture, not only fallen angels but also human souls are damned eternally (see 2 Thess 1:9; 2 Pet 3:7). Furthermore, the eternally damned human beings will not be annihilated, since their souls are immortal according to the infallible teaching of the Church (see Fifth Lateran Council, sess. 8).  

This teaches us the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “To die in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love means remaining separated from him for ever by our own free choice. This state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed is called "hell.. … The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, "eternal fire." The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.” (n. 1033; 1035).


Question (6): People say even though the "Pachamama veneration happened in the Vatican" is wrong, we can't denounce such act through social media using church teachings or scriptures. Since the Pope is involved in it, no one have the right to denounce such act and God only have the right to Judge. What is the use of spreading such things through social medias? They claimed that it affects the unity of the church and a Catholic suppose not to raise anything against Pachamama veneration. Those who raise against Pachamama veneration are indirectly forcing faithful to leave the Catholic Church. Is the denouncing Pachamama veneration, thus, not an ecclesial approach?

H.E Athanasius Schneider: The Church is not a human political party or a company with employees, but a supernatural entity and great spiritual family. The pope is not the boss and the owner of the Church or of the Faith, but only the servant, the representative, the vicar of Christ. That the pope can and must be corrected even publicly, when he damages the purity of the Faith and the morals, God himself demonstrated in inspiring St. Paul to write down for all generations of the Catholics, that a pope can and must be corrected by his subordinates, as it was the case of his public correction of the first pope St. Peter in Antioch. (see Gal. 2:14)

Saint Thomas poses the question, “Are subjects bound to obey their superiors in all things?” (Summa theologiae, II-IIae, q. 104, a. 5); his answer is negative. As explained by him, the reasons why a subject cannot be bound to obey its superior in all things are twofold. Firstly: because of a command from a higher authority, given that the hierarchy of authorities must be respected. Secondly: if a superior commands a subject to do unlawful things, for example, when children are not bound to obey their parents in the matter of contracting a marriage, preserving virginity or similar matters. Saint Thomas concludes: “Man is subject to God absolutely, and in all things, internal and external: he is therefore bound to obey God in all things. However, subjects are not bound to obey their superiors in all things, but in certain things only. (…) Hence one can distinguish three types of obedience: the first, being sufficient for salvation, obeys in obligatory matters only; the second, being perfect, obeys in all lawful things; the third, being disordered, obeys in unlawful matters also” (Summa theologiae, II-IIae, q. 104, a. 3).

Obedience is not blind or unconditional, but has limits. Where there is sin, mortal or otherwise, we have not merely a right, but a duty to disobey. This also applies in circumstances where one is commanded to do something harmful to the integrity of the Catholic Faith or the sacredness of the Liturgy. History has demonstrated that a Bishop, an Episcopal conference, a Council or even a Pope pronounced errors in their non-infallible Magisterium. What, in such circumstances, should the faithful do? In his various works, Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches that, where the faith is at risk, it is lawful, even proper, to resist a papal decision publicly, as did Saint Paul to Saint Peter, the first Pope. Indeed, “Saint Paul, who was subject to Saint Peter, publicly rebuked him because of an imminent risk of scandal in a matter of faith. And Saint Augustine commented, “even Saint Peter set an example so that those who governed, but on occasion strayed from the right path, should not refuse as improper a correction, even if originating from their subjects” (ad Galatians 2, 14)” (Summa theologiae, II-II, q. 33, a. 4, ad 2).

Saint Paul’s resistance was manifested as a public correction of Saint Peter, the first Pope. Saint Thomas devotes an entire question to fraternal correction in the Summa. Fraternal correction can also be directed by subjects to their superiors, and by the laity against prelates. “Since however a virtuous act needs to be moderated by due circumstances, it follows that when a subject corrects his superior, he ought to do so in a becoming manner, not with impudence and harshness, but with gentleness and respect” (Summa theologiae, II-II, q. 33, a. 4, ad 3). If there is a danger to the faith, subjects are bound to rebuke their prelates, including the Pope, even publicly: “Therefore, due to the risk of scandal in the faith, Paul, who was in fact subject to Peter, rebuked him publicly” (ibidem).

The person and the office of the Pope has its meaning in being only the Vicar of Christ, an instrument and not an end, and as such, this meaning must be used, if we do not want to turn the relationship between the means and the end upside down. It is important to underline this at a time where, especially among the most devoted Catholics, there is a lot of confusion in this regard. And also, obedience to the Pope or to the Bishop is an instrument, not an end. The Roman Pontiff has full and immediate authority over all the faithful, and there is no authority on earth superior to him, but he cannot, either by erroneous or by ambiguous statements, change and weaken the integrity of the Catholic faith, the divine constitution of the Church or the constant tradition of the sacredness and the sacrificial character of the liturgy of the Holy Mass. If this happens, there is the legitimate possibility and duty of the Bishops and even of the lay faithful not only to present private and public appeals and proposals of doctrinal corrections, but also to act in “disobedience” of a Papal order which changes or weakens the integrity of the Faith, the Divine Constitution of the Church and the Liturgy. This is a very rare, but possible, circumstance, which does not violate, but confirms the rule of devotion and obedience to the Pope who is called to confirm the faith of his brothers. Such prayers, appeals, proposals of doctrinal corrections and a so-called “disobedience” are, on the contrary, an expression of love for the Supreme Pontiff in order to help him to convert from his dangerous behavior of neglecting his primary duty to confirm the entire Church unambiguously and vigorously in the Faith.

Because of the love for the Papal ministry, the honor of the Apostolic See and the person of the Roman Pontiff some Saints as e.g. Saint Bridged of Sweden and Saint Catherine of Siena, did not shy from admonishing the Popes, sometimes even in somewhat strong terms, as we can see St. Bridged reporting the following words of the Lord, addressed to Pope Gregory XI: ”Start to reform the church that I purchased with my own blood in order that it may be reformed and led back spiritually to its pristine state of holiness. If you do not obey this my will, then you can be quite sure that you are going to be condemned by me before all my heavenly court with the same kind of sentence and spiritual justice with which one condemns and punishes a worldly prelate that is to be stripped of his rank. He is publicly divested of his sacred, pontifical garb, defeated, and accursed. This is what I will do to you. I shall send you away from the glory of heaven. However, Gregory, my son, I admonish you again to convert to me with humility. Heed my counsel” (Book of Revelations, 4, 142).

St. Catherine of Siena, a Doctor of the Church, addressed the following blunt admonition to Pope Gregory XI, demanding him a vigorous reform of the Church or if he should fail to do it, to renounce the papacy: “Most holy and sweet father, your poor unworthy daughter Catherine in Christ sweet Jesus, commends herself to you in His Precious Blood. Divine Truth demands that you execute justice on the abundance of many iniquities committed by those who are fed and pastured in the garden of Holy Church. Since He has given you authority and you have assumed it, you should use your virtue and power: and if you are not willing to use it, it would be better for you to resign what you have assumed; more honor to God and health to your soul would it be.”

When those in authority in the Church (Pope, Bishops), as it is the case in our time, fail to fulfill faithfully their duty to keep and defend the integrity and the clarity of the Catholic Faith and the Liturgy, God calls the subordinates, often the little and simple ones in the Church, to compensate for the defects of the Superiors, by means of appeals, proposals of correction and most powerfully by means of vicarious sacrifices and prayers.

 + Athanasius Schneider


Republishing and translation of the aforementioned Question & Answer in any portal are subject to the Permission of either from Most.Rev.Bishop Athanasius Schneider or from the author (Jinto Chittilappilly).



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