What were the problems before Vatican II?

I just finished reading “Theological Highlights of Vatican II” by Pope Benedict 16th, which was quite interesting. Being born after Vatican II, and its implementation, I have little knowledge of how the Church “thought” before Vatican II, or what the Church looked like. The intention of the book was not really to explore the specific theological beliefs from before the Council, but one can infer from the new what the old may have looked like. But my question is how did various aspects of the pre-Vatican II theology present itself in the world as specific issues.

The 4 Constitutions of the XXI Ecumenical Council addressed the problems:

  • Sacrosanctum Concilium: liturgical renowal. This started with St Pius X, and the council summarized the principles.

  • Dei Verbum. Up to venerable Pius XII the Tridentine definition was accepted: The Scripture was dictated word to Word by the Holy Spirit. The Divino Afflatu Spiritu and other decisions softened the understanding. In my opinion the question: ‘What the revelation is and means for us?’ - is still unresolved. Our pope suggests (Milestones) that the revelation is God’s continuous communication with the world.

  • Lumen Gentium : the previous Church was considered only as the pope and the bishops, the priests were mere executors, and the only right of the laity was to receive the teaching and the sacraments. Before the council either the lower clergy and the laity wanted greater role. The council tried to give directions

  • Gaudium et Spes : what is the relation between the Church and the World. This question was introduced only during the council. We still do not know the answer.

pre-VII, the tumor of Modernism was in it’s first stages. Today, the devastating fruits of Modernism can be readily seen. Modernism is cancer.

That’s the difference imo.

Vatican II does not appear to have been called to address any particular errors. Pius X had so effectively destroyed outward Modernism that it was not really a surface threat to the Church by 1962. The Council appears to have been called for the purpose of finishing the First Council of 1870 - interrupted, as it was, by secularist murderers. Ironically, the Council of 1962-1965 seemed to be opened merely for the sake of clarification, but it really opened the Church up to unclear statements and ambiguities! What a total turn-around!

Just off the cuff, but perhaps one major problem before Vatican 2 was that the Church had been unbelievably effective in evangelizing pagan cultures for 1,900 years, but had troublingly little success in evangelizing other monotheists (Jews, protestants, Eastern Orthodox). Perhaps one motivation was to re-examine the way the truth of the gospel is proclaimed to address that poor performance?

Not that it has yet succeeded, mind you. Ask the average Joe catholic on the street these days and he probably thinks we aren’t even SUPPOSED to evangelize those folks.

What do we need to evangelize the Orthodox with?

What a great question! This is exactly what I have come to this forum to find out. There were so many changes after the Second Vatican Council, there must have issues otherwise what other motivation could there have been?

Vatican II was not called to correct heresies as much to offer pastoral guidance to help the Church (at all levels from the laity to the episcopacy) react to and interact with the rapidly changing world, as well as finish what was started at Vatican I.

I’ve read that Councils are called in a time of crisis to settle a matter of faith. Nicea was called to react to the Arian Crisis and Trent was a defence against Luther. What was the crisis in which Vatican II was called? I’ve skimmed through the documents and didn’t find any new dogma.

I have been observing your posts since your showed up on this forum. You introduced yourself as one who allegedly had little knowledge of theology, the issues, the conflicts and so forth. Suddenly, you listing the major councils and their objective ends. That’s not information that the average person in the pews knows. That’s information that is known by those who have researched it or taken courses in theology, ecclesiology, Church History and religious studies.

However, I’ll play along. Councils are not always called to address a crisis. In other words, councils have many functions. Putting out fires is one of many.

Pope John XXIII wanted to call Vatican II to look at a number of issues:

  1. Examine the Church’s place in the modern world.

  2. Examine the Chruch’s relationship with people of other faiths.

  3. Address the issue of a post WW II world, where materialism and secularism were growing very quicly and the Church no longer held the power that it once held over Catholic Europe. He raised the question, “How should the Church speak to a world, where she no longer has political power?”

  4. He wanted to finish the work that Pope Pius XII had begun on liturgical reform.

  5. He wanted to engage the lay faithful in the apostolate of the Church.

  6. He believed that it was important to develop new forms of consecrated life. Up to that point there had been many religious orders, some religious congregations and there was a growing movement of men and women living the consecrated life in communities that did not fit the canonical requirements for a religious order or a religious consecration. These were secular institutes of consecrated life, secular fraternities or societies of priests without the consecration, and societies of apostolic life.

  7. Finally, John XXIII had had a very powerful experience working alongside Jews and Orthodox in WW II Europe. He felt it was time to begin the process of healing centuries of bitterness. It was not his intention to convert them to Catholicism. He understood that unification was impossible without reconciliation and forgiveness. For this to happen, someone would have to take the lead and admit their mistakes. Since no one was making the first move, he decided that the Catholics should do so and go from there.


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:

I was in high school during the Council and I was awed by the ceremonial aspects.

We didn’t get much of an explanation of the Council imo afterwards. That may have been where a lot of problems came up. The real goals of the council were not explained even afterwards.

There was debate (!) at the Council but I cannot recall the upshot of all that. Back in the States, we weren’t that close to it.

The legacy of the council seems to have been clarifying and unpacking more the role of the bishop. The bishop is really the head of the local church. A lot of things came out that were the discretion of the local bishop.

One bishop we had since the council wanted to be “cool” I guess and he simply left many of those discretionary things to the priests. So, we had a lot of chaos in our diocese, in my opinion. We’re on our fifth bishop since the council and we’re about as “worked over” by all these different bishops as you could imagine.

One commonn problem was the passivity of the laity durng the Mass. So, the Mass was translated into the local language. The altar was turned around and the priest faces the people and is generally closer to the laity than before.

There’s more back-and-forth prayers and such during the Mass than there were before.

A lot of nuns left their orders and so did a lot of priests. There was a lot of talk of the Holy Spirit guiding the Church very dynamically during the Council, and I think a lot of nuns and priests expected lots of lightning bolts of changes in the Church, which did not happen.

Right after the council, in 1965, the Pope overruled the conclusions of his commission on birth control and issued an encyclical which disappointed many people, who left the Church. The sexual revolution was in high gear and the prohibition of artificial means of birth control (the pill and condoms) jolted a lot of people. There was so much anticipation of change which was totally frustrated by the Pope’s encyclical.

The council might have gone largely unnoticed except that this was the age of full blown television news coverage, too. But, the proceedings were in Latin (whoopee) so we had to settle for the photos of all those old men in admittedly wierd outfits. But, it was a spectacle.

Thank you for your answers Brother, but I must tell you this part I’ve quoted here has shocked me and I’m somewhat offended. Please tell me I’ve misunderstood your intention. It seems to me you are insinuating that I’m being disingenuous. You are not the first person here to challenge my sincerity and humility though. To offer you some insight, at the start of Advent this year two things happened, I was asked to become an EMHC and we were told about the new translation. Getting a new translation seemed to me as saying there was something not quite right with the old so I went on the Internet to find out. Google is a blessing as is the wealth of sites and blogs. Basically a lot of other people have done a lot of research already so finding information isn’t hard. If my knowledge is more advanced than the average people you are acquainted with then I don’t know what to say. Would you be more confident in my sincerity if I dumbed it down for awhile? I learn by asking a lot of questions, relying on trusted sources (like Mark for example) and keeping an open mind. Do you have any other suggestions?

Thank you for your reply. I love hearing from people who experienced life before the Council. Why do you think so many priests left their ministry?

Imagine what the media coverage will be like during the next Council!

Although it’s only been fifty years, does anyone think the next Council is drawing upon us? I think you could make a case for the Church in crisis right now.

Dear Brother,

I hope you are not still upset with me. After your earlier comments I’m not even sure if you want me continuing to talk and learn from you. Hopefully you are willing to share your knowledge so others may benefit from it. I’ve thought about what you have written here and have some questions if you don’t mind. If you do I’ll understand and sorry to trouble you.

A couple more:

Nearly fifty years later we are welcoming the first significant block of Protestants back to the Church - the Traditional Anglicans. Is there another block on the verge of converting?

What is your account of the dramatic loss of priests and religious following the Council?

Why do you think only twenty percent of baptized Catholics fulfill their Sunday obligation these days?

Thank you for your time.

The following entails two articles from Time Magazine regarding the Second Vatican Council:

“Religion: Council of Renewal”


“How Vatican II Turned the Church Toward the World”


Both provide some insight regarding the Second Vatican Council from the perspective of a secular publication.

Oh, for goodness sake, OLPH. ‘I hope you are not still upset with me’? Br JR is an adult like the rest of us, not a five year old little girl who’s had her dolly broken.

That question, and the comments in the rest of that post really DO sound disingenuous and insincere, not to mention patronising to Br. JR.

I, too, am doubtful of your intentions on this board.

Matt 16:16-18

I will not respond to yet another attack on my character as by forum rules we are suppose to talk about the topic not the person.

The Church has certain guidelines regarding how ecumenical or evangelical efforts should proceed with the Orthodox. Simply pushing that particular passage in their faces in an obstinate manner is unhelpful and simply ends up in bitter arguments. .

Where can I find those?

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