|Date||11 October 1962–8 December 1965|
|Accepted by||Catholic Church|
|First Vatican Council (1869–1870)|
|Convoked by||Pope John XXIII|
|Attendance||Up to 2,625|
|Topics||Complete unfinished task of Vatican I and ecumenical outreach to address needs of modern world|
Documents and statements
|Chronological list of ecumenical councils|
|Part of a series on|
of the Catholic Church
The Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, commonly known as the Second Vatican Council, or Vatican II, was the 21st ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church. The council met in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome for four periods (or sessions), each lasting between 8 and 12 weeks, in the autumn of each of the four years 1962 to 1965. Preparation for the council took three years, from the summer of 1959 to the autumn of 1962. The council was opened on 11 October 1962 by John XXIII (pope during the preparation and the first session), and was closed on 8 December 1965 by Paul VI (pope during the last three sessions, after the death of John XXIII on 3 June 1963).
Pope John XXIII called the council because he felt the Church needed “updating” (in Italian: aggiornamento). In order to connect with 20th-century people in an increasingly secularized world, some of the Church's practices needed to be improved, and its teaching needed to be presented in a way that would appear relevant and understandable to them. Many Council participants were sympathetic to this, while others saw little need for change and resisted efforts in that direction. But support for aggiornamento won out over resistance to change, and as a result the sixteen magisterial documents produced by the council proposed significant developments in doctrine and practice: an extensive reform of the liturgy, a renewed theology of the Church, of revelation and of the laity, a new approach to relations between the Church and the world, to ecumenism, to non-Christian religions to religious freedom and more importantly, on the eastern Churches.
John W. O'Malley called this council "the most important religious event of the twentieth century".
Since the end of the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church had felt itself under siege by hostile forces and false ideas spawned by the Protestant Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the secular State born of the French Revolution. The reaction to these forces was the centralization of authority in Rome (Ultramontanism) and a fortress mentality which expressed itself in a consistently negative attitude toward the modern world, and regular condemnations of the ideas or individuals that embodied its errors. The 1869-1870 First Vatican Council, with its definition of papal primacy and papal infallibility, represented the high-water mark of Ultramontanism while the Syllabus of Errors, a list of 80 errors of the modern world appended to Pius IX's 1864 encyclical Quanta cura, was representative of this attitude of condemnation and rejection of the modern world, nicely summed up in the last statement on the list, which condemned the view that “the Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself, and come to terms with, progress, liberalism and modern civilization" (#80).
In such a climate, the only acceptable theology was one based on the twin pillars of Neo-scholasticism and the encyclicals of the recent popes. When this proved insufficient to stop new ideas such as the use of the historical-critical method in Bible studies or new historical studies that cast doubt on the standard narrative of Church history, Pope Pius X issued his 1907 encyclical Pascendi dominici gregis, which identified and condemned a new heresy called modernism, which was claimed to be the embodiment of all these new ideas. The battle against modernism marked the first half of the 20th century in the Catholic Church.
But still there were signs of new growth in various corners of the Church.
Main article: Liturgical Movement
19th century scholarly research into the liturgy of the first centuries showed how far the current liturgy had departed from the earlier practice, where the congregation was actively involved, responding and singing in its own language. But now the mass was in Latin, a language most people did not understand, and the congregation observed in silence the ritual performed by the priest at the altar. This realization inspired a modest movement to get the congregation involved in the mass, to get them to respond and to sing those parts of the mass that belonged to them. Some even proposed that Latin be replaced by the language of the people. The liturgical movement was greeted with considerable caution by Church authorities. In the early 1950s, there was a significant reform of the ceremonies of Holy Week, but by the early 1960s, little else had changed.
Main article: Ecumenism
The term “ecumenism” came into use in the 20th century to refer to efforts – initially among Protestants – towards the reunification of Christians. Initially, the Catholic Church was hostile to the ecumenical movement. The traditional position of the Church was that Catholics had nothing to learn from Protestants and the only way Christian unity would happen was when non-Catholics returned to the Catholic Church. Collaboration with non-Catholics was forbidden. By the early 1950s, there was a modest ecumenical movement within the Catholic Church, but it had little support from the authorities.
In 1960, the overwhelming majority of Catholics had never read the Bible or even owned one. For most Catholics, personal reading of the Bible was something only Protestants did. But among Catholic theologians and pastors there had developed a renewed interest in the Bible in the 20th century. Pope Pius XII's 1943 encyclical Divino afflante spiritu gave a renewed impetus to Catholic Bible studies and encouraged the production of new Bible translations from the original languages. This led to a pastoral attempt to get ordinary Catholics to re-discover the Bible, to read it, to make it a source of their spiritual life. This found a response in very limited circles. By 1960, the movement was still in its infancy.
Main article: Nouvelle théologie
By the 1930s, mainstream theology based on neo-scholasticism and papal encyclicals was being rejected by some theologians as dry and uninspiring. Thus, was born the movement called ressourcement, the return to the sources: basing theology directly on the Bible and the Church Fathers. Some theologians also began to discuss new topics, such as the historical dimension of theology, the theology of work, ecumenism, the theology of the laity, the theology of “earthly realities”. All these writings in a new style came to be called “la nouvelle théologie”, and they soon attracted Rome's attention.
The reaction came in 1950. That year Pius XII published Humani generis, an encyclical “concerning some false opinions threatening to undermine the foundations of Catholic doctrine”. Without naming names, he criticized those who advocated new ways of doing theology. Everyone understood the encyclical was directly against the nouvelle théologie as well as developments in ecumenism and Bible studies. Some of these works were placed on the Index of Prohibited Books, and some of the authors were forbidden to teach or to publish. Those who suffered most were the Jesuit Henri de Lubac and the Dominican Yves Congar, who were unable to teach or publish until the death of Pius XII in 1958. By the early 1960s, other theologians under suspicion included Jesuit Karl Rahner and the young Hans Küng.
In addition, there was the unfinished business of the First Vatican Council (1869–70). When it had been cut short by the Italian Army's entry into Rome at the end of Italian unification, the only topics that had been completed were the theology of the papacy and the relationship of faith and reason, while the theology of the episcopate and of the laity were left unaddressed.
At the same time, the world's bishops were facing challenges driven by political, social, economic, and technological change. Some of these bishops were seeking new ways of addressing those challenges. So, when Pope John announced that he would convene a General Council of the Church, many wondered if he wanted to break down the “fortress Church” mentality and make room for these tentative movements for renewal that had been developing over the past few decades.
John XXIII gave notice of his intention to convene the council on 25 January 1959, less than three months after his election in October 1958. His announcement in the chapter hall of the Benedictine monastery attached to the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls in Rome came as a surprise even to the cardinals present.
He had tested the idea only ten days before with one of them, his Cardinal Secretary of State Domenico Tardini, who gave enthusiastic support to the idea. Although the pope later said the idea came to him in a flash in his conversation with Tardini, two cardinals had earlier attempted to interest him in the idea. They were two of the most conservative, Ernesto Ruffini and Alfredo Ottaviani, who had already in 1948 proposed the idea to Pius XII and who put it before John XXIII on 27 October 1958.
Reaction to the announcement was widespread and largely positive from both religious and secular leaders outside the Catholic Church,
The council was formally summoned by the apostolic constitution Humanae Salutis on 25 December 1961.
In various discussions before the council convened, John XXIII said that it was time to "open the windows [of the Church] and let in some fresh air".
It took over three years – from the summer of 1959 to the autumn of 1962 – to get ready for the council.
The first year was known officially as the “antepreparatory period”. On 17 May 1959, Pope John appointed an Antepreparatory Commission to conduct a vast consultation of the Catholic world concerning topics to be examined at the council. Three groups of people were consulted: the bishops of the world, the Catholic universities and faculties of theology, and the departments of the Curia. By the following summer, 2,049 individuals and institutions had replied with 9,438 individual vota (“wishes”). Some were typical of past ways of doing things, asking for new dogmatic definitions or condemnations of errors. Others were in the spirit of aggiornamento, asking for reforms and new ways of doing things.
The next two years (known officially as the “preparatory period”) were occupied with drafting the documents, called schemas, that would be submitted to the bishops for discussion at the council. On 5 June 1960, ten Preparatory Commissions were created. Each preparatory commission had the same area of responsibility as one of the main departments of the Curia and was chaired by the cardinal who headed that department. From the 9,438 proposals, a list of topics was created, and these topics were parcelled out to these commissions according to their area of competence.
Some commissions prepared a separate schema for each topic they were asked to treat, others a single schema encompassing all the topics they were handed. These were the preparatory commissions and the number of schemas they drafted:
|Bishops and Dioceses||7|
|Discipline of Clergy and Faithful||17|
|Eastern Catholic Churches||11|
|Discipline of Sacraments||10|
|Studies and Seminaries||6|
|Apostolate of the Laity||1|
Two secretariats – one the offshoot of an existing Vatican office, the other a new body – also had a part in drafting schemas:
|Modern Means of Communication||1|
|Promotion of Christian Unity||5|
The total number of schemas was 70. As most of these preparatory bodies were predominantly conservative, the schemas they produced showed only modest signs of updating. The schemas drafted by the preparatory commission for theology, dominated by officials of the Holy Office (the curial department for theological orthodoxy) showed no signs of aggiornamento at all. The two notable exceptions were the preparatory commission for liturgy and the Secretariat for Christian unity, whose schemas were very much in the spirit of renewal.
In addition to these specialist commissions and secretariats, there was a Central Preparatory Commission, tasked with approving and, if necessary, ordering the revision of the schemas prepared by the other commissions. It was a large body of over 100 members, including two thirds of the cardinals. As a result of its work, 22 schemas were eliminated from the conciliar agenda, mainly because they could be dealt with during a planned revision of the Code of Canon Law after the council, and a number of schemas were consolidated and merged, with the result that the total number of schemas was whittled down from 70 to 22.
(Paragraph numbers in this section refer to the Council Regulations published in the motu proprio Appropinquante concilio, of 6 August 1962.)
Council Fathers (§1). All the bishops of the world, as well as the heads of the main religious orders of men, were entitled to be "Council Fathers", that is, full participants with the right to speak and vote. Their number was about 2,900, though some 500 of them would be unable to attend, either for reasons of health or old age, or because the Communist authorities of their country would not let them travel. The Council Fathers in attendance represented 79 countries: 38% were from Europe, 31% from the Americas, 20% from Asia & Oceania, and 10% from Africa. (At Vatican I a century earlier there were 737 Council Fathers, mostly from Europe,) At Vatican II, some 250 bishops were native-born Asians and Africans, whereas at Vatican I, there were none at all.
General Congregations (§3, 20, 33, 38-39, 52-63). The Council Fathers met in daily sittings — known as General Congregations — to discuss the schemas. and vote on them. These sittings took place in St. Peter's Basilica every morning until 12:30 Monday to Saturday (except Thursday). The average daily attendance was about 2,200. Stands with tiers of seats for all the Council Fathers had been built on both sides of the central nave of St. Peter's. During the first session, a council of presidents, of 10 cardinals, was responsible for presiding over the general assemblies, its members taking turns chairing each day's sitting (§4). During the later sessions, this task belonged to a council of 4 Moderators.
Speeches were limited to 10 minutes and had to be in Latin (§28). They were to be written out beforehand, then delivered verbatim and handed in for the record. Thus, proceedings did not consist in spontaneous debate, but in the reading of Latin speeches.
All votes required a two-thirds majority. For each schema, after a preliminary discussion there was a vote whether it was considered acceptable in principle, or rejected. If acceptable, debate continued with votes on individual chapters and paragraphs. Bishops could submit amendments, which were then written into the schema if they were requested by many bishops. Votes continued in this way until wide agreement was reached, after which there was a final vote on a document. This was followed some days later by a public session where the Pope promulgated the document as the official teaching of the council, following another, ceremonial, vote of the Council Fathers. There was an unwritten rule that, in order to be considered official Church teaching, a document had to receive an overwhelming majority of votes, somewhere in the area of 90%. This led to many compromises, as well as formulations that were broad enough to be acceptable by people on either side of an issue.
All General Congregations were closed to the public. Council Fathers were under an obligation not to reveal anything that went on in the daily sittings (§26). Secrecy soon broke down, and much information about the daily General Congregations was leaked to the press.
The Pope did not attend General Congregations, but followed the deliberations on closed-circuit television.
Public Sessions (§2, 44-51). These were similar to General Congregations, except that they were open to the press and television, and the Pope was present. There were 10 public sessions in the course of the council: the opening day of each of the council's four periods, 5 days when the Pope promulgated Council documents, and the final day of the council.
Commissions (§5-6, 64-70). Much of the detailed work of the council was done in these commissions. Like the preparatory commissions during the preparatory period, they were 10 in number, each covering the same area of Church life as a particular curial department and chaired by the cardinal who headed that department. Each commission included 25 Council Fathers (16 elected by the council and 9 appointed by the Pope) as well as consultors (official periti appointed by the pope). In addition, the Secretariat for Christian Unity, appointed during the preparatory period, continued to exist throughout the 4 years of the Council, with the same powers as a commission. The commissions were tasked with revising the schemas as Council Fathers submitted amendments. They met in the afternoons or evenings. Procedure was more informal than in the general assemblies: there was spontaneous debate, sometimes heated, and Latin was not the only language used. Like the General Congregations, they were closed to the public and subject to the same rules of secrecy.
Official Periti (§9-10). These experts were appointed by the Pope to advise the Council Fathers, and were assigned as consultors to the commissions, where they played an important part in re-writing the Council documents. At the beginning of the Council, there were 224 official periti, but their number would eventually rise to 480. They could attend the debates in the General Congregations, but could not speak. The theologians who had been silenced during the 1940s and 1950s, such as Yves Congar and Henri de Lubac, and some theologians who were under suspicion in Roman circles at the beginning of the 1960s, such as Karl Rahner and Hans Küng, were appointed periti because of their expertise. Their appointment served to vindicate their ideas and gave them a platform from which they could work to further their views.
Private Periti (§11). Each bishop was allowed to bring along a personal theological adviser of his choice. Known as “private periti”, they were not official Council participants and could not attend General Congregations or commission meetings. But like the official periti, they gave informal talks to groups of bishops, bringing them up to date on developments in their particular area of expertise. Karl Rahner, Joseph Ratzinger and Hans Küng first went to the council as some bishop's personal theologian, and were later appointed official periti. Some notable theologians, such as Edward Schillebeeckx, remained private periti for the whole duration of the Council.
Observers (§18) . An important innovation was the invitation by Pope John to Orthodox and Protestant Churches to send observers to the council. Eventually 21 denominations or bodies such as the World Council of Churches were represented.[a] The observers were entitled to sit in on all general assemblies (but not the commissions) and they mingled with the Council Fathers during the breaks and let them know their reactions to speeches or to schemas. Their presence helped to break down centuries of mistrust.
Lay auditors. While not provided for in the Official Regulations, a small number of lay people were invited to attend as “auditors” beginning with the Second Session. While not allowed to take part in debate, a few of them were asked to address the council about their concerns as lay people. The first auditors were all male, but beginning with the third session, a number of women were also appointed.
John XXIII opened the council on 11 October 1962 in a public session at St. Peter's basilica in Vatican City and read the declaration Gaudet Mater Ecclesia before the council Fathers.
What is needed at the present time is a new enthusiasm, a new joy and serenity of mind in the unreserved acceptance by all of the entire Christian faith, without forfeiting that accuracy and precision in its presentation which characterized the proceedings of the Council of Trent and the First Vatican Council. What is needed, and what everyone imbued with a truly Christian, Catholic and apostolic spirit craves today, is that this doctrine shall be more widely known, more deeply understood, and more penetrating in its effects on men's moral lives. What is needed is that this certain and immutable doctrine, to which the faithful owe obedience, be studied afresh and reformulated in contemporary terms. For this deposit of faith, or truths which are contained in our time-honored teaching is one thing; the manner in which these truths are set forth (with their meaning preserved intact) is something else. (Roncalli, Angelo Giuseppe, "Opening address", Council, Rome, IT.)
The first working session of the council was on 13 October 1962. That day's agenda included the election of members of the ten conciliar commissions. Each commission would have sixteen elected and eight appointed members, and they were expected to do most of the work of the council. It had been expected that the members of the preparatory commissions, where the Curia was heavily represented, would be confirmed as the majorities on the conciliar commissions. But senior French Cardinal Achille Liénart addressed the council, saying that the bishops could not intelligently vote for strangers. He asked that the vote be postponed to give all the bishops a chance to draw up their own lists. German Cardinal Josef Frings seconded that proposal, and the vote was postponed. The first meeting of the council adjourned after only fifteen minutes.
The bishops met to discuss the membership of the commissions, along with other issues, both in national and regional groups, as well as in gatherings that were more informal. The original schemata (Latin for drafts) from the preparatory sessions, drawn up by Sebastiaan Tromp, the secretary of the Preparatory Theological Commission, were rejected by an alliance of liberal-leaning "Rhineland" clerics and new ones were created. When the council met on 16 October 1962, a new slate of commission members was presented and approved by the council. One important change was a significant increase in membership from Central and Northern Europe, beyond countries such as Spain or Italy. More than 100 bishops from Africa, Asia, and Latin America were Dutch or Belgian and tended to associate with the bishops from those countries. These groups were led by Cardinals Bernardus Johannes Alfrink of the Netherlands and Leo Suenens of Belgium.
Eleven commissions and three secretariats were established, with their respective presidents:
At the end of the First Session, pope John created a Coordinating Commission to supervise the conciliar commissions in the task of revising all the schemas in order to make them more open to aggiornamento and to reduce the amount of material. The Commission's 7 members included 2 curial cardinals (Cicognani, the secretary of state, and Confalonieri of the Consistorial congregation) and 5 diocesan bishops (cardinals Suenens of Mechelen-Brussels, Döpfner of Munich, Liénart of Lille, Spellman of New York and Urbani of Venice. In the course of the next few months, all of the schemas would be rewritten under the Coordinating Commission's supervision. As a result, the number of schemas was reduced from 22 to 15, and they became more renewal-friendly, some of them very much so: "By the time the Council resumed on September 29 [the Coordinating Commission] had accomplished a wonder. It had reduced the number of schema to a manageable size. It had extracted revised texts from almost every commission. [...] In a little more than eight months it had made Vatican II a viable assembly and imparted to it the essential shape by which we know it."
Pope John XXIII died of stomach cancer on 3 June 1963, and the Council was suspended in accordance with Canon Law until the next pope decided whether or not it would continue. Two weeks later, 82 cardinals met in Rome for the conclave, and on 21 June Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini of Milan, a moderate reformer, was elected pope, taking the name Paul VI. The day after his election, Paul VI announced that the Council would continue and that it would be his “chief work”.
Before the end of the summer, Paul VI decided to reorganize some of the structures of the Council. The Coordinating Commission, originally intended to be temporary, was enlarged and made a permanent feature with oversight over the conciliar commissions. Four of its members were given the additional task of chairing the daily General Congregations (instead of the 10-member Council of Presidents) with the title of “Moderators”. Because they were members of the Coordinating Commission that supervised the other commissions and they also chaired the daily General Congregations, these four cardinals, three of whom were enthusiastic reformers (cardinals Suenens of Mechelen-Brussels, Döpfner of Munich and Lercaro of Bologna), became the organizational linchpins of the Council.
Before the beginning of the Second Period of the Council, Pope Paul created a new category of Council participants: lay auditors, who sat in on General Congregations, though without the right to speak or vote. He also allowed more information about daily General Congregations to be provided to the press.
Paul's opening address on 29 September 1963 stressed the pastoral nature of the council, and set out four purposes for it:
During this second session, the bishops approved the constitution on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, and the decree on social communication, Inter mirifica. Work went forward with the schemata on the Church, bishops and dioceses, and on ecumenism.
It was in this session that a revision of the rite of the consecration of virgins that was found in the Roman Pontifical was requested; the revised Rite was approved by Paul and published in 1970.
On 8 November 1963, Josef Frings criticized the Holy Office, and drew an articulate and impassioned defense by its secretary, Alfredo Ottaviani, in one of the most dramatic exchanges of the council. (Cardinal Frings' theological adviser was the young Joseph Ratzinger, who would later as a Cardinal head the same department of the Holy See, and from 2005 to 2013 reign as Benedict XVI). The second session ended on 4 December.
In early January (4-6 January 1964) pope Paul went on a three-say pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where he met Athenagoras, patriarch of Constantinople and spiritual head of the Eastern Orthodox churches. It was the first meeting between a pope and a patriarch of Constantinople in 600 years. It broke down centuries of suspicion and estrangement, and gave great hope to the ecumenical movement.
On 25 January, less than 2 months after the promulgation of the constitution on the liturgy Sacrosanctum concilium, pope Paul appointed a committee of bishops and liturgists to advise him on putting into effect the principles contained in the constitution. Over the following six years, this committee, known as the “Consilium for the Implementation of the Constitution on the Liturgy”, would periodically announce changes to the liturgy.
The revision of the schemas continued. By mid-summer, all of the remaining schemas were sent to the Council Fathers in the expectation that the next Session would be the last. The revision of the schema on the Church had been particularly difficult. In mid-summer pope Paul surprised everyone by letting the Doctrinal Commission know that he would like some changes to the schema. The Commission accepted some changes but not others, and the pope seemed satisfied. The day before the beginning of the Third Session, the pope received a confidential memorandum from 25 cardinals and 13 superiors-general of religious orders of men, asking him to intervene and prevent the doctrine of collegiality from being accepted at the Council.
Five weeks before the opening of the Third Session, pope Paul published his first encyclical, Ecclesiam suam, on the Church.
Following a remark by Cardinal Suenens at the end of the second session that women were absent from the Council, pope Paul appointed 15 women to be lay auditors during the third Session. Eventually 23 women, including 10 religious, would sit in on debates as official auditors. While 3 of the male auditors would eventually be asked to address the Council Fathers about their concerns as laypeople, none of the women would be asked to speak.
During the third session, which began on 14 September 1964, the council fathers worked through a large volume of proposals. There "were approved and promulgated by the Pope" schemata on ecumenism (Unitatis redintegratio); the official view on Protestant and Eastern Orthodox "separated brethren"; the Eastern Rite churches (Orientalium Ecclesiarum); and the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church (Lumen gentium).
Schemata on the life and ministry of priests and the missionary activity of the Church were rejected and sent back to commissions for complete rewriting. Work continued on the remaining schemata, in particular those on the Church in the modern world and on religious freedom. There was controversy over revisions of the decree on religious freedom and the failure to vote on it during the third session, but Paul promised that this schema would be the first to be reviewed in the next session.
Paul closed the third session on 21 November by announcing a change in the Eucharistic fast and formally reaffirming Mary as "Mother of the Church". While some called for more dogmas about Mary, in a 2 February 1965 speech Paul VI referred to the "Christocentric and Church-centered direction which the council intends to give to our doctrine and devotion to our Lady".: 12
In early December 1965, Pope Paul travelled to India to take part in the International Eucharistic Congress held in Bombay (now Mumbai). By visiting a non-Christian third-world country, he wanted to show the Church's openness to non-Christian religions and to the problems of the modern world, two topics being discussed at the Council.
The previous September, the Consilium for the Implementation of the Constitution on the Liturgy had published the first changes to the celebration of mass, changes to come into effect on 7 March 1965. On that day, Catholics around the world experienced for the first time mass celebrated partly in their own language and “facing the people”. To show his support for these changes, pope Paul began celebrating mass according to the new rules each Sunday in a different Rome parish.
At the end of the third session, 11 schemata remained unfinished: 238–50 and during the interval between the sessions the commissions worked to give them their final form. The schemas that were having the bumpiest ride were those on Revelation, Religious freedom, Non-Christian Religions, and The Church in the Modern World. Cardinal Ritter observed that, "We were stalled by the delaying tactics of a very small minority" in the Curia who were more industrious in communicating with the pope than was the more progressive majority.: 3
Paul VI opened the last session of the council on 14 September 1965 and on the following day promulgated the motu proprio establishing the Synod of Bishops. This more permanent structure was intended to preserve close cooperation of the bishops with the pope after the council.
The first business of the fourth session was the consideration of the decree on religious freedom, Dignitatis humanae, one of the more controversial of the conciliar documents that passed on 21 September by a vote of 1,997 for to 224 against.: 47–49 The principal work of the other part of the session was work on three documents, all of which were approved by the council Fathers. The lengthened and revised pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world, Gaudium et spes, was followed by decrees on missionary activity, Ad gentes, and on the ministry and life of priests, Presbyterorum ordinis.: 238–50
The council also gave final approval to other documents that had been considered in earlier sessions. These included the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei verbum) and the decrees on the pastoral office of bishops (Christus Dominus), on the life of persons in religious orders (expanded and modified from earlier sessions, finally titled Perfectae caritatis), on education for the priesthood (Optatam totius), on Christian education (Gravissimum educationis), and on the role of the laity (Apostolicam actuositatem).: 238–50
One of the more controversial documents was Nostra aetate, which stated that the Jews of the time of Christ, taken indiscriminately, and all Jews today are no more responsible for the death of Christ than Christians.
True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God. ...The Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel's spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews.
Better Jewish-Catholic relations have been emphasized since the council.
A major event of the final days of the council was the act of Paul and Orthodox Patriarch Athenagoras of a joint expression of regret for many of the past actions that had led up to the Great Schism between the western and eastern churches.: 236–7
"The old story of the Samaritan has been the model of the spirituality of the Council" (Paul VI., address, 7 December). On 8 December, the council was formally closed, with the bishops professing their obedience to the council's decrees. To help carry forward the work of the council, Paul:
Vatican II's teaching is contained in sixteen documents: 4 "constitutions", 9 decrees and 3 declarations. While the constitutions are clearly the documents of highest importance, "the distinction between decrees and declarations, no matter what it originally meant, has become meaningless".
|Document||Date of approval of final text||Vote on final text||Date of promulgation||Vote preceding promulgation|
|Church||1964-Nov-19||2,134 to 10||1964-Nov-21||2,151 to 5|
|Revelation||1965-Oct-29||2,081 to 27||1965-Nov-18||2,344 to 6|
|Liturgy||1963-Nov-22||2,159 to 19||1963-Dec-04||2,147 to 4|
|Church and Modern World||1965-Dec-06||2,111 to 251||1965-Dec-07||2,309 to 75|
|Bishops||1965-Oct-01||2,167 to 14||1965-Oct-28||2,319 to 2|
|Priestly Ministry||1965-Dec-02||2,243 to 11||1965-Dec-07||2,390 to 4|
|Priestly Formation||1965-Oct-13||2,196 to 15||1965-Oct-28||2,318 to 3|
|Religious Life||1965-Oct-11||2,126 to 13||1965-Oct-28||2,321 to 4|
|Lay Apostolate||1965-Nov-10||2,201 to 2||1965-Nov-18||2,305 to 2|
|Eastern Churches||1964-Nov-20||2,054 to 64||1964-Nov-21||2,110 to 39|
|Ecumenism||1964-Nov-20||2,054 to 64||1964-Nov-21||2,137 to 11|
|Missions||1965-Dec-02||2,162 to 18||1965-Dec-07||2,394 to 5|
|Media||1963-Nov-24||1,598 to 503||1963-Dec-04||1,960 to 164|
|Non-Christian Religions||1965-Oct-15||1,763 to 242||1965-Oct-28||2,221 to 88|
|Religious Freedom||1965-Nov-19||1,954 to 249||1965-Dec-07||2,308 to 70|
|Christian Education||1965-Oct-14||1,912 to 183||1965-Oct-28||2,290 to 35|
Main article: Sacrosanctum Concilium
The first document passed by the council was Sacrosanctum Concilium ("Most Sacred Council") on the church's liturgy. Benedict XVI explained that an essential idea of the council itself is the "Paschal Mystery (Christ's passion, death and resurrection) as the center of what it is to be Christian and therefore of the Christian life, the Christian year, the Christian seasons, expressed in Eastertide and on Sunday which is always the day of the Resurrection." Thus, the liturgy, especially the Eucharist which makes the Paschal Mystery present, is "the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows."
The matter that had the most immediate effect on the lives of individual Catholics was the revision of the liturgy. The central idea was that there ought to be lay participation in the liturgy which means they "take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects" (SC 11). Since the mid-1960s, permission has been granted to celebrate the Mass in vernacular languages.[b] It has been emphasized that the language used should be known to the gathered people. The amount of Scripture read during Mass was greatly expanded, through different annual cycles of readings. The revised version of the Latin text of the Mass remains the authoritative text on which translations are based. The invitation for more active, conscious participation of the laity through Mass in the vernacular did not stop with the decree on the liturgy. It was taken up by the later documents of the council that called for a more active participation of the laity in the life of the Church, a turn away from clericalism toward a new age of the laity.
Main article: Lumen gentium
See also: Ecclesiology (Catholic Church)
The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen gentium ("Light of the Nations") gave direction to several of the documents that followed it, including those on Ecumenism, on Non-Christian Religions, on Religious Freedom, and on The Church in the Modern World (see below). A most contentious conclusion that seems to follow from the Bishops' teaching in the decree is that while "in some sense other Christian communities are institutionally defective," these communities can "in some cases be more effective as vehicles of grace." Belgian Bishop Emil de Smedt, commenting on institutional defects that had crept into the Catholic church, "contrasted the hierarchical model of the church that embodied the triad of 'clericalism, legalism, and triumphalism' with one that emphasized the 'people of God', filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit and radically equal in grace," that was extolled in Lumen Gentium. According to Paul VI, "the most characteristic and ultimate purpose of the teachings of the Council" is the universal call to holiness. John Paul II calls this "an intrinsic and essential aspect of [the council Fathers'] teaching on the Church", where "all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status, are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity" (Lumen gentium, 40). Francis, in his apostolic letter Evangelii Gaudium (17) which laid out the programmatic for his pontificate, said that "on the basis of the teaching of the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium" he would discuss the entire People of God which evangelizes, missionary outreach, the inclusion of the poor in society, and peace and dialogue within society. Francis has also followed the call of the council for a more collegial style of leadership, through synods of bishops and through his personal use of a worldwide advisory council of eight cardinals.
Main article: Dei verbum
The council's document Dei Verbum ("The Word of God") states the principle active in the other council documents that "The study of the sacred page is, as it were, the soul of sacred theology". It is said of Dei Verbum that "arguably it is the most seminal of all the conciliar documents," with the fruits of a return to the Bible as the foundation of Christian life and teaching, evident in the other council documents. Joseph Ratzinger, who would become Benedict XVI, said of the emphasis on the Bible in the council that prior to Vatican II the theology manuals continued to confuse "propositions about revelation with the content of revelation. It represented not abiding truths of faith, but rather the peculiar characteristics of post-Reformation polemic." In spite of the guarded approval of biblical scholarship under Pius XII, scholars suspected of Modernism were silenced right up to Vatican II. The council brought a definitive end to the Counter-Reformation and, in a spirit of aggiornamento, reached back "behind St. Thomas himself and the Fathers, to the biblical theology which governs the first two chapters of the Constitution on the Church." "The documents of the Second Vatican Council are shot through with the language of the Bible. ...The church's historical journey away from its earlier focus upon these sources was reversed at Vatican II." For instance, the council's document on the liturgy called for a broader use of liturgical texts, which would now be in the vernacular, along with more enlightened preaching on the Bible explaining "the love affair between God and humankind". The translation of liturgical texts into vernacular languages, the allowance of communion under both kinds for the laity, and the expansion of Scripture readings during the Mass was resonant with the sensibilities of other Christian denominations, thus making the Second Vatican Council "a milestone for Catholic, Protestants, [and] the Orthodox".
Main article: Gaudium et Spes
This document, named for its first words Gaudium et Spes ("Joy and Hope"), built on Lumen Gentium's understanding of the Church as the “pilgrim people of God” and as “communion”, aware of the long history of the Church's teaching and in touch with what it calls the “signs of the times”. It reflects the understanding that Baptism confers on all the task that Jesus entrusted to the Church, to be on mission to the world in ways that the present age can understand, in cooperation with the ongoing work of the Spirit.
Opening declaration – Gaudet Mater Ecclesia ("Mother Church Rejoices") was the opening declaration of the Second Vatican Council, delivered by John XXIII on 11 October 1962 before the bishops and representatives of 86 governments or international groups. He criticizes the "prophets of doom who are always forecasting disaster" for the church or world. He speaks of the advantage of separation of Church and state but also the challenge to integrate faith with public life. The Church "meets today's needs by explaining the validity of her doctrine more fully rather than by condemning," by reformulating ancient doctrine for pastoral effectiveness. Also, the Church is "moved by mercy and goodness towards her separated children." John XXIII before his papacy had proven his gifts as a papal diplomat and as Apostolic Nuncio to France.
On the Means of Social Communication – The decree Inter mirifica ("Among the wonderful", 1963) addresses issues concerning the press, cinema, television, and other media of communication.
Ecumenism – The decree Unitatis redintegratio ("Reintegration of Unity", 1964) opens with the statement: "The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council."
Of the Eastern Catholic Churches – The decree Orientalium Ecclesiarum ("Of the Eastern Churches", 1964) recognizes the right of Eastern Catholics in communion with the Holy See to keep their distinct liturgical practices and avoid Latinisation. It encourages them to "take steps to return to their ancestral traditions." It established the equality of the Churches in the Catholic communion. Catholic Church is a communion of the eastern and the latin Churches Sui Iuris. Latin Church is no more considered as THE Church, but it is only one of the Churches Sui Iuris in the Catholic communion. All Churches Sui Iuris in the Catholic Communion are equal in dignity, in rights as well as in their obligations, even concerning the preaching of the Word of God to the entire world.
Mission Activity – The decree Ad gentes ("To the Nations", 1965) treats evangelization as the fundamental mission of the Catholic Church, "to bring good news to the poor." It includes sections on training missionaries and on forming communities.
The Apostolate of the Laity – The decree Apostolicam actuositatem ("Apostolic Activity", 1965) declares that the apostolate of the laity is "not only to bring the message and grace of Christ to men but also to penetrate and perfect the temporal order with the spirit of the Gospel", in every field of life, together or through various groups, with respectful cooperation with the Church's hierarchy.
The Pastoral Office of Bishops – The decree Christus Dominus ("Christ the Lord", 1965) places renewed emphasis on collegiality and on strong conferences of bishops, while respecting the papacy.
On Religious Freedom – The declaration Dignitatis humanae ("Of the Dignity of the Human Person", 1965) is "on the right of the person and of communities to social and civil freedom in matters religious".
Non-Christian Religions – The declaration Nostra aetate ("In our time", 1965) reflects that people are being drawn closer together in our time. The Church "regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men.'' And Jews today "should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God" for what happened to Jesus.
The Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life – The decree Perfectae Caritatis ("Of perfect charity", 1965) calls for "adaptation and renewal of the religious life [that] includes both the constant return to the sources of all Christian life and to the original spirit of the institutes and their adaptation to the changed conditions of our time."
On the Ministry and Life of Priests – The decree Presbyterorum ordinis ("The order of priests", 1965) describes priests as "father and teacher" but also "brothers among brothers with all those who have been reborn at the baptismal font." Priests must "promote the dignity" of the laity, "willingly listen" to them, acknowledge and diligently foster "exalted charisms of the laity", and "entrust to the laity duties in the service of the Church, allowing them freedom and room for action." Also, the human and spiritual needs of priests are discussed in detail.
On Priestly Training – The decree Optatam totius ("Desired [renewal] of the whole", 1965).
On Christian Education – The declaration Gravissimum educationis ("Extremely important [time] of education", 1965).
Closing Statement – On 12 January 1966, a month after the close of the council, Paul VI wrote the letter Udienze Generale on how the council was to be interpreted.
The questioning of the nature of and even validity of the Second Vatican Council continues to be a contending point of rejection and conflict among various religious communities, some of which are not in communion with the Catholic Church. In particular, two schools of thought may be discerned:
|Papal primacy, supremacy and infallibility|
Main article: Post Vatican II history of the Catholic Church
The council addressed relations between the Catholic Church and the modern world. Several changes resulting from the council include the renewal of consecrated life with a revised charism, ecumenical efforts with other Christian denominations, interfaith dialogue with other religions, and the universal call to holiness, which according to Paul VI was "the most characteristic and ultimate purpose of the teachings of the Council".
According to Pope Benedict XVI, the most important and essential message of the council was "the Paschal Mystery as the center of what it is to be Christian and therefore of the Christian life, the Christian year, the Christian seasons". Other changes that followed the council included the widespread use of vernacular languages in the Mass instead of Latin, the allowance of communion under both kinds for the laity, the subtle disuse of ornate clerical regalia, the revision of Eucharistic (liturgical) prayers, the abbreviation of the liturgical calendar, the ability to celebrate the Mass versus populum (with the officiant facing the congregation), as well as ad orientem (facing the "East" and the Crucifix), and modern aesthetic changes encompassing contemporary Catholic liturgical music and artwork. With many of these changes resonating with the perspectives of other Christian denominations who sent observers to the Second Vatican Council, it was an ecumenical "milestone for Catholics, Protestants, [and] the Orthodox". These changes, while praised by many faithful Catholics, remain divisive among those identifying as traditionalist Catholics.[d]
In addition to general spiritual guidance, the Second Vatican Council produced very specific recommendations, such as in the document Gaudium et Spes: "Any act of war aimed indiscriminately at the destruction of entire cities of extensive areas along with their population is a crime against God and man himself. It merits unequivocal and unhesitating condemnation."
Dignitatis humanae, authored largely by United States theologian John Courtney Murray, challenged the council fathers to find "reasons for religious freedom" in which they believed,: 8 and drew from scripture scholar John L. McKenzie the comment: "The Church can survive the disorder of development better than she can stand the living death of organized immobility.": 106
As a result of the reforms of Vatican II, on 15 August 1972 Paul issued the motu proprio Ministeria Quaedam which in effect suppressed the minor orders and replaced them with two ministries, those of lector and acolyte. A major difference was: "Ministries may be assigned to lay Christians; hence they are no longer to be considered as reserved to candidates for the sacrament of orders."
By "the spirit of Vatican II" is often meant promoting teachings and intentions attributed to the Second Vatican Council in ways not limited to literal readings of its documents, spoken of as the "letter" of the council (cf. Saint Paul's phrase, "the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life").
The spirit of Vatican II is invoked for a great variety of ideas and attitudes. Bishop John Tong Hon of Hong Kong used it with regard merely to an openness to dialogue with others, saying: "We are guided by the spirit of Vatican II: only dialogue and negotiation can solve conflicts."
In contrast, Michael Novak described it as a spirit that:
... sometimes soared far beyond the actual, hard-won documents and decisions of Vatican II. ...It was as though the world (or at least the history of the Church) were now to be divided into only two periods, pre-Vatican II and post-Vatican II. Everything "pre" was then pretty much dismissed, so far as its authority mattered. For the most extreme, to be a Catholic now meant to believe more or less anything one wished to believe, or at least in the sense in which one personally interpreted it. One could be a Catholic "in spirit". One could take Catholic to mean the 'culture' in which one was born, rather than to mean a creed making objective and rigorous demands. One could imagine Rome as a distant and irrelevant anachronism, embarrassment, even adversary. Rome as "them".
From another perspective, Church historian John W. O'Malley writes:
For the new churches it recommended adaptation to local cultures, including philosophical and theological adaptation. It also recommended that Catholic missionaries seek ways of cooperating with missionaries of other faiths and of fostering harmonious relations with them. It asserted that art from every race and country be given scope in the liturgy of the church. More generally, it made clear that the church was sympathetic to the way of life of different peoples and races and was ready to appropriate aspects of different cultural traditions. Though obvious-sounding, these provisions were portentous. Where would they lead?— John O'Malley, What Happened at Vatican II? (Belknap Press, 2010).
To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the beginning of Vatican II, in October 2011, Benedict XVI declared the period from October 2012 to the Solemnity of Christ the King at the end of November 2013 a "Year of Faith", as:
...a good opportunity to help people understand that the texts bequeathed by the Council Fathers, in the words of John Paul II, "have lost nothing of their value or brilliance". They need to be read correctly, to be widely known and taken to heart as important and normative texts of the Magisterium, within the Church's Tradition. ...I feel more than ever in duty bound to point to the Council as the great grace bestowed on the Church in the twentieth century: there we find a sure compass by which to take our bearings in the century now beginning.
It has been suggested that the pontificate of Francis will be looked upon as the "decisive moment in the history of the church in which the full force of the Second Vatican Council's reformist vision was finally realized.": 178 Francis returned to the Vatican II theme of ressourcement, breaking with the Catholic philosophical tradition that had originated with Thomas Aquinas seven centuries before, and looked to original sources in the New Testament.: 54 In contrast to John Paul II who emphasized continuity with the past in Vatican II's teachings, Francis' words and actions were noted from the start for their discontinuities, with an emphasis on Jesus himself and on mercy: a "church that is poor and for the poor", "disposal of the baroque trappings" in liturgical celebrations, and revision of the institutional aspects of the church.: 32–33 From his first gesture when elected Pope, calling himself simply Bishop of Rome, Francis connected with the thrust of the council away from "legalism, triumphalism, and clericalism". He made greater use of church synods, and instituted a more collegial manner of governance by constituting a Council of Cardinal Advisers from throughout the world to assist him which a church historian calls the "most important step in the history of the church for the past 10 centuries." His refocusing the Church on “a moral theology that rests on scripture and Jesus’ command to love” is also seen as coming from the council, as is his lifting up the laity for mission and calling for the presence of women in theologates. He has softened the "forbidding" image of the Church by applying Vatican II's views on respect for conscience to issues like atheism, homosexuality, and the sacraments. This has led to a struggle between "anti-Vatican II diehards and clerics who prefer John XXIII’s (and Francis’s) generosity of spirit." On the issue of liturgy, he has tried to advance the renewal initiated by Vatican II that would elicit more conscious, active participation by the people. And while his predecessors had taken a dim view of liberation theology, his more positive view is seen as flowing from a discernment of "the signs of the times" called for by Gaudium et spes.: 357 He appointed more cardinals from the southern hemisphere and constituted an advisory counsel of eight cardinals from around the world to advise him on reform, which a church historian calls the "most important step in the history of the church for the past 10 centuries."
Of those who took part in the council's opening session, four have become popes: Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini, who on succeeding John XXIII took the name Paul VI; Bishop Albino Luciani, the future John Paul I; Bishop Karol Wojtyła, who became John Paul II; and Father Joseph Ratzinger, present as a theological consultant, who became Benedict XVI.
Several of the fathers and theologians-experts, as well as several Roman Popes and council observers, became canonized saints or are in the process of canonization. These include:
Four hundred years after the Reformation, Vatican II reversed all this and decreed that the assembled people of God celebrate the liturgy; that the texts of worship may be translated into vernacular languages; that the assembled people could drink from the communion cup; that the reading of scripture was to be an essential element of all worship; and that the Eucharist was to be regarded as the source and summit of the Church's life: Ubi Eucharistia, ibi Ecclesia – wherever the Eucharist is, there too is the Church. Such a view was entirely alien to pre-conciliar Roman theology which was more comfortable with the idea: 'Wherever the Pope is, there too is the Church.' Much of this was entirely consonant with Protestant sensibilities and explains why Vatican II was a milestone for Catholic, Protestants, the Orthodox, and all religions.
((cite journal)): Cite journal requires
Vatican II, by eliminating Latin prayers, offended traditional Catholics, and in Judaism the status of kashrut is divisive.
((cite book)): CS1 maint: location (link)