Vatican II

(1962–1965)

Context

When John XXIII (formerly Angelo Roncalli) gave notice of the Second Vatican Council only a few months after his election to office (on October 28, 1958), few anticipated the momentous changes that would follow. But the new pope radiated a personal approachability far removed from his predecessor (Pius XII), and his incorporation of a plea to non-Catholic Christians to join with Rome in seeking organic Christian unity signaled a noteworthy departure from the Roman Catholic Church’s earlier emphasis on ecumenical reunion not through dialogue between churches but solely as a process of conversion by non-Catholics to a belief in the authenticity of Rome’s claims to primacy.

The seemingly revolutionary character of the council should not be overstated. A century earlier, the Church had considered itself in the forefront of resistance to a liberal revolution, marked not only by the political ascendancy of the bourgeoisie in much of western Europe but also by an emphasis on...

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Bronze medal of Pope Paul VI (Yale University Art Gallery)

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