Rough Draft

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

By Jeremy Hausotter
Jan. 30, 2022

Table of Contents

3. The Theological Notes and the Hermeneutic of Continuity
     3.1. Introduction
     3.2. The Teachings of Lumen Gentium 25
          3.2.1. Non-infallible Teachings
          3.2.2. Infallible Teachings
          3.2.3. Primary and Secondary Objects of Infallibility
          3.2.4. Conclusion
     3.3. The Theological Notes
          3.3.1. The Theological Notes According to Feingold
          3.3.2. The 1983 Code of Canon Law
          3.3.3. The Theological Notes According to Joachim Salaverri
          3.3.4. The Theological Notes According to Ludwig Ott
          3.3.5. Another Post-Conciliar Schema of the Theological Notes
          3.3.6. The Censures
          3.3.7. Conclusion
     3.4. Continuity in Light of the Theological Notes

3. The Theological Notes and the Hermeneutic of Continuity

3.1. Introduction

A year ago Part II: Continuity or Discontinuity? was written as a response to the radicals on the left and on the right who interpret Vatican II as a rupture with doctrine.[1] Those on the right saw this as a terrible result, whereas those on the left praised the changes. With time comes greater reflection on the subject and in this case there is a glaring omission that was brought to my attention thanks to reading Gavin D’Costa’s book Vatican II: Catholic Doctrines on Jews & Muslims.[2] Part III.3 is hence new material further elucidating on the hermeneutic of continuity.

In order to talk about the teachings of the Council in terms of continuity, discontinuity and reform, one must first understand the different levels of teaching. The scholastic method, which thrived prior to Vatican II, understood that there are different grades of teachings. Catholics today understand that a basic distinction arises between infallible and non-infallible teachings, but what is less commonly known is that these two “categories” have further elaborations. We will begin our discussion with an analysis of Lumen Gentium 25 concerning the different types of teachings.

3.2. The Teachings of Lumen Gentium 25

Lumen Gentium 25 speaks of this distinction between infallible and non-infallible teachings. This article is broken up into four paragraphs. The first outlines the Council’s teachings on non-infallible teachings. The remaining paragraphs are dedicated to an analysis of infallible teachings. The second paragraph explains how a bishop can teach infallibly, and the third on the Pope in particular. The last paragraph explains the relationship between infallible teachings promulgated by the Church and the deposit of faith.

3.2.1. Non-infallible Teachings

Concerning non-infallible teachings, we read:

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.[3]

The faithful have the duty of obedience to these teachings with “religious assent” in matters of faith and morals. This obedience is directed towards their bishop and the supreme bishop, the Pope. In particular concerning the Pope, the next sentence states:

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.[4]

 This religious assent is a “submission of mind and will” and “must be shown in a special way” to the Pope. It does not matter that the teaching is not infallible, this duty remains. One must respect the supreme authority of the Pope with “reverence” that is owed to his office. We must furthermore adhere to the Pope’s teachings according to his “manifest mind and will”, meaning that our minds and wills must align with the Pope’s according to his teachings. We can know the mind and will of the Pope according to several indicators: “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.”[5]

Much more can be said concerning the role of the individual and his or her disagreement with Church teachings. Some of that conversation is dealt with in Part II.5 of this series. I assume here the hermeneutical principles that I have laid out elsewhere concerning the role of the Holy Spirit,[6] the textual hermeneutics,[7] theological priority of the dogmatic constitutions,[8] the hermeneutics of suspicion and ambiguity,[9] and more.

3.2.2. Infallible Teachings

The second paragraph of article 25 describes how bishops can be infallible. The individual bishops themselves do not possess this gift of teaching infallibly as part of their office as bishop, as Lumen Gentium stated bluntly: “the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility…”.[10]. There are two ways their teachings can be infallible however. First, Lumen Gentium stipulates that the individual bishops can teach infallibly if the following conditions are satisfied:

  1. The bond of communion among the bishops and with the Pope are maintained.

  2. Teach on matters of faith and morality.

  3. The bishops are in agreement on a position that is to be definitively held.

Second, bishops can teach infallibly when they come together at an Ecumenical Council and promulgate dogma. This first way is called the ordinary Magisterium and the second way the extraordinary Magisterium.[11]

In the next paragraph, Lumen Gentium outlines the scope of infallibility in application to the Pope. The paragraph begins with some general observations. We read in the first sentence that:

And this infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed His Church to be endowed in defining doctrine of faith and morals, extends as far as the deposit of Revelation extends, which must be religiously guarded and faithfully expounded.[12]

This informs us of three principles. First, the range of infallibility extends only as far as the deposit of faith. If there is some proposed teaching irrelevant to the deposit of faith, outside of faith and morals, then infallibility does not apply. Second, Christ willed the Church to have this gift of infallibility in order to define doctrine on faith and morals. Third, since the Church has this gift from Christ, she has the duty to guard and proclaim the deposit of faith. Infallibility is hence a gift given by God to the Church for the purpose of protecting and proclaiming the truths of God’s revelation. 

Lumen Gentium continues as follows:

And this is the infallibility which the Roman Pontiff, the head of the college of bishops, enjoys in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith, by a definitive act he proclaims a doctrine of faith or morals.

This sentence informs us how the Pope is infallible, what is infallibility, and the conditions of infallibility. The Pope as a human person does not possess infallibility. He has this charism “in virtue of his office”, meaning that infallibility is a charism inseparably connected his position as Pope. The Pope enjoys infallibility because he is the Pope; it is in the capacity of being the Pope that a Papal teaching can be infallible. Later in this same paragraph, Lumen Gentium specifies that when the Pope teaches infallibly, he is not doing so as a private teacher, but as the supreme teacher with his full apostolic authority over the Church. The charism of infallibility is a property of the Church that is individually present in the Pope. This is the how.

What is infallibility then? Lumen Gentium states that the Pope is infallible when “by a definitive act he proclaims”. This means that the act of proclamation is itself infallible. Infallibility is not a property of magisterial teachings but a property of the Magisterium when she performs the activity of teaching and proclaiming. It is the proclamation that is infallible.[13] When the Pope teaches infallibly in this manner, it is often said that he teaches ex cathedra and the Pope exercises his extraordinary Magisterium. The ordinary Magisterium in application to the Pope is his normal day-to-day teachings.

There are three conditions for a teaching of the Pope to be infallible. First, the Pope must teach as “the supreme shepherd and teaching of all the faithful”, meaning that the Pope must be exercising his full apostolic authority granted him as the successor of St. Peter in virtue of the Papal office. Second, the content of an infallible teaching is faith and morals. Third, the proclaimed teaching must be held with an assent of faith by all of the members of the Church, for as Lumen Gentium states later in the same paragraph: “To these definitions the assent of the Church can never be wanting…”

The reason why the assent to an infallibly defined proposition must be an assent of faith is due to the fact that they are guaranteed true by virtue of the God-given authority of the Church and the assistance of the Holy Spirit. The assent of faith here is a faith in the Church given her authority.

Infallible teachings are irreformable. They are irreformable because they are “pronounced with the assistance with the Holy Spirit”. The Holy Spirit was promised to aid St. Peter, which likewise is a promise that is attached to Peter’s office, and so is a promise every successor of Peter’s enjoys. This is why infallibility is called a charism, for it is a gift of the Holy Spirit peculiar to the Petrine office. Since infallible teachings are irreformable, they do not require the approval of others, they are not the products of a mutual consent amongst the Church, and there is no appeal from them. They are binding on all the faithful.

Since infallibility also is a charism of the Church, it is exercised in two manners: individually within the Pope, and universally as the body of bishops gathered together in an Ecumenical Council. In both cases the supreme magisterium is exercised. The supreme magisterium of an Ecumenical Council cannot be exercised independently of the Pope, but always with him or it has no binding authority.

We now consider the last paragraph of Lumen Gentium 25. We previously observed that infallible statements can extend only “as far as the deposit of Revelation extends”.[14] Revelation itself is a limiting principle to what the Pope and Church can pronounce infallibly. To borrow a mathematical formulation, we could say that the domain and range of infallibility is precisely the deposit of faith. Since the deposit of faith is revelation, the infallible statements of the Church are consistent with revelation itself and the Holy Spirit guarantees this fact. These statements of the Magisterium fall under the category of Sacred Tradition, to which all Catholics are duty bound to give an assent of faith. Lumen Gentium states this in the following manner:


But when either the Roman Pontiff or the Body of Bishops together with him defines a judgment, they pronounce it in accordance with Revelation itself, which all are obliged to abide by and be in conformity with, that is, the Revelation which as written or orally handed down is transmitted in its entirety through the legitimate succession of bishops and especially in care of the Roman Pontiff himself, and which under the guiding light of the Spirit of truth is religiously preserved and faithfully expounded in the Church.[15]

The deposit of faith is the limiting principle, both as domain and range for infallible statements, and so, the Magisterium cannot infallibly teach on a matter outside of the deposit of faith. Since infallibility is restricted to the deposit faith, infallible statements cannot produce new revelation. The rationale for this is precisely the fact that once the last book of the New Testament has been written, no new public revelation is to be given. Dei Verbum argued this in the following manner:[16] Jesus Christ is the complete, full revelation of God because he is God. Jesus established the New, definitive, Covenant that will last until his second coming. Therefore, there is no new public revelation. New public revelation implies that the New Covenant is not definitive and that Jesus is not the full revelation of God, a view that questions Christ’s divinity. As a consequence of this, the infallible statements of the Magisterium are not new public revelation.

The Roman Pontiff and the bishops, in view of their office and the importance of the matter, by fitting means diligently strive to inquire properly into that revelation and to give apt expression to its contents; but a new public revelation they do not accept as pertaining to the divine deposit of faith.[17]

3.2.3. Primary and Secondary Objects of Infallibility

The concept of infallibility can be developed further than what the Lumen Gentium 25 text has taught. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued in 1973 Mysterium Ecclesiae, which developed further and defended the doctrine of infallibility. Within it, there is the following clarification:

According to Catholic doctrine, the infallibility of the Church's Magisterium extends not only to the deposit of faith but also to those matters without which that deposit cannot be rightly preserved and expounded.[18]

Infallibility refers to two objects, the content within the deposit directly, which are called primary objects, and the content which are required for the defense and preservation of that deposit, the secondary objects. The primary objects of infallibility has the content of the deposit of faith directly as its content. The secondary objects of infallibility are its extension, those things required to safeguard and teach the deposit of faith.

Some theologians wanted to limit infallible statements to only those which pertain directly to the deposit of faith. They wanted to accept the primary objects of infallibility, but not the secondary objects that are virtually contained within the deposit of faith. These teachings, while not being formally and directly contained within the deposit, are still nevertheless inseparably connected to the deposit by extension, whether it is historical, logical, or by other means. These thinkers wanted to reject secondary objects of infallibility, in general, since they contained many of the Church’s teachings on morality; and if several of the moral teachings belong to this category, they are infallible and require an assent of faith. Hence the controversy. 

As Feingold noted, infallible statements in reference to either primary or secondary objects both require an assent of a “firm and irrevocable character”.[19] Simply because one is primary and the other secondary does not mean we are free to dismiss one over the other; both qua infallibility are irrevocable. The difference between these two is distinguished by the motive for assent.[20] Infallible statements of primary objects are the first grade of assent, where our assent is motivated by God’s authority and trustworthiness. Statements concerning secondary objects have a second grade of assent, where our assent is instead motivated by the trustworthiness of the Church. The first requires faith in God, the second faith in the Church and the promises God gave her to be the pillar and bulwark of truth (cf. 1 Tim. 3:15).

The CDF also released a commentary on the Profession of Faith. The Profession briefly states that one must firmly assent to both types of infallible statements. In the commentary, the CDF gives us examples of what are primary and secondary infallible statements. Examples of primary objects include:

the articles of faith of the Creed, the various christological dogmas and marian dogmas; the doctrine of the institution of the sacraments by Christ and their efficacy with regard to grace; the doctrine of the real and substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist and the sacrificial nature of the eucharistic celebration; the foundation of the Church by the will of Christ; the doctrine on the primacy and infallibility of the Roman Pontiff;  the doctrine on the existence of original sin; the doctrine on the immortality of the spiritual soul and on the immediate recompense after death; the absence of error in the inspired sacred texts; the doctrine on the grave immorality of direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being.[21]

Infallible statements of secondary objects include papal infallibility, the restriction of priestly ordination to men, illicitness of euthanasia, prostitution and fornication, and “the legitimacy of the election of the Supreme Pontiff or of the celebration of an ecumenical council, the canonizations of saints (dogmatic facts), the declaration of Pope Leo XIII in the Apostolic Letter Apostolicae Curae on the invalidity of Anglican ordinations.”[22] For more information, I refer the reader to Dulles’ Magisterium.[23]


3.2.4. Conclusion

Vatican II in Lumen Gentium 25 outlined two basic categories of teachings, infallible and those which are not. This, however, is not the whole story. Karl Rahner, in his commentary on this text, observed that the first paragraph, concerning not infallible teachings, left several considerations out.[24] There are many questions of fundamental theology concerning the interpretation of teachings. Rahner lists them in the following order: distinctions between who is teaching, type of doctrine taught (primary or secondary), authority claimed by the teacher, “theological qualifications of the truths proposed”, and the levels of assent.[25] To understand these questions, Rahner directs us to the pre-Vatican II textbooks: “Again we must refer the reader to the text-books of fundamental theology for a detailed discussion of the criteria of the various degrees of obligation corresponding to the exercise of the magisterium.”[26] It is to these teachings that we now turn to.


3.3. The Theological Notes

3.3.1. The Theological Notes According to Feingold

According to Rahner, the text of Lumen Gentium 25 presupposed the pre-Vatican II theological notes teachings found in any standard theology manual. It is here we face a particular problem, namely, that this appears to be a forgotten pre-Vatican II tradition that was dropped in the post-conciliar era. The text of Lumen Gentium clearly distinguishes between two basic categories. Mysterium Ecclesiae added a third. Lawrence Feingold added a fourth in his fundamental theology textbook. Given that there are different levels of teachings with their corresponding types of assent, there is also a corresponding penalty. This penalty is called a censure. Censures are negative judgment stating the degree of falsity of a given proposition. They provide a means for measuring the distance a proposition is from the truth.[27]

The Magisterium teachings, following Feingold, have the following classifications of teachings, levels of assent, and respective censures:[28]

Level:  Infallible, primary object

Name: Dogma

Type of Assent: ​Divine faith, “firmly believe”, irrevocable

Authority: Motivated by God’s authority

Censure: Heresy

Level: Infallible, secondary object

Name: Ecclesiastical faith

Type of Assent: Faith, “firmly accept and hold”, irrevocable

Authority: Motivated by the Church’s authority

Censure: “Error in Catholic doctrine” or “proximate to heresy”

Level: Non-infallible

Type of Assent: Religious submission of intellect and will

Level: Juridical

Type of Assent: Obedience


Such a classification, while representing what the Magisterium has officially taught, does not reflect the larger number of levels found in the pre-conciliar tradition.

3.3.2. The 1983 Code of Canon Law

The 1983 Code of Canon Law outlines the requirements for Catholics regarding the three levels of teachings. Canon 750.1 affirms that the truths of Revelation, the subject matter of dogma, are required, believed with a “divine and Catholic faith”, and that we are duty bound to avoid any teachings contrary to them.[29] The rejection of these dogmas imposes the penalty of heresy. Canon 751 defines heresy as “the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith”.[30] Heretics incur the penalty of latae sententiae excommunication by Canon 1364.1.[31] These canons are in reference to the primary objects of infallibility.

Canon 750.2 affirms the requirement to uphold infallible statements of secondary objects. Those who fail to do so set themselves in opposition “to the doctrine of the Catholic Church.”[32] The Code does not provide a term for those who oppose this level of teaching, like how ‘heresy’ is used for those who oppose dogma.

Canon 752 concerns the non-infallible teachings of the Magisterium. It affirms that a “religious submission of intellect and will” must be given to these teachings, and that Catholics are to avoid views that disagree with them.[33] Those who reject secondary infallible teachings or non-infallible ones can also be punished. Canon 1371 explicitly identifies those who reject the teachings in both categories, identified in Canons 750.2 and 752, are to be “punished with a just penalty” if they do not retract their views after being admonished.[34]

Given what the 1983 Code of Canon law and post-conciliar Magisterium has taught, it makes sense why some modern theologians like Feingold only use three categories. On the other hand, we need to be able to state clearly why a doctrine can or cannot change. Certainly infallible statements are irrevocable, but there is a wide gap within the domain of non-infallible teachings and their respective grades of assent. Understanding this will aid us in our search for a hermeneutic of continuity. We will  now look at two pre-conciliar schemas of the theological notes.

3.3.3. The Theological Notes According to Joachim Salaverri

Joachim Salaverri, S.J.’s treatise on the Church in the notable Sacrae Theologiae Summa series is rather remarkable. For our purposes, we are interested in his section on the theological notes.[35] Salaverri lists fourteen categories, twelve concerning infallible statements, and two non-infallible statements. His methodology is premised around two operative principles.

First, some objects concerning dogma and doctrine belong formally and directly to the deposit of faith, while other objects belong indirectly or virtually to the deposit of faith as deductions from the deposit. Second, the exercise of the teaching magisterium of the Church is accomplished in three distinct modes: 1) infallibly and extraordinary (papal pronouncements ex cathedra and Ecumenical Council definitions); 2) infallibly through the ordinary and universal magisterium; and 3) authentically teaching but not in an infallible manner.

It is from these two sets of distinctions that Salaverri will catalog the different types of infallible teachings. Those teachings which belong formally to the deposit of faith are called Divine Faith (1), while those which belong virtually are Theologically Certain (2). Together, categories (1) and (2) form category (3), Of the Faith in general.

Salaverri combines the two modes of infallible teaching exercised by the Church into the single category Infallibly Certain (4). Non-infallible teachings are placed in their own category Catholic Doctrine strictly (5). Together, (4) and (5) form the category Catholic Doctrine in general (6). Observe that Catholic Doctrine strictly speaking is in reference to the non-infallible teachings of the Magisterium, whereas it is in a more loose way that we say the infallible teachings of the Magisterium are Catholic Doctrine.

The next two sets of teachings are based on whether a doctrine is formal or virtual, and then distinguished according to the mode of Magisterial teaching. In the first set are those which are formally contained in the deposit of faith, i.e. (1). So (1) combined with (4) , infallible teachings in general, results in Divine and Catholic Faith in general, (7). The combination of infallible and extraordinary with (1) yields (8), called Of Divine Catholic Faith. (1) combined with infallible, ordinary magisterium yields (9), Of Catholic Faith strictly.

Salaverri deducts the next set of three categories from (3) with the same combinations. This seems odd, since (3) is formed from the combination of (1) and (2), while the categories (7), (8), and (9), are directly formed from (1). It would seem natural to derive the remaining three from (2). I believe this is what Salaverri had in mind given that he does use the term ‘virtually’ to describe the connection between these teachings and the deposit of faith, even though he explicitly derives them from (3). The following categorizations are hence: (10) is derived from (2) and (4), called Of Catholic Faith in general; (11) from (2) and extraordinary and infallible, called Of Defined Faith; and (12) from (2) and infallible, ordinary magisterium, called Of Catholic Faith strictly.

The remaining two categories span the non-infallible teachings. Category (13) is called proximate and represents the near unanimous consent amongst theologians. These teachings are proximate because they are close to categories (1)-(12). The last category, (14) is called certain in theology. These consist of propositions that are either common amongst theologians or contain a premise that is theologically certain and a second premise that is naturally certain. 


Given this categorization, there are of course the corresponding censures to each theological note. Below summarizes the corresponding censures.


Note: 1. Of Divine Faith

Censure: Error in divine Faith

Note: 2. Theologically certain

Censure: Theological error

Note: 3. Of Faith in general

Censure: Error concerning Faith in general

Note: 4. Infallibly certain

Censure: Error in infallible or in Faith

Note: 5. Catholic doctrine strictly 

Censure: Error in Catholic doctrine

Note: 6. Catholic doctrine in general

Censure: Error concerning Catholic doctrine

Note: 7. Of divine and Catholic Faith in general

Censure: Heretical formally and in general

Note: 8. Of defined divine Faith

Censure: Heretical formally solemnly

Note: 9. Of divine and Catholic Faith strictly

Censure: Heretical formally, strictly

Note: 10. Of Catholic Faith in general

Censure: Error in Catholic Faith in general

Note: 11. Of defined Faith

Censure: Error in defined Faith

Note: 12. Of Catholic Faith strictly

Censure: Error in Catholic Faith strictly

We do not pretend to cover the theological notes in Salaverri’s account with rigorous demonstration. To see such a demonstration I refer the reader to his own arguments. Here my task is simply to note his distinctions concerning types of teachings.

Salaverri’s account focused primarily on infallible statements. Twelve of his fourteen categories were distinctions drawn from types of infallible statements. One remarkable fact about Salavarri’s analysis is his usage of Church teaching to illustrate examples of this schematization. The defect with Salaverri is precisely his not taking into account as much the non-infallible teachings.

3.3.4. The Theological Notes According to Ludwig Ott

The Sacrae Theologiae Summa, in the same volume as Salaverri’s analyses, lists a broader list of theological notes used to grade the various theological propositions within its series.[36] This list is similar to that of Ludwig Ott. Ott is famous for his manual Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. In it he lists six general categories.[37]

The first category is the highest and is composed of two types of teachings. To it belongs what is directly contained in the deposit of faith revealed by God. God’s authority is our motivation for assent, and this is an assent of divine faith. Secondly, the Church can infallibly declare a teaching which pertains directly to the deposit, and so the Church’s authority serves as our motive for assent. Altogether, this category is called de fide definita, for it is with an assent of faith that we must uphold these teachings. This category comprises the primary objects of infallible teachings referred to earlier in our essay. We call these teachings dogma proper.

Those infallible teachings of the Church, the secondary objects of infallibility, which using the language of Salaverri, are virtually contained within the deposit of faith consists of Ott’s second category. These teachings are infallible and as certain as the dogmas of the Church. The acceptance of these teachings rests solely on the Church’s own authority. This category is called fides ecclesiastica.

Ott’s third category is those teachings that are generally regarded to be a truth of revelation but not yet promulgated by the Church to be such. They are teachings proximate to the faith, sententia fidei proxima. His fourth category are those which are theologically certain, theologice certa. These truths are guaranteed by their connection via logical deduction to the deposit of faith while not being promulgated infallibly by the Church. Ott’s fifth category common teaching, sententia communis, are those which are commonly held by theologians but belong to the realm of free opinion. Ott’s last category is, in general, called probable. Ott lists five degrees of probable. We will call this general category probabilis.


3.3.5. Another Post-Conciliar Schema of the Theological Notes

Gavin D’Costa and Avery Dulles both condense the theological notes to the same five categories.[38] These five categories correspond to the following by Ott: de fide definita, fides ecclesiastica, sententia fidei proxima, theologice certa, and probabilis. D’Costa defines doctrine to consist of the first four categories. D’Costa and Dulles are more precise than Ott concerning the category sententia fidei proxima. For both this level of teaching is doctrine authoritatively taught but not infallibly by the Magisterium.

3.3.6. The Censures

Ott provides an impressive list of censures.[39] What is important to note is that these are actually censures used by the historical Magisterium. The 43rd edition of Denzinger provides extensive references of Magisterial censure deployment.[40] This edition of Denzinger lists the following censures: heretical, approaching heresy, flavor of heresy or suspect of heresy, schismatic, false, temerarious, erroneous, scandalous, blasphemous, impious, offensive to pious ears, evil sounding, and pernicious.

For our purposes it is important to note that the teachings corresponding to de fide definita teachings is heresy and those against sententia fidei proxima are proximate to heresy, heresi proxima. Ott and the Sacrae Theologiae Summa lists the censure opposed to fides ecclesiastica as error in fide ecclesiastica. That which is opposed to theologica certa is error in theology, error theologicus.

Feingold’s treatment of the theological notes, is in this respect, deficient. He states that the censures for propositions of the secondary objects of infallibility are either “error in Catholic doctrine” or “proximate to heresy”.[41] This is a misunderstanding of the theological notes and their respective censures. The censure, heresi proxima, refers to sententia fidei proxima teachings which are not infallible. The application of the censure “error in Catholic doctrine” by Feingold is better, because this category is a censure condemning propositions that oppose authoritative teachings of the Church; however, this category is a broader concept for it includes both infallible and non-infallible teachings.[42] The correct censure for those propositions contrary to the secondary objects of infallibility is error in fides ecclesiastica.


3.3.7. Conclusion

Moving forward, we will adopt a hybrid schema of Dulles and D’Costa with Ott’s as our own. Feingold’s schema is imprecise regarding the levels of non-infallible teachings. Dulles and D’Costa provide us with further clarification. It is insufficient to simply say a doctrine is not infallibly taught, for as we have observed, even this category has several levels of teaching authority.  We want to incorporate the category of sententia communis which is not found in Dulles and D’Costa, because it is a helpful category for evaluating theological opinions today.

3.4. Continuity in Light of the Theological Notes

When we consider now our question at hand, the hermeneutic of continuity, we must keep in mind the theological notes. Those teachings which are de fide definita or fides ecclesiastica are irrevocable. They cannot be changed at all. At either level, there cannot be a proposition A that is taught at time X, and then later at time Y the negation is taught, ~A. Such a blatant contradiction cannot be attributed to the Church without calling into question the following truths: 1) the infallibility of the teaching itself; 2) the infallibility of the Church herself; 3) that the Holy Spirit truly protects the Church; and 4) that Christ has promised the Church that the gates of hell will not prevail against her (cf. Matt 16:18), and not to mention of course violating the principle of noncontradiction.

We must therefore keep in mind what St. John XXIII stated: “The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another.”[43] The object of truth itself cannot change, but how we understand it can. Doctrine is made in one century, and in another we can have a deeper understanding of it. The teaching “no salvation outside the Church” is an excellent example of this, and will be covered in our series on Nostra Aetate. This is not to say that history can change the truth-value or object of doctrine, but rather we come to a more full appreciation and understanding of the proposition and its implications.

Consider now a mathematical example. One can understand that 0.25 + 0.75 = 1. One can further know that ½ + ¼ = ¾, and ½ + ¼ + ⅛ = ⅞. We can continue this process, ½ + ¼ + ⅛ + 1/16 = 15/16. The question now is what happens when we continue this process indefinitely? ½ + ¼+ ⅛ + 1/16+...=? The decimal values suggest that this would equal one. However, we need the further knowledge of a limit or geometric series in order to conclude the argument. Essentially, we started with a knowledge of a truth, and as we asked questions about it we gained further insight into the truth of addition. Eventually this could be expanded into infinite sums, the question of calculus.

Doctrine develops similarly. History does not negate previous truths, but presupposes the true propositions and their unchanging objects of truth, and as time continues man gains deeper insight into the nature of addition as new questions arise. Later historical times bring about new questions, which the truths of previous times must be presupposed and probed more deeply in order to address the questions of the times. We would not have calculus today without the process of centuries asking questions and wrestling with the objects at hand. Doctrine moves similarly, except that we have the Magisterium to guide our way.

The doctrine that there is “no salvation outside the Church” is de fide definita, every Catholic must accept it. But such a teaching does not require actual membership, for one who never entered the Church while he or she was alive can be saved due to ignorance. To obtain these teachings required centuries of careful meditation upon the truths of the faith.

When we consider teachings that are either sententia fidei proxima or theologica certa, the room for error is wider given the fact that these are not infallible teachings. The Magisterium in teaching these doctrines does not exercise her infallibility. With sententia fidei proxima, she certainly teaches authoritatively, such as when a Pope teaches through an encyclical, but nevertheless this is done so without the charism of infallibility. It is still hard to introduce a hermeneutic of discontinuity or rupture here.

We must remember that a teaching sententia fidei proxima is still a teaching taught authoritatively and to be regarded as a truth of revelation. It is regarded as a truth of revelation, but such a status has not been definitively promulgated. This is why we say this teaching is proximate, proxima.

Teachings that are theologica certa are theological conclusions deducted logically from revelation itself or infallible statements. They are logical demonstrations with premises based on de fide definita or fides ecclesiastica teachings and logical deduction. This is what makes them certain, though not infallibly proclaimed. Hence the room for error here is nearly absent. Probable, or probabilis, teachings can be reformed without much danger to the faith. The various grades of probably teachings have the most room for change. 

If, therefore, what is meant by a hermeneutic of discontinuity refers to a probabilis teaching, then there is no quarrel. The Church is free to change probable teachings as our understanding of truth progresses. A hermeneutic of discontinuity that refers to either fides ecclesiastica or de fide definita is not defensible, while one referring to either sententia fidei proxima or theologica certa is more defensible yet remaining highly unlikely to being impossible when we reflect on what it means for a proposition to be theologica certa. The low degree of acceptability of a hermeneutic of discontinuity with the later two theological notes is due, in part, to the level of teaching, and the role of the Holy Spirit in protecting the Church. The charism of infallibility is not exercised, but this cannot be interpreted so as to say that the Holy Spirit was not involved and interacting with the Church in a different mode.

We can also point out that there can be reforms and ruptures when the topic is of disciplinary or juridical matters. These are topics outside the scope of doctrine and infallibility, while still remaining teachings of the Church. They are teachings and commands to be obeyed. These rulings are informed by the truths of the faith, while nevertheless can change according to different situations, circumstances, times, and cultures, so long as they are done remaining faithful to the Church’s teachings. Here too a hermeneutic of discontinuity poses no problems, though particular situations can appear scandalous to those not theologically informed.



[1] Part II originally comprised of Parts II.1, II.2, II.4, and II.5 of the current version.

[2] Gavin D’Costa, Vatican II: Catholic Doctrines on Jews and Muslims (Oxford University Press, USA, 2014).

[3] Lumen Gentium 25.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Hermeneutics of Vatican II: Part I: Gift of the Holy Spirit. URL: <>.

[7] Hermeneutics of Vatican II: Part IV: The Unity of the Conciliar Texts. URL: <>.

[8] Hermeneutics of Vatican II: Part V: The Theological Priority of the Dogmatic Constitutions.

URL: <>.

[9] Hermeneutics of Vatican II: Part III.2.7: The False Hermeneutic of Ambiguity. URL: <>. Hermeneutics of Vatican II: Part III.3: The Hermeneutic of Suspicion. URL: <>.

[10] Lumen Gentium 25.

[11] Cf. Avery Dulles, Magisterium: Teacher and Guardian of the Faith (Sapientia Press, 2007).  67-70.

[12] Lumen Gentium 25.

[13] Cf. Dulles, Magisterium, 66.

[14] Lumen Gentium 25.

[15] Ibid.

[16] “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" (Heb. 1:1-2). 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 (see John 1:1-18). Jesus Christ, therefore, the Word made flesh, was sent as "a man to men." (3) He "speaks the words of God" (John 3;34), and completes the work of salvation which His Father gave Him to do (see John 5:36; John 17:4). To see Jesus is to see His Father (John 14:9). 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. The Christian dispensation, therefore, as the new and definitive covenant, will never pass away and we now await no further new public revelation before the glorious manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ (see 1 Tim. 6:14 and Tit. 2:13).” Dei Verbum 4.

[17] Lumen Gentium 25.

[18] Mysterium Ecclesiae 3.

URL: <>.

[19] Lawrence Feingold, Faith Comes from What Is Heard: An Introduction to Fundamental Theology (Emmaus Academic, 2016), 261.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Doctrinal Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the Professio Fidei 11.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Avery Dulles, Magisterium: Teacher and Guardian of the Faith (Sapientia Press, 2007), 73-81. Cf. Joachim Salaverri S.J. and Michaele Nicolau S.J., Sacrae Theologiae Summa: On the Church of Christ, On Holy Scripture, trans. Kenneth Baker S.J., vol. 1B (Keep the Faith, 2015), 252-3. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 296-299.

[24] Karl Rahner, Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, General Editor Herbert Vorgrimler, vol. 1 (Burn & Oates/Herder & Herder, 1967), 208-216.

[25] Ibid, 209.

[26] Ibid, 210.

[27] Sacrae Theologiae Summa 1B, 341.

[28] Feingold finds this schema in Professio fidei, Ad tuendam Fidem, Mysterium Ecclesiae, and Donum Veritatis. Faith Comes from What is Heard, 257, 262-263.

[29] “A person must believe with divine and Catholic faith all those things contained in the word of God, written or handed on, that is, in the one deposit of faith entrusted to the Church, and at the same time proposed as divinely revealed either by the solemn magisterium of the Church by its ordinary and universal magisterium which is manifested by the common adherence of the Christian faithful under the leadership of the sacred magisterium; therefore all are bound to avoid any doctrines whatsoever contrary to them.” John P. Beal, James A. Coriden, and Thomas J. Green, New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law (Paulist Press, 2000), 914.

[30] Ibid, 915.

[31] Cf. Ibid, 1575.

[32] “Each and every thing which is proposed definitively by the magisterium of the Church concerning the doctrine of faith and morals, that is, each and every thing which is required to safeguard reverently and to expound faithfully the same deposit of faith, is also to be firmly embraced and retained; therefore, one who refuses those propositions which are to be held definitively is opposed to the doctrine of the Catholic Church.” Ibid, 914.

[33] “Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of the 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.” Ibid, 916.

[34] Cf. Ibid, 1581.

[35] Joachim Salaverri S.J. Sacrae Theologiae Summa, vol. 1B, 341-351.

[36] Ibid, 1.

[37] Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, trans. Patrick Lynch (Refuge of Sinners Publishing, 2013), 9-10.

[38] Dulles, Magisterium, 83-84. D’Costa, Vatican II: Catholic Doctrines on Jews and Muslims, 14-15.

[39] Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 10.

[40] Peter Hünermann et al., Compendium of Creeds, Definitions, and Declarations on Matters of Faith and Morals (Ignatius Press, 2012). See Systematic Index H3bc on page 1292.

[41] Faith Comes From What is Heard, 261.

[42] “Catholic doctrine (doctrina catholica): a truth that is taught in the whole Church, but not always proposed infallibly (for example, what the Roman Pontiffs wish to teach explicitly in encyclical letters). The opposite is: error in catholic doctrine.” Summa Theologiae Sacra IB, 1.


[43] Address on the Occasion of the Solemn Opening of the Most Holy Council, Oct. 11, 1962. Found in The Documents of Vatican II in a New and Definitive Translation: With Commentaries and Notes by Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Authorities, Walter M. Abbott, General Editor (America Press, 1966), 715.

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Hermeneutics of Vatican II Articles

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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