Theology 101: Vatican II

By Dr. Massimo Faggioli

The Second Vatican Council or Vatican II (1962-1965) was the most important event in the history of the Catholic Church since the Protestant Reformation and the Council of Trent (1545-1563). But is it still relevant? It is a fact that Vatican II took place in a now distant past: during the optimistic world of the 1960s, from the perspective of a very Euro-Western theological culture, and by an all male, celibate council. But Vatican II is still very relevant for at least three reasons.

The first reason is that Vatican II refocused the way Christian theology is done both academically and magisterially. Most importantly, it changed the daily theology of all Catholics around a threefold path: first, the reading of the Scriptures (constitution Dei Verbum on revelation); second, the discernment of the “signs of the times “ (constitution Gaudium et Spes); third, the access to one’s interiority and to the “colloquium” with God in solitude and in the liturgy (costitution Sacrosanctum Concilium on the liturgy). Vatican II has a “generative grammar” that is rooted in the modus agendi of Christ himself (declaration Dignitatis Humanae), its modus conversationis (Dei Verbum) – that is, how Jesus relates to and lives with others, and Jesus’ way of being poor and humble (constitution Lumen Gentium on the Church).

The second reason Vatican II is still relevant is that it is a part of the living tradition of the Catholic Church, and a council of the conciliar tradition of the universal Church. And yet, it embodies a non-traditionalist teaching. Vatican II follows Trent and Vatican I, but it rephrases the whole tradition in a way that gives priority to the Gospel. The whole tradition is re-read in light of the Gospel. Vatican II is not a paradigm, a set of propositional statements. Vatican II is a paradigmatic way of doing theology, it is about the way the Catholic Church teaches: collegially, ecumenically, challenged by the Gospel, listening to the signs of the times, and distancing itself from the theological-political status  quo.

The third reason Vatican II remains relevant is that the pontificate of Pope Francis (and the Catholic Church that Pope Francis represents – representation in the sense of incarnation, imagination, and vicarial representation ) cannot be understood without Vatican II both as a body of documents and as an act, a way of being Church.


Dr. Faggioli is a leading authority on the history and administrative inner workings of the Catholic Church with specific expertise in the papacy, Vatican II, the Roman Curia, liturgical reform and new Catholic movements. Frequently featured in the national and international media, Faggioli can comment on a diversity of theological, religious and Church-related issues ranging from the historical to the contemporary.