Date of Award

Spring 2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Lehner, Ulrich

Second Advisor

Mueller, Joseph

Third Advisor

Wood, Susan


This dissertation sheds further light on the nature of church reform and the roots of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) through a study of eighteenth-century Catholic reformers who anticipated Vatican II. The most striking of these examples is the Synod of Pistoia (1786), the high-water mark of "late Jansenism." Most of the reforms of the Synod were harshly condemned by Pope Pius VI in the Bull Auctorem fidei (1794), and late Jansenism was totally discredited in the increasingly ultramontane nineteenth-century Catholic Church. Nevertheless, many of the reforms implicit or explicit in the Pistoian agenda - such as an exaltation of the role of bishops, an emphasis on infallibility as a gift to the entire church, religious liberty, a simpler and more comprehensible liturgy that incorporates the vernacular, and the encouragement of lay Bible reading and Christocentric devotions - were officially promulgated at Vatican II. The first chapter describes the nature of Vatican II reform as ressourcement, aggiornamento, and the development of doctrine. The "hermeneutic of reform," proposed by Pope Benedict XVI and approved of by John O'Malley, is put forward as a way past the dead-end of "continuity" and "discontinuity" debates. Chapter two pushes back the story of the roots of Vatican II to the eighteenth century, in which a variety of reform movements, including the Catholic Enlightenment, attempted ressourcement and aggiornamento. The next two chapters investigate the context and reforms enacted by Bishop Scipione de'Ricci (1741-1810) and the Synod of Pistoia, paying special attention to their parallels with Vatican II, and arguing that some of these connections are deeper than mere surface-level affinity. Chapter five considers the reception of Pistoia, shows why these reforms failed, and uses the criteria of Yves Congar to judge them as "true" or "false" reform. The final chapter proves that the Synod was a "ghost" present at the Council. The council fathers struggled with, and ultimately enacted, many of the same ideas. This study complexifies the story of the roots of the Council, the nature of Catholic reform, and the manner in which the contemporary church is continuous and discontinuous with the past.