Pope Paul VI

Paul VI (1897-1978) became pope of the Roman Catholic Church in 1963. He reigned during a period of great change and ferment in the Church following the Second Vatican Council.

The future pope was born Giovanni Battista Montini at Concesio (Lombardy), Italy, on September 26, 1897. His father was Giorgio Montini, a well-to-do landowner, editor of the daily Il Cittadino di Brescia, and representative for Brescia in the Italian Chamber of Deputies. He was a vigorous defender of Catholic ideals against the anticlericalism of the day. Giovanni's mother, Giuditta Alghisi Montini, was a member of the lesser nobility and a leader among the Catholic women of Brescia. There were two other sons, Ludovico (born 1896) and Francesco (born 1899).

Giovanni Montini received his primary and secondary education at Brescia's Arici Institute under the direction of the Jesuits. By temperament he was rather shy and retiring, intelligent and ascetic; physically he was somewhat frail. He was accepted at the diocesan seminary but permitted to live at home. Montini was ordained to the priesthood on May 29, 1920. During the following summer he served as a parish curate, but that fall he was sent to Rome for graduate studies at the Gregorian University. He then entered the papal school for foreign-service training. On the completion of his studies he was sent to Warsaw as a minor official at the nunciature but, for reasons of health, was recalled to Rome later in the year and assigned duties in the Vatican Secretariat of State. This was to be his place of work, in positions of ever-increasing importance and responsibility, for the next 31 years.


Early Career

During his early years in Rome, Montini served as assistant chaplain to Catholic students at the University of Rome and, in 1925, was named national moderator of the Federazione Universitaria Cattolica Italiana (FUCI). His intellectual interests and knowledge of modern philosophy and literature admirably equipped him to work with college students. After the Fascist suppression of all Catholic youth organizations in 1931, he helped found the Movimento Laureati Cattolici to continue this apostolate among university graduates.

These activities, however, were extracurricular as far as Montini's Vatican responsibilities were concerned. In October 1924 he was made an assistant secretary in the office of the Secretariat of State; the following April he was promoted to the rank of minutante (secretary, with clearance to work on confidential papers). These duties were relatively routine, but in February 1930, when Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli became papal secretary of state, Montini's life changed abruptly. From the beginning Pacelli singled him out for special training; and when, in 1933, a young American priest in the Secretariat, Monsignor Spellman (later Cardinal Spellman, Archbishop of New York), was returned to his own country as auxiliary bishop of Boston, Pacelli filled the vacancy by naming Montini to his own personal staff.

In February 1939 Pius XI died, and on March 2 Pacelli was elected pope on the first ballot of the conclave, taking the name Pius XII. The new pontiff retained Montini in his regular duties under the secretary of state, and in 1944 he became undersecretary for ordinary affairs, dealing with the Church's internal administration.

World War II was a period of intense diplomatic as well as humanitarian activity for the Vatican—activity rendered exceptionally difficult by the fact that the Holy See was completely hemmed in by one of the belligerent powers.

Montini directed the Vatican's extensive war relief services. He did much to rescue and hide political refugees, especially Jews, and prevent their falling into the hands of the German and Italian forces. Toward the war's end he acted as liaison between the Vatican and the Americans sent to Italy to establish the War Relief Services, and he engaged the Secretariat of State in intensive efforts to resettle displaced persons.

After the war Montini continued his regular duties at the Vatican, being named prosecretary of state in 1953. On him fell the chief responsibility for organizing the Holy Year in 1950 and the Marian Year in 1954.


Archbishop of Milan

In November 1954 Montini was appointed archbishop of Milan and was soon deeply involved in the active pastoral ministry. He mingled with workers in Milan streets—often being greeted by jeers—toured factories, went down into mines, and visited communist districts. He engaged in dialogue with the communists, acknowledging the legitimacy of many of their complaints about labor conditions, but insisting that a solution to these problems could be found in proper implementation of the Church's traditional social teachings.

During his 8 years in Milan, Montini blessed or consecrated 72 churches and left another 19 under construction at his departure. He made the staggering total of 694 visitations to parishes of the diocese and regularly addressed pastoral letters to both clergy and laity. He established an Office of Charity to provide free medical and legal advice for the poor and devoted special attention to the problems arising from constant and increasing immigration into the area. In education, he established schools for the social formation of laity and clergy and founded, at the University of the Sacred Heart, the Overseas College for Catholic students from underdeveloped countries. In December 1958 Pius's successor, John XXIII, elevated Montini to cardinal.

John XXIII died on June 3, 1963. On June 19 Cardinal Montini entered the Sistine Chapel with 79 other cardinals (the largest conclave in history); two days later he was elected pope, taking the name Paul VI. He was crowned on June 30 in an outdoor ceremony held in St. Peter's Square.


Second Vatican Council

The Second Vatican Council, which John XXIII had opened on Oct. 11, 1962, had ushered in an era of profound and sometimes disconcerting change for the Catholic Church. By Church law an ecumenical council ceases immediately upon the death of the pope who convoked it, and its continuation rests solely upon the wishes and judgment of his successor. As if to remove all doubts instantly and fully, Pope Paul announced that the council would go on, and just five days later (June 27) he convoked the second session for September 29.

During the next three years Pope Paul's vital interest in and cooperation with the work of the council were marked in virtually all that he said and did. He relaxed secrecy requirements and set up a press committee to make the council's work continuously known to news media. An additional number of non-Catholic observers were invited, and some laymen admitted as auditors; in 1964, just before the third session, some women were invited to attend. One of his chief concerns was to assure that the council fathers could work in an atmosphere of freedom, and many of the procedures instituted were designed with this in mind.

As the council developed, a major issue for debate was "collegiality," or the shared authority of the bishops with the Roman pontiff. Pope Paul showed his belief in and full accord with this concept in a number of ways. He agreed to establish the Synod of Bishops, a representative body of bishops selected from all over the world to advise and assist the pope in governing the Church.

After four sessions and the publication of 16 vital documents (four constitutions, nine decrees, and three declarations), the council came to its solemn close on December 8, 1965. In the months and years that followed, Pope Paul worked tirelessly to implement its pronouncements. The first Synod of Bishops, held in Rome from September 29 to October 29, 1967, was attended by some 200 bishops from all parts of the world. Other notable actions were: the reform of the Curia; the revision of the Code of Canon Law; the renewal of the sacred liturgy, with emphasis on the use of the vernacular together with the preservation of Latin; the liberalization of the rules governing mixed marriages; the creation of the Council of the Laity to promote the lay apostolate; and the formation of the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace. Despite reform and implementation, Pope Paul repeatedly cautioned that renewal must proceed deliberately and without sacrificing any of the Church's sacred deposit of faith. He issued admonitions against unfounded theological speculations, unauthorized experimentation in the liturgy, and any attempts to weaken the authority of the Roman pontiff and the hierarchy.


Pope Paul and Ecumenism

From the beginning of his pontificate Paul VI showed an especial concern for the relations of the Catholic Church with other religious bodies and for eventual Christian unity. During Vatican II he extended special courtesy and consideration to non-Catholic observers. His ecumenical concern was particularly notable in the case of the Orthodox Church. During his 1964 trip to the Holy Land he had two cordial conversations with Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople, and at the solemn closing of the Second Vatican Council there took place the historic occasion when he and the Patriarch removed and consigned "to oblivion" the mutual excommunications which in 1054 had resulted in the Great Schism between the Eastern and Western Churches.

Pope Paul's relations with Protestantism were also cordial. In 1965 the World Council of Churches proposed the creation of a mixed commission to explore the possibilities of dialogue between the council and the Catholic Church, and he promptly sent Cardinal Bea to Geneva to accept the proposal. In March 1966 he welcomed to the Vatican the Most Reverend Arthur M. Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury, and discussed relations between Catholicism and the Anglican Church. In 1968 Pope Paul sent greetings to the Tenth Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops and to the Fourth General Assembly of the World Council of Churches. Both of these meetings were attended by Catholic observers. On his June 1969 trip to Geneva he was warmly received at the headquarters of the World Council of Churches. In these ecumenical endeavors, however, the Pope frequently cautioned against any attempt to modify or gloss over essential Catholic teachings. He insisted that unity cannot be brought about at the expense of doctrine.


Encyclicals and Travels

Characteristic of the pontificate of Paul VI were his encyclicals. Besides two brief ones urging devotion and prayer to the Blessed Virgin Mary, there were (through September 1969) five major encyclicals. Ecclesiam suam (August 6, 1964; On the Church) dealt with the awareness that the Church has of its nature and on the fact that this awareness must be constantly increased and deepened. This can be done only by constant internal renewal. The Church must engage in dialogue not only among its own members but with all men, including those whose views and beliefs are opposed to its own. Mysterium fidei (September 3, 1965; The Mystery of Faith) restated the Church's traditional teaching on the Eucharist, especially the doctrine of the Real Presence and of transubstantiation, or the change effected by the words of consecration in the Mass. Populorum progressio (March 6, 1967; On the Development of Peoples) was one of Pope Paul's most important pronouncements, an encyclical in the tradition of Leo XIII's Rerum novarum, Pius XI's Quadragesimo anno, and John XXIII's Mater et Magistra and Pacem in terris. It extended and deepened, in the light of modern conditions, the social teachings of his predecessors. Sacerdotalis caelibatus (June 24, 1967; On Priestly Celibacy) was a response to widespread urgings for some relaxation of the Latin Church's traditional rule of celibacy for the priesthood and religious. The Pope, admitting that celibacy was difficult, nevertheless upheld it by appeals to Scripture and tradition and declined to modify the law in any way. Humanae vitae (July 25, 1968; On Human Life) was one of the best-known and most widely discussed papal documents in history. It upheld the Church's traditional teaching on contraception—a teaching already stated with clarity by Pius XI and Pius XII.

A unique feature of Pope Paul's reign, breaking with long-standing tradition, was his travels to so many parts of the world. These journeys—to the Holy Land, to India, to the UN headquarters in New York, and to Portugal, Turkey, Colombia, Switzerland, and Uganda—seemed not only to indicate his eagerness for personal knowledge of and contact with all parts of the Universal Church over which he presided, but also a desire to relate the Church to the modern world and to contribute to a solution for the world's problems.

World Peace

The greatest of these problems was, of course, that of lasting peace. Pope Paul's pontificate took place in a time of ever-increasing international tension and dangers. No pope ever worked harder to achieve world peace. It was the subject of many written documents and a constantly recurring theme of his discourses. Much effort turned on the war in Vietnam. He repeatedly addressed letters to the heads of the warring nations and met with such world figures as U.S. president Lyndon B. Johnson and UN secretary general U Thant to discuss means of ending the war. Simultaneously he sought to bring peace to other parts of the world: in the Middle East, in the Dominican Republic, in the Congo, and in Nigeria. He continued the policy initiated by John XXIII of entering when possible into negotiations with communist nations. Both Soviet president Nikolai Podgorny and foreign minister Andrei Gromyko met with Pope Paul. At various times agreements were reached with Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia that resulted in a lifting of some of the restrictions on religious activities in those countries and in the Holy See's being permitted to name bishops to vacant dioceses.

Pope Paul died of a heart attack on August 6, 1978, at Castel Gandolfo and was succeeded by John Paul I.

Further Reading on Paul VI

The Pope Speaks: Dialogues of Paul VI with Jean Guitton (trans. 1968) provides informal and delightful insights into the Pope's thoughts on many subjects. Guitton, a French lay theologian and a close personal friend of the Pontiff, compiled these dialogues from actual conversations with him and published them with Pope Paul's permission. A number of biographies and studies of Paul VI appeared after his accession to the pontificate. All have their merits, but soon became dated. The best and most readable are John G. Clancy, Apostle for Our Time: Pope Paul VI (1963), and William E. Barrett, Shepherd of Mankind (1964). Xavier Rynne (pseudonym), Vatican Council II (1968), offers a vivid if occasionally sensational day-by-day account of the four years of Vatican II; the portion "The Second Session" contains a good biographical sketch of Pope Paul. His obituary was found in the Catholic Encyclopedia.