12-14 November 2014

The colloquium is a joint initiative of LARHRA (Université de Lyon), CERCOR (LEM-UMR 8584 CNRS), KADOC (KU Leuven), Centro Studi e Ricerche sul Concilio Vati­can II (Center for Studies and Research “Second Vatican Coun­cil,” Pontifical Lateran University), with the support of the École française de Rome, the Academia Belgica in Rome, and the Belgian Historical Institute in Rome.



LARHRA (Université de Lyon), CERCOR (LEM-UMR 8584 CNRS), KADOC (KU Leuven), Centro Studi e Ricerche sul Concilio Vati­can II (Center for Studies and Research “Second Vatican Coun­cil,” Pontifical Lateran University), with the support of the École française de Rome, the Academia Belgica in Rome, and the Belgian Historical Institute in Rome.



Many members of religious institutes played a prominent role during Vatican II. Their brilliance threatens to overshadow the less obvious impact of the institutes to which they belonged and that of a multitude of modest congregations. However, the presence and the activity of the religious in the assembly is still widely unrecognized, as is the crisis that hit the world of religious institutes in the following decade. This deficiency reflects to a certain extent historians’ late interest in the field of the orders and congregations of the twentieth century, espe­cially in France where a historiographic rupture accompanied the historic break imposed by the anti-congregational law of 1901. To better understand the contribution of the religious at Vatican II requires an evaluation of their role in the workings of the council and an analysis of the changes – before, during, and after the council – made by various institutes, from inter­national communities to local, diocesan congregations.

Was Vatican II a council of religious? An affirmative answer would be somewhat overstated, but the question helps to emphasize an often neglected reality: the influence of the representatives of the orders and the congregations among the Council Fathers. The majority, often serving as bishops, came from mission countries. Some were called to the Council as superiors of their institutes (129). In total, the religious repre­sented a third of the assembly. But only a detailed study will make it possible to assess their true place in the council pro-ceedings. To what extent was there an equilibrium between the geographical solidarity (the area of the apostolate, the country of origin) and the solidarity among the congregations? What influence did the superiors have in the majority and in the mi­nority? What was the effect of the anticurial resentment of the men from the field?

Together with the Council Fathers, the religious experts also played a substantial role in the service of the majority. They were not however the only experts involved. The “Roman the­ology”, with some members of religious institutes among its editors, endeavoured to prolong the already existing resist­ance to the ‘new theology’ and the position taken by some of the teaching staff at the centres of formation in Rome from the pre-preparation consultation onward. A more thorough study is therefore still wanting regarding these two groups and the areas of contact. It is also necessary to come to a better under­standing of the world of the official experts and the private experts and to deepen the study of the relationships between the bishops and the experts. Finally, a place needs to be given to the auditors coming from the female congregations, even if they were fewer in number.

The study of the place of the religious at the Council is of course also that of the texts that touch on the doctrinal issues and practices of the religious life. After intense debates on the joint or individual treatment of the vocation of holiness and the reli­gious state, the Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium situates the religious life in the mystery of the Church. The editing of the decree Perfectae Caritatis on the “adaption and renewal of the religious life” is no less delicate, in light of the multiple life­styles and the difficulty of determining the criteria for reform. More specifically, the decree Christus Dominus on the “pastoral responsibility of the bishops” determines the participation of the religious in the life of local churches and offers a compro­mise on the issue of exemption, while the decree Ad Gentes on “mission activity” specifies their role in evangelisation. These texts constitute without any doubt the most wellknown part of the records, thanks to the commentaries edited immediately after the Council and the subsequent work of theologians. But many aspects could still be clarified, in particular through the archives of the participants.

Finally, in order to fully understand its significance, the concil­iar period needs to be put in a broader chronological perspec­tive. During the 1950s, classical religious life was characterised by a certain uneasiness, of which, in northwestern Europe, the decline of vocations and the rise of secularisation were the symptoms. At the same time, the desire for change was evi­dent, in conjunction with the emergence of the post-war gener­ation, marked by unprecedented social and ecclesial realities: the challenging of the training and the accepted “bourgeois” conventual model, the decline of observances, paid salary, the search for life in small fraternities that focused on the poor, the missionary pastoral implications. Recourse to authority was not enough to resolve the crisis or to bridge the growing gap between the sensitive issues. Pius XII’s request to the female congregations in 1950 to make an effort to adjust would prove inadequate.

In this context, the Council contributed to giving members of religious orders freedom of speech and accentuated the inter­nal divisions. These tensions were also an echo of the difficul­ties the national Churches inherited from the 1950s. It seemed tom legitimate the – new or formerly existing – experiments, often determined more by the social and political situation than the ecclesial event. The conclusion of the Council and the publication of the applicable standards contained in its texts inaugurated a new phase. In the process of the revision of the constitutions, a complex dialectic concerning “crisis” and “re­form” was set in motion around two associated themes, the recovery of the founding charismas and attention to the signs of the times. This moment of transition contained in itself a deregulation and a restructuring that interacted with the pro­found changes in society. There is still much to be done to come to an understanding of the global mechanisms and to become aware of the variables connected with the diversity of religious families, the social and ecclesial contexts and the national and transnational realities.

In this perspective, the papers, synthesizing or monographic, should be based on un-published documentation (archives, printed matter) and should refer explicitly to the Council pro­ceedings.
They may be submitted in one of the following three areas:

1. Anticipating the Council: the situation of the religious orders and congregations during the 1950s, debates and disputes in relation to their reformation, pastoral engage­ments, spiritual models, etc.

2. At the heart of the proceedings: the presence of the reli­gious in the Council assembly, personalities, the develop­ment of texts on the religious, the role of experts, etc.

3. The hour of the aggiornamento: consultation of the basis, General Chapters, rereading the times and the founders, crisis and recovery, integration in the Church and in soci­ety, etc.


The Pontifical Lateran University, the École française in Rome, the Academia Belgica in Rome.


English, French, Italian.


Plenary sessions and workshops; the accepted speakers will be invited to send a provisional text to those responsible for the workshops before the first of October 2014.


The organizing institutions assume responsibility for the ex­penses related to the speakers’ accommodation during their stay and ask them, as far as is possible, to make room reserva­tions in the vicinity of the university institutions of their own country in Rome. The organizers do not – in general – take the responsibility for travel expenses. Publication of the proceed­ings will take place after the selection and evaluation of the definitive texts, which will be delivered not later than 1 June 2015.

Proposed papers (4000 characters), in one of the languages of the Colloquium, with an exact ref­erence to the sources used and a brief CV (diplo­mas, positions, principal publications) should be sent to Christian Sorrel (LARHRA), before 15 December 2013 at:

The final response will be given on1 Feb­ruary 2014.

For more information, see Proposals are expected before December 15, 2013.


Philippe Chenaux (CVII), Bernard Hours (LARHRA), Daniel-Odon Hurel (CERCOR), Jan De Maeyer (KADOC), Christian Sor­rel (LARHRA).