This scholarly tome about a momentous event insures its importance. It arrives as the fifth and final volume, under Alberigo's general editorship, recounting the events, speeches, personalities and, most interestingly, the maneuverings at the Second Vatican Council. Individual historians composed the chapters, and an international body of distinguished historians (e.g., R. Aubert of Louvain) constituted the editorial board. Such oversight is meant to suggest gravitas. Serious readers ought to peruse the final excursus (re: documentary sources employed, which are much more extensive than the expected Acta Synodalis Sacrosancti Concilii Vaticani II) before launching into chapter one.
Two kinds of readers will profit from this book: a younger reader trained after Vatican II and for whom "schema XIII" and its checkered history will have little or no association with what everyone today readily calls Gaudium et Spes, and an older reader who lived though the conciliar years and who will be reminded of the excitement and the turmoil of those four years, such as Paul VI's encyclical, Mysterium Fidei, issued on the eve of Period Four against what was transpiring in Dutch theology and Eucharistic practice during 1964-65 (pp. 29 ff in Alberigo). Older readers will likely go, "ah, yes, I remember well those times."
The schema on Religious Liberty had the most torturous life at the Council. Paul VI prohibited a straw vote on the schema at the end of Period Three (Fall 1964). Conservative voices had forced the pope's hand. This maneuver chagrined the progressives and energized the American bishops into a united force for the schema as no other schema topic had. It was an American delegation to the pope's apartments that ensured that the schema would be on the docket for the start of Period Four (Fall 1965). The machinations and power plays during September and October of 1965 make the most compelling reading (pp. 63-122) in the almost 700-page volume, although the vicissitudes of "schema XIII" are a close second in page-turning interest. The proposed declaration on religious freedom, more clearly than any other topic, exposed the differences between the conservatives and progressives; into these contretemps were added other "personal interests" (bishops from concordat nations where Catholicism was favored, bishops from countries where Catholicism was forcibly muted, such as the Soviet bloc and Muslim lands).
American readers of the book, familiar with the legacy of John Courtney Murray, will want to follow his role in the history of the schema and those dire days when he thought all was lost to the opposition from Cardinals Siri, Ruffini, Browne, and Archbishop Lefebvre. By October 5, "Murray had become seriously ill and had to abandon the [drafting committee], and Congar was literally exhausted." As historian Gilles Routhier notes, "Murray's absence led to a shifting of the tone of the text, as the theological dimension received greater emphasis at the expense of the more strictly juridical or rational argument proposed by Murray" (p. 114). It is behind-the-scenes vignettes like this one on Murray that enlighten readers to how this or that schema eventuated. The footnotes are as enlightening as the narrative chapters are.
The heavy weight voices on both sides are there to be heard (Felici & Siri, Suenens & Lercaro, Rahner & Congar, S.Tromp & J.Ford, and the Louvain periti who were the largest contingent from the Catholic academic world. I was struck by how low keyed a voice Alfredo Ottaviani had in this book. Was his influence plied behind the doors? Readers are sure to perk up when the names Ratzinger and Wojtyla appear, knowing how papal events later transpired.
I conclude with some scattered vignettes of my choosing. Ratzinger was opposed to the ambiguous terms "people of God" and the "world" as used in schema XIII. This is interesting because, years later as head of the CDF, he proposed communio as the hermeneutical key to grasping the spirit of Vatican II and not populus Dei. Pace Ratzinger, Dominic Chenu was bullish about the methodology of schema XIII (its approach through signs of the times and its non-scholastic language), this coming from the finest scholastic historian of the day. The particular subsections of schema XIII, especially the ones on conjugal life and on war and peace, drew heavy "us against them" interventions. After the Egyptian Melkite patriarch, Zoghby, asked the bishops to adopt the possibility for divorce and remarriage, as practiced in the Churches of the East, Pope Paul asked the recently created cardinal, Charles Journet, to use his theological stature to rebut Zoghby (see p. 159 and 400ff) the next day. But Paul's overly cautious temperament is perceptible when Bishop Rusch comes to him to complain that the Holy Office is trying to stifle his voice on the birth control topic. Rather than echoing Cardinal Ottaviani's admonition, the pope appointed Rusch to the papal birth control commission then in existence.
The influence of Prof. John Ford of the Catholic University was greater than I imagined, as a conservative voice not wishing any change in the traditional doctrine that producing children was the primary end of marriage and that interventions against fertilizations were immoral. The maneuverings between the conservatives and the progressives on the birth control topic and the ends-of-marriage doctrine (pp. 408 ff) should be required readings for all students of the later encyclical, Humanae Vitae
. For ecumenically minded readers, the chapter providing the view of the Council from the Orthodox and Protestant observers is very well done. It comes from the hand of Lukas Vischer, an observer from the World Council of Churches. If anyone is unconvinced of the supremely important progressive role played by Cardinal Bea at the Council, this chapter will convince you.
The final chapters are retrospectives on Vatican II, and Alberigo's own (chapters 7 and 8) are superb. He notes, for example, that the bishops were unsuccessful setting up post-conciliar interpretation commissions, and as a result interpretations (read "controls") fell, as if by gravitation, back into curial departments. Where the Curia lost out on the council floor, they won when the bishops went home.