The hermeneutic of continuity, sometimes called the hermeneutic of reform in continuity, is incoherent. Instead of following this interpretation of Vatican II documents, we should hold the documents to the standard put forth by Catholic Tradition.
The hermeneutic of continuity surprisingly admits of two definitions.
- The Council documents must be understood in the light of Traditional Catholic doctrine.
- The Council documents already stand in continuity with Traditional Catholic doctrine, and the only way to see it is to apply this hermeneutic.
The first definition falls in line with how the documents of previous councils have been understood. The documents are to be as clear as possible, but on the rare chance they happen to become unclear, there is a clear body of previous precedent that should make things clear.
The second definition begs the question. It answers the question “How does this document align with Tradition?” with “This document aligns with Tradition because this document aligns with Tradition.” That is to say, it does not answer the question at all.
The Hermeneutic of Continuity Fails Its Own Criteria
The purpose of a Council is to teach and proclaim the faith clearly in a time when it is unclear. If a Council document is ambiguous, it fails its purpose entirely.
Since Vatican II documents are considered by all to contain ambiguities, they have failed their purpose.
Yet not only are the documents ambiguous, but also the hermeneutic of continuity is itself ambiguous. What could be more ambiguous than having two definitions? The hermeneneutic of continuity, instead of bringing clarity, brings additional ambiguity. If it brings ambiguity and not clarity, we should discard it.
The Hermeneutic of Continuity Is Not Itself Traditional
Catholic Tradition has previously taught, multiple times, the proper way that the teaching of the Church expressed in its documents is to be understood. A few examples:
From the Oath Against Modernism:
I sincerely hold that the doctrine of faith was handed down to us from the apostles through the orthodox Fathers in exactly the same meaning and always in the same purport.
From Pope Agatho, and quoted by Pope Gregory XVI in Mirari Vos:
“nothing of the things appointed ought to be diminished; nothing changed; nothing added; but they must be preserved both as regards expression and meaning.”
From Dei Filius, a document of Vatican I:
Hence, too, that meaning of the sacred dogmas is ever to be maintained which has once been declared by Holy mother Church, and there must never be any abandonment of this sense under the pretext or in the name of a more profound understanding.
May understanding, knowledge and wisdom increase as ages and centuries roll along, and greatly and vigorously flourish, in each and all, in the individual and the whole Church: but this only in its own proper kind, that is to say, in the same doctrine, the same sense, and the same understanding .
The hermeneutic of continuity does not employ “the same doctrine, the same sense, and the same understanding”. If it did, it would use those very words as part of the hermeneutic!
- The hermeneutic of continuity is itself ambiguous.
- The hermeneutic of continuity is self-contradictory.
- The hermeneutic of continuity is not Traditional.
- The hermeneutic of continuity is not Catholic.