Second Vatican Council

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Second Vatican Council
October 11, 1962 - December 8, 1965
Accepted by

Roman Catholic Church

Convened by Pope John XXIII

Pope John XXIII , Pope Paul VI.

Attendees A total of 3044 participants (including 2498 Council Fathers)

Church reform : relationship of the church to the modern world as well as response and adaptation of the church to the modern world, ecumenism , non-Christian religions , liturgy


16 documents (4 constitutions, 9 decrees, 3 declarations)

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Before a papal mass at the council; Area between the papal altar and apse / cathedra altar, in front of it the seat of the Pope
Tribune with Council Fathers and gallery for the secretaries
Council Fathers, in the foreground the liturgical scholar Aimé-Georges Martimort
Council Fathers

The Second Vatican Council (also briefly II. Vatican II or II. Vatican Council or Vatican II and Vatican II ) supported by the Roman Catholic Church as the 21st Ecumenical Council is considered, found on 11 October 1962 to 8th December 1965. It was made by Pope John XXIII. convened with the mandate to pastoral and ecumenical "instauratio" (renewal, Italian aggiornamento ).

The Pope pointed in the Latin opening speech Gaudet Mater Ecclesia ( "It is the mother church would be") expressly states that a certain update dogmatic sets in terms of their orientation was possible on the understanding of the present age and necessary. Because one is the eternal dogma, the permanent truth, another is the expression of the respective time.

After the death of Pope John XXIII. in 1963 the council was established by Pope Paul VI. continued and ended in 1965. It decided in favor of religious freedom in the civil state system and in favor of increased dialogue with people of different or non-believers.

The later Popes John Paul I , John Paul II and Benedict XVI were among the participants .



According to John XXIII, the idea of ​​a new council goes back to a conversation with Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani (1890–1979) on the second day of the conclave that elected him Pope in 1958. Pius XII. is said to have already indicated to the Jesuit preacher Riccardo Lombardi that he expected his successor to convene a council. Popes Pius XI and Pius XII. both had had the continuation of Vatican I examined. From the beginning, Pope John planned a council that would orient the church to the present; possibly the motifs go back to Roncalli's youth (wrote Lambert Beauduin ). John XXIII described this concern. as "Aggiornamento" (translated as "today" or "becoming"). On January 25, 1959, in front of 17 cardinals in the chapter house of the Patriarchal Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, he surprisingly announced that he intended to convene a council for the universal Church, the aim of which was “renewal”, “greater clarity in thinking” and “strengthening” of the bond of unity ”.

The news of the convening of the council was received with great attention and sometimes enthusiastically worldwide. Some of the cardinals of the Curia were not enthusiastic about the plans or the specifications . With the Apostolic Constitution Humanae Salutis of December 25, 1961, the Second Vatican Council was convened for 1962.


On May 17, 1959, the commission to initiate the preparation, the Commissio antepraeparatoria , met for the first time. It was chaired by the Cardinal Secretary of State Domenico Tardini . It called on 3,500 bishops, religious superiors and theological faculties worldwide to submit proposals for the advisory program of the preparatory commissions. So 2812 postulates came together, which were examined and worked out by the Commissio. Then the actual preparatory phase began, initiated by the Motu proprio Superno Dei nutu on June 5, 1960.

Ten preparatory commissions (Commissiones praeparatoriae) were set up for this purpose. In contrast to earlier councils, in which such commissions were mainly made up of theologians and canonists who had no voting rights at the council itself, about half of the preparatory commissions of the Second Vatican Council were made up of bishops and religious superiors. In principle, however, they were very close to the apparatus of the Curia, which tried to have a decisive influence on the course of the council.

The Pope was therefore only able to bring some of his own concerns, especially ecumenism , into the preparations against resistance. However, a worldwide dialogue had long since developed about the content that was to shape the council. The theologian Hans Küng , who comes from Switzerland and teaches in Tübingen , in his book “Council and Reunification” in 1960 called for real efforts towards ecumenism, a reform of the Curia, an interreligious dialogue and the abolition of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum . He summed up what many theologians were also thinking. These goals, which were also supported by many laypeople , were partially achieved.

In order to balance the leadership of the Curia in the preparation, the Pope set up the Secretariat for the Promotion of Christian Unity in 1960 , and appointed the German Cardinal Augustin Bea SJ , former confessor of Pius XII , to be its head . This secretariat, and not the commissions influenced by the Curia, to which it was treated, was henceforth responsible for ecumenical issues. This approach was welcomed by other Christian communities, as they did not like dealing with the Roman Curia.

Preparations entered their final phase in the summer of 1961. Above all, the organizational process and more precisely which group of participants should be invited had to be clarified. Until then, the only thing that was certain was that the official language of the Council should be Latin , regardless of the "Latin weakness" that was already rampant in significant parts of the episcopate . In the spring of 1962 there were 69 drafts on a wide variety of topics. Overall, they were very lengthy and written in a typically Roman style, even more cumbersome than the encyclicals of the previous popes. Only the liturgy commission presented a concrete concept, the other proposals were mainly based on the fact that the council should preserve and “fix” rather than renew. The representatives of the local churches did not want to take this direction , which showed for the first time that the curia had lost influence over the bishops.

John XXIII refrained from commenting on the proposals of the 69 drafts. Nor did he specify what the council should focus on. He wanted to give a free and independent council (without taboo questions) at least a chance. However, he was probably thinking of a speedy “settlement” of the same. However, a momentum of its own developed towards the goal of a “new Pentecost ” for the church.

Goal setting

"Aggiornamento" ...

The pastoral method change that Pope John XXIII. introduced as aggiornamento and the Paul VI. with the title il Dialogo (encyclical Ecclesiam suam , 1964), has its origins as early as the days of the First World War . Benedict XV In his encyclical Ad beatissimi Apostolorum principis , he reiterated the condemnation of theological modernism , but weakened the tone after the bitter disputes under his predecessor Pius X. He also condemned integralist anti-modernism in order to strengthen the “unity of the church” as a supranational authority rescue. Pope Pius XI had also recognized the outlines of the fundamentally new situation in the “ world of today” and therefore made the “peace of Christ in the kingdom of Christ” the program of his pontificate. Under his successor Pius XII. there was a further development in world recognition ad extra as well as with regard to the Catholic program.


This spiritual concept of the church encompasses fidelity to tradition and adaptation to the present. In addition to intransigence , that is essentially an uncompromising attitude, there is also the ability for appropriate renewal in the horizon of time , i.e. a modernity.

Opening and course

Procession of the Council Fathers
Council Fathers

The council began on October 11, 1962. The 2498 council fathers entered St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City in a large procession . John XXIII. not the papal tiara as a sign of power, but a miter , and thus demonstrated himself as a shepherd, and not as a ruler. He also only used the papal lounger on St. Peter's Square in order to be better seen. He stopped at St. Peter's Church, went down and walked the rest of the way. Bishops from 133 countries were present. The interior of St. Peter's Basilica itself had been converted into a gigantic council hall. In the central nave there were 90-meter-long rising grandstands on both sides, from which debates were held.

The negotiation process of the council is to be divided into four session periods.

First session

Already the first meetings - called general congregations (meetings) - indicated that there would be a conflict between the "renewers" and "keepers". The curia wanted to determine the council decisively and tried to have a decisive influence on the filling of the most important positions and on the agenda. The first "acid test" was the appointment of ten council commissions on October 13, 1962.

The ten council commissions corresponded in number and tasks to the ten preparatory commissions. Their task was to incorporate the results of the deliberations on the schemes in the General Assembly and then to submit the revised scheme again to the General Assembly. The commissions were to consist of 24 members each, 16 of which were to be elected by the Council Fathers and the remaining eight to be appointed by the Pope. The General Secretariat of the Council had lists distributed along with the ballot papers containing 16 names of Council Fathers who had already belonged to the relevant preparatory commission. But these were therefore candidates for the curia. The bishops present then demanded to be able to determine the members of the commissions themselves and requested an adjournment in order to be able to deal more closely with the candidates on the list. When attempts were made to ignore this, the Cardinals Achille Liénart and Josef Frings took the floor and pushed through their ideas on behalf of the Council Fathers. The election was postponed. This session was later referred to as the actual departure of the council, as it became clear that the bishops present saw themselves as "the council" and did not want to submit to the proposals of the curia.

After the adjournment, new lists were drawn up mainly by the German and French Council Fathers. The council received its own momentum. The already seriously ill Pope John XXIII. approved of the “running in” of the council and held back; he had no intention of interfering with specific decisions. However, the resulting dynamic was not initially geared towards a clear goal. The Pope had also left this definition of goals to the council, which was initially overwhelmed by this. It was not until the Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini , who later became Pope Paul VI., In an eleven-page letter to the Pope that the conception of the double theme of the Church ecclesia ad intra and ad extra proposed. He pleaded externally for an expansion of the ecumenical dialogue initiated by the Pope himself, internally for a study of the nature of the Church and its reform and the division of the Council into three session periods. The council accepted these ideas , which had already been preformulated by the Belgian Cardinal Léon-Joseph Suenens with reference to a papal address on September 11, 1962, with great approval, which was a first “loss of power for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith represented by Ottaviani , then still called the Holy Office “Meant. The direction of the council was thus given. Another unforeseen development was initiated by the rejection of the De Ecclesia scheme . As a result, the General Secretary of the Council, Pericle Felici , proposed the submission of alternative schemes, which significantly increased the influence of the bishops and bishops' conferences on the text to be dealt with by the general assembly of the council.

The first session ended on December 8, 1962.

The work in the council commission should go further during the break in the session. John XXIII changed his mind with regard to his initial reluctance and wanted in the second session to "'take his place" as the' real president ', albeit with discretion. "However, Pope John did not see the progress of the council; he died on June 3rd 1963.

Second session

The second session was held on September 29, 1963 by Pope Paul VI. opened. This was on June 21 of the same year to the successor of the now deceased Johannes XXIII. has been chosen. The session should lead to the first documents and thus to the first tangible results. It was further determined by the contrast between conservative and progressive forces (cf. Coetus Internationalis Patrum ). The council discussed, among other things, what role the bishops should play in the future. Progressive forces advocated a larger community, even if not in place of a relationship of subordination to the primacy of the Pope, who is also first bishop. The conservative forces tried to prevent this idea of ​​community (collegiality, church as communio ). On November 8, 1963, there was a protest speech that has become historic. The Cologne Cardinal Josef Frings - one of the most formative figures of the entire Council - protested against a campaign by conservative forces and finally turned against the institution of the Holy Office and its secretary, Cardinal Ottaviani. According to Frings, the office embodies methods and behaves which does not correspond to the spiritual and spiritual rank of bishops and theologians. Because the office decided on the basis of the files, without procedural guarantees, and did not have to justify its decisions. Assisted by his peritus , the young theology professor Joseph Ratzinger , Frings spoke out in favor of a “reform of the office”, which Paul VI. was carried out in 1965. Cardinal Ottaviani (until 1968) was the first prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith , the new name of the Reformed Holy Office.

Two documents could be adopted. On December 4, 1963, the council passed the constitution on the liturgy : Sacrosanctum Concilium . The liturgy was later to be reformed on this basis. With this decision and the adoption of Inter mirifica , the decree on the mass media on December 4, 1963, the second session ended. Under the pseudonym Michael Serafian, Malachi Martin SJ then published the book The Pilgrim , in which he clairvoyantly analyzed that Pope Paul VI. had already entered into a contradiction to its predecessor in that he again corresponded more closely to the “party” of the Curia. In the opinion of his critics, this observation was subsequently confirmed. Council advisor Joseph Ratzinger evaluated the confirmation formula of Pope Paul VI in a differentiated book about the second session. Regarding both council decrees as a concrete renewal of the concept of the church: “What is significant lies in the twofold› una cum ‹- together with the council fathers. Pope Paul has thus created a new type of conciliar law, which is in substance a precise expression for the idea of ​​episcopal collegiality negotiated by the council. ”The Latin confirmation formula of all documents is:“ Paulus episcopus servus servorum Dei una cum Concilii Patribus ”.

Third and fourth session

The third session began on September 14, 1964. On November 19, 1964, the decree on religious freedom was to be passed. The council got into a crisis when the session at which the resolution was to be passed was adjourned on short notice. The proposal provided for a departure from the old claim of the Catholic state doctrine that the Church, as the representative of the true religion, should be given priority over “error” in social coexistence as well. Despite a majority in favor of voting on the decree, the Pope complied with the request of the conservatives, who had asked for an adjournment. It was not until 1965 that this correction of the Catholic claim to absoluteness was resolved with the more mature document Dignitatis humanae .

After it became clear that the conservative forces of the Curia were not only in the minority at the Council, but could only partially exercise their influence, the documents of the third and fourth session, although of the 3–5%, were “Preserving “Continued to be heavily criticized and adopted more quietly than in the previous second session. Serious conflicts arose in the run-up to the adoption of Lumen Gentium on November 14, 1964, when the Pope, again with great respect for the small, conservative minority, added an explanatory preliminary remark ( Nota explicativa praevia ) to the interpretation of the term " College (of the Bishops) ”in favor of the papal primacy.

The integration of the minority became his main concern, which also led to papal corrections to the Ecumenical Document, Dei verbum and the Declaration on Religious Freedom. In addition to Lumen Gentium on the Church and Dei verbum on Divine Revelation, the most important documents were Nostra aetate on non-Christian religions and Dignitatis humanae on religious freedom . The pastoral constitution Gaudium et spes expands the ecclesiastical world mission by expressing itself broadly on questions of science, culture, politics, the family and world peace. The fourth session was then arranged by the Pope, based on the will of the majority of the participants in the council, in order to enable a meaningful conclusion of the council, when the great shortage of time became apparent during the third period.

The council closed on December 8, 1965 with special messages to the world, including those in power, workers, intellectuals, women and youth. While the council was still in session, the reform dynamic had spread to the clergy and theology in the local churches, which after 1968 could lead to an open crisis of authority (cf. Humanae Vitae ).


The council drafted and published 16 documents:

First session

No documents were adopted during the first session (October 11 to December 8, 1962).

Second session

In the second session (September 29 to December 4, 1963) the following documents were adopted:

Third session

During the third session (September 14 to November 21, 1964) the following documents were adopted:

Fourth session

The fourth session (September 14 to December 8, 1965) resulted in the following documents:

  • Perfectae caritatis : decree on the contemporary renewal of religious life; October 28, 1965
  • Nostra aetate : Declaration on the relationship of the church to non-Christian religions; October 28, 1965
  • Optatam totius : decree on the formation of priests; October 28, 1965
  • Christ Dominus : Decree on the pastoral role of the bishops in the Church; October 28, 1965
  • Gravissimum educationis : Declaration on Christian Education; October 28, 1965
  • Dei verbum : dogmatic constitution on divine revelation; November 18, 1965
  • Apostolicam actuositatem : decree on the lay apostolate; November 18, 1965
  • Presbyterorum ordinis : decree on the service and life of priests; December 7, 1965
  • Ad gentes : decree on the missionary activity of the Church; December 7, 1965
  • Dignitatis humanae : Declaration on Religious Freedom; December 7, 1965
  • Gaudium et spes : Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World; December 7, 1965


Council Fathers

The most important resolutions include the following points

  • Liturgy: In the course of the Constitution on the Sacrosanctum Concilium liturgy , two liturgical reforms took place: In the Roman Missal, which was promulgated (put into effect) in 1965, the first reform steps were implemented, with the exception of the constitution's requirement that a larger number of Bible texts be given to the faithful at Mass open up. The missal promulgated in 1969 took this requirement into account with a completely new reading order ( pericope order). Even before this further reform, the vernacular largely replaced Latin as the liturgical language, which was not provided for by the liturgical constitution. As a result, the plan to gradually reform the liturgy failed to achieve its goal.
  • Collegiality of the bishops. The council strengthened the world episcopate , and with it the local church. In the church constitution, infallibility is also extended to the bishops. Together with the Pope they can “teach authentically in religious and moral matters and unanimously present a certain doctrine as definitely binding.” ( LG 25) In the preliminary remark (Nota praevia explicativa) to Lumen Gentium it becomes clear that collegiality never goes against primacy of the Pope can be used.
  • Relationship to other religions. A development since the Second Vatican Council concerns the relationship of the Catholic Church to other religions. The church “rejects nothing of all that is true and holy in these religions.” ( Nostra aetate 2) The Council text praises the monotheism of Islam (cf. NA 3) and again confesses the emergence of the church from Judaism (cf. NA 4). The decree Unitatis redintegratio deals with the internal Christian ecumenism .
  • In the “Decree on Religious Freedom” ( Dignitatis humanae ) it says: “God himself has given the human race knowledge of the way on which men, serving him, can be redeemed and saved in Christ. This only true religion, we believe, is realized in the Catholic, Apostolic Church, which received the commission from Jesus the Lord to spread it among all people ”(DH 1). At the same time, the council forbids all coercion with regard to faith and strengthens conscience (cf. DH 2).
  • Relationship of the Church to the State. The council abandons the claim of the Catholic Church (no longer enforceable since the Reformation at the latest ) that the public and all state structures must act according to Catholic principles. As a result, the Catholic religion's claim to absoluteness is only defined in a purely spiritual sense, so it cannot be confused with totalitarian ideologies.

Theology of the Council

The Second Vatican Council has undoubtedly set new accents:

  • The pastoral approach of the council, i.e. affirmation of the pastoral office of the church towards theology (the council did not get involved in the disputes of the individual theological schools, but wanted to make faith fruitful for Christian life.)
  • Historical approach (Insights from historical research are increasingly taken into account.)
  • Biblical Approach (The Bible is a permanent reference point for faith.)
  • Patristic approach (The Church Fathers are privileged witnesses of tradition and interpret the biblical testimony.)
  • Ecumenical opening (non-Catholics were invited as observers.)
  • Opening up to the world (see Gaudium et spes )
  • Dialogue with non-Christians (recognition of ethical and religious values outside the church)
  • New, dialogue-oriented style of proclamation (instead of anathema formulas, doctrinal statements are formulated in a positive way.)

German-language reporting

The Second Vatican Council was reported in many media; in print media, on radio and television. In the preliminary reports, expectations fluctuated, after the council a positive opinion prevailed. The Catholic Church practiced open communication of the events, not only through the press office set up for this purpose, but also through individual bishops. That was a milestone in the relationship of the Catholic Church to the press. Joseph Ratzinger , then advisor to the council and later Pope, gave several lectures during the deliberations in Germany and Switzerland about his personal impressions and experiences regarding the aims, discussions and results of the council, which were widely recognized in the press: “In rich formulation, about Captivating the audience for an hour and a half, Ratzinger, like a true Doctor mellifluus , circled the problems that seem to be easy to submit to such fine, clear thinking and are so difficult to handle in the space where things collide ”.

Reception history

The correct interpretation of the council has been and is discussed since the council.

"Post-conciliar crisis"

In the Catholic milieu, the term post-conciliar crisis is used to describe the phase (approximately) between 1965 and 1985. It is often difficult to clearly identify the beginning and end of the post-conciliar crisis, as some also see the present in the context of the post-conciliar crisis.


The term was probably coined in France, where the church political camps clashed violently not only since 1965 (la crise post-conciliaire) . This means the phenomena of dwindling religious practice and declining discipline in the Catholic Church ad intra , combined with the general phenomenon of secularization (secularization), especially in the western world. But this crisis is not independent of incipient ecclesiastical crises from the period before the II. Vatican are considered. Even today, the little-noticed letter from Pope Paul VI is very readable . Quinque iam anni from 1970. The “post-conciliar crisis” in the strict sense does not include only theological problems, for example in Christology , since these are inevitable throughout the history of the Church.

Pope Paul VI once spoke freely of a tendency towards “self-destruction” in parts of the Catholic Church. A report of an address given to the Lombard seminary on December 7, 1968 notes:

[The Pope came to a further reflection:] «Che cosa vedete nel Papa?». E risponde: Signum contradictionis: un segno di contestazione. La Chiesa attraversa, oggi, un momento di inquietudine. Taluni si esercitano nell ' autocritica , si direbbe perfino nell' autodemolizione . È come un rivolgimento interiore acuto e complesso, che nessuno si sarebbe atteso dopo il Concilio. Si pensava a una fioritura, a un'espansione serena dei concetti maturati nella grande assise conciliare. C'è anche questo aspetto nella Chiesa, c'è la fioritura. - “What do you see in the Pope?” He replies: Signum contradictionis: A sign of contradiction. The Church is going through a moment of unrest today. Some practice "self-criticism", one could even say, "self-destruction". One thought of a blossom, of a joyful expansion of the concepts that had matured in the great council meeting. And there is this aspect in the Church too, there is the blossom.

State of research

The causes and course of this time of crisis have so far only been little researched, so that the most varied representations, accusations and explanatory models are in circulation, depending on the location of the observer. Some see the crisis in particular as a crisis of the clergy , whose identity was not reflected enough in Vatican II, despite extensive documents on the life, service and training of the priest . Some suspect that a problem that has been suppressed rather than solved since the beginning of the century with regard to theology in conflict with the sciences could have been the main cause of the crisis. The political developments of the first half of the century (wars, crises, totalitarianism , democratization) were certainly not insignificant. For (almost) every council, however, it is true that precisely because it speaks with the highest authority, the whole church is “put under pressure” by current requirements, which initially provoke almost inevitable resistance. That the attitude of the church to the world, other denominations and religions went hand in hand with extensive liturgical changes was certainly not beneficial. At least in part, both progressive and conservative attempts to exert influence on the course and outcome of the council must be interpreted as an “early start” in the resistance to the reception of the real judgments of the highest church assembly (cf. Hans Küng , Karl Rahner , Alfredo Ottaviani ).

"Diagnosis" from 1972

The Pope Paul VI, who was responsible for the implementation and completion of the last council. In 1972 he was irritated several times by the fact that instead of the hoped-for enlivenment and spiritual growth that Vatican II was aiming for, as evidenced by all documents, the opposite seemed to occur. Often quoted is a statement made by this Pope on June 29, 1972. At the beginning of his tenth year of the pontificate, the Pope had given a sermon in free speech. He expressed his disappointment with the post-council period unexpectedly openly. According to a report by Archbishop Agostino Casaroli , later Cardinal Secretary of State , the Pope had also spoken of his impression that "the smoke of Satan had entered the temple of God through some crack to spoil the fruits of the Council."

According to Philippe Levillain , this was meant in the Dictionnaire historique de la papauté on Paul VI., In particular the problem of the Society of St. Pius X. , which was founded in 1970 by Marcel Lefebvre . Accordingly, the resistance to the council (cf. religious freedom ) and the liturgical reform on the part of traditionalism represented a test for the pope at that time, which he personally found at least as oppressive as the protest against his last encyclical Humanae vitae . For while all heresies, old and modern, had a boom, were getting stronger or weaker again, Pope Paul VI understood. the concept of tradition emerging there as dangerous. These teach a supposedly compulsory obedience to the "traditional" papacy (i.e. as they subjectively understand it), which has to be proven in the resistance against the incumbent Pope. Despite intense activity, especially since Marcel Lefebvre's declaration of principle on November 21, 1974, traditionalism was only able to reach a limited range among Catholics; the number of followers fixated on this interpretation of tradition is likely to be well below 100,000 people worldwide. However, there are far more friends of the "old liturgy" who do not approve of Archbishop Lefebvre's views.

The "Spirit of the Council"

The term “spirit of the council” means the position that an understanding of the council is only possible if one correctly perceives the spirit, the atmosphere that prevailed at the council.

The spirit of the council expresses this. In the opinion of the Popes since 1965, however, anyone who interprets this "spirit" as authorization to read the traditional teaching of the Church in the Council documents as not written leaves the Council . The progressive interpretation of the spirit of the Council, as represented by the editor of a well-known history of the Council, Giuseppe Alberigo , is particularly evident in the above. Additions by the Pope in the interests of the conservatives were only a tactical measure to involve the conservative opponents of the reform. Since the texts consist of compromises, one should stick to the spirit of the council, which is not in the texts but was handed down by contemporary witnesses. The church historian Klaus Schatz SJ notes that it will probably take more time to be able to distinguish the true spirit of the council from the “epochal 'spirit'”. A constant evocation of the spirit of the council, "which was in a certain way also the spirit of the 1960s (with its advantages and one-sidedness)", "is probably rather a hindrance to the right reception."

Hermeneutics of Reform

Benedict XVI. campaigned in 2005 for a Council interpretation in the sense of a hermeneutics of reform. He distinguishes this from a so-called hermeneutic of rupture. Proponents of this hermeneutics see a break between the church before the council and the church after the council and overemphasize the "vigor for the new". At the same time, one cannot speak of continuity either, since there have been many new approaches. With reference to the opening address of Pope John XXIII. and the final address of Pope Paul VI. Benedict develops the hermeneutics of reform, which interprets the council in the “connection of loyalty and dynamism”. This ensures that the unity between the Church before, during and after the Council is taken into account and that the new interpretations made by the Council are valued. Against this background, the Motu propio Summorum Pontificum of Pope Benedict XVI. to understand what the so-called Tridentine Mass allowed as an extraordinary form of the one Roman rite.

Misinterpretation of the Council results

Cardinal Avery Dulles tried to correct several errors in the interpretation of Vatican II. These are his most important corrections:

  • The council insisted that there is salvation for men only in the name of Jesus. Sometimes the opinion was expressed that the council had recognized non-Christian religions that they contained the character of revelation and could lead to salvation.
  • The Bible is not a norm independent of ecclesiastical tradition. Indeed, some believed that the Council gave Scripture precedence over tradition.
  • In Jesus Christ, divine revelation is complete, and no further public revelation can be expected before Jesus' return. Sometimes the opinion was expressed that the council attached the “signs of the times” normative character for the content of revelation today .
  • The council affirmed the saving necessity of faith and baptism (and of the church, since people enter the church through baptism). Some believed that the council renounced the Church's need for salvation and abandoned the claim to absoluteness of true religion.

Theological suggestions

The theology of liberation experienced an upswing through the council , also going beyond the Catholic Church. Formulations of the council were also taken up in other churches, for example the description of the origin of the Gospels.


The sharpest criticism of the Second Vatican Council came from traditionalists such as B. Marcel Lefebvre (or, less prominent, Hans Milch and Heinz-Lothar Barth ), who hold the council responsible for the fact that many people turn away from the faith. The fundamentalism rejects also from the unambiguous separation of church identity of certain socio-political ideas.

In 1981, the psychoanalyst and sociologist Alfred Lorenzer presented a comprehensive critique of the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council. In it Lorenzer warns "of the fateful effects of the liturgical reform which is delivering the believers to the subject-destroying tendency of the 'Zeitgeist'".

Some critics of religion regard the council as a dubious attempt by the Catholic Church to give itself a modern look only on the outside, while in essence it has been adamant in defending Catholic dogma . Similar assessments also come from a non-Catholic perspective; the Baptist Franz Graf-Stuhlhofer thinks that the changes brought about by the council concern more questions of form, while little changed in the substance of the dogmas. As a concrete example, he points out that when it comes to the veneration of saints, the council again submits the resolutions of earlier councils and is content with a general warning to “keep away or remedy any abuses, exaggerations or defects that may have crept in here and there” (LG 51); the previous teaching material was therefore not corrected by Vatican II.

The internal criticism refers either to the slow or too brisk implementation of the resolutions or to the demand for a new council, since Vatican II is already out of date. Liberal criticism sees the Council as only a first beginning and aims, in harmony with modernism at the beginning of the 20th century, to replace the church office with a theological-scientific claim to leadership - a notion that is countered that this claim to leadership in the People is not negotiable. The principle of Catholicism , to endow the questions of religion with an (officially structured) spiritual priority over state politics and social life, sees this liberal criticism as obsolete.

The problem that the intensive internal church legislative activity since 1965, of Roman and even more regional origin, although often carried out in the name of an appreciation of the laity, has often severely strained the willingness of ordinary Christians to follow suit has so far not been discussed much. The spiritual authority of the clergy is most convincing where it is able to limit itself to its "core competence". This may have been less successful in the typical parish than in new spiritual movements (cf. Movimenti ).


The four Constitutions of the Council are compared to "four pillars" which "support and support" the 16 pronouncements of the Council. But for them, too, there is only bindingness, but not infallibility , because the Council did not want to teach dogmatically but pastorally. The other documents are not constituted as constitutions and are ranked below them. Doubts about the binding nature of the council arose again and again in the reception phase due to the pastoral teaching method, which deviated from tradition. The council itself, however, gives guidelines for reception (in the nota praevia to Lumen gentium and in the footnote to Gaudium et spes ). Reference can also be made to a declaration by the General Secretary of the Council Pericle Felici in the 123rd General Congregation on November 16, 1964, which states: “Taking into account the conciliar procedure and the pastoral purpose of the present Council, the Council defines only that as for the Church binding doctrine of faith and morals, which it itself clearly explains as such. But whatever else the council presents, each and every one of the believers in Christ must accept and record as the doctrine of the highest ecclesiastical magisterium according to the intention of the Holy Synod itself, as it results from the treated subject or from the statements according to the principles of theological interpretation ”.


A total of 3,044 participants were gathered at the council.


  • John XXIII (1962–1963)
  • Paul VI (1963–1965), previously participation as cardinal, archbishop of Milan and member of the secretariat for special tasks

Moderators (from 1963)

  • Gregoire-Pierre Agagianian , Cardinal, Patriarch Emeritus of Ciliken of the Armenians, Head of the Commission for Missions
  • Julius Döpfner , Cardinal, member of the Presidium and Secretariat for Special Tasks, Archbishop of Munich and Freising
  • Giacomo Lercaro , Cardinal, Archbishop of Bologna
  • Léon-Joseph Suenens , Cardinal, Archbishop of Mechlin, member of the Secretariat for Special Tasks


The following ten cardinals formed the presidium of the council:

Also acted

Presidents of the individual commissions

The cardinals who headed the preparatory commissions presided over the so-called individual commissions at the council. All commissions were headed by cardinals of the Curia.

Presidents of the Secretariats

In addition to the council commissions, there were three secretariats, also headed by cardinals:

Other well-known Council Fathers

were for example:

Council Fathers in St. Peter's Square
"Council ring", as Pope Paul VI. at the end of the Second Vatican Council in 1965 to all participating bishops


With the Periti , i.e. the theologians who take part in the Council, a distinction must be made between the Periti appointed by the Pope and the theological advisers of the Council Fathers. The Periti, the “official council theologians” had a seat, but no voting rights, in the general congregations of the council. The theological advisers of individual bishops had neither a seat nor a vote in the General Congregation, although they were able to exert influence through their bishops and the cooperation and advice in the commissions. The involvement of theologians was an expression of a strengthening of the "role of theology"

A selection of the Periti and Council theologians:

The first laity to speak at the Council was Jean Guitton on December 3, 1963, and then Vittorino Veronese .

Non-Catholic observers

With the exception of the Greek Orthodox, all Christian churches of non-Roman Catholic character were represented at the Council by observers either directly or indirectly through the representatives of larger church groups. A selection:

At the special invitation of the Secretariat for Christian Unity, Brother Roger , founder and prior of the Taizé ecumenical community , and its subprior and authoritative theologian, Brother Max Thurian, attended. The same invitation went to the well-known ecumenist Oscar Cullmann .

Background of the non-dispatch of Orthodox observers

The Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (in Istanbul ) announced on October 5, 1962 that, due to the previous consultations with the autocephalous churches, it would not send observers to Rome. All the churches agreed to this Phanar decision , including the Moscow Patriarch Alexej I. The dispatch of observers by the Patriarchate of Moscow came as a surprise. In contrast to the Roman Catholic Church , the Orthodox Church has no strict centralism , but is based on the principle of autocephaly . The individual dioceses form groups, usually according to national ties, elect their head and thus form the autocephalous church. a. the Old Patriarchates of Constantinople, Alexandria, the Patriarchate of Antioch and Jerusalem and the national churches of Russia , Cyprus, Greece, Serbia , Romania , Bulgaria, Georgia, Poland and Albania .



  • Acta synodalia Sacrosancti Concilii Oecumenici Vaticani II , Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, 1970-1999.
  • Peter Hünermann (ed.): The documents of the Second Vatican Council. Constitutions, decrees, declarations. Latin-German study edition. (HThK.Vat.II) Herder, Freiburg i. Br. 2004, ISBN 3-451-28530-4 .
  • Walther Kampe (ed.): The council in the mirror of the press. Vol. 1, Echter-Verlag, Würzburg 1963.
  • Karl Rahner , Herbert Vorgrimler : Small Council Compendium . 35th edition. Herder, Freiburg i. Br. 2008, ISBN 978-3-451-27735-1 .
  • Sintesi dei Documenti Conciliari (Italian), In: Insegnamenti di Paolo VI. Vol. III (1965), pp. 765-770.

Overall representations

Individual representations

  • Luigi Bettazzi : The Second Vatican Council - Pentecost of our time. With a foreword by Elmar Klinger, translated from the Italian by Barbara Häussler. Echter, Würzburg 2002.
  • Luigi Bettazzi: The Second Vatican - Rebooting the Church from the Roots of Faith. Translated from the Italian by Barbara Häussler. Echter, Würzburg 2012, ISBN 978-3-429-03531-0 .
  • Franz Xaver Bischof , Stephan Leimgruber (Ed.): Forty Years of the Second Vatican Council - on the history of the effects of the Council texts. Echter Verlag, Würzburg 2004, ISBN 3-429-02605-9 .
  • Michael Bredeck : The Second Vatican Council as a Council of the Aggiornamento. On the hermeneutical foundation of a theological interpretation of the Council. (Paderborn theological studies, 48) Verlag Ferdinand Schöningh, Paderborn 2007, ISBN 978-3-506-76317-4 .
  • Ralf van Bühren : Art and Church in the 20th Century. The reception of the Second Vatican Council. (History of the Council, Series B: Investigations) Verlag Ferdinand Schöningh, Paderborn 2008, ISBN 978-3-506-76388-4 .
  • Eva Huttenlauch: The Porta della Morte to St. Peter by Giacomo Manzù and the change in papal art policy through the Second Vatican Council. Regensburg 2014, ISBN 978-3-7954-2799-3 .
  • Elmar Klinger , Rolf Zerfaß (ed.): The Church of the Laity. A course set by the council . Echter, Würzburg 1987.
  • Elmar Klinger: Poverty - A Challenge from God. The Faith of the Council and the Liberation of Man. Benziger, Zurich 1990.
  • Helmut Krätzl: Inhibited in the leap - Everything I'm still missing after the council. 4th edition. Verlag St. Gabriel, Mödling 1999, ISBN 3-85264-567-0 .
  • Wolfgang Spindler: "Humanistic Appeasement"? Hans Barion's criticism of the political and social doctrine of the Second Vatican Council. Duncker & Humblot 2011, ISBN 978-3-428-13588-2 .
  • Philipp Thull (ed.): Encouragement to set out. A critical assessment of the Second Vatican Council. Scientific Book Society, Darmstadt 2013, ISBN 978-3-534-26312-7 .
  • Günther Wassilowsky (Ed.): Second Vatican Council - forgotten impulses, current updates. (QD 207) Herder, Freiburg i. B. 2004.

Web links

Commons : Second Vatican Council  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Giuseppe Alberigo: Vatican Councils B. Vaticanum II. I. Announcement and preparation . In: Walter Kasper (Ed.): Lexicon for Theology and Church . 3. Edition. tape 10 . Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 2001, Sp. 561-566 . , 561.
  2. a b Jedin: Brief history of the council . 1959, p. 132.
  3. Jedin: Brief Council History . 1959, p. 132f.
  4. ^ A b Hubert Jedin : Small Council History . Herder, Freiburg / Br. 1959, p. 133.
  5. Jedin: Brief Council History . 1959, p. 136.
  6. a b Jedin: Small Council History . 1959, p. 140.
  7. Cf. Giuseppe Alberigo: Johannes XXIII., Leben und Wirken des Konzilspape , Mainz 2000, 214.
  8. ^ Leon-Joseph Suenens: Aux origines du Concile Vatican II . Ed .: NRTh. tape 107 (1985) , pp. 3–21, here 11–18 .
  9. ^ Council acts: Acta Synodalia sacrosancti concilii oecumenici Vaticani II, 6 vol., In 32 partibus, Typis Pol. Vaticanis, 1970-1999 . tape I / 4 , p. 366 .
  10. quoted from: Giuseppe Alberigo: Johannes XXIII., Leben und Wirken des Konzilspape , Mainz 2000, 219.
  11. Jedin: Brief Council History . 1959, p. 152.
  12. ^ Joseph Ratzinger: The council on the way - review of the second session. JP Bachem Verlag , Cologne 1964.
  13. Jedin: Brief Council History . 1959, p. 157.
  14. Jedin: Brief Council History . 1959, p. 163f.
  15. Jedin: Brief Council History . 1959, p. 163.
  16. Cf. Thomas Großbölting: The lost sky. Faith in Germany since 1945. Bonn 2013 (licensed edition for the bpb), p. 153.
  17. ^ Hanno Helbling : " The Church and the Churches" - two lectures in Zurich. Neue Zürcher Zeitung , January 23, 1964. The text of Joseph Ratzinger's lecture was published with the title Die Kirche und die Kirchen. The ecumenical problem in the second session of the current council ( memento of September 24, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) ” in the journal Reformatio. XIII. Volume 2, Zurich, 1964, together with the lecture text by Lukas Vischer under the title “The Church and the Churches. Some reflections on the second session of the Vatican Council ” . Ratzinger's lectures served as the basis for his book The Council on the Way - Review of the Second Session (see literature ).
  18. Quinque iam anni on the Vatican website.
  19. ^ Osservatore Romano of December 8, 1968.
  20. cfr. Insegnamenti, Vol. VI (1968), pp. 1187–1189 (1188)
  21. see: Message to the priests (Italian) from Pope Paul VI, June 30, 1968.
  22. See: Insegnamenti Paolo VI. Vol. X (1972), p. 707: [Il] Santo Padre afferma di avere la sensazione che "da qualche fessura sia entrato il fumo di Satana nel tempio di Dio".
  23. Klaus Schatz: General Councils - Focal Points of Church History . Paderborn ²2008, p. 336.
  24. a b c Benedict XVI .: Address by Benedict XVI. to the College of Cardinals and the members of the Roman Curia at the Christmas reception. In: December 22, 2005, accessed July 7, 2012 .
  25. ^ Avery Dulles: Vatican II: The Myth and the Reality , in: America. The Jesuit Review , Feb. 24, 2003.
  26. Please note: Ad gentes no.9 , Gaudium et spes no.10 , Dignitatis humanae no.1 , Lumen gentium no.16 .
  27. Please note: Dei Verbum , especially No. 9.
  28. Please note: DV, No. 4, and Gaudium et spes , No. 4.
  29. Please note: Lumen gentium nos. 14–16.
  30. Set out in DV 19 ( the Gospels reliably convey what Jesus really did and taught ). Picked up z. B. from the Baptist Franz Graf-Stuhlhofer : In search of the historical Jesus. About the credibility of the Gospels and the doubts of the skeptics. Leun 2013, pp. 60–62: “The Second Vatican Council on the Gospels”.
  31. ^ Alfred Lorenzer: The Council of Accountants. The destruction of sensuality. A criticism of religion. Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag, Frankfurt / Main 1992, p. 11.
  32. ^ Franz Graf-Stuhlhofer: Praying to saints? Adoration of saints according to the Bible, by church fathers as well as in today's church practice and teaching . Follow Verlag, Langerwehe 2014 (e-book), chap. "The Catholic teaching on the veneration of saints" (1st printed edition Asslar 1988).
  33. ^ So Karl Lehmann in Karl Lehmann, Ralf Rothenbusch (ed.): God's Word in Human Word. The one Bible as the foundation of theology (Quaestiones disputatae 266), Freiburg / Br. 2014, p. 25.
  34. Lumen gentium: Text - IntraText CT . Website Retrieved February 26, 2012.
  35. Albrecht Beckel, Hugo Reiring, Otto Roegele (ed.): Guide to the council, information, documents, interviews. Osnabrück 1962, p. 11.
  36. ^ Roberto de Mattei, p. 153.
  37. ^ Roberto de Mattei, p. 230.
  38. ^ Roberto de Mattei, p. 126.
  39. ^ Roberto de Mattei, p. 230.
  40. ^ A b Albrecht Beckel, Hugo Reiring, Otto Roegele (eds.): Guide through the council, information, documents, interviews. Osnabrück 1962, p. 12f.
  41. ^ Roberto de Mattei, p. 262.
  42. Roberto de Mattei, p. 249ff.
  43. Roberto de Mattei, p. 374: As a result, the more important supporters of the “conservative party” held back as cardinals.
  44. Klaus Schatz: General Councils - Focal Points of Church History. Paderborn 2008, p. 284.
  45. Some of the lectures given by Joseph Ratzinger to the Council Fathers are reproduced in the original (German or Latin) and in English translation and commented in: Jared Wicks: Six texts by Prof. Joseph Ratzinger as peritus before and during Vatican Council II. In: Gregorianum. 89, 2, 2008, pp. 233-311. ( Article about it ( Memento from September 25, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF) on )
  46. Albrecht Beckel, Hugo Reiring, Otto Roegele (ed.): Guide to the council, information, documents, interviews. Osnabrück 1962, p. 17.