When we turn from C S Lewis and Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre to the texts of Vatican II, I do not think we find a contradiction. In Nostra aetate the Council declared: "The Catholic Church rejects nothing which is true and holy in these religions". So far, it is in agreement with Lewis and Lefebvre; as it is when it goes on to say that the ethics and teachings of these religions "often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men. Indeed, [the Church] proclaims and must ever proclaim Christ, 'the way, the truth, and the life, in whom men find the fulness of religious life, and in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself'".
I propose now to speak frankly about the Second Holy Ecumenical Council of the Vatican.
(1) With regard even to infallible definitions of dogma by Ecumenical Councils and Roman Pontiffs, it is a commonplace that, while we are bound to accept them as of Divine Faith, we are not necessarily obliged to accept, on the same authority, the arguments which are offered to us in support of a dogma; or the prudential considerations which led to its definition. A fortiori, the same limitations apply to the documents of Vatican II. Because ...
(2) Vatican II, in any case, was not a Council which proposed infallibly any dogmas (except those which were already de fide by virtue of the previous Magisterium, such as the Immaculate Conception and Bodily Assumption of the Mother of God, the immorality of procured abortions, etc., etc., etc..). And ...
(3) Vatican II professed to be a pastoral Council. It is a statement of the obvious that pastoral needs (and implied audiences) can vary toto caelo between one generation and another, so that the pastoral observations of the Council will not be expected to speak as directly to successive generations as they might have done to the first half of the 1960s. Conciliar documents Of Vatican II, very helpfully, themselves made this clear by referring to mundus hodierni temporis or the like; and the very document we are now considering makes the same point by its programmatic opening words Nostra aetate.
In the context of these observations, I can only say that, as far as I can see, this Decree of the Council deals with a subject of some complexity with an almost scandalously cheerful brevity. And it is woefully over-optimistic. For example, it addresses an implied audience of non-Christians who are keenly and with goodwill open to a positive evaluation by us of their own religions. It does not - for example - address a world (such as our world) in which very many who profess thus to understand their own faith see themselves as engaged in a Holy War to exterminate, by death or by conversion, those who hold our One True Catholic Faith. Accordingly, I regard as distinctively time-conditioned ... well past their sell-by dates ... passages such as "She [the Church] looks with sincere respect upon those ways of conduct and of life, those rules and teachings which, though differing in many particulars from what she holds and sets forth ...". And it is not so much the actual words of the Council which embarrass me as, firstly, its failure to give us some well-chosen observations about the errors of false religions; secondly, its failure to give any guidance as to how we are to reconcile its new teaching with its own statement that the earlier Magisterium remains fully in force; and, thirdly, what I might venture to call its body-language - what it seems at first sight to be saying ... until one looks more carefully.
To be continued.