Second Vatican Council

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Vatican Council II
Date 1962–1965
Previous council First Vatican Council
Convoked by Pope John XXIII
Presided by Pope John XXIII, Pope Paul VI
Attendance up to 2540
Topics of discussion The Church in itself, in relation to ecumenism and other religions, in relation to the modern world, renewal, liturgy, etc.
Documents and statements 4 Constitutions:

9 decrees:

3 declarations:

Chronological list of Ecumenical councils

The Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, or Vatican II, was the twenty-first Ecumenical Council of the Roman Catholic Church. It opened under Pope John XXIII on October 11, 1962 and closed under Pope Paul VI on December 8, 1965. At least four future pontiffs took part in the council's opening session: Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini, who on succeeding Pope John XXIII took the name of Paul VI; Bishop Albino Luciani, the future Pope John Paul I; Bishop Karol Wojtyła, who became Pope John Paul II; and 35-year-old Father Joseph Ratzinger, present as a theological consultant, who more than forty years later became Pope Benedict XVI.[1][2]


[edit] Background

Throughout the 1950s, theological and biblical studies of the Roman Catholic Church had begun to sway away from the neo-scholasticism and biblical literalism that the reaction to the Modernist heresy had enforced since the First Vatican Council. This shift could be seen in theologians such as Karl Rahner S.J., and John Courtney Murray S.J. who looked to integrate modern human experience with Christian dogma, as well as others such as Yves Congar, Joseph Ratzinger and Henri de Lubac who looked to what they saw as a more accurate understanding of scripture and the early Church Fathers as a source of renewal ("ressourcement").

At the same time the world's bishops faced tremendous challenges driven by political, social, economic, and technological change. Some of these bishops sought new ways of addressing those challenges. The First Vatican Council had been held nearly a century before but had been cut short when the Italian Army entered the city of Rome at the end of Italian unification. As a result, only deliberations on the role of the Papacy were completed, with examination of pastoral and dogmatic issues concerning the whole church left undone.[3][4]

Pope John XXIII, however, gave notice of his intention to convene the Council on 25 January 1959, less than three months after his election in October 1958.[5] This sudden announcement, which caught the Curia by surprise, caused little initial official comment from Church insiders. Reaction to the announcement was widespread and largely positive from both religious and secular leaders outside the Catholic Church,[6] and the council was formally summoned by an Apostolic Constitution (decree) entitled Humanae Salutis on 25 December 1961.[7][8] In various discussions before the Council actually convened, Pope John often said that it was time to open the windows of the Church to let in some fresh air.[9] He invited other Christian Churches to send observers to the Council. Acceptances came from both Protestant and Orthodox Churches.[10]

[edit] Four Periods (with the sessions)

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Preparations for the Council, which took more than two years, included work from 10 specialized commissions, along with people for mass media and Christian Unity, and a Central Commission for overall coordination. These groups, composed mostly of members of the Roman Curia, produced 987 proposed constitutions and decrees (known as schemata) intended for consideration by the Council. It was expected that these groups would be succeeded by similarly constituted commissions during the Council itself that would carry out the main work of whole for review and expected approval; what happened, however, was that every single schema was thrown out in the first period of the Council, and new ones were created.[11]

The general sessions of the Council were held in the autumns of four successive years (in four periods) 1962 through 1965. During the rest of the year special commissions met to review and collate the work of the bishops and to prepare for the next period. Sessions were held in Latin in St. Peter's Basilica, with secrecy kept as to discussions held and opinions expressed. Speeches (called interventions) were limited to ten minutes. Much of the work of the council, though, went on in a variety of other commission meetings (which could be held in other languages), as well as diverse informal meetings and social contacts outside of the council proper.

Two-thousand nine-hundred and eight (2,908) men (referred to as Council Fathers) were entitled to seats at the council. These included all bishops from around the world, as well as many superiors of male religious orders; 2,540 took part in the opening session, making it the largest gathering in any council in church history. (This compares to Vatican I, where 737 attended, mostly from Europe.)[12] Attendance varied in later sessions from 2,100 to over 2,300. In addition, a varying number of periti (Latin for "experts") were available for theological consultation — a group that turned out to have a major influence as the council went forward. Seventeen Orthodox Churches and Protestant denominations sent observers.[13] More than three dozen representatives of other Christian communities were present at the opening session, and the number grew to nearly 100 by the end of the 4th Council Period.

[edit] First Period (Autumn 1962)

Pope John opened the Council on October 11, 1962 in a public session and read the declaration Gaudet Mater Ecclesia before the Council Fathers.

[edit] The Bishops Assert Themselves

October 13, 1962 marked the initial working session of the Council. That day's agenda included the election for members of the ten conciliar commissions. Each would have sixteen elected and eight appointed members, and were expected to do most of the work of the Council.[14] 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.[15][16] 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, to the applause of the assembled Council Fathers.[16] The very first meeting of the Council adjourned after only fifteen minutes.[17]

The bishops met to discuss the membership of the commissions, along with other issues, both in national and regional groups, as well as in more informal gatherings. When the council met on October 16, 1962, a new slate of commission members was presented and approved by the Council.[15] One important change was a significant increase in membership from Central and Northern Europe, instead of 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 Cardinal Jan Alfrink of the Netherlands and Cardinal Leo Joseph Suenens of Belgium.[18]

[edit] Issues

Issues considered during the sessions included liturgy, mass communications, the Eastern Catholic churches, and the nature of revelation. Most notably, the schema on revelation was rejected by a majority of bishops, and Pope John intervened to require its rewriting.[19]

After adjournment on December 8, work began on preparations for the sessions scheduled for 1963. These preparations, however, were halted upon the death of Pope John XXIII on June 3, 1963. Pope Paul VI was elected on June 21, 1963 and immediately announced that the Council would continue.[20]

[edit] Second Period (Autumn 1963)

The opening of the Second Session of Vatican II

In the months prior to the second period, Pope Paul VI worked to correct some of the problems of organization and procedure that had been discovered during the first period. This included inviting additional lay Catholic and non-Catholic observers, reducing the number of proposed schemata to seventeen (which were made more general, in keeping with the pastoral nature of the council) and later eliminating the requirement of secrecy surrounding general sessions.[20]

Pope Paul's opening address on September 29, 1963 stressed the pastoral nature of the council, and set out four purposes for it:

  • to more fully define the nature of the church and the role of the bishop;
  • to renew the church;
  • to restore unity among all Christians, including seeking pardon for Catholic contributions to separation;
  • and to start a dialogue with the contemporary world.

During this period, the bishops approved the constitution on the liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) and the decree on the media of social communication (Inter Mirifica). Work went forward with the schemata on the Church, bishops and dioceses, and ecumenism. On November 8, 1963, Joseph Cardinal Frings criticized the Holy Office, and drew an articulate and impassioned defense by its Secretary, Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani. This exchange is often considered the most dramatic of the council. (Cardinal Frings's theological advisor was the young Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, who would later, as Cardinal, head the same department of the Holy See.) The second period ended on December 4.

[edit] Third Period (Autumn 1964)

In the time between the second and third periods, the proposed schemata were further revised based on comments from the council fathers. A number of topics were reduced to statements of fundamental propositions that could gain approval during the third period, with postconciliar commissions handling implementation of these measures. Eight religious and seven lay women observers were invited to the sessions of the third period, along with additional male lay observers.

During this period, which began on September 14, 1964, the Council Fathers worked through a large volume of proposals. Schemata on ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio), the Eastern Rite churches (Orientalium Ecclesiarum), and the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church (Lumen Gentium) were approved and promulgated by the Pope.

A votum or statement concerning the sacrament of marriage was submitted for the guidance of the commission revising the Code of Canon Law regarding a wide variety of juridicial, ceremonial, and pastoral issues. The bishops submitted this schema with a request for speedy approval, but the Pope did not act during the council. Pope Paul also instructed the bishops to defer the topic of contraception, which had arisen in part due to the advent of effective oral contraceptives, to a commission of clerical and lay experts that he had appointed.

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 religious freedom. There was controversy over revisions of the decree on religious freedom and the failure to vote on it during the third period, but Pope Paul promised that this schema would be the first to be reviewed in the next period.

Pope Paul closed the third period on November 21 by announcing a change in the Eucharistic fast and formally declaring Mary as "Mother of the Church," as had always been taught.[21]

[edit] Fourth Period (Autumn 1965)

Eleven schemata remained unfinished at the end of the third period, and commissions worked to give them their final form. Schema 13, on the Church in the modern world, was revised by a commission that worked with the assistance of laymen.

Pope Paul VI opened the last period of the Council on September 14, 1965 with the establishment of a 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 period was the consideration of the decree on religious freedom, which may be the most controversial of the conciliar documents. The vote was 1,997 for to 224 against (a margin that widened even farther by the time the bishop's final signing of the decree (Dignitatis Humanæ)). The principal work of the rest of the period 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 the ministry and life of priests (Presbyterorum Ordinis).

The council also gave final approval to other documents that had been considered in earlier sessions. This included decrees on the pastoral office of bishops (Christus Dominus), the life of persons in religious orders (expanded and modified from earlier sessions, finally titled Perfectæ Caritatis), education for the priesthood (Optatam Totius), Christian education (Gravissimum Educationis), and the role of the laity (Apostolicam Actuositatem).

One of the most controversial documents was Nostra Aetate, which stated that the Jews (as a whole; the leaders were to an extent complicit) of the time of Christ, taken indiscriminately, and all Jews today are no more responsible for the death of Christ than Christians. From Nostra Aetate:

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, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ. Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, 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 at any time and by anyone.[22]

More on this topic is available in the article on Christian-Jewish reconciliation and Relations between Catholicism and Judaism.

A major event of the final days of the council was the act of Pope 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, expressed as the Catholic-Orthodox Joint declaration of 1965.

"The old story of the Samaritan has been the model of the spirituality of the council" (Paul VI., address, Dec. 7): On December 8, the Second Vatican Council was formally closed, with the bishops professing their obedience to the Council's decrees. To help carry forward the work of the Council, Pope Paul:

  • had earlier formed a Papal Commission for the Media of Social Communication to assist bishops with the pastoral use of these media;
  • declared a jubilee from January 1 to May 26, 1966 to urge all Catholics to study and accept the decisions of the council and apply them in spiritual renewal;
  • changed in 1965 the title and procedures of the Holy Office, giving it the name of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as well as the titles and competences of other departments of the Roman curia;
  • made permanent the secretariates for the Promotion of Christian Unity, for Non-Christian Religions, and for Non-Believers.[23]

[edit] Issues

[edit] Ecclesiology

Perhaps the most famous and most influential product of the council is the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium.

In its first chapter, titled "The Mystery of the Church," is the famous statement that "the sole Church of Christ which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd, and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority, which He erected for all ages as 'the pillar and mainstay of the truth.' This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him" (Lumen Gentium, 8). The document immediately adds: "Nevertheless, many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside its visible confines."

In the second chapter, titled "On the People of God", the Council teaches that God wills to save people not just as individuals but as a people. For this reason God chose the Israelite people to be his own people and established a covenant with it, as a preparation and figure of the covenant ratified in Christ that constitutes the new People of God, which would be one, not according to the flesh, but in the Spirit and which is called the Church of Christ (Lumen Gentium, 9). All human beings are called to belong to the Church. Not all are fully incorporated into the Church, but "the Church knows that she is joined in many ways to the baptized who are honored by the name of Christ, but who do not however profess the Catholic faith in its entirety or have not preserved unity or communion under the successor of Peter" (Lumen Gentium, 15) and even with "those who have not yet received the Gospel," among whom Jews and Muslims are explicitly mentioned (Lumen Gentium, 16). The idea of any opening toward Protestantism caused a major controversy among traditionalist Catholic groups.

The title of the third chapter, "The Church is Hierarchical," indicates clearly its contents, outlining the essential role of the bishops and of the Roman Pontiff.

There follow chapters on the laity, the call to holiness, religious, the pilgrim Church, and Our Lady. The chapter on the call to holiness is significant because it indicates that sanctity should not be the exclusive province of priests and religious, but rather that all Christians are called to holiness.

The chapter on Mary was the subject of debate. Original plans had called for a separate document about the role of Mary, keeping the document on the Church "ecumenical," in the sense of "non-offensive" to Protestant Christians, who viewed special veneration of Mary with suspicion. However, the Council Fathers insisted, with the support of the Pope, that, as Mary's place is within the Church, treatment of her should appear within the Constitution on the Church.

[edit] Liturgy

One of the first issues considered by the council, and the matter that had the most immediate effect on the lives of individual Catholics, was the revision of the liturgy. The central idea was (from the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy):

"Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people (1 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2:4–5), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism." (Sacrosanctum Concilium 14)

Many have claimed that Vatican II went much further in encouraging "active participation" than previous Popes had allowed or recommended. Though Popes Pius X, Pius XI, and Pius XII consistently asked that the people be taught how to chant the responses at Mass and that they learn the prayers of the Mass in order to participate intelligently, while for its part, Vatican II never asked for the involvement of the laity in the sanctuary that is typical of post-conciliar practice. The council fathers established guidelines to govern the revision of the liturgy, which included allowed and encouraged greater use of the vernacular (native language) instead of Latin, particularly for the biblical readings and other prayers. As bishops determined, local or national customs could be cautiously incorporated into the liturgy.

Implementation of the Council's directives on the liturgy was carried out under the authority of Pope Paul VI by a special papal commission, later incorporated in the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and, in the areas entrusted to them, by national conferences of bishops, which, if they had a shared language, were expected to collaborate in producing a common translation.

See also: Mass of Paul VI, Liturgy

[edit] Scripture and Divine Revelation

The council sought to revive the central role of Scripture in the theological and devotional life of the Church, building upon the work of earlier popes in crafting a modern approach to Scriptural analysis and interpretation. A new approach to interpretation was approved by the bishops. The Church was to continue to provide versions of the Bible in the "mother tongues" of the faithful, and both clergy and laity were to continue to make Bible study a central part of their lives. This affirmed the importance of Sacred Scripture as attested by Providentissimus Deus by Pope Leo XIII and the writings of the Saints, Doctors, and Popes throughout Church history but also approved historically conditioned interpretation of Scripture as presented in Pius XII's 1943 encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu.

[edit] The Bishops

The role of the bishops of the Church was brought into renewed prominence, especially when seen collectively, as a college that has succeeded to that of the Apostles in teaching and governing the Church. This college does not exist without its head, the successor of St. Peter. Accordingly, claims made by some, that the Council gave the Church two separate earthly heads, the College of Bishops and the Pope, were countered by the Preliminary Explanatory Note added to the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium and printed at the end of the text.[1] This Note states: "There is no such thing as the college without its head ... and in the college the head preserves intact his function as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the universal Church. In other words it is not a distinction between the Roman Pontiff and the bishops taken together, but between the Roman Pontiff by himself and the Roman Pontiff along with the bishops."

In many countries, bishops already held regular conferences to discuss common matters. The Council required the setting up of such episcopal conferences, entrusting to them responsibility for the necessary adaptation to local conditions of general norms (cf. Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church Christus Dominus, 18). Certain decisions of the conferences have binding force for individual bishops and their dioceses, but only if adopted by a two-thirds majority and confirmed by the Holy See.

Regional conferences, such as the CELAM, exist to assist in promoting common action on a regional or continental level, but do not have even that level of legislative power.

[edit] Criticism of the Council within the Catholic Church

Many traditionalist Catholics hold that the Second Vatican Council[24], and subsequent interpretations of its documents, moved the Church away from important principles of the historic Catholic faith. These principles include the following:

They claim that these progressivist changes were made possible because of the ambiguity present in the official texts of the Council.

In contradiction to many Catholics' claims that it marked the beginning of a "new springtime" for the Church, critics[who?] see the Council as a major cause of the tremendous decline in vocations, the erosion of Catholic belief, and the loss of influence of the Church in the Western world. They further argue that it changed the focus of the Church from seeking the salvation of souls to improving mankind's earthly situation (cf. Liberation theology).

One response made by conservative mainstream Catholics to such criticism is that the actual teachings of the Council and the official interpretations of them must be distinguished from the more radical changes which have been made or proposed by liberal churchmen over the last 40 years in "the spirit of Vatican II". They agree that such changes are contrary to canon law and Church Tradition. An example: a conservative mainstream Catholic might agree that liberal priests who introduce new and arguably un-Catholic elements into the celebration of Mass are to be condemned, but would note that such "abuses" are introduced in violation of Vatican II's decree on the sacred liturgy and the official Church documents governing the celebration of e.g. the Mass of Paul VI.

In a 22 December 2005 speech to the Roman Curia, Pope Benedict XVI decried those who interpreted the documents of the Council in terms of "discontinuity and rupture". The proper interpretation, he said, is that proposed at the start and at the close of the Council by Popes John XXIII and Paul VI. On opening the Council, Pope John XXIII stated that the Council intended "to transmit the doctrine pure and entire, without diminution or distortion", adding: "It is our duty not only to guard this precious treasure, as if interested only in antiquity, but also to devote ourselves readily and fearlessly to the work our age requires. ... This sure unchangeable doctrine, which must be faithfully respected, has to be studied in depth and presented in a way that fits the requirements of our time. For the deposit of the faith, that is, the truths contained in our venerable doctrine, is one thing, and the way in which they are enunciated, while still preserving the same meaning and fullness, is another." After thus quoting his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI then declared: "Wherever this interpretation has guided reception of the Council, new life has grown and new fruit has ripened. ... Today we see that the good seed, though slow in developing, is nonetheless growing, and our profound gratitude for the Council's work is growing likewise."

[edit] Notes

  1. ^ Cath. Encyclopedia 1967, p. 563.
  2. ^ Alberigo 2005, p. 69.
  3. ^ Bokenkotter 1967, p. 337.
  4. ^ Hahnenberg 2007, p. 44.
  5. ^ Alberigo 2005, p. 1.
  6. ^ Alberigo 2005, pp. 4–7.
  7. ^ "Vatican II: 40 years later". NCR. 
  8. ^ "1961". 
  9. ^ Sullivan 2002, p. 17.
  10. ^ Sullivan 2002, p. 21 — There has been speculation that the Vatican somehow assured the Russian Orthodox Church that Communism and the Soviet State were topics that would not be raised at the Council. However, in chapter IV, The External Climate (Albiergo, The History of Vatican II, Vol. 1, p. 404), J.O. Beozzo states that the real issue was the desire of the Russian Orthodox to be invited directly, instead of through the Ecumenical Patriarch in Turkey.
  11. ^ Cath. Encyclopedia 1967, p. 563.
  12. ^ Sullivan 2002, p. 21.
  13. ^ "Vatican Council II", New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. XIV, p. 563.
  14. ^ Bokenkotter 1979, p. 413.
  15. ^ a b Alberigo 2005, p. 24.
  16. ^ a b Sullivan 2002, p. 27.
  17. ^ Hahnenberg 2007, p. 4.
  18. ^ Sullivan 2002, p. 28.
  19. ^ Cath. Encyclopedia 1967, pp. 564–5.
  20. ^ a b Cath. Encyclopedia 1967, pp. 565–6.
  21. ^ Cath. Encyclopedia 1967, pp. 566–7.
  22. ^ Pope Paul VI (1965-10-28) (in English). Declaration on the relation of the church to non-christian religions - Nostra Aetate. Holy See. Retrieved on 2009-01-01. 
  23. ^ Cath. Encyclopedia 1967, pp. 567–8.
  24. ^ - The Masonic Plan for the destruction of the Catholic Church

[edit] References

  • van Bühren, Ralf (2008) (in German). Kunst und Kirche im 20. Jahrhundert. Die Rezeption des Zweiten Vatikanischen Konzils. Paderborn: Schöningh. ISBN 9783506763884. 
  • Bredeck, Michael (2007) (in German). Das Zweite Vatikanum als Konzil des Aggiornamento : zur hermeneutischen Grundlegung einer theologischen Konzilsinterpretation. Paderborn: Schöningh. ISBN 9783506763174. 
  • Hahnenberg, Edward (2007). A Concise Guide to the Documents of Vatican II. City: Saint Anthony Messenger Press. ISBN 0867165529. 
  • Alberigo, Giuseppe; Sherry, Matthew (2006). A Brief History of Vatican II. Maryknoll: Orbis Books. ISBN 1570756384. 
  • Sullivan, Maureen (2002). 101 Questions and Answers on Vatican II. New York: Paulist Press. ISBN 0809141337. 
  • Bokenkotter, Thomas (2005). A Concise History of the Catholic Church. New York: Image. ISBN 0385516134. 
  • Faculty of Catholic University of America, ed (1967). "Vatican Council II". New Catholic Encyclopedia. XIV. New York: McGraw-Hill. OCLC 34184550. 

[edit] External links

[edit] Vatican texts

[edit] Commentary

[edit] Documentaries

  • The II Vatican Council produced by the Vatican Television Center, distributed by HDH Communications, 2006.

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