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World Association of International Studies

Post Vatican II and the Contraception Decision
Created by John Eipper on 08/04/18 4:05 AM

Previous posts in this discussion:


Vatican II and the Contraception Decision (Enrique Torner, USA, 08/04/18 4:05 am)

On June 15 of this year, I wrote my initial post on Albino Luciani, mostly focusing on his life before he became pope (all but his last 33 days!). Though I received no comments other than those of our dear editor, I'm going to keep my promise and offer you what John kindly called "chapter 2" of this "series," which is going to be on the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, better known as the Second Vatican Council, and informally abbreviated Vatican II. This council turned out to be the biggest meeting in the history of the world in the sense of a gathering of people in order to make decisions.

As you must know, Vatican I took place in 1870, and its most famous achievement was to produce the first definition of Papal infallibility. In this post, I'm going to briefly describe the decisions of the Second Vatican Council that I think were most visible to the general public and that affected people the most. However, if you are really interested in the topic and would like to read my original essay on this topic, you are more than welcome to read it under the Publications section of WAIS, where our dear editor graciously accepted to place it. Thank you, John! As I mentioned in my previous post, this forms part of my sabbatical research, and the "article"/extended post is one of the stepping stones on my road to writing a scholarly article of literary criticism.

To begin with, though the council lasted from October 11, 1962 to December 8, 1965, it was not an ongoing event: it met in four ten-week periods that spread out over these three years. Pope John XXIII convoked the council because he thought that the world's progress and recent historical events warranted an "aggiornamento" (updating) of the Roman Catholic Church. Unfortunately, John XXIII would not be able to finish the goals of the council, because he would die of stomach cancer on June 3, 1963, at the age of 81. Paul VI (Giovanni Battista Montini), his successor, would bring it to completion.

Historians of all types call the Second Vatican Council one of the most important events of the 20th century, definitely the most important religious event of this period. It is said to have had a tremendous impact, not only on Catholics but on everybody else as well. It has been compared to President John F. Kennedy's assassination, to man landing on the moon, to Galileo's trial, and similar events. Why? What changes did it bring about that could have caused such an uproar?

Instead of a comprehensive list of the changes that Vatican II imposed (not even my article could be comprehensive), I would like to mention the ones that I thought were most visible and controversial. The first ones I'd like to notice are: the permission of the use of vernacular languages instead of Latin during the liturgy; allowing lay people to participate in Mass in different roles, including that of playing instruments never before allowed in church, like the guitar, for example; and the loosening of restrictions that regulated the Catholic calendar, like that of abstaining from eating meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all the Fridays of Lent); and the recognition of nuns' rights to occasionally leave the convent in lay women's clothes to spend time with family and friends and "get involved in social justice campaigns and educating other women."

I start with these council decisions because they remind me of experiences I had in my childhood: seeing my grand-uncle (who was a priest) officiating Mass in Latin in the temple of the "Sagrada Familia" in Barcelona (I must have been 5 or 6 at that time); a flashback of a birthday party I attended when I was a teenager on Good Friday in which meat was served because the hosts had purchased an indulgence at their church (this took place at a small town north of Barcelona); and, finally, a very few childhood memories of one of my aunts dressing like a nun before she left the convent and devoted herself to minister to people in need. I would be very interested in hearing similar experiences that other WAISers may have had during the period following Vatican II.

The other topic I would like to bring to light regards the council's decision not to allow women any means of birth control other than the "rhythm method." The discussion of this subject was very heated, and it lasted a long time. However, what struck me the most in researching this topic is the fact that, in order to reach a decision, two commissions were created: a big one composed of 68 cardinals and bishops (assisted by a large number of consultants), and a smaller one of 20 members to watch them closely, led by Cardinal Ottaviani, the most conservative cardinal of the council. The big commission voted overwhelmingly in favor of allowing the use of contraceptives (64 to 4), supported by a considerable number of theologians, legal experts, doctors (including obstetricians), sociologists, and married couples. They drafted a document that had to go through the smaller commission and be approved by them before it could be presented to the pope. The smaller commission approved it by a slight majority: six of the prelates abstained, eight voted in favor of recommending the report to the pope, and six voted against it.

Most of the prelates involved were very happy with the results. However, Cardinal Ottaviani was not, so he secretly contacted the four dissenters of the smaller commission, and asked them to draft a third document defending their position using the strongest terms possible. In the meantime, the majority of the members of the big commission departed towards their respective countries of origin, convinced that their arguments and majority vote guaranteed the pope's decision. While they were gone, Ottaviani manipulated four cardinals who shared his view on contraception (Cicognani, Browne, Parente, and Samore) into regularly visiting Paul VI to pressure him into dismissing the commissions' recommendations. In view of all this pressure, the pope retired to Castel Gandolfo to meditate and study the situation before he made a decision. There, on his desk, was a letter written by Albino Luciani in which he methodically made the case for the use of contraception. Paul had previously read the letter and praised it. You would think the pope would endorse the recommendation of the majority. Well, he did not: he ended up siding with the dissident minority of the four cardinals that had been pressured by Ottaviani. The result of this decision was Humanae Vitae, which would be published on July 25, 1968. In this document, the pope "declared that the only methods of birth control that the Church considered acceptable were abstinence and the rhythm method: ' . . . in any use whatever of marriage there must be no impairment of its natural capacity to procreate human life.'" (Yallop 28-29)

Of course, millions of Catholics ignored the decision, but others tried to follow it. Regardless, the pope's decision was very vivid in the minds of young couples when they were entertaining the idea of using birth control.

So, what are your recollections? I would love to hear from you. I hope this post triggers some fascinating posts.

By the way, if you are interested in reading the documents produced by the council, the Vatican has a website that includes a ton of their documents. Here is the site to Vatican II texts:



Yallop, David A,  In God's Name. An Investigation into the Murder of Pope John Paul I. Toronto: Bantam Books, 1984.

JE comments:   I never knew about Luciani's central role in the Vatican II contraception debate.  Enrique, do you believe that as pope, John Paul I would have reversed the policy?  Might this also explain why some of the Church's darker elements wanted him gone?

Enrique Torner's longer essay will appear soon on the WAIS Publicaitons page.  I'll post an announcement when it's available.

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  • Albino Luciani and Cardinal Ottaviani (Edward Jajko, USA 08/05/18 4:40 AM)

    Enrique Torner's latest posting, on Vatican II, calls for a detailed response--might I call on the old Catholic phrase "a syllabus of errors"?

    But for now, as I am traveling and busy, I must acknowledge an error of my own. I have been puzzled why JE never posted my response to Enrique's earlier post on John Paul I, and have found that, possibly because I was busy with events at home, I never pushed the send button. So here is a revision of my response to Enrique's first post, on Pope John Paul I.

    More comments about Enrique Torner's posting about his new research project later, but for now only this: in addition to honoring his immediate papal predecessors John XXIII and Paul VI by taking their names, the patriarch of Venice Albino Luciani honored his city as well with his new name. One of the main churches of Venice, dating back to the 1200s, resting place of many doges and others of importance, is the basilica of the 4th century Roman martyrs John and Paul--Santi Giovanni e Paolo, united as one in the Venetian colloquial: San Zanipolo.

    As for the "murder" of Albino Luciani, imaginative theories and speculations abound, but that is all there is. I am intrigued by the story that Cardinal Ottaviani conspired to induce Paul VI to change the will of the Council in the matter of artificial birth control. My understanding has been that the pope pulled this decision away from the Council and its periti and lay advisers on his own. That he may have done so because of Ottaviani is something I will have to try to verify in the books I have at home.

    Ottaviani nevertheless remains a favorite figure for having uttered one of the great lines of Vatican II. He was chairing or participating in a discussion of the rights of "separated" brethren and non-Roman Catholics, and was apparently growing increasingly irritated by the references to the rights of those people. When someone finally asked Ottaviani something like, what about the rights of these people, his response was, "Error has no rights."

    JE comments:  I doubt Christ would agree, but give Ottaviani points for the "zing."  Wikipedia tells us that Ottaviani was nearly blind at the time of Vatican II, and he was assisted by a young conservative firebrand, Joseph Ratzinger (later Benedict XVI).

    My unanswered, although admittedly uninformed, question on the "murder" of John Paul I is why the evil cabal responsible would have allowed his election in the first place.  Isn't it easier to rig an election than to kill a pope?

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    • Contraception and the Catholic Church: Brazil (Istvan Simon, USA 08/05/18 3:07 PM)
      I found Enrique Torner's post on Vatican II most interesting, and very worthwhile reading, and I also await the always substantial further comments of my friend Ed Jajko (4 and 5 August, respectively).

      I hesitated to add my voice on this, because I think that commenting on other people's religions is always fraught with peril and involves the danger of being misunderstood. I will make just the briefest of remarks regarding the decision of Vatican II to forbid contraception, and hope my remarks will not offend anyone.

      Let me start by saying that I don't know if this is true or not, but nonetheless I speculate that this decision may have led to the precipitous decline of followers of the Catholic Church in countries like Brazil, a country I am very familiar with.

      Brazil was an overwhelmingly Catholic country when I first arrived in the country in 1957. It still was so at the time of Vatican II, and even much later. But it is a fact that it is no longer so. Brazil has become increasingly Protestant, with millions of people abandoning the Catholic Church in favor of what appears to be more tolerant flavors of Christianity.

      The moral values and beliefs of Brazilians, whether Catholic or not, also have changed remarkably in the last 50 years or so. When I became I teenager, it was fairly accepted that "good girls" would marry virgin. Today to find a virgin in Brazil one would need the lantern of Diogenes.

      I personally welcome this development, and consider it very healthy and sound, but I wonder how the Catholic Church sees it. This change in general attitudes I think contributed to the decline of the influence of the Catholic Church, that came to be viewed as increasingly irrelevant in people's lives. Another factor, that also contributed in my opinion was Liberation Theology, in my view a major mistake of the Catholic Church in Latin America.

      Many of the adherents of Liberation Theology, Frei Beto for example, and many others, were simply admitted Marxists, which is incompatible with moral values. The Church should have stayed away from the economic organization of society, and while it is perfectly appropriate to comment on economic issues from the moral point of view, the job of changing society is best left to society itself, and priests should have stayed out of it. In Brazil they did not, and the results were disastrous both for the Catholic Church, and did not help the lot of the poor either.

      I would like to recall here a joke uttered by Earl Butz, the Secretary of Agriculture under President Nixon on the matter of contraception and the Pope. He made the remark a few years after the Vatican II council, and caused such a furor that he had to resign. Nonetheless, there is much truth in his joke.

      Regarding contraception and the Pope, Secretary Butz said:

      "He no playa the game, he no makea the rules..."

      JE comment:  Ah, the infamous, colorful Earl Butz.  He never told a joke that didn't cause an uproar.  His passing in 2008 somehow went unnoticed on WAIS. 

      Regarding Liberation Theology, I've always understood the opposite of what Istvan Simon suggests above.  The clampdown on LT under John Paul II is commonly cited as a reason for the defection of millions of poor Latin Americans, who saw the Church as turning its back on their earthly concerns.  Evangelical groups filled in the gaps.

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      • Wit and Wisdom of Earl Butz: A Correction (David Duggan, USA 08/06/18 4:40 AM)

        I hate to correct someone, but Earl Butz was still Secretary of Agriculture under Pres. Ford.

        And the "no playa the game" (see Istvan Simon, 5 August) comment came two years before his resignation, which was prompted rather by his comment uttered in the presence of Pat Boone, Sonny Bono, and Watergate turncoat John Dean on board a commercial flight following the 1976 Republican National Convention as to why blacks did not vote for the party of Lincoln. Dean published it in a Rolling Stone article without attribution, but another journalist sleuthed out the identity.

        JE comments:  Earl was the Butz of jokes during the remainder of the '70s.  A thought:  Butz may have been the first US politician to destroy his career with a politically incorrect remark.  Just a decade earlier, LBJ (the original Johnson?) was notorious for sex and penis jokes, but the Old Boys' network of journalists raised no protest.

        Was l'Affaire Butz the beginning of the Modern Era?

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        • The Earl Butz Joke (Istvan Simon, USA 08/07/18 6:51 AM)
          David Duggan (6 August) is right. I mis-remembered the joke that led to Earl Butz's resignation. It was indeed not the "no playa the game" joke but rather a later joke about the supposed preference of African American citizens for "good sex, loose shoes, and a warm place to defecate." This is a paraphrase of what Butz actually said--he used more colorful language to convey the same idea.

          Come to think of it, I believe that probably all citizens, regardless of the color of their skin, would agree that these three conditions are desirable for a happy life.

          JE comments:  This discussion thread started out in the "Christianity" drawer...and look where we are now!  I'm still curious if Butz was the first victim of political correctness in American politics.  Can anyone think of a politician prior to Butz who ended his career with a racist or sexist remark?  James Watt, Interior Secretary under Reagan, would be next in the Butz Hall of Shame with his "a black, a woman, two Jews and a cripple" screamer.

          David Duggan (next) follows up on Butz's "earthy" humor.

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        • Dave Butz (David Duggan, USA 08/07/18 7:13 AM)
          Earl Butz was the uncle of NFL All-Pro defensive tackle, Dave Butz, a proud alumnus of Maine South High School in Park Ridge, Illinois (Hillary's alma mater), former state high school discus champion (joining Chicago Bears legend Mike Pyle in that pantheon), a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, and of the "Killer Bees," the Washington Redskins' linemen of the 1980s which won two Super Bowls.

          Following SB XXII, he proclaimed during the parade, "We came, we saw, we kicked their Butz." He's now a consultant for the NRA, and evidently gets his earthy sense of humor genetically.

          JE comments: And the funniest Butz of all, Seymour, must be lurking somewhere in that illustrious family...

          What exactly does a consultant for the NRA do?

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    • More on John Paul I and Contraception (Enrique Torner, USA 08/08/18 9:55 AM)
      I would like to start by thanking the kind compliments my last post received from Gary Moore and Istvan Simon, as well as their reactions and Edward Jajko's (August 5th). All of you (and, as usual, our dear editor, who graciously agreed to publish my long essay on the WAIS website, which will answer a few of the questions arisen from my initial post) came up with great questions that I will love to answer, but I'd better space them out in two different posts so I don't overwhelm you.

      I will start by answering John Eipper's questions to my initial post because, after all, he was the first in the line! He asked me if I believe that, as pope, John Paul I would have reversed the doctrine on contraception. My answer is easy: Absolutely! I am convinced of it because of his love for and experience with the poor, not only at home and around his town, but in Burundi, which he visited in 1962 (to found a mission), and from 16 August to 1 September 1966. In Burundi, he witnessed "the prevalent poverty, strife and disease of the area" and was struck by "the high birth-rate and the high infant mortality rate." (Spackman 57) Paul Spackman, one of the few biographers of Albino Luciani (I have only found three, one of them in Italian), recalls that "questions concerning the population explosion and the attendant issues of birth control and abortion were becoming increasingly prevalent in the 1960s amongst both Catholics and non-Catholics." (57) Actually, on May 22 of 1978 (the year of the 3 popes), Italy would legalize abortion, with voters upholding the law in a 1981 referendum.

      Given the problem of overpopulation, "[in] March 1963 Pope John had set up an advisory Pontifical Commission on Population, Family and Birth. 'Artificial' Birth control . . . was one of the major issues that it was to study." (57) His encounter with the Third World produced a deep impression in him, and he ended up twinning his town of Vittorio Veneto with Kiremba, a small town in Burundi (Yallop 22). It's this global population explosion--in great part because of lack of birth control--that led Luciani to espouse contraception in cases where fertility "is" a problem!

      Another reason why Luciani was in favor of contraceptives is that one of his brothers, Edoardo, was married and "was struggling to earn enough to support an ever-growing family that eventually numbered ten children." (Yallop 27) The Luciani family had been raised in Forno di Canale, a small village with barely one thousand inhabitants up in the Italian Dolomites at the confluence of the Liera and Bois rivers, with very humble means. His father, Giovanni, started working at "a very dangerous job on a red lead farm on the island of Murano in the lagoon of Venice. The crystalline powder, toxic when ingested, was used in the manufacture of the lead glass used by the famous glass-blowing industry on the island." Giovanni would escape from these toxic fumes in spring and return on the onset of winter, "working in Austria, Switzerland, Germany, and France as a bricklayer, engineer, mechanic or electrician!" (Spackman 3) In 1913 he migrated to Argentina in search of better employment, hoping to earn and save enough money to afford having his wife--Bortola--and little Albino join him. However, the outbreak of WWI in Europe in August 1914 led Giovanni to return home.

      As a result of all his experiences in other countries, Giovanni became an anticlerical socialist. Looking at a photo of him taken at this time, his son Edoardo would later joke with his sister that their father looked like Stalin! (Spackman 4) Giovanni's views caused him friction with Bortola, who was a highly devout Catholic: "She attended Mass, received Communion and said her Rosary every day, and had at one time considered entering a convent as a nun. Such regular attendance at Mass made a deep impression on little Albino." (4) Spackman describes their home as a 3-story building "partly converted from a barn. Its one source of heating was an old wood-burning stove that heated the room where Albino was born. The house had two gardens with common flowers, herbs and vegetables. The family diet consisted of polenta (corn meal), barley, macaroni and any vegetables that were available. Meat was a rare luxury; on special occasions there might be a dessert of carfoni (pastry full of ground poppy seeds). It was not until 1923 that the Luciani family first had white bread in the house; it was brought back up the steep track from the nearby village of Cencenighe with something approaching reverence." (5)

      With all this information, I don't mean to say that experiencing poverty leads someone to support the use of contraception. It is the constant experience and witness of poverty and the realization that birth control could have prevented parents from conceiving more children than they could afford. That's why Luciani favored birth control under special circumstances and studied the subject in depth, consulting not only with all kinds of experts in the field but with married couples as well. And that's the reason why, when Paul VI asked for the opinions of various regions of Italy and the patriarch of Venice, Cardinal Urbani, called a meeting of all the bishops within the region, after it was over, it was unanimously decided that Luciani should draw up the report. (Yallop 26-27) Luciani was such a good defender of birth control that Spackman even asserts that "some Italian wits referred to him as 'the bishop of the pill'." (59)

      I want to emphasize that this doesn't mean that Luciani didn't value life or conception. Quite on the contrary! He just wanted to prevent couples from experiencing such poverty that it might lead to malnutrition, or even death, besides living a life of misery. Proof of this is that, after Louise Joy Brown, the first test-tube baby, was born through in-vitro fertilization in Oldham, England, on July 25, 1978, exactly one month before he was elected, Luciani was elated. Just three days before Paul VI's death, he had been interviewed by the Rome newspaper Prospettive nel Mondo about this subject, even though the article was not printed until after his election. Yallop describes this interview at some length, and declares that Luciani made it clear from the beginning that what he was going to say were just his personal opinions, "because he, like everyone else, 'waited to hear what the authentic teaching of the Church would be when the experts had been consulted.' . . . In the interview Luciani expressed qualified enthusiasm about the birth. He indicated concern about the possibility of 'baby factories,' a prophetic concern in view of current events in California, where women are lining up to be impregnated with the sperm of Nobel Prize winners." Yallop quotes Luciani's words addressing the baby's parents:

      Following the example of God, who desires and loves human life, I too send my best wishes to the baby. As for her parents, I have no right to condemn them; subjectively, if they acted with good intentions and in good faith, they may even have great merit before God for what they have decided and asked the doctors to do. (204-205)

      Naturally, when members of the Curia discovered the article after Luciani had already been elected pope, they were horrified! Villot, in particular, was even more afraid that Luciani was about to dismantle the Church's Canon Law. Yallop explains what happened next: "Discreet meetings were held. It was clear to those who attended these meetings that Luciani had to be stopped. They talked airily of 'the betrayal of Paul,' which was in essence an elegant way of saying, 'I disagree.'" (205) When a few days later some of these Curia members found out that a secret meeting between the US State Department and the new pope to discuss world population and birth control was being arranged for some time in October, they realized that the situation was now urgent.

      On Tuesday, September 19, secretary of state Villot was discussing Humanae Vitae with the now pope John Paul I in his study. Villot had reaffirmed Paul's opposition to artificial contraception, while Luciani had been calmly describing the negative effects the encyclical already had caused all over the world: "In Belgium, Holland, Germany, Britain, the United States, and many other countries there had not only been marked opposition to the encyclical but also marked disobedience. The maxim had rapidly become that if one priest did not take a tolerant attitude within the confessional, the sinner shopped around for a more liberated priest." (Yallop 171) Luciani pointed out that "world population had increased by over 750 million." Their discussion was tense and I believe this may have been the ultimate trigger for Villot's "final decision" (quotation marks are mine, and I believe Villot was somehow involved in the plot to murder the pope). I can't but finish this topic quoting Luciani's final words to Villot when the latter was about to leave the room, because I consider them very meaningful and strong:

      Eminence, we have been discussing birth control for about forty-five minutes. If the information I have been given, the various statistics, if that information is accurate, then during the period of time we have been talking, over one thousand children under the age of five have died of malnutrition. During the next forty-five minutes while you and I look forward with anticipation to our next meal a further thousand children will die of malnutrition. By this time tomorrow thirty thousand children who at this moment are alive, will be dead-of malnutrition. God does not always provide.

      Right after this sarcastic remark by Luciani, Yallop adds: "The secretary of state for the Vatican was apparently unable to find an adequate exit line." (171-172) So, did I make my case for some elements of the Curia to be resentful enough to desire to "want him gone," as John said? Well, contraception was just one reason for them (and others I haven't mentioned yet) to want to get rid of him soon. Other reasons dealt with other religious aspects, while others were financial, social, political, and the plain desire to remain rich, in power or control and/or to survive! Details will be described--as I said before--in a future post.

      My next post will address the questions from Edward Jajko, Gary Moore, and Istvan Simon, I hope.

      PS: There is one last biography on John Paul I that I haven't been able to get and read because it was just published towards the end of last year in Italy, and is not available in the US yet: Stefania Falasca, Papa Luciani, Cronaca di una morte. Piemme, 2017. Could any of my dear Italian WAISers help me get it?


      Spackman, Paul. God's Candidate. The Life and Times of Pope John Paul I. Herefordshire, England: Gracewing, 2008.

      Yallop, David A. In God's Name. An Investigation into the Murder of Pope John Paul I. Toronto: Bantam Books, 1984.

      JE comments:  Enrique's longer essay will be uploaded shortly to the WAIS "publications" page.  I'll post the announcement when it's available.

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  • Buying Indulgences in the 1960s? A Question from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 08/05/18 5:23 AM)

    Gary Moore writes:

    Reading Enrique Torner's (August 4) multi-faceted and very interesting
    essay on Vatican II, I had meant to simply absorb, but a comment
    buried in the middle pokes me into voice:

    In the 1960s in Spain
    (and hence everywhere?), Catholics were still purchasing indulgences
    for incidentals like eating meat at a party on a Friday? Shades of
    Martin Luther! And yet in this same Church, as Enrique describes,
    nuns were beginning to get permission to leave the convent in
    civvies and do 1960s-style social justice work? What a tumult.

    JE comments:  Interesting question.  What was the price of Friday flesh, and more to the point, what was done with the money?  The Big Mac Index takes on new meaning.  (And guess what fast-food staple turns 50 this weekend?  Oops, I telegraphed the answer.)

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  • Vatican II: Response to Enrique Torner (Edward Jajko, USA 08/12/18 8:40 AM)

    Here are my comments on Enrique Torner (ET's) posting of August 4, 2018, on Vatican II
    and various of its conciliar decisions.

    ET wrote:
    Instead of a comprehensive list of the changes that Vatican II imposed (not even my article could be comprehensive), I would like to mention the ones that I thought were most visible and controversial. The first ones I'd like to notice are: the permission of the use of vernacular languages instead of Latin during the liturgy.

    My response (EAJ):
    This was a momentous change in the practice of the Church, and in some
    respects a baby-and-bathwater change.
    Technically, Latin remains the official language of the Church,
    although few priests seem to study it these days. I have occasionally
    corrected the Latin of priests. The official text of Sacred Scripture
    remains the Latin Vulgate of St Jerome. There is a Vatican office
    charged with the continuing updating and refinement of the Vulgate.
    The unofficial working language of the Vatican is Italian, this being
    a post-Conciliar development.
    Local authorities were charged with devising translations of the
    liturgies of the Church and also choosing a translation of the Bible
    for use in the liturgies. In the US, the United States Conference of
    Catholic Bishops chose the New American Bible. This text seems to be
    under constant revision. As for the liturgies, the International
    Commission on English in the Liturgy was established by the Vatican to
    devise an English-language liturgy for the Anglophone world. This
    commission, under the leadership of a Scottish bishop, did good work
    but annoyed some people by, for example, taking into account the
    beautifully worded liturgies of the Church of England, which has
    centuries of experience using the language. The work of the ICEL was
    summarily taken over by the Vatican and placed under the control of a
    cardinal who knows no English. Some eight years ago a clunky
    English-language liturgy of the Mass was imposed on American Catholics
    by the USCCB. The Vatican office that devised it had as its basic
    principle adherence to the text of the Latin Mass. I am angered at
    each Mass I go to by a) how bad and inaccurate the translation is and
    b) the passivity of my fellow Catholics, who have accepted the new
    liturgy as, as the Jews would say, Torah min ha-shamayim. That is to
    say, the Vatican has spoken.

    I said this was a baby-and-bathwater change. The Trappists--Cistercians of the Strict Observance--who once kept silent most of
    the time but had a tradition of beautiful Gregorian chant that went
    back to early medieval times, decided to throw away that tradition in
    favor of a sort of chant in the local language. I have heard Anglican
    chant, and it is quite beautiful and uplifting. I have hear modern
    Trappist chant, and it is awful.
    There is a sad irony in the Church's permission of the right to use
    the local language in its most sacred liturgies. In the early 1600s,
    Fr Matteo Ricci and his fellow Jesuit missionaries in China petitioned
    the then mostly Italian Vatican for permission to translate the Mass
    and other liturgies into Chinese, because the Mandarins they were
    working to convert could not grasp the Latin. The Vatican refused,
    because the Latin was of essential. So the Jesuit mission floundered
    and failed. China could have been Catholic had the Vatican shown more

    ET: Allowing lay people to participate in Mass in different roles, including that of playing instruments never before allowed in church, like the guitar, for example...

    In Austria in 1818, “Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht” or “Silent Night” by
    Fr Joseph Mohr and Franz Gruber, was written to be sung in church with
    guitar accompaniment. The significant addition of a role of the laity
    in the Mass was as readers from Scripture (but not the Gospel) and
    communion ministers. Members of the laity were also allowed to bear the Blessed Sacrament to the sick and homebound.

    ET: And the loosening of restrictions that regulated the Catholic calendar, like that of abstaining from eating meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all the Fridays of Lent...

    Here Enrique misspeaks. It is the other way around. The obligation of
    abstinence from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and the Fridays of
    Lent remains in force. The former obligation of abstaining from meat
    on all other Fridays of the year was the one that was lifted. Local
    ordinaries--bishops, archbishops, cardinals--also have the right
    or power, as they always have had, to decree the suspension of
    abstinence on certain days (for example, when St. Patrick's day falls
    on a Friday in Lent).

    ET: And the recognition of nuns' rights to occasionally leave the convent in lay women's clothes to spend time with family and friends and "get involved in social justice campaigns and educating other women."

    I don't understand Enrique here. One result of Vatican II was the
    decision of many, but not all, orders of nuns to abandon their
    traditional habits, i.e., the special clothing they wore, and to adopt
    modern dress, albeit conservative. The nuns' habits were a remnant of
    medieval times. They were the clearest and most obvious sign of status
    as a nun, but were in many ways a hindrance. This was undoubtedly done
    on purpose, by the men of the Curia whose clothing allowed greater
    freedom. But it was dangerous. Nuns were traditionally among the worst
    drivers; they had too much cloth hindering them and their veils cut
    off peripheral vision. But with Vatican II, many, perhaps most, orders
    of nuns abandoned their traditional habits. It was not for the
    specific reasons Enrique lists--unless the Spanish Church was
    different--but to adapt to the modern world in which the nuns lived.
    Some nuns and orders kept a quasi habit, a shortened dress and a
    trimmed veil. Others scrapped their traditions in their entirety.
    There was and is no rule across the Church, save for modesty. The
    modernized dress allows nuns to participate in many activities of
    ordinary life, teaching, working in business, and running parishes.
    I think it is interesting to say the least that Muslim women in the
    world of Islam, from North African through to Afghanistan, either
    retain or have adopted forms of dress that are similar to nuns'
    habits, i.e., medieval garb.

    I start with these council decisions because they remind me of experiences I had in my childhood: seeing my grand-uncle (who was a priest) officiating Mass in Latin in the temple of the "Sagrada Familia" in Barcelona (I must have been 5 or 6 at that time); a flashback of a birthday party I attended when I was a teenager on Good Friday in which meat was served because the hosts had purchased an indulgence at their church (this took place at a small town north of Barcelona); and, finally, a very few childhood memories of one of my aunts dressing like a nun before she left the convent and devoted herself to minister to people in need. I would be very interested in hearing similar experiences that other WAISers may have had during the period following Vatican II.

    Surely this is simply careless wording. Whatever the history of the
    Reformation may have been, one cannot buy an indulgence in or from
    the Church. First of all, an "indulgence" as a technical term in
    religion is a remission of temporal punishment in Purgatory. I won't
    go into the reasons why indulgences can be granted. But they can't be
    bought (they couldn't, in pre-Reformation days either; that was a
    scam). They have to be earned. As for what happened with Enrique's
    family, perhaps permission was sought--the lay meaning of
    "indulgence"--to consume the meat on a day of abstinence. I was once
    the organizer of a luncheon at the Hoover Institution for a conference
    in Persian studies when, partway through the meal, I realized that it
    was Good Friday, and did my best to limit myself to the salads and
    other non-meat dishes. But I saw, on the other side of the room, a
    couple of Christian Brothers from St. Mary's College, who had
    accompanied the primary speaker and host, a member of their faculty
    and an Iranian, happily consuming whatever was on the table, whether
    meat or not. When in Rome, I suppose.
    As for the aunt who was a nun, dressing like a nun before leaving the
    convent, well, what can one say? How else would she have dressed,
    assuming that her order had not abandoned the nun's habit?

    Of course, millions of Catholics ignored the decision, but others tried to follow it. Regardless, the pope's decision was very vivid in the minds of young couples when they were entertaining the idea of using birth control.

    There is, in the Roman Catholic Church, something that the Vatican,
    Curia, etc., do not stress. It is known as the Doctrine of the
    Reception of Doctrine. Reception of Doctrine means that the faithful
    accept a teaching of the Church. Something similar to this is found on
    American highways, every hour of every day. The posted speed limit may
    be 55 miles an hour. How fast do drivers go? Whatever the posted speed
    limits may be on American highways, drivers tend to drive faster,
    unless they see or are pulled over by police. The official speed limit
    is the Doctrine--which means teaching--and the reception of that
    doctrine is shown in the general disregard of drivers. It's the same
    thing in the Church. The teaching, the doctrine, is that people should
    abstain from premarital sexual relations and that those who are
    married should, if they wish to limit the size of their families, use
    natural forms of birth control rather than artificial kinds. But the
    practice of Catholics shows that this doctrine has not been accepted,
    not received. It is therefore effectively a dead letter. At some
    point, a pope, perhaps the Francis who stresses mercy, may abolish it,
    to ease the consciences of the faithful.

    JE comments:  Ed, were the Church of England liturgies rejected because they sounded too old-fashioned, or because they sounded too Anglican?  This sounds like a missed opportunity for some healthy ecumenism.  David Duggan is WAIsdom's expert on all things Episcopalian.  I hope he'll comment.

    As for correcting a priest's Latin...how does one do that diplomatically?

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    • Buying Indulgences in 1960s' Spain (Enrique Torner, USA 08/17/18 7:46 AM)

      Gary Moore naturally reacted when he read in my post that in the 1960s in Spain, we could buy an indulgence during Lent so we could eat meat on Ash Wednesday or on a particular Friday.

      In a more recent post, Edward Jajko gently tried to correct me, saying that an indulgence is a document made to reduce somebody's time in Purgatory, and that I must have meant to use another word. Actually, the meaning of "indulgence" has changed over the centuries, and, in addition, there are and have been several types of indulgences. Finally, to top it off, for a long time, Spain was granted a very special indulgence called "The Indulgence of the Holy Crusade," which, in turn, was the origin of a variety of indulgences.

      Contrary to what most people think, indulgences are not a thing of the past. Proof of this is that some bishops requested that the Second Vatican Council clarify their meaning and practice. In 1963, Paul VI requested that a commission be established to study the subject, but the council did not get to hear the report until the very end, in 1965. It was not until January 1, 1967 that Paul VI finally issued the apostolic constitution Indulgentiarum Doctrina, a long instruction that was a modest reworking of the medieval teaching on indulgences. The definition he offered was the following: "An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven." If you want to read the whole text, here's the link:


      Canon Law, of course, has a chapter devoted to indulgences that I bet our friend and colleague David Duggan knows very well:


      As I mentioned earlier, Spain had its own unique set of indulgences. "La Bula de la Santa Cruzada" (this is the original Spanish name; I'm not sure if my English translation is what English-speaking historians call it) was granted by Pope Julius II to the Catholic Kings of Spain Ferdinand and Isabella in 1509 following the example of Popes Urban II (1088-1099) and Innocent III (1179-1180), who granted a plenary indulgence to all the soldiers who volunteered to fight in the Holy Crusades. The next popes continued granting the indulgence, which would take on different functions and subsequently acquire different names, like "bula de carne" (indulgence to eat meat), "bula de composición" (granted to those who had taken somebody else's property, if its owner was unknown), "bula de lacticinios" (which allowed its owner to eat milk products), "bula de difuntos" (to apply a particular indulgence to a dead relative or friend), and others. These indulgences were granted under certain conditions: they were only applicable for a limited period of time; and the donations were supposed to benefit local churches. So, in a way, Edward Jajko was right: indulgences may not be bought. However, stating that they are earned would not be accurate either. It's all a matter of language: "I'll give you an indulgence so you may eat meat this Friday for a charitable donation of $10!" A donation? Well...

      These Spanish indulgences were officially terminated by the Spanish Episcopal Conference in 1966, but, as I mentioned in my last post, at least the "meat indulgences" were still given by churches in the early ‘70s, obviously unofficially (typical Spanish!), if not fraudulently, in exchange for a charitable donation. As recently as 2013, the Spanish newspaper ABC had an article entitled "Bulas a peseta para comer carne en Cuaresma" (Indulgences for 1 "peseta" -the Spanish equivalent to a cent in the 1960s--so you may eat meat during Lent) that explains the history of these indulgences, and even includes a picture of a religious procession that took place in Madrid in 1918. Here is the link:


      In case you would like to see an up-close picture of one of these indulgences, I am attaching one dated from 1957 (see below). If you would like to own an original of 1918 signed by Benedict XV, if you can wait until August 20, you could buy one for only 18 euros here:


      I wonder if it still works! Oh, and one more historical fact, to, more or less, answer our dear editor's question "What was the price of Friday's meat in Spain back in the 60s?": I couldn't find the exact answer, but, in 1966, Spaniards spent 11% of their mean salary on meat, while, in 2016, they only spent 3.6%!


      JE comments:  I love old, yellowed papers.  This one is called an "indulto" (forgiveness or amnesty) and not an indulgence per se.  The difference in legal terms may be crucial.

      To the best of my calculation and 3 minutes of Googling, 5 pesetas (one "duro") in 1957 is €1.42 today, or around U$1.60.  The document is careful to call this fee a "limosna" (charitable donation).  See the stamp in the lower right corner.

      I'd also like to call WAISer attention to Enrique Torner's extended essay, "The Second Vatican Council," which is now available on the WAIS publications page.  Scroll down to the final entry.  And while you're at it, check out our thirteen other monograph-length publications, including Prof. Hilton's celebrated memoirs:


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      • Buying Indulgences: Philippines (Francisco Ramirez, USA 08/18/18 4:35 AM)
        The indulgence given to Spain (Enrique Torner, 17 August) also applied to its colonies. Growing up in the Philippines meant that meat was not prohibited during Lent.

        So, what happens when you go to a country where the prohibition is in place? I chose to do as the "Romans" did when I showed up in 1967. My cousin at Holy Cross (in the early sixties) assumed that the indulgence was not land-limited but traveled with the person, like a passport.

        JE comments:  I bet your cousin went into law, Francisco!  The 1957 "indulto" we saw yesterday is quite clear, however:  it applies to the faithful residents of Spain and "other territories subject to Spanish domination," as long as said individuals "avoid scandal."  Not sure what that means--firing up your Weber Kettle on the church steps?

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      • Post-Vatican II Liturgy and Anglican Liturgy (David Duggan, USA 08/21/18 3:04 PM)

        I have been asked to comment on whether the post-Vatican II Roman Catholic clergy bridled at the use of Anglican liturgies because "they sounded too old-fashioned or because they sounded too Anglican."

        I hazard to answer because 1) I am not a liturgist and know little of the Roman Catholic forms; 2) I do not know all the differences between the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer (often referred to as the 1662 book) and the Book of Common Prayer used in "The Episcopal Church" (formerly the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, but renamed because churches in Honduras and the Virgin Islands fall within the USA's "province" for purposes of governance under the world-wide "Anglican Communion"); and 3) the differences seem to be based on theological issues that have largely been cast aside in the Church's never-ending quest to seem relevant to the modern age. This much I can say, however, based in part on my near life-long worship in Episcopal parishes in this country (never abroad, I have to confess), in part on my curbside research into the various forms, and in part on my undoubted preference for the language of the archaic prayer books.

        First, a primer on liturgies. So far as can be determined, the early church did not have a common (i.e., adopted throughout the several churches) form of liturgy, i.e., an order for worship to be followed by priest and people. But thanks to Jesus' words recounted in the synoptic Gospels (Matt. 26:26-28; Mark 14: 22-24; Luke 22: 19-20; curiously not in John, but see John 6: 53-56), the early church remembered Jesus' last supper with the words, "Take, eat, this is my body given for you," and "Drink ye all of this, for this is my blood of the new covenant, shed for you and for many." See also I Corinthians 11: 23-26, Paul's exhortation to Christians to do as the Lord commanded. In the 4th century CE, St. Basil wrote out a form of liturgy for the Eucharist which, at least in its current English translation, sounds familiar. Among other things his prayer of consecration includes an "oblation" by which the elements (bread and wine) are asked to be blessed for our use, and that we be dedicated to be a "holy and living sacrifice" unto God.

        Fast forward some 1200 years, and in 1549, Thomas Cranmer, Henry Tudor's last Archbishop of Canterbury concocted the first modern prayer book, incorporating an order of worship for Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Holy Communion to be used throughout the realm (and not just by nobles or literates). Apart from the collects (prayers for each week of the liturgical--or church--year) it is impossible to know how much Cranmer actually wrote, and there are signs that he incorporated aspects of the Sarum (Salisbury) Rite, along with Lutheran rites on the continent (his wife was a German whom he had met as Henry's ambassador to the Holy Roman Empire). Still, the prayer of consecration, particularly that said when the host and wine are presented to the believer, bears undoubted allegiance to the continental reformers who were opposed to the "hocus-pocus" (a corruption of "in haec corpus," in this body) idea of "transubstantiation," that the priest's incantation converts the bread and wine to literal flesh and blood: "The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and be thankful."

        For 100 years, there were wild gyrations of the English prayer book, as the faith oscillated between being governed by the reformers, and those who would establish an English papacy. But in 1662, two years after the Stuart Restoration, a new prayer book was adopted which is in substantial form with that in use today. As I read the English liturgy, gone are the elements of oblation: that we are offering these gifts of bread and wine in remembrance of Christ's "blessed passion and precious death, his mighty resurrection and glorious ascension...," along with the invocation that we "may be partakers of his most blessed body and blood." For whatever it is worth, most forms of the liturgy in use in the Episcopal Church USA omit both of these recitations (although it is preserved in one of the six). The Episcopal BCP, significantly revised in 1976 from the 1928 version which I learned and committed much to memory, was up for revision at this year's General Convention of the church body. Perhaps remembering the backlash which accorded the last prayer book revisions 40 years ago, the bishops demurred.

        On two personal notes, despite Enrique Torner's suggestion that I must be very familiar with the Roman Catholic Church's canons regarding indulgences, I confess that I was unaware of them. But as I read them, it seemed that nothing had changed since 1517, except that no exchange of money is prescribed for their grant. Particularly suspect is the notion (Canon 994) that one can be "appl[ied] to the dead by way of suffrage." Martin Luther must be spinning in his grave some 500 years after Tetzel shamed the Germans into buying indulgences so that their dead relatives could be sprung from purgatory. And I have recently been to Roman Catholic masses (after an absence of some 20 years). Though there is no way to follow the priest's words (the missal in the pews does not contain the prayers), I have listened intently and heard nothing which I could not abide. Having been invited to partake as a "Catholic" (Roman not specified), I received communion. The host was the worst I ever tasted.

        JE comments:   How many of you knew the etymology of "hocus-pocus"?  Only in WAIS, my friends.  And David, in your mass you sampled what the Spaniards would call "mala hostia"--bad host, although in Spain this is an extremely vulgar way to say you're in a bad mood.

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        • Hocus-Pocus! An Etymology (Edward Jajko, USA 08/23/18 6:50 AM)
          Ah, John, not so fast. I said that I have corrected the Latin of priests. Now I offer a correction of an Episcopalian's (David Duggan, August 21st).

          The old corruption "hocus pocus" does not come from "in haec corpus." The latter is an impossible form that does not exist. (If it did, it would be "in hoc corpore," but those words were not found in the Latin Mass.) "Hocus pocus" is a corruption of the Latin words of Jesus in the Consecration of the Mass: "Hoc est enim corpus meum"--For this is my body. "Hoc est ... corpus" morphed into "hocus pocus." Why "pocus" and not "copus"? It's possibly easier to say, it rhymes, and in any event it's for the same reason that Latin "periculum" became Spanish "peligro."

          JE comments:  Yes, "periclo" and "periglo" are hard to pronounce.  Spanish does have "película" (film), however.  Languages are fond of metathesis.  Spanish-speakers often say "ariopuerto" instead of the correct mouthful aeropuerto.  And don't forget "relators" and George W's beloved "nucular."

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