A new edition of documents of Vatican II

I have often thought that we could use a new, better, edition in English of the Documents of Vatican II.  We need a better translation with a good commentary, through a hermeneutic of continuity.

A reader sent this:

Proposed New and Revised Edition of the Documents of the Council
I have been searching for a News Report giving more details of something the Holy Father said, some time ago.  However, no further news on the subject has been reported.  I wonder if any of your readers could trace the reference? I am unable to give any positive details but it was clear from what Pope Benedict said at the time, that he was anxious to have  the Vatican 11 Documents carefully looked at, with a view to having a new and revised edition of the Documents.
The Pope’s  comments were made well before (maybe 12 months ago), the lifting of the Excommunications of the four SSPX Bishops so was not in any way related to this, although I am sure The SSPX, in particular Bishop Fellay would be delighted if a new and authentic translation became available.
Here in the UK, the only available edition is a two volume, paper-back, edited by Austin Flannery OP. produced in USA. This served a useful reference purpose at the time but is printed in 8/10pt font, on cheap newsprint paper and not very attractive and very small and bulky. No English Catholic or any other publisher in UK has attempted to produce the entire Documents in one volume in a more durable and attractive edition – perhaps with useful and accurate commentaries.  Is it any wonder that there is so much ignorance, confusion, liturgical abuses and erroneous opinions yes, and fall-out from the Faith? 

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Sacerdos ignotus says:

    Ah yes, but they don’t want you to read the documents; they want you to know the SPIRIT of Vat 2!!!

  2. I’m all for a better translation and higher-quality set of VC2 documents, but can we be spared any commentary so we can enjoy the texts for what they are? Any commentary will be suspect and attached and not authoritative.

  3. “attached” in my previous comment should be “attacked.”

  4. It would be good to have an official version. I tend to use the ones on the Vatican website, which differs from the Aumann translation. We do need a “go to” version instead of a quibble over which is more accurate.

  5. Cel says:

    Oh yeah, looking forward to this. Hopefully the commentary will come from someone way up the food chain and with Papa’s direct approval.

  6. Mark says:

    The Other David: I’ve heard tell that Father Z knows a bit of Latin. Maybe he could be our ‘go to’ version, and tell us what the document really says ;)

    Okay, I’ll stop with the bad puns now.

  7. kd says:

    I know this doesn’t put us much futher along, but here are two references that I was able to find (one from 05 and one from 08):

    From 2005:

    Rome — Archbishop William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), previously known as the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office, stated recently that the present translations of the documents of the Second Vatican Council are “imprecise.” He hopes that for the Council’s 50th anniversary in 2015, “a careful official translation of the Council documents will be made in the main languages.” To date, there is no official translation of Vatican II documents.

    Archbishop Levada explained that the present translations of Dei Verbum, in particular, do not reflect the authentic meaning of what the conciliar fathers wished to transmit. He pointed out that Dei Verbum shows “the close relationship between Revelation, the Word of God, Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium” and clarified that “the Magisterium is not above the Word of God, but serves it faithfully” (Zenit, Oct. 11, 2005). (source: http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Translations+of+Vatican+II+documents-a0139910848)

    From April 2008:

    New Translation of Vatican II in the offing???

    My faithful Google Alert sent me a link to a post on this blog by a retired priest in the UK. Included as part of this post about Cardinal Hoyos and the status of the SSPX is this little nugget:

    Cardinal Levada the Holy Father’s head of the Doctrine office has indicated he wants “new and authoritative translations of major council documents”

    This is the first I have heard of this, and a quick Google search turned up no mention of it anywhere. I don’t have the time or resources to investigate (I’m posting this during a 10 minute class break), but it sure seems like it would be worth looking into!
    So I would hope that someone will read this and look into this possibility, because it is very very exciting to me, and I’m sure many others. (Source:

  8. It was Robert Mickens of the Tablet who aired the claim.

  9. Chris says:

    I’m looking forward to this as well, hopefully before next winter. I just ran out of firewood.

  10. Frank Swarbrick says:

    If the information re. ‘Proposed New and Revised Edition of the Documents of the Council’ is correct, the sooner we have a good and noble English translation with an authorised Commentary, the better. There has never (as far as I know) been an Authorised English Version of the Documents and certainly no authorised Commentary. Such a volume could be invaluable and the answer to many misunderstandings and misinformed thinking. Is there anyone out there that is able to verify this report? If so, I would be most grateful to hear from them on: frank.swarbrick@btinternet.com


  11. Jeff Pinyan says:

    I have a 1966 book “The Documents of Vatican II” (Fr. Walter M. Abbott, S.J., editor, and the Very Rev. Msgr. Joseph Gallagher, translation editor). The text also has commentary for each document and supplementary footnotes.

  12. Jeff Pinyan says:

    Also, Catholic Scripture Study International has started a series (modeled on their Bible Study series) on the documents of Vatican II.

    They have two documents covered so far: Dei Verbum (and the opening speech) and Lumen Gentium.

  13. I have a copy of the Abbott & Gallagher translation; the one usually encountered is by Austin Flannery OP (RIP). Are those the only editions on offer in English? What version does http://www.vatican.va use? (I once rather trenchantly criticised the inclusive language Flannery translation while a guest in a Dominican priory … Flannery himself was sitting ten feet away!)

  14. Matt Q says:

    Really, I don’t think anyone has the patience or the stomach for this. They can’t even revise the Novus Ordo, and there is going to be some of revisit of the Documents with more spin, more infighting… which will lead to more discontinuity… Like the idea of a new combined Missal, forget it.

    If there is going to be any “clarifications” ( there’s that word again ) of Vatican II, it will be through mere catechizing from one day to the next, not via some exalted committee or synod. In this regard, leave bad enough alone.

  15. Andreas says:

    I have a small edition from the Libreria Editrice Vaticana, hardcover, red, titled: “Constitutiones Decreta Declarationes” cura et studio Secretariae Generalis Concilii Oecumenici Vaticani. Very useful. Includes an Index Analytico Alphabeticus.

  16. Professor says:

    FYI, a friend of mine reports thus:

    The CTS (Catholic Truth Society) has reprinted the (better) translations originally published in the 1960s, at the time of the documents first appearing, and, of course, when there were more competent Latinists among the clergy. The famous “Subsistit in” passage in Lumen gentium is translated as follows: “This Church, founded and organized in this world as a society, has its existence in the Catholic Church under the government of Peter’s successor and the Bishops in communion with him.”

    The CTS booklets have introductions from such luminaries as Archbishop Chaput and Cardinal Arinze. Arinze, with typical robustness, makes this point in his intro to Sacrosanctum concilium: “If a church is built and the seats are arranged as in an amphitheatre or as in a banquet, the undeclared emphasis may be horizontal attention to one another rather than vertical attention to God. In this sense the celebration of Mass facing the people demands from the priest and altar servers a high level of discipline, so that as from the Offertory of the Mass it be seen clearly that both priest and people are turned towards God, not towards one another.”

    The booklets sell for £4.95 each.

    Commentaries – by the right people! – would be most desirable, as would new versions of all the documents of Vatican II, not least Dignitatis humanae. (The commentary on DH should be done by that monk at Le Barroux who has written a huge, multi-volume work on the subject.)

  17. O.K. Great!

    But who’s going to translate them? Hah!

    I thought the translation of Nostra aetate was bad on vatican.va, but then, it seems, there is a new version there now. It’s much, much worse, more tendential than the previous version. Incredible.

  18. hmmm, maybe they can fix the “active” to “actual” in the new translation

  19. Jason Keener says:

    Commentaries that would accompany each document would be great. The commentaries could show how each document is in continuity with the past and what parts of each document are an authentic development of doctrine.

    It would also be beneficial for readers of the documents to have easier access to the basic conversations that took place amongst the bishops when the documents were drawn up. These discussions often include information about why a certain word was used and not another, etc. Much confusion about what “Dignitatis Humane” means can be cleared up by reading the transcripts of the Council’s discussions. I think the CDF should get to work on this immediately!

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