The four essays contained in this volume have seen previous incarnations. With the exception of Joseph Komonchak’s contribution, which he gave as the DeLubac Lecture at St. Louis Universityin 1999 (subsequently reprinted in Theology Digest in that year), the other three pieces that form the bulk of the book have come out in Theological Studies. The remaining authors are John O’Malley, Stephen Schloesser, and Neil Ormerod. Additionally, O’Malley writes a substantive introduction on the Second Vatican Council, which is mainly a justification for the question that forms the common theme of the volume. He gives an account of the previous councils together with the major theological ideas and papal pronouncements that led up to Vatican II. It is difficult to see the role of David Schultenover in assembling this book, in that he offers no preface or afterward, though he is the present editor of Theological Studies and so would be responsible for permissions to reprint.
Komonchak focuses on Vatican II as an event, by which he means both an experiential and consequential occurrence of significant note. Judging by the relative unease with which the Council has been viewed these last four decades, there seems little doubt about the consequences of that moment in the Church’s history. What is less clear is the form of the experience itself, together with subsequent interpretations of that experience. As an attempt to clarify the conciliar hermeneutic, Komonchak’s essay goes far to elucidate how these two elements bear on our understanding of the meanings generated by Vatican II. The importance of Komonchak’s essay can perhaps be underscored by the fact that he is among the first to bring a largely European debate on the nature of an ecclesiological event like Vatican II to the attention of an English-speaking audience.
John O’Malley looks at the ‘longue durée’ in order to find the crust beneath the hype surrounding Vatican II. To O’Malley, some of this falderal can be traced to a July 2005 book launch by Archbishop Agostino Marchetto at which Cardinal Camillo Ruini, then the Vicar of Rome and president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, gave an unqualified endorsement. This would have mattered little were it not a book castigating the so-called Bologna School of historical analysis led by one of the foremost church historians, Giuseppe Alberigo (†2007). Marchetto and Ruini believed that the Bolognese had created the idea that Vatican II broke with the past, a seeming violation of the most basic tenet of Tradition. With this discord in sharp focus, O’Malley’s essay answers the question: how did we get here? He finds the objections of Archbishop Marchetto and Cardinal Ruini to run on a track largely incongruous with contemporary historical science.
Where O’Malley looks at the shifts of ecclesial existence leading to the Council, fellow Jesuit Stephen Schloesser examines the cultural landscape of the twentieth century, including the Church’s interactions with social movements (particularly in France). While a more global survey would have been helpful, Schloesser nevertheless creates a picture of theological engagement with the political currents in the last century. His essay is heavily weighted toward the influence of Jesuits—de Lubac, de Chardain, and Rahner—which might leave the reader wondering if any others had as much sway.
Neil Ormerod’s essay rounds out the volume. It is perhaps the most difficult piece in that it often lapses into the jargon associated with a Lonerganian system of history. For instance, in one passage Ormerod writes “the claim of my proposal in relation to ecclesiology is that it should be based on an empirical and critical analysis of the historical data, the adoption of a normative framework, and a dialectic account of the breakdown from that normativity, together with a practical therapeutic based on that account” (172). It is all well and good to lay out such a proposal, and to call for a “normative framework,” but one would hope for some delivery on the promise. Instead, Ormerod goes on to undercut one of the more prominent post-Vatican II understandings of the Church—the ecclesiology of communion.
This is a collection that, in the end, resorts to high theory. Even in its historical analysis—admittedly quite comprehensive—there is a surprising lack of attention to the narrativity of the Council, that is, the ways in which ordinary people have shaped the story. What we lack is a social history of how the Vatican Council has affected the lives of real people. Did anything happen at Vatican II? The question is beguilingly simple, but inordinately complex—and yet after reading this work, one cannot help but assert an answer in the affirmative.