Rorate Caeli

The Roman Synod of 1960

2010 is the fiftieth year since the Roman Synod of 1960, called by Pope John XXIII in anticipation of Vatican II. Romano Amerio speaks of this Synod as having fallen into the Erebus of oblivion, tanquam non fuerit, "as if it had never been", and indeed its 50th anniversary this year was scarcely marked or commemorated anywhere. In belated amends for this forgetfulness I would like to present the following passage (sans the footnotes) from Amerio's Iota Unum regarding this forgotten Synod, this foreshadowing of the Vatican II that had been hoped for.

...three principal facts make the paradoxical outcome of the council (Vatican II -- CAP) apparent: the falseness of the forecasts made by the Pope and others who prepared it; the fruitlessness of the Roman synod called by John XXIII as an anticipation of it; and the almost immediate nullification of the decree Veterum Sapientia, which was meant to foreshadow the cultural cast of the post-conciliar Church.

Pope John intended the council to be a great act of renewal and functional adaptation for the Church and thought he had adequately prepared for it to be such, but nonetheless chrerished the prospect that it would all be over within a few months ... In fact, the council opened on 11 October 1962 and closed on 8 December 1965, thus lasting intermittently for three years. All expectations were overthrown because of the aborting of the council which had been prepared, and the successive elaboration of another quite different council which generated itself.

The Roman synod was planned and summoned by John XXIII as a solemn forerunner of the larger gathering, which it was meant to prefigure and anticipate. The Pope himself said precisely that, to the clergy and faithful of Rome in an allocution of 29 June 1960. Because of that intention, the synod's importance was universally recognized as extending beyond the diocese of Rome to the whole Catholic world. Its importance was compared to that which the provincial synods held by St. Charles Borromeo had had with respect to the Council of Trent. New life was given to the old saying that the whole Catholic world should wish to model itself on the Church of Rome. The fact that the Pope immediately ordered the texts of the Roman synod to be translated into Italian and all the principal languags, also makes it clear that in his mind it was intended to play an important exemplary role.

The texts of the Roman synod promulgated on 25, 26 and 27 January 1960 constitute a complete reversion of the Church to its proper nature; we mean not merely to its supernatural essence (that can never be lost) but to its historical nature, a returning of the institution to its principles, as Machiavelli put it.

The synod in fact proposed a vigorous restoration at every level of ecclesial life. The discipline of the clergy was modeled on the traditional pattern formulated at the Council of Trent, and based on two principles which had always been accepted and practiced. The first is that of the peculiar character of the person consecrated to God, supernaturally enabled to do Christ's work, and thus clearly separated from the laity (sacred means separate). The second, which follows from the first, is that of an ascetical education and a sacrificial life, which is the differentiating mark of the clergy as a body, though individuals can take up an ascetical life in the lay state. The synod therefore prescribed for the clergy a whole style of behavior quite distinct from that of laymen. That style demands ecclesiastical dress, sobriety in diet, the avoiding of public entertainments and a flight from profane things. The distinct character of the clergy's cultural formation was also reaffirmed, and the outlines were given of the system which the Pope solemnly sanctioned the year after in Veterum Sapientia. The Pope also ordered that the Catechism of the Council of Trent should be republished, but the order was ignored. It was not until 1981 that, by private initiative, a translation was published in Italy.

The liturgical legislation of the synod is no less significant: the use of Latin is solemnly confirmed, all attempts at creativity on the part of the celebrant, which would reduce the liturgical action of the Church to the level of a simple exercise of private piety, are condemned. (A very good point that needs to be stressed in our time! CAP) The need to baptize infants as soon as possible is emphasized, a tabernacle in the traditional form and position is prescribed, Gregorian Chant is ordered, newly composed popular songs are submitted to the approval of the bishop, all appearance of worldliness is forbidden in churches by a general prohibition of such things as the giving of concerts and performances, the selling of pictures or printed matter, the giving of free rein to photographers and the lighting of candles by all and sundry (one ought to get the priest to do it). The ancient sacred rigor is re-established regarding sacred spaces, forbidding women entry to the altar area. Lastly, altars facing the congregation (which had been slowly but steadily growing in popularity since the 1950's, see  this article -- CAP) are to be allowed only by way of an xception, which it is up to the diocesan bishop to make.

Anybody can see that this massive reaffirmation of traditional discipline, which the synod wanted, was contradicted and negated in almost every detail by the effects of the council. And so the Roman synod, which was to have been an exemplary foreshadowing of the council, fell within a few years into the Erebus of oblivion, and is indeed tanquam non fuerit. As an instance of this nullification I may say that having searched for the texts of the Roman synod in diocesan curias and archives, I could not find them there and had to get them from secular public libraries.

-- Romano Amerio. Iota Unum. A Study of Changes in the Catholic Church in the 20th Century (Sarto House, Kansas City 1996), pp. 54-56.  

The canonist Edward Peters, in his brief online commentary to Sacrae disciplinae leges, also notes that the Roman Synod "had virtually no impact on either the Council or the Code (of Canon Law)."


  1. Anonymous3:35 PM

    Interesting. I'd never heard of the Roman Synod of 1960. The proposed directives for priestly discipline are particularly striking. One cannot help but wonder if the clerical abuse crisis would have ever occurred had those directives -- being necessary and prudential reforms -- been put into effect.

    All expectations were overthrown because of the aborting of the council which had been prepared, and the successive elaboration of another quite different council which generated itself.

    How did Vatican II "generate itself"? Was it a purely human affair? Did the Holy Spirit have no role? The last question is particularly important, and should be contemplated prayerfully and without knee-jerk polemics.

  2. Cruise the Groove4:17 PM

    "Interesting. I'd never heard of the Roman Synod of 1960."

    Do yourself a gigantic favor and read the excellent work "Iota Unum" by Romano Amerio".
    he was a peritus to a Swiss Bishop at the Second Vatican Council and had an eyewitness view on how they completely discarded the precepts of the Roman Synod and fabricated a whole new schema for the Council that was in actuality novel and fabricated.
    Amerio describes the Synod in detail in his book.

  3. This, of course, is proving my point: that most of the priests charged with pedophilia were trained in the Pre-V2 system that included minor seminaries.

    **How did Vatican II "generate itself"?**

    In the same way Vatican I generated itself. It was originally called to declare that papal sovereignty was a dogma of faith, and took another direction.

  4. Anonymous4:32 PM


    Records indicate many of the abuse cases started back in the 1950s or even earlier. However, it is possible that the crisis would have involved far fewer priests (and bishops), perhaps peaked earlier and with less financial damage to the Church had those directives been implemented. Who knows? It's rather like asking whether the Reformation would have happened if Lateran V had been an effective council. We cannot do experiments with history.


  5. Richard Friend4:48 PM

    "Lastly, altars facing the congregation (which had been slowly but steadily growing in popularity since the 1950's, see  this article -- CAP) are to be allowed only by way of an exception, which it is up to the diocesan bishop to make."

    While the now-forgotten Roman Synod made excellent proposals to strengthen liturgical discipline, the proposal to allow diocesan bishops to approve or disapprove versus populum altars at their discretion was insane. The synod was quite naive to think that an illicit manner of celebration could be checked by legitimizing it under limited exceptions, trusting in the wisdom of the local bishop. Exceptions, once granted, can quickly supplant the universal norm. The practice of Communion in the hand and the use of altar girls both started as abuses but quickly became the de facto norm once given official recognition as exceptions. You don't put out a fire by spraying it with more fire; you put it out by dousing it with water.

  6. Anonymous5:16 PM

    The Holy Ghost prevented Vatican II from making any binding definitions. It seems clear that there was also another, entirely different, spirit at work at Vatican II. I recommend reading Fr. Wiltgen's book "The Rhine Flows Into The Tiber" for a contemporaneous report from the scene. Louis

  7. Anonymous5:59 PM

    The new 'read more' buttons on the blog are not a good innovation! More click click clicking.

  8. Anonymous6:59 PM

    'tanquam non fuerit' - except in the Heart and mind of the Lord our God, Who orders all things for His glory. I learn so much reading Rorate every day, and thank those responsible for the work they do in the service of the good God. If the interior life would bear fruit for our salvation and others', the only foundation can be constant prayer for humility of mind and heart. It is only easy not to judge others if we vigilantly judge first and only ourselves, our motives and actions, through prayer and sacrifice. As we all approach a new year of blessed life on this beautiful earth God has made, our sufferings and trials seem too present, our minds confused by things of this world, even perhaps our spirit downcast. God grant that one day we will know our sorrows as if they had never been. I pray that for myself and my family, and for all men, and ask Rorate's readers to join that prayer. "…but the greatest of these is Charity." God bless us, holy Mother of God save us.


  9. "Did the Holy Spirit have no role?"

    Excellent question. I would, again, turn to Gherardini:

    "This [the general guidance of the Holy Spirit at a Council] does not mean that the Holy Spirit may not encounter formal or material resistance from the free-willed men who give life to the counciliar event. It is from this possibility that there arises the great risk which casts itself upon the background of the Council...namely, the possibility that it may even fail in some way. Someone has even gone further and has asked if an Ecumenical Council can fall into error in Faith and Morals. The opinions are at variance..."

    I think the fruits also have to be examined in determining if a Council has been a successful one or not. Certainly there is a bit of turmoil after every Council; but Vatican II, alone, detracted from sound Doctrine of all the Councils.

  10. \\ The synod was quite naive to think that an illicit manner of celebration could be checked by legitimizing it under limited exceptions, trusting in the wisdom of the local bishop.\\

    If something is permitted by ecclesiatical or liturgical law, even by exception, it is therefore not illicit.

    Something is illicit if and only if it is in direct contravention of law.

    (As has been discussed on another blog, "prudent" and "licit" are not necessarily synonyms.)

  11. Anonymous12:29 AM

    I have often unsuccessfully searched the internet for written documents from the Roman Synod.
    Has anyone seen them? have they been published anywhere?


  12. Anonymous1:22 AM

    The difference, Jack, is that the changed direction of Vatican I was willed by God, whereas that of Vatican II was only allowed by him. The fruits of the two prove the case.


  13. Anonymous1:48 AM


    There is no doubt that such cases existed before Vatican II, just as they have alsways existed outside the clergy. The question is rather what caused the problem to become extensive, and the answer is the Sexual Revolution, a change that also began the normalisation of sexual deviation. Like rock noise and nearly everything else that happened in the late 1960s, virtue was replaced by 'values', by which I mean disvalues. Most of the good men who would normally have entered the priesthood abandoned ship when they saw the unfolding disaster and we were left with misfits and freaks. When the right stuff leaves, you have to take what you can get. And what we got was a crew of liberal child abusers.

    The reason the rot goes back to before 1965 is because the cause goes back before then. The immediate cause of the collapse of the Church was also the immediate cause of the collapse of society in the 1960s, and that cause was World War II. What followed the carnage was an abandonment of the culture and the virtue that was associated with the wartime era. Anyone attending university in the 1950s was told by nitwit revolutionary professors to 'man the barricades'.

    They threw away respect, tradition form and all ceremonious duty and what you are left with is low-grade flotsom, the effluent not of cruise ships but of tankers.


  14. "The reason the rot goes back to before 1965 is because the cause goes back before then. The immediate cause of the collapse of the Church was also the immediate cause of the collapse of society in the 1960s..."

    Excellent point, per usual, PKTP!

    One need only think of the Liturgical agitations of the St. Severin, Paris, movements to see that liberals were clamoring for novelty far before Vatican II. It's just too bad that the Church weren't stronger to buttress against the onslaught rather than cave into it. Right when the Church needed to be strongest, she caved in.

  15. Anonymous9:00 PM

    The cause of decay of the Catholic Church was liberalism on the upswing during mid 20th Century. Liberalism is "one religion is good as another". A heresy condemned by Pope Pius IX.

    Liberalism in religion leads to liberalism in nearly all else because religion (Catholic religion) serves (should serve) as the fountain of values and norms which govern our behavior. Don't many of us know pot smokers, fornicators, contraceptive users, divorced people who join the unitarians or Ch. of Christ Scientists because they want to do what they want to do? So why not leave or don't join the Catholic Church because I can be "saved" in another Church and also be "free"?

    And who was that great Jesuit who championed against liberalism in accordance with the strict vow he has taken in "the oath against Modernism".

    It was Fr. Leonard Feeney S.J. who saw with foresight (prescient) the error of effectively denying the Dogma of "Outside the Church there is no salvation"

  16. He stated repeatedly to the Cardinal Cushing/Kennedy Camp and everyone else, that if the Church continues down the road of Liberalism in denying THAT dogma that untold damage would ensue on the Mystical Body of Christ.

    He was "spot on". Liberalism placed the Church in a predicament "Ripe for the Kill". As fathers and doctors of the Church and Councils of the Church warned about the danger of the Jews (I am NOT antisemetic), so did Fr. Feeney warn of this danger.

    And look what happened! (See Look Magazine, "how the Jews changed Catholic Teaching", Jan 25, 1966) I can't prove it but who interfered with the conclaves of '58 &'63.? (I am not an acedevacantist) Fr. Malachi Martin, US intelligence and Scortesco all say is was an international organization. A month after saying this in a magazine Scortesco, head of the Nobal Guard in charge of conclave security, was found burned alive in bed.

    What ensued after the bogus excommunication of Fr. Feeney was just a prelude to the great apostasy in the Book of Revelations. The Catholic Church had to be softened up for the kill, and liberalism was the arsenic.

    By the way -Fr. Feeney's followers in Richmod N.H., via directive from Rome, have been given a priest/Chaplain from Bishop McCormick, Nashua N.H.

    As Fr. Feeney said during Vatican II, "Everything that is Catholic is being taken from us because the Church is denying the Dogma"

  17. Anonymous6:25 PM

    Where can the documents of the 1960 Synod be found online or in print besides what is provided in Amerio's book?


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