PRV2: Conclusions

This is the final post is our series examining Protestant Reactions to Vatican II.

Vatican City - 1Having examined Protestant reactions to the Roman Catholic conceptions of Divine Revelation and the Church, Non-Catholic Churches, the Priesthood, the Liturgy, and Religious Freedom, what may we conclude? As noted before, the initial reactions of many Protestants to the Second Vatican Councils seemed to be generally positive in nature. As we have seen however, critical Protestant reactions to Vatican II are more nuanced. Some reactions are positive, such as that of Marty, who concludes that “for the most part, Vatican II appropriately addressed the anguishing circumstances of its time.”[1] Others are more caution, such as Patterson, who reacts with both joy and concern, especially regarding ubiquitous language about the primacy and infallibility of Rome.[2] Other reactions are more negative, such as those of Sproul and Duncan. The former writes that since Vatican II must be interpreted through Trent, there remain fundamental and dangerous misunderstandings of the council and the acceptability of its teachings for Protestants.[3] While noting that many Protestants view Vatican II positively, Duncan similarly notes that while there may be new levels of understanding between Protestants and Catholics, there are significant barriers to true unity and understanding.[4]

Through our examination of Protestant reactions to specific issues, we have seen that Vatican II’s conceptions, at least as commonly implemented, of non-Christian churches, the liturgy, and religious freedom are generally affirmed, at the very least as steps in the right direction. The Roman doctrine and practice on these issues, while not yet ‘Protestant enough’ for many Protestant scholars, nevertheless are viewed as more biblically and theologically sound and acceptable for Protestants. Reactions to Catholic teachings on the priesthood, while viewed as improvements over Trent and Vatican I, are generally more negative, though it remains important to note that many contemporary perspectives on the priesthood were not addressed by the council. Our considerations to this point seem to agree with Howard’s assessment of Vatican II, in which he writes that documents such as Luman gentium and Unitatis redintergratio “helped address certain Reformation-era critiques and moved the Catholic Church in the direction, if not the immediate vicinity, of Protestantism or certain strands thereof.”[5]

MEETING DURING SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL FILE PHOTOOnce again remembering that no unified Protestantism exists, it remains significant that on some of these points there are significant similarities between Catholicism and certain forms of Protestantism. However, the greatest concern among Protestant scholars reacting to Vatican II involves the Catholic conception of Revelation and the Church, where Vatican II seems to have modified Catholic thinking on these concerns in such a way that Protestants, while affirming more agreement with these conceptions, nevertheless cannot entirely agree with Rome. Indeed, these remains significant distance between the perspective of historical Protestantism on the authority and sufficiency of scripture and the Roman view on the importance and authority of Church tradition. This issue, at the heart of much Reformation thought, remains the dividing line between 21st century Protestant and Catholic faith. Similarly, while the Vatican II conception of the Church, especially the universal Church including the separated brethren of Protestantism, feels more comfortable to the Protestant mind, there remain deep concerns about the veracity of a temporal institution claiming for itself the authority that Protestants have long affirmed belonged to Christ alone. From these concerns and the reactions of the Protestant scholars whom we have examine, it remains clear that despite Protestant warming to certain facets of Vatican II, there remain deep-seated concerns pertaining to the Roman Catholic theology of revelation and the Church.


[1] Marty. [2] Patterson, 14. [3] Sproul. [4] Duncan, 1, 10. [5] Howard.


Published by Jacob J. Prahlow

Husband of Hayley. Dad of Bree and Judah. Lead pastor at Arise Church. MATS from Saint Louis University, MA from Wake Forest University, BA from Valparaiso University. Theologian and writer here and at Conciliar Post. Find me on social at @pastorjakestl

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