Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on Errors when Interpreting Vatican II


Letter to the Presidents of

the Episcopal Conferences about certain
abuses and erroneous opinions in the interpretation of the doctrine of the Second Vatican Council

Since the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, which has just come to a happy end, has promulgated very wise documents, either in doctrinal matters or in disciplinary matters, to effectively promote the life of the Church, the grave duty rests on the people of God as a whole to apply, with all their efforts, to lead to its realization all that, under the influence of the Holy Spirit. , was solemnly proposed or declared by this very large Assembly of Bishops, under the presidency of the Sovereign Pontiff.

The hierarchy belongs the right and duty to ensure, direct and promote the renovation movement begun by the Council, so that the documents and decrees of this Council receive a correct interpretation and are brought to their effect, according to their own strength and according to their watchful spirit. This doctrine, in fact, must be protected by the bishops who, under Peter as Chief, are in charge of teaching with authority. It is in a laudable way that many pastors have already undertaken to properly explain the doctrine of the Council.

However, it must be regretted that, on various sides, alarming news has been received about the growing abuse in the interpretation of the Council’s doctrine, as well as strange and bold opinions that appear here and there and which greatly disturb the minds of many of the faithful. Studies and efforts to better know the truth must be praised, distinguishing fairly between what is faith and what is opinion; but from the documents examined by this sacred Congregation, it follows that these are judgments which, easily exceeding the limits of mere opinion or hypothesis, seem to affect in some way the dogma itself and the foundations of faith.

It is useful to point out some of these opinions and errors, in the form of examples, as they are known from the reports of learned men and public writings.

1. This is first and foremost the sacred Revelation itself: there are, in fact, those who resort to Holy Scripture, deliberately leaving aside tradition; but they reduce the breadth and strength of biblical inspiration and inerrance and they do not have a proper notion of the value of historical texts.

2. With regard to the doctrine of the Faith, it is said that dogmatic formulas are so subject to historical evolution that their objective meaning itself is subject to change.

3. Sometimes the ordinary magisterium of the Church, especially the Roman Pontiff, is neglected and minimized to such an extent that it is almost relegated to the realm of free opinions.

4. Some almost no longer recognize an absolute, firm and immutable objective truth; they subject all things to a certain relativism, arguing as a reason that all truth necessarily follows the rhythm of the evolution of consciousness and history.

5. The adorable person herself of Our Lord Jesus Christ is reached when, by rethinking Christology, notions of nature and the person are used that are difficult to reconcile with dogmatic definitions. A certain Christological humanism is spreading which reduces Christ to the simple condition of a man who, little by little, would have acquired the awareness of his divine parentage. Its virginal conception, its miracles, its resurrection itself are conceded in words, but are actually brought back to the purely natural order.

6. Similarly, in the way the theology of the sacraments is dealt with, certain elements are either ignored or not sufficiently considered, especially with regard to the Most Holy Eucharist. Regarding the actual presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine, there are those who dissertation by promoting exaggerated symbolism, as if bread and wine were not changed by transubstantiation to the body and blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, but were simply transferred to a certain meaning. There are also those who, on the subject of Mass, favour more than it is just the idea ofagapes,at the expense of the idea of sacrifice.

7. Some like to explain the sacrament of penance as a means of reconciliation with the Church and do not emphasize enough reconciliation with offended God. They also claim that for the celebration of this sacrament the personal confession of sins is not necessary, while they apply themselves to expressing only the social function of reconciliation with the Church.

8. There are no shortages that downplay the doctrine of the Council of Trent on original sin or comment on it in such a way that Adam’s original fault and the transmission of his sin are, to say the least, obscured.

9. No less are the errors that circulate in the field of moral theology. Many, in fact, dare to reject the objective reason of morality; others do not accept natural law and affirm the legitimacy of what they call situational morality. Pernicious opinions are widespread about morality and responsibility in sexual and marriage matters.

10. To this, we must add a note on ecumenism. The Apostolic See certainly approves those who, in the spirit of the Council Decree on Ecumenism, take initiatives to promote charity with the separated brethren and attract them to the unity of the Church; but he regrets that there is no shortage of people who, interpreting the Council decree in their own way, advocate ecumenical action that offends the truth about the unity of faith and the Church, promoting a dangerous erism and indifferentism, which is entirely foreign to the spirit of the Council.

These errors and dangers, spread here and another there, are gathered in the form of a summary in this letter to the Ordinaries of the places so that each, according to his function and his office, will try to stop or prevent them.

This Sacred Dicastery urges these same Ordinary places, gathered in episcopal conferences, to treat and report to the Holy See in a timely manner by making their opinions known before the feast of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ this year.

That the Ordinaries and those to whom they feel they must communicate them, keep under strict secrecy this letter which an obvious reason of prudence forbids to make public.

Rome, July 24, 1966.

A. Cardinal Ottaviani

AAS 58 (1966), 659-661.

In publishing the Latin text of this letter the Acta Apostolicae Sedis (58 [1966], 659) accompany it with this note: “We were allowed to publish this letter in order to make known its authentic content, because, although by its very nature it required the utmost discretion, some dailies did not hesitate to publish parts of it, but without respecting the specific nature of the document. In this way, doubts arose about the content of the letter and the purpose of the Holy See.”


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