A rejoinder to John Young

A rejoinder to John Young

James Bogle

It is always a pleasure to debate with my good friend, John Young. However, I regret I must again disagree with him.

Contrary to his primary thesis, to assert that the teachings of Vatican II form part of the Ordinary Magisterium means, in the language of theologians, they are not taught infallibly, see Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, 4th ed, p.300; Organs of infallibility in Catholic Encyclopaedia, 1910 ed. Moreover, the descriptors "Extraordinary" and "Ordinary" are not terms used in papal or conciliar definitions but are terms invented by theologians.

If the teachings of a Council are infallible then they are termed "extraordinary", in which case they are clearly not "ordinary". John rightly warns of misusing terminology but risks the same himself.

John writes that an "overwhelming majority" vote for Dignitatis Humanae was enough to guarantee infallibility. Both Dr Mobbs and Fr Harrison disagree. The teaching must also be definitive ( Lumen Gentium, 25) and cannot contradict previous infallible teaching.

To ignore the mountains of ink that have been spilt considering whether Dignitatis Humanae is consistent with traditional infallible teaching on religious liberty is to ignore, and even weaken, previous infallible teaching. One cannot simply appeal to Dignitatis, without reference to earlier infallible teaching, especially as Dignitatis included no definitions at all.

In calling this argument "specious", John risks not only defaming experts like Fr Harrison but undermining the Council's teaching itself.

The Church's Magisterium is a papal monarchy, bound by a God-given constitution, not an episcopal democracy. Nevertheless, John continues to suggest two-thirds of the bishops, with the Pope, to "indicate ... the degree of unanimity" that confers infallible authority.

There is simply no papal or conciliar authority for such a consensus-based notion of infallibility. Papal ratification is what ultimately confirms the infallibility of conciliar definitions, not two-thirds majority voting.

John denies that "agreement over a period of time" is required for the Ordinary Magisterium but infallibility is not merely an exercise in democratically snap-polling the world's bishops at any one time.

Rather it tends to follow the maxim of St Vincent of Lerins - "that which is everywhere, always and by all believed", including the bishops of the past not just those now living.

As Chesterton said, "Tradition means giving a vote to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors".

We must also remind ourselves that it was not just some extremist "they" who called Vatican II a "pastoral" Council, but the Supreme Pontiffs themselves in the form of John XXIII, Paul VI and the present pontiff, Benedict XVI.

Popes and Councils, in the past, used clear, declaratory, definitive language when teaching with full authority. Vatican II deliberately avoided this.

Whatever John may say, there is a perfectly respectable argument that the Council did not, and did not intend to, teach infallibly.

London, UK

James Bogle is a barrister in private practice based in London, is Chairman of the Catholic Union of Great Britain and the author of Heart for Europe , a biography of the Blessed Charles of Austria.

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