A Catholic Journey: An Exploration of the Theological Journey Between the Two Vatican Councils
The Roman Catholic Church has been an ever-moving, ever-changing entity, with theological shifts marked by drama and often a great Council. The Council of Trent in the 16th century – a reaction to the Protestant Reformation – paved the way for the doctrines dogmatized three centuries later at the First Vatican Council, the 20th Catholic Council. Vatican 1 accomplished only two of its proposed 53 doctrines before the Council was abruptly ceased in 1870, but is associated with the dogmatization of papal infallibility and its heavy reaction to modernism and liberalism. Its decrees went practically unchallenged until the mid-war years of the 1920s and 1930s, when personal spirituality grew, as did the role of the laity in the church as a result. By the 1950s the church was battling a myriad of political and social shifts, and Pope John XXIII – expected to merely be a temporary pope – announced the Second Vatican Council in 1958 (to begin in 1962), to continue and finalize the First, and to influence the Church to open itself up to the world. This Council, the biggest in Catholic history, was remarkably influential, encouraging themes of ecumenism, ecclesiology and equality, among others. This essay analyses the historical and theological journey between these two important Councils, assessing what influenced their occurrences and theological declarations, before concluding with assessing the influence they have on the Roman Catholic Church today.
A Theological Journey
Regarded as occupying the throne of St. Peter longer than anyone except Peter Himself, Pope Pius IX (1846-1878) began politically liberal before being removed from authority for 18 months after a revolution in the Papal States in 1848. Upon returning, his liberalism dramatically different, he only held control of the States until 1860 when the Italian king, Victor Emmanuel, forced Pius to hand them all except Rome over to him. Pius’ career is notably a reaction against modernism and liberalism, dogmatizing the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin in 1854, influencing Ecuador to declare Christianity as the only legal faith in 1862, and publishing Syllabus of Errors in 1864, in which he condemned rationalism, socialism, separation of the Church and state, and the idea that “Protestantism is nothing more than another form of the same true Christian religion.”
His reaction to modernism and liberalism is most obvious in the announcement of the First Vatican Council in 1867, in response to the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars as well as questions surrounding the authority of the church. As McIntire notes, “Vatican 1 sought to define authoritatively the church’s doctrine concerning the faith and the church, especially in response to new challenges from secular philosophical and political movements and theological liberalism.”
Vatican 1 was to be the 20th Council, preceded by the Council of Trent (1545-1563) which was a reaction to the Protestant Reformation enhancing papal authority, elevating tradition and celibacy, reiterating the seven sacraments and emphasizing the propitiatory sacrificial nature of the transubstantiated Eucharist, among others. Vatican 1 was a push to dogmatize “the papal infallibility that was already inherent in the Council of Trent.” 700 bishops were present for the opening of the Council in December 1869, with 100 from America and 60 from the Eastern Rite.
Pius’ document Dei Filius, published on the third session of the Council hinted at his desire for a dogmatized papal infallibility, in which it states,
For the doctrine of faith, which God has revealed, is handed down, not as some philosophical discovery capable of being perfected by human intelligence, but as a divine deposit committed to the spouse of Christ to be faithfully protected and infallibly declared.
Some, such as Archbishop Manning and Bishop Senestrey appreciated this desire, vowing to see papal infallibility dogmatized, but others, notably John Henry Newman and Johann Ignaz von Dӧllinger, attacked the idea. Newman argued the doctrine was being accepted too hastily and Dӧllinger argued that previous popes had disagreed with one another, hence the doctrine was contradictory. The doctrine was, however, voted in on the 18th of July 1870 and Pastor Aeternus was published, stating,
We teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman pontiff speaks ex cathedra (that is, when he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole church in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme apostolic authority), he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals.
The English representative in Rome, Odo Russell, in a letter to Lord Granville lamented, “the supreme absolutism of Rome at last [has] been obtained, established and dogmatized for which the Papacy has contended more than a thousand years.” Any form of ecumenism meant returning to Roman Catholicism and “did not involve any real compromise with Eastern Rite Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants.” The Council ended abruptly when Victor Emmanuel invaded Rome on the 20th of September 1870 to ensure a united Italy. Pius locked himself in the Vatican and excommunicated anyone involved in capturing Rome. The Council completed only two of the 53 proposed documents, and was adjourned indefinitely due to the Franco-Prussian War.
The doctrines established at Vatican 1 remained unchallenged until the inter-war years of the 1920s and 1930s. Despite incredible social and political difficulties that these years brought, many Catholics cultivated spiritual lifestyles which led to a greater emphasis on and participation of the laity within the church. Further, the ever-encroaching modernism caused theologians to articulate a more individual and personal faith, including the encouragement of participation and individual study. In 1923 Pope Pius XI suggested a council in response to World War One and in 1958 Pope Pius XII hinted at a council to conclude the work of Vatican 1. Yet it was not until after he died that the idea of a council became a possibility.
With the gradual increase of laity participation, it seemed the church was heading in a somewhat liberal direction, and the strong hierarchical structures dogmatized at Vatican 1 began to be seen as emphasizing inequality amongst church members, “not only because among the faithful some are clergy and some are laity, but because there is in the church the power from God by which it is given to some to sanctify, teach, and govern, and to others it is not.” Theologians argued this structure was not existent until post-Apostolic times.
After Pius XII died in 1958, the cardinals had difficulty in electing a new pope, and so elevated Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli to the position at 76 years old, who was merely expected to be temporary and “keep the chair of Peter warm.” He adopted the name John XXIII and desiring for the church to be more involved in the world, quickly announced the Second Vatican Council. 1959-1962 were thus awash with literature debating the announcement, such as the Bishop of Paderborn’s Ecumenical Council of the Church and Hans Küng’s Council, Reform and Renewal.
The 1960s brought a great deal of changes in society, seemingly bringing a process of “dechristianisation.” Catholics were divided on how to respond to these changes, but an element of pluralism became evident. As a result, “the intention was not to erect a Berlin Wall around the faith…but to inaugurate a continuous process of internal debate, renewal and evangelisation,” and opening itself up to the world, unlike Vatican 1 which closed itself. The Council was to give a greater sense of identity in face of all this, and 2540 delegates met over four sessions between 1962 and 1965 to revolutionise the church’s approach to ecclesiology and ecumenism. John XXIII died after the first session, but Paul VI continued the Council. In 1964 Euw wrote that the Council “is accomplishing a thorough re-formation…For the Protestant too this phenomenon should have great meaning,” and that “this Tridentine and post-Trent theology of the Church is being radically reappraised and ruthlessly revised by the Council.”
The Council discussed a range of topics, including implementing a non-Latin liturgy, tradition, and as a result of the Council, 16 documents were published, with two in particular as being seen as “twin pillars”: Lumen Gentium (“The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church”) and Gaudium et spes (“Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World”). These two documents asserted, along with the other 14 documents, that the Church is a mystery, more so than an institution; a People of God, more than hierarchy; a servant; communion; ecumenical, rather than the Catholic Church as the only true Church; and an eschatological community, awaiting the coming of the Kingdom of God. Lumen Gentium asserted that the laity are called to live in the world “by God so that by carrying out their own special function in the spirit of the gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world.” Furthermore, Gaudium et spes, thoroughly aimed out at the world, finds at its core a sense of community, and it is in these documents that Protestants were first recognized as Christian.
McBrien helpfully compares the theological changes implemented by Vatican 2, particularly those implemented by Vatican 1:
Pre-Vatican 2 Vatican 2
Church as institution. Church as mystery.
Church as hierarchy. Church as People of God.
Mission: Word and sacrament. Mission: Word, sacrament and service.
Church as absolute monarchy. Church as communion.
One, true Church. Church as ecumenical community.
Triumphalism (Church as Kingdom). Church as eschatological community.
Hence, quite a drastic shift is obvious.
Journey Since Vatican 2
Oviedo describes two parties who have responded negatively in the aftermath of Vatican 2. The first is the “Disappointed Party,” who expected much more than what eventuated; the second, the “Alarmed Party,” who felt too much was changing, too quickly. Hagstrom notes that even today the teachings are not well known. However, closer inspection will reveal that the Council influenced a lot. Smith argues that lots of activity, joint prayer gatherings and ecumenical discussions occurred immediately after. The generation of Catholics of the time experienced “a sense of euphoria similar to the time of the Enlightenment…Many people in the Church felt a sense of freedom and progress as never before.” Some ecumenical progress, albeit minimal, has been made. The Pope has met with Anglican leaders, evangelical protestants and has engaged with social and political issues. It should, therefore, be seen that since Vatican 2, the Catholic Church’s engagement with ecumenism and with the world has increased. Furthermore, more laypeople are assisting services, and more Catholics are reading the bible for themselves.
An influential thinker was Schillebeeckx. Perceiving a greater biblical slant in the documents of Vatican 2, Schillebeeckx poured over and incorporated recent biblical studies into his theology regarding the meaning of Christian faith. Furthermore, he stated shortly after the Council, “The fundamental gain of this constitution is that it broke the clergy’s monopoly of the liturgy,” and then, in 1989, “the co-responsibility of all believers for the church on the basis of our baptism and the Spirit essentially includes the participation of all believers in decisions relating to church government.” Hence, he was influenced by Vatican 2’s encouragement of the ministry of the layperson.
Vatican 2 expressed openness to greater ecumenical discussion, furthered by theologians such as Schillebeeckx, among others in post-conciliar years. Gaudium et spes notes that “the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the gospel,” and “under the light of Christ…the Council wishes to speak to all men in order to shed light on the mystery of man and to co-operate in finding the solution to the outstanding problems of our time.” McIntire argues that the solution to the divisions is not returning to Rome, but in an open future. Furthermore, in light of the efforts made already, Sundberg is convinced there is a future for ecumenism. Others agree, some going further to call for a Third Vatican Council. The controversial Catholic writer, Hans Küng was among them, in 2001, arguing that the Church “should convene a Vatican 3, which will lead this church from Roman Catholicism to an authentic Catholicity.”
The ambitious Pope Pius IX has clearly had significant and ongoing influence on the Church, even to this day. His reaction to a growing modernism and a push for the separation of church and state resulted in the First Vatican Council and its defining dogmatization of papal infallibility. The Council put in place strong hierarchical positions, which eventually made inequality within the Church to become obvious, and rejected any ecumenical approach that would entail acceptance of Protestantism as Christian. Though it was cut short in 1870, the main themes were picked up again at the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, though through a different perspective. Initiated by Pope John XXIII and Paul VI, this Council responded to a growing need for the Church to open itself up with the world. The Church recognized Protestantism and Orthodoxy as Christian, encouraged ecumenism, elevated the role of the laity and deemphasized the hierarchical structure of the church. The Council’s influence has since encouraged a greater participation in political and social issues in the world and engaged in a greater amount of discussion with non-Catholics. The influence of these great Councils has been obvious and it is clear their influence will continue for many years to come.
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Pius. “Syllabus of Errors.” In A History of Christianity: Readings in the History of the Church, edited by Clyde L. Manschreck, 2. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1964.
________. “Dei Filius.” In The Christian Theology Reader, edited by Alister McGrath. London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.
________. “Pastor Aeternus.” In The Christian Theology Reader, edited by Alister McGrath. London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.
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Smit, Peter-Ben. “The Developing Understanding of Authority and Primacy in Anglican-Roman Catholic-Old Catholic Dialogue after the Second Vatican Council.” International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church 8, no. 3 (2008): 211-231.
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Sundberg, Walter. “Does Ecumenism Have a Future?” Word and World 18, no. 2 (1998): 172-78.
Wintz, Jack, and John Feister. “Road Map for the Future: Teachings of Vatican 2.” In Vatican 2 Today: Calling Catholics to Holiness and Service, edited by Judy Ball and Joan McKamey. Ohio: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2005.
 Jonathan Hill, The New Lion Handbook: The History of Christianity (Oxford: Lion Hudson plc., 2007). 363.
 Clyde L. Manschrek, A History of Christianity: Readings in the History of the Church, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1964). 366-68.
 Pius, “Syllabus of Errors,” in A History of Christianity: Readings in the History of the Church, ed. Clyde L. Manschreck(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Company, 1964). 372. In other words, that Protestantism was certainly not Christian.
 Manschrek. 368.
 Alister McGrath, The Christian Theology Reader, 4 ed. (London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011). 30.
 C. T. McIntire, “Vatican Council 1,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1984). 1237.
 Manschrek. 115.
 Nicholas Atkin and Frank Tallett, Priests, Prelates & People: A History of European Catholicism since 1750 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003). 137.
 Pius, “Dei Filius,” in The Christian Theology Reader, ed. Alister McGrath(London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011). 32.
 Atkin and Tallett. 137.
 Hill. 364. Dӧllinger sought a document rumoured to be held within the archives. This document, Liber Diurnus Romanorum Pontificum, was believed to be a daily handbook of the papal chancellery between 750 and 1050 and was believed to contain evidence that the 7th century Pope Honorius was guilty of heresy and implies his excommunication by later popes. Thus Dӧllinger wanted the document to further his argument against papal infallibility. Following the Council, there was much controversy surrounding the documents held within the Vatican Library and Archives. When the Italian army invaded in 1870, it was feared that either a) the documents would fall under State ownership and thus sensitive material would then become public knowledge, or b) Vatican officials would destroy any sensitive documents before they were made public. All documents henceforth were impossible to get to, and so Liber Diurnus was never used against the doctrine of papal infallibility, despite the archives eventually opening under Pope Leo XIII (Owen Chadwick, Catholicism and History: The Opening of the Vatican Archives (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978). 72 – 108.
 Pius, “Pastor Aeternus.” in The Christian Theology Reader, ed. Alister McGrath (London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011). 432.
 Odo Russel, “Russell to Granville,” in The Roman Question: Extracts from the Despatches of Odo Russell from Rome, 1858-1870, ed. N. Blakiston(London: Chapman and Hall, 1962). 459.
 Atkin and Tallett. 138.
 Ibid. 139-140. Cf. McIntire. 1237.
 Atkin and Tallett. 232-33.
 Ibid. 289.
 Ibid. 233.
 McGrath. 389. Furthermore, as Hagstrom discusses, laity were seen as merely children, not the subject of conciliar teaching for 400 years, (Aurelie A. Hagstrom, The Emerging Laity: Vocation, Mission, and Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 2010). 11) and insisted with greater fervour that Roman Catholicism was the only source of true salvation, (Richard P. McBrien, The Church: The Evolution of Catholicism (New York: HarperCollins, 2008). 8).
 McGrath. 389.
 Atkin and Tallett. 289.
 Hagstrom. 10.
 Atkin and Tallett. 290. This announcement came as a shock to many, as McBrien wrote on July 15, 1966, “The Second Vatican Council must have been a puzzling phenomenon for the Catholic who had always regarded the Church as an absolute monarchy. After all, in 1870, the First Vatican Council defined the infallibility of the pope. Presumably that should have been the council to end all councils.” (Richard P. McBrien, “If Pope Has Final Say, Why Fuss with Councils?,” in Report on the Church: Catholicism after Vatican 2, ed. Richard P. McBrien(New York: HarperCollins Publications, 1992). 3).
 Atkin and Tallett. 265.
 Ibid. 266.
 Ibid. 265.
 Ibid. 292. As Atkin and Tallett argue, “Vatican 1 in 1870 was an exercise in trench-digging, an attempt to establish the Church as a fortress against an unregenerate and irreligious outside world. Vatican 2 was conceived less as an event than as an initiation of a process which would harmonise the Church and the political and social environment,” (ibid. 292).
 Hill. 434.
 Including over 1000 from across Europe, 956 from America, 279 from Africa, 300 or so from Asia and a surprisingly small 20% were Italian, traditionally the most prominent, (Atkin and Tallett. 291).
 McGrath. 78.
 Charles K. Von Euw, “The Second Vatican Council: A First-Hand Report,” Andover Newton Quarterly 4, no. 3 (1964). 15.
 Which received great criticism from Conservatives who argued Latin united people from many nations and changing it would remove the mystique. This change was pushed heavily by those involved in missions, such Duschak from the Philippines who argued that mass should have any European elements entirely stripped away and should be available for inter-faith services, (Atkin and Tallett. 292-93). The document Sacrosanctum Concilium, published during the 2nd session of Vatican 2 offered a series of theological statements as well as practical recommendations regarding the Eucharist, linking the sacrament with the everyday life of the church, (Second Vatican Council, “Sacrosanctum Concilium,” in The Christian Theology Reader, ed. Alister McGrath(London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011). 486-87).
 Which, contrarily to Trent, was decided as being important in biblical interpretation, but not another source of revelation, and hence not equal to the Bible, (Atkin and Tallett. 293).
 McBrien, The Church: The Evolution of Catholicism. 153, 182.
 Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Melbourne: A.C.T.S Publications, 1964). and Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Melbourne: A.C.T.S. Publications, 1965).
 Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. n.31. This clearly sets Vatican 2 apart from Vatican 1 and Trent.
 Cf. Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. n.19, 22 and 32.
 McIntire, “Vatican Council 2.” 1240.
 McBrien, The Church: The Evolution of Catholicism. 181.
 Lluis Oviedo, “Should We Say That the Second Vatican Council Has Failed?,” The Heythrop Journal 49, no. 1 (2008). 716.
 Hagstrom. 1. Hagstrom argues this is so, “because the sixteen documents produced by the council are not exactly beach reading.” (p.1).
 Virginia Smith, “Catholicism Welcomes the World,” in Vatican 2 Today: Calling Catholics to Holiness and Service, ed. Judy Ball and Joan McKamey(Ohio: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2005). 44.
 Oviedo. 718.
 For example, in 1966 the Archbishop of Canterbury of the Anglican Church met with Pope Paul VI to establish the “Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission,” which has published several publications since formulation. (Peter-Ben Smit, “The Developing Understanding of Authority and Primacy in Anglican-Roman Catholic-Old Catholic Dialogue after the Second Vatican Council,” International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church 8, no. 3 (2008). The ARCIC published The Church as Communion in 1990, The Gift of Authority in 1998, and in 2007 released a document on ecclesiology. (ibid. 213.).
In 1994, the Catholic Church and evangelical Protestants published a joint document on ecumenical ecclesiology. (Walter Sundberg, “Does Ecumenism Have a Future?,” Word and World 18, no. 2 (1998). 176.
In 1979, the Pope visited America, where he stated, “I want to greet all Americans without distinction. I want to tell everyone that the Pope is your friend and a servant of your humanity.” (Jack Wintz and John Feister, “Road Map for the Future: Teachings of Vatican 2,” in Vatican 2 Today: Calling Catholics to Holiness and Service, ed. Judy Ball and Joan McKamey(Ohio: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2005). 6). The Catholic Church engaged with social and political issues, in 1983 on war and peace, 1986 on US economy, and 1999 and 2003 on civil responsibility. (ibid. 7).
 Wintz and Feister. 6. Interestingly, as laity involvement has increased, ordained ministers have decreased.
 Philip Kennedy, Schillebeeckx (Collegeville, USA: The Liturgical Press, 1993). 13, 67.
 E. Schillebeeckx, Vatican 2: The Real Achievement (London: Sheed and Ward, 1967). 27.
 Edward Schillebeeckx, Church: The Human Story of God (London: SCM Press, 1989). 209.
 Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. n.4.
 Ibid. n.10.
 C. T. McIntire, “Vatican Council 2,” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. Walter A. Elwell(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001). 1240.
 Sundberg. 176.
 Richard John Neuhaus, “What Really Happened at Vatican 2,” First Things October, no. (2008). 24.
 Hans Kung, The Catholic Church: A Short History (New York: Modern Library, 2001). 200.