Gerald O’COLLINS, SJ, Living Vatican II, the 21st Council for the 21st Century. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2006. Pp.220. $19.95 pb. ISBN 0-8091-4290-2.
Reviewed by Francis BERNA, OFM, La Salle University, 1900 W. Olney Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19141-1199

Referring to the Cappadocians, O’Collins writes, “None of them had been present at the First Council of Nicea of 325, but all of them were committed to receiving and living its teaching… They give a wonderful example of what it means to implement conciliar teaching with creative fidelity” (p. 49). While the author acknowledges that the more casual reader may want to skip over the theological depth of third chapter which reviews Cappadocian theology and “principles for reception” grasping a sense of the chapter helps the reader appreciate the ties binding the other more loosely connected chapters. For those who grasp the fundamental principles that helped the Cappadocians both receive Nicea and prepare the way for the first council of Constantinople (381), O’Collins provides a solid theological foundation for the ongoing work of faithfully receiving the teaching of Vatican II.

Starting with his own experience of following Vatican II from the distance of his seminary education in his native Australia, and tertian formation in Munster, O’Collins highlights successes and limitations in receiving the Council’s teaching over the past forty years. Likewise he expresses some personal and church-wide hopes for the ongoing reception of the Council in the future.

The author’s lengthy career of teaching at the Gregorian University in Rome as well as the extent of his scholarly achievement provide a perspective with an international flavor and good theological thinking. As he addresses the topics of liturgy, the Church’s moral teaching and the Church’s relations with others in ecumenical and inter-faith dialogue, the reader can sense the “fresh air” that John XXIII longed to have move through the Church. The international perspective of the author helps the reader move beyond the limits of immediate experience and appreciates the tentative character of what some exert as a new dogmatism in the areas of liturgical implementation, moral teaching and “orthodoxy.”

Probably one of the greatest challenges for the reception of Vatican II lies in the fact that many of its documents and successive teachings on their implementation remain unread. O’Collins draws from the document on the “Training of Priests” that theology exists in and for the living community of the whole church. While a simple statement on its surface, those same words convey the end of a clerical monopoly as well as literal traditionalism.

Some of the author’s suggestions and hopes, particularly in regard to liturgy, either convey what is already popular opinion, at least in the United States, or amount to little more than personal preference in style. Several similar comments can be found in other chapters as well. However, these are clearly all outweighed with his highlighting Cardinal Cassidy’s “ecumenism of the heart” and the Trinitarian structure of John Paul II’s ecumenical and inter-faith theology. O’Collins with a certain hope for the coming church in the areas of justice, collegiality and subsidiarity. The reader can believe that his dreams stay rooted in the realm of possibility.

One can appreciate why O’Collins would suggest to the casual reader to skip over the third chapter. All of the other chapters convey the author’s personal insights and experience with a very readable style. The Trinitarian theology of the Cappadocians does not lend itself well to personal and practical interpretation. However, it is precisely his insight regarding the Cappadocian creative reception of Nicea that grounds the freedom and provides the courage for the ongoing work to receive the 21st Council for the 21st Century.

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