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Aggiornamento (Italian pronunciation: [addʒornaˈmento], plural: aggiornamenti), "bringing up to date", was one of the key words used during the Second Vatican Council both by bishops and the clergy attending the sessions, and by the media and Vaticanologists covering it. It was used to mean throwing open the doors of the church metaphorically in order to open a dialogue with the outside world. It was the name given to the pontifical program of John XXIII in a speech he gave on 25 January 1959.


Since the pontificate of Pope Pius X,[1] the church had set itself firmly against modernism. Pope Pius XI identified the enemy as those who said that "the Roman Pontiff can and ought to come to terms with Progress, Liberalism, and the New Civilization." But Pope John XXIII had a different response to change in the modern world, to "throw open the windows of the Church so that we can see out and the people can see in."[citation needed] Bishop Christopher Butler, a participant in the Second Vatican Council and prolific author,[2] expressed this aggiornamento, as John XXIII had called it,[3] in a way that would become more evident during Francis' papacy. Butler said that the new "pastoral aim, the instinct of a charity that goes beyond all boundaries, the sense of mission not so much to human nature or the abstract human species, but to human persons and the actually existing human family, demanded that our aggiornamento should be conceived of in depth." The bishops at the Second Vatican Council, Butler explained, recognized that great changes in the human environment and world required serious adaptation of the church to respond to this new environment. The pre–Vatican II church remained fashioned after the manner of rule in the Holy Roman Empire, and in its Counter-Reformation mode.[citation needed] Such a church was, according to Butler, moving toward "monumental irrelevance". Proclamation of the gospel is the first task of the church, and so it must make this gospel intelligible and relevant to the people of each age, and now to the whole world of diverse peoples represented by their bishops at the Second Vatican Council. For this the council, in a spirit of aggiornamento, reached back "behind St Thomas himself and the Fathers, to the biblical theology which governs the first two chapters of the ''Constitution on the Church''."[4]

Before the council[edit]

Originally, as John XXIII announced in his 1959 speech, the word only referred to an update of the 1917 Code of Canon Law.[5][6] The revised Code of Canon Law was not completed until 1983, though. The term describing the canon law update was eventually broadened to refer to the larger process of church reform sought at the Second Vatican Council.

In June 1961, in an address to a group of Blessed Sacrament Fathers, John XXIII said

The ecumenical council will reach out and embrace under the widespread wings of the Catholic Church the entire heredity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Its principal task will be concerned with the condition and modernization (in Italian: aggiornamento) of the Church after 20 centuries of life. May it be that side by side with this, God will add also, through whatever edification we may offer, but above all by merit of the omnipotence of the Most High who can draw new chosen sons from the very stones, one other result: a movement toward recomposition of the whole Mystical Flock of Our Lord.[7]

Gaudium et spes[edit]

The conciliar document most often associated with the aggiornamento is Gaudium et spes. The document was not drafted before the council met, but arose from the floor of the council and was one of the last to be promulgated.

Yves Congar[edit]

French theologian Yves Congar was a lead theological consultant (peritus) during the council. Congar was monitored by Holy Office as early as the 1930s and silenced in the 1950s after the Raid on the French Dominicans.[8] His reputation recovered in 1960 when Pope John XXIII invited Congar to serve on the preparatory theological commission of the Second Vatican Council. After the pre-developed council plans were discarded by the attending bishops, Congar played a significant role in the discussions between the curial minority and the episcopal majority at the council. In November 1994, Congar was named a Cardinal by Pope John Paul II.


One of the "sign of the times" that Vatican II dealt with was that scholasticism, which dominated Catholic philosophy and theology from the 13th into the 20th century, had little appeal for the modern mind. From the late 19th century, "neo-scholasticism" was supported by the hierarchy but with diminishing success. From the period 1935 to 1960 several French and German theologians proposed going back to before scholasticism, with what was called a ressourcement approach, looking for inspiration in the early church and in the Church Fathers as interpreters of the New Testament. The term nouvelle théologie was attached to this theology, at first by those who opposed it. There was wide support for ressourcement at Vatican II. After the council, when those who were more conservative emphasized the traditionalist element in ressourcement in their journal Communio,[9] a more progressive group emphasized discontinuities and became more identified with aggiornamento, advocated in their journal Concilium.[10]

Paul VI[edit]

Paul VI went on to adopt Pope John's motto for himself, as he stated in Ecclesiam suam:

We cannot forget Pope John XXIII's word aggiornamento which We have adopted as expressing the aim and object of Our own pontificate. Besides ratifying it and confirming it as the guiding principle of the Ecumenical Council, We want to bring it to the notice of the whole Church. It should prove a stimulus to the Church to increase its ever growing vitality and its ability to take stock of itself and give careful consideration to the signs of the times, always and everywhere "proving all things and holding fast that which is good" with the enthusiasm of youth.

Conservative reaction[edit]

Some conservatives had warned about excessive progressivism and had repeated the final sentence of the 1861 Syllabus of Errors: "The Roman Pontiff can, and ought to, reconcile himself, and come to terms with progress, liberalism and modern civilization".

Cardinal Francis Spellman, who had been nominated by Pius XII, was reportedly cautious of aggiornamento and, before departing to Rome, declared, "No change will get past the Statue of Liberty." The cardinal believed that predominantly liberal clergymen were being appointed to the council's commissions, and opposed the introduction of vernacular into the Mass, saying, "The Latin language, which is truly the Catholic language, is unchangeable, is not vulgar, and has for many centuries been the guardian of the unity of the Western Church."

Pope Francis[edit]

Aggiornamenti were particularly associated with the much repeated phrase in the church in the 1960s the "sign of the times", meaning an attempt to learn from the world and read the signs of the times. Some see the time of John Paul II as a retrenchment from the solid advancements of Vatican II and the contribution of Pope Francis as "reconnecting of the church with the energy of the Second Vatican Council, the energy coming out of that council".[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Pascendi dominici gregis (die 8 Septembris anno 1907) | PIUS X". Retrieved 25 September 2019.
  2. ^ "Bibliography on Bishop B.C. Butler". Retrieved 25 September 2019.
  3. ^ "John XXIII" (PDF).
  4. ^ "Aggiornamento of Vatican II". Retrieved 25 September 2019.
  5. ^ Allocuzione con la quale il Sommo Pontefice annuncia il Sinodo Romano, il Concilio Ecumenico e l'aggiornamento del Codice di diritto Canonico Archived January 16, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ "Pope appoints commission to revise Canon Law Code" (PDF). The Criterion. 1 April 1963. Retrieved 31 October 2013.
  7. ^ "Pope speaks of unity and the Council" (PDF). The Criterion. Archdiocese of Indianapolis. 7 July 1961.
  8. ^ O'Meara, Thomas (1994). "Raid on the Dominicans: The Repression of 1954". America.
  9. ^ D'Ambrosio, Dr Marcellino (1 April 2017). "Ressourcement Theology, Aggiornamento, and the Hermeneutics of Tradition". Crossroads Initiative. Retrieved 25 September 2019.
  10. ^ Nova, Vox (30 March 2008). "Culture and Theology: The Ressourcement Movement (Part 1)". Vox Nova. Retrieved 25 September 2019.
  11. ^ "Cardinal Wuerl: Pope Francis has reconnected the church with Vatican II". America Magazine. 6 March 2017. Retrieved 10 March 2017.