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Chapter 18 Vatican
Council II and the Church in the Modern World
FR. ROBERT FOX
How does one summarize an
ecumenical council, such as Vatican II, that has been and is
transforming Christian society and has brought more changes to the
Church in a few years than during the preceding 400 to 500 years?
the life of Pope John XXIII, who called Vatican Council II.
Angelo Roncalli was born November 25, 1881, at Sotte il
Monte, Italy. He was educated in the seminary of the Bergamo diocese and at the Pontifical
Seminary in Rome. He was ordained a priest on August 10, 1904. The
first decade of his priesthood he served as secretary to the Bishop of
Bergamo, as an instructor in the seminary, and then as a medic and
chaplain in the Italian army during World War I.
In 1921 Fr. Roncalli was given an assignment with the
Society for the Propagation of the Faith. In 1925 he became apostolic
visitor to Bulgaria. He also held such positions as apostolic delegate
to Turkey and Greece, administrator of the Latin Vicariate apostolic of
Istanbul, and apostolic nuncio to France.
As Archbishop Roncalli, this great priest of the Church
became an expert negotiator in delicate movements with Roman, Eastern
Rite, and Orthodox relationships. He represented the Church with people
who suffered the consequences of World War II and he helped settle many
suspicions that arose from wartime conditions.
On January 12, 1953, Archbishop Roncalli was named a
cardinal by Pope Pius XII and then was appointed patriarch of Venice,
the position he held when he was elected pope on October 28, 1958.
Already an old man when he was named pope, many thought
he would be simply an "interregnum" pope, after the great pontifical
reign of Pius XII. However, Pope John XXIII reigned for about 5½
years and his reign and decisions affected the history of the Catholic
Church for present and future generations.
Pope John proved to be a strong, active pope and his
influence was felt around the world, as he was loved by all men — by
Christians of all persuasions and even by non-Christians. He became
known in his own lifetime as "Good Pope John."
Pope John has often been misrepresented as responsible
for radical elements within the Church (after Vatican Council II) which
disturbed its peace, harmony, respect for authority, and loyalty to
Church doctrine and discipline. Sometimes agitators and "reformers,"
who did not wish to follow the officially approved reforms of the
Catholic Church, spoke of their motives and efforts as "in the spirit
of Pope John," or "the spirit of Vatican Council II." In reality, the
"spirit" of both was the opposite of theirs.
Since boyhood, as a young priest, a bishop, and then as
pope, John XXIII was always loyal to the traditions of the Church,
always stressing the necessity of undivided loyalty to Church doctrine
and discipline and never advocating anything out of harmony with the
faith and morals of the Catholic Church. His diary (kept since
boyhood), titled Journal of a Soul, reveals how intensely
loyal Pope John was until the moment of his death. He had intense
loyalty to the rosary, praying all fifteen mysteries daily, even during
his busy pontificate. His devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to
the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, while at the same
time being "progressive" enough to move the Church into the modern
world so as to convert it, is a matter of documented history, edifying
to any sincere Catholic.
Good Pope John issued eight encyclicals. Two are
outstanding, and won immediate recognition in the world. Mater et
Magistra (Mother and Teacher on Christianity and Social Progress)
recapitulated in updated fashion and extended the social doctrine
stated by Pope Leo XIII and Pope Pius XI. Pacem in Terris
(Peace on Earth) concerned the natural principles of peace, and was the
first encyclical ever formally issued by a pope to all men of good will
as well as to Catholics.
On March 28, 1963, Pope John established a commission
for revision of the Code of Canon Law, which performed its work for
Pope John, who was beloved by all Christians, whether
Catholic or not, assigned to the Second Vatican Council the task of
promoting unity among all Christians, but he never called for any
compromise of Catholic faith, for real unity can never be found in
compromising the truth.
On January 25, 1959, Pope John XXIII announced his
intention of calling the twenty-first ecumenical council of the
2. Why did Pope John XXIII
convoke Vatican Council II?
His intention in convoking Vatican Council II as the
twenty-first worldwide council (a council of the bishops of the entire
Church) was to renew the life of the Church, to reform structures and
institutions that needed updating, and to discover ways and means of
promoting unity among all Christians.
Pope John used the Italian word aggiornamento
in stating his purpose for Vatican Council II. Its general meaning is
"to bring up to date," "to renew,""to revitalize." The word is
descriptive of the processes of spiritual renewal and institutional
reform and change in the Church judged necessary by Vatican Council II.
In his opening speech to the Ecumenical Council of
Vatican II, Pope John said that the first need in calling the council
was "to assert once again the Magisterium, which is unfailing and
perdures until the end of time." The "magisterium" means the teaching
authority of the Church. How unfortunate that, after this council, the
magisterium, the teaching authority of the Church, was so often ignored
even by some who said they spoke "in the spirit of Vatican II" or the
"spirit of Pope John."
In calling the council, Pope John noted that he looked
to the past, to listen to its voice. He declared that it was the
principal duty of the council to defend and to advance the truth. The
council was to be loyal to the sacred patrimony of truth, as received
from the fathers, but to see ever new avenues by which to take the
same, true faith of Christ to the world. He insisted that the Catholic
Church would continue to oppose errors, but that its opposition must be
treated with the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity. He
sought ever greater unity in sanctity, and great joy in the eventual
union of all the Christian churches of the world.
Thus the reform and change that Pope John sought in
calling the council was in no way to change the faith and morals of the
Catholic Church. His idea was to develop no new doctrine but a new way
to make the constant unchangeable faith in Christ — as given the
apostles in the sacred deposit of faith — ever more effective in the
lives of people and for the evangelization of the entire world.
3. For how many sessions of the
council was Pope John responsible?
Pope John called the council but he lived for only one
of its four sessions. He opened the council on the Feast of the Divine
Motherhood of Mary (October 11, 1962) after nearly four years of
exhaustive preparation. The council's first work was the Constitution
on the Sacred Liturgy, which brought about great changes in the
structure and language of the Mass, without in any way changing its
divine nature as sacrifice and sacrament, given us by the Lord Jesus
Christ. That first session closed December 8, 1962, and Pope John died
June 3, 1963.
Pope Paul VI reconvened the council for the remaining
three sessions, which ran from September 29 to December 4, 1963;
September 14 to November 21, 1964; and September 14 to December 8,
4. How many bishops
participated in Vatican Council II?
A total of 2,860 council fathers (world bishops)
participated in the Twenty-first Ecumenical Council of the Catholic
Church. Attendance at council meetings varied from 2,000 to 2,500. For
reasons such as health and denial of exit visas from
Communist-dominated countries, 274 bishops were not able to
5. What documents were
formulated and promulgated by Vatican II?
There was a total of sixteen, all of which represented
the pastoral nature of Vatican Council Ii, directed to spiritual
renewal and reform in the Church, without in any way changing
the faith or morals of the Church.
The sixteen documents are as follows:
- Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium),
Nov. 21, 1964.
- Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei
Verbum), Nov. 18,1965.
- Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum
Concilium), Dec. 4, 1963.
- Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern
World (Gaudium et Spes), Dec. 7, 1965.
- Decree on the Bishops' Pastoral Office in the Church (Christus
Dominus), Oct. 28, 1965.
- Decree on the Church's Missionary Activity (Ad
Gentes), Dec. 7, 1965.
- Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio),
Nov. 21, 1964.
- Decree on Eastern Catholic Church (Orientalium
Ecclesiarum), Nov. 21, 1964.
- Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests (Presbyterorum
Ordinis), Dec. 7, 1965.
- Decree on Priestly Formation (Optatam Totius),
Oct. 28, 1965.
- Decree on the Appropriate Renewal of the Religious
Life (Perfectae Caritatis), Oct. 25, 1965.
- Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity (Apostolicam
Actuositatem), Nov. 18, 1965.
- Decree on the Instruments of Social Communication (Inter
Mirifica), Dec. 4, 1963.
- Declaration on Religious Freedom (Dignitatis
Humanae), Dec. 7, 1965.
- Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to
Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate), Oct. 28, 1965.
- Declaration on Christian Education (Gravissimum
Educationis), Oct. 28, 1965.
6. What did Vatican Council II
say about the Blessed Virgin Mary?
Regarding the liturgy the council said: "In celebrating
this annual cycle of Christ's mysteries, holy Church honors with
special love the Blessed Mary, Mother of God, who is joined by an
inseparable bond to the saving work of her Son. In Mary the Church
holds up and admires the most excellent fruit of the redemption. In
Mary the Church joyfully contemplates, as in a spotless model, that
which the Church herself wholly desires and aspires to be."
The Vatican II council fathers devoted the entire eighth
chapter of the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church to the Blessed
Virgin Mary, Mother of God, in "The Mystery of Christ and the Church."
The council also gave key statements about Mary in its Constitution on
the Sacred Liturgy.
Pope Paul VI, in a speech to the council fathers, spoke
as follows: "This year, the homage of our Council appears much more
precious and significant. By the promulgation of today's constitution,
which has as its crown and summit a whole chapter dedicated to our
Lady, we can rightly affirm that the present session ends as an
incomparable hymn of praise in honor of Mary."
"It is the first time, in fact, and saying it fills our
souls with profound emotion, that an Ecumenical Council has presented
such a vast synthesis of the Catholic doctrine regarding the place
which the Blessed Mary occupies in the mystery of Christ and of the
Vatican Council II was sensitive to the views of other
Christians, as the council, at the request of Pope John XXIII, hoped to
promote Christian unity, but knew there are different concepts about
Mary among other Christians, especially Protestants. The council spoke
of Mary as "Mediatrix," as strengthening — not lessening — confidence
in Christ as the one essential Mediator.
The council, in speaking of Mary, used a biblical
approach, with strong emphasis on her pilgrimage of faith. The council
did not consider Mary as separate from its treatment of the Church, but
discussed the mystery of Mary in the larger mystery of Christ and his
After Vatican Council II, some misrepresented the
council, claiming it had downgraded Catholic devotion to God's Mother.
The council said "that the practices and exercises of devotion toward
her, recommended by the teaching authority of the Church in the course
of centuries, [are to be] highly esteemed." The council cautioned
theologians and preachers of the word of God "to be careful to refrain
as from all false exaggeration as from too summary an attitude in
considering the special dignity of the Mother of God" (67, Dogmatic
Constitution on the Church).
7. What other areas of Church
life were misrepresented after Vatican Council II?
It is difficult to mention any area of Church life that
did not experience misrepresentations. Misunderstandings created
tendencies among many to "lose balance" on the Church and the modern
world. Significant disturbances (which varied from area to area, with
some areas experiencing little or no disturbance) were lack of respect
for authority at all levels in the Church. There were disturbances in
Catholic schools, colleges, and universities. Liturgical aberrations,
as various individuals carried the reform of the liturgy further than
authorized by the Church, ecumenism, where some experimented in
circumstances that represented compromise of the true faith or
pretended unity in areas where Christian unity did not exist;
catechetics; loss by some priests and religious of the real sense of
their vocation; seminaries where theologians taught a neo-Modernism in
various forms; family life, when theologians attacked the position of
the pope who reaffirmed the constant teaching of the Church which
forbids artificial birth control. Such widespread disturbances also
extended to a "vocation crisis," whereby fewer young men and women
offered their lives to Christ in full service of the Church as priests
8. If such disturbances
happened in the Church in the years immediately following Vatican II,
how could they represent the renewal ("aggiornamento") called for by
Pope John and the Council itself?
They did not represent authentic renewal in the Catholic
Church. The history of the Church over its 2,000 years has been that,
after various ecumenical councils, disturbances were experienced until
the authentic renewal became thoroughly a part of Church
life, reaching every aspect of Church life and its millions of members
around the world. The Catholic Church is international, with millions
of members of every nationality, culture, and background. The reform of
Vatican II brought more changes in the life of Catholics in a shorter
time than had been experienced in its preceding 400 to 500 years.
The fact that the majority of the Church remained loyal
and adapted to the changes (though sometimes with difficulty) is
evidence of the divinity of the Church and the action of the Holy
Spirit within Christ's Mystical Body, If the Church were only a natural
body, such rapid changes as took place after the beginning of Vatican
II (with its issuance of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy) would
have torn a natural organization completely apart. But the Catholic
Church is a divine organism, Christ's own Mystical Body, and
at the same time that disturbances were felt, abundant signs of inner
health and spiritual renewal were also taking place.
Unfortunately, some who lost their Catholic identity
after Vatican II, or at least became confused, were not well informed
in their faith and did not make proper distinctions. Some did not
distinguish between divine law and Church law. Laws which
come directly from God can never change. Laws which the Church has made
in the course of centuries can change with time. Jesus gave the Church
this power to bind and to loose (Mt 16:19).
With the rapid change of structures in the Catholic
Church, stemming from Vatican II (but which, in reality, Pope Pius XII
had set in motion years before), some who had rightly been taught that
the Catholic Church possesses the fullness of the true faith and can
never be destroyed, and will be here until the end of the world, began
to imagine that the inner nature (the faith and morals) of the Church was
changing. Even some priests and religious found the changes difficult
to adjust to, and sometimes the laity were scandalized by poor example
in those to whom they looked for guidance.
Some said the Church was changing too fast. Others said
that Church's changes were too little and too late. Because of such
extreme accusations, one can rightly conclude that the Church,
officially, was acting with balance, but all its members were not
reacting with the same balance, which requires a spirit of obedience,
humility, charity, and deep faith.
The 2,000-year history of the Catholic Church has given
evidence, beginning with the twelve apostles, that not every priest,
and certainly not every baptized member of the Church, remains loyal
and faithful. However, no one is justified in becoming weak in the
faith over the failure of a Judas. In fact, his sad history has
strengthened members of the Church through the centuries, as they have
encountered new Judases. Nor has the history of the Protestant Revolt
of the sixteenth century disturbed Catholics of the last few centuries
when they learned how Martin Luther, a priest (and other priests and
religious) was the leader of a reformation and revolt against
Jesus, with sorrow, saw the dangers of disunity among
his followers and, at the Last Supper, prayed that "all may be one" (Jn
Christ Jesus established his Church with Peter as
visible head, and the popes have been the successors of St. Peter.
Every Catholic — lay, religious, priest, and bishop — has an obligation
to listen to the pope, to obey him, and thus maintain the unity in
faith and charity that Christ intended for his Church and for which he
established the papacy.
9. Did all Catholic educators,
theologians, priests, and religious remain obedient to the pope after
Vatican Council II?
Many did, but others did not obey the pope, making
subtle distinctions that the pope must be obeyed or listened to only
when he speaks infallibly. Such has never been the teaching of the
Church, and it was not the teaching of Vatican Council II.
For example, controversies broke out whereby the
position of the pope was attacked on such matters as artificial
birth control. Pope Paul VI, in his encyclical Humane Vitae
(July 29, 1968), restated the traditional teaching of the Church, by
which Catholics, in the sacredness of matrimony, are told that "each
and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life"
(art. 11). A group of theologians took to the public media to protest
the pope's restating of the Catholic position against artificial birth
control, and their action was contrary "to the binding force of
religious assent" which Pope Paul said his encyclical on marriage
doctrine and morality required. As soon as it was announced that the
pope was releasing the encyclical, restating the Church's traditional
position, certain theologians even before they had read or studied the
encyclical, took to the air waves, publicly denouncing the action of
The disrespect and disobedience shown the pope in
reaction to his encyclical ("Of Human Life") was nothing less than
scandalous. Such open protest and disobedience against the highest
Church authority had sad repercussions in other areas of Church life,
as it was followed by dissent in other matters during the years
following the release of the encyclical. The scandalous dissent among
Catholics aided the contraceptive mentality so widespread in America.
This prepared the way to the abortion mentality, whereby five years
later the Supreme Court of the United States legalized abortive murders
of the unborn.
10. What did Vatican II say
about the pope's speaking infallibly and about the obligation of
Catholics to assent, even when he does not speak infallibly ("ex
Bishops who teach in communion with the Roman Pontiff
are to be revered by all as witnesses of divine Catholic truth; the
faithful, for their part, are obliged to submit to their bishops'
decision, made in the name of Christ, in matters of faith and morals,
and to adhere to it with a ready and respectful allegiance of mind.
This loyal submission of the will and intellect must be given, in a
special way, to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff,
even when he does not speak ex cathedra in such wise, indeed,
that his supreme teaching authority be acknowledged with respect, and
sincere assent be given to decisions made by him, conformably with his
manifest mind and intention, which is made known principally either by
the character of the documents in question, or by the frequency with
which a certain doctrine is proposed, or by the manner in which the
doctrine is formulated.
"Although the bishops, taken individually, do not enjoy
the privilege of infallibility, they do, however, proclaim infallibly
the doctrine of Christ on the following conditions: namely, when, even
though dispersed throughout the world but preserving for all that
amongst themselves and with Peter's successor the bond of communion, in
their authoritative teaching concerning matters of faith and morals,
they are in agreement that a particular teaching is to be held
definitively and absolutely. This is still more clearly the case when,
assembled in an ecumenical council, they are, for the universal Church,
teachers of and judges in matters of faith and morals, whose decisions
must be adhered to with the loyal and obedient assent of faith.
"This infallibility, however, with which the divine
Redeemer wished to endow his Church in defining doctrine pertaining to
faith and morals, is coextensive with the deposit of revelation, which
must be religiously guarded and loyally and courageously expounded. The
Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this
infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and
teacher of all the faithful — who confirms his brethren in the faith
(cf. Lk 22:32) — he proclaims in an absolute decision a doctrine
pertaining to faith or morals. For that reason his definitions are
rightly said to be irreformable by their very nature and not by reason
of the assent of the Church, in as much as they were made with the
assistance of the Holy Spirit promised to him in the person of blessed
Peter himself; and as a consequence they are in no way in need of the
approval of others, and do not admit of appeal to any other tribunal.
For in such a case the Roman Pontiff does not utter a pronouncement as
a private person, but rather does he expound and defend the teaching of
the Catholic faith as the supreme teacher of the universal Church, in
whom the Church's charism of infallibility is present in a singular
way" (Lumen Gentium, 25).2
11. What problem developed in
catechetics after Vatican Council II?
Abundant sources of catechetical materials developed in
the years immediately following Vatican II, together with various new
methods of teaching the faith. While there were vast improvements in
many tools for the communication of faith, executive studies revealed —
as in the case of the National Catechetical Consultation in 1974, in
preparing a National Catechetical Directory — that there was
great concern among Catholic parents and others about content
of religious education. The concern was that the entire
content of the Christian message be taught, and not watered down. It
was felt that many youths and young adults had not been properly formed
in their Catholic faith because the fullness of Catholic faith had not
Monsignor Wilfrid H. Paradis, director of the Directory
project for the United States, stated that the reaction of those
suffering frustration and disappointment with regard to current
religious educational content was well expressed by the statement that
"doctrine seems blurred for many who are annoyed and upset by the
The confusion caused by Modernistic
theologians' dissenting from authoritative papal positions and
developing new theories in the interpretation of Catholic doctrines and
the scriptures was felt by Catholic youth. Theological opinions
were often expressed in religion textbooks and classrooms, in place of
the authentic Catholic faith in its fullness.
12. How did the Vatican handle
the catechetical crisis in the Church?
The Vatican, through the Sacred Congregation for the
Clergy, and with the authorization of the Supreme Pontiff, Paul VI, on
March 18, 1971, issued a General Catechetical Directory to
provide the basic principles of pastoral theology for pastoral action
in the ministry of the word of God.
The General Catechetical Directory says its
"course of action was adapted especially for the following reason: the
errors which are not infrequently noted in catechetics today can be
avoided only if one starts with the correct way of understanding the
nature and purposes of catechesis and also the truths which are to be
taught by it, with due account being taken of those to whom catechesis
is directed and of the conditions in which they live."
It further stated: "The immediate purpose of the Director
is to provide assistance in the production of catechetical directories
It is obvious that the highest authorities in the Church
recognized the catechetical crisis and that the fullness of true
Catholic faith often was not adequately taught. This situation
contributed to some youth never developing in or learning the fullness
of the Catholic faith.
The Vatican also called catechetical synods at Rome for
the purpose of improving the religious education of all people of all
13. What did the American
bishops do in response to the "General Catechetical Directory"?
In November 1972 the National Conference of Catholic
Bishops issued a pastoral message on Catholic education, titled To
Teach as Jesus Did. On January 11, 1973, reflecting on the
contents of the General Catechetical Directory, the United
States bishops issued the document Basic Teachings for Catholic
Religious Education. This latter document listed the essential
elements of faith which must be stressed in the religious formation of
Catholics of all ages. The bishops' document was approved by the
The American bishops also spearheaded the development of
a National Catechetical Directory, beginning in 1973 and
consisting of three rounds of nationwide consultation of priests,
religious and lay persons, that would be a comprehensive United
States-oriented guidebook for religious education. The general
consultations continued until March 15, 1977, producing a
Vatican-approved National Catechetical Directory approved by
Pope Paul VI and the Basic Teachings of Catholic Religious
Education, already approved by both the American bishops and the
Vatican. On November 17, 1977, the bishops approved the National
Catechetical Directory and sent it to the Holy See for final
adjustments. It was approved by the Vatican's Sacred Congregation
for the Clergy on October 30, 1978 and appeared in print in the
spring of 1979, titled "Sharing the Light of Faith."
14. How did the Church react to
nonofficial reports on the downplaying of devotion to the Mother of God
which followed Vatican II?
On November 21, 1973, the United States Bishops issued a
pastoral letter on the Blessed Virgin Mary, Behold Your Mother,
Woman of Faith.
On February 2, 1974, Pope Paul VI issued a magnificent
apostolic exhortation (Marialis Cultus) "for the right
ordering and development of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary."
While documents in themselves do not solve problems
unless they are implemented in the lives of people, the pope and the
bishops clearly outlined the position of the Church on doctrine and
true devotion concerning the Mother of God for men of good will.
15. Did the Church issue other
documents after Vatican II to implement the Council and clarify the
Yes, many documents. The Church issued postconciliar
documents on such subjects as the proper celebration of the liturgy,
administration of the sacraments, sacred music, first confession and
First Communion, mixed marriages, ecumenical matters for christian
unity, renewal of religious life, religious relations with Jews, the
Church's missionary activity, etc.
16. How did the Church react to
permissiveness and confusion in sexual ethics?
On December 29, 1975, the Church issued the Vatican
Declaration on Sexual Ethics to clarify misunderstandings of the
Church's position on human sexuality. The declaration said: "There are
many people today who, being confronted with so many widespread
opinions opposed to the teaching which they received from the Church,
have come to wonder what they must now hold as true. The Church cannot
remain indifferent to the confusion of minds and relaxation of morals."
The Church then reaffirmed its position, in harmony with
God's word, requiring purity of thought and conduct, both personal and
social, and total abstinence before marriage.
17. Was Vatican Council II
responsible for the confusion in various aspects of Church life in the
years which followed the issuance of its sixteen documents?
No. All the documents were in harmony with the deposit
of faith entrusted to the original apostles by Jesus Christ. The
confusion and misunderstandings resulted not from the official
documents of Vatican II but from those who misinterpreted and
misrepresented the ecumenical council.
Some put too great emphasis on external
renewal, without sufficient emphasis on the inner spiritual renewal of
souls. At first, emphasis on the change of the structure of the Mass —
from Latin to the language of the people, with the priest now facing
the people, and the assembly of God's people participating more
actively by song and response — all this was thought by some to be the
essential renewal to which Vatican Council II called all members of the
Church. However, these were externals, intended merely as
signs and expressions of the inner unity in Christ of all God's people
in the common priesthood of the baptized.
The Catholic Church has always taught, as did Vatican
Council II, that all the baptized participate in the priesthood of
Christ. At the same time, priests ordained in holy orders participate
in Christ's priesthood in a special way that differs in essence (not
only in degree) from the priesthood of the faithful who are only
baptized and confirmed. Perhaps because the council's special Decree
on the Apostolate of Lay People emphasized laymen's duties and
privileges as members of the Church, some began to fall into the same
mistake that had been made by the Protestant reformers who denied the
special powers of Christ's priesthood, reserved only to those who have
received the sacrament of holy orders.
18. What superficial or false
ecumenism developed after Vatican Council II?
Great progress was made in inter-Christian relations,
both in understanding and appreciating other faiths, as well as
cooperating in practical Christian works. Christians of various
denominations met together, notably for a Week of Prayer for Christian
Unity (each year, January 18 to 25), and prayed in common, which
demonstrated that Christians have much in common — as well as
All of this was well and good, and called for by Vatican
II under the direction of bishops. Theologians of different persuasions
met to discuss their faith, and often discovered they had more in
common than they'd thought. Sometimes, however, theologians and various
ecumenical commissions came to agreements that did not represent the
official position of their respective churches. Publicity concerning
such matters — often without full explanation or comprehension — led to
confusion among the faithful.
Abuses consisted of inter-communion services which were
not authorized and, at times, emphasis on other faiths when a full
study and understanding of one's own faith had not first been
accomplished. The Church had not approved "indiscriminate" common
worship but only common prayer under certain conditions authorized by
one's bishop. Among some, abuses in ecumenism led to religious
indifference. Too often, Catholic youth, not well grounded and formed
in the basics of their own faith, failed to understand and appreciate
their Catholic identity and developed a religious indifference to their
Church, as was also the case of many Protestants regarding organized
Some youth turned to false religious cults, seeking
mysticism in religion. Unfortunately for youthful Catholics thus
deceived, they were unaware of the profound mystical tradition in the
works and lives of the saints of the Catholic Church from ancient days
to the present time. They were unaware of the solid mystical theology
of the Catholic Church available to those who study the "sources."
19. Did Vatican II authorize
compromise of the Catholic faith?
No. It authorized just the opposite, as these quotations
from the Decree on Ecumenism show:
"It is through Christ's Catholic Church alone, which is
the universal help toward salvation, that the fullness of the means of
salvation can be obtained. It was to the apostolic college alone, of
which Peter is the head, that we believ4e that Our Lord entrusted all
the blessings of the New Covenant, in order to establish on earth the
one Body of Christ into which all those should be fully incorporated
who belong in any way to the people of God...
"For although the Catholic Church has been endowed with
all divinely revealed truth and with all means of grace, yet its
members fail to live by them with all the fervor that they should. As a
result the radiance of the Church's face shines less brightly in the
eyes of our separated brethren and of the world at large, and the
growth of God's kingdom is retarded. Every Catholic must therefore aim
at Christian perfection...
"There can be no ecumenism worthy of the name without
interior conversion. For it is from newness of attitudes of mind, from
self-denial and unstinted love, that desires of unity take their rise
and develop in a mature way...
"In certain circumstances, such as in prayer services
"for unity" and during ecumenical gatherings, it is allowable, indeed
desirable that Catholics should join in prayer with their separated
brethren. Such prayers in common are certainly a very effective means
of petitioning for the grace of unity, and they are a genuine
expression of the ties which still bind Catholics to their separated
"Yet worship in common (communicatio in sacris)
is not to be considered as a means to be used indiscriminately for the
restoration of unity among Christians....The concrete course to be
adopted, when all the circumstances of time, place and persons have
been fully considered, is left to the prudent decision of the local
episcopal authority, unless the bishops' conference according to its
own statutes, or the Holy See, has determined otherwise."
The whole Decree on Ecumenism opposed any
compromise of the true faith, but called for openness in charity and
humility and for recognizing truth and goodness in our separated
brethren, even though we do not possess the fullness of true faith. The
unity Christ called for already exists in the Catholic Church, even
though all her members do not fully live that faith, as they should.
20. Did Vatican II replace
tradition and the teaching authority of the Church (magisterium) and
the sole authority of God's word in sacred Scripture?
No. This is what Vatican II said in its Dogmatic
Constitution on Divine Revelation:
"Sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture make up a single
sacred deposit of the Word of God, which is entrusted to the Church. By
adhering to it the entire holy people, united to its pastors, remains
always faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to
the breaking of bread and the prayers (cf. Acts 2:42). So, in
maintaining, practicing, and professing the faith that has been handed
on there should be a remarkable harmony between the bishops and the
"But the task of giving an authentic interpretation of
the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of
Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the
Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of
Jesus Christ. Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God,
but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At
the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to
this devotedly, guards it with dedication and expounds it faithfully.
All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn
from the single deposit of faith.
"It is clear, therefore, that, in the supremely wise
arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, sacred Scripture and the
Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of
them cannot stand without the others. Working together, each in its own
way under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute
effectively to the salvation of souls" (11).
21. Was there a confusion of
roles in the Church after Vatican II?
Yes. There can never be erosion of the Catholic faith in
the Church as such. The Church is never in doubt as to what is true
Christian faith. Individuals in the Church may become confused as to
what is the Catholic faith, and some modern theologians
assisted greatly in this. The Catholic faith in itself, as preserved by
the Catholic Church, will always remain intact.
The chief attributes of the Catholic Church are
authority, infallibility, and indefectibility. ("Indefectible" means
the Church will last until the end of tine.) The Catholic Church, and
therefore the Catholic faith, cannot be destroyed, as our Lord has
The introduction to the American bishops' document, Basic
Teachings for Catholic Religious Education (January 11, 1973)
states: "It is necessary that the authentic teachings of the Church,
and those only be presented in religious instruction as official
Catholic doctrine. Religion texts or classroom teachers should never
present merely subjective theorizing as the Church's teaching.
"For this reason, a distinction must be borne in mind
between, on the one hand, the area that is devoted to scientific
investigation and, on the other, the area that concerns the teaching of
the faithful. In the first, experts enjoy the freedom required by their
work and are free to communicate to others, in books and commentaries,
the fruits of their research. In the second, only those doctrines may
be attributed to the Church which are declared to be such by her
Archbishop Joseph Bernardin of Cincinnati summarized the
confusion of roles after Vatican II in speaking of the distinct roles
of bishop, teacher, and theologian: "Because he is the custodian of
God's revelation, he [the bishop] also has the responsibility for
cultivating an ever increasing understanding and penetration of that
revelation. If he is a 20th century bishop, he cannot allow his people
to be content with a 16th century bishop, he cannot allow his people to
be content with a 16th century understanding of their faith, or even a
19th century understanding of their faith."
The archbishop said that the basic role of teachers of
religion is "to present, in their own concrete sphere of activity, the
authentic teachings of the Church as proposed and guaranteed by the
bishops. They are true collaborators, fellow workers, with the bishop
in his teaching function. Without them, his work becomes impossible....
Their primary task is not to teach their own personal opinion or
About theologians, Archbishop Bernardin continued: "The
bishop's take of encouraging further penetration of the meaning of
revelation is directed toward the theologians. In the vast region of
God's message to man, they are the explorers. Because they are
explorers, we must have a certain amount of freedom. Because they are
explorers, we must expect that their searches will not always will not
always be successful, and there are going to be some mistakes. All this
is part of the theologian's role. And in conducting these explorations,
the theologian provides a great and necessary service to the Church.
"It is my opinion, that much of the confusion connected
with Christian education could be avoided if we, and all God's people,
kept clear and distinct in our minds these three areas of endeavor,
each of which is unique.
"Nothing but frustration and confusion can arise in the
minds of the Christian faithful if the theologian begins to think that
he is a bishop and acts as the final arbiter of the content of
"Or if the teacher of religion begins to act as
theologian and thus gives his students the impression that he is
teaching Catholic doctrine when he is really teaching personal
"Or, I might add, if a bishop refused to respect the
competencies of his theologians and teachers of religion and insists
that everything be done in accord with his own private point of view."
Archbishop Bernardin succinctly states how confusion
of roles became a major cause of trouble after Vatican Council II.
The faith never changes, and is never added to, but doctrine can
develop in the sense that our understanding of the faith develops
through the ages without addition or subtraction from the deposit of
faith. It is the official position of the Catholic Church, reaffirmed
by Vatican II, that the sacred deposit of faith will never be added to,
because it was complete at the time of the death of the last apostle.
Our understanding of the faith, as contained in the sacred
deposit, may develop, but not the deposit of faith itself, which
contains the total truths revealed by Christ, taught infallibly by the
Church and witnessed by scripture and tradition.
After Vatican II, process theologians, with
ideas of "ongoing revelation," spread their false ideas of change and
added to the confusion of the faithful. Some theologians imagined
themselves another magisterium of the Church, whereas, in reality,
theologians are in no way the authoritative teaching Church established
22. What positive features of
renewal were experienced as a result of Vatican Council II?
At least a hundred years will be needed to fully
evaluate the fruit, value and richness of the Vatican Council II
renewal. The Catholic Church has been here for twenty centuries, and
will still be here at the end of the world, and its effectiveness
cannot be judged by any one period of time.
Vatican II "modernized" the Catholic Church without in
any way compromising with the heresy of Modernism. Participation of the
laity in the liturgy of the Church was made possible by Vatican II, and
in a greater measure than was possible before the council. This "inner
participation" was always possible and desirable, but the reforms of
the liturgy brought the Mass and the sacraments closer to the people so
that they can participate more intelligently.
Vatican Council II made members of the Church more aware
that all baptized members (not simply the clergy and
religious) are in fact the Church and share various functions and
responsibilities in spreading the faith of Christ to the ends of the
world. The nature of the Church as missionary was revealed to many
Vatican II challenged the faith of millions of its
members as to whether they were just drifting deadwood, merely part of
an inherited culture, or whether their faith was living and deep and
could be applied to the social issues of our times so as to
Christianize the whole of society. While the faith of some was severely
tested (and failed), millions of others came to a deeper involvement in
the practical living of the true faith.
Vatican II stirred the consciences of all Christians,
reminding them of their obligation to fulfill the will and the prayer
of Jesus Christ that all his followers be one, even as he and the
Father are one.
Vatican II, while calling for shared responsibility, in
no way abdicated authority. It upheld all the teachings of all the
preceding twenty councils of the Catholic Church and brought to light
the doctrine of the priesthood of the laity, pointing out not only the
dignity of all the baptized, but their duties before God and man in the
Vatican II opened scripture more fully for the faithful
in their participation in the Church year through the liturgy. It
encouraged the laity (through councils) to assist their pastors in the
work of the Church and priests (through synods or senates) to assist
their bishops, without in any way confusing roles or usurping
When the sixteen documents of Vatican II are fully
digested and properly implemented into the life of the many millions of
Catholic laity, religious, and priests, we can look to (as it were) a
new Pentecost, for which Pope John XXIII called the council, and that
"new springtime" of life in the Church, which Pope Pius XII predicted
before his death.
How does one summarize an ecumenical council, such as
Vatican II, that has been and is transforming Christian society and has
brought more changes to the Church in a few years than during the
preceding 400 to 500 years? Without harm to faith or morals, some of
the changes of Vatican II would have been realized centuries earlier if
it had not been for the Protestant Revolt (and its own reformation) in
the sixteenth century.
At the time of the Protestant Revolt there were
movements for the use of the vernacular (language of the people) in the
liturgy. The "revolters" immediately put their services in the language
of the people, and so Latin became identified with Christians who
remained loyal to the pope in the unity of the ancient Catholic Church.
Doubtlessly, the nonauthorized innovations, changes, and discard of
doctrines which accompanied the religious upheaval of the sixteenth
century necessitated that the Catholic Church, for the protection of
her members and to save them from confusion, maintain its long-held
position on such questions as use of the vernacular. Thus Latin became
almost a fifty (though nonessential) mark of the true Church after the
What does one say about those Catholics who, after
Vatican II and during the implementation of the council documents,
became confused about of disobedient to Church authority, striking out
even against the Holy Father, the pope? Ultimately, only God judges
souls. One can sympathize with the faithful who were led astray by some
members of the clergy and religious, who themselves rebelled against or
misrepresented the truth. And still we must remember that, for each and
all, God's grace is always sufficient in every temptation, and once the
gift of the fullness of the true faith has been bestowed by God upon a
soul, our good, heavenly Father will not withdraw it, unless the person
himself (or herself) rejects it.
After Vatican II, life in the Catholic Church became
more challenging and more thrilling — more full of joy for those who
engaged in the authentic renewal under and together with the
magisterium. Confusion reigned only when educators, clergy, religious,
and laity did not work in harmony with the Holy Father in interpreting
and implementing the authentic renewal to which each Catholic is
Most who read and use this book of Church history are
Catholic teenagers, tomorrow's adults and tomorrow's Church. But the
Church of tomorrow will be the same as the Church of yesterday, of the
last century, and of the first century. A newly conceived human life in
its mother's womb, is a continuum, sill the same life when it is born
as it is one hour, one day, or fifty or eighty years later. So the
Catholic Church, Christ's Mystical Body of today and the future, will
always b the same Church Jesus Christ founded twenty centuries ago.
The cells of the human body change with the passage of
years; still, it is the same human body. Individual members of the
laity, religious, priests, bishops, and our Holy Father the pope change
with the passage of years. Still, it is the same Church, "one Lord, one
faith, one baptism." As sacred scripture says: "Jesus Christ is the
same, yesterday, today, the same forever."
Our Catholic youth of today must become so strong in the
faith — not beset by confusion or misunderstandings, but looking beyond
the human failings of individual members of the Church and striving for
personal perfection in Christ Jesus — that the reality and the sanctity
of the Church, its true face, will truly be known and loved by all the
The Catholic Church is a divine organism. It is of
Christ, the God-Man himself. It is human, and also divine. With the
eyes of faith, each member must see beyond its human quality and
witness the inner divine reality which is Christ's Mystical Body.
We have just studied its 2,000-year history, and as we
look to the future we can know that, as in the past, Satan and the
forces of evil will always be there, attempting to destroy the Church
through its human quality. As Christ Jesus was tempted in the desert,
the forces of evil, the spirit of wickedness, will never cease tempting
the members of Christ. As at the head of the Mystical Body did not and
could not fall, for he is divine, so, through the indwelling of the
Holy Spirit, the human quality will be strengthened and will prevail.
The history of the Catholic Church will always be full
of pages of great and lesser saints who testify to that mark of the
Church we call holiness. It will always retain its oneness,
its catholicity (universality), and always remain apostolic; the only
Church built upon the apostles and promised that "the gates of hell
shall never prevail against it."
- For a more detailed life of Pope John XXIII, consult Saints
& Heroes Speak (OSV Press).
- From Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post
Conciliar Documents, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minn.
Questions for Discussion
- Summarize the religious character of "Good Pope
- What purpose did Pope John XXIII have in calling
Vatican Council II?
- Which pope presided over most of Vatican Council II?
- What was the first work of the council which deeply
affected the religious practice of Catholics? Explain how it affected
- How many documents did Vatican II issue and what was
their main intent?
- What did the council declare about Mary and why were
the council fathers sensitive to Protestant concepts about Mary?
- What are some of the disturbances which arose in the
Church after Vatican II?
- Did these disturbances truly reflect the reality of
Vatican Council II? Explain.
- Who especially questioned the official position of
the Church and how did they react, thus causing confusion for many
- What did Vatican Council II say about the obligation
of Catholics toward the pronouncements of the pope, even when the Holy
Father dies not speak ex cathedra?
- What was the catechetical problem that developed
about the time of Vatican II and the years following?
- How did the Vatican react to abuses that were not
infrequent in the teaching of the faith?
- Explain how our American bishops cooperated with the
directives of the Vatican.
- Did the Church make any official reaction to the
false reports that it downplayed its former devotion to the Mother of
- In summary, what did the Catholic Church say about
the confusion in sexual ethics?
- What is meant by superficial or false ecumenism?
- Explain how Vatican II in no way called for a
compromise of the Catholic faith.
- Since Vatican II, some Catholics have acted as if
scripture is the chief and only authority in the Church for
our understanding in the faith of the word of God. How would you answer
such a claim?
- Explain what is meant by the confusion of roles which
some Catholics were guilty of after Vatican Council II.
- Name the positive features in Church life which
resulted from the Second Vatican Council.
- How did the Protestant Revolt of the sixteenth
century in some respects cause the Catholic Church to remain "frozen"
in updating features which can be changed?
Fox, Rev. Robert J. "The Catholic Church in the
Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries." A Catechism of Church History:
2,000 Years of Faith and Tradition (Park Press Quality
Printing, Jubilee 2000 Edition),
Reprinted by permission of the publisher and by the
author, Fr. Robert J. Fox.
Father Robert J. Fox is the director of the Fatima
Family Apostolate and editor of the Immaculate Heart
Messenger. Before founding his own Apostolate and editing his own
magazine Father Robert J. Fox for many years was a columnist with
leading Catholic magazines, newspapers, and journals in the United
States. In addition to being a retiired pastor from the Diocess of
South Dakota and now lives in Hanceville, Alabama and offers daily Mass
at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady's of Angels
Monastery home Mother Angelica and the Poor Clare Nuns.
|Category: Catholic Doctrine
Fatima Family Apostolate ( Non-Profit)
2000 4th Edition
Nihl Obstat: Rev James N Joyce
Imprimatar: Most Rev. Paul V. Dudley
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