Bevans and Gros’s text, Evangelization and Religious Freedom, is part of Paulist Press’s series commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. This text concerns the documents Ad Gentes (AG) and Dignitatis Humanae (DH). This series will eventually cover all of the constitutions, decrees, and declarations from the Council. Bevans, who teaches in the field of missiology at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, and Gros, the Distinguished Professor of Ecumenical and Historical Theology at Memphis Theological Seminary, offer the reader an accessible treatment of these important documents on mission and religious freedom. Bevans wrote the commentary on AG, while Gros penned the commentary on DH.
The organization of each section is one of the primary strengths of the book. In part one the development of the each document is examined. The authors reach back to pre-conciliar developments and steer the reader through the final approval of the document at the Council. In parts II-V the authors switch directions and assess the major points contained in the documents, implementation, current state of the questions, and end with a bibliography for further reading on the topics.
In part one Bevans and Gros aptly illustrate the forces and personalities which guided the development of the documents. Bevans highlights the contribution of Johannes Schütte, the superior general of the Society of the Divine Word in the later stages of development of AG. Bevans points out that Schütte was able to steer the development of the schema on mission from a set of curial propositions to a robust understanding of the mission of the Church (17). In the section on DH, Gros argues that to understand the Declaration on Religious Freedom, one must look to the wider history of Christianity, including effects of the American and French Revolutions on church and state relations (154).
The discussion of the development and post-conciliar implementation naturally leads the reader to the fourth part of each section, a discussion of the state of the questions. It is within in these important paragraphs that Bevans and Gros are able to illustrate to the contemporary reader the relevance of the Council documents. Bevans places AG in dialogue with Evangelii Nuntiandi and Redemptoris Missio, two post-conciliar mission encyclicals from Paul VI and John Paul II, and offers the reader a solid presentation of missiology in the 21st century. Bevans sees two key components in missiology today. First, the Church is missionary by its very nature. This is a theme which runs throughout the text. Secondly, mission is not to be confined to foreign missionary societies. Instead, mission is to be understood as being multifaceted (97). These facets encompass: witness, liturgy, work for justice and peace, interreligious dialogue, and reconciliation to name just a few.
Jeffrey Gros approaches DH similarly. He first places the document in context and notes that DH has often been overlooked in the Anglo-Saxon world, with its tradition of tolerance and the separation of church and state. Gros argues that the teaching on religious freedom at the Council was a watershed moment for the rest of the Catholic world (151). Gros also indicates that sections of the Declaration on Religious Freedom “parallel very closely the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the WCC Declaration on Religious Liberty” (179). Of particular importance is his presentation of the canonical “thesis/hypothesis” position on religious freedom in situations of religious pluralism (158). In part IV, Gros assesses the contribution of John Courtney Murray and proceeds to comment on religious pluralism and education. Within the area of religious freedom, Gros cites as a question for further study the tension between articulating the centrality of Jesus Christ and the recognition of elements of the Holy Spirit found in other religions (226).
Both Bevans and Gros contextualize their respective documents into the wider theological discussion both before the Council and after, as well as provide the reader with an invaluable resource in their bibliographies. Both authors include extensive and comprehensive bibliographies divided into topical subsections.
One weakness of the text, most likely unavoidable in a project of this scope, concerns the presentation of the development of the documents. In chronicling the evolution of the documents, the reader at times can get lost in the mix. Trying to keep straight the different schemas and the progression of development is challenging, but not impossible.
This volume is a welcome addition to the existing scholarship on the Second Vatican Council. It is readily accessible to the undergraduate researcher and its robust notes and bibliography make it a rich resource to others in the theological community.