Little catechism of the Second Vatican Council (Part Eight) – The Nine Decrees (decrees 1-5)
by Fr. Pierre-Marie, O.P.
Dominican in Avrillé
From Le Sel de la terre 93, Summer 2015
The Nine Decrees
1. The three Decrees on bishops and priests
1. Christus Dominus (CD): the pastoral duty of bishops.
2. Presbyterorum ordinis (PO): the ministry and life of priests.
3. Optatam totius Ecclesiæ renovationem (OT): the formation of priests.
How does Christus Dominus (CD) describe the bishop?
[Note from editor: reminder from a previous article that LG=”Lumen Gentium”]
CD, conforming to LG (especially its chapter 3), views the bishop above all as a pastor (exercising the power to govern) to the detriment of his two other aspects of doctor and pontiff (having the powers of teaching and sanctifying) (§ 1, 2, 9, 11, 16).
Did CD change the doctrine concerning the episcopacy?
The principal change concerns the power given by the consecration. According to traditional doctrine, only the power of orders is given by the episcopal consecration, with an aptitude to receive jurisdiction1. But CD, in its § 3, affirms that the bishops receive their “episcopal office” through the “episcopal consecration”, referring to LG § 21: “Episcopal consecration, together with the office of sanctifying, also confers the office of teaching and of governing“.
What remarks do you make on Presbyterorum ordinis (PO)?
§ 2 (in accordance with LG § 2, 4, and 17) speaks first of the priesthood of all the baptized (“all the faithful are made a holy and royal priesthood“) and then of the ministerial priesthood (“The same Lord, however, has established ministers among his faithful“), as if the latter emanates from the former, a Protestant idea.
§ 9 encourages priests to share the ecumenical attitude of the Council: “Mindful of the prescripts on ecumenism [a note refers to UR], let them not forget their brothers who do not enjoy full ecclesiastical communion with us.”
Finally, § 12 encourages the priests to be “consistently better instruments in the service of the whole People of God” “to fulfill its pastoral desires of an internal renewal of the Church [understood: the formation of a new Conciliar Church], of the spread of the Gospel in every land [the new evangelization], and of a dialogue with the world of today” [dialogue replacing missionary work]”. As can be seen, PO expresses, between the lines, a new conception of the priest and his mission.
What remarks do you make on Optatam totius (OT)?
This decree’s aim is to add “new elements…which correspond to the constitutions and decrees of this sacred council and to the changed conditions of our times” (preamble) and “forming the future priests of Christ in the spirit of the renewal promoted by this sacred synod“. It thus concerns forming priests having the spirit of Vatican II.
In particular, they must be formed for dialogue (§ 15 and 19), a term “completely unknown and unused in the Church’s teaching before the council“2. OT refers to the encyclical Ecclesiam suam of Paul VI (6 August 1964), which introduced the new conception of dialogue, to the detriment of the missionary spirit. Before the Council, priests were formed to be missionaries. Now they are formed for dialogue.
§ 15 is very insufficient regarding what concerns philosophical studies. There is no mention of Saint Thomas Aquinas, but only of “relying on a philosophical patrimony which is perennially valid” (with a reference to Ecclesiam suam of Paul VI); “taking into account the philosophical investigations of later ages” is recommended. Now, the current crisis in the Church essentially adheres to the introduction of a false subjective philosophy to the detriment of the realist philosophy of Saint Thomas Aquinas. This is why Saint Pius X proposed as the primary remedy of modernism “the scholastic philosophy…which the Angelic Doctor has bequeathed to us” (Pascendi, § 45) and vigorously insisted in his last Motu proprio, Doctoris angelici (29 June 1914): “if they [‘teachers of philosophy and sacred theology’] deviated so much as a step, in metaphysics especially, from Thomas Aquinas, they exposed themselves to grave risk“.
§ 16 asks to draw one’s inspiration from LG and SC, whose differences we have seen3.
Did not Msgr. Lefebvre rely on OT for the formation of his priests?
OT was prepared by a commission presided over by Cardinal Giuseppe Pizzardo, who was Prefect of the Congregation for Seminaries since 1937 and who held offices in the Curia since 1908, under the reign of St. Pius X. It is not surprising to find there some good passages. A paragraph of OT (§ 16), which concerned the place of Saint Thomas Aquinas in a course of theology, inspired Msgr. Lefebvre for his seminary; he also drew from this decree the idea of a year of spirituality (§ 12).
2. The two Decrees on the religious and the laity4
1. Perfectæ caritatis (PC): the renovation and adaptation of religious life.
2. Apostolicam actuositatem (AA): the apostolate of the laity.
What adaptation did Perfectæ caritatis (PC) accomplish?
PC adapts the religious life… to the spirit of the world.
The Church has always honored religious life, which it considers as a state of perfection superior to the ordinary state of Christians, aiming at more easily acquiring sanctity, i.e., the heroic exercise of Christian virtues.
From the preamble, the religious life is presented not as a state of perfection but as “a splendid sign of the heavenly kingdom“. PC does not speak of state of life, avoids the expression “state of perfection“, and mentions heroic virtues only incidentally to the search for perfection or sanctity5.
Another remarkable absence in this Decree: the virtue of religion (the word does not appear), which nevertheless characterizes religious life to the point of having given it its name. It is by the assiduous practice of this virtue that the religious easily and rapidly achieve the perfection of Christian life.
Thus, the Decree satisfied the objections of the Protestants who did not want to hear talk about a superiority of the religious life over the life in the world, nor of clerics over the laity.
Finally, while encouraging the religious to preserve “their withdrawal from the world” (§ 7), PC “urges them to adjust their way of life to modern needs” (§ 10), “to the needs of our time” (§ 18), “to the requirements of time and…to modern conditions” (§ 20). And in fact the adaptation “with the needs of our age” (§ 2) will be more applied than the “separation from the world” that characterized the religious life and spirit in the past.
It is no surprise that by revising the constitutions of the religious orders8 after the Council, the religious life in all the Church was destroyed in a few years. The few religious who remain today – apart from the resistors who try, against the winds and tides, to conserve the ancient conception of religious life – hardly distinguish themselves from the laity, and not only by the fact that they do not wear a habit! (Moreover, as an aside, PC also allowed for the adaption of the religious habit9.)
What are the deficiencies of Apostolicam actuositatem (AA)?
This Decree tends to promote the laity unduly, the autonomy of the natural order ambiguously, Catholic action imprudently, false ecumenism, and is silent on the scourge of laicism.
How does AA promote the laity?
The promotion of the laity is done under the pretext of battling against what the progressives call “clericalism” and which, in reality, is only the divine will of a hierarchy between clerics and the laity10.
Without explicitly suppressing this hierarchy, this Decree opens doors that will largely serve, after the Council, to allow the laity into the government of the Church.
Some examples of ambiguous phrases exaggerate the role of the laity:
“The Christian vocation by its very nature is also a vocation to the apostolate” (§ 2): one should recall that the apostolate of the laity is by nature different from the apostolate of the hierarchy, and that – except in particular cases – the laity first are sanctified by the good exercise of their duty of state: the primary mission of a family mother is to raise her children well, and not to go perform an apostolate outside her home!
“But the laity likewise share in the priestly, prophetic, and royal office of Christ and therefore have their own share in the mission of the whole people of God in the Church and in the world.” (§ 2): exaggeration of the “priesthood” of the laity. For the lay Christian, this “priesthood” consists in offering himself in sacrifice as a holy host (Rom. 12:1), not in exercising an apostolate “in the Church and in the world“.
Can one speak of an autonomy of the natural order?
The Council, in several of its texts, opens the way toward a form of naturalism in insisting on the autonomy of the natural order (§ 7 11). AA also speaks of the “many areas of human life [that] have become increasingly autonomous” (§ 2), the “autonomy of the family” (§ 11), and the “autonomy of…various lay associations and enterprises” (§ 26).
It is true that there are laws (“law” is called “nomos” in Greek) proper to the natural order, to the family, and to the various human activities, but it is dangerous to speak of autonomy in an age so distinguished by the spirit of independence and difficulty in submitting to a hierarchy.
It cannot be a coincidence that the “May 1968” [riots in France] took place three years after the end of the Council, and that today all intervention of the Church in the temporal and lay domain is easily interpreted as clericalism.
What does AA say about Catholic action?
An entire paragraph (§ 20) of AA praises Catholic action understood according to Pius XI as a “collaboration of the laity in the apostolate of the hierarchy“. “The most holy Council earnestly recommends these associations [of Catholic action] … which…produced excellent results for Christ’s kingdom. These societies were deservedly recommended and promoted by the popes and many bishops“.
But it is known how Catholic action, initially conceived by St. Pius X as a movement of Catholics aiming to restore a Catholic society, later became a progressive movement, a so-called apostolate “for the environment“, in fact a center of agitation and protest in the Church.
How does AA sacrifice to ecumenism?
Vatican II having an ecumenical aim, it was necessary that it appear in the decree AA: “The quasi-common heritage of the Gospel and the common duty of Christian witness resulting from it recommend and frequently require the cooperation of Catholics with other Christians … common human values not infrequently call for cooperation between Christians pursuing apostolic aims and those who do not profess Christ’s name but acknowledge these values. By this…cooperation…the laity bear witness to Christ, the Savior of the world, as well as to the unity of the human family.” (§ 27).
Unfortunately, as will be seen with the decree UR, the ecumenism promoted by the Council is a false ecumenism aiming not for the conversion of non-Catholics, but for the Masonic promotion of the unity of mankind: that thereafter led to the horrors of the various “Assisi” reunions and of post-conciliar interreligious dialogue.