The Idea for the Council

Pope John XXIII, To diocesan directors of Italian Catholic Action, August 3, 1959:

The Holy Father had accepted the invitation to conclude the annual Octave of Prayer for the unity of the Church in St. Paul's Basilica last January 25th. Now in those days thoughts turn insistently to the objective of such prayer: the unum sint of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the sigh, the cry of the Redeemer who had already exclaimed: "Levate oculos vestros et videte regiones, quia albae sunt jam ad messem" (John 4:35).


Peter is always ready to keep faith with his mission, with a view to the new possibilities which the material resources of human progress present for the benefit of the spiritual order. "In our day there are many meetings of politicians, diplomats, scientists, industrialists, of people belonging to various commercial and professional categories. Some of them, unfortunately, do not take place under the name and banner of Christ; indeed, some of them are dominated by the force and power of the Prince of this world, who opposes Christ. Why not gather together those who agree on exalting the most memorable fact in human history, the victory of civilization in the light of Christ?"

Pope John XXIII, To Venetian pilgrims, May 8, 1962:

Where did the idea of the Ecumenical Council come from? How did it develop? In a way that, to tell it, seems unlikely, so unexpected was the thought of this possibility and, of course, applying and fulfilling it. A question was raised in a meeting I had with the Secretary of State, Cardinal Tardini, which led on to a discussion about the way the world had been plunged into so many grave anxieties and troubles. Among other things we noted that though everyone said they wanted peace and harmony, conflicts unfortunately were growing more acute and threats being multiplied. What should the Church do? Should Christ's mystical barque simply drift along, tossed this way and that by the ebb and flow of the tides? Or is she not instead expected not simply to issue a new warning, but to offer also the light of a great example?


What could that light be? My interlocutor listened with reverence and attention. Suddenly, my soul was illumined by a great idea which came precisely at that moment and which I welcomed with ineffable confidence in the divine Teacher. And there sprang to my lips a word that was solemn and committing. My voice uttered it for the first time: "A Council!"


Pope John XXIII, Apostolic Constitution Humanae Salutis (25 December 1961):


The Council's Working Program


These fruits, which we so eagerly expect from the Council and on which we like so often to dwell, entail a vast program of work which is now being prepared. It addresses the doctrinal and practical problems which correspond more to the requirements of perfect conformity to Christian teaching, to the upbuilding and to the service of the Mystical Body, and to its supernatural mission: that is, the Scriptures, the venerable tradition, the sacraments, prayer, Church discipline, charitable and relief activities, the lay apostolate, the horizon of the missions.


But this supernatural order must also reflect its effectiveness onto the other, the temporal, order, which unfortunately is ultimately the only one that occupies and preoccupies man. In this field also the Church has shown that she wishes to be Mater et magistra, to use the expression of our distant and glorious predecessor, Innocent III, spoken at the Fourth Lateran Council. Although she has no directly earthly ends, she cannot in her journey be disinterested in the problems and worries of here below. She knows how beneficial to the good of the soul are those means which render more human the life of those individual men who are to be saved. She knows that by giving life to the temporal order by the light of Christ, she is also revealing men to themselves, leading them, that is, to discover in themselves their own nature, their own dignity, their own purpose. This is why the living presence of the Church today extends by right and by fact to international organizations; this is why she elaborates her social teaching on the family, the school, work, civil society, and all the related problems, so that her teaching office has been raised to the highest level as the most authoritative voice, the interpreter and champion of the moral order, the defender of the rights and duties of all human beings and of all political communities.


In this way the beneficial influence of the conciliar deliberations, we profoundly hope, must succeed to the point that it imbues with Christian light and penetrates with fervent spiritual energy not only into the depths of souls but also into the whole realm of human activities.


Convocation of the Council


Our first announcement of the Council, on 25 January 1959, was like a little seed that we planted with anxious mind and hand. Supported by heavenly help, we set about the complex and delicate work of preparation. In the three years since we have day by day seen the little seed develop and become, by God's blessing, a great tree. As we look back on the long and tiring journey, a hymn of thanksgiving to God rises from our heart that he has been so generous in his help that everything has unfolded in a suitable way and in harmony of spirit. Before we decided the topics to be studied in view of the forthcoming Council, we wished first to hear the wise and enlightened opinions of the College of Cardinals, of the worldwide episcopate, of the sacred dicasteries of the Roman Curia, of the superiors general of the religious orders and congregations, of Catholic universities and ecclesiastical faculties. This work of consultation was carried out over a year, and from it emerged clearly the points that had to be submitted to thorough study. We then established the various preparatory bodies to which we entrusted the arduous task of drawing up the doctrinal and disciplinary schemata among which we shall choose those that we intend to submit to the conciliar assembly.


We finally have the joy of announcing that this intense work of study, to which Cardinals, bishops, prelates, theologians, canonists, and experts from all over the world have made their valuable contributions, is now nearing its end. Trusting therefore in the help of the divine Redeemer, beginning and end of all things, in the help of his holy Mother and of St. Joseph--to whom from the beginning we entrusted this great event--we believe the moment has come to convoke the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. Having considered, therefore, the views of our brothers, the Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, by the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and our own, we establish, announce, and convoke for the coming year 1962 an ecumenical Council which will be held in the Vatican Basilica at a date that will be established when Providence gives us the opportunity.


We consequently wish and order that to this ecumenical Council, established by us, must come from everywhere all our beloved Cardinal sons, our venerable brother patriarchs, primates, archbishops and bishops, whether residential or only titular, as well as all those who have a right and duty to attend the Council.

[translation of Rev. Joseph Komonchak, Humanae salutis]

Pope John XXIII, Radio Address to the World, September 11, 1962

We are living in the midst of a new political world. One of the fundamental rights which the Church can never renounce is that of religious liberty, which is not merely freedom of worship.


The Church vindicates and teaches this liberty, and on that account, she continues to suffer anguishing pain in many countries.


The Church cannot renounce this liberty, because it is inseparable from the service she is bound to fulfill. This service does not stand as the corrective or the complement of what other institutions ought to do, or have appropriated to themselves, but it is an essential and irreplaceable element of the design of Providence to place man upon the path of truth and liberty which are the building stones upon which human civilization is raised.