All Vatican II's Documents Infallible?

If infallibility only pertains to faith and morals, either directly or indirectly, does this necessarily imply that all Vatican II’s documents are infallible?

How can, e.g., Sacrosantum Concilium, the document changing the mass, be considered infallible? How does that pertain to faith or morals? Maybe to faith indirectly?

How can Nostra Ætate, the document outlining the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions and advocating religious freedom, be considered infallible? Does it relate to faith or morals, directly or indirectly?


The infallible parts of an ecumenical council are the definitions. Prior to Vatican II, definitions could usually be located by finding the term “anathema”. However, Vatican II took a more positive approach, so you need to look for places where the council declares, defines, or teaches. For example, LG 21:

And the Sacred Council teaches that by Episcopal consecration the fullness of the sacrament of Orders is conferred, that fullness of power, namely, which both in the Church’s liturgical practice and in the language of the Fathers of the Church is called the high priesthood, the supreme power of the sacred ministry.(19*)

This settled a millennium long uncertainty as to whether bishops were a different/higher grade of Holy Orders than priests, or if it was just another office like Monsignor.

I have quoted Pope Paul VI where he gives his personal denial that Vatican II ever promulgated infallible doctrine. It doesn’t seem easy for most Catholics to understand that Vatican II was unique in this respect. He was the pope. If he denied infallibility who are we to disagree? If a pope fails to ratify a Council, it is not infallible. Why is it infallible if a pope ratifies conciliar reforms while saying that the teachings do not reach a level of infallibility?

I wion’t go so far as to call it disobedience, but it seems to me to be a gross misunderstanding when Catholics don’t see the need to evaluate the authority of the Council according to what the promulgating pope said about it. Lay people can say it is infallible for forty-five years and have, but if the pope says it isn’t, I am with the pope.

  1. “Differing from other councils, this one was not directly dogmatic, but disciplinary and pastoral.”

Pope Paul VI, General Audience of August 6, 1975, To the rectors of the Universities of the Society of Jesus

  1. “Today we are concluding the Second Vatican Council…But one thing must be noted here, namely, that the teaching authority of the Church, even though not wishing to issue extraordinary dogmatic pronouncements…”

Pope Paul VI, Address of the last general meeting of the Council, Dec. 7, 1965

  1. “There are those who ask what authority, what theological qualification, the Council intended to give its teachings, knowing that it avoided issuing solemn dogmatic definitions backed by the church’s infallible teaching authority. The answer is known by those who remember the conciliar declaration of March 6, 1964. In view of the pastoral nature of the Council, it avoided proclaiming in any extraordinary manner any dogmas carrying the mark of infallibility.”

Pope Paul VI, General Audience of Dec. 1, 1966

  1. “Taking into account conciliar practice and the pastoral purpose of the present council, the sacred synod defined as binding on the Church only those matters of faith and morals which it has expressly put forward as such.”

Addendum of Nov. 16, 1964 (alluded to by Paul VI above in quote #3) in the Explanatory Note to Lumen Gentium.

A little commentary might be helpful here. Many of the council Fathers were wary of the theological ambiguity that characterized the volumes of words with which they had to deal. You can read about this in The Rhine Flows Through the Tiber, by Fr. Ralph Wiltgen. Earlier councils were written with the concise brevity and clarity. It is usually easy to know if you agree or disagree, and it is the kind of writing that is required in an infallible pronouncement. Of what use is an infallible pronouncement that is subject to multiple interpretations?

So, some of the more conservative Council Fathers, before signing off on Lumen Gentium, wanted to make certain that they weren’t signing off on something that could be said to be binding on the Church. In response they were directed to a document written four months previously to Lumen Gentium, that applied not only to that document, but to the entire council. It can be misleading seeing it is now seen as an explanatory note to Lumen Gentium, but a careful reading of the whole explanation will reveal that it applied to all of the Council teachings. That would be why Paul VI cited that explanatory note when qualifying the teaching authority of the entire Council in his audience of Dec. 1, 1966.

According to the Pope of the council none of it was infallible, if the Pope declares its not infallible then it is not infallible.

The question I would have then is whether the same theological weight would have been applied had the Pope simply had written and issued these same documents.

You have to love those mathematicians. :slight_smile:

Rather than personal opinions its best to read - - - -

Faith and Morals
“Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition” first printed in the US in March 2000.
It’s the “authentic reference text” on Faith and Morals.

B]Roman Missal
Regarding Mass (revised in 2011)

Canon Law is the general site address, and you can type in the bold print to search the topic.

Yes, as you will see, Vatican II is included in CCC and Missal.

Sometimes its best not to ask “personal opinons” for accurate answers.

I think that’s a moot question because Vatican II declared and defined no doctrines. None. Nada. Zip.

So is everyone saying that the teaching that bishops are a separate, higher grade of Holy Orders is not infallible?

Just curious.

Regarding Mass (revised in 2011)

Canon Law is the general site address, and you can type in the bold print to search the topic.

Yes, as you will see, Vatican II is included in CCC and Missal.

The Catechism and Missals quote from all manner of non-infallible documents. If Vatican II is infallible because the document on the liturgy is referenced in the Missal which followed the Council, then so are many encyclicals, writings of Augustine, and even writings of Tertullian, the heretic who eventually left the Church. It would be even more entertaining to go to the Catechism and find alongside Vatican II other fallible documents that according to your criteria, must be accepted as infallible. These would include such arcane documents as the Didache and non-ecumenical councils that were held in Toledo.

No one has yet suggested that anything in Vatican II is false. Being fallible, there remains a high degree of authority attached to its teaching and I am inclined to believe that we can reconcile it with Tradition. We can’t just dismiss it with a sweeping judgment regarding its fallibility. What is proposed in its teachings must be given very serious consideration and that is what Paul VI said after he gave his qualifiers saying that the documents did not rise to a level of infallibility.

Some Catholics seem to think that a proposition is either infallible or false. It cannot be that simple. This is an impossibly untenable approach to arriving at truths that are as yet undefined. The Church often cites (and rightly so) fallble documents in support of its teaching as I have demonstarted…that is unless a Catholic is inclined to propose the Didache, St. Augustine’s Sermons, parts of Tertullian (!) and the Councils of Toledo among the Church’s infallible teachings.


I have been taught that the bishops have a fulness of Holy Orders that priests lack without reference to the Vatican II document. I thought this was standard pre-Vatican II teaching. We know priests cannot consecrate bishops, ordain other priests, or give confirmation (except with episcopal permission). So how can they possibly hold the fulness of the Sacrament?

But if the only authority were Vatican II, without clear support from the ordinary magesterium, I would be inclined to the view that good Catholics may disagree on the question.

Besides the fact that this doesn’t seem strong enough to be considered an infallible statement, Pius VI added the Nota Praevia to this very document, stating that nothing in it is infallible unless it specifically says so. LG never says that it is speaking infallibly.

Interesting example. I was never sure where that “uncertainty” came from. Well before that Council, I recall having been taught exactly what the Council said: the episcopacy is the fullness of the priesthood. How anyone could logically think otherwise is something that I will never understand.

In any case, what that Council actually did was reiterate the traditional understanding of the the episcopacy. It taught nothing new. It’s even more interesting, (well, it is to me, at least), to note that the same teaching was never lost (or even questioned) in the East and Orient.

Well, the only way you have to remain a Roman Catholic is to abide by what the Pope says.
If the Pope promulgated the Novus Ordo or the New Mass or the Liturgy of the Hours he is doing in the exercise of his God-given power. He cannot be wrong. Even if what he says runs counter what we nostalgically cherish most. The old Roman Breviary was exceedingly long and rather boring - same readings (capitulas) over and over, and worse still if it was with the Gallican Psalter, full of mistranslations. Now we can pray a clear well arranged office, with more comprehensive readings from the Bible and the Church fathers or Church documents, without being lost in a lot of responsories, tu autem Domine’s, jube Domine benediceres’s, etc.

Hi voltape,

I would like to build on your “pro-Catholic” tendencies. It would seem to me that extreme views of the authority of papal activity are some of the reasons that people give for not being Catholic. If I believed what you say about any given pope, I would probably also only be “pro-Catholic”. Popes have authority to do certain things, but not willy nilly whatever they want. Every act is not necessarily the best one possible. Pope John Paul himself gave as the main reason he could not approve the ordination of women is that he lacked authority to approve such an act. The popes are subject to the laws of the church and except on rare occasions are never infallibly guided in their teachings.

They are never infallible or impeccable in their actions. That is why you are free to prefer the modern Liturgy of the Hours while I am free to deplore it for its sappy prayers and apparent lack of recognition that the imprecatory Psalms and other verses in the Psalter which refer to destruction of our enemies can be read with profit, especially as we quite correctly apply them to Satan. It troubles me that they thought they had to cut up the Psalter lest the murderous children of the Church start making war on everyone who might mistreat us. But like I said, it is a question of prudence, not infallible guiidance, and I respect your right to disagree and prefer the one to the other.

That said, if you have read the thread, you will note that some of us are arguing that a pope has the authority to proclaim that an ecumenical council lacks the note of infallibility. It is obedience to the pope’s exact words that leads me to affirm that Vatican II "avoided issuing solemn dogmatic definitions backed by the church’s infallible teaching authority."

I am glad that the Pope has allowed for the old breviary because, as a tertiary who prays the office daily, I find the “Tu autem Domines” very beautiful and the modern hours sterile and boring. You might find that more the rule than the exception on this board.

No, this was an open issue prior to Vatican II. This is why bishops were “consecrated” and not “ordained”. There was much deliberation on this issue at Vatican II, and it was one of the questions on the ballot that marked an early battle between liberals and conservatives at Vatican II.

In the middle ages, the Pope sometimes gave abbots who were priests and not bishops the authority to ordain members of their order.

St. Thomas Aquinas argues that bishops do not receive a higher level of the sacrament of Orders here.

You don’t believe that the Catholic Church can teach authoritatively unless infallibility is invoked?

Remember that freedom from error is only a secondary charism of infallibility. Primary is that an infallibly defined dogma MUST be believed to be in communion with the church.

An example of this is was just discussed on another thread and it had to do with the Pope’s recent visit to Fatima and his statement that the prophesies of Fatima have not yet been fulfilled.

It is obvious that the Pope believes in the authenticity of the apparitions and the church has approved the apparitions. But even though the Pope believes and teaches on them and their relevance to our Catholic life, they have never been infallibly defined and therefore, one does not technically need to believe in them to be considered a Catholic. Because they have not been infallibly defined, does not admit that they may be false or contain error.

It’s quite clear from the council acta that the fathers of Vatican II thought they were deciding an open point of doctrine and making a new teaching on this point. This was not something that just “slipped in” the “rambling text” of an “ambiguous” Vatican II document (as Vatican II opponents often like to portray) – It was a much discussed and debated issue, as it formed a key underpinning of much of the rest of the content of Lumen Gentium as regards the structure of the Church.

All I can do is repeat what I said earlier: what that Council actually did was reiterate the traditional pre-scholastic understanding of the the episcopacy.

The episcopacy is the final step of the Major Orders. It is the fullness of the priesthood. Aquinas notwithstanding, how it could be an “open question” is beyond me. Simple logic says that it is not an “honorific” since there are distinct sacramental functions attached. Even use of the expression “consecration” doesn’t really bear on the matter. Makes it even more interesting that we of the Orient and East have never had this question.

I’ve hard this before but am not quite sure of it’s authenticity or veracity.

Here is a thread where this is discussed.

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