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Vatican II (1962-1965) : Background / Legacy

Surveys the history of the Second Vatican Council and the sixteen documents it promulgated. Highlights materials that reveal the vision of Catholic faith presented by the Council from a theological perspective.

From Trent to Vaticiant II & Pope John XIII

Pope John was elected on 28 October 1958. He called the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965) but did not live to see it to completion. He died in 1963, only four-and-a-half years after his election.

Background information - click on blue book titles below:

Pope Paul VI

Paul VI decided to continue Vatican II (canon law dictates that a council is suspended at the death of a pope), and brought it to completion in 1965. Faced with conflicting interpretations and controversies, he directed the implementation of its reform goals, which included the largest revision to the Church's Liturgy ever—and the first major revision since the Council of Trent, held 400 years prior to Vatican II—until his death in 1978.

Papal Infallability

Lumen Gentium

The Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, which was also a document on the Church itself, explicitly reaffirmed the definition of papal infallibility, so as to avoid any doubts, expressing this in the following words:

"This Sacred Council, following closely in the footsteps of the First Vatican Council, with that Council teaches and declares that Jesus Christ, the eternal Shepherd, established His holy Church, having sent forth the apostles as He Himself had been sent by the Father;(136) and He willed that their successors, namely the bishops, should be shepherds in His Church even to the consummation of the world. And in order that the episcopate itself might be one and undivided, He placed Blessed Peter over the other apostles, and instituted in him a permanent and visible source and foundation of unity of faith and communion. And all this teaching about the institution, the perpetuity, the meaning and reason for the sacred primacy of the Roman Pontiff and of his infallible magisterium, this Sacred Council again proposes to be firmly believed by all the faithful."

The Cathechism of the Catholic Church

The Catechism of the Catholic Church spells out the infallibility of an ecumenical council:

"The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of the faithful - who confirms his brethren in the Faith - he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to Faith or morals.... The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter's successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium," above all in an ecumenical council. (Item 891)

Consequently, the teachings of the Second Vatican Council are the official teachings of the Church.


History of the Council

The Second Vatican Council: "The beginning of a beginning...."  Karl Rahner

Subject Guide

Betsy Polakowski's picture
Betsy Polakowski
Theological Librarian (Interim) / Collection Management Services

Subject Liaison to Theology, St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity

Archbishop Ireland Memorial Library

Good Websites

Revelation - Trent and Vatican Council I

Revelation - Trent and Vatican Council I

  • Dei Filius - Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith. Vatican Council I, Session 3: 24 April 1870.

Tanner's Decrees

Sessions reported by Francis X. Murphy / aka Xavier Rynne (pseud.)

Father Francis X. Murphy (1915–2002) was a Redoemptorist chaplain and theology professor. He is most known for his articles about the Second Vatican Council published under the pseudonym Xavier Rynne