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Part III.1: Vatican II and the Enrichment of Faith

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


1. Vatican II and Faith

1.1. Vatican II's Teachings on Faith

1.1.1. The Act of Faith

1.1.2. Natural Revelation

1.1.3. Truth and Human Dignity

1.1.4. No Salvation Outside the Church

1.2. Vatican II is an Act of the Church's Faith

1.2.1. The Conciliar Texts

1.2.2. According to the Magisterium

1.3. Vatican II Must be Implemented as an Act of Faith

1.4. Faith as a Decipher



The key to interpreting Vatican II is approaching it with the eyes of faith. We must understand and appreciate the fact that Vatican II is an act of faith by the universal Church, and as such, the Council can only be understood in terms of faith. Many of the controversies of Vatican II can be clarified and elucidated once we understand that the purpose of Vatican II is the enrichment of the Catholic faith.

In Part I I argued that Vatican II can only be understood as a gift of the Holy Spirit. This however requires a prior existential sense of faith. If the reader of this essay or any of the documents of Vatican II lacks faith, he or she will necessarily possess a deficient understanding as it is only with the eyes of faith that one can discern spirits and determine what is authentic to the Catholic faith.

The problem of faith is multifaceted and involves several other hermeneutical problems and abuses concerning the Council. Our analysis begins with understanding that faith in Christ requires faith in the Church, and that a part of this act of faith is the acceptance of Vatican II with faith. We hence propose that the interpreter of Vatican II must adopt as his or her first principle the hermeneutic of faith which states that Vatican II is an enrichment of the Catholic faith from which follows the corollary Vatican II is a gift of the Holy Spirit. In opposition to the hermeneutic of faith is the hermeneutic of suspicion. Such a hermeneutic is problematic for it places the exegete in a position of doubt towards the authentic content of faith; and so, he makes himself susceptible to disbelief.

There are of course different attitudes the exegete of doubt can assume. One possible understanding of hermeneutical suspicion is understanding it as a kind of suspiciousness that arises out of a textual or existential agnosticism, such as the case of the Catholic who wonders what is the fuss of Vatican II and reads the documents for himself or the non-Catholic who likewise reads the conciliar texts out of a curiosity. Such examples are not what we have in mind when we discuss the hermeneutic of suspicion. The reader in these examples is suspending judgment until he has read what the documents state without a prior belief. When we speak of a hermeneutic of suspicion, we are referring to those exegetes who approach the conciliar texts with an attitude of doubt towards the objects of meaning found within the documents. We will see that when one adopts such a methodology of suspicion that it will necessarily lead him to several false positions concerning the controversy of Vatican II. This path of suspicion inevitably leads to dissent for the Catholic intellectual. The Catholic intellectual once he adopts this methodology is impelled towards either a radical progressivism or ultraconservatism depending on his or her prior ideological commitments. It must be affirmed in opposition to the hermeneutic of suspicion that it is only with a hermeneutic of faith that one can approach Vatican II and its surrounding controversies.

We must now note what we mean by “radical progressivism” and “ultraconservatism”. Such terms are overtly political though my desire is not political, but a seeking after what is the truth of the matter on Vatican II. The term “radical progressivism” is used to label those who dissent from the authority of the Church out of a desire to change her according to worldly, secular standards. Edward Schillebeeckx, Hans Küng, Charles Curran, and others are examples of such thinkers. By “ultraconservatism”, what is meant is those who dissent from the authority of the Church out of fears of modernism and progressivism. If one interprets the term “ultraconservatism” to mean those who prefer the Traditional Latin Mass in this work, then he or she has misunderstood my aims here. The term “ultraconservatism” is not being applied whatsoever to the liturgical debate but strictly to how one interprets Vatican II.

Our first task is thus to outline the Council’s teachings on faith and the Council’s own understanding of itself as an authentic exercise of faith of the Universal Church. After we have analyzed the contents of the hermeneutic of faith we apply this exegetical principle to several of the hermeneutical controversies that arose. We will investigate the meaning of aggiornamento, the pastoral nature of Vatican II and its relationship to dogma, the distinction between ad intra and ad extra, and the meanings of renewal and dialogue. How one understands these principles follows a priori from the first existential principle whether one is approaching the Council in faith or suspicion. Our approach is necessarily existential, or theo-existential, for it is centered on the fact of faith in God. Whether one possesses or lacks fatih will influence his or her interpretation of Vatican II. The theo-existential approach adopted here follows the hermeneutical approach for implementing Vatican II found in Karol Wojtyła’s book Sources of Renewal.

The term theo-existential is used to emphasize the fact that ultimately both hermeneutics of suspicion and faith are inseparable from the crisis of faith for the individual the individual and his faith or lack thereof. All Catholics clearly perceive that the authenticity of the Second Vatican Council is measured and judged by faith and by faith alone. The debates over the authenticity of the Council are none other than the hermeneutical question of faith. Every issue returns to this singular problem. The problem of Vatican II is the problem of faith, and hence is existential; for the object of this investigation is understanding how to interpret Vatican II according to the faith of the Catholic Church and how this affects one’s faith as an individual and member of this community of faith.

1. Vatican II and Faith

Our objective now is to elucidate the Council’s teachings on faith for the Church as a community of believers, and the individual believer, the human person. From this analysis follows the propositions that: first, Vatican II is an act and exercise of the Church’s own faith; and second, in order to authentically implement the Council, the process of implementation requires itself to be exercised as an act of faith. We do this by investigating the conciliar texts and what the Magisterium has spoken on the matter.

1.1. Vatican II’s Teachings on Faith

We begin by first outlining the Council’s teachings on faith. Faith as a subject requires us to ask questions such as what is the act of faith itself? Is faith a rational act or is it fundamentally irrational? If faith is a rational act, then what is the content one is placing faith in and what kinds of demands or duties does this belief impose upon the believer? Related to these questions is the role of man’s ontological status as a created human person and his relationship to truths concerning himself, the cosmos, and God. The answers to these questions form the following investigations.

We ask now what is the act of faith. This naturally raises questions concerning what is the role of natural revelation in regards to faith which we will consider next. This requires examining the Council’s understanding of who man is and his vocation for truth. These topics inevitably raise the problem concerning the Church’s teachings that there is no salvation outside the Church and Lumen Gentium, to which we will give a few brief comments later.

1.1.1. The Act of Faith

Throughout human history God has revealed Himself to man. God first revealed Himself to Adam and Eve, then to Noah, Abraham, the Patriarchs, Moses and Israelites, David, the prophets, and lastly through Jesus Christ. Such is the salvation history contained in the Old Testament At each revealing we learn more about who God is. However, God’s revelation to each individual and people was a partial revelation until the coming of Jesus in the New Testament. Jesus Christ is God incarnate, and so Dei Verbum teaches that Jesus is “the mediator and fullness of all revelation.”[1] Since Jesus is the fullness of revelation, He perfected God’s public revelation. And, since Jesus is God, to see Jesus is to see God the Father, then in Jesus’ public ministry He makes God present. Through His human life, Jesus manifests God, and it is for this reason Jesus perfected public revelation. Hence Dei Verbum teaches “Jesus perfected revelation by fulfilling it through his whole work of making Himself present and manifesting Himself”.[2] God has revealed Himself to man, proclaiming man’s liberation from sin and earth, but ultimately that He, God, is the God of Love who loves each of us. This revelation by God to man demands an assent by man to God.

The obedience of faith is to be given to God, who has revealed Himself to us through Christ, and through Christ has established a New Covenant with all men. This act of faith is an act of man’s free will. It is a free act with the full submission of intellect and will. The act of faith is hence a properly personal act for the person is committing his or her self to God through the rational faculties of the human person. Dei Verbum cites Vatican I’s Dei Filius in teaching:

The obedience of faith is to be given to God who reveals, an obedience by which man commits his whole self freely to God, offering the full submission of intellect and will to God who reveals,” and freely assenting to the truth revealed by Him.[3]

Dignitatis Humanae similarly affirms the long Catholic tradition of the freedom of the act of faith, stating: “It is one of the major tenets of Catholic doctrine that man's response to God in faith must be free: no one therefore is to be forced to embrace the Christian faith against his own will.”[4]

The victory of Christ on the Cross is the object of our faith, that God has come to save man by Himself coming and assuming human nature so as to offer the perfect sacrifice through His death and victory at the Resurrection. This victory through faith is transformed into the Christian hope.

Christ won this victory when He rose to life, for by His death He freed man from death. Hence to every thoughtful man a solidly established faith provides the answer to his anxiety about what the future holds for him. At the same time faith gives him the power to be united in Christ with his loved ones who have already been snatched away by death; faith arouses the hope that they have found true life with God.[5]

The Christian hope is the hope for life, the hope for man’s salvation from death, that man himself likewise will be saved from the grave and raised up to eternal life. The Christian hope is also the hope for love, that man is ultimately a being who is worthy to be loved, and so man is called to emulate this Divine Love God has for man, who is none other than the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Holy Trinity. By dying on the Cross, Jesus has shown the world that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”[6] In other words, God has revealed to man that man is a being who is the object of God’s love, that as unworthily man is due to sin, man is still worthy of love through no merit of his own. Man is a precious being God jealously defends.

The act of faith, however, is not something man can complete on his own. The act of faith certainly requires man to assent and submit with his intellect and will, but this alone is itself insufficient. Man also needs God’s grace and the interior help of the Holy Spirit to stir his heart towards God. Man must undergo an opening of mind and heart by the Spirit. “It is, finally, through the gift of the Holy Spirit that man comes by faith to the contemplation and appreciation of the divine plan.”[7]

To make this act of faith, the grace of God and the interior help of the Holy Spirit must precede and assist, moving the heart and turning it to God, opening the eyes of the mind and giving “joy and ease to everyone in assenting to the truth and believing it.” To bring about an ever deeper understanding of revelation the same Holy Spirit constantly brings faith to completion by His gifts.[8]

This passage highlights another aspect to the act of faith. Faith must be lived. Man must live each and every day in faith. Each and every day man knows that alone he is insufficient for this task. He knows he needs God’s help continually. Faith is dynamic in a twofold sense since man must live out his faith faithfully while constantly imploring the help of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit “constantly brings faith to completion by His gifts”, meaning that the Spirit is actively alive within the believer and working in and through him. The Spirit sends gifts of virtue and charism to the believer to develop into an ever deeper completion and penetration of his faith. This requires the constancy of the believer each and every day to carry out his life in faith and prayer.

This faith in God and the mysteries of the Incarnation imposes the demand upon the believer to a daily faith. The believer has the duty to appropriate this faith and its contents into his daily life so that he lives and breathes for Christ and Christ alone. “This faith needs to prove its fruitfulness by penetrating the believer's entire life, including its worldly dimensions, and by activating him toward justice and love, especially regarding the needy.”[9] This constant, mindful imbuing of the faith into one’s life, habits and practices is nothing other than the demand of a living conversion each day. Everything must be lived by the breath of the Spirit, everything seen by eyes illuminated by faith in the Word who is the Light of the world. This living faith needs to penetrate and convert every element of the Christian believer's worldly dimensions, whether it is his work, hobbies, how he interacts with friends and family, or with fellow man, and even in simple tasks such as mowing one’s lawn and doing dishes. Every task is a challenge to live according to the faith, to recognize and encounter God in everything man does and everywhere man goes. Every moment is a reminder of one’s duty to continually strive for his own salvation and for the whole world by giving himself as a free gift to God to be used as a light to illuminate the world.

A question we may ask ourselves now is how did those before Christ or those who never encountered the Christian message suppose to encounter God’s revelation? These questions are answered by the Council’s teachings on natural revelation.

1.1.2. Natural Revelation

God reveals Himself in many ways. Dei Verbum describe the progression of salvation history from Adam and Eve to the coming of Jesus as stages in God’s self-revelation. Jesus Christ is the culmination of God’s revelation. He is God’s full and complete revelation of Himself to man. This is not the only way that man can discover God however.

Dei Verbum affirms that man can come to know God as the Creator by meditating on creation. From the fact of creation man can reason to the existence of God and know this with certainty. “God, the beginning and end of all things, can be known with certainty from created reality by the light of human reason”.[10] This is a restatement of the teachings of the Vatican I document Dei Filius.[11] Philosophers have argued in this manner for God’s existence since Aristotle’s Prime Mover argument in Physics. Thales, Plato, and Diogenes the Cynic understood that all things are full of God’s presence.

Gaudium et Spes teaches that there is a second way man can come to know God and this is through his encounter with moral law. In man’s conscience he encounters a law that comes from outside of himself which imposes duties upon him. This law beckons man to shun evil and do good. This law, furthermore, is nothing other than the law of God.

In the depths of his conscience, man detects a law which he does not impose upon himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience when necessary speaks to his heart: do this, shun that. For man has in his heart a law written by God; to obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged.[12]

Notice that man’s encounter with the moral law reveals God as Judge. God through conscience judges man. This judgment further implies consequences. The introduction of judgment immediately places man in confrontation with his eschatological destiny. Judgment implies punishment and reward. You are judged by your actions and you will be rewarded or punished accordingly.

The very next sentence of the passage quoted above is the following magnificent lines: “Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of a man. There he is alone with God, Whose voice echoes in his depths.”[13] Man’s conscience is a temple, the place where man can go meet and encounter the Divine Law Giver. Conscience is a temple, the place man can travel to hear God’s oracles, for conscience is the “sanctuary of a man”.

The seriousness of man’s conscience as God’s temple within man imposes the duty upon man to follow his conscience, to follow what God has spoken to him through the quiet, still voice of conscience. This does not require us to say however that one’s conscience is inerrant or infallible. Man’s conscience is a faculty that requires exercise, practice, and development. Sin wears down one’s conscience but this does not exclude the sinner from the duty to form his conscience. Man cannot excuse himself of this duty. As Dignitatis Humanae teaches,

On his part, man perceives and acknowledges the imperatives of the divine law through the mediation of conscience. In all his activity a man is bound to follow his conscience in order that he may come to God, the end and purpose of life.[14]

The Second Vatican Council therefore teaches that there are two ways man can discern the existence of God. One path is the way of creation. Man can reflect upon the nature of the universe and infer the existence of God as its Creator. The second way is through one’s own conscience. The experience of conscience is the encounter with objective moral law, the divine law, and this experience is the ground for the intuition of the experience of God as the Divine Law Giver. This experience furthermore informs us that God the Law Giver cares about me, the person experiencing his or her conscience. This encounter leads the person to the inference that the Law Giver is a Someone who loves me and cares about my well being and happiness.

In both ways man discovers God, His laws and the ordering of the universe. Man, through this discovery, realizes that he too is called to participate in this ordering. In both ways that man encounters a natural revelation of God wherein he likewise discovers God’s Providence, God’s ordering of the universe. As Dignitatis Humanae states:

Further light is shed on the subject if one considers that the highest norm of human life is the divine law-eternal, objective and universal-whereby God orders, directs and governs the entire universe and all the ways of the human community by a plan conceived in wisdom and love. Man has been made by God to participate in this law, with the result that, under the gentle disposition of divine Providence, he can come to perceive ever more fully the truth that is unchanging. Wherefore every man has the duty, and therefore the right, to seek the truth in matters religious in order that he may with prudence form for himself right and true judgments of conscience, under use of all suitable means.[15]

Every man has the duty to seek out the truth concerning who is man, the world, and the nature of God. Man has the duty to seek and inquire about religious truth. This duty is a truth of human nature, for man is religious by nature. By nature man is also a free, thinking being, a personal being with a rational nature. Man is hence impelled by nature and duty to seek the truth and most especially truths about God.[16]

1.1.3. Truth and Human Dignity

Dignitatis Humanae teaches that all men have the duty to seek the truth, to embrace it, and to hold fast to it.[17] This duty is most important concerning religious truths about God and the Catholic Church. This duty to seek the truth is metaphysically based on the truth that man has dignity because he is a person who is created with free will and reason. The human person is therefore “impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth”.[18] The pursuit of truth further implies the duties to “adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth”.[19] Dignitatis Humanae therefore teaches that man has a duty to: 1) seek the truth; 2) embrace the truth; 3) adhere or hold fast to truth; and 4) to orientate one’s entire life around truth. Man must appropriate truth into his daily way of living.

Man’s assent to truth needs to be a personal assent otherwise this assent is not a true assent of the human person towards that truth: “as the truth is discovered, it is by a personal assent that men are to adhere to it.”[20] The lack of personal assent makes that act of assent itself an act of coercion. Man cannot be coerced or forced, even in religious matters, to assent to a true proposition. “The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it makes its entrance into the mind at once quietly and with power.”[21]

Man cannot be coerced into a true belief because man is a human person endowed with reason and free will. This metaphysical status requires that the assent to truth be freely given, otherwise such an act does not flow from the person himself. Man as a person has a dignity. This dignity is violated whenever someone attempts to coerce him towards belief in a particular truth. Dignitatis Humanae outlines the argument in the following manner:[22]

1) Through man’s conscience he discovers the divine law.

2) Man is bound to follow his conscience so that he can come to discover God.

3) Therefore man cannot be forced to act contrary or in accordance to his conscience.

As persons, “God calls men to serve Him in spirit and in truth, hence they are bound in conscience but they stand under no compulsion.”[23] The freedom of man requires the freedom to pursue truth.

As noted earlier, the assent of faith itself needs to be an act of free will.[24] Faith cannot be forced. “The act of faith is of its very nature a free act.”[25] Since God created man to be a person with dignity, reason and free will, man must be guided by his intellect in freedom. “God has regard for the dignity of the human person whom He Himself created and man is to be guided by his own judgment and he is to enjoy freedom.”[26]

1.1.4. No Salvation Outside the Church

With all of this said, the act of faith in some necessary way links man to the Catholic Church, for no one can be saved outside the Catholic Church. The Second Vatican Council in Lumen Gentium reaffirmed the dogma “no salvation outside the Church”, and argued as follows:

1) Jesus Christ affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism.

2) Baptism is the door through which man enters the Catholic Church.

3) Therefore the Catholic Church is necessary for one’s salvation.

Lumen Gentium is clear in its language that it is interpreting a dogma of the Catholic faith.

Basing itself upon Sacred Scripture and Tradition, it teaches that the Church, now sojourning on earth as an exile, is necessary for salvation. Christ, present to us in His Body, which is the Church, is the one Mediator and the unique way of salvation. In explicit terms He Himself affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the Church.[27]

Importantly, the next line of the text states that those who know that the Church is necessary for salvation but refuse to join her cannot be saved: “Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved.”[28]

There are several important questions yet to be raised concerning this text of Lumen Gentium, in particular concerning the theology of the non-Catholic religions and the salvation of members of these religions. This statement that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church requires further development in a future essay. Here I will simply note that the Church in interpreting this dogma does not mean that one has to be a physical member of the body of the Church. One can still be saved and yet never formally join the Catholic Church. This seemingly paradoxical view has been the subject of much controversy concerning Vatican II, and is part of my next planned project.

1.2. Vatican II is an Act of the Church’s Faith

The topic we now turn to is the task of understanding Vatican II as an exercise of the Church’s very own faith. We will analyze what the conciliar documents themselves say on the matter, and then statements by the Magisterium.

1.2.1. The Conciliar Texts

Dei Verbum begins with the explicit statement that the Council intends to proclaim the word of God with faith. We read:

Hearing the word of God with reverence and proclaiming it with faith, the sacred synod takes its direction from these words of St. John: “We announce to you the eternal life which dwelt with the Father and was made visible to us. What we have seen and heard we announce to you, so that you may have fellowship with us and our common fellowship be with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ”.[29]

Here the Council chose to make the words of St. John its own, to announce to the world the revelation of Jesus Christ and eternal life in Him, to proclaim the kerygma in faith.

Gaudium et Spes uses similar language. Here to the Council states that it is with the voice of faith that it intends to address the world and its problems.

Hence, giving witness and voice to the faith of the whole people of God gathered together by Christ, this council can provide no more eloquent proof of its solidarity with, as well as its respect and love for the entire human family with which it is bound up, than by engaging with it in conversation about these various problems.[30]

The Council Fathers speak here of engaging the world in conversation. This is fundamentally a conversation of faith about faith. The Council in both conciliar texts explicitly claims the voice of faith as her own and as the one with which the Church addresses the world and enters into dialogue. It is with the voice of faith that she approaches the world and invites it into a conversation, a dialogue, about faith and the problems of the world.  It is in this manner likewise that the Council proposes and proclaims truths of the faith.

Gaudium et Spes presents another proclamation of faith later on. The Council Fathers summarize the faith in a small paragraph and explicitly state that they wish to speak to all men concerning the problems of the Council “under the light of Christ”. We read:

The Church firmly believes that Christ, who died and was raised up for all, can through His Spirit offer man the light and the strength to measure up to his supreme destiny. Nor has any other name under the heaven been given to man by which it is fitting for him to be saved. She likewise holds that in her most benign Lord and Master can be found the key, the focal point and the goal of man, as well as of all human history. The Church also maintains that beneath all changes there are many realities which do not change and which have their ultimate foundation in Christ, Who is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever. Hence under the light of Christ, the image of the unseen God, the firstborn of every creature, the council wishes to speak to all men in order to shed light on the mystery of man and to cooperate in finding the solution to the outstanding problems of our time.[31]

It is faith in Christ which illuminates the problems of the world and presents real solutions to them. The Church is here inviting the world to discover for its own the truths of Christ and how Christ answers the yearnings of the human heart. The Church invites such dialogue with the boldness of faith.

The next paragraph makes another similar statement, giving again a proclamation of faith and expressing the Council’s intention to address the world in light of the Catholic faith. The language in both paragraphs uses the same image of light. Faith is compared as a light to illuminate the problems of the world and makes them intelligible. In contrast then, darkness is to be associated with a lack of faith and the uninformed solutions proposed by the world for its problems. The darkness spread by the world’s problems and solutions is removed once the world embraces the light of faith.

The People of God believes that it is led by the Lord's Spirit, Who fills the earth. Motivated by this faith, it labors to decipher authentic signs of God's presence and purpose in the happenings, needs and desires in which this People has a part along with other men of our age. For faith throws a new light on everything, manifests God's design for man's total vocation, and thus directs the mind to solutions which are fully human.

This council, first of all, wishes to assess in this light those values which are most highly prized today and to relate them to their divine source. Insofar as they stem from endowments conferred by God on man, these values are exceedingly good.[32]

Another particular theme we can extract from the text just cited is the fact that the Council stated that the People of God is led by the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit guiding the Council in her proclamation of faith as voiced through the sixteen conciliar documents. This is in part why I have argued elsewhere that Vatican II is a gift of the Holy Spirit.[33] The Holy Spirit is actively leading the Church in her dialogue with the world for the sake of the salvation of all.

1.2.2. According to the Magisterium

Earlier we claimed that not only the conciliar texts claimed to present the Council as an exercise of faith, but also several of the popes. At this time we will now analyze several statements made by John XXIII, Paul VI, and Benedict XVI on the subject.


John XXIII certainly understood that Vatican II was to be an act of faith exercised by the Catholic Church. In the apostolic constitution Humanae Salutis, convoking Vatican II,  John XXIII clearly expressed that in Vatican II the Catholic Church will discover her own faith alive and be enriched by the Council: “The forthcoming Council will meet therefore and at a moment in which the Church finds very alive the desire to fortify its faith, and to contemplate itself in its own awe-inspiring unity.”[34] With this goal of the enrichment of the Church’s faith, the Council faces the demand to bring the light of Christian faith to all men and permeate every human activity:

In this way, the beneficial influence of the Council deliberations must, as we sincerely hope, succeed to the extent of imbuing with Christian light and penetrating with fervent spiritual energy not only the intimacy of the soul but the whole collection of human activities.[35]

In John XXIII’s Opening Speech to the Council, he stated that “The greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously.”[36] The Council “wishes to transmit the doctrine, pure and integral, without any attenuation or distortion”.[37] The purpose of the Council is not to debate dogmas in opposition to heresy, but to present the faith according to the new situation represented by modernity. The Church “must ever look to the present, to the new conditions and new forms of life introduced into the modern world which have opened new avenues to the Catholic apostolate.”[38] John XXIII distinguishes between the doctrine of the faith and its presentation: “The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another.”[39] This new presentation of the faith while preserving it integrally in continuity with the Tradition requires a deeper penetration into the faith itself. It demands a reconversion and new encounter with the faith and its contents.

Paul VI

In Paul VI’s Closing Address he likewise talks about how the Council was a faith encounter of the Church with God and the Holy Spirit. The purpose of the Second Vatican Council

was to find in herself, active and alive, the Holy Spirit, the word of Christ; and to probe more deeply still the mystery, the plan and the presence of God above and within herself; to revitalize in herself that faith which is the secret of her confidence and of her wisdom, and that love which impels her to sing without ceasing the praises of God.[40]

Here Paul VI clearly states that Vatican II was the Church’s encounter with the Holy Spirit and a revitalization of her faith. It is this revitalized faith the Church now spreads across the world. It is from the perspective of this revitalized faith that the Catholic Church addressed modern man with the boldness of faith, to tell the man of today the Good News of Christ.

Benedict XVI

We have already mentioned now that John XXIII called for a new presentation of the faith. This new way of thinking of the faith and relating it to modern man and the problems found in modernity required a renewed penetration of the truths of the faith. This precisely a point Benedict XVI made in his 2005 Christmas Address.

It is clear that this commitment to expressing a specific truth in a new way demands new thinking on this truth and a new and vital relationship with it; it is also clear that new words can only develop if they come from an informed understanding of the truth expressed, and on the other hand, that a reflection on faith also requires that this faith be lived.[41]

This renewed penetration however likewise requires that “this faith be lived.”

1.3. Vatican II Must be Implemented as an Act of Faith

Karol Wojtyła wrote in the beginning of his book, Sources of Renewal, that: “The implementation of Vatican II, or the process of Conciliar renewal, must be based on the principle of the enrichment of the faith.”[42] There are two important points Wojtyła makes here: 1) the implementation of Vatican II is necessarily a renewal of the Church; and, 2) this renewal of the Church must be done so as an act of faith to enrich it, develop it, and enliven it. These two processes are synonymous. Wojtyła referred to Dei Verbum for this principle: “For as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her.”[43]

For Wojtyła, the principle of enrichment is premised upon this movement of the Catholic Church constantly moving “forward toward the fullness of divine truth” as he said, for “The enrichment of faith is nothing else than increasingly full participation in divine truth.”[44] This enrichment of faith is “the fundamental viewpoint from which we must judge the reality of Vatican II and seek ways of putting it into practice.”[45]

Vatican II is unintelligible if its texts are separated from the logos of faith. The Council is an act of faith of the entire Catholic Church towards God and His Revelation. As an act of faith of the Universal Church, Vatican II must be received as an act of faith by both the individual believer and by the Church as a whole, and made into a living profession of faith found in both the life of the individual and of the Christian community. Once the logic of faith is separated from Vatican II, the intelligibility of the Council as an authentic representation of the Catholic faith is torn asunder. This is the fundamental error of those extreme viewpoints on both the liberal and conservative spectrums which interprets Vatican II according to the hermeneutic of discontinuity or rupture; for it is by faith that informs us how to apply the principles of the Council in continuity with the great and sacred Tradition.

The problem of Vatican II is the existential problem of faith. The individual must encounter the revealed Word of God as voiced by the Church through the Council. Man must decide for or against faith. The drama of human freedom for and against God existentially orders the exegete towards a particular hermeneutical method. As Apostolicam Actuositatem states:

Only by the light of faith and by meditation on the word of God can one always and everywhere recognize God in Whom “we live, and move, and have our being”, seek His will in every event, see Christ in everyone whether he be a relative or a stranger, and make correct judgments about the true meaning and value of temporal things both in themselves and in their relation to man's final goal.[46]

And Gaudium et Spes likewise makes a similar statement.[47] It is by the light of faith that the true meaning of reality and of ourselves become intelligible, and even more so for an Ecumenical Council! Reality itself is unintelligible without being gazed upon in faith. Vatican II even more appropriately then should be seen from the perspective of faith. Once we do so, we become

Illuminated by the light of this Council, the Church—we confidently trust—will become greater in spiritual riches and, gaining the strength of new energies therefrom, she will look to the future without fear. In fact, by bringing herself up to date where required, and by the wise organization of mutual cooperation, the Church will make men, families, and peoples really turn their minds to heavenly things.[48]

1.4. Faith as a Decipher

The passages quoted and referenced in the preceding text inform us of an important hermeneutical conclusion, namely that faith itself is a decipher. Disbelief is a cipher because it is a hider, it conceals and enshrouds the object of meaning in darkness. Disbelief spreads darkness over the world and in that darkness problems arise, for if one is in the dark how can he see? And if he cannot see he will stumble. Disbelief is a cipher for it places man in darkness, and like the inhabitants of Plato’s cave, he does not realize that the cave is not all there is. The denizen sees the world’s problems through the darkened perspective of the cave-dweller.

The man of disbelief in the modern world is like the cave-dweller, living in darkness and evaluating his reality according to the shadows and fleeting images. Vatican II announced to the citizens of modernity living in darkness that there is a light, and this light is faith in Christ. “For faith throws a new light on everything, manifests God’s design for man’s total vocation, and thus directs the mind to solutions which are fully human.”[49] Faith is hence a decipher. If disbelief conceals, then faith is the antidote for faith reveals.

Christ is the great “Revealer”. Christ is the fullness of Revelation, and so in one respect we can say He is the “Revealer”. The mission of Christ is nothing other than to reveal God to man, to manifest God so that man may come to believe. Hence faith in Christ is faith in a content of revelation that revealed to man the true nature of reality. Faith deciphers reality, presenting reality as it really is. Gaudium et Spes speaks of faith as a decipher, for we read:

The People of God believes that it is led by the Lord's Spirit, Who fills the earth. Motivated by this faith, it labors to decipher authentic signs of God's presence and purpose in the happenings, needs and desires in which this People has a part along with other men of our age. For faith throws a new light on everything, manifests God's design for man's total vocation, and thus directs the mind to solutions which are fully human.[50]

Faith as a decipher is a twofold movement of deciphering the “signs of God’s presence” already present in the world and of deciphering reality in accordance to faith. God reveals himself through natural revelation. Faith grasps this fact of God’s revealing and so perceives how God is present and active in the world. The supernatural faith of Christianity transforms this revealed content by showing its fulfillment in Christ. Christ perfected natural revelation by perfectly revealing God through Himself and life. The power of this decipher is that when man recognizes a truth concerning himself and reality, faith can separate this truth from worldly understandings and illuminate it according to faith in Christ. Faith purifies our understanding of truth.[51] Dignitatis Humanae is the perfect example of Vatican II doing exactly this, recognizing the truth of religious freedom the world has perceived and then teaching the world of its metaphysical basis in the dignity of the human person.[52]

Both movements of decipherment explained above are found in the believer. Faith is a decipher for the believer to recognize God’s presence and to interpret reality according to God’s revealed truth. There is another dynamism of faith as a decipher where the content is found in the nonbeliever. The believer in Christ is called to be a witness, to go out to all nations baptizing in the names of the Holy Trinity. He must be a witness to the revealed truth he has received, and to proclaim that truth to the world so that the world encounters Christ through him and his witness. The believer and Christian community is called to be a sign to the world, and by being a sign to the world, all of man can see the truth in the believer’s witness and hence decipher the truths concerning God. The Christian life in its many facets is called by Vatican II to be a sign, whether it is the priesthood, celibacy, religious life and the counsels, the laity, matrimony, the believer, the liturgy, the Church community as a whole, etc.[53] The all encompassing life of the Christian in its many expressions is all a sign to the world of the otherworldliness of the Christian faith. “By the power of the Holy Spirit the Church will remain the faithful spouse of her Lord and will never cease to be the sign of salvation on earth”.[54] “Led by the Holy Spirit, Mother Church unceasingly exhorts her sons “to purify and renew themselves so that the sign of Christ can shine more brightly on the face of the Church.” ”[55] “Each individual layman must be a witness before the world to the resurrection and life of the Lord Jesus, and a sign of the living God.”[56] Therefore, the Christian witness becomes an object of meaning for the non-Christian to see and recognize how faith in Christ is transformative.

The status of a sign to the world is a content that requires interpretation. Is this sign the result of psychological madness or a desire to control and oppress? Or is it a sign whose content is God’s own love for humanity? The man of the world is confronted with this sign and must interpret it. It is only with faith that the man of the world accurately decipher it.

The signs of witness by both the believer and believing community are not the only signs the man of the world must interpret. He is also confronted with the signs of God’s natural revelation and must too interpret those. These signs of natural revelation likewise require faith to decipher. One such example is the triumphs of man, “Christians are convinced that the triumphs of the human race are a sign of God's grace and the flowering of His own mysterious design.”[57] If one had no faith, he would be tempted to interpret these signs by other metanarratives, such as the myths of progress, scientific conquest, and evolution.


[1] Dei Verbum 2.

[2] “Then, after speaking in many and varied ways through the prophets, “now at last in these days God has spoken to us in His Son". For He sent His Son, the eternal Word, who enlightens all men, so that He might dwell among men and tell them of the innermost being of God. Jesus Christ, therefore, the Word made flesh, was sent as “a man to men.” He “speaks the words of God”, and completes the work of salvation which His Father gave Him to do. To see Jesus is to see His Father. For this reason Jesus perfected revelation by fulfilling it through his whole work of making Himself present and manifesting Himself: through His words and deeds, His signs and wonders, but especially through His death and glorious resurrection from the dead and final sending of the Spirit of truth. Moreover He confirmed with divine testimony what revelation proclaimed, that God is with us to free us from the darkness of sin and death, and to raise us up to life eternal.” Ibid, 4.

[3] Ibid, 5.

[4] Dignitatis Humanae 10.

[5] Gaudium et Spes 18.

[6] John 3:16.

[7] Gaudium et Spes, 15.

[8] Dei Verbum 5.

[9] Gaudium et Spes 21.

[10] Dei Verbum 6.

[11] “The same Holy Mother Church holds and teaches that God, the beginning and end of all things, can be known with certitude by the natural light of human reason from created things” Dei Filius.

[12] Gaudium et Spes 16.

[13] Ibid, 16.

[14] Dignitatis Humanae 3.

[15] Ibid, 3.

[16] Ibid, 2.

[17] “All men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and His Church, and to embrace the truth they come to know, and to hold fast to it.” Dignitatis Humanae 1.

[18] Ibid, 2.

[19] Ibid, 2.

[20] Ibid, 3.

[21] Ibid,  1.

[22] “On his part, man perceives and acknowledges the imperatives of the divine law through the mediation of conscience. In all his activity a man is bound to follow his conscience in order that he may come to God, the end and purpose of life. It follows that he is not to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his conscience. Nor, on the other hand, is he to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience, especially in matters religious.” Dignitatis Humanae 3.

[23] Ibid, 11.

[24] Dei Verbum 5, Dignitatis Humanae 10.

[25] Dignitatis Humanae 10.

[26] Ibid, 11.

[27] Lumen Gentium 14.

[28] Ibid, 14.

[29] Dei Verbum 1. Emphasis mine.

[30] Gaudium et Spes 3. Emphasis mine.

[31] Gaudium et Spes 10. Emphasis mine.

[32] Gaudium et Spes 11. Emphasis mine.

[33] Hermeneutics of Vatican II, Part I: Gift of the Holy Spirit. URL:

[34] Humanae Salutis. URL:

[35] Ibid.

[36] Opening Speech to the Council. URL:

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Address during the Last General Meeting of the Second Vatican Council. URL: 

[41] Address to the Roman Curia offering them his Christmas Greetings. URL:

[42] Karol Wojtyła, Sources of Renewal, 15. Emphasis mine.

[43] Dei Verbum 8.

[44] Sources of Renewal, 15.

[45] Ibid, 15. Emphasis mine.

[46] Apostolicam Actuositatem 4.

[47] “For faith throws a new light on everything, manifests God's design for man's total vocation, and thus directs the mind to solutions which are fully human.” Gaudium et Spes 11.

[48] John XXIII, Opening Speech to the Council, URL:

[49] Gaudium et Spes 11. Cf Apostolicam Actuositatem 4.

[50] Ibid, 11. Emphasis mine.

[51] “This council, first of all, wishes to assess in this light those values which are most highly prized today and to relate them to their divine source. Insofar as they stem from endowments conferred by God on man, these values are exceedingly good. Yet they are often wrenched from their rightful function by the taint in man's heart, and hence stand in need of purification.” Ibid, 11.

[52] Cf. Dignitatis Humanae 1 wherein the Council Fathers explain to the reader that this is the very purpose of the conciliar text.

[53] Cf. Ad Gentes 12, 15, 20, 21, 36; Apostolicam Actuositatem 16. Gaudium et Spes 42-44, 76, 92. Lumen Gentium 1, 15, 38, 41, 42, 44, 50, 68. Perfectae Caritatis 1. Presbyterorum Ordinis 6, 16. Sacrosanctum Concilium 2.

[54] Gaudium et Spes 43.

[55] Ibid, 43.

[56] Lumen Gentium 38.

[57] Gaudium et Spes 34.

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 
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