Ladislas ORSY, Receiving the Council: Theological and Canonical Insights and Debates. Collegeville, MN: Michael Glazier Books, 2009. pp. 151. $29.95 pb. ISBN 978-0-8146-5377-7.
Reviewed by Randall WOODARD, Saint Leo University

As the title suggests, Orsy offers readers a penetrating analysis of the debates surrounding the reception and implementation of Vatican II. The work combines insight from canon law with theological reflection in order to address ten key issues that remain in need of further dialogue and continued realization. Written to address our current need to accept and live out the council, Orsy presents readers with his vision of the council so that it might engage readers and promote further discussion and debate.

The book begins with an introduction to the notion of communio as expressed in conciliar times. The notion of communio functions through most of the book as the primary interpretive lens by which the author assesses the contemporary church’s successes and failures to bring about the vision of Vatican II. From this initial foundation, the remaining nine chapters address specific themes with a disputed questions format. One of the most pressing concerns discussed in the text is the means by which decision making and authority are exercised in the church. In particular, the vision of John Paul II’s Apostolos suos is contrasted with the intention and spirit of Vatican II.

In each chapter, Orsy draws the reader into the key areas of the Council, shares the practical implications of differing interpretations and then offers conclusions which are rich in their reflections on canon law and theology. Orsy’s chapter on Stability and Canon Law is a prime example. Drawing from Newman’s thought, Orsy assesses thoroughly and argues powerfully that new developments in canon law have “increased—as no law has ever done it before—the ‘necessary things,’ the doctrines that must be held, and it has decreased the 'doubtful things,’ teachings that were disputed questions” (110).

There are several outstanding features of this current work. Not only has Orsy identified pressing questions and debates to be analyzed, he has offered readers a text that combines the highest quality of research with impressive clarity. Orsy successfully articulates difficult theological debates with excellent allegories, stories, and examples so that the fruits of outstanding scholarship are combined with an excellent teaching style. The author’s own personal experience in Rome at the time of Vatican II, and his extensive career in both theology and canon law shine through in the depth, insight, and passion that Orsy shares with the readers.

It would have been helpful had Orsy provided some additional depth in respect to those holding contrary positions. In his chapter on Definitive Doctrine, a very engaging debate between Orsy and (then) Cardinal Ratzinger is reprinted. This format allowed for a rich debate over several important ideas to be drawn out in great detail. A similar style in the other chapters that provided more information on behalf of those espousing the other side in the disputed question would have been helpful for readers.

This is a work that will be of great benefit to all in the field of theology. In particular, it is highly recommended for all who are interested in Vatican II, contemporary ecclesiology, church governance, and canon law. It seems particularly fitting for graduate students and advanced undergraduates and would work well as a companion to the council documents in almost any course related to Vatican II.

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