While we cannot consider every facet of the Second Vatican Council that Protestant scholars have engaged, there are three remaining issues worthy of briefly considering here: reactions to Vatican II’s position on the Priesthood, the Liturgy, and Religious Freedom. It is important to note with Martin Marty that during Vatican II very little was actually said concerning contemporary concerns such as female ordination and clerical celibacy, and thus many Protestant and Catholic differences on these issues are not directly the result of Vatican II. The council did weigh in on several matters pertaining to priests however. In the Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, the council affirmed that celibacy was to be “embraced and esteemed as a gift” among priests. Additionally, priests were called to avoid greediness, to develop their spiritual lives, to engage the sacred scriptures and Church Fathers, to remain aware of current events, and to take vacation every year. Such praxis-oriented concerns, combined with calls for lay participation in the ministry of the church, suggest a commitment to collegiality of all levels of church hierarchy. This collegial view of the church includes the leveling of authority within the official hierarchy, though maintaining the primacy of the Bishop of Rome, including the restoration of the historical office of deacon. However, significant differences continue to exist between Protestant conceptions of the priesthood of all believers and the Roman conception of a celibate clergy.
One of the clearest changes instituted by Vatican II was the delivery of the liturgy in the vernacular instead of Latin. Numerous Protestants have affirmed this change, as well as its ecumenical undertones, which urge the faithful to interact with other Christians within the context of a liturgy understood by all. The new emphasis on scripture within the liturgy, the scriptural basis for sermons, and the delivery of communion in both kinds have led scholars such as Patterson to argue that “the reign of Trent was ended” by the decrees of Vatican II on the liturgy.
Of further importance, especially among Protestants of Baptist heritage, has been the increased Catholic emphasis on religious freedom and the Declaration on Religious Liberty. George argues that Vatican II’s emphasis on religious liberty affirms the need for Christians everywhere to “stand and work together for the protection and flourishing of universal religious freedom, both for individuals and institutions of faith.” Patterson, while expressing concerns over the exact implantation of Vatican II’s conception of religious freedom, applauds the affirmation not only of individual religious freedom, but also the freedom of religious groups to enact their religious beliefs within the public square. Thus post-Vatican II conceptions of the liturgy and religious freedom, while not precisely matching Protestant ideals and conceptions of such issues, nevertheless have generally been affirmed by Protestants as steps in the right direction.