Dr. John Rao, professor of History at St. John’s University in New York and the author of Black Legends and the Light of the World, has commented on the recent remarks of Cardinal Walter Brandmüller.
His Eminence’s remarks were mentioned in our posting “Conflicting Reports on ‘Nostra Aetate’.” What we did not there draw attention to was the unflattering comparison that Cardinal Brandmüller drew between the SSPX and the Old Catholics, both of which, in his words, “have in common a rejection of the legitimate developments of the doctrine and life of the church” (source), the former for rejecting certain of Vatican II’s unique teachings, the latter for rejecting the dogmatic definition of papal infallibility.
That said, here is an excerpt from Dr. Rao’s brief essay, “Catholic Faith or the Triumph of the Will?”:
Allow me to begin identifying the breathtaking scope of His Eminence’s error by pointing interested readers to the late, great Fr. Hubert Jedin’s masterful work on the Council of Trent, as well as to his general History of the Church.
Here one finds spelled out in formidable detail the Church’s full awareness of the tremendous distinctions between pastoral conciliar teachings (always changeable, sometimes successful, many times quite disastrous and in desperate need of alteration) and dogmatic conciliar pronouncements. So careful is the Church in this regard, that she even makes precise distinctions concerning what is and is not de fide within the body of an authoritative text itself – with the dogmatic statements absolutely binding on all the faithful and the doctrinal explanation demanding but a filial obedience and respect. Nowhere but nowhere does anyone ever find the Church of Christ – infallible and divinely prudent at one and the same time – requiring a sweeping wholehearted acceptance of everything doctrinal, and pastoral (as opposed to dogmatic) that every ecumenical council has proclaimed. Enunciation of such a requirement, were it (per impossibile) somewhere to be found, would provide monumental meat for a future embarrassing ecclesiastical mea culpa - an apology that would, for once, be justified.
From the very moment that Second Vatican Council opted to avoid dogmatic pronouncements and teach on the purely pastoral level, it made it crystal clear that anything binding that it actually did say would be limited to its repetition of past Catholic teachings. So much is this true that the public records of heated conciliar discussions on issues with impact upon dogmatic matter – such as those surrounding the Declaration on Religious Liberty – openly indicate that opponents of new approaches were urged to recognize that they were not being asked to make binding dogmatic statements – merely pastoral ones [emphasis mine —BAM]. A new age of Catholic freedom should certainly have allowed a perennial Catholic liberty to criticize what might prove to be pastorally useless to continue to thrive – for the good of the Church as a whole.