Monash University
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John XXIII, Vatican II, and the genesis of aggiornamento: a contextual analysis of Angelo Roncalli’s works on San Carlo Borromeo in relation to late twentieth century church reform

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posted on 2017-01-15, 23:36 authored by Vodola, Max
The Catholic Church in the twentieth century underwent significant change as a result of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Vatican II was announced suddenly by Pope John XXIII only months after his election to the papacy in 1958. Given the social, cultural and political upheaval of the time, a certain polemic has emerged regarding the interpretation and historical significance of Vatican II. Pope John XXIII was a much loved figure whose peasant background, pastoral skills, warmth, simplicity and good humour were seen as perfect ingredients for a benign and much talked about ‘transitional’ papacy following the long and controversial reign of Pope Pius XII (1939-58). Apart from his obvious warmth and humour, John XXIII was an historian who brought the perspective of history to the papacy, in particular, a close study of the Council of Trent and the reforming work of San Carlo Borromeo. It is the contention of this thesis that John XXIII’s lifelong study of Trent and Borromeo was highly significant, not simply in his decision to call Vatican II but, more importantly, in the language that he used and the historical framework that guided his ideas. The predominant idea for him was how the Church undertakes the process of change and adapts itself to the challenges of a new historical era. It is within this context that the word aggiornamento became a popular slogan for describing this process. It is the contention of this thesis that close attention to the historical scholarship and perspective of John XXIII can make a contribution to the ongoing polemic and conflicting hermeneutical debates regarding the interpretation of Vatican II. So much of the debate often revolves around conflicting interpretations of the documents and their contents, the power-plays of strong personalities and a less than adequate division of council participants as either ‘progressives’ or ‘conservatives’. Very little attention is often given to the importance of wider historical perspectives, which in fact contribute to understanding the complex historical context of Vatican II and some of the formative intellectual dimensions of the pope who announced it.


Principal supervisor

Peter Howard

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School of Philosophical, Historical & International Studies


Doctor of Philosophy

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Faculty of Arts

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