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Dignitatis Humanae, and the 'hermeneutics of reform, renewal in continuity'

Last update: March, 9th 2014

Laudetur Jesus Christus


Here follows a summary in English of the contributions in Catholica [1], which are being read in both The Netherlands and Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium << (1), (2) en (3) >>.
It is as believer, as well as scientist and experienced engineer, trained in thinking analytically, that I ask the reader’s indulgence to read my views on what follows regarding inconsistencies that I perceive to exist between several Magisterial Church documents that have serious consequences for a proper interpretation of the documents of the Second Vatican Council.
The result of the analysis is briefly summarized below. Since the conclusion seems to me to be very important, I cannot in good conscience remain silent about this. Isn’t one required to search for the Truth and, having found it, always to speak about it, whether in season or out of season?.


The analysis is made in three steps:

The first step

The first step deals among other things with the ‘hermeneutic of the reform, renewal in continuity’[2] & [3]. In this analysis the soft spot of this hermeneutic approach is exposed.
Due to the pastoral intention of the Second Vatican Council two levels of the reality has to be distinguished, like mentioned by Pope Benedict XVI [3]. The first level concerns the Faith, the infallible 'Depositum Fidei'. The second level consists of underlying changing reality with changes in social and political life, as well as changings based on technical and scientifical knowledge, understanding as the "today's world", the "modern world" or "new era". As for pastoral reasons to regulate the human activities the 'Depositum fidei' has to be projected on the underlying changed social and political life, the continuity can be found within the 'Depositum Fidei' while the reform and renewal concerns the way the 'Depositum Fidei' has been projected on the underlying changing reality.
Here the soft spot can be found, namely, as the vision regarding the underlying changed reality; a vision which – lying outside the domain of the ‘Depositum Fidei’ – can undoubtedly be altered and fallible. Both, but especially this fallibility carries the risk of an incorrect characterization of that underlying changed reality, and thereby also a risk of incorrect decisions as to the implementation of the ‘Depositum Fidei' and all consequences thereof.

Concerning this soft spot some remarkable points can be acknowledge in the history concerning the Council, which is of great importance:

    Firstly the publication of the Nota Preavia, which has been attached to the document Lumen Gentium. This Nota Preavia, which explains how to read certain chapters of Lumen Gentium, would not be published if this text of Lumen Gentium should be clear and not be ambigious in itself.
    Secondly, June 23th 1972, Pope Paul VI announced in a speech to the Cardinals his concern with the following words: "... an emergency which We cannot and must not keep hidden: in the first place a false and erroneous interpretation of the Council, who would want to break with the tradition, even as regards the doctrine, an interpretation which goes so far as the Church is preconciliar rejected and allowed one considers a 'new' chuerch, as it were reinvented from the inside, as regards the establishment of the Church, the dogma, the usa and the law."[4]. And within one week there after, at the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul (June 29th, 1972), Pope Paul VI spoke publicly the famous words: "... that from somewhere or other, the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God."
    Thirdly, at Christmas 2005 after about 33 years the words of Pope Paul VI were still actual and has been repeated by Pope Benedict XVI at his speech to the Curia: "On the one hand there is an explanation, which I want to mention 'hermeneutics of rupture'. This often has the cooperation of the mass media, and also a part of modern theology has made use of here."

Thus, while during the Council Pope Paul VI confirmed the ambiguity presence in potency in at least some texts of Vaticanum II by publishing the Nota Praevia, in his speech of June 23th 1972 to the Cardinals he confirmed that the 'ambiguity-in-potency' has been come to the actuality by false interpretations. And exactly the fact that these presence of false interpretations was still actual in 2005 has been confirmed by Pope Benedict XVI, 40 years after closing the Council and 33 years after the announcement by Pope Paul VI.

The second step

The second step gives an analysis of the foreword (in German) (in English) which Pope Benedict XVI wrote in August 2012 concerning the Second Vatican Council presenting as part of his collected works[2]. From that analysis it became clear that the Council was strongly taken in by the prejudice of not to speak negatively about the ‘new era’, 'modern world' or 'today's world'. It is this prejudice that has acted as a blind spot and through which the analysis regarding the ‘new era’, 'modern world' or 'today's world' has failed. This failure has been confirmed by Pope Benedict XVI in the case of Gaudium et Spes and was additionally carried over to Dignitatis Humanæ and Nostra Ætate [2]. This analysis therefore, must be either correct or not, the same analysis can never be both. therefore, if that analysis has failed in some of the Council documents then the same analysis may be expected to have failed for the whole, i.e., the “aggiornamento”. Moreover this failed analysis is responsible for an incorrect characterization of the underlying changed reality. Accordingly, asthe logical consequence of the words by the magisterium of Pope Benedict XVI, the risk signalled in the first part appears to have been confirmed.
It is this failed analysis of the ‘new era’, 'modern world' or 'today's world' which has caused the ambiguous texts within the Council documents.

    From these two steps it may to be concluded that:

    Firstly, due to the blind spot by the prejudice of not to speak negatively about the ‘new age’ or 'modern times', the Council did not search deeply enough into ‘the holy tradition and the doctrine of the Church the treasury out of which the Church continually brings forth new things that are in harmony with the things that are old’(DH-1);
    Secondly, due to the prejudice of not speaking negatively about the ‘new age’ or 'modern times' the characterization of the changed reality may be incorrect;
    Thirdly, reading the documents of the Second Vatican Council, in a real continuity one has to distinguish between (1) the statements belonging the Depositum Fidei which may be explored too unsufficiently, (2) the statements concerning the characterization of the underlying changed reality which may be incorrect and (3) the statements concerning the implementation of the Depositum Fidei which may be based on an insufficient exploration of the Depositum Fidei as well as on an incorrect characterization of the underlying changed reality. While the first type of statements affects the infallibilty of the Depositum Fidei itself, the last two types <<(2) en (3)>> undoubtedly do not affect the infallibility of the Depositum Fidei at all.

The third step

The third step has a direct bearing on Dignitatis Humanæ itself [5], basing the results of the analysis of the first two steps on a concrete example. Those results are summed up in a more detailed fashion below. In this third step it is shown that with regards to Dignitatis Humanæ the characterization of the changed reality was incorrect and the exploration of the Depositum Fidei seems to be insufficient. Herewith the analysis of the first two parts seem to be confirmed.

The third step in more detail

So far we have examined the results concerning the general threat of the analysis. Here we look in more detail at the third step.

Dignitatis Humanae, Depositum Fidei and Lex Credendi

The Council should have searched further and deeper into ‘the holy tradition and the doctrine of the Church the treasury out of which the Church continually brings forth new things that are in harmony with the things that are old’ (DH-1). As an example the Lex Credendi of the second Offertory prayer in the Sacred Liturgy in use at the Council. If that Lex Credendi should explored well, it certainly should have come closer to making a distinction between the through original sin 'wounded dignitatis humanæ’ and the through and in Christ 'wonderfully restored dignitatis humanæ’, i.e., a ‘dignitatis humanæ’ in which a human being can participate through Holy Baptism and Faith.
The repercussion for the faith of so fundamental a distinction creates the impression of indifferentism. One looks in vain for this distinction in the first section of Dignitatis Humanæ (DH-1).
Nonetheless the Council has tried to neutralize this indifferentism (DH-1) through making various statements. However, one text in which the indifference in characterization of changed reality is so fundamentally present cannot be neutralized through a few corrected statements. This characterization works contrary to the neutralizing texts throughout the entire document and this leads inevitably to incorrect decisions and double interpretations with respect to the ‘Depositum Fidei’.

Dignitatis Humanae and the Liturgy

If we further consider that this first part of the second Offertory prayer was removed from the Sacred Liturgy with the liturgical reform of 1970 [6], we understand that this faith article has disappeared from the short-term memory of the ‘Depositum Fidei’, which the 'Lex Credendi' may considered to be, the aforementioned distinction can easily disappear from sight. In relation to the interpretation of the document, it is inevitable that, as a result, the underlying indifferentism in this document is strengthened. This process had in fact already begun in 1965 with ‘experimentations’ with the Sacred Liturgy. The transformation of the original words of the Consecration, 'pro multis' into 'for all' in the translation from Latin into vernacular can be explained by this underlying indifferentism. Why else could such a flawed translation have been made? For what ideological reason would one refuse to translate 'pro multis' into 'for many'?

Religious freedom and the exercise of the free will

Had the aforementioned distinction been made more consistently, the result would have more closely resembled the ‘Tolerance-teachings’ of Pope Pius XII and thereby visibly expressed continuity with the past. Moreover, when one treats this distinction without reservation, then the entire text of DH-2 appears to strongly resemble ‘the tolerance doctrine’. Perhaps the distinction between both sections of DH-2 [6] stands out better by making a distinction between the right of religious freedom in the first section and the right to exercise an act of free will concerning the second section of DH-2.
Only such a distinction can explain the difference between the first and second sections. The first section states that "the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself" and "this right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.", while the second section states that "the right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature" and is concluded by the following citation: "In consequence, section the right to this immunity continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it and the exercise of this right is not to be impeded, provided that just public order be observed". therefore it is very obvious clear that Dignitatis Humanae is speaking here about another type of 'religious freedom' than mentioned in the first section of DH-2.


Furthermore in the second section of DH-1 the council professes its belief that God Himself has made known to mankind the way in which men are to serve Him, and thus be saved in Christ and come to blessedness, that all men are bound to seek the truth, especially in what concerns God and His Church, and to embrace the truth they come to know, and to hold fast to it and quotes "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have enjoined upon you" (Matt 28: 19-20. The council has repeated this belief in the first part of the second section of DH-2 too.
Herewith Dignitatis Humanae is at one hand confirming the indifferentism by the way the "world of today" has been characterized while at the same time the indifferentism is denied by the 'Depositum Fidei' and on the other hand Dignitatis Humanae is consequently speaking about religious freedom as being only one conception, while objectively two types of religious freedom, excluding each others, can be distinguished in DH-2. This is really ambiguous.
Religious freedom cannot be a civil right on the one hand and on the other be restricted by the public order. By the last it is making dependent on who is actually responsible for the public order. Certainly these distinguished two approaches of human dignity can only be recognised by the restored and wounded human dignity.

Teaching of Tolerance by Pius XII

As said if the aforementioned distinction between the wounded and the in Christ wunderful restored Dignitatis Humanae had been made more consistently, the result would have more closely resembled the ‘Tolerance-teachings’ of Pope Pius XII and thereby visibly expressed continuity with the past. However in the already mentioned 2012 foreword by Pope Benedict XVI [2] it is stated that "the teaching of the tolerance as Pius XII had developped in detail appeared not sufficiently considering the development of philosophical tought and the self-understoodness of the modern state". Here Pope Benedict XVI makes clear that the rejection of the Teachings of Tolerance is not based on any doctrine taken from the infallible Depositum Fidei but on how the modern state has understood itself as well as a philosophical mindset. With other words that rejection is based on a characterization at the level of the underlying changing reality: to understand the state as being neutral.

State's neutrality

Dignitatis Humanae does not mention the state as neutral explicitely. However implicitely this document considers the state as neutral at which it does not take into account the distinction between the wounded and restored human dignity as mentioned above and which leads to an indifferentic view of the state. Therefore this document rejects the teaching of the tolerance as Pius XII had developped in detail: "Government therefore ought indeed to take account of the religious life of the citizenry and show it favor, since the function of government is to make provision for the common welfare. However, it would clearly transgress the limits set to its power, were it to presume to command or inhibit acts that are religious.".
Because this opinion concerns a view at the level of the changed reality, and therefore it is standing outside the Depositum Fidei and in potency could be considered as an prejudice which can lead to a fallible characterization of the changed reallity .

State's neutrality and the conscience

In case of the state's neutrality the modern world is considering the following view:

    The state is the absolute and highest authority which should be neutral in her acting power. So the persons bearing the responsibility for the power of the state and determining the direction in which the state is moving to, have to be 'neutral'. And due to this State's neutrality these persons cannot follow their own conscience for striving to the best for all according their ideology or faith. And just not being able to follow their consience is just contrary to the human dignity, wounded or restored.
    Dignitatis Humanae seems to mention this view on the state's neutrality.
    Here we even see the practise whereby the requirement for being neutral only should be valid to Catholic statesmen and not for the liberals or socialists. Therefor, obviously, all Catholic doctrines are being forbidden in the public domain as not being neutral in contrary to the liberal and socialist doctrines.

However, a state is existing through a sample or a group of persons living together in a same area, by which one part of that group is leading the other part according some specific rules and hierarchical structures. Because the state is fundamentally a composed entity existing by -or better said embodied by- persons as the composing entities at which the properties or attitude of such composed entity depends on the individual composing entities (individual persons or subgroups of persons), the actual structure (type of hierarchical system) as well as the actual binding relations between the individual composed entities as being the property of the individual persons or subgroups of persons (good, loving and trustfull persons being peacefully or bad, hating and untrustfull persons using violence). Anyway without persons forming the state's body, the state can never exist. And so from this point of view the following view on the state's neutrality can be given:

    The state itself is neutral and the persons bearing the responsibility for the power of the state and determining the direction in which the state is moving to, are giving the color of the state. Thus, because of the state's neutrality the state is not giving a color to the persons acting the power of the state, but these persons are giving the state its color, because these persons have to follow their own conscience for striving to the best for all according the human dignity, wounded or restored, and as person they cannot be neutral at all. Like for all people, independent of their religious or ideological view, all persons acting the power of the state are responsible for their own choice between good and evil, between justice and unjustice, to honor God or not, like all other men. Therfore the state cannot be neutral like the above mentioned view.
    Obviously, a state, which is in itself neutral, will change by color each time the executive power of the state is changing by color, a color determined by the wounded human dignity or by the restored human dignity. This is like the old era of the Roman Empire. Depending on the emperor periods of tolerance and periods of suppression of the Christianity were alternating each other, until the emperor himself converts to Christianity. And looking at the modern times with, for example during the last century the tyranny by the International and National Socialistic States as well as the Liberal states it is all the same. Depending on the color of the acting state's power and the way the state's power is suppressing the rest of the persons belonging to such a state, the state becomes its color.

Although the second view of the state's neutrality is according the human dignity while the first is not, supporters of the first view are suggesting the second view on the state's neutrality cannot consider as neutral, because the persons who are acting the executive power of the state are not neutral.
This way of speaking can also be observed in the speech by Pope Benedict XVI on Christmas 2005: "In the period between the two World Wars and especially after the Second World War, Catholic statesmen demonstrated that a modern secular State could exist that was not neutral regarding values but alive, drawing from the great ethical sources opened by Christianity ". Despite Pope Benedict XVI is speaking her about a state which he is considering as not neutral, in fact, he is testifying that a state can exist by an acting power of the state, not being a "neutral" persons, what ever that should be.

State's neutrality and the search into the holy tradition and doctrine

Looking at teachings by the Apostles Johannes 'when the Roman governor, ostentatiously pretending that he had the power of releasing and of condemning, our Lord Jesus Christ answered: "Thou shouldst not have any power against me unless it were given thee from above."' (Joh. 19:11) and Paul to the Romans, when subject to the authority of heathen princes, is lofty and full of gravity: "There is not power but from God" from which, as from its cause, he draws this conclusion: "The prince is the minister of God." (Rom. 13: 1, 4)”[8]. As these teachings from the 'Depositum Fidei' has not or only partially been mentioned in Dignitatis Humanae, obviously the second view on the state's neutrality can be recognised here: it is a person who carries the power of the state and that person is responsible for the use of that power.

Furthermore, regarding men's acting, he never can act neutral, he has to make a choise pro truth or against, pro mercy or against, pro justice or against, pro life or against, pro family or against, pro Christ or against, he has to make that choice each time again. It does not a matter he is a member of the executive power of the state or not, that fact would places him only for consequences regarding his responsibility.


Despite all references made to the Depositum Fidei the search at that Depositum Fidei was not done into the full depth. Consequently, due to the bias not to speak negative about the today's world, besides the aforementioned lack of distinction between the wounded and restored human dignity which led to a false characterisation of the modern era, it appears here again a false characterisation of the modern era, i.c. the neutrality of the modern state.

Jack P. Oostveen
Delft, The Netherlands


[1] A Dutch Monthly which is read both in The Netherlands and the Dutch speaking part of Belgium;
[2] 'Joseph Ratzinger, Zur Lehre des Zweiten Vatikanischen Konzils.' Erster Teilband, (Joseph Ratzinger. Gesammelte Schriften 7/1), re-edited by Mgr. Gerard Ludwig Müller and the 'Institut Papst Benedikt XVI', Regensburg, ISBN 978-3-451-34124-3, Herder Verlag, Freiburg 2012. Foreword, English translation);
[3] Addres of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the Roman Curia offering them his Christmass greetings (Thursday, 22 December 2005);
[4] Acta Apostolicae Sedis (AAS) jaargang 64 (1972), p. 498 [Die 23 mensis iunii a. 1972: Eminentissimis Sacri Collegii Cardinalium Patribus, Summo Pontifici die Eius nominali felicia ac fausta ominantibus]. "Per alcuni, questo sentimento sorge dal fatto che l'edificio ecclesiale, il quale rappresentava ai loro occhi un tutto fortemente coerente e organizzato, oggi sembra a loro minacciato nella sua unità.
Essi sono certamente scossi dal criticismo venuto alla luce in questi anni, dal carattere arrischiato di certe iniziative che ignorano la Tradizione, dall'abbandono di manifestazioni esteriori o di forme di pietà alle quali erano attaccati : però tendono a ripiegarsi su se stessi, e a rifiutare di prendere la parte loro spettante nella vita e nei compiti della Chiesa. Per altri, invece, la mancanza di fiducia nella Chiesa è originata dal convincimento che essa, secondo loro, rimarrebbe impigliata in istituzioni che hanno fatto il loro tempo : in una società secolarizzata, essi pensano che la Chiesa dovrebbe abbandonare la maggior parte delle forme che la distinguono e rinunciare perfino alle certezze acquisite, per mettersi unicamente all'ascolto dei bisogni del mondo; e provano, di fronte alla Chiesa visibile e istituzionale, una freddezza che porta alcuni ad allontanarsi da essa, sensibili, come pensano di essere, alle profonde mutazioni che caratterizzano la nostra epoca, alle novità delle situazioni culturali e alle possibilità scientifiche e tecniche.
Da queste opposte tensioni deriva uno stato di disagio, che non possiamo e non dobbiamo nasconderci : anzitutto una falsa e abusiva interpretazione del Concilio, che vorrebbe una rottura con la tradizione, anche dottrinale, giungendo al ripudio della Chiesa pre-conciliare, e alla licenza di concepire una Chiesa « nuova )), quasi « rein ventata » dall'interno, nella costituzione, nel dogma, nel costume, nel diritto
[6] L. Pristas (2013), “The Collects of the Roman Missals, a comparative study of the Sundays in Proper Seasons before and after the Second Vatican Council”, Boomsbury T&T Clark, ISBN 978-0-567-03384-0; Antoine Dumas O.S.B. succeeded Placide Bruylants O.S.B. as relator of Coetus 18bis, after he died in October 1966. In 1968 Dumas rewrites the Coetus' 18bis policy formulated by Bruylants in 1966. See, for example, point III: “... The mention of local and particular deeds, as well as historical remembrances for which the while significance and function is lost to the Church of our time, are to be removed from certain prayers. These prayers are to be accommodated to the needs of Christian life today. The "Church universal of the present day" in the original has become the "Church of our time" and "present-day precepts" or "customs" [instituta] have become "present-day needs" [necessitates]. The transition is from the objective (precepts or customs) to that which is, at least potentially, quite subjective (needs). Bruylants' wording requires only mechanical adjustments to the texts, whereas Dumas' involves the editors in decisions of considerable subtlety. Further, although the 1968 wording stipulates that only the mention of particular deeds or of historical remembrances whose significance had been lost are to be accommodated to the needs of present-day Christian life, Dumas reports in his 1971 essay on the revisions that every oration was reviewed in the light of modern needs." Changes in the wording of the remaining principles, while not as far-reaching in their ramifications, are also noteworthy"” ;
[7] Here is mentioned the original Latin text of DH2 which has two sections. The English translation has split the first section into two;
[8] taken from Diuturnum illud encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on the origin of Civil Power


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