How a Lutheran Saw It

Vatican II, Forty Years Later

The sixty or so delegated observers at the Second Vatican Council, of whom I was one, were a privileged lot. Catholic bishops sometimes complained, and not always humorously, that we outranked them in terms of the council’s protocol. The side door by which we entered Saint Peter’s Basilica for the daily plenary gatherings during the three months each year the council was in session was the same one the cardinals used, and like them we sat in ringside seats facing the presiding officers, they on the right, and we on the left of the high altar. The two thousand bishops, in contrast, entered by the distant front portals used by everyone, and were seated in tiers facing each other down the whole length of the central aisle. Often they could not see the speaker or presidium even by craning their necks. The perhaps equally numerous periti (experts and consultants who included some of the world’s greatest scholars) were even more disadvantaged. They were tucked away in the awkwardly placed galleries of Saint Peter’s upper reaches. Most of these periti were theologians brought along by bishops as advisors and, in some cases, writers of the Latin in which all speeches and other business of the plenary sessions were conducted. There were bishops and even some cardinals whose Latin was not up to following the proceedings, but they were not supplied with translators.

We, the delegated observers, in contrast, had...

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About the Author

George A. Lindbeck is a Lutheran theologian and professor emeritus of the Yale Divinity School.