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Part V: The Theological Priority of the Dogmatic Constitutions

By Jeremy Hausotter

Oct. 3, 2021

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Priority According to Wojtyła

2.1. The Priority of Lumen Gentium

2.2. The Priority of Gaudium et Spes

3. The Theological Priority of the Dogmatic Constitutions

3.1. Introduction

3.2. The Mind of the Council Hermeneutic

3.3. Vatican I as a Hermeneutic

3.4. Vatican II's Understanding of Dogmatic Constitution

3.4.1. Application of Vatican I Hermeneutic

3.4.2. Application of the Mind of the Council Hermeneutic

3.4.3. Further Hermeneutical Applications

3.4.4. Conclusion

3.5. Gaudium et Spes as a Pastoral Constitution

3.5.1. Application of Vatican I Hermeneutic

3.5.2. Further Hermeneutical Applications

3.5.3. Priority of Gaudium et Spes

3.5.4. Conclusion

3.6. Sacrosanctum Concilium as a Constitution

3.6.1. Application of Vatican I Hermeneutic

3.6.2. Further Remarks and Conclusion

4. Conclusion

1. Introduction

An important question concerning the interpretation of Vatican II is understanding what authority to ascribe to the different documents. The Council promulgated three types of documents: constitutions, declarations and decrees. The task now is to understand which is to be given priority for interpreting the Council. We have discussed in Part IV of this series that the four constitutions are the interpretative key for the Council. This was one of the hermeneutical principles of the 1985 Extraordinary Synod’s Final Report.[1] This, however, raises the question of determining which of the four is to be given priority. Should we allocate greater importance and authority on Sacrosanctum Concilium over Lumen Gentium for example? The Final Report is silent on this question. This is the question we will now investigate.

Section Endnotes

[1] URL:

2. Priority According to Wojtyla’s Sources of Renewal

2.1. The Priority of Lumen Gentium

Karol Wojtyla wrote in his book, Sources of Renewal, “The way towards the enrichment of faith rediscovered by Vatican II passes through the mind and consciousness of the Church.”[1] Wojtyla referenced Paul VI’s encyclical Ecclesiam Suam as also teaching this principle of the enrichment of faith having to pass through the consciousness of the Church.[2] We must remember that Vatican II must be interpreted as an enrichment of the Church’s own faith, for the Council was an exercise of faith by her.[3]

Wojtyla proposed that therefore the constitution Lumen Gentium “is in a sense the key to the whole of the Council’s thought.”[4] for Lumen Gentium informs us of what the Church believes her nature and mission to be. Lumen Gentium is the Church’s own statement of who and what she is. It is a profession of her own faith as a community of believers. As such, Lumen Gentium is Church-consciousness forming. Lumen Gentium is, in a sense, the map tracing out the “complex variety of ways towards the enrichment of faith, leading from Vatican II into the future.”[5]

2.2. The Priority of Gaudium et Spes

Wojtyla argued that Lumen Gentium is best complemented by Gaudium et Spes: “The dogmatic Constitution [Lumen Gentium] is best complemented by the pastoral Constitution on the Church in the modern world, known by the title Gaudium et spes.”[6] This seems to suggest a priority of Gaudium et Spes over Dei Verbum and Sacrosanctum Concilium.

Wojtyla’s reasoning is as follows.[7] The Church is both an object and subject. As an object, it is a truth of the faith and an article of the Creed. The Church is a matter of doctrine. The Church however is also a community, and as such, it is also a subject. This community is unique because the Church is a community of believers. The Church hence has a vertical direction in that it is a community of men and women brought together to praise God and answer the call of His Word.

The Church as community however does not exist in isolation, but within the world and in relationship to the world. In fact, the Church must reach out to the world in order to evangelize it and bring all men to Christ. This requires dialogue. “Faith together with dialogue constitutes the Church’s horizontal direction…”[8] This horizontal direction is derived from the vertical one since it is corresponding to the reality of revelation, that God desires the salvation of all men.[9] This requires a penetration of the horizontal direction into the vertical. The Church must ever work towards the salvation of the world according to God’s plan. She must work towards man’s redemption.

Wojtyla then cites Gaudium et Spes,

The Church, by reason of her role and competence, is not identified with any political community… It is at once the sign and safeguard of the transcendental dimension of the human person.[10]

Wojtyla then made the following observation:

The transcendent character of the person, together with man’s responsibility to the truth, not only constitutes the basis of dialogue but also defines the subjective range of the Church’s consciousness, in which the Church in a sense discovers itself.[11]

The range of the Church’s consciousness is defined by the transcendence of man and his duties to truth (which Dignitatis Humanae described). The Church’s consciousness is hence in a very real way in part defined by this horizontality. The purpose of Gaudium et Spes is precisely to describe the Church’s consciousness and attitude towards the modern world, to display the Christian ethos in its horizontality and in dialogue with the various movements of modernity. Gaudium et Spes in this manner assumes a priority.

This, however, raises an important theological question as to the status of Gaudium et Spes as a pastoral constitution versus dogmatic constitutions, since Dei Verbum is a dogmatic constitution; why should a pastoral constitution be given priority over a dogmatic one? A similar question is what is the relationship between the pastoral constitution and dogmatic constitutions with Sacrosanctum Concilium, the fourth Vatican II constitution? Different thinkers have given different emphases. Some give priority to Sacrosanctum Concilium over the other three constitutions, others give priority to both dogmatic constitutions.

Section Endnotes

[1] Sources of Renewal, 35.

[2] Wojtyla does not cite the exact passage. Perhaps what he had in mind was the following: “It is through faith that we gain this awareness of the mystery of the Church-mature faith, a faith lived out in our lives. Faith such as this gives us a sensus Ecclesiae, an awareness of the Church, and this is something with which the genuine Christian should be deeply imbued. He has been raised in the school of the divine word, nourished by the grace of the sacraments and the Paraclete's heavenly inspiration, trained in the practice of the virtues of the Gospel, and influenced by the Church's culture and community life. He has, moreover, the tremendous joy of sharing in the dignity of the royal priesthood granted to the people of God.” Ecclesiam Suam 36.

[3] Cf. my essay Vatican II and the Enrichment of Faith.


[4] Sources of Renewal, 35.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid, 35-36.

[8] Ibid, 36.

[9] Ibid, cf. 1 Tim. 2:4.

[10] Gaudium et Spes 76, as quoted from Sources of Renewal.

[11] Sources of Renewal, 36.

3. The Theological Priority of the Dogmatic Constitutions

3.1. Introduction

We must make a distinction now between theological and existential priority. The document Gaudium et Spes as a pastoral constitution was and continues to be of fundamental importance for interpreting Vatican II, for within this conciliar text we learn how to apply dogma and doctrine to the times and its various movements, giving a thoroughly Catholic response to the vicissitudes of modernity. On the other hand, this purpose of showing how to live out faith within the context of modernity is fundamentally a pastoral endeavor. As we have argued elsewhere,[1] the pastorality of Vatican II requires a prior theological foundation. We must have solid doctrinal principles in order to apply them pastorally. If we simply start pastoral endeavors without a clear understanding of doctrine, we would be guilty of attempting to enact contentless pastoral activities. Doctrine provides the content upon which we can pastorally engage the world.

We must keep this in mind when we encounter statements such as Christoph Theobald’s who states that the principle of pastorality is the hermeneutical key for interpreting Vatican II.[2] Pastorality according to Theobald and Ormund Rush is the primary hermeneutical key for interpreting Vatican II.[3]

These types of statements can be interpreted in two manners, existentially and theologically. It is certainly true that Gaudium et Spes, and pastorality overall, clearly have influenced the composition and direction of the conciliar debates and texts, and that this pastoral aim has continued to influence the Church today. Gaudium et Spes in many ways outlines the consciousness of the Church and how we as the People of God ought to think and live. We must be careful, on the other hand, and refrain from an over-emphasis on pastorality. Solid pastorality requires a doctrinal foundation. Pastorality, hence while possessing an existential priority in terms of applying the faith to the life of the Church, cannot be given a theological priority.

In matters of authority, doctrine has theological priority over pastorality. Doctrine provides the content, parameters and scope of any pastoral program. By placing priority on pastorality over doctrine, the theologian undermines the authority of doctrine and subsumes doctrine under pastorality. In other words, doctrine becomes subservient to pastoral principles, whereas in reality the ordering is reversed. Pastorality puts into practice doctrine. Pastoral activities have nothing to implement if doctrine is not first established.

Wojtyla’s analysis in Sources of Renewal on the priority of Lumen Gentium and Gaudium et Spes approaches the subject from an existential perspective. The priority of Lumen Gentium, for example, is argued for by Wojtyla because it describes the consciousness of the Church. The argument for Gaudium et Spes likewise invokes existential themes, of understanding the Church as a subject who is in relationship to the world. Notice, however, that Wojtyla does not divorce this existential understanding from the Church as the object of doctrine. Following Wojtyla’s analysis, the Church is both the object of doctrine and the subject, a community of believers in Christ. Both the objectivity and subjectivity of the Church interpenetrate each other. This is hence why one can state that Lumen Gentium is both doctrinal and pastoral, or that Gaudium et Spes is both pastoral and doctrinal, because of this interpenetration of the Church as both object and subject.[4]

We turn now to the question of theological priority. Vatican II promulgated two dogmatic constitutions, Dei Verbum and Lumen Gentium, the pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes, and the constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium. We will argue that both Lumen Gentium and Dei Verbum, as dogmatic constitutions, possess theological priority over the other two constitutions for interpreting Vatican II.

3.2. The Mind of the Council Hermeneutic

In order to correctly interpret the authority of the constitutions, we must first recognize that Vatican II itself put forth a hermeneutic for approaching our question. Cardinal Felici presented a notificatio to the Council on Nov. 16, 1964 providing some guidelines. Bishops were questioning the authoritative status of chapter 3 of Lumen Gentium, given the fact that it was defining and developing doctrine. Felici stated that the conciliar text must “always be interpreted in accordance with the general rules that are known to all.”[5] Felici then cited a statement of the Theological Commission from Mar. 6, 1964, which stated:

Taking conciliar custom into consideration and also the pastoral purpose of the present Council, the sacred Council defines as binding on the Church only those things in matters of faith and morals which it shall openly declare to be binding. The rest of the things which the sacred Council sets forth, inasmuch as they are the teaching of the Church's supreme magisterium, ought to be accepted and embraced by each and every one of Christ's faithful according to the mind of the sacred Council. The mind of the Council becomes known either from the matter treated or from its manner of speaking, in accordance with the norms of theological interpretation.

There are several observations to be made concerning this passage. First, the Council states that nothing is binding, that is, infallibly defined, unless a teaching is explicitly stated as binding. This is consistent with the norms for theological interpretation. The 1917 Code of Canon Law, for example, states “A thing is not understood as dogmatically defined or declared unless this is manifestly established.”[6]

Second, those teachings which are not binding still require acceptance by every Catholic. The teachings of Vatican II are teachings of the supreme magisterium and so require our faithful obedience. The 1917 Code states that “An Ecumenical Council enjoys supreme power over the universal Church.”[7] As such, we are to give our obedience to all non-infallible teachings. This is a teaching that can be found in both the 1917 and 1983 Codes of Canon Law as well as in the documents of Vatican II.[8] The wording of the 1917 Code of Canon Law is almost a direct quote of Vatican I’s Dei Filius.[9] It is a well established teaching that was again taken up in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s Donum Veritatis.[10]

The third observation we can make here is the hermeneutical principle of the “mind of the Council”. In order to interpret the documents of Vatican II faithfully, we must discern what the mind of the Council is on the matter at hand. The notificatio presents us with three criteria for this hermeneutic. 1) the mind of the Council is manifested in how the material is treated or 2) the manner in which the Council spoke on the subject; and 3) these first two criteria must be interpreted according to the norms of theological interpretation.

Some thinkers are critical of this mind-of-the-Council hermeneutic. After all, the documents of Vatican II underwent a long process of debate where different sides and schools had influences in the composition and editing of the documents. This historical fact of debate and revision likewise needs to be considered. Hence Francis Fiorenza stated:

Any interpretation referring to “the mind of the Council,” therefore, is problematic. It falls into the fallacy of a Roman hermeneutic by reducing meaning to authorial intention and neglecting the complex compositional process behind the Council’s texts.[11]

The documents of Vatican II have many human authors and their different backgrounds produced texts that are juxtapositions of these different schools of thought.

We must, however, caution against an over-emphasis of such a view. The mind-of-the-Council as a hermeneutic is about authorial intention, the intention of the Council in what the Church wanted to teach through the conciliar texts. Felici’s notificatio provided us with rules for applying this hermeneutic. We are told that the mind of the Council can be discerned by “the matter treated or from its manner of speaking”, and this in part requires taking into account the acts of the Council. As the documents stand, they are the completed texts of the Council and underwent revision, editing, and were approved by the majority of the bishops; hence, a mind-of-the-Council can be discerned in this editorial trajectory as the documents underwent revision. We must treat the documents of Vatican II as the finalized statements and teachings the Council wished to present to the Church.

What needs to be avoided is placing too much a role on juxtaposition and seeing the texts themselves as mere “committee documents, full of compromise and ambiguity”[12] or as clutter.[13] In other words, while on a surface level there is a juxtaposition arising due to precisely the historical development of the texts, the hermeneutics of both intertextuality (see Part IV of this series) and mind-of-the-council both serve to unify this juxtaposition in accordance with authorial intention, the meaning of the text, and themes and doctrines treated. Juxtaposition and claims of ambiguity can easily become a false hermeneutic for interpreting Vatican II.[14] This is a common ailment that has prevented many minds from seeing the inner “eidos” of the Council.

The hermeneutics of intertextuality and mind-of-the-council however need to be complemented by a spirituality of gift, the understanding that Vatican II is a gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit “spoke” at Vatican II. This is a fundamental conviction that needs to mold our self-ordering and understanding as both Christians and investigators of Vatican II. We need to approach the Council as a gift; it is this hermeneutic of gift by which we can discern most readily the unity of the conciliar texts and see its inner “eidos”. It is this principle through which we can most readily recognize the dangers in over-emphasizing both juxtaposition and ambiguity, since in doing so one becomes confused over this fundamental fact that Vatican II is a gift of the Holy Spirit.

3.3. Vatican I as a Hermeneutic

Historically, constitutions were used by the Church for either doctrinal or juridical and practical matters. They are issued under the Pope’s name and are the most solemn document by the Pope.[15] Doctrinal constitutions give theological argument and may give infallible teaching, such as Pius XII’s Munificentissimus Deus which defined the assumption of Mary. Others lack doctrinal content as they are strictly juridical or practical, such as Pius XII’s Chilapensis which erected new dioceses. There hence needs to be some guidelines for determining the theological priority over the different kinds of constitutions.

There are three types of constitutions promulgated by Vatican II, dogmatic, pastoral, and the unpredicated constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium. If we adopt the mind-of-the-Council hermeneutic and hermeneutic of intertextuality, it becomes readily apparent that this naming convention is not accidental, but done on purpose for the sake of describing which of the constitutions has theological priority.

The naming convention of “dogmatic constitution” in Vatican II follows the usage of Vatican I. Vatican I was interrupted by the Franco-Prussian war. Before the Council ended, two dogmatic constitutions were promulgated, Pastor Aeternus and Dei Filius. Christian Washburn provides three criteria for the differences between a dogmatic constitution and an unpredicated one, to illustrate why a dogmatic constitution possesses theological priority over a simple constitution based on Vatican I.[16]

First, the naming convention itself of predicating dogmatic to the name of a constitution was a way in which Vatican I was signalling the theological priority of the particular document. As noted earlier, the Council was abruptly interrupted. Vatican I intended to work on other documents that were named simply constitutions, such as the Schema constitutionis de episcopis, de synodis, et de vicariis generalibus (hereafter Schema episcopis). These nondogmatic constitutions were understood to be less authoritative.

The second criteria is based on the language contained within the documents themselves. Washburn proposed that there are three main language indicators for determining the intent of the mind of the Council as to why dogmatic constitutions have theological priority. The first indicator is the language of the introductory material. Pastor Aeternus explicitly states its theological intention to teach doctrine whereas Schema episcopis does not.[17]  The second indicator is the technical language used to signal what propositions have more doctrinal authority, usually done through expressions such as “we teach”, docemus, and “we declare”, declaramus. Both were used for a total of sixteen times in Pastor Aeternus, but only three times in Schema episcopis.[18] The third indicator is the canons anathematizing doctrinal errors.  Pastor Aeternus has 21 anathemas whereas Schema episcopis has none.

The third criteria is the way in which the material was treated by the documents. The dogmatic constitutions contain several theological arguments, citing Scripture, Church Fathers, other Councils, and papal documents. Simple constitutions, such as Schema episcopis, on the other hand rarely cite such sources. The table below summarizes the frequency of citations from these sources.[19]

One further observation to note concerning the citations of Councils in the two documents is that Pastor Aeternus cited doctrinal decrees whereas Schema episcopis only cited disciplinary decrees.

3.4. Vatican II’s Understanding of Dogmatic Constitutions

3.4.1. Application of Vatican I Hermeneutic

We will now apply this hermeneutic of Vatican I to determine the mind of the Council as to whether the two dogmatic constitutions are to be understood as theologically prior. We begin by first considering the naming convention of “dogmatic constitution” within Vatican II.

The use of the term “dogmatic” in describing Lumen Gentium was troublesome for some of the Council Fathers. Lumen Gentium, after all, contained no condemnations or anathemas, and its use of language was a style far different from the seemingly more doctrinal Councils of Trent and Vatican I. Some, like Tromp, saw the pastoral influence in Lumen Gentium as rendering the document “undogmatic”, changing its value. The term “dogmatic” was even dropped at one point from the title of Lumen Gentium, but this sparked such outrage that it was promptly returned.[20]

Since Lumen Gentium was stylistically different from Vatican I and its two promulgated documents, there needed to be clarification as to the meaning “dogmatic” in Lumen Gentium’s title. Vatican I, for example, issued a series of several infallible statements and canons. Cardinal Felici responded to this question with the notificatio of Nov. 16, 1964, which we have stated earlier. The notificatio stated that only those things which were expressly intended to be infallible were so, whereas everything else proposed by the Council “is to be acknowledged and accepted” by all. This notificatio hence highlights the fact that the Council intended to treat Lumen Gentium as possessing theological priority even though there is a stylistic difference. Given the historical development of Lumen Gentium, we can state that the use of the term “dogmatic” in the title was purposefully done so as to indicate theological authority.[21] The use of “dogmatic” in the title of Dei Verbum was likewise clarified, and was done so by citing the notificatio concerning Lumen Gentium and its titling as a dogmatic constitution..[22] Hence, in both cases, following the steps of Vatican I, the architects of these two documents have made it clear that both Lumen Gentium and Dei Verbum have theological priority.

We will now consider the language employed by the two dogmatic constitutions. When we look at the introductory material of both Lumen Gentium and Dei Verbum, they both state their objectives to teach Church doctrine. Dei Verbum for example states:

Therefore, following in the footsteps of the Council of Trent and of the First Vatican Council, this present council wishes to set forth authentic doctrine on divine revelation and how it is handed on, so that by hearing the message of salvation the whole world may believe, by believing it may hope, and by hoping it may love.[23]

Lumen Gentium likewise states its intention to teach doctrine.[24] Both, by their introductory material, clearly state their intentions to teach doctrine in faithful continuity with the Church’s Sacred Tradition. We can also note that Lumen Gentium states it “teaches” doctrine five times.[25]

When we consider the third criteria of the Vatican I hermeneutic, how the material is treated, we can see how much influence the sources of the faith have upon Lumen Gentium and Dei Verbum. The following chart summarizes the citations in the four constitutions.

We can clearly see how Lumen Gentium stands in comparison to Gaudium et Spes and Sacrosanctum Concilium. Dei Verbum does not contain as many citations as Gaudium et Spes, so one may be tempted to believe it has less theological authority; however, it must be kept in mind that Dei Verbum was one of the last documents to be promulgated and is rather short. These two circumstances help explain this situation. Such an objection can easily be dismissed given the Council’s stated intentions in Dei Verbum to teach doctrine and the clarification over the meaning of the term “dogmatic constitution” provided by the notificatio.

3.4.2. Application of the Mind-of-the-Council Hermeneutic

There are three further arguments that can be made in order to discern how Vatican II treats the subject matter and the language used.[26]

When we read Optatam Totius, it states that “the teaching of canon law and of Church history should take into account the mystery of the Church, according to the dogmatic constitution "De Ecclesia" promulgated by this sacred synod.”[27] Lumen Gentium is treated here with much theological importance for the training of priests in canon law and history. The next line mentions Sacrosanctum Concilium, but attributes to it little importance: “Sacred liturgy, which is to be considered as the primary and indispensable source of the truly Christian spirit, should be taught according to the mind of articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.”[28] Articles 15 and 16 of Sacrosanctum Concilium are not theological but practical matters. They are concerned with the practical aspects of liturgical training; namely, that professors need to be adequately trained and liturgy must be an integral element of curriculums. The tone is very different here. Lumen Gentium is treated with theological importance, whereas Sacrosanctum Concilium is only cited for practical principles, all of which suggests that the dogmatic constitutions have theological priority.

We can also examine how the different documents reference each other as another way of indicating theological importance. The chart below shows the number of references to the four constitutions across the conciliar documents.[29]

The overall data shows the importance of Lumen Gentium. Lumen Gentium is cited four times as often as the other three constitutions combined. In some respect, this demonstrates the central importance of Lumen Gentium for interpreting the Council.

Lumen Gentium can be said to be in fact the framework for the Council.  The promulgated documents of Vatican II contain several themes found in Lumen Gentium. We see this in two ways. First, some of the conciliar texts make use of theological principles found in Lumen Gentium. Unitatis Redintegratio 4 and Dignitatis Humanae 1 both teach, for example, that the true religion subsists in the Catholic Church, a teaching developed in Lumen Gentium 8. Lumen Gentium 36 condemns the view that religious liberty can be rejected or suppressed, but the contents of what constitutes as religious liberty is elaborated in Dignitatis Humanae. Second, several of the conciliar texts expand upon sections of Lumen Gentium. Apostolicam Actuositatem is the Council’s decree on the laity, which is also the theme of Lumen Gentium chapter four. The table below summarizes this second type of dependency.

​​3.4.3. Further Hermeneutical Applications

This interdependency can be further exemplified if we keep in mind that the Church is both the object of faith, the object of dogma and doctrine, and also the subject of faith, that is, the community of believers united in the faith of the Triune God. As such, the Church through the Council sought to enrich her own consciousness of faith.[30] Vatican II as an enrichment of the Catholic faith must take on the task of examining the Church as both object and subject. This hence forms the basis for the hermeneutics of ad intra and ad extra.[31]

Ad intra examines the Church as the object of faith, what constitutes as the doctrine of the Church to which Lumen Gentium and Dei Verbum answered. Ad intra also speaks of the Church as a community, for the Church is composed of priests, bishops, laity, etc. The relationships between these different groups were hence elaborated both in Lumen Gentium and further developed elsewhere, eg on the role of bishops (Christus Dominus), priests (Presbyterorum Ordinis, Optatam Totius), laity (Apostolicam Actuositatem), religious life (Perfectae Caritatis), and relationship between the Latin and Eastern Churches (Orientalium Ecclesiarum).

After looking at herself, the Church must look at her relationship to the world. How the Church addresses herself to modernity and the contemporary political situation is found in Gaudium et Spes, her address to other religions in Nostra Aetate, the relationship between Church and state concerning religious freedom in Dignitatis Humanae, the role of education (Gravissimum Educationis), social communication (Inter Mirifica), evangelization (Ad Gentes) and ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio). Every document flows from this question of who is the Church and what is her relationship to fellow man, as a community animated by the Holy Spirit in the faith that Jesus is Christ our Lord.

We can clearly see the role of Lumen Gentium and this interdependency of the conciliar texts under the auspice of ad intra and ad extra, but what about Dei Verbum? The Theological Commission stated that the working text of Dei Verbum was the preface of the other conciliar texts,[32] but how exactly?

The theme of Dei Verbum is divine revelation. This certainly includes the Bible, but it also includes Sacred Tradition. God chose to reveal Himself to us through a series of covenants and the prophets, a salvation history culminating in the revelation of Jesus Christ, God’s revelation incarnated. In Jesus we experience God’s revelation face-to-face, through whom we see God the Father. Christ as God revealed God and hence perfected revelation. This revelation includes the apostolic preaching and teaching, which has been passed on through the centuries, i.e. Sacred Tradition. Christ formed his Church and through the life of the Church in her preaching and teaching, the authentic meaning of revelation is preserved. This is why Dei Verbum is the preface of the Council. As Cardinal Florit stated in the relatio for Dei Verbum, “[Dei Verbum] formed the very connection among all the questions treated by this Council. It places us at the very heart of the mystery of the Church and at the epicenter of ecumenical problems.”[33] The Church is an object of divine revelation, Jesus established the Church with the offices of the twelve apostles. The Church is likewise a subject, for she is now committed with the charge of preserving the deposit of faith. As Dei Verbum stated:

It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God's most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.[34]

It is therefore quite clear as to how Dei Verbum is the preface and theologically prior as a dogmatic constitution. In order for the Church to understand herself, the relationships amongst her members and between her and the world, there must be a first understanding of what is divine revelation in order to preserve it and pronounce it to the world.

3.4.4. Conclusion

According to the mind of Vatican II, the dogmatic constitutions are to be given theological priority in interpreting the conciliar texts. This is exemplified by the fact that both Dei Verbum and Lumen Gentium were purposefully titled “dogmatic”, their introductory material, use of language, types of sources cited, and their being the foundation for all of the other documents. As Avery Dulles observed, dogmatic constitutions are the “most solemn form of conciliar utterance”; and so, even though as a dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium does not define new dogmas, it still “sets forth, with conciliar authority, the Church’s present understanding of her own nature.”[35] R.A.F. MacKenzie similarly wrote:

Important as the Constitution on the Church is generally agreed to be, it is equaled in stature by the Constitution on Divine Revelation; the two are the most fundamental documents produced by the Second Vatican Council.[36]

3.5. Gaudium et Spes as a Pastoral Constitution

The title “pastoral constitution” was a novelty of Vatican II, something coined by the Council to try and describe the goal and purpose of Gaudium et Spes. This also raised some questions concerning how to understand the theological role of a pastoral constitution, since such a document has no predecessors unlike constitutions and dogmatic constitutions.

3.5.1. Application of Vatican I Hermeneutic

When we consider the mind of the Council and the hermeneutical role of Vatican I, we can first observe that Vatican II made it clear that Gaudium et Spes is to be treated differently from Dei Verbum and Lumen Gentium due to the fact that it is titled as a “pastoral” constitution and not as a “dogmatic” one.[37]

The relatio from May 11, 1965 explained that what is meant by pastoral is the application of doctrinal principles to the historical conditions of contemporary times in a way that is accessible to all men. The relatio hence stated that the document did not require as much of a rigorous discussion as a dogmatic constitution.[38]  The title “pastoral constitution” continued to spark debate and hence a footnote was added Dec. 2, 1965 explaining what was meant by the title.

The footnote states that “the constitution is called "pastoral" because, while resting on doctrinal principles, it seeks to express the relation of the Church to the world and modern mankind.”[39] The first half of Gaudium et Spes presents some basic doctrinal principles, but they are given a “pastoral slant” whereas the second part with its applications of these doctrinal principles to the contemporary world gives a “doctrinal slant” to its pastoral objectives. Due to this fact, some elements of Gaudium et Spes’ pastoral applications have “permanent value” while others “only a transitory one.” The footnote ends with a reminder that the constitution must be interpreted according to the norms of theological interpretation.

Interestingly, some authors such as Ormund Rush do not believe that the naming convention can help determine the theological priority of different texts.[40] To such a view we can reply that it appears the Council Fathers certainly believe so, for why else would the notificatio and relatio spend time addressing concerns of the Council Fathers over the meaning of “dogmatic” constitution versus a “pastoral” one? To his credit, Rush certainly held a hierarchical ordering between the four constitutions. Dei Verbum is given theological priority for the ecclesiologically focused Lumen Gentium, Gaudium et Spes, and Sacrosanctum Concilium.[41] In an earlier work of his, Rush wrote:

According to the principle of the hierarchy of truths, Dei Verbum has a certain priority over the others, since one’s notion of church (LG), its worship (SC), and its relationship to the world (GS) should derive from the prior notion of how one conceives God’s revelation and its reception-transmission in history.[42]

In Rush’s treatment, priority is demarcated between revelation and ecclesiology, for revelation shapes Church doctrine. In this respect, we find agreement between Rush and the view of Dei Verbum as the preface to the Council. What appears to be lost in Rush’s model however, is the theological priority of Lumen Gentium since it and the other two constitutions are lumped together under the category of ecclesiology, leaving the question of its authority ambiguous.

When we consider the language expressed in Gaudium et Spes, we can first note that the Council Fathers did not believe it required to be as rigorous or technical as a dogmatic constitution. After all, the purpose of Gaudium et Spes was to be an address to the modern world, meaning that everyone should be able to comprehend it, and this includes non-Christians.[43] Gaudium et Spes states precisely this intention in its introduction that it is written “in language intelligible to each generation…”[44] and that it is addressed to the “whole of humanity”.[45] As such, it is not written with careful, technical formulations as found in the dogmatic constitutions.

When we consider the quantity of references Gaudium et Spes makes of Scripture, papal documents, etc, that are observed earlier, this can be understood in light that the Council Fathers intended the document to be a dialogue with modernity. We can say that Gaudium et Spes is hence a sort of catechesis intending to first present Church teaching and second, how it applies to the modern world. Hence the preface to Gaudium et Spes states in different places:

Hence this Second Vatican Council, having probed more profoundly into the mystery of the Church, now addresses itself without hesitation, not only to the sons of the Church and to all who invoke the name of Christ, but to the whole of humanity. For the council yearns to explain to everyone how it conceives of the presence and activity of the Church in the world of today.[46]


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. The council brings to mankind light kindled from the Gospel, and puts at its disposal those saving resources which the Church herself, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, receives from her Founder.[47]

And also: “Inspired by no earthly ambition, the Church seeks but a solitary goal: to carry forward the work of Christ under the lead of the befriending Spirit.”[48]

It would therefore be erroneous to conclude based on the fact that Gaudium et Spes gives 300 citations of authoritative sources, that it must possess theological priority. The Council Fathers certainly did not intend such through the use of language employed in Gaudium et Spes, its targeted audience, its designation as a pastoral constitution, and purpose of starting a new dialogue with modernity. These facts, however, do give credence to the view of some who saw Gaudium et Spes as the new Syllabus counter to Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors.[49]

3.5.2. Further Hermeneutical Applications

When we consider the further application of the mind-of-the-Council hermeneutic, we observed earlier that Gaudium et Spes is barely referenced in the other documents. Some of this is no doubt due to the document’s later promulgation. However, the sparsity of citations further reinforces our argument that Gaudium et Spes was not meant to be taken as theologically prior. Gaudium et Spes was only cited once, in Ad Gentes.

When we consider the pastorality of Gaudium et Spes, the text has been the object of abuse by liberalizing forces which sought to emphasize this conciliar text as representing the true spirit of the Council. In other words, Vatican II as an event inaugurated a new spirit that moved beyond the conciliar texts themselves.[50] Vatican II hence represented a movement from the dogmatism of Lumen Gentium to the pastoralism of Gaudium et Spes, a project demanding continuation in the post-conciliar Church.

Such an interpretation fails, however, to understand the true meaning of the Spirit of Vatican II as the Holy Spirit,[51] who is not opposed to dogma, but protects it from both liberalizing and archaizing forces. Such an interpretation, furthermore, fails to understand what is meant by pastorality.[52] Any pastoral initiative must rest first on theological principles, otherwise such pastoral activity is built upon a vacuum that must be filled in. Dogma and doctrine provides the content and foundation from which any pastoral activity can be successful, for dogma and doctrine are concerned with what is true about God, man, and religion, and it is only when we are armed with the truth of these matters that any pastoral initiative can be successful. Otherwise we create a vacuum that gets filled up with our own opinions and fancies.

3.5.3. Priority of Gaudium et Spes

Some, like Christoph Theobald, however argue for the priority of Gaudium et Spes.[53] Vatican II is a pastoral Council, and hence as such, Gaudium et Spes as the pastoral constitution possesses theological priority. Ormond Rush commented that simply because Gaudium et Spes is a pastoral constitution, this naming does not mean we can conclude it has lesser authority.[54] Since Rush clearly places Dei Verbum as possessing theological priority, perhaps Rush is to be interpreted as seeing the other three constitutions as equally authoritative. At the very least, he certainly cites Theobald’s view of pastoral primacy approvingly.[55]

We must keep in mind the proper ordering of pastorality and doctrine as we outlined in the previous subsection and my essay The Pastoral Council. Ratzinger held that the dogmatic constitutions possessed theological priority over Gaudium et Spes, given his diagnosis on the threat of placing Gaudium et Spes over the dogmatic constitutions, writing:

Are we, then, to interpret the whole Council as a progressive movement that led step by step from a beginning that, in the “Dogmatic Constitution of the Church”, was only just emerging from traditionalism to the “Pastoral Constitution” and its complementary texts on religious liberty and openness to other world religions — an interpretation that makes these texts, too, become signposts pointing to an extended evolution that will permit no dallying but requires a tenacious pursuit of the direction the Council has finally discovered? Or are we to regard the Council texts as a whole in which the documents of the last phase, oriented toward the true center of faith that is expressed in the dogmatic constitutions on the Church and on divine revelation? Are we to read the dogmatic constitutions as the guiding principle of the pastoral constitution, or have even the dogmatic pronouncements been turned into a new direction?[56]

3.5.4. Conclusion

While I certainly agree that Gaudium et Spes has significant importance for the life of the Church, that as Archbishop Garrone stated Gaudium et Spes is the heart of Vatican II,[57] this must be existentially qualified and not theologically. By purposefully naming Gaudium et Spes as a constitution, the Council demonstrated that it intended that the conciliar text possessed an authority greater than the decrees and declarations (given the fact that there were suggestions to rename Gaudium et Spes from a constitution to such, but the Council voted for its designation as a constitution to emphasize its importance[58]), and that it is in some sense important like the other three constitutions. As Moeller noted, when we consider the hermeneutic of ad intra and ad extra, “In this sense it was fortunate in the end that Gaudium et Spes was a pastoral constitution; as well as giving it doctrinal authority this fact clearly links it with the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.”[59] And later,

the value of the text should not be minimized, for it very definitely intended to make doctrinal statements to throw light on the relation between State and world (hence the title “Constitution”). But it aimed at making these statements in such a way as to throw light on the world at the present day and its problems (this was expressed by the term “pastoral”).[60]

On the other hand, between the four constitutions the dogmatic ones are of first theological importance. The proper interpretation of the priority of Gaudium et Spes is existentially, as, following Wojtyla argued, the consciousness of the Church as a subject. This however requires Church’s own self-knowledge as an object of faith and dogma, as an institution divinely revealed and established by Jesus Christ; and as such, this places a prior importance on the dogmatic constitutions. Nevertheless, Gaudium et Spes flows out of Lumen Gentium according to the principle of ad intra, ad extra, and as a constitution it does possess higher authority over the decrees and declarations. This is why we must make use of proper theological interpretation to determine the authority of the teachings within Gaudium et Spes. Some parts of its teachings are transitory, part of the times now nearly sixty years past, others are permanent.

3.6. Sacrosanctum Concilium as a Constitution

We now turn our attention to seeking out what was the mind of the Council, its intentions and purposes, for Sacrosanctum Concilium. Sacrosanctum Concilium is designated as simply a constitution, not qualified as either “dogmatic” or “pastoral”. We will apply the same hermeneutical method for determining the place and role of Sacrosanctum Concilium as a hermeneutical key to Vatican II. Some such as Massimo Faggioli and Gerald O’Collins have proposed Sacrosanctum Concilium as theologically prior amongst the constitutions.

3.6.1. Application of Vatican I Hermeneutic

We begin again by looking at the naming convention of Sacrosanctum Concilium. It is a constitution, which emphasizes its importance over the decrees and declarations issued by the Council. On the other hand, it is neither “dogmatic” nor “pastoral”. This is important since it highlights that Sacrosanctum Concilium is not intended to have the highest theological authority as a dogmatic constitution, nor as a pastoral extension of a dogmatic constitution in the same manner as Gaudium et Spes is related to Lumen Gentium.

The purpose of Sacrosanctum Concilium is practical. Its concern is the reform of the liturgy, which, while requiring doctrinal principles to guide liturgical renewal, is fundamentally a practical enterprise. This is confirmed by Cardinal Larraona’s relatio and an article by Cipriano Vagaggini for the L’osservatore romano.[61] Vagaggini stated that Sacrosanctum Concilium is neither a dogmatic nor pastoral treatise, but practical. Joseph Jungmann in his commentary on Sacrosanctum Concilium asserted

The document has been described as a constitution, that is, it is a permanent law and not a mere decree settling momentary questions. But it is a disciplinary, not dogmatic, constitution; that is, it contains dispositions pertaining to the sphere of practical life rather than dogmatic teachings. To be sure, these dispositions are grounded in the teachings of the Church; however, the teachings contained therein are not defined but only taught. In other words, they have the character of statements of the magisterium ordinarium.[62]

In the early drafts of Sacrosanctum Concilium there was an explanatory sentence in the preface that stated

The intention of this Constitution is only to propose general norms and the higher principles regarding the general liturgical renewal, leaving to the Holy See to arrange for the carrying out of specific elements.[63]

This and other early statements likewise confirm the Council’s intention for Sacrosanctum Concilium to be practical and not dogmatic.[64] However, on Nov. 19, 1962, this statement was dropped from the preface. Washburn concluded that this was due to the fact that Sacrosanctum Concilium was obviously a practical treatise according to the minds of the Council Fathers, which made it unnecessary and superfluous to provide such an explanation.[65]

The introductory material of Sacrosanctum Concilium states this intention of reform and practicality. The first article announces the task of the constitution is the “reform and promotion of the liturgy.”[66] Later in the preface it asserts

Wherefore the sacred Council judges that the following principles concerning the promotion and reform of the liturgy should be called to mind, and that practical norms should be established. Among these principles and norms there are some which can and should be applied both to the Roman rite and also to all the other rites. The practical norms which follow, however, should be taken as applying only to the Roman rite, except for those which, in the very nature of things, affect other rites as well.[67]

When we analyzed the cited sources of the faith, such as Scripture, Church Fathers, papal documents, in our discussion over the priority of the dogmatic constitutions, it was painfully obvious that Sacrosanctum Concilium made the least use of such citations out of the four constitutions. There is not much need for such citations if the document’s aims are practical. On the other hand, Sacrosanctum Concilium is quoted the second most often, after Lumen Gentium, amongst the documents of Vatican II. This, however, can be partly explained by the fact that Sacrosanctum Concilium was the first document to be promulgated by Vatican II. Sacrosanctum Concilium likewise did not use language to suggest theological authority. In its presentation of doctrinal principles, the conciliar text nowhere used terms such as docet and declarat.[68] Furthermore, the bulk of the document is practical and juridical principles for the reform of the liturgy. As Washburn noted, only about 26% of the text by word count is composed of theological statements on the liturgy, the rest being dedicated to the reform of the liturgy.[69]

3.6.2. Further Remarks and Conclusion

Earlier we quoted Optatem Totius concerning the importance it ascribed to Lumen Gentium,[70] but now, when we consider this same passage, it also references Sacrosanctum Concilium. While Lumen Gentium is given a theological authority, Sacrosanctum Concilium is only cited in reference to two practical articles concerning the liturgical training of seminary professors. If Sacrosanctum Concilium was to have greater authority, then this would have been a good time to mention it given the stated authority proscribed to Lumen Gentium. However, such is not the case.

Given that Sacrosanctum Concilium is understood by the Council Fathers to be concerned with practical matters and not a developed a theological treatise, a purpose which the document itself stated, it is hard to conclude that this text is meant to have theological priority over the other constitutions. The majority of the document is juridical and practical. Sacrosanctum Concilium possesses some theological teachings, but these are left almost incomplete, stated for the most part to serve as guiding principles for the reform of the liturgy, and not as a completed treatise on the theology of the liturgy.

4. Conclusion

The question concerning the priority of the constitutions depends upon the prior question of what is our task. Are we interested in the theological explication of the teachings of Vatican II? If so, then the dogmatic constitutions Dei Verbum and Lumen Gentium are authoritatively prior to all of the other documents. If we wish, on the other hand, to understand the consciousness of the Church, to take a more existential approach, then following Wojtyła's analysis Lumen Gentium and Gaudium et Spes possess an existential priority.

Section Endnotes

[1] See my essay The Pastoral Council.


[2] See Ormund Rush’s Visions of Vatican II, 13.

[3] Cf. ibid, 251, esp fn4.

[4] Cf. my essay The Pastoral Council.

[5] The notificatio can be found in the appendix of Lumen Gentium on the Vatican website.


[6] Canon 1323.3. The 1917 Pio-Benedictine Code of Canon Law curated by Edward Peters. Ignatius Press. 446.

[7] Canon 228.1. Ibid, p. 96.

[8] “It is not enough to avoid heretical depravity, but also those errors should be diligently fled that more or less approach [heresy]; therefore, all must observe the constitutions and decrees by which these sorts of depraved opinions are proscribed and prohibited by the Holy See.” 1917 Code of Canon Law, canon 1324. Ibid, p. 446.

“Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by definitive act; therefore, the Christian faithful are to take care to avoid those things which do not agree with it.” 1983 Code of Canon Law, canon 752. New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, edited by Beal, Coriden and Green, 916. Cf. canon 753.

“All the Christian faithful are obliged to observe the constitutions and decrease which the legitimate authority of the Church issues in order to propose doctrine and to proscribe erroneous opinions, particularly those which the Roman Pontiff or the college of bishops put forth.” 1983 Code of Canon Law, canon 754. Ibid, 918.

“Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.” Lumen Gentium 25.

“Nor must it be thought that what is expounded in Encyclical Letters does not of itself demand consent, since in writing such Letters the Popes do not exercise the supreme power of their Teaching Authority. For these matters are taught with the ordinary teaching authority, of which it is true to say: "He who heareth you, heareth me"; and generally what is expounded and inculcated in Encyclical Letters already for other reasons appertains to Catholic doctrine. But if the Supreme Pontiffs in their official documents purposely pass judgment on a matter up to that time under dispute, it is obvious that that matter, according to the mind and will of the Pontiffs, cannot be any longer considered a question open to discussion among theologians.” Pope Pius XII, Humani Generis 20.

[9] “It is, however, not enough to avoid the wickedness of heresy unless those errors that lead close to it are also carefully avoided. We therefore remind all of their duty to observe also the constitutions and decrees by which such perverse opinions, which are not explicitly enumerated here, are proscribed by this Holy See.” Denzinger 3045. 43rd edition.

[10] “When the Magisterium of the Church makes an infallible pronouncement and solemnly declares that a teaching is found in Revelation, the assent called for is that of theological faith. This kind of adherence is to be given even to the teaching of the ordinary and universal Magisterium when it proposes for belief a teaching of faith as divinely revealed. When the Magisterium proposes "in a definitive way" truths concerning faith and morals, which, even if not divinely revealed, are nevertheless strictly and intimately connected with Revelation, these must be firmly accepted and held. When the Magisterium, not intending to act "definitively", teaches a doctrine to aid a better understanding of Revelation and make explicit its contents, or to recall how some teaching is in conformity with the truths of faith, or finally to guard against ideas that are incompatible with these truths, the response called for is that of the religious submission of will and intellect. This kind of response cannot be simply exterior or disciplinary but must be understood within the logic of faith and under the impulse of obedience to the faith.” Donum Veritatis 23.

[11] “Vatican II” in The Routledge Companion to Modern Thought, 365.

[12] John O’Malley, Tradition and Transition: Historical Perspectives on Vatican II, 45.

[13] “The issues-under-the-issues are three different ways of looking at Vatican II that reveal the remarkable coherence of the council’s final product—the sixteen official constitutions, decrees, and declarations—despite the compromises, ambiguities, misleading euphemisms, stylistic infelicities, and the hundreds of specific issues that abound in them and sometimes looks like clutter.” John O’Malley, What Happened at Vatican II, 309.

[14] See my essay The False Hermeneutic of Ambiguity.


[15] Carlen, Papal Pronouncements: A Guide, 1740-1978, vol 1, p. xii.

[16] “The Second Vatican Council and the Theological Authority of Sacrosanctum Concilium as a Constitution”, in Nova et Vetera, English Edition, vol. 13, no. 4 (2015), 1096-1099.

[17] “We, with the approval of the sacred council, judge it necessary for the protection, the safety, and the increase of the Catholic flock to propose to all the faithful what is to be believed and held, according to the belief of the universal Church, with regard to the establishment, the perpetuity, and the nature of the sacred apostolic primacy… Likewise [we judge it necessary] to proscribe with sentence of condemnation the contrary erroneous opinions so detrimental to the Lord’s flock.” Denzinger 3051. (43rd edition).

[18] Docemus was used nine times and declaramus seven times in Pastor Aeternus, but declaramus was used three times in Schema episcopis. Docemus was not used at all in it.

[19] Washburn, “The Second Vatican Council and the Theological Authority of Sacrosanctum Concilium as a Constitution”, in Nova et Vetera, English Edition, vol. 13, no. 4 (2015), 1096-1099.

[20] Alberigo, History of Vatican II, vol. 4, 41-42. See also Yves Congar, My Journal, 640-641.

[21] Cf. Francis Sullivan, Creative Fidelity, 170.

[22] Acta Synodalia 4/6:419. Note that this notificatio can be found in the Latin edition on the Vatican’s website. Cf. Washburn, “The Theological Priority of Lumen Gentium and Dei Verbum for the Interpretation of the Second Vatican Council” in The Thomist, vol. 78, 2014, p. 121-122.

[23] Dei Verbum 1.

[24] “Because this is so, this Sacred Synod gathered together in the Holy Spirit eagerly desires, by proclaiming the Gospel to every creature, to bring the light of Christ to all men, a light brightly visible on the countenance of the Church. Since the Church is in Christ like a sacrament or as a sign and instrument both of a very closely knit union with God and of the unity of the whole human race, it desires now to unfold more fully to the faithful of the Church and to the whole world its own inner nature and universal mission. This it intends to do following faithfully the teaching of previous councils. The present-day conditions of the world add greater urgency to this work of the Church so that all men, joined more closely today by various social, technical and cultural ties, might also attain fuller unity in Christ.” Lumen Gentium 1.

[25] Washburn, The Second Vatican Council and the Theological Authority of Sacrosanctum Concilium as a Constitution, 1112.

[26] Washburn, The Theological Priority of Lumen Gentium and Dei Verbum for the Interpretation of the Second Vatican Council, 116-119.

[27] Optatam Totius 16.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Three notes. First, Sacrosanctum Concilium was the first document promulgated, hence why it is absent from the list as it is impossible for it to reference the other documents. Second, Dignitatis Humanae, Inter Mirifica, Unitatis Redintegratio, and Perfectae Caritatis do not cite any of the constitutions. Third, these values come from Washburn, The Theological Priority of Lumen Gentium and Dei Verbum for the Interpretation of the Second Vatican Council, 117-118.

[30] Cf. my essay Vatican II and the Enrichment of Faith.


[31] Cf. my essay The Hermeneutics of Ad Intra and Ad Extra.


[32] Washburn, The Theological Priority of Lumen Gentium and Dei Verbum for the Interpretation of the Second Vatican Council, 122.

[33] Quoted from ibid, 122.

[34] Dei Verbum 10.

[35] Walter Abbot, The Documents of Vatican II, 11.

[36] Ibid, 107.

[37] To understand deeper the meaning of “pastoral” as a hermeneutic, check out my essay The Pastoral Council. URL:

[38] Washburn, The Theological Priority of Lumen Gentium and Dei Verbum for the Interpretation of the Second Vatican Council, 114.

[39] “The Pastoral Constitution "De Ecclesia in Mundo Huius Temporis" is made up of two parts; yet it constitutes an organic unity. By way of explanation: the constitution is called "pastoral" because, while resting on doctrinal principles, it seeks to express the relation of the Church to the world and modern mankind. The result is that, on the one hand, a pastoral slant is present in the first part, and, on the other hand, a doctrinal slant is present in the second part. In the first part, the Church develops her teaching on man, on the world which is the enveloping context of man's existence, and on man's relations to his fellow men. In part two, the Church gives closer consideration to various aspects of modern life and human society; special consideration is given to those questions and problems which, in this general area, seem to have a greater urgency in our day. As a result in part two the subject matter which is viewed in the light of doctrinal principles is made up of diverse elements. Some elements have a permanent value; others, only a transitory one. Consequently, the constitution must be interpreted according to the general norms of theological interpretation. Interpreters must bear in mind—especially in part two—the changeable circumstances which the subject matter, by its very nature, involves.” Gaudium et Spes, Preface fn1.

[40] “There is a certain hierarchy or ordering within the constitutions, a hierarchy of importance not necessarily captured and determined by the wording of the titles, with words such as “dogmatic” and “pastoral”. Ormund Rush, Visions of Vatican II, 5.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ormund Rush, Still Interpreting Vatican II, 42.

[43] Bishop McGrath stated precisely this at a press conference as a member of the drafting commission. Cf. Washburn, The Theological Priority of Lumen Gentium and Dei Verbum for the Interpretation of the Second Vatican Council, 115.

[44] Gaudium et Spes 4.

[45] “Hence this Second Vatican Council, having probed more profoundly into the mystery of the Church, now addresses itself without hesitation, not only to the sons of the Church and to all who invoke the name of Christ, but to the whole of humanity. For the council yearns to explain to everyone how it conceives of the presence and activity of the Church in the world of today.” Gaudium et Spes 2.

[46] Gaudium et Spes 2.

[47] Ibid, 3.

[48] Ibid.

[49] “If it is desirable to offer a diagnosis of the text as a whole, we might say that (in conjunction with the texts on religious liberty and world religions) it is a revision of the Syllabus of Pius IX, a kind of countersyllabus.” Joseph Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology, 381. Cf. Alberigo, History of Vatican II, vol. 5, 422-423. Ormond Rush, The Vision of Vatican II, 513, 523-524.

[50] This is the interpretation of the Bologna school represented by Guiseppe Alberigo, Joseph Komonchak, and others.

[51] See my essay The Spirit of Vatican II. URL:

[52] See my essay The Pastoral Council. URL:

[53] Cf. Ormond Rush, The Vision of Vatican II, 251fn4.

[54] Ibid.

[55] Ibid, 13, 29, 47, 235, 251n4

[56] Joseph Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology, 378-379.

[57] Ormond Rush, The Vision of Vatican II, 511-512.

[58] Vorgrimler, Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, vol. 5, 77-80.

[59] Ibid, 12.

[60] Ibid, 78-79.

[61] Washburn, The Theological Priority of Lumen Gentium and Dei Verbum for the Interpretation of the Second Vatican Council, 111-112.

[62] Josef Jungmann, Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, ed. Vorgrimler, vol 1, p. 8.

[63] Quoted from Washburn, The Second Vatican Council and the Theological Authority of Sacrosanctum Concilium as a Constitution, 1102.

[64] Cf. ibid, 1100-1102, for more references.

[65] Ibid, 1105.

[66] Sacrosanctum Concilium 1.

[67] Ibid, 3.

[68] Washburn, The Second Vatican Council and the Theological Authority of Sacrosanctum Concilium as a Constitution, 1111.

[69] Washburn, The Theological Priority of Lumen Gentium and Dei Verbum for the Interpretation of the Second Vatican Council, 128-129.

[70] “Similarly the teaching of canon law and of Church history should take into account the mystery of the Church, according to the dogmatic constitution "De Ecclesia" promulgated by this sacred synod. Sacred liturgy, which is to be considered as the primary and indispensable source of the truly Christian spirit, should be taught according to the mind of articles 15 and 16 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.” Optatem Totius 16.

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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