School of Theology and Seminary Faculty Publications

The Hermeneutics of Vatican II: Reception, Authority, and the Debate Over the Council's Interpretation

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Arts and Humanities | Catholic Studies | Religion


This article engages the on-going debate over the interpretation of Vatican II's documents. It argues that a careful examination of this dispute reveals that it is not primarily concerned with the existence of “rupture” or “continuity” in the council's texts, but instead is driven by fundamental questions regarding the nature of reception and the character of ecclesial authority. The article outlines the distinctive notions of reception operative in the debate over Vatican II and the way in which such views shape their proponents' hermeneutics of interpretation. To that end, it illumines a determinative link between larger paradigms of ecclesiological structure and related approaches to reception. The final section explores Vatican II's own documents for the ways that they address the authentic nature of reception and the character of legitimate authority. Ultimately, this study argues that Vatican II's affirmation of a dynamic notion of reception points a way forward for its own interpretation and, more broadly, for advancing the Church's overall self-understanding.