25 January 1959 – 60th anniversary of the calling of Vatican II

On 25 January 1959, just under 3 months after his election to the See of Peter, John XXIII, at St. Paul’s outside-the-walls, stunned his listeners and the rest of the world.

60 years ago he announced the summoning of an Ecumenical Council to be held, for the second time, at the Vatican.

At the same time, John announced that the Code of Canon Law should be reformed (which happened in 1983) and that there should be a Synod for Rome.

My old boss in the curia, the late and great Card. Mayer was present at St. Paul’s.  He told me his story about hearing the announcement and the buzz it created.  It caught nearly everyone by surprise… as it still does today, in a lot of ways.

60 years ago, today, 25 January, at least where I am, in Tokyo as I write.

I suspect that, in far enough retrospect, the Second Vatican Council will be counted as having created lots of tumult, but it won’t be counted as an important council, not at least in comparison with monumentally important council’s such as Nicea, Chalcedon, Constantinople(s), Trent.   Some councils were super game changers, some adjusted the game, some didn’t do much at all.   We are, in light of history, just getting to the point when we can see more objectively the fruits – good or bad – of Vatican II.   We are “sobering up” after those halcyon days.  Reason is returning to many sectors of the Church.  Of course some are so stuck in the present, that they forget the importance of continuity with the past.  Others haven’t forgotten the past, they just don’t like it.  Hence, they think Vatican II was tantamount to the Council of Jerusalem.

Anyway, 60 years, friends.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. veritas vincit says:

    It will not be possible to properly evaluate the significance of Vatican II, until the council itself can be separated from the many excesses that followed in its wake, excesses which were not in accord with the wishes and publications of the council fathers.

    Once that is done, I suspect Vatican II will end up in the middle of the pack, neither as significant as the great doctrinal councils like Nicea or Trent, nor as forgettable as Lateran V. By its own terms, it was intended to respond to changes in the outside world since Trent and the uncompleted Vatican I council. The excesses that followed, went too far in that accommodation. Both Pope St John Paul II and Pope Benedict VI started the process of correcting those excesses, which will take time to continue. (Regrettably, the current Holy Father is not following in their footsteps).

  2. Geoffrey says:

    Everyone should actually read the Council documents. Whatever side of the spectrum you are on, you are bound to be surprised. For example…

    To traditionalists: Yes, the Council officially suppressed the office of Prime.

    To progressives: Yes, the Council officially called for all Catholics to know their parts of the Mass in Latin.

    I could go on…

  3. veritas vincit says:

    Sorry, I meant Pope Benedict XVI….

  4. Lurker 59 says:

    Following WWI there were tectonic shifts within mainline Protestant theology largely in response to the horror of the nations of Christian Europe going to war with each other and engulfing the world in unspeakable horrors. These waves would pound upon the walls of Rome, and while many theologians were influenced or, contemplating also the horrors of the Wars, reached similar conclusions causing there to develop many fissures and new schools of theological thought, Rome primarily stood firm and tall above the tumult always bringing forth the Gospel as she always had. Eternal Rome, unchanging and constant as a beacon above the fray of the wordly 20th century.

    Until everything changed. The silent unchanging watchtower was gone practically overnight.

    Humans, as a whole, react badly to change.

    The surprise comes from the 180 degree turn at the very onset. That there would be, perhaps not a Council, but a something can be seen in the tea leaves. There was too much outside pressure and too much internal fissuring. There was too much of a sense that Rome needed to engage the world instead of dictating to it.

    When looking at Vatican II, as a whole, the documents read weird. The documents have a tendency to be expansive but also vague and not given to internal interpretation. As such, they are often easily abused.

    Where does Vatican II land in the scope of history? Nobody really talks about Vatican II in terms of what it taught. When other Ecumenical Councils are discussed, they are discussed in terms of their core teaching. Not Vatican II. Vatican II is discussed in terms of what it did — specifically the aftermath. Its contents sort of don’t matter, what matters is the change that it brought about, or as Pope Francis would put it, a state of constant revolution.

    Constantine’s Edict of Milan radically changed the Church. Suddenly it was popular (and politically advantageous) to be a Catholic. Bishops got to hang out with the cool kids and be invited to the parties. In a certain sense, Vatican II is the inverse. It is the Church saying that the World is ok in the hopes that the bishops will get to hang out again with the cool kids and be invited to the parties again. YES tongue in cheek to the extream, but there is a real sense that, coming up to the 1960’s that the Church had been ghettoized, stagnant, and no longer influential amongst the influential. An ignored beacon on the hill. You can see it also with the run-up to the election of Kennedy in the US and how getting behind a flawed individual who specifically stated that the country came before his faith in Christ, was important to de-ghettoize the Church. Vatican II is the attempt to de-ghettoize the Church on the world stage.

    Anyway, I see Vatican II as being remembered only as a product of its time and not for its content but only the historical events that came after it.

  5. Malta says:

    Vatican II was a ‘non council”–a pastoral, non dogmatic, 1960’s Council convened during Woodstock and the sexual revolution. [Whatever the context Vatican II was a Council, not a non-Council.]



    I thought I was going to get excommunicated for writing this article, but after reading word-by-word the document of Vatican II, and such words as, “Hindus are on a loving, trusting flight to God..” I dismissed Vatican II as a robber council, with no dogmatic standing. [But it was a Council.]

  6. Kenneth Wolfe says:

    I disagree on the point that Vatican II was not “important”. It certainly was important in the same way the French Revolution was important.

    Geoffrey — nice try on Prime. The Second Vatican Council was not doctrinal. All it took was a simple motu proprio in 2007 to legislate: “§3 Ordained clerics may also use the Roman Breviary promulgated in 1962 by Blessed John XXIII.”

  7. ex seaxe says:

    The last three Councils have been misinterpreted, and I expect that is true of all of them.
    Trent said it was an error to say that the Mass must be entirely in the vernacular – not that the vernacular has no place.
    Vatican I said that the Pope is inerrant when he affirms the traditional teaching of the church. Not, in the words of some commentators ‘When the Pope thinks it is God thinking in him’, which I hold to be blasphemous.
    Vatican II said that Latin is the language of the Roman Church, and Gregorian chant is its music. Yet in 1967 the diocese of Baltimore forbade the use of Latin in the Mass (and thus of Gregorian chant).
    These are just three of the false interpretations which are still with us.

  8. HighMass says:

    lets see the great VII was to bring the church into the modern world and open the windows to let in fresh air. well that is what it did, opened the windows and doors and so many left, not to return.

    and the liturgy….well bugini did horrible work to the Mass.

    yes all this fresh air was needed to open the windows to complete confusion.

  9. tho says:

    For 60 years we have been immersed in total chaos. To enumerate all the great thinkers in our church’s history would be to lengthy, but I cannot think of one who would not be appalled at the results of Vatican II. Maybe like Job our Lord is causing us to suffer because of. the incompetence of our hierarchy.
    What thinking person cannot cringe at the thought of the perversions, which our political class consider just an alternative lifestyle. And to our embarrassment, many of our church leaders and members agree with that assessment.

  10. originalsolitude says:

    I shall be eternally grateful to Saint John XXIII for listening to the Holy Spirit and convening the Second Vatican Council and to Saint Paul VI for completing it, for I owe my vocation as a consecrated virgin in the ordo virginum to them.

    The Council’s work remedied the injustice caused by the Congregation of Religious in its 1927 Interdiction and by Pope Pius XII in his 1950 encyclical Sponsa Christi, which prohibited the conferring of the consecration of virgins on secular women, the class of women for whom the rite of consecration of virgins was originally designed in the early centuries of the Church.

    What is particularly interesting is that the restoration of the consecration to secular women was not actually envisaged by the Council documents. The restoration came about from the work of revision of the consecration rite as required by Sacrosanctum concilium. The Holy Spirit will have its way one way or another, and the Divine Bridegroom knows how to look after his bride. :-)

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