Vatican II and Ecumenism

I was watching a YouTube video from the TV ministry of Christ Presbyterian Church here in Salt Lake City called “The Ancient Paths.” On the show, Pastor Jason Wallace spoke with a guest who was a Traditionalist Catholic, and the two men talked a lot on the effect of Vatican II on the Catholic Church’s ecumenical responsibilities. Basically, both men felt that Vatican II’s more warm language concerning schismatic and heretical sects (Orthodox Church, Protestantism etc.) undermined the declarations of anathema pronounced at the Council of Trent, and that the Catholic Church is unfortunately moving toward a position of indifferentism and over-permissiveness. :hug1:

Pastor Wallace felt that the Second Vatican Council represented a progressive undervaluation of absolute truth, which he considered that both he and his guest contrarily did value. My question is, is this a fair picture of what Vatican II accomplished, and why is the language of the Council of Trent different from the language of Vatican II? Does this difference in language mean an implied undervaluation of absolute truth that the Catholic Church is supposed to possess?

I understood that Pope Paul VI made the firm statement in 1964 that, concerning the Council of Trent, “What was, still is.” I admire the Church’s reinvigorated ecumenism and its immense constructive potential, but in what way did Vatican II develop or clarify teaching rather than fix or detoxify it, so to speak?

Link to video here:

An anathema declares that some position or teaching contradicts Catholic faith and doctrine.

Vatican II was a continuation of Vatican I. It did elaborate more upon the concilliarity of the Church. Here are a few changes that were made (not in dogma):

Vernacular Liturgy and sacraments. (Latin Church)
Three year cycle of liturgical readings. (Latin Church)
New methods of scripture interpretation
Episcopal conferences
Lay ministries and theologians
Permanent Diaconate
Revised Latin and eastern Catholic Law
Conferences with non-Catholic ecclesial communities and particular churches.
Conferences with other religions.

H Gavin, and Welcome!

I’m not inclined to spend an hour viewing your link; at first glance, Pastor Wallace is not wearing a collar, suggesting he is not a Catholic priest. If he attempts to denounce the teachings of V-II due to his lack of information and understanding of its documents regarding ecumenism, I think were being misled.

But, you’re in the right place, for CAF has many excellent apologists on board to help you sort it all out. :wink:

If you understand the reason for calling the Council of Trent, i.e., to expound the Church’s teachings in opposition to the ongoing Reformation in that century, it is logical that the Church would anathematize our association with those heretics in that Council.

However, as the Church rightly clarified in V-II, those who are innocently born in these denominations centuries later, cannot be held at fault for their lack of knowledge of the true faith. Indeed, those who have been validly baptized in the Trinitarian formula, have received the Holy Spirit, and can be rightly called brethren of ours in the Body of Christ. It is true that they are lacking the fullness of our faith and sacramental life, yet the Church exhorts us to continue the mission of Christ to evangelize them as far as we are able, in order to bring them into the our sheepfold.

Hopefully, this little capsule version will be helpful.

Can you give an example?

The Council of Trent occasionally used warm language toward Protestants.

In several passages about the various Protestant groups, it called them “the faithful of Christ…by whatsoever name designated” (Session 15 and Session 18) and noted that “[we] all acknowledge the same God and Redeemer.” (Session 13)

It gave them the right “to confer in charity…with those who have been selected by the Council” (Session 15 and Session 18) and promised “to receive them kindly, and to listen to them favourably.” (Session 15)

It called for “all opprobrious, railing, and contumelious language [to be] utterly discarded” on the part of Protestants (Session 15 and Session 18) and said the Protestant delegates could dispute “without any abuse or contumely” with the Catholics. (Session 13)

It further declared “that they shall not be punished under pretence of religion” (Session 15 and Session 18) and called them “sons of [the Church’s] womb,” “our common mother.” (Session 18)

Furthermore, it made this solemn invitation: “[The Synod] invites and exhorts, by the bowels of the mercy of our same God and Lord, all who hold not communion with us, unto concord and reconciliation, and to come unto this holy Synod; to embrace charity, which is the bond of perfection, and to show forth the peace of Christ rejoicing in their hearts, whereunto they are called, in one body.” (Session 18)

Warm language was never anathematized by the Council. St. Peter Canisius and St. Robert Bellarmine were well-known for their charitable and forgiving attitude toward the Protestant leaders and followers in the days shortly after Trent. The phrase “give them the benefit of the doubt” comes to mind.

Also, the Second Vatican Council strongly opposed modernism and indifferentism. Here is a helpful link:

Five Ways Vatican 2 Condemned Modernism

Wow, thanks dmar198! That was very thorough and helps a lot. I appreciate your links. God be with you!

Yeah, great post dmar198 ! :thumbsup:

Also, people misunderstand what the anathemas of Trent mean. They mimic the formula of St. Paul in Galatians 1:8"But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema." So by appending “let him be anathema” to various propositions, the Council was defining those propositions as a different gospel (Vatican II was not concerned with condemning any particular propositions, so it doesn’t have canons like this).

So while holding to these things could make one a heretic and therefore completely cut off from the Church (“anathema”), the Church has always held that just being wrong doesn’t necessarily make you a heretic. Over a thousand years before Trent, St. Augustine said the same thing:

[quote=St. Augustine]But though the doctrine which men hold be false and perverse, if they do not maintain it with passionate obstinacy, especially when they have not devised it by the rashness of their own presumption, but have accepted it from parents who had been misguided and had fallen into error, and if they are with anxiety seeking the truth, and are prepared to be set right when they have found it, such men are not to be counted heretics.

This is why the Vatican II decree on ecumenism says “The children who are born into these Communities and who grow up believing in Christ cannot be accused of the sin involved in the separation…”

Just to add, the decree forbids the very watering down some complain about:

“It is, of course, essential that the doctrine should be clearly presented in its entirety. Nothing is so foreign to the spirit of ecumenism as a false irenicism, in which the purity of Catholic doctrine suffers loss and its genuine and certain meaning is clouded.”

Read the whole decree on ecumenism for yourself :slight_smile:

The anathema declaration seems a bit awkward today, with good reason. Whereas in the early days of the Reformation, when men and women were drawn in not my heritage but by pure pretense, today it’s appropriate to recognize that the majority of Protestants exist not as heretics but as mere children of their respective sects. This is true of plenty of Catholics as well. Sometimes people simply have not been witnesses to the fullness of truth, and it is the duty of the Universal Church to engage, without compromise, the Protestant community with open arms, realizing that their circumstances are no cause of their own. That was Vatican II’s focus, which was not contrary to the Council of Trent, but was instead simply born out of conditions previously unrealized at the time of the Counter-Reformation.

I appreciate everyone’s responses. Thanks so much :slight_smile:

Also, here is part of the text of St. Peter Faber’s “Instruction How to Deal with Heretics” from 1541 A.D.

St. Peter Faber - “[It] is essential that whoever desires to be useful to heretics in our day should both nourish in himself a great affection for them and show it in action, removing from his own mind those unfavourable imaginations which make us think less well of them.” (Instructions How to Deal with Heretics, as it appears in The Life of Blessed Peter Favre by Giuseppe Boero, Chapter 13)

“The next thing is, to win their goodwill and inclinations to such an extent that they may reciprocate our kind feelings and think well of us. This may easily be done by speaking to them affectionately, and dwelling in familiar conversations on those points only on which they agree with us, avoiding everything like a dispute, in which one side always assumes an air of superiority, and shows contempt of the other. Those subjects should be first chosen in which there is a sympathy and union of wills, rather than those which tend to disunite them by opposition of opinion.” (ibid.)

I think it is remarkable that this man is one of the earliest missionaries to reach out to Protestants and he had such an affectionate and non-confrontational attitude. He goes on to say that our primary outreach should be to find out where they are at spiritually, and encourage them to grow in spiritual and holy life from there. If they pray more, they’ll be drawn more to the Catholic Church.

Maybe these will help you Gavin.

*]Could you explain anathema? Does the Church teach that Protestants are anathema because they don’t agree with the Church?
*]What is anathema?

Over the years, most especially in fundamentalist circles, the word anathema is frequently linked to damnation. I realize that’s not what the Church means by that term, as they’ve never reserved the authority to pronounce the damnation of any person. Plus, not all Protestants are heretics, and the anathema of the Council of Trent was specifically directed toward willing heretics.

Question then: Concerning the Traditionalist Catholic who appeared with the Presbyterian minister, is this misqualification of the term a relatively recent ideological development among members of the Catholic Church, and where are Traditionalists deriving their views on anathemas?

Does the traditionalist clearly say (or agree, or imply) that an anathema is something other than an excommunication? I ask because it could be a simple misunderstanding of words. Is there a part in the video where he indicates something incorrect about what anathema means?

As a presumably well catechized Traditionalist, I think he realizes what anathema actually means. I think what I meant to say was that the man always associated anathema with ALL Protestants. He even passingly mentioned that the Presbyterian he was speaking with he considered a heretic. So, why the opposition to ecumenism on his and other Traditionalists’ part, which seems perfectly reflective of the love the Church has for unity and evangelization?

Why would you listen to someone who doesn’t know what he’s talking about, since you cannot excommunicate someone who isn’t even Catholic.

That “traditionalist” is obviously messed up in his understanding of Catholic teaching, so ultimately that preacher is getting misinformation…just like you did.

He also messes up in calling the pastor a heretic, which is another term and condition that can only apply to a Catholic. He may believe heretical teachings and even propound them himself, but he cannot be a heretic himself…

You would do a lot better to spend your time on videos by Catholic Answers. That way you won’t get messed up like this.

You sound a bit accusatory, Church_Militant. I came to your forum precisely because I didn’t want to be misinformed. I’m sorry? I’ve told the folks here at Catholic Answers thank you, and I’d say I’ve pretty much agreed with what you guys have told me.

I don’t see the point of why you posted that.

Ah I see, correct me if I’m wrong: you’re thinking he has a different understanding of the word ecumenism than the Church does, and you’re wondering when this alternative understanding of the term came about.

A couple of thoughts come to mind. First, in my mind, ecumenism has three main elements: (a) encouraging Catholics and non-Catholics to pray for union, (b) positive remarks from Catholics about things they hold in common with non-Catholic groups, © a friendly spirit toward non-Catholics that tries to assume they have good intentions, or gives them the benefit of the doubt that they are not necessarily evil people.

Second, the traditionalist gentleman himself seems pretty ecumenical to me, apart from his negative comments about ecumenism. I think he’s being ecumenical because he is being friendly with the Protestant and they talk about areas of agreement. That’s like a prime example of ecumenism, to me. He isn’t spending their whole interaction arguing, and in fact he and the Protestant agree on several things, like the need to preach strongly in the face of growing secularism. He doesn’t specifically ask the Protestant to pray in common for unity, at least not in parts of the video that I’ve seen, but he does something similar by telling this Protestant audience about his organized effort to promote communal prayer events outside of Planned Parenthood, which he mentions toward the end of the show. It sounds very much like an invitation to get Protestants praying with Catholics, which is very ecumenical.

Third, some people take a negative view of ecumenism because some ecumenists ignore unpopular doctrines, don’t evangelize, don’t defend the faith, try to open up the Eucharist to non-Catholics, and generally favor making people feel good over preserving the whole Catholic heritage. This seems to be what he complains about in this clip:

Perhaps this false understanding of ecumenism has resulted from the fact that so many ecumenists do it wrong. I’ve witnessed ecumenists give the impression that differences don’t matter, but I tend to assume I’m misunderstanding them. I would guess that if you asked them outright, most of them would say that religious differences Do matter, and they are in part trying to get Rid of religious differences because they (correctly) see them as obstacles to union.

Anyway those are my thoughts. I hope they are helpful.

P.S. This clip is hilarious to me: and it is an example of ecumenism to me. What they are essentially agreeing on there is that they can believe each other are seriously, grossly wrong, and still be civil with each other. <-- That’s a kind of ecumenism too, in my mind.

I wasn’t being “accusatory” and I appreciate your question, but there are those who call themselves “Traditional Catholics” and (as in this case) come off as authoritative when in fact they are not and are misstating Catholic teaching. :shrug: It happens…

I really just want you to think about where you go for sources, knowing that we all have a limited amount of time for such things, so we need to seek the best possible sources.

YouTube is not one of my favorites because there is no guarantees. and CA are the top two and there are a number of very fine ones that sort of trickle down from there IMO. Even so, both have good YT video channels that I subscribe to.

I’m just concerned that you (and others reading all this) not get messed up. :thumbsup:

Church_Militant, sometimes we come upon less-than-good sources of information. I wasn’t really looking for any answers in that video. I’m familiar with the online catechism, and I’ve frequented Catholic Answers online and on the radio. Don’t worry about me; I don’t think I’m too “messed up” so long as I keep my brain in order.

Thanks for your concern, I guess.


During certain time periods, the word “heretic” was used in a broader sense to refer to anyone who belonged to a heretical community–in that sense, any presbyterian is a heretic. The Church has made her usage of the term more precise since Vatican II and decreed that we should all do so too, so it’s use in that context is generally inappropriate now (we follow St. Augustine’s usage I posted earlier).

Also, some oppose ecumenism because it can appear to not be what the Church says it is–when abused it can appear and actually be contrary to unity and evangelization.

As Pope Benedict once said, it’s good to build bridges, but we build them so they can eventually be crossed. Sometimes it can appear that some practice ecumenism in a way that looks to just be meeting on the bridge, patting each other on the back, and then going back to each other’s side with an “I’m ok, you’re ok” attitude. This is false ecumenism and is what many “traditionalists” are scandalized by. As the Vatican II decree on ecumenism itself states, in the historical splits men on both sides can be to blame. The same can be said now: there’s often a real reason why a Traditionalist is led to condemn ecumenism as harmful to the faith–but those reasons are abuses by men in the Church, not the authoritative principles put forth by the Church.

The goal of ecumenism is unity. Here’s how St. John Paul II defined that unity in his encyclical on ecumenism:

[quote=St. John Paul II, Ut Unum Sint]The unity willed by God can be attained only by the adherence of all to the content of revealed faith in its entirety. In matters of faith, compromise is in contradiction with God who is Truth. In the Body of Christ, “the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6), who could consider legitimate a reconciliation brought about at the expense of the truth? The Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae attributes to human dignity the quest for truth, “especially in what concerns God and his Church”,33 and adherence to truth’s demands. A “being together” which betrayed the truth would thus be opposed both to the nature of God who offers his communion and to the need for truth found in the depths of every human heart.

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