Vatican II is a home game

Over a decade ago I took a course from Scott Hahn where he posed an elaborate question about responding to a Protestant interpretation of a passage from Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Students offered rebuttals based on the Letter of James and other teachings from Scripture and Tradition. Finally Dr. Hahn interrupted, saying, “Wait a minute! Romans is a ‘home game’ for Catholics.” He emphasized that Romans is not a “Protestant” book that needs to be countered with a “Catholic” book like James; he wanted our class to understand Romans and claim it as our own.

We have to understand that a similar dynamic is at work when it comes to dissident Catholics and Vatican II. In books such as Rome Has Spoken (Maureen Fiedler and Linda Rabben, eds.), we hear about the rigid, out-of-touch teaching of the pre-Vatican II Church. Vatican II came along and modernized–that is, changed–the Church’s position. Now we’re enduring consecutive pontificates that have forsaken Vatican II’s reforms and have retrenched in the old view.

The assumption on the dissidents’ part is that Vatican II is on their side. We have to realize that Vatican II, as a legitimate ecumenical council of the Church, is a “home game” for us. Rather than work around Vatican II, and thus play into the dissidents’ strategy of pitting Vatican II against older tradition or the current papacy, we must learn what Vatican II really taught–without all the spin or the well-documented misadventures in implementation–and actually use the Vatican II documents to our advantage. We’ll discover that Vatican II affirms teachings such as priestly celibacy, the inerrancy of Scripture, papal authority, and the need for moral conscience to be formed in accordance with Church teaching.

The foregoing is an excerpt from an article I wrote for the November 2002 issue of This Rock entitled “The Grammar of Dissent.” That article has been adapted as a “Faith Fact.” To view our list of over 200 downloadable Faith Facts, visit

5 responses

  1. Thanks, Leon. Vatican II is a home game! Our apostolate Recapturing Our Catholic Patrimony is about the very thing you’re talking about. We seek to help people truly understand Vatican II “in continuity.”

    As for Romans and James, we just finished a study of James’ epistle, and we’ll be looking at Romans – another Catholic epistle – this coming year in preparation for the Pauline year!

    We need to take back Vatican II for what it truly is! God bless.

  2. You stated in this artical that Vatican II is an ecumenical council. My friend (Eastern Catholic) were discussing what the mondern idea of what the “ecumenical council” included. We know that in the beginning it was ment for ALL the bishops comming together. However, now it is considered ecumenical if all of the churches still in communion with Rome attend? I hope my question is clear…

  3. PJP, thanks for this post and for letting me know about your apostolate. Certainly this “hermeneutic of continuity” regarding Vatican II is near and dear to Pope Benedict’s heart.

    As for the epistles, I think it’s a great idea for Catholics to really study St. Paul’s letters during this “Year of St. Paul.” I think Catholics tend to know the Gospels well from hearing them over and over at Mass, but can be intimidated by St. Paul. So, both for our own spiritual enrichment as well as for the anticipated evangelistic and ecumenical fruits, I say “go for it!”

    Dusty, canon 339 of the Code of Canon Law provides that “it is the right and duty of all and only the bishops who are members of the college of bishops to take part in an ecumenical council with a deliberative vote.” Canon 336 clarifies that the members of the college of bishops are those who not only have become bishops by virtue of sacramental consecration, but who also are in “hierarchical communion.”

    Anglican bishops are not part of the college of bishops because they lack valid sacramental consecration and because they are not in “hierarchical communion” with the head and members of the college. In other words, they’re not Catholic. Orthodox bishops do have valid sacramental consecration, but sadly they are not in hierarchical communion.

    Obviously the Orthodox don’t see it this way, and they reject councils in which they were not allowed to participate, even where they tend to agree with what was decided.

    We hate to use the “s” word (schism), but it wouldn’t make sense for the Church to allow Orthodox bishops to vote at ecumenical councils while they remained in a state of objective separation from the Catholic Church.

    Leaving aside the Orthodox controversy, clearly with Vatican II and the improved means of worldwide travel, ecumenical councils are now able to gather a much greater percentage of the world’s bishops, whereas in the past it was most the European bishops who were able to attend. I hope this answers your question!


  4. Thanks, Leon. I’ll keep you posted about our studies at RCP. Thanks for your blog. I’m a daily reader…if you haven’t figured that one out already. :)

  5. Dear Leon,
    A fine reply to question regarding Vatican II, its ecumenical status and the non-participation of Eastern Orthodox bishops. But with respect to Vatican I, the latter were invited to attend as one can easily read in my book “Eastern Orthodoxy and the See of Peter” where one will find the full text of “Arcano Divinae Providentiae: To All Bishops of Churches of Eastern Rite Not Having Communion with the Apostolic See” (September 8, 1868). Readers will also find the full text of Blessed Pius IX’s earlier appeal for the separated Churches to restore their Unity with the See of Peter: “In Suprema Petri”, January 6, 1848). It is regrettable that both appeals were met with hostility and false charges of “papal despotism”.
    My Website provides futher Information concerning my three books dealing with Eastern Orthodoxy.

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