History of the The Church of Vatican II


I. Introduction–The recent past is always difficult to write about. There is a lack of perspective on events, which have not yet shown all their consequences. Inevitably, different interpretations are given to explain certain developments. Here we can only single out a few significant events of the last decades. The Second Vatican Council seemed to be both culmination of twenty years of pastoral and theological research and a kind of break with the church which had grown out of the Council of Trent. In acknowledging that in a world that was continually developing, the church had to keep abreast of things, the council raised great hopes. The misunderstanding between church and the world seemed to be evaporating. However, other difficulties arose. The council encouraged freedom of speech, and a general crisis in civilization could not fail to have consequences for the church.
A. Vatican II
1. The lead-up-Pope John XXIII–John was seventy-seven years old and was elected pope hoping he would only be a caretaker pope. He had been a peasant with a varied diplomatic career as bishop. He had the reputation of being a courageous man and having lived in several different countries recognized that the church played no part in many areas of life. John’s motto became to ‘simply complicated things’. He was the first pope to venture out of the Vatican since 1870 visiting Italian prisons and various Italian cities.
a. The announcement of the Council–on January 25, 1959 the new pope surprised the world with a threefold intention: (1) he called a synod for the diocese of Rome; (3) he called for a reform in canon law; (3) he called for a council of the universal church. He gave the council two broad aims: (1) update the church and the apostolate to the world; (2) return to Christian unity. The imperial power of the church hierarchy had to be shaken.
b. Preparations for the Council-a general consultation was organized of bishops and universities. Twelve commissions were set up made up of theologians and bishops. Any bishop could take the council floor for ten minutes (in Latin). The congregations presented the Pontiff with their texts ahead of time and he gave final approval of them.
B. The course of the Council
1. The first session (autumn 1962): the Council of John XXIII–ofthe 2800 Fathers of the Church; i.e., bishops and superior generals of male orders only 2400 showed up. It was a truly Catholic gathering. All continents and races were represented. Many from Communistic countries could not attend. An unheard of precedent was the invitation that Pope John XXIII extended to the Orthodox, Anglicans, Old Catholics and Protestants. Their number grew from thirty one to ninety three by the end of the council and seven of them were women. At the solemn opening of the Council on October 11, 1962 Pope John warned the assembly against being too pessimistic and too self-satisfied with themselves. It appeared the Roman curia of Cardinals and bishops had decided what the Council agenda would be like before any of the other bishops arrived and it appeared as though it would be a rubber stamping of what they wanted the Council to look like. This was quickly abandoned by the other bishops who demanded that they be consulted and voted on their own agenda. It worked and it seemed as if what would be a Vatican controlled Council turned into a truly universal agenda. Two factions quickly developed in the Council: the majority were concerned with adapting the church to the world, to engage in ecumenical dialogue and return to scriptural sources; the minority, often the members of the Roman Curia and Italy and Spain were more concerned with keeping the status quo in the Church and safeguarding the traditional faith. The Council had to negotiate its way through both of these factions and often times this led to documents being watered down in the process of compromise.
2. The death of John XXIII and the ascension of Paul VI–IN April of 1963 Pope John’s encyclical Pacem in Terris(Peace in the World) addressed himself to all “men of goodwill”. It had widespread repercussions because it was addressed to everyone, not just to Catholics. From that point on the world watched in agony as he died on June 3,1963. On June 21,1963 Pope Paul VI was elected. He had been the Archbishop of Milan since 1954 and the Secretariat of State at the Vatican. He was a small, timid man, brilliant intellect, hard worker and a mystic. He immediately made the decision to continue to Council under his direction.
3. The Council of Paul Vl–the second session in the Autumn of 1963 focused on various themes: episcopal collegiality, ecumenism and religious freedom. In January of 1964 he traveled to the Holy Land and met with the Patriarch of Constantinople. During the third session in the autumn of 1964 the fathers took up the question of religious freedom. Lumen gentium was promulgated by the Pope on ecumenism and the Eastern Churches. The Council established a synod of bishops that the Pope would consult from time to time. Pope Paul VI became known as the traveling pope. He went to Bombay India and visited the UN in the United States, the first pope to ever set foot on American soil. The fourth and last session of the Council in December 1965 ended with a vote on all of the texts previously discussed. In a communal celebration the Council bid farewell to the Non-Catholic observers and on December 7th both Pope Paul VI and the Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople lifted their mutual excommunications pronounced on each other’s churches in 1054. The Council closed with a general feeling of hope.
C. The great openings made by the Council–in a general way the council was intended to be a pastoral council speaking to contemporary men and women. While being deeply doctrinal it did not overflow with condemnations and anathemas as councils in the past had done.
1. A Theology returning to its sources–The Constitution on Revelation stresses the unity of revelation, a living tradition in which there is no distinction between scripture and oral tradition of the people. Revelation is not set in stone in a text, but nurtured in believing people. The return to the word of God opened up whole new avenues for the People of God. It was now a church of the People of God and no longer a legal organization. Episcopal collegiality was firmly in place; i.e., the Bishop of Rome and the bishops of the world bear collective responsibility for the Christian people.
2. Openness to other Christians and other religions–TheDeclaration on Religious Liberty(Freedom) was very difficult to work out. One segment wanted the old formula of the “one and true church ‘ definition to be the beginning of the document. The majority rejected this and insisted that the document begin with the human being and their inalienable right to strive for the truth through their own consciences. Freedom could not be claimed only by Catholics when they were a persecuted minority, but was equally valid for Non-Catholics surrounded by Catholics. The Decree on Ecumenism asks that all different Christian confessions should consider what they all have in common first and focus on that; i.e., Christ and the gospel. Non-Catholics would not be accused of schism and Catholics would recognize their role in the separation of Christian religions. The Church declared its abhorrence of antisemitism directed at the Jews.
3. A church in dialogue with the modern world–the Council presented the Church as a mystery; the people of God are called to holiness where bishops, priests, laity and religious have a specific place in the church. Mary is presented as a link with the mystery of the Church. The Church had to dialogue with the rest of the world. Atheism had to be looked at objectively and its causes searched out. Problem areas of marriage and family, culture, the economy, politics and building up of peace.
4. A new era–many people believed that a new era had begun in the Church. The Council had ended the period begun by the Council of Trent. People now talked about Pre Vatican II and Post Vatican II.