As one of an eight-book series entitled Rediscovering Vatican II, Gaillardetz’s text presents a probing picture of contemporary issues in Catholic ecclesiology since the Council, using as a focus and springboard the following three conciliar documents: the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen gentium), the Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church (Christus Dominus), and the Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches (Orientalium ecclesiarum).
The basic structure of the text follows the aim of the series as a whole. Part I situates the Second Vatican Council in its historical context, including brief histories of the textual development of the three documents. Part II takes a closer look at the documents in final form, highlighting specific themes under the following three headings: Theological Foundations of the Church, The Unity and Catholicity of the Church, and Church Office and the Exercise of Leadership. Part III explores the theological and ecclesial environment following the Council, attending to the questions of reception and implementation in relation to the themes highlighted in Part II. Finally, Part IV offers Gaillardetz’s own assessment of the remaining questions and the direction Catholic ecclesiological reflection should take regarding current issues.
Gaillardetz approaches the documents contextually in the sense of seeing the Council as a “dynamic ecclesial event,” and he seeks a middle ground that attends to continuities and discontinuities in relation to previous theological contribution and magisterial teaching. While affirming the Council’s continuity with Tradition on the macro-level, Gaillardetz finds it important to acknowledge the “micro-ruptures” (following Ormond Rush) which illustrate newness or discontinuity when compared to previous theological tendencies. For example, the Council’s consideration of the role of the Holy Spirit in the Church challenges a previous approach to the Church that some label as christomonist. The Council’s attention to the significance of the local Church in relation to the universal Church invites new reflection on a variety of ecclesiological questions, as Gaillardetz demonstrates. Other issues include the “substantive shift” reflected in the famous ‘subsistit in’ (n.b. this text predates the CDF’s June 2007 statement on this topic), the renewed focus on the order of bishop, the role of the laity, the Church as pilgrim, the restoration of the permanent diaconate, and the understanding of episcopal collegiality. In all of these, Gaillardetz sees important shifts and new emphases embraced by the Council, though perhaps not always embraced consistently.
Gaillardetz’s final chapter may be the most intriguing since there he invites the reader to consider further steps and directions for theological reflection and ecclesial praxis and reform. In particular, his argument stressing the need to develop a theology of Baptism as a foundation for ecclesiology appears to be a fruitful direction that builds upon the recent advances made in a theology of the laity and avoids both extremes of a polarized separation and an amorphous union of the laity and clergy. In addition, his development of the notion that the whole Church is a community of discernment (e.g., the role of charisms, the sensus fidei, etc.) takes a more expansive view that evades restricting the adjective ‘charismatic’ to merely a movement within the Church. Other significant areas to ponder include Gaillardetz’s treatment of the distinction between the objective and subjective holiness of the Catholic Church, the role of the local church in the nomination of a bishop, the exercise of papal primacy in relation to the local bishop’s authority, and the phenomenon of “lay ecclesial ministry.”
Overall, Gaillardetz presents a balanced, informative, and well-argued account, though there is room for argument at particular junctures. For instance, to describe Lumen gentium’s repeated references to the First Vatican Council’s teaching on papal authority and primacy as an “excessive caution” towards an unharnessed notion of collegiality seems a bit overstated (see p. 77). History may judge those references as crucial for a proper integration of papal primacy and episcopal collegiality. Also, to argue it is a “flawed strategy” to see the Eastern Catholic Churches as models—however imperfect—for ecumenical reunion seems premature in light of the possibilities here for continuing development and reform (see p. 163). For some, perhaps the most significant area for argument lies in the methodology outlined in the preface and reflected in the recurrent language of “shift” to illustrate the “micro-ruptures” present in the conciliar documents. Some may also see a deficiency in emphasizing making the Church rather than being made by the Church, though the two aspects are not mutually exclusive. In any case, Gaillardetz’s text demonstrates the relevance of the cited words of Venerable Bede that “each day the church gives birth to the church.”
Graduate and advanced undergraduate students could use this text fruitfully. Adults familiar with the Catholic Church would benefit as well, though it is recommended that readers have sufficient catechesis and some theological background to understand the theological nuances properly. The text includes helpful endnotes, suggestions for further reading, and an index.