Christianity, despite its humble root and in the beginning only a handful of followers has grown to over “1,870,000,000 adherents in the world” (Neusner, 151). Representing over a third of the world’s population. These followers all follow the teachings of Christ, but they differ in some core beliefs and also the interpretation of Christ’s teaching. While the center of any Christian religion will always remains the same—Christ and his teachings—the way this is followed and practiced has often led to changes within a religion or a split in denominations. One famous change that occurred within the Catholic Church was the Vatican II Council, which, as this essay will explore, made the changes that are still in place in modern Catholicism today and then compare it to a similar change that occurred within the Jewish religion.
Given the posture of the Catholic Church in 1864 under Pope Pius IX, one would not have thought it possible that the changes brought in by Vatican II were to happen. Pius IX believed that these modern ideas were incompatible with the Catholic Church and and admonished Catholics to reject them. He issued a “Syllabus of Errors” listing eight modern teachings that he believed challenged the authority of the church. (Neusner, 156)
But the Catholic Church could not keep “modernity” from coming to its door. In 1870 a new secular kingdom of Italy took control of the papal estates and the Vatican lost much of the political power it had once enjoyed.
This led to Vatican I, which paved the way for Vatican II. Vatican I happened at a time when the Catholic Church was at an all-time low. It was at this conference when the pope was declared infallible, i.e., free from error when speaking about religious doctrinal matters. Because of the newfound weakness of the church, Vatican I attempted to find strength in the figurehead of the Pope. It is ironic , that Vatican II instead of being a continuation of Vatican I as the name would imply, reversed most of the decisions made at Vatican I.
If Vatican I was about preserving the status quo, then Vatican II was about opening up the Catholic Church to the science and changes it had spent four centuries rejecting.
The meetings of the Second Vatican Council lasted from 1962-1965. The pope under which they were called for, John XXIII did not leve to see them finished, but his initiative brought the changes that one sees in the Catholic Church today.
One of the most noticeable changes was that the Catholic service, or Mass, no longer needed to be observed in Latin, but could instead be celebrated in whatever language the church was. This opened up access to every day worshippers in the Catholic Church. This allowed for an active, not passive participation of the members.
Judaism’s Vatican II can be liked to The Reform Judaism movement occurring within that religion. Like Vatican II was a change in order to make Catholicism compatible with the growing changes in sciences and modernization, Reform Judaism changed the religion in order to be compatible with the cultures surrounding Judaism. Reform Judaism took a less literal stance on laws and traditions it ha once adhered to making their theology more liberal and possible to practice
The Catholic Church and Judaism was not alone in dealing with the need for change in a changing world, but they dealt with it in their own way. At first there response was to tighten their grip, which they did with Vatican I. With Vatican II, they reversed course and opened up the church to it’s followers and to some degree to science and modernity.
Neusner, Jacob. World religions in America: an introduction. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox Press. Fourth Edition. Print.