PopeWatch: Hermeneutic of Continuity




Hattip to Dale Price at Dyspeptic Mutterings.

This is interesting:

All the below is via Rorate, and before them via Sandro Magister.  Apparently, Pope Francis sent a letter to Bishop Marchetto, a former curial official.  He has authored a book that advocates for Pope Benedict’s “hermeneutic of reform in continuity” entitled The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council: A counterpoint for the history of the Council, which I have never read but is claimed to take a fairly traditional view of the Council and criticizes the progressive interpretation and implementation of Vatican II.

Pope Francis sent Bishop Marchetto a letter that not only calls Bishop Marchetto the “best interpreter” of Vatican II (would it not be preferable had the Council had the precision of a Trent or Vatican I where there was NO interpretation, because it’s meaning was crystalline?) but also thanks the bishop for correcting the Pope on some point.  The letter is below:

Dear Abp. Marchetto,


With these lines I wish to be close to you and join myself to the act of presentation of the book “Primato pontificio ed episcopato. Dal primo millennio al Concilio ecumenico Vaticano II” [Pontifical primacy and epicopate: from the first millennium to the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council”] I beg you to consider myself spiritually present [there].


The topic of the book is an homage to the love that you have for the Church, a loyal and at the same time poetic love. Loyalty and poetry are not an object of trade: they cannot be bought or sold, they simply are virtues that are rooted in a heart of a son who feels the Church to be a Mother; or, in order to be more precise, and saying it with an Ignatian familiar “tone”, as “the Holy Mother Hierarchical Church”.  


You have made this love manifest in many ways, including correcting a mistake or imprecision on my part – and for that I thank you from my heart -, but above all it is manifest in all your purity in the studies made on the Second Vatican Council. I once told you, dear Abp. Marchetto, and I wish to repeat it today, that I consider you to be the best interpreter of the Second Vatican Council.  


I know that this is a gift from God, but I also know that you made it bear fruit. I am grateful to you for all the good that you do for us with your testimony of love for the Church, and I ask the Lord that you be abundantly blessed.


I beg you please not to forget to pray for me. May Jesus bless you, and may the Virgin protect you.


Vatican, October 7, 2013
Very interesting.  And perhaps very reassuring. We certainly seem to get widely variant presentations, if you will, of who Pope Francis is and what he believes, sometimes, I must say, even from the Pope himself.  There are denunciations of Pelagian restorationists but then there is more talk of satan than we’ve heard from a Pontiff in decades.  The rhetoric and emphases vary widely depending on who the audience of the moment is.  It could be that Pope Francis is an incredibly complex man with a deep but very subtle theology, or  there are other, less flattering interpretations of this conduct.
Go here to A Blog For Dallas Area Catholics to read the rest.  The money phrase in the last paragraph is that it could be that Pope Francis is an incredibly complex man.  PopeWatch believes that Pope Francis is complex, one of the reasons why there is a PopeWatch.

More to explorer


  1. would it not be preferable had the Council had the precision of a Trent or Vatican I where there was NO interpretation, because it’s meaning was crystalline?


    I do not believe there has ever been a church council whose meaning was so crystalline that it did not require decades and even centuries of extended interpretation. For example, the interpretation of Vatican I is still a work in progress, especially to those interested in ending the East/West schism. To the rest of us, it is simply too removed from the daily experience of being a Catholic to warrant extended contemplation or interpretation. In fact, given that most everyone now agrees that papal infallibility is, and should remain, a very narrow and constrained sliver of authority, one can legitimately wonder which side of that debate actually won.


    The same goes for the other councils. It is not that they were ever crystal clear, it is simply that other forces came into play that made continued reinterpretation irrelevant. The fact that we are not currently debating with Arians (in their original form, at least) has as much or more to do with political and military issues as with what some council supposedly settled. The cementing of the rift between Protestants and Catholics (and the fact that both are almost equally irrelevant to moderns) is why Trent is no longer a hot-button topic, but I doubt it took less than half a century for the “pre-Trent” forces (or whatever you wish to call the losing side) to admit defeat, except insofar as they were already dying out by the time the council was convened.


    The reason that Vatican II is still an ongoing issue has to do not with its clarity, or lack thereof, but with the fact that outside forces have not superseded the issues it raised. When that happens, it will not make the council any clearer. It will just mean that we will move on to arguing about other topics. And as in the case of Vatican I, I suspect in decades and centuries to come, we may yet have reason to speculate about who really won.

  2. I agree that no council is crystalline. At Trent it was decreed, against the Lutherans, that the mass did not necessarily have to be in the vernacular. This was interpreted by the powers that be (mainly Cardinal Boromeo) to mean that it could only be in Latin. Vatican III reiterated that the mass did not necessarily have to be in Latin–which is interpreted: Latin is forbidden.

  3. “The money phrase in the last paragraph is that it could be that Pope Francis is an incredibly complex man. PopeWatch believes that Pope Francis is complex.”

    I think Pope Francis is simple and straightforward. It is we who are complex, unable to receive his words and actions without tearing them apart and analysing them to death. Pope Francis is our Papa. Perhaps if we try to be like little children we might understand him better?

  4. It is fanciful to describe the teaching of Trent as “crystalline.”

    Try the notorious 3rd canon of the 24th Session – “If anyone says, that those degrees only of consanguinity and affinity, which are set down in Leviticus, can hinder matrimony from being contracted, and dissolve it when contracted; and that the Church cannot dispense in some of those degrees, or establish others that may hinder and dissolve it; let him be anathema.” In other words, some of the Levitical degrees are dispensable, but which? The Council does not say (because there was no agreement) and the theologians and canonists have produced wagon-loads of commentary on this canon alone.

    Or, to take a more far-reaching example, the Council’s teaching on grace, free-will, election and predestination was so restricted, confining itself to condemning the more egregious errors of the Reformers, that for nearly two centuries after the council, one had the disputes between the Dominicans and the Jesuits (which the Congregatio de Auxiliis failed to resolve) and the Jansenist controversy that so divided the Church in France in particular. It was still a hot topic in the 18th century, with the old ground being revisited by Berti, Cardinal Norris and the Later Augustinians. Now the controversy has revived with the Nouvelle Théologie.

  5. Donald,

    You certainly stirred a lot of interest in this post. The real issue in the Marchetto letter is that Pope Francis, whom Progressives in the Church have attempted to co opt, belongs solidly in the hermeneutic of continuity and reform “camp”. Of course this will not please ultra traditionalists who for different reasons see VII as a disruption in the Tradition of the Church, breaking with what has gone before.

    As to the interpretations of the Councils, I have to agree with what the others have said. However in fairness, I believe I can clear up some misconceptions concerning Trent.
    First, in order to respond to the radical positions of the Reformers, the Council of Trent presented the Tradition of the Church, and the Liturgy, in an ahistorical way. The Reformers had ” left the reservation” so to speak. The Council Fathers wanted to make very clear the Tradition of the Church and to maintain the true Liturgy of the Church against the Reformers’ theological and ritual attacks. However beside transmitting the teaching and making sure the Catholic Mass was protected, they made both as if there had never been development of doctrine ( which is not accurate) or that the Rman Rite itself had not undergone development over the centuries. Thus, for those of us who grew up in the pre VII days, we heard ” the Church never changes”. In matters of substance this certainly is true ( hermeneutic of continuity) but certainly not in the non essential aspects of the Church. Trent left us with the impression that there was no difference between Tradition and traditions.

    Secondly, when Trent ended in 1565 the Pope, I believe it was Saint Pius V immediately set up an authoritative commission to give authoritative interpretations of the Council’s teaching and disciplinary decrees. This left little room for accidental or intentional misinterpretation. The Pope also immediately published the Roman Catechism which really was the Catechism of and a sound interpretation of Trent. When Vatican II closed in 1965 ( a purposeful connection to Trent). Pope Paul VI did not set up an authoritative commission to interpret the teachings in Vatican II or to oversee the Liturgical renewal mandated by the Council. The substantial interpretation of the Council had to wait for the Extraordinary Synod in 1985 ( twenty years later) which called for a new Catechism (Catechism of the Catholic Church) not published until 1992. So much confusion and worse could have been avoided. As to the Liturgy, the Reform of the Reform really discovered by a close reading of the Introduction to the Roman Missal 2003 is still underway ( new translations, thank God). Pope Benedict was responsible for the reassertion of the pre-Tridentine tradition of some diversity of the Latin Rite ( the Ambrosian Rite had never been touched) however he enabled what now is called the Extraordinary From of the Roman Rite to be liberally celebrated. He also established the Anglican Usage Ordinariate (the Anglican liturgical tradition was based on the Medieval English variation of the Latn Rite called the Sarum Rite) Trent had suppressed all variants of the Latin Rite that were less than 200 years at the time.

    You can see how things might have seemed simple after the Council of Trent

  6. I’ve said it before and feel once again … most all critiques of our pope’s communications needs to be done through the lens of a Latino and the cultural communication styles from which they sprout. We would be in err to view it from a European bent.

  7. Botolph represents “When Vatican II closed in 1965 ( a purposeful connection to Trent (???)), Paul VI did not set up an authoritative commission to interpret the teachings in Vatican II or to oversee the Liturgical renewal mandated by the Council.”

    Huh? This reveals an astonishing ignorance of the history of V2. Paul VI created the ‘Council (Consilium) for the Implementation of the Constitution on the Liturgy’ appointing Annibale Bugnini its secretary. We still do not know the deliberations of this “Consilium” and who exactly contributed to the formation of the present Novus Ordo/Mass of Paul VI: but it is a liturgy in clear conflict with the very own documents of Vatican II: Let’s just look at Sacro. Conc (On the Liturgy): no where was the Traditional Latin Mass abolished in the text of SC—yet it was later forbidden! Even by its own document, SC contradicts “The continuity of reform” of Vatican II: the liturgy is to remain normatively Latin (no. 36), Gregorian chant is the proper musical form (no. 116), and the pipe organ is the normative liturgical instrument (no. 120). Is that the way the liturgy is celebrated in your parish each Sunday? If so, they must be “radical traditionalists?” Where and who authorized substitute “canons” or Eucharistic Prayers for the Roman Canon? Where did they derive the sources or the authority for these spurious prayers? Who authorized the changes in the words of institution? That isn’t in Sacrosanctum Concilium: how did this happen? Who authorized the use of traditional Jewish-sourced Berakoth prayers in place of the Tridentine Mass offertory? Where was that authorized at V2 and where is it in the text of SC? And can a “consilium” headed by an archbishop countermand a papal bull (Quo Primum), even? Canonically of course not. These are just a few examples showing the monumental task before this Pope and his admirers before them to represent that there is a continuity with what was prior to 1962 called the Catholic Church and what went into effect after 1965. It is simply not there, to anyone who has eyes to see.

  8. At the time of Trent the Protestant Reformers left and operated outside the Church. At the time of VII the protestant reformers remained in the Church and operated within her as opportunists.

    I would be surprised to find evidence that Trent actually denied development of doctrine… what they did was select and impose a uniformity.
    Any confusion of tradition and Tradition was more likely personal; it wasn’t institutionalized.

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