Yves Congar began writing his first journal at the behest of his mother when he was ten years old. It covered the years of WWI from 1914-1918. His second journal highlighted the years from 1946-1956 when Congar was under a dark cloud, forbidden to teach by the Holy Office, because his writings were thought to be not entirely orthodox. Congar’s third journal, all nine hundred pages of it, gives us a bird’s- eye view of the inner workings of Vatican II from the perspective of a person who, arguably, had the greatest impact on the various schemas produced by this pastoral Council. C. began his Journal of the Council in July, 1960 when he became a consultor to the Preparatory Theological Commission before the actual opening of the Council in 1962. Congar’s journal shows that Pope John XXIII ‘s decision to call Vatican II into being was a visionary one, however, not enough thought had been given by the Pope as to how the Council would actually proceed and so it commenced in fits and starts.
In the beginning C. and Henri de Lubac felt that their presence at the Council amounted to mere window dressing. They were “miniature versions of the Galileo case.” Why so? Cardinal Ottaviani of the Holy Office and the theologians of the Roman universities, like the Lateran, dominated the Preparatory Theological Commission. Theologians like Sebastian Tromp of the Gregorianum deemed it necessary to defend the teachings of the most recent popes. For Tromp scripture did not function as the fons or source of theology under the guidance of the magisterium or teaching office of the Church. Rather, the source of theology was the magisterium itself in the person of the recent and reigning pope.
Throughout his journal Congar gives us a blow by blow account of how the theologians (who espoused the nouvelle theologie and who viewed the Church as the people of God), gained the upper hand over the Curia and the theologians who were raised on the ”manual “or Denzinger theology of Neo-Scholasticism and who operated with a juridical understanding of the Church as institution. C. notes that the logjam between these two factions ended on November 20, 1962 when the schema offered by the Roman theologians failed to win out. Congar notes that with this vote of non placet, the age of the Counter Reformation ended and a new age for Christendom commenced. Strictly speaking, the logjam between these two groups did not end completely. It continued on after the Council and exists even today. After Vatican II there arose two groups who differed on the interpretation and implementation of the Council. The group of largely French, Belgian, Dutch, and German theologians like Congar, Chenu, Rahner, Kung, Schillebeeckx, insisted on implementing the Council in the direction of empowering the laity and raising the level of theological awareness among the people of God, in part, by establishing the journal, Concilium, in 1965. Meanwhile another group (under the aegis of H. Urs von Balthasar, J. Ratzinger, and H. de Lubac) wanted to undo Vatican II, in part by publishing the journal, Communio in 1972. This latter group, spearheaded by Pope Benedict XVI, wanted a return to Latin, Roman centralization, and a de-emphasis on the importance and authority of national episcopal conferences.
Congar also points out how Vatican II with its emphasis on episcopal collegiality proved to be a counterweight to Vatican I with its definition of papal infallibility. He observes that at Vatican I the bishops and the Roman people did the heavy lifting. However, at Vatican II the bishops were there as shepherds while the theologians as periti were there as advisors to the bishops who for the most part eagerly sought out their wise advice and counsel, except for the French bishops who did not call on their advisors for advice and in the case of the Polish bishops had no periti. Congar’s journal notes that the Belgian contingent of Philips, Moeller, Suenens et al, were the drivers of the Council. When their exegetes like Rigaux spoke, people listened. C. says wryly “What Cerfaux has said is a bit above the word of the Gospel.” C. also refers to Vatican II as “the Council of Louvain held in Rome.”
This book details the inner workings of the Council, warts and all. The English translation of the French text is first-rate. Congar himself comes across as a truly holy man, one who is very human and frank. C. calls a spade a spade and for this reason stipulated that his Journal not be published until the year 2000. Throughout the proceedings of the Council C. had a painful muscular disease, myelasthenia, which made it extremely difficult to walk. Despite this illness, C. would often work thirteen hour days. C. accepted the call to be a peritus with the understanding that he would not “undertake anything unless asked to do so by the bishop… since it is they who are the Council.” In sum, the publishers are to be congratulated for producing a text that is both extremely important for understanding Vatican II and, to boot, at an affordable price.