An ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church held between 1962 and 1965. It represented a victory for reformist/progressive forces in the Catholic Church, although the extent of that victory is not yet clear.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, official Catholicism had become increasingly focused on the importance of the Pope and central authority. The Roman bureaucracy, the Curia, had a great deal of control over the bishops, pastors, and ordinary Catholics. The Curia used Papal supremacy as the justification for their domination of the rest of the Catholic Church.

In 1958 a little-known diplomat named Angelo Roncalli was elected as Pope John XXIII. It was thought that he would be a pliable and short-lived Pope who would change little. However, he decided to call an ecumenical council, a gathering of the 2500 Catholic bishops from around the world.

Pope John allowed the Curia to supervise the planning of the Council, so that they were lulled into complacency--even though he took the unprecedented step of inviting observers from other Christian denominations. However, at the first official meeting the senior bishops of France and Germany called for the bishops to reject a plan that would have left Roman functionaries in control of the Council process. The Council quickly developed into a dispute between pro-Roman bishops one the one hand, and northern Europeans on the other. The European bishops relied heavily on the work of a group of theologians, mostly French and German, who had been censured by the Curia for their "radical" ideas. John died after the 1st year of the Council and was succeeded by the liberal Pope Paul VI. However, Paul was less radical and wished to conciliate the Roman party, and so the atmosphere of excitement was dampened somewhat as Paul insisted that the text and tone of the Council documents needed to be compromised to satisfy the demands of the conservative minority. In the end, Vatican II produced a number of theological and practical reforms. The Council allowed the bishops much more freedom, affirmed that non-Catholic religions and denominations had positive value, defended religious freedom, rejected anti-Semitism, called for more diversity in ritual, and encouraged a more active social role for the Church. However, the tidal wave of change in the later 1960s made the reforms of Vatican II seem relatively small. Many liberals saw Vatican II as a first step toward even more radical change, while conservatives saw it as an experiment, perhaps a dangerous one, that might need to be undone at a later date. However, the council has led to a much closer relationship between Catholics and Protestants, Orthodox Christians, and Jews. It revolutionized missionary work by encouraging missionaries to adapt to local cultures, with the result that Catholicism has grown greatly in Africa and Asia. Finally, it dismissed the idea that Catholic theology should strive for clear and unambiguous theological definitions that would be imposed on the whole from the center. However, there have been continued attempts to limit and even reverse the extent of Vatican II reforms in the last 20 years, and the eventual fate of the Council's efforts is as yet undetermined.

While seeya's gone, the writeup remains. I'll say only that it would be hard to find evidence for the quoted interpretations of Vatican II in the conciliar texts.

One of the primary motivations for John XXIII to call the Second Vatican Council was ecumenical. He took stock of 20th Century Europe and realized that Christianity had failed the world. While the Protestants and Catholics had been more or less bickering, two world wars had occurred, and the churches, both Catholic and Protestant, had failed to give aid fully. The Body of Christ was splintered, and movements towards unity — but not uniformity — were needed.

In order for ecumenical activities to take place, it was necessary to clarify the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, which consisted largely of stripping away layers of "historical varnish" and return to the bare basics of the early Church.

In this regard, the Second Vatican Council was not as revolutionary as many have perceived it to be. While 20th Century theologians – notably Karl Rahner and Bernard Lonergan – provided the theological underpinnings for the council, Sacred Scripture and the Patristic Writings were the primary texts drawn upon in the drafting of the sixteen documents of the Council.

As to the turmoil within the Church as a result of the Second Vatican Council, it was something to be anticipated: historically, any time there was a major ecumenical council within the Roman Catholic Church, major upheaval followed. Conventional wisdom holds that three generations will be "lost" before stability returns and the full-flowering of the Council occurs.

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