Vatican II: A Walk-Through - Introduction
The First Vatican Council was adjourned in 1870, following the solemn definition of papal infallibility. Only a part of its task had been accomplished, but it was destined never to meet again. Pope Pius IX died in 1878, and five popes had come and gone before the Second Vatican Council was proclaimed by Pope John XXIII.
Pope John announced his intention of summoning the Ecumenical Council in January, 1959,
within three months of his election to the Chair of Peter; he signed the Apostolic Constitution, Humane Salutis, on Christmas Day in 1961. Meanwhile, ten commissions had been formed to prepare draft decrees to be debated in the Council. At first, seventy decrees were proposed, but gradually their number was reduced to seventeen.
Pope John wished the Council "to increase the fervour and energy of Catholics, to serve the
needs of Christian people." To achieve this purpose, bishops and priests must grow in holiness;
the laity must be given effective instruction in Christian faith and morals; adequate provision
must be made for the education of children; Christian social activity must increase; and all
Christians must have missionary hearts. In Italian, he was bale to express his desire in one
word — Aggiornamento — the Church must be brought up to date, must adapt itself to meet
the challenged conditions of modern times. More than words, Italians appreciate expressive gestures; so also Pope John, when asked to reveal his intentions, simply moved to a window
and threw it open, to let in a draught of fresh air.
Eighteen months before the Council assembled, the Pope himself showed how very fresh and
new the air was to be. He established a special Secretariat "for promoting Christian Unity"
and authorized this Secretariat to take part in the prepatory work of the Council so that
schemes, drafted for debate, would take into account the truly Ecumenical spirit -- that is, the
desire to understand the beliefs and practices of other Christian bodies, and the need to
work for the union of all in Christ.
Next: Preparation for the Council
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