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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Lutherans and the Second Vatican Council

Event 50 years ago opened road toward greater unity with Roman Catholics

In late October 1958, Angelo Roncalli, a cleric who had spent his entire life in diplomacy and was not known for his theological learning, was elected pope of the Roman Catholic Church. He took the name John XXIII. Within three short months of his election, this pope announced that he was calling a council of the Roman Catholic Church, a gathering of all of its bishops. 

Probably most Lutherans around the world took little interest in these two events. With extremely few exceptions, Lutherans since the Reformation in the 16th century looked upon the Roman Catholic Church with suspicion, if not hostility. Relations between Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches were virtually nonexistent in the mid-20th century. Over four centuries polemic (a contentious argument to establish the truth of a specific belief and the falsity of the contrary belief) raged between Lutherans and Roman Catholics, who saw each other as betrayers of the Christian faith.


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