Second Vatican Council

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Second Vatican Council, popularly called Vatican II, 1962–65, the 21st ecumenical council (see council, ecumenical) of the Roman Catholic Church, convened by Pope John XXIII and continued under Paul VI. Its announced purpose was spiritual renewal of the church and reconsideration of the position of the church in the modern world. The most spectacular innovation of the council, which convened Oct. 11, 1962, was the invitation extended to Protestant and Orthodox Eastern churches to send observers; the meetings were attended by representatives from many of those churches. Another obvious feature was the diversity of national and cultural origins shown among those who attended from all over the world.

One of the announced aims of the conference was to consider reform of the liturgy, primarily to bring the layman into closer participation in the church services and therefore to encourage some diversity in language and practice. Great emphasis was also laid from the beginning upon the pastoral duties of the bishops, as distinguished from administrative duties. The procedure at the conference accorded with democratic practice, and there was lively debate between the "progressive" and "conservative" groups. By the time of its adjournment the council had issued four constitutions, nine decrees, and three declarations. The nature of these statements was conciliatory, avoiding rigid definitions and condemning anathemas.

Session II (Sept.–Dec., 1963) produced the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (permitting vernacularization of the liturgy and stressing greater lay participation in the ritual) and the decree on the media of social communication. Out of Session III (Sept.–Nov., 1964) came the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (which espoused the principle of episcopal collegiality with the pope), the decrees on ecumenism and on the Eastern Catholic churches, and the proclamation of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the "Mother of the Church."

Pope Paul VI opened Session IV (Sept.–Dec., 1965) with the announcement that he was establishing an episcopal synod to assist the pope in governing the church. That final session issued the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World; the decrees on the bishops' pastoral office, on the appropriate renewal of the religious life (i.e., the life of the religious orders), on education for the priesthood, on the ministry and life of priests, on the apostolate of the laity, and on the church's missionary activity; and declarations on Christian education, on religious freedom, and on the relationship of the church to non-Christian religions (which included an important passage condemning anti-Semitism and recognizing "the bond that spiritually ties the people of the New Covenant to Abraham's stock" ). Even before the close of the council Pope Paul began to establish a series of commissions to implement the council's wide-ranging decisions.


See H. Küng, The Council, Reform, and Reunion (tr. 1962); H. Daniel-Rops, The Second Vatican Council (tr. 1962); D. C. Pawley, An Anglican View of the Vatican Council (1962, repr. 1973); W. M. Abbot, ed., Documents of Vatican II (1966); A. Gilbert, The Vatican Council and the Jews (1968); X. Rynne, Vatican Council II (1968); A. Flannery, ed., Vatican Council II: Constitutions, Decrees, Declarations (repr. 1996) and Vatican Council II: Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents (2 vol., repr. 1996).

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Vatican Council, Second, or Vatican II (1962–5). A Roman Catholic council. In calling for an ecumenical council, Pope John XXIII spoke of his desire for aggiornamento in the RC Church, for ‘a new Pentecost’. He lived to see only the first session: the Council's work was concluded under his successor, Paul VI (pope 1963–78). The debates showed deep disagreements on many issues, sometimes leading to the rejection of draft schemata prepared before the Council. Sixteen documents were eventually produced, five of which are particularly important. The Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) gave a deep theological analysis of the nature of the Church, and defined the authority of bishops and the position of the laity. The Constitution on Revelation (Dei Verbum) outlined the nature of revelation, scripture, and tradition; it laid down canons for biblical interpretation and encouraged greater use of the Bible in theology, liturgy, and private devotion. The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) dealt with the Church's attitude to human life and culture, and to marriage, economic development, war, and other contemporary issues. The Constitution on the Liturgy set out a theology of the liturgy and principles for reform (e.g. through wider use of the vernacular; see LITURGICAL MOVEMENT). The Decree on Ecumenism explained the RC Church's attitude to other Christians, and outlined a programme for reunion.

Despite the ensuing period of great turbulence, the Council succeeded in producing the greatest changes in the RC Church since the Council of Trent in the 16th cent.

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Vatican Council, Second (1962–65) Twenty-first ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church. It was convened by Pope John XXIII to revive and renew Christian faith and move the Church into closer touch with ordinary people. Among the most significant results were the introduction of the Mass in the vernacular, a greater role for lay people, and a greater tolerance for other sects and other religions.