Rorate Caeli

The majority and the minority at the Council -
or, rather, two minorities?

In this small snippet from Dr. Roberto de Mattei's fascinating history of the Council, the author tries to answer some perplexing questions. Was the Second Vatican Council dominated by a "progressive" majority? Or were the "progressives" also in the minority? And, if so, why did they turn out to be the most influential minority? [Contributor and translator: Francesca Romana].

If we were to limit this to an “official” historical account, based on the results of the voting, we would have to deny the existence of an internal struggle at the Council between opposing alliances, given that the conciliar documents were all approved by an overwhelming majority. In fact, no Council, more than Vatican II, had experienced such tensions and conflicts between opposing groups. Historians, in order not to deny this evidence, trace it to the contrast between a “majority” of progressives and a “minority” of conservatives - destined to be defeated.

In actual fact, the clash occurred between two minorities which theologian Gerard Philips, of Louvain, described in 1963 as two opposing “trends” in 20th century philosophy and theology(426): one more concerned about being faithful to traditional propositions, the other more attentive to sharing the message with the modern man (427).

The first “trend”, nonetheless, was the official position of the Magisterium of the Church reaffirmed until the pontificate of Pius XII; the second “trend” was the heterodox one, repeatedly censured and condemned by the same ecclesiastical Magisterium. As Melloni notes, it would be difficult to underestimate the importance of Philips’s article(428), in which the two positions were put on the same level, with the author having a clear preference for the second.

There was, as well an alliance of forces, substantially joint committees (clearly) defined from some voting, such as the first on De fontibus Revelationis. From that moment on, counting on a slightly numerical superiority, the progressives began, however, to indicate their adversaries as a “minority” and in the end convinced them to be so. The moment in which the “moderate” Council Fathers, who constituted the majority, accepted this presentation of the contrasts in act, they marked their own defeat.

Before the last session of the Council, Mons. Carli wrote in a letter to Abbé Berto [peritus working with the Titular Archbishop of Synnada in Phrygia and Superior General of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit, Abp. M. Lefebvre]:

The more I study about what happened in the first three sessions, the more I think that there was not a majority” convinced in the Council, but a “majority” swayed. There are two “minorities” one Roman and Thomist in which your Excellency has an eminent rank, the other anti-Roman and anti-Thomist, not so many more than the first, and qualitatively by far of inferior worth, but by some grievous Divine permission (quam incomprensibilia sunt iudicia Eius!) it is that which has swayed the “majority” through powerful human means: the important press, the radio, political and diplomatic influences and money. (429)
According to Melissa Wilde, the success of the progressives can be explained by a simple sociological fact:
“Since the progressives built a wider and more flexible organization than their conservative counterparts, they were able to develop positions of compromise that the vast majority of the bishops could sustain.”(430)

 The progressive minority prevailed due to the superior force in their organization, but this was deriving in turn from the superior force of their convictions.

“The success of a minority – so writes a scholar of the laws of Revolutions – ensues from a composition of forces in virtue that the most noticed and the most determined are able to obtain assent from the less active collaboration of the majority. In such a case, the most passionate get the better of the less passionate, the most determined over the least daring, the audacious over the shy, the vigorous over the weak, the most persevering and tenacious over of those who digress and equivocate and in general those who know what they want and they want it passionately over those who have doubts, change their minds, hesitate and recollect themselves.” (431)
History is always made by minorities and what prevails in the clash is not the number but the determination and intensity with which these minorities fight their battles. The tendency of the moderates is always to yield to the extreme currents of the Revolution, as it happened with the sustainers of Kerensky in the Russian Revolution and with the Girondists in the French one. “Faced with the Revolution and the Counter-Revolution, the moderate revolutionaries waver, in general, trying to obtain absurd conciliations. But, in the end, they favour the first against the second.” (432)

When the minorities organize themselves, they always do it with discretion, and at times in secret. It is not inappropriate to speak in this sense, of secret meetings and conspiracies. Today, to belittle a historical work, one accuses it of being inclined to “conspiracy theory.” Admitting the existence of conspiracies only means that history is made up of the liberty of men and not the fruit of a spirit, nor of immanent reason, of which men are only the instruments. In actual fact there is no great historical event, beginning with the two big ones of the modern age, the French and the Russian, that did not initiate with “plots”, more or less successful. James H. Billington(433), who studied the origins of revolutionary “faith” documented the conspiratorial and hidden origins of the principal political movements in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Second Vatican Council did not escape this historical law, which reconnected in an underground way the progressivism of the innovators of Modernism that went back to the beginning of the century.

On the 3rd of December 1962, Mons. Borromeo noted in his Diary:

“We are in full-swing modernism. Not the ingenuous, open, aggressive and combative modernism at the time of Pius X. No. Today’s Modernism is more subtle, more camouflaged, more incisive and more hypocritical. It does not want to raise another tempest; it wants the whole Church to find itself modernist without even noticing it. (…) Tradition is acknowledged even in the new modernism, but consequent to Scripture, originated from Scripture and the Magisterium, which in its origins had only Scripture. Christ is kept in Modernism but He is not the historical Christ; it is a Christ that the religious conscience has elaborated because (He) is a human figure, well outlined and concrete, (He) would be the support of religious experiences which could not be expressed in their richness and intensity because of purely rational and abstract concepts. (…) Therefore, today’s Modernism saves all of Christianity, its dogma and organization, but it empties everything and turns it upside down. It is no longer a Religion that comes from God, but a Religion that comes directly from man and indirectly from the divine in man.”( 434)

427G.Philips, Deux tendances, cit.,p.9
428Cfr. A. Melloni,The beginning of the first period, cit.,p.80 .
429Letter from Abbè Berto to Mons.Carli of 29th June 1965, in N. BUONASORTE., Per la “pura, piena, integra fede cattolica”, cit., p.141. (For the pure, full, integral Catholic faith,).
430 WILDE, p.57.
431ANDRE JOUSSAIN, La loi des rèvolutions, Flammarion, Paris 1950, p.173.
432P. CORREA DE OLIVIERA, An observation by Saint John Bosco sheds light on the cause of the Revolution, in Revolution and Counter-Revolution, cit., p. 289 (pp. 285-292).
433Cfr. JAMES H. BILLINGTON, With fire in the mind. The origins of revolutionary faith. Il Mulino, Bologna 1986.
434BORROMEO, Diary, 3rd December 1962.
[Roberto de Mattei, Il Concilio Vaticano II: una storia mai scritta (The Second Vatican Council – a never before written history), Turin, Lindau, 2010. Note: we have been authorized by Edizioni Lindau s.d.l, Turin, to make these and other excerpts of this book available to our readers in this blog.]


  1. The part about committed minorities exerting disproportionate influence gives me some hope. I think traditionalists could learn from and indeed emulate (to a certain extent) the ways in which progressives have hijacked the Church in the last 50 years.

  2. charlesmartel2:37 PM

    And now we will.....?

  3. Building on shane's comment, traditionally minorities have used the following scheme time and time again to turn society upside down on everything from divorce to contraception to gay "marriage" to "gender identity" to "abortion is a virtue" to TLM. The scheme is something like the following.

    (1) If it's illegal, make it permissible under some restricted circumstances but still stigmatized.
    (2) If it's permissible under some restricted circumstances but still stigmatized, broaden the circumstances.
    (3) If it's permissible under some circumstances but still stigmatized, make it permissible but still be stigmatized.
    (4) If it's permissible but still be stigmatized, remove the stigma
    (5) If it's permissible, make it praiseworthy along side the proper way.
    (6) If it's praiseworthy along side the proper way, make the proper way stigmatized (e.g. it's impractical, it's harmful, etc) but still allowed.
    (7) If it's praiseworthy along side the stigmatized proper way, make the proper way allowable only under some circumstances
    (8) If it's praiseworthy along side the and the proper way is allowable only under some circumstances, make the proper way illegal and the formerly illegal way mandatory.

    TLM went from (1) to (7) and almost (8). Fortunately it has re-traced it's steps to (5) although there are pockets of resistance what have tried to force it back to (6) or beyond.

  4. Anonymous4:33 PM


    Where did you get your "schema"?

  5. Anonymous4:33 PM

    "I think traditionalists could learn from and indeed emulate (to a certain extent) the ways in which progressives have hijacked the Church in the last 50 years."

    Shane, as you know, it is against our faith to use the same tactics as the liberals did during and after the council. Would that we could, but it would be a sin to do so.

    The most accurate account of what went on during the council is still the book "The Rhine Flows into the Tiber". I'm not interested in any accounts fifty years after the fact.


  6. This book demands an English translation. Hopefully one is forthcoming.

  7. There is demonstrable evidence in society today how apparently statistically negligable groups can wield an influence well beyond their numbers. The homosexual movement is one example. Apart from being a movement that was already exerting considerable influence in the church, the liberal modernists were well-organised; extremely motivated; had a specific agenda; were able to take advantage of the general lukewarmness of the clerical establishment while their programme appealed to those who wanted the rights of the individual to choose and to determine their own pathway of faith. They allowed nothing to get in their way and, more importantly, they had a pope in Paul VI (RIP) who was mostly of the same mind.

  8. Steve7:04 PM

    The publication of the entire Fatima Secret by 1960 would have saved the day.

  9. "On October 21, 1964, during the third session, the section of the schema dealing with atheism-it carefully avoided the word communism-came up for discussion. Cardinal Suenens, after stating that...called for an investigation on why so many men deny God and attack the faith.
    Archbishop Paul Yu Pin of Nanking, China, speaking two days later in the name of 70 Council Fathers, asked for the addition of a new chapter on atheistic communism...It had to be treated in order to satisfy the expectations of all peoples, "especially those who groan under the yoke of communism and are forced to endure indescribable sorrows unjustly."
    Josef Cardinal Beran, exiled archbishop of Prague, residing in Rome received a Czechoslovakian newspaper clipping which boasted that communists had succeeded in infiltrating every commission at the Vatican Council."

    Page 273
    The RHINE flows into the TIBER
    (This remains a most remarkable source)
    Michael F Brennan
    St Petersburg FL.

  10. Anonymous8:04 PM


    That about sums it up accurately. I still, to this day, cannot think about it without getting angry. Isn't that sad?


  11. LeonG:

    Too true! Vatican II is the Church's storming of the Bastille.

  12. Anonymous10:00 PM

    Prof. De Mattei's book is an absolute MUST!

  13. Anonymous10:08 PM

    Does anyone know if an English translation of this book will be forthcoming, perhaps by the Franciscans of the Immaculate?

  14. "... but by some grievous Divine permission ..."

    Hello, Novus Ordo.

  15. John L12:51 AM

    To say that the 'superior force of the organisation' of the modernists derived from the 'superior force of their conviction' is false - and conceals the principal reason for the success of the modernists at Vatican II: papal backing. The force of the organisation of the modernists derived partially from their superior financial resources, a result of their domination of the wealthy churches of the Rhine countries. But it primarily derived from the fact that Paul VI named as moderators for the council Agaganian, Lercaro, Dopfner and Suenens. These moderators exerted tight control over the Council, and three of them - Lercaro, Dopfner and Suenens - were dedicated modernists; Agaganian was a man of no force who did not affect the action of the others. Paul VI also prevented the orthodox curial cardinals from openly speaking and acting against the modernists. This left the defence of orthodoxy at the council to a coalition of bishops who had plenty of personal conviction, but meagre financial resources and media contacts, and no papal support. Look at the policy of Paul VI after the council; he appointed modernists as bishops as far as he possibly could.

    This omission aside, the author's observations on how the middle of the road bishops came to support the modernists are accurate and interesting.

  16. John L

    While there was a coalition of committed orthodox bishops for the reasons cited above they stood no chance. Some of them fell away disarmed by what they witnessed. In fact, Padre Pio maligned above all the growth of lukewarmness amongst priests of his day which must by implication must include bishops. Deitrich von Hildebrand made the same observation concerning lukewarmness. Apart from those few committed orthodox elements the tide was turning pastorally northwards and liturgically westwards.

    Moreover, Almighty God hates a tepid spirit in man as Deuteronomy6:4-5 & Book of The Apocalypse 6:15intimate. Little wonder, therefore, the post-conciliar epoch resembles a form of divine expurgation wherein chaos reigns and the red lamp of the sanctuary has been slowly dying out. Hopefully, reemerging gradually will be a genuine restoration of all things in Christ according more with the vision of Pope St Pius X & not the liberal modernist abductors and saboteurs.

  17. John McFarland9:12 PM

    Let me add another factor in the results of Vatican II:

    Papal patronage by a progressivist sympathizer (Pope John) and a progressivist fellow-traveler (Pope Paul).

    Papal patronage by members of the progressivist wing at the Council (Pope John Paul, Pope Benedict).

    In effect, forty-odd years of pontifical aid and comfort have been given to lukewarmness, and to the the pseudo-theological rationalization of lukewarmness.

  18. Ralph Roister-Doister9:41 PM

    Thank you, John L, for poinbting out the obvious: papal backing is the principle reason that the putsch succeeded as it did. First, Pope Roncalli was in poor health, and a dangerously bogus argument was made that it was urgent to achieve the aggiornamento so that the Father of the Council could see the fruit of his inspiration. This argument spurred the silent majority of council participants to be guided by the judgments of the young periti, shielded as they were by some of the most influential archbishops and cardinals. Pope Montini, whose dangerous fascination with progressivism and personal naivete made him the perfect successor from a liberal point of view, was all that was required for a counciliar perfect storm. And it hasn't gotten any better since, regardless of what the Vatican flaks and career hagiographers would have us believe. I've been paging through a young Fr Ratzinger's "Theological Highlights of Vatican II," and it at this point it strikes me as a most forlorn exercise in self-delusion. And that is the best face I can put on it.

  19. Knight of Malta

    I don't know about the storming of the Bastille, but the summoning of the Council by John XXIII brings to mind the summoning of the Estates-General by Louis XVI in 1789.

  20. Anonymous5:21 AM

    LeonG said:

    "Hopefully, reemerging gradually will be a genuine restoration of all things in Christ according more with the vision of Pope St Pius X & not the liberal modernist abductors and saboteurs."

    This is my hope too LeonG - with all my heart. The Catholic Faith is Truth. The Catholic Church is where people can TRULY encounter God. She gives us access to the Most Blessed Trinity, Our Lady, all the Angels and Saints, the possiblity of sanctity (which is a sort of happiness) even in this life, the possibilty of sincerely loving and serving our neighbour (a kind of harmony even in this life - although VERY difficult to experience without the Sacraments).

    The Catholic Church is our Mother who looks after us in every stage of our lives from birth to death through the most sublime Sacraments. The Catholic Church gives us Our Lord Sacramentally everyday! What more could we want?

    Vatican II in my humble opinion SHOULD have been a great occasion to confirm and deepen these great realities and discovering new even modern ways of spreading the joy of being Catholic. Instead, The Church was stripped of these certainties. They are now debateable . have become "Opinions" They were abducted and sabotaged by the liberal modernists backed by the Pope, and now generally speaking, world-wide speaking, what remains are the vestiges of Catholicism, lost identity and influence where it truly matters. How can you explain the motives of the demolishers of Catholicism? There seems no sense to it. One thing though, even if they were in the minority, the majority is also completely responsible for allowing the massive disfiguring of the Faith that resulted from the changes imposed after the Second Vatican Council. May God have mercy on them.



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