Between Reform & Rupture

The Council According to Benedict XVI

The last four popes all participated in the Second Vatican Council (1962–65) either as bishop or peritus (theological adviser), and it is clear that their legacies will be distinctively tied to that epochal event. It may be early to assess Pope Benedict XVI’s approach to the implementation of council teaching, but two Vatican documents promulgated this summer, within days of one another, give cause for concern.

As pope, Benedict has made numerous statements supporting the teaching of Vatican II. At the same time, he has also expressed understandable concerns regarding the proper interpretation of the council. In December 2005, Benedict returned to a topic that had long preoccupied him as a theologian and leading curial official—namely, the appropriate methodology for interpreting council teaching. He identified two different approaches. The first he characterized, and to some extent caricatured, as a “hermeneutics of discontinuity and rupture.” In Benedict’s view, this way of understanding the council mistakenly emphasizes the discontinuity between Catholic tradition and the teaching enunciated by the bishops at Vatican II. Advocates of this perspective, Benedict has argued, presume a radical break from, and even a repudiation of, much of the preconciliar tradition.

The pope rejects this view of the council, advocating instead a “hermeneutics of reform.” This approach focuses less on...

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About the Author

Richard R. Gaillardetz is the Joseph Professor of Catholic Systematic Theology at Boston College. His books include: Keys to the Council:  Unlocking the Teaching of Vatican II (co-authored with Catherine Clifford, Liturgical Press, 2012), When the Magisterium Intervenes (editor, Liturgical Press, 2012), Ecclesiology for a Global Church:  A People Called and Sent (Orbis, 2008) and The Church in the Making (Paulist, 2006).