SACRED CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH
Circular Letter to the Presidents of Episcopal Conferences
Since the recent successful conclusion of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, many wise Documents have been promulgated, both in doctrinal and disciplinary matters, in order to efficaciously promote the life of the Church. All of the people of God are bound by the grave duty to strive with all diligence to put into effect all that has been solemnly proposed or decreed, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, by the universal assembly of the bishops presided over by the Supreme Pontiff.
It is the right and duty of the Hierarchy to monitor, guide, and promote the movement of renewal begun by the Council, so that the conciliar Documents and Decrees are properly interpreted and implemented with the utmost fidelity to their merit and their spirit. This doctrine, in fact, must be defended by the bishops, since they, with Peter as their Head, have the duty to teach with authority. Many Pastors have admirably already begun to explain the relevance of the doctrine of the Council.
Nevertheless, it must be acknowledged with sorrow that unfortunate news has been reported from various areas about abuses regarding the interpretation of the conciliar doctrine that are taking hold, as well as some brazen opinions circulating here and there causing great disturbance among the faithful. The studies and efforts to investigate the truth more profoundly are praiseworthy, especially when distinguishing honestly between that which is central to the faith and that which is open to opinion. But some of the documents examined by this Sacred Congregation contain affirmations which easily go beyond the limits of hypothesis or simple opinion, appearing to raise certain questions regarding the dogmas and fundamentals of the faith.
It is worthwhile to draw attention to some examples of these opinions and errors that have arisen both from the reports of competent persons and in published writings.
1) First of all regarding Sacred Revelation itself: There are some, in fact, who appeal to Sacred Scripture while deliberately leaving aside Tradition. But they then restrict the role and the strength of biblical inspiration and its inerrancy, abandoning a just notion of the true value of the historical texts.
2) In regards to the doctrine of the faith, some affirm that dogmatic formulas are subject to historical evolution even to the point that their objective meaning is susceptible to change.
3) The ordinary Magisterium of the Church, particularly that of the Roman Pontiff, is sometimes neglected and diminished, until it is relegated almost to the sphere of a mere opinion.
4) Some almost refuse to acknowledge truth that is objective, absolute, stable, and immutable, submitting everything to a certain relativism, with the pretext that every truth necessarily follows an evolutionary rhythm according to conscience and history.
5) The venerated Person of Our Lord Jesus Christ is called into question when, in the elaboration of the doctrines of Christology, certain concepts are used to describe his nature and his person though they are difficult to reconcile with that which has been dogmatically defined. A certain Christological humanism is twisted such that Christ is reduced to the condition of an ordinary man who, at a certain point, acquired a consciousness of his divinity as Son of God. The virginal birth, miracles, and the resurrection itself are admitted only as concepts, reduced to a purely natural order.
6) Similarly in sacramental theology, some elements are either ignored or are not taken into account, especially with regard to the Eucharist. There are some who talk about the real presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine as a kind of exaggerated symbolism, as though, the power of transubstantiation does not change the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, but simply invests them with a determined significance. There are those who, when considering the Mass, insist too much on the concept of agape love at the expense of the concept of Sacrifice.
7) Some would explain the Sacrament of Penance as a means of reconciliation with the Church, not expressing sufficiently the concept of reconciliation with God who has been offended. They affirm simply that in the celebration of this Sacrament it is not necessary to accuse oneself of sin, striving to express only the social function of reconciliation with the Church.
8) Some consider of little account the doctrine of the Council of Trent regarding original sin, or explain it in a way that at least obfuscates the original fault of Adam and the transmission of his sin.
9) The errors in the field of moral theology are no less trivial. Some, in fact, dare to reject the objective criteria of morality, while others do not acknowledge the natural law, preferring instead to advocate for the legitimacy of so-called situational ethics. Deleterious opinions are spread about morality and responsibility in the areas of sexuality and marriage.
10) In addition, it is necessary to comment about ecumenism. The Apostolic See praises, undoubtedly, those who promote initiatives, in the spirit of the conciliar Decree on Ecumenism, that foster charity toward our separated brothers and to draw them to unity in the Church. However, it is regrettable that some interpret the conciliar Decree in their own terms, proposing an ecumenical action that offends the truth about the unity of the faith and of the Church, fostering a pernicious irenicism [the error of creating a false unity among different Churches] and an indifferentism entirely alien to the mind of the Council.
These pernicious errors, scattered variously throughout the world, are recounted in this letter only in summary form for the local Ordinaries so that each one, according to his function and office, can strive to eradicate or hinder them.
This Sacred Dicastery fervently urges the same Ordinaries, gathered in their Episcopal Conferences, to take up this point of discussion and report back to the Holy See as appropriate, sending their own opinions before Christmas of this year.
The Ordinaries as well as those others who they reasonably choose to consult regarding this letter, are to keep it strictly confidential, since obvious reasons of prudence discourage its publication.
Rome, July 24, 1966.
Cardinal A. Ottaviani