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...
Bronze medal of Pope Paul VI (Yale University Art Gallery)View Full Size