|Second Vatican Council|
|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:
|Chronological list of Ecumenical councils|
The Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, or Vatican II, was the twenty-first Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church. It opened under Pope John XXIII on 11 October, 1962 and closed under Pope Paul VI on 21 November, 1965. At least four future pontiffs took part in the council's opening session: Giovanni Battista Cardinal 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 Father Joseph Ratzinger, present as a theological consultant, who became Pope Benedict XVI.
Throughout the 1950s, theological and biblical studies of the Catholic Church had begun to sway away from the neo-scholasticism and biblical literalism that the reaction to the Modernism had enforced since the First Vatican Council. This shift could be seen in theologians such as Karl Rahner S.J., Michael Herbert, 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.
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. 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, and the council was formally summoned by the apostolic constitution Humanae Salutis on 25 December 1961. 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. He invited other Christians outside of the Church to send observers to the Council. Acceptances came from both the Protestant denominations and Eastern Orthodox churches.
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Catholic Ecumenical Councils
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Vatican I • Vatican II
Preparations for the Council took more than two years, and included work from 10 specialised commissions, 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 constituting sessions, making it the largest gathering in any council in church history. (This compares to Vatican I, where 737 attended, mostly from Europe.) Attendance varied in later sessions from 2,100 to over 2,300. In addition, a varying number of periti (Latin: "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. 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.
Pope John opened the Council on 11 October, 1962 in a public session and read the declaration Gaudet Mater Ecclesia before the Council Fathers.
13 October, 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. 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. Senior French Achille Cardinal 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 Josef Cardinal Frings seconded that proposal, and the vote was postponed. The very 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 more informal gatherings. The schematas from the preparatory sessions were thrown out, and new ones were created. When the council met on October 16, 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, 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 Jan Cardinal Alfrink of the Netherlands and Leo Cardinal Suenens of Belgium.
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.
After adjournment on 8 December, work began on preparations for the sessions scheduled for 1963. These preparations, however, were halted upon the death of Pope John XXIII on 3 June, 1963. Pope Paul VI was elected on 21 June, 1963 and immediately announced that the Council would continue.
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.
Pope Paul's opening address on 29 September, 1963 stressed the pastoral nature of the council, and set out four purposes for it:
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 8 November, 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 4 December.
In the time between the second and third periods, the proposed schemata were further revised on the basis of 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 14 September, 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 because of 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.
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 14 September, 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, Dignitatis Humanae, one of the more 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. 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 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, 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.
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.
"The old story of the Samaritan has been the model of the spirituality of the council" (Paul VI., address, Dec. 7): 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, Pope Paul:
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."
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 that there ought to be greater lay participation in the liturgy.
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.
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.
By the spirit of Vatican II is meant the teaching and intentions of the Second Vatican Council interpreted in a way that is not limited to a literal reading of its documents, or even interpreted in a way that contradicts 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." Michael Novak described it instead 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'." This view of the Second Vatican Council was condemned by the Church's hierarchy, and the works of theologians espousing such a view (such as Hans Küng) have often been censured.
The Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, or Vatican II, was the twenty-first Ecumenical Council of the Roman Catholic Church. Pope John XXIII started it in 1962. It lasted until 1965, when Pope Paul VI ended it. Four future popes 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. Father Joseph Ratzinger, who was only 35 at the time, was there as a theological consultant. More than forty years later, he became the current Pope Benedict XVI.
Different things were discussed. These aimed at modernising the church, and opening a dialogue with other religions. Many people see these meetings as the most important event in the Catholic Church in the 20th century. They let Mass be in different languages.