In the first paragraphs of Amoris Laetitia we encounter an affirmation that sets the entire gist of what Francis wishes to convey in this document: it is time to develop ‘various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching’ to ‘seek solutions better suited to its culture’ in family ministry.
This hypothesis attempts to justify the crucial affirmations made in the chapters that follow, opening the doors to all kinds of subjectivism regarding the most serious issues. As a result, it is virtually impossible to recognize, in all of this, the sacred doctrine left by Christ to his Church.
What Francis wants to make us believe is really farfetched: that the entire Catholic concept of the family is debatable, because alternate models and new adaptations are required for the good of the family today.
Getting to the bottom of the problem, we will see that the inspiration is nothing new. The Bergoglian doctrine is modernism applied to our present historic moment, with significant advancements, some of which not even Saint Pius X, who condemned that doctrine, would have imagined possible.
It is of utmost importance to understand the type of error behind affirmations that apparently offer something good, while camouflaging the most harmful ideas existent in the History of the Church.
Enter the various parts of our study
II – What is the limit between obedience to the Magisterium and adapted pastoral interpretations? To what point is obedience required, and in what matters are innovations appropriate?
III – What are ‘inculturated’ solutions? Can local traditions and challenges substitute general principles?
IV – On a certain ‘evolution’ and ‘interpretation’: The inspired words of Pius X condemning modernism
I – Is it legitimate to interpret Catholic doctrine and its consequences in a way different from that of the Magisterium?
Can there be, Venerable Brethren, a greater or more urgent duty than to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ (Eph 3:8) to the men of our time? Can there be anything nobler than to unfurl the ‘Ensign of the King’ before those who have followed and still follow a false standard? […] Who among ‘the Soldiers of Christ’ – ecclesiastic or layman – does not feel himself incited and spurred on to a greater vigilance, to a more determined resistance, by the sight of the ever-increasing host of Christ’s enemies; as he perceives the spokesmen of these tendencies deny or in practice neglect the vivifying truths and the values inherent in belief in God and in Christ; as he perceives them wantonly break the Tables of God’s Commandments to substitute other tables and other standards stripped of the ethical content of the Revelation on Sinai, standards in which the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount and of the Cross has no place? (Pius XII. Encyclical Summi pontificatus, no. 5, October 20, 1939)
Since therefore we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek the truth among others which it is easy to obtain from the Church; since the apostles, like a rich man [depositing his money] in a bank, lodged in her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth: so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her the water of life. (Rev 22:17) For she is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers (Jn 10:1, 8-9). On this account are we bound to avoid them, but to make choice of the thing pertaining to the Church with the utmost diligence, and to lay hold of the tradition of the truth. For how stands the case? Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question? For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, [in that case,] to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches? (Saint Irenaeus of Lyons. Treatise against heresies, Book 3, Ch. 4, 1)
We also insisted on the grave responsibility incumbent upon us, but which we share with our Brothers in the Episcopate, of preserving unaltered the content of the Catholic faith which the Lord entrusted to the apostles. While being translated into all expressions, this content must be neither impaired nor mutilated. While being clothed with the outward forms proper to each people, and made explicit by theological expression which takes account of differing cultural, social and even racial milieu, it must remain the content of the Catholic faith just exactly as the ecclesial magisterium has received it and transmits it. (Paul VI. Apostolic exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi, no. 65, December 8, 1975)
The only-begotten Son of the Eternal Father, who came on earth to bring salvation and the light of divine wisdom to men, conferred a great and wonderful blessing on the world when, about to ascend again into heaven, He commanded the Apostles to go and teach all nations, (Mt 28:19) and left the Church which He had founded to be the common and supreme teacher of the peoples. For men whom the truth had set free were to be preserved by the truth; nor would the fruits of heavenly doctrines by which salvation comes to men have long remained had not the Lord Christ appointed an unfailing teaching authority to train the minds to faith. And the Church built upon the promises of its own divine Author, whose charity it imitated, so faithfully followed out His commands that its constant aim and chief wish was this: to teach religion and contend forever against errors. (Leo XIII. Encyclical Aeterni Patris, August 4, 1879)
In order to preserve the Church in the purity of the faith handed on by the apostles, Christ who is the Truth willed to confer on her a share in his own infallibility. By a “supernatural sense of faith” the People of God, under the guidance of the Church’s living Magisterium, “unfailingly adheres to this faith.” The mission of the Magisterium is linked to the definitive nature of the covenant established by God with his people in Christ. It is this Magisterium’s task to preserve God’s people from deviations and defections and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error. Thus, the pastoral duty of the Magisterium is aimed at seeing to it that the People of God abide in the truth that liberates. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 889–890)
Actually, the opinions of the faithful cannot be purely and simply identified with the ‘sensus fidei’. The sense of the faith is a property of theological faith; and, as God’s gift which enables one to adhere personally to the Truth, it cannot err. This personal faith is also the faith of the Church since God has given guardianship of the Word to the Church. Consequently, what the believer believes is what the Church believes. The “sensus fidei” implies then by its nature a profound agreement of spirit and heart with the Church, “sentire cum Ecclesia”. Although theological faith as such then cannot err, the believer can still have erroneous opinions since all his thoughts do not spring from faith. Not all the ideas which circulate among the People of God are compatible with the faith. This is all the more so given that people can be swayed by a public opinion influenced by modern communications media. Not without reason did the Second Vatican Council emphasize the indissoluble bond between the “sensus fidei” and the guidance of God’s People by the magisterium of the Pastors. These two realities cannot be separated. Magisterial interventions serve to guarantee the Church’s unity in the truth of the Lord. They aid her to “abide in the truth” in face of the arbitrary character of changeable opinions and are an expression of obedience to the Word of God. (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Instruction Donum veritatis, no.35, March 24, 1990)
And so the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved by an unending succession of preachers until the end of time. Therefore the Apostles, handing on what they themselves had received, warn the faithful to hold fast to the traditions which they have learned either by word of mouth or by letter (cf. 2Thess 2:15), and to fight in defense of the faith handed on once and for all (cf. Jude 1:3). (Vatican Council II. Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum, no. 8, November 18, 1965)
How can we listen to the voice of the Lord and recognize it? In the preaching of the Apostles and of their successors in which Christ’s voice rings out, calling us to communion with God and to the fullness of life. As we read today in the Gospel of Saint John: ‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand’ (Jn 10: 27–28). The Good Shepherd alone tends his flock with deep tenderness and protects it from evil, and in him alone can the faithful put absolute trust. (Benedict XVI. Regina Caeli, April 25, 2010)
Those who instruct the Christian people in sacred sermons have need of great prudence. Let them above all pass on doctrine, mindful of Saint Paul’s warning: ‘Look to yourself and your teaching; hold on to that. For by so doing you will save both yourself and those who listen to you’ (1Tim 4:16). […] This virtue of prudence should be cherished especially by those who publish for the faithful. Let them carefully bring forth the heavenly riches of the divine word ‘that the faithful may be moved and inflamed rightly to conform their lives (to them)’ (Divino afflante Spiritu, 50). They should consider it a sacred duty never to depart in the slightest degree from the common doctrine and tradition of the Church. They should indeed exploit all the real advances of biblical science which the diligence of recent (students) has produced. But they are to avoid entirely the rash remarks of innovators (Apostolic Letter Quoniam in re biblica 13, EB 626). (Pontifical Biblical Commission. The historicity of the Gospels, no. 4, April 21, 1964)
Modern man has greatly augmented his knowledge, but not always in the solidity of his thought, not always in the certainty of possessing the truth. On the other hand, here is precisely the distinguishing characteristic of the teaching of the Church. The Church professes and teaches a sure and stable doctrine. Meanwhile we should remember that the Church, before being a teacher, is a disciple. She teaches a doctrine that is sure, but a doctrine that she herself had to learn previously. The authority of the teaching of the Church does not emanate from wisdom of her own, nor of scientific and rational control over what she preaches to her faithful; but rather from the fact that she announces a word that emanates from the transcendent Thought of God. This is her strength and her light. What is the name for this incomparable transmission of the Thought, of the Word of God? It is called faith. (Paul VI. General audience, August 2, 1978)
Therefore the whole and entire Catholic doctrine is to be presented and explained: by no means is it permitted to pass over in silence or to veil in ambiguous terms the Catholic truth. (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Instruction Ecclesia Catholica, no. II, December 20, 1949)
In the formation of their consciences, the Christian faithful ought carefully to attend to the sacred and certain doctrine of the Church. For the Church is, by the will of Christ, the teacher of the truth. It is her duty to give utterance to, and authoritatively to teach, that truth which is Christ Himself, and also to declare and confirm by her authority those principles of the moral order which have their origins in human nature itself. (Vatican Council II. Declaration Dignitatis humanae, no. 14, December 7, 1965)
To carry out such a task, the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel. Thus, in language intelligible to each generation, she can respond to the perennial questions which men ask about this present life and the life to come, and about the relationship of the one to the other. (Vatican Council II. Pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes, no. 4, December 7, 1965)
All those dedicated to the ministry of God’s Word must use the ways and means proper to the Gospel which in a great many respects differ from the means proper to the earthly city. […] It is only right, however, that at all times and in all places, the Church should have true freedom to preach the faith, to teach her social doctrine, to exercise her role freely among men, and also to pass moral judgment in those matters which regard public order when the fundamental rights of a person or the salvation of souls require it. In this, she should make use of all the means – but only those – which accord with the Gospel and which correspond to the general good according to the diversity of times and circumstances. While faithfully adhering to the Gospel and fulfilling her mission to the world, the Church, whose duty it is to foster and elevate all that is found to be true, good and beautiful in the human community, strengthens peace among men for the glory of God. (Vatican Council II. Pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes, no. 76)
Disordered by the stain of the first sin, and almost forgetful of God, its Author, it improperly turns every affection to a love of vanity and deceit. This erring will, blinded by its own evil desires, has need therefore of a guide to lead it back to the paths of justice whence it has so unfortunately strayed. The intellect itself is this guide, which need not be sought elsewhere, but is provided by nature itself. It is a guide, though, that, if it lack its companion light, the knowledge of divine things, will be only an instance of the blind leading the blind so that both will fall into the pit. […] The truly remarkable dignity of man as the son of the heavenly Father, in Whose image he is formed, and with Whom he is destined to live in eternal happiness, is also revealed only by the doctrine of Jesus Christ. […] We do maintain that the will cannot be upright nor the conduct good when the mind is shrouded in the darkness of crass ignorance. A man who walks with open eyes may, indeed, turn aside from the right path, but a blind man is in much more imminent danger of wandering away. (Pius X. Encyclical Acerbo nimis, no. 3–5, April 15, 1905)
The Church, to which Christ the Lord has entrusted the deposit of faith so that with the assistance of the Holy Spirit it might protect the revealed truth reverently, examine it more closely, and proclaim and expound it faithfully, has the duty and innate right, independent of any human power whatsoever, to preach the gospel to all peoples, also using the means of social communication proper to it. It belongs to the Church always and everywhere to announce moral principles, even about the social order, and to render judgment concerning any human affairs insofar as the fundamental rights of the human person or the salvation of souls requires it. (Code of Canon Law, can. 747, § 1–2)
Against this doctrine, which had never been refuted throughout the centuries, there now arise difficulties and objections that must be clarified. […] The first step, or rather, the first blow against the edifice of moral Christian norms would be the separating them – as is intended – from the constricted and oppressing vigilance of the authority of the Church. […] The “new morality” affirms that the Church, instead of fomenting the law of human liberty and love, insisting on it as a worthy dynamic of the life of morality, rather bases itself, on the contrary, almost exclusively and with excessive rigidity, on the firmness and the intransigence of moral Christian laws, frequently resorting to the terms ‘you are obliged’, ‘it is not licit’, which has too much of an air of a degrading pedantry. In reality: The Church desires, on the contrary – and it manifests this clearly in the formation of consciences – that the Christian be introduced to the infinite richness of the faith and grace in a persuasive manner, in such a way that they feel inclined to penetrate them profoundly. But the Church may not abstain from warning the faithful that these riches may not be acquired nor conserved if not at the cost of concrete moral obligations. (Pius XII. Radio message La famiglia, on the occasion of the celebration of ‘Family Day’, March 23, 1952)
But on the other hand, [the Church] as the ‘Pillar and Ground of Truth’ (1Tim 3:15) and guardian, by the will of God and the mandate of Christ, of the natural and supernatural order, the Church cannot renounce her right to proclaim to her sons and to the whole world the unchanging basic laws, saving them from every perversion, frustration, corruption, false interpretation and error. This is all the more necessary for the fact that from the exact maintenance of these laws, and not merely by the effort of noble and courageous wills, depends in the last analysis the solidity of any national and international order, so fervently desired by all peoples. (Pius XII. Radio message Con sempre nuova freschezza, Christmas, December 24, 1942)
Have the certainty – and instill it in those who doubt – that the Church, depositary of a message of salvation for all, the message that Christ the Lord confided to her, desires to offer her services with a lively understanding of the conditions of your situation, of your problems, so as to indicate to you the sure way to be followed in order to find a peaceful solution in Christ: ‘The way, the truth and the life’ (Jn 14:6), distancing yourselves from deceitful illusions with which the false doctrines and the destroyers of upright human and social life could dazzle you. (Paul VI. Message to the people of the Dominican Republic, June 17, 1965)
In obedience to the truth which is Christ, whose image is reflected in the nature and dignity of the human person, the Church interprets the moral norm and proposes it to all people of good will, without concealing its demands of radicalness and perfection. (John Paul II. Encyclical Familiaris consortio, no. 33, November 22, 1981)
The relativism and irenicism prevalent today in the area of religion are not valid reasons for failing to respond to the difficult, but awe-inspiring commitment which belongs to the nature of the Church herself and is indeed the Church’s “primary task”. “Caritas Christi urget nos – the love of Christ impels us” (2Cor 5:14): the lives of innumerable Catholics bear witness to this truth. Throughout the entire history of the Church, people motivated by the love of Jesus have undertaken initiatives and works of every kind in order to proclaim the Gospel to the entire world and in all sectors of society, as a perennial reminder and invitation to every Christian generation to fulfill with generosity the mandate of Christ. Therefore, as Pope Benedict XVI recalls, “the proclamation of and witness to the Gospel are the first service that Christians can render to every person and to the entire human race, called as they are to communicate to all God’s love, which was fully manifested in Jesus Christ, the one Redeemer of the world”. (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Doctrinal Note on some aspects of evangelization, no. 13, December 3, 2007)
Amidst all the aberrations of human thought, infatuated by a false emancipation from every law and curb; and amidst the awful corruptions of human malice, the Church rises up like a bright lighthouse warning by the clearness of its beam every deviation to right or left from the way of truth, and pointing out to one and all the right course that they should follow. Woe if ever this beacon should be – We do not say extinguished, for that is impossible owing to the unfailing promises on which it is founded – but if it should be hindered from shedding far and wide its beneficent light! We see already with Our own eyes whither the world has been brought by its arrogant rejection of divine revelation, and its pursuit of false philosophical and moral theories that bear the specious name of “science.” That it has not fallen still lower down the slope of error and vice is due to the guidance of the light of Christian truth that always shines in the world. (Pius XI. Encyclical Ad catholici sacerdotii, no. 19, December 20, 1935)
You, in virtue of your Episcopal office, are authentic testimonies of the Gospel and teachers […] of the Truth contained in the Revelation, of which your magisterium is nourished and should always be nourished. To be able to face the challenges of the present, it is necessary that the Church appear, at all levels, as the ‘the pillar and foundation of truth’ (1Tim 3:15). The service of the Truth, which is Christ, is our most important task. This Truth is revealed. It is not born of a merely human experience. It is God Himself, who in Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, makes himself known to man. Consequently, this service of the revealed Truth should be born of study and contemplation, and should grow through this continuous exploration. Our firmness will come from this solid foundation, since the Church today, despite all of the difficulties that surround it, cannot speak in a way different from that which Christ spoke. (John Paul II. Address to the bishops from Chile on their ad limina visit Apostolorum, no. 2, November 8, 1984)
In every age, men and women need to hear Christ the Good Shepherd calling them to faith and conversion of life (cf. Mk 1:15). As shepherds of souls, you must be Christ’s voice today, encouraging your people to rediscover ‘the beauty of truth, the liberating force of God’s love, and the value of unconditional fidelity to all the demands of the Lord’s law, even in the most difficult situations’. (John Paul II. Address to the bishops of the United States on their ad limina visit, no. 1, June 27, 1998)
The mission of the Bishop of Rome within the College of all the Pastors consists precisely in “keeping watch” (episkopein), like a sentinel, so that, through the efforts of the Pastors, the true voice of Christ the Shepherd may be heard in all the particular Churches. In this way, in each of the particular Churches entrusted to those Pastors, the una, sancta, catholica et apostolica Ecclesia is made present. (John Paul II. Encyclical Ut unum sint, no. 94, May 25, 1995)
Our Apostolic Mandate requires from Us that We watch over the purity of the Faith and the integrity of Catholic discipline. It requires from Us that We protect the faithful from evil and error; especially so when evil and error are presented in dynamic language which, concealing vague notions and ambiguous expressions with emotional and high-sounding words, is likely to set ablaze the hearts of men in pursuit of ideals which, whilst attractive, are nonetheless nefarious. (Pius X. Encyclical Notre charge apostolique, no. 1, August 23, 1910)
It is our common duty, and even before that our common grace, as Pastors and Bishops of the Church, to teach the faithful the things which lead them to God, just as the Lord Jesus did with the young man in the Gospel. Replying to the question: “What good must I do to have eternal life?”, Jesus referred the young man to God, the Lord of creation and of the Covenant. He reminded him of the moral commandments already revealed in the Old Testament and he indicated their spirit and deepest meaning by inviting the young man to follow him in poverty, humility and love: “Come, follow me! “. The truth of this teaching was sealed on the Cross in the Blood of Christ: in the Holy Spirit, it has become the new law of the Church and of every Christian. This “answer” to the question about morality has been entrusted by Jesus Christ in a particular way to us, the Pastors of the Church; we have been called to make it the object of our preaching, in the fulfilment of our munus propheticum. At the same time, our responsibility as Pastors with regard to Christian moral teaching must also be exercised as part of the munus sacerdotale: this happens when we dispense to the faithful the gifts of grace and sanctification as an effective means for obeying God’s holy law, and when with our constant and confident prayers we support believers in their efforts to be faithful to the demands of the faith and to live in accordance with the Gospel (cf. Col 1:9–12). Especially today, Christian moral teaching must be one of the chief areas in which we exercise our pastoral vigilance, in carrying out our munus regale. (John Paul II. Encyclical Veritatis splendor, no. 114, August 6, 1993)
Master of the faith, the bishop promotes whatever is good and positive in the flock entrusted to him, sustains and guides those weak in faith (Rom 14,1), intervenes to unmask falsehoods and combat abuses. It is important that the bishop be aware of the challenges that faith in Christ has to face today on account of the mentality based on human criteria, that at times relativises the Law and the Plan of God. Above all, he must have the courage to announce and defend sound doctrine, even when it entails suffering. In fact, the bishop, in communion with the apostolic college and with the Successor of Peter, has the duty of protecting the faithful from any kind of temptation, showing in a wholehearted return to the Gospel of Christ the true solution for the complicated problems that burden humanity. (John Paul II. Homily for the conclusion of the Synod of Bishops, no. 4, October 27, 2001)
For bishops are preachers of the faith, who lead new disciples to Christ, and they are authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach to the people committed to them the faith they must believe and put into practice, and by the light of the Holy Spirit illustrate that faith. They bring forth from the treasury of Revelation new things and old (cf. Mt. 13:52), making it bear fruit and vigilantly warding off any errors that threaten their flock (cf. 2 Tim. 4:1–4). (Vatican Council II. Dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium, no. 25, November 21, 1964)
The minds of men must be illuminated with the sure light of Catholic teaching, and their wills must be drawn to follow and apply it as the norm of right living in the conscientious fulfillment of their manifold social duties. Thus they will oppose that incoherence and discontinuity in Christian life which We have many times lamented. (Pius XI. Encyclical Divini Redemptoris, no. 5, March 19, 1937)
II – What is the limit between obedience to the Magisterium and adapted pastoral interpretations? To what point is obedience required, and in what matters are innovations appropriate?
However, we must also recognize that the risk of a false irenism and of indifferentism – totally foreign to the thinking of the Second Vatican Council – demands our vigilance. This indifferentism is caused by the increasingly widespread opinion that truth is not accessible to man; hence it is necessary to limit oneself to finding rules for a praxis that can better the world. And like this, faith becomes substituted by a moralism without deep foundations. (Benedict XVI. Address to the participants in the plenary meeting of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, January 27, 2012)
Lamentably, these advocates of novelty […] This Magisterium is represented by them as a hindrance to progress and an obstacle in the way of science; and by some non-Catholics it is considered as an unjust restraint with which some more qualified theologians are refrained from reforming their science. (Pius XII. Encyclical Humani generis, no. 12, August 12, 1950)
We must strengthen these convictions in ourselves if we are also to avoid another danger which the desire for reform can produce, not so much in us pastors, who are restrained by the proper awareness of our sacred duty, as in many of the faithful, who think that the reform of the Church should consist principally in adapting its way of thinking and acting to the customs and temper of the modern secular world. […] Hence, those who are not deeply rooted in the faith and in the observance of the Church’s laws, readily imagine that the time is ripe to adjust themselves to worldly standards of living, on the assumption that these are the best and only possible ones for a Christian to adopt. This craving for uniformity is observable even in the realm of philosophy (it is extraordinary how much weight is attached to fashion in a province where the mind ought to be free and independent, anxious only to arrive at the truth, and bowing to the authority of none but proved masters). It is observable also in the realm of ethics, making it more and more perplexing and difficult to define moral rectitude and the right conduct of life. In addition we are confronted with the doctrine of Naturalism, which attempts to undermine the fundamental conception of Christianity. Relativism, too, seeks to justify everything, and treats all things as of equal value. It assails the absolute character of Christian principles. We are also confronted with the growing tendency to prune away from the Christian life everything that requires effort or causes inconvenience. It rejects as vain and futile the practice of Christian asceticism and the contemplation of the things of God. Indeed, sometimes even the apostolic desire for a ready passport into secular society and the determination to make oneself acceptable to men and particularly to the youth of today, prompts certain people to lay aside the principles which characterize our faith and to reject the sort of dignity which gives meaning and force to our determination to make contact with others and makes our teaching effective. Is it not, perhaps, true that some of the younger clergy and religious, in their laudable endeavor to come closer to the masses and to particular groups, aim at becoming like them rather than different from them? By this worthless imitation they forfeit the real value and effectiveness of their endeavors. (Paul VI. Encyclical Eclesiam suam, no. 48–49, August 6, 1964)
Let what you heard from the beginning remain in you. If what you heard from the beginning remains in you, then you will remain in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that he made us: eternal life. I write you these things about those who would deceive you. As for you, the anointing that you received from him remains in you, so that you do not need anyone to teach you. But his anointing teaches you about everything and is true and not false; just as it taught you, remain in him. (1 Jn 2, 24–27)
Equal diligence and severity are to be used in examining and selecting candidates for Holy Orders. Far, far from the clergy be the love of novelty! God hates the proud and the obstinate. (Pius X. Encyclical Pascendi Dominici gregis, no. 49, September 8, 1907)
You are already aware that among priests, especially those less equipped with doctrine and of less strict lives, a certain spirit of novelty is being diffused in an ever graver and more disturbing manner. Novelty is never in itself a criterion of truth and it can be worthy of praise only when it confirms the truth and leads to righteousness and virtue. (Pius XII. Apostolic exhortation Menti nostrae, no. 116–117, September 23, 1950)
For, in giving us, as He did, His Son, which is His Word – and He has no other – He spake to usually together, once and for all, in this single Word, and He has no occasion to speak further. […] And this is as though he had said: That which God spake of old in the prophets to our fathers, in sundry ways and divers manners, He has now, at last, in these days, spoken to us once and for all in the Son. Herein the Apostle declares that God has become, as it were, dumb, and has no more to say, since that which He spake aforetime, in part to the prophets, He has now spoken altogether in Him, giving us the All, which is His Son. Wherefore he that would now enquire of God, or seek any vision or revelation, would not only be acting foolishly, but would be committing an offence against God, by setting his eyes altogether upon Christ, and seeking no new thing or aught beside. (Saint John of the Cross. Ascent of Mount Carmel, II, 22, 3.4–5)
‘Profane novelties of words’. What words are these? Such as have nothing sacred, nothing religious, words utterly remote from the inmost sanctuary of the Church which is the temple of God. Profane novelties of words, that is, of doctrines, subjects, opinions, such as are contrary to antiquity and the faith of the olden time. Which if they be received, it follows necessarily that the faith of the blessed fathers is violated either in whole, or at all events in great part; it follows necessarily that all the faithful of all ages, all the saints, the chaste, the continent, the virgins, all the clergy, Deacons and Priests, so many thousands of Confessors, so vast an army of martyrs, such multitudes of cities and of peoples, so many islands, provinces, kings, tribes, kingdoms, nations, in a word, almost the whole earth, incorporated in Christ the Head, through the Catholic faith, have been ignorant for so long a tract of time, have been mistaken, have blasphemed, have not known what to believe, what to confess. ‘Shun profane novelties of words’, which to receive and follow was never the part of Catholics; of heretics always was. (Saint Vincent of Lerins. Commonitory for the Antiquity and Universality of the Catholic Faith, 24)
But some one will say, perhaps, “shall there, then, be no progress in Christ’s Church?” Certainly; all possible progress. For what being is there, so envious of men, so full of hatred to God, who would seek to forbid it? Yet on condition that it be real progress, not alteration of the faith. For progress requires that the subject be enlarged n itself, alteration, that it be transformed into something else. The intelligence, then, the knowledge, the wisdom, as well of individuals as of all, as well of one man as of the whole Church, ought, in the course of ages and centuries, to increase and make much and vigorous progress; but yet only in its own kind; that is to say, in the same doctrine, in the same sense, and in the same meaning. The growth of religion in the soul must be analogous to the growth of the body, which, though in process of years it is developed and attains its full size, yet remains still the same. There is a wide difference between the flower of youth and the maturity of age; yet they who were once young are still the same now that they have become old, insomuch that though the stature and outward form of the individual are changed, yet his nature is one and the same, his person is one and the same. […] In like manner, it behooves Christian doctrine to follow the same laws of progress, so as to be consolidated by years, enlarged by time, refined by age, and yet, withal, to continue uncorrupt and unadulterate, complete and perfect in all the measurement of its parts, and, so to speak, in all its proper members and senses, admitting no change, no waste of its distinctive property, no variation in its limits. (Saint Vincent of Lerins. Commonitory for the Antiquity and Universality of the Catholic Faith, 23)
We desire that Catholics should shrink, not merely from the errors of modernism, but also from the tendencies of what is called the spirit of modernism. Those who are infected by that spirit develop a keen dislike for all that savors of antiquity and become eager searchers after novelties in everything: in the way in which they carry out religious functions, in the ruling of Catholic institutions, and even in private exercises of piety. Therefore it is Our will that the law of our forefathers should still be held sacred: “Let there be no innovation; keep to what has been handed down.” In matters of faith that must be inviolably adhered to as the law; it may however also serve as a guide even in matters subject to change, but even in such cases the rule would hold: “Old things, but in a new way.” (Denzinger-Hünermann 3626. Benedict XV. Encyclial Ad beatissimi Apostolorum, November 1, 1914)
The office divinely committed to Us of feeding the Lord’s flock has especially this duty assigned to it by Christ, namely, to guard with the greatest vigilance the deposit of the faith delivered to the saints, rejecting the profane novelties of words and oppositions of knowledge falsely so called. There has never been a time when this watchfulness of the supreme pastor was not necessary to the Catholic body; for, owing to the efforts of the enemy of the human race, there have never been lacking “men speaking perverse things” (Acts 20:30), “vain talkers and seducers” (Tit. 1:10), “erring and driving into error” (2 Tim. 3:13) […] Blind that they are, and leaders of the blind, inflated with a boastful science, they have reached that pitch of folly where they pervert the eternal concept of truth and the true nature of the religious sentiment; with that new system of theirs they are seen to be under the sway of a blind and unchecked passion for novelty, thinking not at all of finding some solid foundation of truth, but despising the holy and apostolic traditions, they embrace other vain, futile, uncertain doctrines, condemned by the Church, on which, in the height of their vanity, they think they can rest and maintain truth itself. […] But for Catholics the second Council of Nicea will always have the force of law, where it condemns those who dare, after the impious fashion of heretics, to deride the ecclesiastical traditions, to invent novelties of some kind . . . or endeavour by malice or craft to overthrow any one of the legitimate traditions of the Catholic Church (Pius X. Encyclical Pascendi Dominici gregis, no. 1.11.42, September 8, 1907)
First We must lay down a few rules to guide us in the work of reform. Obviously, there can be no question of reforming the essential nature of the Church or its basic and necessary structure. To use the word reform in that context would be to misuse it completely. […] In this context, therefore, when we speak about reform we are not concerned to change things, but to preserve all the more resolutely the characteristic features which Christ has impressed on His Church. Or rather, we are concerned to restore to the Church that ideal of perfection and beauty that corresponds to its original image, and that is at the same time consistent with its necessary, normal and legitimate growth from its original, embryonic form into its present structure. No […] Nor should one conceive the desire of renewing the whole structure of the Church just by taking account of the special spiritual gifts (charism) of some of its members. Some imagine that the only genuine renewal of the Church is one which is born from the ideas of a few, admittedly zealous, people who not infrequently consider themselves divinely inspired. Their vain dreams of the wrong sort of renewal could easily defile the very shape which the Church ought to have. (Paul VI. Encyclical Ecclesiam suam, no 46.47, August 6, 1964)
To what extent should the Church adapt itself to the historical and local circumstances in which it has to exercise its mission? How is it to guard against the danger of relativism which would make it untrue to its own dogmas and moral principles? And yet how can it fit itself to approach all men and bring salvation to all, becoming on the example of the Apostle Paul “all things to all men,” that all may be saved? […] But the danger remains. Indeed, the worker in the apostolate is under constant fire. The desire to come together as brothers must not lead to a watering down or whittling away of truth. Our dialogue must not weaken our attachment to our faith. Our apostolate must not make vague compromises concerning the principles which regulate and govern the profession of the Christian faith both in theory and in practice. An immoderate desire to make peace and sink differences at all costs (irenism and syncretism) is ultimately nothing more than skepticism about the power and content of the Word of God which we desire to preach. The effective apostle is the man who is completely faithful to Christ’s teaching. He alone can remain unaffected by the errors of the world around him, the man who lives his Christian life to the full. (Paul VI. Encyclical Ecclesiam suam, no 87–88, August 6, 1964)
Shall We suffer, what would indeed be iniquitous, the truth, and a truth divinely revealed, to be made a subject for compromise? For here there is question of defending revealed truth. Jesus Christ sent His Apostles into the whole world in order that they might permeate all nations with the Gospel faith, and, lest they should err, He willed beforehand that they should be taught by the Holy Ghost (cf. Jn 16:13): has then this doctrine of the Apostles completely vanished away, or sometimes been obscured, in the Church, whose ruler and defense is God Himself? If our Redeemer plainly said that His Gospel was to continue not only during the times of the Apostles, but also till future ages, is it possible that the object of faith should in the process of time become so obscure and uncertain, that it would be necessary today to tolerate opinions which are even incompatible one with another? If this were true, we should have to confess that the coming of the Holy Ghost on the Apostles, and the perpetual indwelling of the same Spirit in the Church, and the very preaching of Jesus Christ, have several centuries ago, lost all their efficacy and use, to affirm which would be blasphemy. (Pius XI. Encyclical Moralium animos, no 8, January 6, 1928)
What is “Keep the deposit”? “Keep it,” because of thieves, because of adversaries, lest, while men sleep, they sow tares over that good wheat which the Son of Man had sown in his field. “Keep the deposit.” What is “The deposit”? That which has been entrusted to you, not that which you have yourself devised: a matter not of wit, but of learning; not of private adoption, but of public tradition; a matter brought to you, not put forth by you, wherein you are bound to be not an author but a keeper, not a teacher but a disciple, not a leader but a follower. “Keep the deposit.” Preserve the talent of Catholic Faith inviolate, unadulterate. That which has been entrusted to you, let it continue in your possession, let it be handed on by you. You have received gold; give gold in turn. Do not substitute one thing for another. Do not for gold impudently substitute lead or brass. Give real gold, not counterfeit. (Saint Vincent of Lerins. Commonitory for the Antiquity and Universality of the Catholic Faith, 22)
You see clearly, Venerable Brethren, how mistaken are those who think they are doing service to the Church, and producing fruit for the salvation of souls, when by a kind of prudence of the flesh […] under the fatal illusion that they are thus able more easily to win over those in error, but really with the continual danger of being themselves lost. The truth is one, and it cannot be halved; it lasts forever, and is not subject to the vicissitudes of the times. “Jesus Christ, today and yesterday, and the same forever” (Heb 13:8). (Pius X. Encyclical Iucunda sane, no. 25, March 12, 1904)
The underlying principle of these new opinions is that, in order to more easily attract those who differ from her, the Church should shape her teachings more in accord with the spirit of the age and relax some of her ancient severity and make some concessions to new opinions. Many think that these concessions should be made not only in regard to ways of living, but even in regard to doctrines which belong to the deposit of the faith. They contend that it would be opportune, in order to gain those who differ from us, to omit certain points of her teaching which are of lesser importance, and to tone down the meaning which the Church has always attached to them. […] Such a policy would tend rather to separate Catholics from the Church than to bring in those who differ. There is nothing closer to our heart than to have those who are separated from the fold of Christ return to it, but in no other way than the way pointed out by Christ. […] History proves clearly that the Apostolic See, to which has been entrusted the mission not only of teaching but of governing the whole Church, has continued “in one and the same doctrine, one and the same sense, and one and the same judgment” (Const. de fide, ch. 4) […] In this matter the Church must be the judge, not private men who are often deceived by the appearance of right. (Leo XIII. Encyclical Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae to Cardinal James Gibbons, January 22, 1899)
Such an exhortation seems to us to be of capital importance, for the presentation of the Gospel message is not an optional contribution for the Church. It is the duty incumbent on her by the command of the Lord Jesus, so that people can believe and be saved. This message is indeed necessary. It is unique. It cannot be replaced. It does not permit either indifference, syncretism or accommodation. It is a question of people’s salvation. It is the beauty of the Revelation that it represents. It brings with it a wisdom that is not of this world. It is able to stir up by itself faith – faith that rests on the power of God. It is truth. It merits having the apostle consecrate to it all his time and all his energies, and to sacrifice for it, if necessary, his own life. (Paul VI. Apostolic exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi, no. 5, December 8, 1975)
Every day new sects spring up, and what St Paul says about human deception and the trickery that strives to entice people into error (cf. Eph 4: 14) comes true. Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be “tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine”, seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires. (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Homily of the Mass Pro eligendo Pontifice, April 18, 2005)
This is important; the Apostle did not preach an “à la carte” Christianity to suit his own inclinations, he did not preach a Gospel to suit his own favourite theological ideas; he did not shrink from the commitment to proclaiming the whole of God’s will, even an inconvenient will and even topics of which he was personally not so enamoured. It is our mission to proclaim the whole of God’s will, in its totality and ultimate simplicity. But it is important that we teach and preach – as Saint Paul says here – and really propose the will of God in its entirety. (Benedict XVI. Lectio Divina given during meeting with the parish priests of the Rome Diocese, March 10, 2011)
There are two points that I would like to particularly emphasize with respect to the transmission of the faith. First of all that catechesis responds to objective and well determined subject matter. One may not invent the faith according to the circumstances or individual tastes. We must receive it in and from the universal community of faith, the Church, to which Christ himself confided the ministry to teach under the guidance of the Spirit of Truth. (John Paul II. Address to the Hispanic Catholic community of the United States and Canada, no. 4, September 13, 1987)
To use the words of the fathers of Trent, it is certain that the Church “was instructed by Jesus Christ and His Apostles and that all truth was daily taught it by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.” Therefore, it is obviously absurd and injurious to propose a certain “restoration and regeneration” for her as though necessary for her safety and growth, as if she could be considered subject to defect or obscuration or other misfortune. Indeed these authors of novelties consider that a “foundation may be laid of a new human institution,” and what Cyprian detested may come to pass, that what was a divine thing “may become a human church.” (Gregory XVI. Encyclical Mirari vos, no. 6, August 15, 1832)
III – What are ‘inculturated’ solutions? Can local traditions and challenges substitute general principles?
Now, who would make bold to deny that the Church, by spreading the Gospel throughout the nations, has brought the light of truth amongst people utterly savage and steeped in foul superstition, and has quickened them alike to recognize the Divine Author of nature and duly to respect themselves? Further, who will deny that the Church has done away with the curse of slavery and restored men to the original dignity of their noble nature; and – by uplifting the standard of redemption in all quarters of the globe, by introducing, or shielding under her protection, the sciences and arts, by founding and taking into her keeping excellent charitable institutions which provide relief for ills of every kind – has throughout the world, in private or in public life, civilized the human race, freed it from degradation, and with all care trained it to a way of living such as befits the dignity and the hopes of man? And if any one of sound mind compare the age in which We live, so hostile to religion and to the Church of Christ, with those happy times when the Church was revered as a mother by the nations, beyond all question he will see that our epoch is rushing wildly along the straight road to destruction; while in those times which most abounded in excellent institutions, peaceful life, wealth, and prosperity the people showed themselves most obedient to the Church’s rule and laws. (Leo XIII. Encyclical Inscrutabili Dei consilio, no. 3, April 21, 1878)
The tendency of other groups, on the contrary, is to consider certain political aspects as imperative, as a preceding condition for the Church to fulfill her mission. This is to identify the Christian message with an ideology and to submit it to the latter, appealing to a ‘re-reading’ of the Gospel starting out from a political option (cf. John Paul II, Inaugural speech I, 4. AAS 71, p. 190). In reality, it is necessary to reflect on politics starting from the Gospel and not the other way around. (CELAM – III Latin American General Episcopal Conference, Puebla, no. 559, January 28, 1979)
We cannot, however, forget the transcendence of the Gospel in relation to all human cultures in which the Christian faith has the vocation to root itself and come to fruition according to all its potentialities. However great the respect should be for what is true and holy in the cultural heritage of a people, this attitude does not demand that one should lend an absolute character to this cultural heritage. No one can forget that, from the beginning, the Gospel was a “scandal for the Jews and foolishness for the pagans” (1Cor 1:23). Inculturation which borrows the way of dialogue between religions cannot in any way pledge itself to syncretism. (International Theological Commission. Faith and inculturation, no. 14, 1988)
Unfortunately, a worrisome phenomenon of dechristianization is being produced among you. The grave consequences of this change of mentality and customs are not hidden to your pastoral solicitude. The first of them is an ambience “in which economic well-being and consumerism inspires and sustains an existence which is lived out as if there were no God” (Christifideles laici, 34). Frequently, religious indifference is installed in the personal and collective conscience, and, for many, God ceases to be the origin and goal, the meaning and ultimate explanation of life. On the other hand, there are not a few who, with airs of poorly conceived progressivism, seek to identify the Church with inflexible stances of the past. They have no difficulty in tolerating the Church as the remnant of an old culture, but they deem irrelevant its message and word, denying it audience and disqualifying it as a thing already surpassed.
[…] In face of Neopaganism, the Church in Spain, must respond with a renewed witness and a determined evangelizing effort capable of creating a new cultural synthesis, able to transform with the power of the Gospel “the standards of judgment, the determining values, the points of interest, the lines of though, the fonts of inspiration, models of life, of humanity. (John Paul II. Address to the bishops from Spain on their ad limina visit, no.3, September 23, 1991)
The Brothers from Salonika were not only heirs of the faith but also heirs of the culture of Ancient Greece, continued by Byzantium. Everyone knows how important this heritage is for the whole of European culture and, directly or indirectly, for the culture of the entire world. The work of evangelization which they carried out as pioneers in territory inhabited by Slav peoples-contains both a model of what today is called “inculturation” the incarnation of the Gospel in native cultures […] By incarnating the Gospel in the native culture of the peoples which they were evangelizing, Saints Cyril and Methodius were especially meritorious for the formation and development of that same culture, or rather of many cultures. Indeed all the cultures of the Slav nations owe their “beginning” or development to the work of the Brothers from Salonika. (John Paul II. Encyclical Slavorum Apostoli, no 21, June 2, 1985)
The Gospel, and therefore evangelization, are certainly not identical with culture, and they are independent in regard to all cultures. Nevertheless, the kingdom which the Gospel proclaims is lived by men who are profoundly linked to a culture, and the building up of the kingdom cannot avoid borrowing the elements of human culture or cultures. Though independent of cultures, the Gospel and evangelization are not necessarily incompatible with them; rather they are capable of permeating them all without becoming subject to any one of them. The split between the Gospel and culture is without a doubt the drama of our time, just as it was of other times. Therefore every effort must be made to ensure a full evangelization of culture, or more correctly of cultures. They have to be regenerated by an encounter with the Gospel. But this encounter will not take place if the Gospel is not proclaimed. (Paul VI. Apostolic exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi, no. 20, December 8, 1975)
There are many ties between the message of salvation and human culture. For God, revealing Himself to His people to the extent of a full manifestation of Himself in His Incarnate Son, has spoken according to the culture proper to each epoch. Likewise the Church, living in various circumstances in the course of time, has used the discoveries of different cultures so that in her preaching she might spread and explain the message of Christ to all nations, that she might examine it and more deeply understand it, that she might give it better expression in liturgical celebration and in the varied life of the community of the faithful. […] The Gospel of Christ constantly renews the life and culture of fallen man, it combats and removes the errors and evils resulting from the permanent allurement of sin. It never ceases to purify and elevate the morality of peoples. By riches coming from above, it makes fruitful, as it were from within, the spiritual qualities and traditions of every people of every age. It strengthens, perfects and restores them in Christ. Thus the Church, in the very fulfillment of her own function, stimulates and advances human and civic culture; by her action, also by her liturgy, she leads them toward interior liberty. (Vatican Council II. Pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes, no. 58, December 7, 1965)
Christians, on pilgrimage toward the heavenly city, should seek and think of these things which are above. This duty in no way decreases, rather it increases, the importance of their obligation to work with all men in the building of a more human world. Indeed, the mystery of the Christian faith furnishes them with an excellent stimulant and aid to fulfill this duty more courageously and especially to uncover the full meaning of this activity, one which gives to human culture its eminent place in the integral vocation of man. […] Furthermore, when man gives himself to the various disciplines of philosophy, history and of mathematical and natural science, and when he cultivates the arts, he can do very much to elevate the human family to a more sublime understanding of truth, goodness, and beauty, and to the formation of considered opinions which have universal value. Thus mankind may be more clearly enlightened by that marvelous Wisdom which was with God from all eternity, composing all things with him, rejoicing in the earth, delighting in the sons of men. (Vatican Council II. Pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes, no. 57, December 7, 1965)
Deep-rooted faith in God has successfully impregnated, by a multisecular actuation, the concept of life, the standards of personal and social behavior, modes of expression, in a word, the individual culture of each of your regions. And this success is not a mere inheritance from the past, devoid of active virtualities for the present. A great number of the men and women of your lands continue finding, in the faith, the fundamental meaning of their life, and that is why the turn to God in the crucial moments of life. A rich religiosity translates, to the language of the simple, the great Gospel truths and values, incarnates them within the particular idiosyncrasy of your culture, and converts the great Christian symbols into other identifying signs of the collectivity. (John Paul II. Address to the bishops of Spain on their ad limina visit, no.3, September 23, 1991)
In fact, in the vast cultural areas where the majority do belong to the Church, there is a rupture in the handing on of the faith, intimately linked to the process of abandonment of a popular culture long attached to and impregnated by Christianity. It is important to take into consideration the factors that condition this process of distancing, of weakening, and of obscuring the faith in the transforming cultural milieus where Christians dwell, in order to present some concrete pastoral propositions to respond to the challenges of the new evangelisation. For the cultural habitat, where one lives, influences one’s ways of thinking and of behaving, one’s values and criteria of judgement, and it also raises questions at once difficult and decisive. (Pontifical Council for Culture. Concluding document of the Plenary Assembly, Where is Your God? Responding to the challenge of unbelief and religious indifference today, Introduction , no. 1, March 13, 2004)
It is not only necessary to graft the faith into the cultures, but also restore life to a dechristianized world, whose Christian reference points are often of a strictly cultural nature. These new cultural situations all over the world present themselves to the Church, at the threshold of the third millennium, as new fields of evangelization. (Pontifical Council for Culture. Concluding document of the Plenary Assembly, Where is Your God? Responding to the challenge of unbelief and religious indifference today, Introduction , no. 1, March 13, 2004)
IV – On a certain ‘evolution’ and ‘interpretation’: The inspired words of Pius X condemning modernism
This is their conception of the magisterium of the Church: No religious society, they say, can be a real unit unless the religious conscience of its members be one, and one also the formula which they adopt. But his double unity requires a kind of common mind whose office is to find and determine the formula that corresponds best with the common conscience, and it must have moreover an authority sufficient to enable it to impose on the community the formula which has been decided upon. From the combination and, as it were fusion of these two elements, the common mind which draws up the formula and the authority which imposes it, arises, according to the Modernists, the notion of the ecclesiastical magisterium. And as this magisterium springs, in its last analysis, from the individual consciences and possesses its mandate of public utility for their benefit, it follows that the ecclesiastical magisterium must be subordinate to them, and should therefore take democratic forms. To prevent individual consciences from revealing freely and openly the impulses they feel, to hinder criticism from impelling dogmas towards their necessary evolutions – this is not a legitimate use but an abuse of a power given for the public utility. (Pius X. Encyclical Pascendi Dominici gregis, no. 25, September 8, 1907)
First of all they lay down the general principle that in a living religion everything is subject to change, and must change, and in this way they pass to what may be said to be, among the chief of their doctrines, that of Evolution. To the laws of evolution everything is subject – dogma, Church, worship, the Books we revere as sacred, even faith itself, and the penalty of disobedience is death. […] The chief stimulus of evolution in the domain of worship consists in the need of adapting itself to the uses and customs of peoples, as well as the need of availing itself of the value which certain acts have acquired by long usage. Finally, evolution in the Church itself is fed by the need of accommodating itself to historical conditions and of harmonising itself with existing forms of society. (Pius X. Encyclical Pascendi Dominici gregis, no. 26, September 8, 1907)
Hence, studying more closely the ideas of the Modernists, evolution is described as resulting from the conflict of two forces, one of them tending towards progress, the other towards conservation. The conserving force in the Church is tradition, and tradition is represented by religious authority, and this both by right and in fact; for by right it is in the very nature of authority to protect tradition, and, in fact, for authority, raised as it is above the contingencies of life, feels hardly, or not at all, the spurs of progress. The progressive force, on the contrary, which responds to the inner needs lies in the individual consciences and ferments there – especially in such of them as are in most intimate contact with life. […] Now it is by a species of compromise between the forces of conservation and of progress, that is to say between authority and individual consciences, that changes and advances take place. The individual consciences of some of them act on the collective conscience, which brings pressure to bear on the depositaries of authority, until the latter consent to a compromise, and, the pact being made, authority sees to its maintenance. With all this in mind, one understands how it is that the Modernists express astonishment when they are reprimanded or punished. What is imputed to them as a fault they regard as a sacred duty. Being in intimate contact with consciences they know better than anybody else, and certainly better than the ecclesiastical authority, what needs exist – nay, they embody them, so to speak, in themselves. (Pius X. Encyclical Pascendi Dominici gregis, no. 27, September 8, 1907)
For the Modernists, both as authors and propagandists, there is to be nothing stable, nothing immutable in the Church. Nor indeed are they without precursors in their doctrines, for it was of these that Our Predecessor Pius IX wrote: “These enemies of divine revelation extol human progress to the skies, and with rash and sacrilegious daring would have it introduced into the Catholic religion as if this religion were not the work of God but of man, or some kind of philosophical discovery susceptible of perfection by human efforts.” […] we find it condemned in the Syllabus of Pius IX., where it is enunciated in these terms: “Divine revelation is imperfect, and therefore subject to continual and indefinite progress, corresponding with the progress of human reason; and condemned still more solemnly in the Vatican Council: The doctrine of the faith which God has revealed has not been proposed to human intelligences to be perfected by them as if it were a philosophical system, but as a divine deposit entrusted to the Spouse of Christ to be faithfully guarded and infallibly interpreted. Hence the sense, too, of the sacred dogmas is that which our Holy Mother the Church has once declared, nor is this sense ever to be abandoned on plea or pretext of a more profound comprehension of the truth. Nor is the development of our knowledge, even concerning the faith, impeded by this pronouncement – on the contrary it is aided and promoted. For the same Council continues: Let intelligence and science and wisdom, therefore, increase and progress abundantly and vigorously in individuals and in the mass, in the believer and in the whole Church, throughout the ages and the centuries – but only in its own kind, that is, according to the same dogma, the same sense, the same acceptation.” (Pius X. Encyclical Pascendi Dominici gregis, no. 28, September 8, 1907)
With regard to this historical condition, it must first be observed that the meaning of the pronouncements of faith depends partly upon the expressive power of the language used at a certain point in time and in particular circumstances. Moreover, it sometimes happens that some dogmatic truth is first expressed incompletely (but not falsely), and at a later date, when considered in a broader context of faith or human knowledge, it receives a fuller and more perfect expression. In addition, when the Church makes new pronouncements she intends to confirm or clarify what is in some way contained in Sacred Scripture or in previous expressions of Tradition; but at the same time she usually has the intention of solving certain questions or removing certain errors. All these things have to be taken into account in order that these pronouncements may be properly interpreted. Finally, even though the truths which the Church intends to teach through her dogmatic formulas are distinct from the changeable conceptions of a given epoch and can be expressed without them, nevertheless it can sometimes happen that these truths may be enunciated by the Sacred Magisterium in terms that bear traces of such conceptions. (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Declaration in defense of the Catholic doctrine on the Church against certain errors of the present day, Mysterium Ecclesiae, no. 5, June 24, 1973, Acta Apostolicae Sedis an. 65 (1973), pp. 396–408. Ratified and confirmed by Pope Paul VI, May 11, 1973)
In view of the above, it must be stated that the dogmatic formulas of the Church’s Magisterium were from the beginning suitable for communicating revealed truth, and that as they are they remain forever suitable for communicating this truth to those who interpret them correctly (cf. Pius IX, Brief Eximiam Tuam; Paul VI, Encyclical Letter, Mysterium Fidei, and L’Oriente cristiano nella luce di immortali Concilii, in Insegnamenti di Paolo VI, vol. 5). It does not however follow that every one of these formulas has always been or will always be so to the same extent. For this reason theologians seek to define exactly the intention of teaching proper to the various formulas, and in carrying out this work they are of considerable assistance to the living Magisterium of the Church, to which they remain subordinated. For this reason also it often happens that ancient dogmatic formulas and others closely connected with them remain living and fruitful in the habitual usage of the Church, but with suitable expository and explanatory additions that maintain and clarify their original meaning. In addition, it has sometimes happened that in this habitual usage of the Church certain of these formulas gave way to new expressions which, proposed and approved by the Sacred Magisterium, presented more clearly or more completely the same meaning. (Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Declaration in defense of the Catholic doctrine on the Church against certain errors of the present day, Mysterium Ecclesiae, no. 5, June 24, 1973, Acta Apostolicae Sedis an. 65 (1973), pp. 396–408. Ratified and confirmed by Pope Paul VI, May 11, 1973)
As for the meaning of dogmatic formulas, this remains ever true and constant in the Church, even when it is expressed with greater clarity or more developed. The faithful therefore must shun the opinion, first, that dogmatic formulas (or some category of them) cannot signify truth in a determinate way, but can only offer changeable approximations to it, which to a certain extent distort of alter it; secondly, that these formulas signify the truth only in an indeterminate way, this truth being like a goal that is constantly being sought by means of such approximations. Those who hold such an opinion do not avoid dogmatic relativism and they corrupt the concept of the Church’s infallibility relative to the truth to be taught or held in a determinate way. Such an opinion clearly is in disagreement with the declarations of the First Vatican Council, which, while fully aware of the progress of the Church in her knowledge of revealed truth, (cf. Vatican Council I: Dei Filius, ch. 4; Conc. Oec. Decr. (3), p. 809 (DS 3020)) nevertheless taught as follows: “That meaning of sacred dogmas…must always be maintained which Holy Mother Church declared once and for all, nor should one ever depart from that meaning under the guise of or in the name of a more advanced understanding.” (Ibid) The Council moreover condemned the opinion that “dogmas once proposed by the Church must, with the progress of science be given a meaning other than that which was understood by the Church, or which she understands” (Ibid., can 3; Conc. Oec. Decr. (3), p. 811 (DS 3043)). There is no doubt that, according to these texts of the Council, the meaning of dogmas which is declared by the Church is determinate and unalterable. Such an opinion is likewise in contrast with Pope John’s assertion regarding Christian doctrine at the opening of the Second Vatican Council: “This certain and unchangeable doctrine, to which faithful obedience is due, has to be explored and presented in a way that is demanded by our times. One thing is the deposit of faith, which consists of the truths contained in sacred doctrine, another thing is the manner of presentation, always however with the same meaning and signification” (John XXIII, Alloc. in Concilii Vaticani inauguratione, Gaudium et spes, 62). Since the Successor of Peter is here speaking about certain and unchangeable Christian doctrine, about the deposit of faith which is the same as the truths contained in that doctrine and about the truths which have to be preserved with the same meaning, it is clear that he admits that we can know the true and unchanging meaning of dogmas. What is new and what he recommends in view of the needs of the times pertains only to the modes of studying, expounding and presenting that doctrine while keeping its permanent meaning. In a similar way the Supreme Pontiff Paul VI exhorted the pastors of the Church in the following words: “Nowadays a serious effort is required of us to ensure that the teaching of the faith should keep the fullness of its meaning and force, while expressing itself in a form which allows it to reach the spirit and heart of the people to whom it is addressed” (Paul VI. Quinque iam anni). (Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Declaration in defense of the Catholic doctrine on the Church against certain errors of the present day, Mysterium Ecclesiae, no. 5, June 24, 1973, Acta Apostolicae Sedis an. 65 (1973), pp. 396–408. Ratified and confirmed by Pope Paul VI, May 11, 1973)