The Second Vatican Council

 The Second vatican Council


The First Vatican Council had opened in December 1869.   The main issue that this is remembered for is that the doctrine of Papal Infallibility was defined.  (see  Click on Session 4 The Church (Pope)  Unfortunately, the Council was suspended in July 1870 because the Kingdom of Italy had captured Rome. 


In 1962 Pope John XXIII called a Vatican Council in Rome.  This was to everyone’s surprise as he had been nicknamed “The Caretaker Pope” because of his age.  He had the vision to see that the Church needed a reawakening to be able to move into the modern era.  


Although Pope John died before the Council had finished, his work was continued by his successor, Pope Paul VI, the Council closing in 1965.


“In the past, Pope John said, the Church felt it necessary to use severity and condemnation. What is required now is mercy and understanding and, above all, an outpouring of the riches which the Church has received from Christ. The task of the Council must be to find ways by which the Church can present itself to the world of today, and can reach into the minds and hearts of men. The Council must not become a school where theologians can perfect their formulation of Catholic truth.  


Bishops from all over the world gathered in Rome and the Pope also invited spectators from other Christian Churches who were given places of honour in St. Peter’s.  There were full sessions and also smaller committees which thrashed out the wording of documents, there being sixteen in all, each one dealing with a different aspect of Church life.  Each document is given the name of the first two Latin words in the text.


The Documents
 1. Sacrosanctum Concilium 1963
The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.
 2. Inter Mirifica 1963
The Decree on the Means of Social Communication.
 3. Lumen Gentium 1964
Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.
 4. Orientalium Ecclesiarum 1964
Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches.
 5. Unitatis Redintegratio 1964
Decree on Ecumenism.
 6. Christus Dominus 1965
Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church.
 7. Perfectae Caritas 1965
Decree on the Up-to-Date Renewal of the Religious Life.
 8. Optatum Totius 1965
Decree on the Training of Priests.
 9. Gravissium Educationis 1965
Declaration on Christian Education.
 10. Nostrae Aetate 1965
Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions.
 11. Dei Verbum 1965
Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation.
 12. Apostolicam Actuositatem 1965
Decree on the Apostolate of the Lay People.
 13. Dignitatis Humanae 1965
Declaration on Religious Liberty.
 14. Ad Gentes Divinitus 1965
Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity.
 15. Presbyterorum Ordinis 1965
Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests.
 16. Gaudium et Spes 1965
Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.


The easiest way to find the text of any of these documents is to Google the Latin title and you will be taken to that document in English on the Vatican Website.


Catholic Social Teaching


The Church has always encouraged us to love our neighbour as Christ taught us to do.  This involves speaking out when necessary about social conditions in the world.  Many church documents have been written about this topic.  These are just a few quotes from those written over the last hundred years or so which gives us an idea of the kind of topics covered.


  • Rerum Novarum   Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII 1891

At the end of the nineteenth century, Pope Leo XIII was so concerned about the appalling working conditions of the factory workers that he wrote his encyclical (on the Condition of Workers) 


“It must not be supposed that the Church so concentrates her energies on caring for souls as to overlook things which pertain to mortal and earthly life.” (#42)

“The following duties . . . concern rich men and employers: Workers are not to be treated as slaves; justice demands that the dignity of human personality be respected in them, ... gainful occupations are not a mark of shame to man, but rather of respect, as they provide him with an honourable means of supporting life.”  (#31)


·         Quadragesimo Anno   (The Fortieth Year ) Encyclical of Pope Pius XI 1931

(written 40 years after Rerum Novarum)

“The function of the rulers of the State is to watch over the community and its parts; but in protecting private individuals in their rights, chief consideration ought to be given to the weak and the poor.” (#25)


·         Mater et Magistra   (Christianity and Social Progress)  Encyclical of

          Pope John XXIII, 1961                                   

“The remuneration of work is not something that can be left to the laws of the marketplace; nor should it be a decision left to the will of the more powerful. It must be determined in accordance with justice and equity; which means that workers must be paid a wage which allows them to live a truly human life and to fulfil their family obligations in a worthy manner.”   (#71) 


·         Pacem in Terris   (Peace on Earth)  Encyclical of Pope John XXIII  1963

“Beginning our discussion of the rights of man, we see that every person has the right to life, to bodily integrity, and to the means which are suitable for the proper development of life; these are primarily food, clothing, shelter, rest, medical care, and finally the necessary social services. Therefore a human being also has the right to security in cases of sickness, inability to work, widowhood, old age, unemployment, or in any other case in which one is deprived of the means of subsistence through no fault of one's own.”  (#11)


“There is a social duty essentially inherent in the right of private property.”    (#22)


“It is in keeping with their dignity as persons that human beings should take an active part in government.”   (#73)


  • Extracts from Gaudium et Spes   The Church in the Modern World  1965. 

(A document of the Second Vatican Council)

This Vatican II document states that although we belong to the Church and are seeking a sacred life, we must not neglect our responsibilities on earth.  We are citizens of two cities!  We must combat social injustice and strive for dignity of the human race.


“Excessive economic and social disparity between individuals and peoples of the one human race is a source of scandal and militates against social justice, equity, human dignity, as well as social and international peace.”  (#29)


“….everyone has the right to possess a sufficient amount of the earth's goods for themselves and their family. This has been the opinion of the Fathers and Doctors of the church, who taught that people are bound to come to the aid of the poor and to do so not merely out of their superfluous goods.”  (#69)


  • Octogesima Adveniens    A Call to Action - Encyclical of Paul VI  1971

“Let every person examine themselves, to see what they have done up to now, and what they ought to do. It is not enough to recall principles, state intentions, point to crying injustice and utter prophetic denunciations; these words will lack real weight unless they are accompanied for each individual by a livelier awareness of personal responsibility and by effective action.

It is too easy to throw back on others the responsibility for injustice, if at the same time one does not realize how each one shares in it personally, and how personal conversion is needed first.”    (#48)


·         Justica in Mundo    Justice in the World - document issued by the World Synod of Bishops 1971

“The members of the Church, as members of society, have the same right and duty to promote the common good as do other citizens. Christians ought to fulfil their temporal obligations with fidelity and competence. They should act as a leaven in the world, in their family, professional, social, cultural and political life.”    (#38)


“The Church has received from Christ the mission of preaching the Gospel message, which contains a call to people to turn away from sin to the love of the Father, universal kinship and a consequent demand for justice in the world. This is the reason why the Church has the right, indeed the duty, to proclaim justice on the social, national and international level, and to denounce instances of injustice, when the fundamental rights of people and their very salvation demand it.”   (#36)


  • Laborem Exercens   On Human Work  Encyclical of Pope John Paul II. 1981

“Workers not only want fair pay, they also want to share in the responsibility and creativity of the very work process. They want to feel that they are working for themselves -- an awareness that is smothered in a bureaucratic system where they only feel themselves to be "cogs" in a huge machine moved from above.” (#13)


“The purpose of unions is not simply to defend the existing wages and prerogatives of the fraction of workers who belong to them, but also to enable workers to make positive and creative contributions to the firm, the community, and the larger society in an organized and cooperative way.”  (#20)


“The church's constant teaching on the right to private property and ownership of the means of production differs radically from the collectivism proclaimed by Marxism, but also from the capitalism practiced by liberalism and the political systems inspired by it.”    (#14)  


  • Solicitudo Rei Socialis    (On Social Concern)  Encyclical of Pope John Paul II, 1987

“Those who are more influential because they have greater share of goods and common services should feel responsible for the weaker and be ready to share with them all they possess... the church feels called to take her stand beside the poor, to discern the justice of their requests and to help satisfy them, without losing sight of the good of groups in the context of the common good.”   (#39)


“Poverty is not only a question of having no material goods. Is the lack of human rights not also a form of poverty?”    (#15)


  • Centesimus Annus  (The hundredth Year)   Pope John Paul II, 1991

                  (written 100years after Rerum Novarum ,  Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII 1891)

“The obligation to earn one's bread presumes the right to do so. A society that denies this right cannot be justified, nor can it attain social peace.”    (#43)


“The first and fundamental structure for a "human ecology" is the family, founded on marriage, in which the mutual gift of self as husband and wife creates an environment in which children can be born and grow up.”    (#39)


“The principle that debts should be paid remains, but this should not be asked for at the cost of the hunger and despair of entire peoples. There is the need to lighten, defer, or even cancel the debts, and indeed, this does sometimes happen, to let people subsist and progress. “   (#35)


  • Evangelium Vitae  (The Gospel of Life) – Encyclical of Pope John Paul II   1995

The Gospel of Life is at the heart of Jesus' message. Lovingly received day after day by the Church, it is to be preached with dauntless fidelity as "good news" to the people of every age and culture.  (#1)


Every individual, precisely by reason of the mystery of the Word of God who was made flesh (cf. Jn 1:14), is entrusted to the maternal care of the Church. Therefore every threat to human dignity and life must necessarily be felt in the Church's very heart; it cannot but affect her at the core of her faith in the Redemptive Incarnation of the Son of God, and engage her in her mission of proclaiming the Gospel of life in all the world and to every creature (cf. Mk 16:15).

Today this proclamation is especially pressing because of the extraordinary increase and gravity of threats to the life of individuals and peoples, especially where life is weak and defenceless. In addition to the ancient scourges of poverty, hunger, endemic diseases, violence and war, new threats are emerging on an alarmingly vast scale. (#3)


"Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide,

abortion, euthanasia, or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them are infamies indeed. They poison human society, and they do more harm to those who practise them than to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonour to the Creator". (#3)

       (quoted from John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptor Hominis 1979)


Benedict XVI

  • To build peace, we need to give new hope to the poor.  How can we not think of so many individuals and families hard pressed by the difficulties and uncertainties which the current financial and economic crisis has provoked on a global scale?”   (extract from Address to a Diplomatic Corps. 8th January, 2009)


  • The Pope gave a stark message on the environment at the July 2008 gathering for World Youth Day in Australia.  He warned of the perils of pillaging the planet’s natural resources, and urged the development of more sustainable and simple lifestyles.  Speaking to more than 200,000 young Catholics at a youth event in Sydney, Pope Benedict said that “perhaps reluctantly we come to acknowledge that scars which mark the surface of our earth – erosion, deforestation, the squandering of the world’s mineral and ocean resources – in order to fuel an insatiable consumption.”  Taken from the Redemptorist Publications  Sunday Bulletin Sunday Plus for 20th March, 2009


  • The Pope has issued an important encyclical on social teaching entitled Caritas in veritate. Among other things, he says:  Charity is at the heart of the Church's social doctrine. Every responsibility and every commitment spelt out by that doctrine is derived from charity which, according to the teaching of Jesus, is the synthesis of the entire Law.”



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