When some event is important, you keep careful records of it. Right? And if it is really important?

Keeping a good archive is important, especially in the long run.  The more important the event or records, the more urgent the need for a good archive… and archivist.

Scripta manent, after all.

Some people think that the Second Vatican Council was important.  Thus, you would think that the archives of the documents of the Council would be well-tended.



Sandro Magister of Chiesa has a story that suggests that the archives of the Council haven’t been that well tended.  In fact, stuff has gone missing.

In any event, a large part of the documents from the Council still haven’t been inventoried, much less made available for research purposes.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, The Drill and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Charles E Flynn says:

    Perhaps the original documents were microfilmed and then originals were discarded, as was the fate of the plans for the Saturn V rocket (please see the last paragraph, which explains the relevant urban legend.)

  2. AnnAsher says:

    Do you ever wonder if the sede vacantists are correct ? Seriously.

  3. jmgazzoli says:

    The main sessions were recorded in their entirety on magnetic (audio) tape. I doubt anyone ever bothered to digitize it, so who knows what sort of shape it’s in now.

  4. Velle Mere says:

    I hope we won’t have a repeat of the National Archives incident.

  5. Dismas says:

    Hmm? If the Council indeed wasn’t important, why then has it been so shrouded and attacked with such mystery, intrigue and confusion?

  6. Welcome to the history of church councils!!

  7. Centristian says:

    I’m sure many would rejoice if certain of the Council’s documents were lost.

  8. Geoffrey says:

    Bring on the conspiracy theorists!

    Seriously, this should not be surprising. I’ve seen a few documentaries about the Vatican Secret Archives… documents and things stretching back centuries. Someone said they are far from listing/indexing every single item! Holy Mother Church moves very slowly…

  9. Illuminati. Where are the Vatican ninjas when you need them?

  10. ContraMundum says:

    Now if there were a radio recording of Babe Ruth reading the Vatican II documents, that would be worth keeping track of!

  11. Bea says:

    Hi Geoffrey
    here I am. (one of “those”)

    Maybe they’re ashamed of what transpired????
    Maybe they thought it wasn’t that important???
    Maybe it’s because it was supposed to be “pastoral” and all of a sudden (maybe not that sudden) it became “doctrinal” and “they don’t want us to know that it wasn’t doctrinal????
    Maybe they don’t want to be questioned about why a couple (maybe more) of bishops got up, left and didn’t come back.????

    Who knows? The Holy Ghost AKA The Hoy Spirit knows and He’s not saying.
    Some say “He wasn’t invited” and If He wasn’t then just WHO is “The Spirit of V2”?

  12. Son of Trypho says:

    I’m not surprised by this at all – consider that the Vatican admitted that it wasn’t that au fait with technology re. doing an internet search on Bp. Williamson a short time ago and it is no surprise to realise that their record keeping and use of archival technology is probably quite limited/deficient by contemporary standards.

    I don’t think there is anything sinister here, just poor administration (incidentally just check out the website and official docs – some are translated, some not etc).

  13. Suburbanbanshee says:

    I’ve been on committees, and I’ve worked in archives, so I’m not a bit surprised.

    Generally, most of the organizational and archival stuff has to be handled by one or two extremely detail-oriented, perfectionist, tense and worried people. A lot of important stuff will fall into the hands of people who are packrats, or people who just tend to take things home and forget about them. If these people or their heirs are still alive, they will find out about the problem now, and some of them will either emerge with a nearly complete assortment of lost things (full of worry, regret, or smugness), or will dump a totally unsorted tractor-trailer load of papers on totally unprepared interns, preferably on a day when the head archivist has just begun two weeks of vacation.

    This is just how people are, in the Vatican or anywhere else.

  14. Sixupman says:

    See my post in the “National Archive” thread, made in error.

  15. Supertradmum says:

    All the archivists need to do is ask a mom in.

    “Where are those documents, Mom?”

    “In the third aisle, second row, from the top, sixth case in, next to your socks.”

  16. JonM says:

    If record keeping was poor, that is for the best.

    The sooner we reverse this disaster of a convocation, which was purely pastoral and defined no new dogmas (indeed, it managed to shatter the understanding of old ones), the sooner the world will see authentic Catholic practice and society widely practiced.

    And this only will come about in God’s time. We have plently of collapse left to suffer.

  17. magister63 says:

    Uh, has anybody ever seen a hardback edition of the Documents of Vatican II? Just askin!
    One would think that a Council “more important than Nicaea” (Paul VI) would appear in precious leatherbound editions….

  18. Tina in Ashburn says:

    Italians. seriously?

    I might suspect something sinister if the Germans were in charge of the archives and things went missing.

    [but I dooo love Italians…I love their many positive aspects]

  19. wmeyer says:

    jmgazzoli: Digital storage is not a panacea. What if they had been digitized and stored on 8″ floppy disks. And despite what you may imagine, CDs are not forever, either. A reasonable estimate for the longevity of a CD is 10-15 years. There is premium media available which promises 30 years…. but what if we do not at that point have drives which can read the format?

  20. wmeyer says:

    Of course, if you like conspiracy theories, it could be that the docs which have vanished were inconvenient to the spirit of Vatican II.

  21. Scott W. says:

    Suburbanbanshee makes an excellent point. It is also why the “Secret Archives” aren’t any more shady than any library with a special collection. They are not trying to hide things, they just don’t want every non-credentialed Tom, Dick, and Harry poking around, losing things, wrecking things, etc.

  22. magister63 asked whether anybody has “ever seen a hardback edition of the Documents of Vatican II? Just askin!” Yes, they’re in the bookcase in the room next door. It’s only fair to say that I got them second-hand, published in 1966 by LEV. They’re not leather bound but are pretty durable.

    I wonder has anyone quantified how much unpublished material there is from Vatican II? I seem to remember the Acta running into 100 or more volumes, the last time I was in an academic library that held them. Can we presume that this was just the preparatory schemata?

  23. Suburbanbanshee says:

    PS — They didn’t have photocopiers back then, but they did have photostat machines (though the Curia and the various bishops may not have had them). But alas, photostats peel off and stick together and crumble, and were starting to do so twenty years ago. My photostat birth certificate is now a totally lost cause, which was why I had to get a new copy.)

    Mimeographed documents are probably still in decentish shape, because I’ve read mimeos from the 1930’s and 1940’s that were still quite readable. The ink sort of spreads out, but that’s the worst of it.

    Carbon and carbonless typewriter copies tend to get a bit brittle, but they don’t usually get much worse after the first few years unless there was an acidic dye used for the carbon/carbonless paper.

  24. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Of course, the acidity of the paper is always going to be a big factor, especially since cheap notepaper was and is pretty acidic. Good typewriter paper usually isn’t too bad, though.

    The biggest problem would be shorthand notes that have never been transcribed, since not everybody knows shorthand and since shorthand handwriting can be more or less legible. But there’s always somebody you can get, like somebody’s grandma who was a secretary and specialized in the paleography of contemporary business. :)

  25. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Oh, and the acidity of the ink in pens. Some cheap ballpoint ink is really obnoxious when it gets old.

  26. wmeyer says:

    Suburbanbanshee: Whether they did have photocopiers for the Council I do not know, but they could have, as the Xerox 914 was introduced in 1959, and by 1961 had sold thousands of units.

    The history of computers, as impressive as it has been, is littered with obsolete storage methods. Magnetic media are subject to various kinds of deterioration. Film has also been subject to various breakdowns. Our greatest success for longevity has been with the written word, be it on paper, parchment, or stone.

  27. My Aunt had a saying: “Something’s gone but Nothing’s missing”.

    I think that fits this situation perfectly.

  28. catholicmidwest says:

    “…… they just don’t want every non-credentialed Tom, Dick, and Harry poking around, losing things, wrecking things, etc.”

    Ooops too late. Sounds like they’re pulling this stuff from stacks of junk in the back room, out from underneath the bed, etc. :D I wonder how many mice now have post-conciliar nests to put their babies in.

  29. catholicmidwest says:

    I know, what they need are a couple of good American or British secretaries. Unless those “envelopes” the each the size of trucks, I have no idea why they couldn’t have gotten this done in 50 (!) years. I could have hand typed it in 50 years.

  30. catholicmidwest says:

    On a Remington manual typewriter, yet. Yes, that’s what I learned on.

  31. catholicmidwest says:

    I know. They couldn’t get a Xerox machine? For the Second Vatican Council? You know, the one we’ve had crammed down our throats for 50 years because it was so all-fired important? What?

  32. wmeyer says:

    catholicmidwest: Zactly. Perfectly understandable, no?

  33. Centristian says:

    “Hey, Fellay…the Pope, here. Yeah, bonjour to you, too. Listen, that document you objected to at our last meeting…yeah, that one. Y’know what? Forget about it. We can’t find it. No, it’s gone. Yes, gone; they lost it. No, I’m serious. Yeah. Gone. Right. Yeah, go figure, huh? What’s that? Swiss cheese…that’s a good one, LOL. Okay, so stop by sometime next week; we’ll wrap this whole thing up. Great. See you then. Yeah, au revoir to you to. Uh-huh. Buh-bye.”

  34. Supertradmum says:

    How did those handful of monks in the ruins of the Roman Empire and under the constant invasions of Danes, etc., keep copying Aristotle, Plato, Augustine, and so on and pass these on to us, while a modern Church loses documents? Modern chaos at all levels.

  35. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Because the handful of monks included a high proportion of nitpicky people.

    Of course, a lot of those same nitpicky people were the people who ruthlessly scraped parchment from old books nobody wanted anymore, like that Greek guy Aristotle, or who took said books to pieces and used them to bind other, better, more useful books that had been written more recently.

    To be organized and tidy and goal-oriented is both a blessing and a curse, and depending on the situation, people like that can destroy Western civilization as easily as save it. A lot of poets found their maid lighting the fire tidily with their nasty dirty old manuscripts and scribble paper.

  36. WesleyD says:

    This is true, but perspective is important.

    We have copies of every draft of every document, beginning with the initial preparatory drafts put together before the council, and including every revision of every document that was made during the council. The Acta synodalia Sacrosancti Concilii Oecumenici Vaticani II are available in the library of any good Catholic university: thirty-two volumes each bigger than a phone book. (And they are still in print, if you are willing to order them from Italy and wait for the Italian post office to deliver them.) The Acta include every single word spoken on the council floor by every bishop during the entire council. Vatican I and Vatican II are the only two councils in the history of the Church for which we have those items.

    In addition, we have many diaries from bishops and periti at Vatican II, some of which have recently been rediscovered. Fr. Tromp’s diary and notes are very interesting. So are the many other diaries and notes. Giuseppe Alberigo’s massive five-volume history is written from a biased point of view, but it’s still a treasure-trove of information, and if a future historian wants to write a better history, he will surely find it helpful to go through all the sources that Alberigo’s series sites.

    Bottom line: Yes, there are some lost papers. But this story is only worth reporting because lost papers are so rare for this council. By contrast, we have no papers at all for many of the early councils other than the final versions of the documents they promulgated.

  37. leonugent2005 says:

    It saddens me that all of this hatred is being directed wrongly at the council [Perhaps you are talking about “hatred” for the Council expressed somewhere else. I reviewed the thread and didn’t find “hatred” for the Council above. Some wry remarks perhaps. So, you must be talking about “hatred” you have seen elsewhere.] when it’s actually the first draft of the interpretation of the council that was so bad. The second draft of the interpretation that’s going on now promises to be a little better. At least it won’t be as silly! I think that the reform of the reform of the reform will be pretty close to what the Fathers wanted. Alas I won’t live long enough to see that one.

  38. wmeyer says:

    leonugent2005: It saddens me that all of this hatred is being directed wrongly at the council…

    I think there is not much hatred, but there is surely disappointment that any documents of the Council should have been lost, when it has been blamed for the innovations actually local to nations, dioceses and even parishes.

    I do hope I live to see the reform of the reform fully implemented, though I am presently cheered by the impending and I hope positive conclusion of the SSPX affair.

  39. Pingback: time to admit it: i need help « notagoblinbutatroll

Comments are closed.