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Part III.2.5: The Hermeneutics of Ad Intra and Ad Extra

By Jeremy Hausotter

May 16, 2021

Note on the Text:

Part III is broken up into nine separate pages because this investigation in Google Docs is approximately 130 pages. In Google Docs it is broken up into three parts, which the reader here can discern based on the numbering scheme. The reader will profit most by reading Part III in sequential order. Part III.1 develops the hermeneutic of faith. Part III.2 applies the hermeneutic of faith to several hermeneutical controversies of Vatican II. Part III.3 develops the hermeneutic of suspicion.

Table of Contents

2.5. The Hermeneutics of Ad Extra and Ad Intra


2.5. The Hermeneutics of Ad Extra and Ad Intra

We have proposed that Vatican II must be interpreted as an exercise of the Church’s own faith and an enrichment of the faith. As Wojtyła observed, the enrichment of faith hermeneutic has a twofold implication. First, this hermeneutic possesses an objective meaning for it is the enrichment of the Church’s own understanding of her doctrines and her advancement towards the fullness of truth. Second, the faith enrichment hermeneutic also has a subjective meaning, for every believer is to be enriched in his own faith journey and to bring this faith into the world in order to renew the world itself. Vatican II is doctrinal because the Council as an enrichment of faith requires a deeper understanding of revealed truth. This is the objective meaning. The subjective meaning is the Church’s adoption of her pastoral approach in order to engage fellow men and the world in the dialogue of faith, to preach Christ risen.

To sum up, the enrichment of faith which we regard as the fundamental pre-requisite for the realization of Vatican II is to be understood in two ways: as an enrichment of the content of faith in accordance with the Council’s teaching, but also, originating from that content, an enrichment of the whole existence of the believing member of the Church. This enrichment of faith in the objective sense, constituting a new stage in the Church’s advance towards the ‘fullness of divine truth’, is at the same time an enrichment in the subjective, human, existential sense, and it is from the latter that realization of the Council is most hoped for. The ‘pastoral’ Council has opened a new chapter of the Church’s pastoral activity, interpreting that phrase in its widest sense.[1]

The enrichment of faith hermeneutic therefore implies the hermeneutics of ad intra and ad extra.

The hermeneutics of ad extra and ad intra are first used in reference to the Church. This approach was first suggested by Cardinal Suenens. Ad intra refers to the Church’s own inner renewal within the contexts of faith, doctrine, and God’s revealed truth, dealing with “the Church in itself, but with the aim of helping it better to respond to its mission in the world.”[2] Ad extra hence refers to the Church’s relationship with the world: “the Church as it faces the world of today”.[3] Following Wojtyła’s analysis then, ad extra refers to the objective meaning of the hermeneutic of faith while ad intra refers to the subjective meaning.

Some documents can hence be distinguished as ad intra, dedicated to the renewal of the Church, such as Sacrosanctum Concilium on the liturgy, Lumen Gentium on the Church, and Apostolicam Actuositatem on laity. Other documents of the Council are ad extra, dedicated to the renewal of the Church’s relationship with the world, such as Gaudium et Spes, Dignitatis Humanae on religious freedom, and Nostra Aetate on the other religions. Such a conception understands the Church to be the subject of both ad intra and ad extra. The documents themselves however do not follow this neatly defined dichotomy. Gaudium et Spes and Lumen Gentium, for example, have both ad intra and ad extra elements while predominantly following one or the other. They are ad intra in the way they bring the Church to a renewal of her self-understanding and identity, and ad extra in her understanding of her identity in relationship with the world.

Ad intra and ad extra need not be applied strictly to the Church, for this distinction can be also applied to the individual believer. It is the faithful Christian who renews the Church’s inner life, but in order for him to do so, he must first renew himself in his relationship to God. Wojtyła interprets Dignitatis Humanae in such a manner.[4] Faith is not merely a private matter but requires public expression,[5] and this public expression includes not only worship, but dialogue with others about what is true[6] and evangelizing the world.[7]


[1] Karol Wojtyła, Sources of Renewal, 18.

[2] Suenens, personal letter from Suenens to John XIII, found in Appendix I of “A Plan for the Whole Council” in Vatican II by those who were there, ed. Alberic Stacpoole.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “The postulate of conscious faith and conscious Catholicism is fully supported by the Council’s standpoint in defence of the right of religious freedom in the social and public dimension. If the right to religious freedom appears from the text of the Declaration to present itself ad extra, in relation to secular public order, at the same time the postulate of conscious faith becomes clear on reading the Declaration ad intra, i.e. in relation to believers and to the Church seeking its own self-realization. This postulate must above all be understood as a postulate of the enrichment of faith on the part of the subject: an enrichment corresponding to the subject’s nature, which is personal, and which must also contribute to the development of the Christian’s entire personality.” Sources of Renewal, 23.

[5] “Provided the just demands of public order are observed, religious communities rightfully claim freedom in order that they may govern themselves according to their own norms, honor the Supreme Being in public worship, assist their members in the practice of the religious life, strengthen them by instruction, and promote institutions in which they may join together for the purpose of ordering their own lives in accordance with their religious principles.” Dignitatis Humanae 4.

[6] “Religious communities also have the right not to be hindered in their public teaching and witness to their faith, whether by the spoken or by the written word.” Ibid, 4.

[7] “The Church should enjoy that full measure of freedom which her care for the salvation of men requires.” Ibid, 13.

Hermeneutics of Vatican II

A Case Study: The Bad Fruits of Vatican II

Part I: Gift of the Holy Spirit

Part II.1: The Hermeneutic of Continuity

Part II.2: The Hermeneutic of Discontinuity

Part II.3: The Theological Notes and the Hermeneutic of Continuity

Part II.4: Is Vatican II an Ecumenical Council?

Part II.5: The Problem of Dissent

Part II.6: A Concluding Argument

Part III.1: Vatican II and Faith

Part III.2.1: Vatican II as a Study of Man

Part III.2.2: The Hermeneutic of Dialogue

Part III.2.3: The Hermeneutic of Pastoral

Part III.2.4: The Hermeneutic of Aggiornamento

Part III.2.5: The Hermeneutic of Ad Intra and Ad Extra

Part III.2.6: The Spirit of Vatican II

Part III.2.7: The False Hermeneutic of Ambiguity

Part III.3: The Hermeneutic of Suspicion

Part IV: Textual Hermeneutics

Part V: The Theological Priority of the Dogmatic Constitutions

Festenburger Frauenhimmel by Johann Cyriak Hackhofer 
Wikimedia Commons

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