The Second Vatican Council Turns 60: Is There Any Reason to Celebrate?
by Luiz Sérgio Solimeo October 21, 2022
The media—and particularly Catholic media—highlighted October 11’s commemorations of the opening of the Second Vatican Council’s 60th anniversary. Illustrative photos show the massive procession of bishops entering Saint Peter’s Basilica for the Catholic Church’s twenty-first ecumenical council in 1962.
However, one might ask whether there is a real cause for celebration. Our Lord said that a tree is known by its fruit: “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree good fruit” (Matt. 7:18).
What are the Council’s fruits?
Massive Exodus From the Catholic Church
The Church has suffered unprecedented wear and tear during the sixty years since Vatican II. For example, in Brazil—still the world’s largest Catholic country—this phenomenon translated into a loss of fervor and moral decay and, above all, a mass apostasy of the faithful. They left the Catholic Church, fell into indifferentism, or joined pentecostalist “evangelical” sects.
The IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) reported that, according to the 2010 census, the number of Catholics in Brazil dropped from 93.1% in 1960 (shortly before the Council began) to 64.6 % in 2010, fifty years after the event.
Instead of having flourishing communities, during the so-called “springtime of the Church”—as the Council was called—the Church in Brazil suffered a 28.5 percentage drop. Similar losses of faithful happened practically all over the world.
Even worse, one sees no trend toward a recovery of the Church in Brazil. While the number of “evangelicals” has increased by an average of 0.8% a year since 2010, that of Catholics has decreased by 1.2% annually over the same period.1
A Crisis Accentuated by the Council
The Church crisis already existed before the Council and was a cause of concern to zealous Catholics. Many expected that the Council would take the doctrinal and disciplinary measures needed to curb the causes of this crisis. Instead, it preferred to embrace novelties and abandon Tradition.
We can see the difference if we compare the Second Vatican Council with the Council of Trent (1545—1563), which was convened to deal with the Protestant revolt. Trent vigorously reaffirmed the truths of the Faith and condemned theological errors and clergy abuses that favored Luther’s and other pseudo-reformers’ revolt. Those measures started the Counter-Reformation movement, which rekindled Catholic fervor in countries like Spain, Italy, and France. It also brought back entire regions of Europe that had fallen into heresy. Such revival allowed missionaries to take the Faith to the Americas and Asia.
Lukewarmness and Lack of Vigilance
What has happened, then, for us to find ourselves where we are?
Briefly, a climate of optimism dominated the West after World War II. Among other factors, the progress of industrialization and technology contributed to this. The “happy end” atmosphere spread by Hollywood movies, along with increasingly risqué fashions, especially those for women, led to a loss of the virtue of modesty.
Meanwhile, false philosophies and theologies met practically no resistance as they infiltrated seminaries and universities.
As a result, the typically Catholic spirit of penance and zeal for the Faith gradually disappeared and gave way to the enjoyment of life, a loss of the sense of sin and awareness of the supernatural end of human existence.
Consequently, fervor and the spirit of vigilance and militancy waned.
In 1943, Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira launched a book titled In Defense of Catholic Action to denounce the advance of evil doctrines and dangerous tendencies that were rampant in the Catholic movement. Unfortunately, his wake-up call went unheard.
Aggiornamento: “Modernization” of the Catholic Church
John XIII called the Council and summed up its purpose in one word: aggiornamento, an Italian expression that translates as “updating” or “modernization” of the Catholic Church.
Casiano Floristán and Juan José Tamayo write:
“John XXIII employed the term aggiornamento to establish the ‘fundamentally pastoral character’ of Vatican II. . . .
“In the conciliar texts, the word aggiornamento is translated with the Latin words accomodatio (accommodation), adaptatio (adaptation), renovatio (renovation), reformatio (reform). It is never translated as restauratio (restoration). That means the Council was not a return to the past. Updating is, therefore, reform and innovation by following Christ.”2
The Council Opens Under the Sign of Optimism
Optimism quickly leads to a distorted view of reality whereby a person avoids considering evil and—from a religious point of view—the effects of Original Sin on us, that is, a tendency toward evil and sin.3
John XXIII set the Council’s optimistic tone in the great assembly’s opening speech, titled Gaudete Mater Ecclesiae ‒ “Mother Church Rejoices” (October 11, 1962).
Facing the errors of the present times, in his speech, Pope Roncalli declared, “The Church has always opposed these errors and often condemned them with the utmost severity. Today, however, Christ’s Bride prefers the balm of mercy to the arm of severity. She believes that present needs are best served by explaining more fully the purport of her doctrines rather than by publishing condemnations.”4
In other words, the Council would not condemn the errors of the time but rather “dialogue” with them, as we shall see.
We do well to recall that all of Eastern Europe and parts of Asia and the Americas (Cuba) were then under the communist yoke. However, the Council failed to make the slightest mention of this scourge of humanity.
“Prophets of Doom”
The pope rejected the thoughts of those “prophets of doom who are always forecasting disaster.”5 He was referring to those concerned with the evils of our time
Cardinal Giacomo Biffi (1928-2015), archbishop of Bologna, contradicted John XXIII’s “prophets of doom” criticism by recalling that, in Scripture, true prophets announced punishments and calamities. On the contrary, “the Bible’s false prophets usually proclaimed the imminence of calm and quiet hours (see Ezech. ch. 13 [“God declares against false prophets and prophetesses, that deceive the people with lies]).”6
Dialoguing With Error
This dominant optimism led the Council to regard error and heresy as secondary issues. In keeping with the wishes of John XXIII (which Paul VI did not change), instead of fighting them and proclaiming the truth, the Second Vatican Council documents preach utopian “dialogue.” The Council’s goal was to achieve the unity of all religions (rather than conversion) and insert the Church into the modern world.
Another expression of the reigning optimism was to “open the Church’s windows” so an air of modernity could enter.
The documents with the greatest impact were those establishing a friendly dialogue with Protestants and schismatics (decree Unitatis redintegratio); with non-Christian and pagan religions (declaration Nostra aetate); and with the modern world (pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes).
Our Lord did not teach us to “dialogue” with error and evil but to remain faithful to the truth He taught: “If you continue in my word, you shall be my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31—33).
Nor did the Divine Master preach “openness” to the world but always warned the disciples that it was their enemy: “If you had been of the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hated you” (John 15:19).
Liberty for Error
For the first time in Church history and against all tradition, the Council advocated public freedom to propagate heresy and error while emphasizing that one must seek the truth.
The declaration Dignitatis humanae affirms that religious freedom proceeds from human dignity and that “no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.”7
While it is true that no one can be compelled to act against his right conscience, it does not follow that anyone can propagate error and heresy with impunity, even if he considers them true. As Leo XIII says, “Liberty is a power perfecting man, and hence should have truth and goodness for its object. . . . If the mind assents to false opinions, and the will chooses and follows after what is wrong, neither can attain its native fullness, but both must fall from their native dignity into an abyss of corruption. Whatever, therefore, is opposed to virtue and truth may not rightly be brought temptingly before the eye of man, much less sanctioned by the favor and protection of the law.”8
A Non-trinitarian God? Denying the Principle of Non-contradiction
Confusion in Vatican II documents touches on the absurd in matters of primary importance, such as God’s nature.
According to the dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium, “the Muslims . . . along with us adore the one and merciful God.”9
This claim that Christians and Muslims worship the One God is yet another manifestation of the conciliar documents’ dialectical aspect, denying the principle of non-contradiction. For, while Catholics believe and profess the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and worship the One and Triune God, Muhammad’s followers deny this truth and fight it, accusing Christians of being polytheists.10
Vatican II: Not an Event, but a Process
Much more could be examined in the documents of Vatican II and confronted with the traditional Church teaching. However, that is not possible in this short space. In a previous article, I presented other aspects of Vatican II that show why there is no reason to commemorate this event.11
Strictly speaking, Vatican II was not an event but the beginning of a process to reform the Church of Christ—the Ecclesia semper reformanda preached by Protestants and modernists. Its most recent iteration is Pope Francis’s Synod on Synodality, which will draw out the ultimate consequences of what was presented confusingly sixty years ago. Cardinal Hollerich, the Synod’s general rapporteur, affirms: “All of Francis’s synodality comes from the Council.”12
The Council—through its documents and how they were applied—effected an almost complete change of mentality in many Catholics. It led them to abandon the spirit of sacrifice, piety, and the sense of sacrality and to embrace the world with its pomp and works.
So we are back to the initial question: Is there any reason to celebrate?
Stat Crux dum Volvitur Orbis
We can apply to Holy Mother Church the Carthusian motto: Stat crux dum volvitur orbis—“The Cross is steady while the world turns.”
Despite all the crises she goes through on her earthly journey, the Church always remains stable and faithful to the Cross of Christ, His immutable doctrine, and unalloyed holiness.
Let us not forget Our Lord’s promise: “I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world” (Matt. 28:20).
- See Denise Menchen and Fabio Brisolla, “Católicos passam de 93,1% para 64,6% da população em 50 anos, aponta IBGE,” Folha de S. Paulo, June 29, 2012, //www1.folha.uol.com.br/poder/1112382-catolicos-passam-de-931-para-646-da-populacao-em-50-anos-aponta-ibge.shtml; Mariana Zylberkan, “Evangélicos devem ultrapassar católicos no Brasil a partir de 2032,” Veja, Feb. 4, 2020, //veja.abril.com.br/brasil/evangelicos-devem-ultrapassar-catolicos-no-brasil-a-partir-de-2032/.
- Casiano Floristán, s.v. “Aggiornamento,” in Dizionario sintetico di pastorale by Casiano Floristán and Juan José Tamayo, //www.scrutatio.it/DizionarioTeologico/articolo/2985/aggiornamento 17/10/22./ (Our translation.
- “But this holy council perceives and confesses that in the one baptized there remains concupiscence or an inclination to sin, which, since it is left for us to wrestle with, cannot injure those who do not acquiesce but resist manfully by the grace of Jesus Christ; indeed, he who shall have striven lawfully shall be crowned (2 Tim. 2:5).” Council of Trent, “Decree Concerning Original Sin,” no. 5, Denz.-Hun., no. 1515. See also Decree Concerning Original Sin & Decree Concerning Reform, EWTN.com, //www.ewtn.com/catholicism/library/decree-concerning-original-sin–decree-concerning-reform-1495.
- John XXIII, “Speech of His Holiness at the Council’s Solemn Opening,” Oct. 11, 1962, no. 2 //www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=3233.
- John XXIII, “Solemn Opening.”
- Giacomo Biffi, Memorie e digressioni di un italano cardinale (Siena: Edizioni Cantagalli, 2007), 178.
- Second Vatican Council, declaration Dignitatis humanae (Dec. 7, 1965), no. 2, //www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decl_19651207_dignitatis-humanae_en.html.
- Leo XIII, encyclical Immortale Dei (Nov. 1, 1885), no. 32, //www.vatican.va/content/leo-xiii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_l-xiii_enc_01111885_immortale-dei.html.
- Second Vatican Council, dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium, no. 16. //www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html.
- See Luiz Sérgio Solimeo, Islam and the Suicide of the West (Spring Grove, Penn.: The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property, 2018).
- Luiz Sérgio Solimeo, “The Second Vatican Council’s New Theology,” TFP.org, Sept. 2, 2020, //www.tfp.org/the-second-vatican-councils-new-theology/.
- Jean-Claude Hollerich, “Sin el Concilio Vaticano II la Iglesia sería hoy una pequeña secta,” VidaNuevaDigital.com, Oct. 17, 2022, //www.vidanuevadigital.com/2022/10/17/jean-claude-hollerich-sin-el-concilio-vaticano-ii-la-iglesia-seria-hoy-una-pequena-secta/. (Our translation.)