William MADGES and Michael J. DALEY, eds. Vatican II: 50 Personal Stories. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2012. pp. 185. $28.00. ISBN: 978-1-57075-943-2 (pbk.).
Reviewed by Dolores L. CHRISTIE, University Heights, OH 44118.

“Tis the season! As the fiftieth anniversary of Vatican II is celebrated, it is fitting to review the insights and experiences not only of those who attended the council but of theologians and other professionals who have emerged after and perhaps because of the council. This 2012 edition of the Orbis publication of Vatican II personal stories adds a dozen new accounts to the already rich corpus published in 2003. Drawing on the insights of Catholic and Protestant scholars, diverse in ethnicity, age, and attitude; the book offers individual perspectives on the council itself as well as what occurred in the backrooms and restaurants of Rome. It provides biographical context for its varied authors, updated for the new edition. The authors include many whose lives have intersected not only at the council but in the halls of small seminaries and colleges before, during, and for years to come. This amazing collection of experiences helps the reader to understand the council in situ and to think about its meaning in the fifty years since this historic event. Although each narrative is advertised as a personal vignette, each contributes a small piece of the mosaic that is the council and its legacy.

The book treats the topic in five sections. Part One sets the context of Vatican II. The rest of the book is divided in sections according to the major documents: the liturgy; church; revelation; scripture and tradition; ecumenism and interreligious dialogue; and world issues and social justice.The contributions vary from almost exclusively personal reflections to more didactic accounts. None disappoints. For those unfamiliar with ecclesiastic jargon or certain Italian phrases, a glossary is provided.

Not all the entries detail a rosy picture of a universal and ongoing gung-ho progressive agenda. Cardinal Dulles’ contribution cautions that the initial emphasis of the council was too strongly placed on newness, to the neglect of continuity. Pauline Viviano recounts a recent attack on use of historical-critical method for biblical research. She quotes a homily in which the priest declared such scholarly advance as “an evil which has infiltrated the church for the past forty years.” At least three of the contributors to the volume have been investigated for their theological positions. Elizabeth Johnson mentions briefly her dismay at what she calls “current official ecclesiastical efforts to reverse Vatican II’s direction.” The concluding essay of the new edition, by Cuban theologian, Fernando Segovia, proclaims a note of hope even in the face of what he calls a contemporary “betrayal of the council.” His voice and those like his likely would not have been audible in a pre-conciliar church.

As Dennis Doyle notes in his foreward, an historically-conscious worldview demands that the council and its meaning are still being worked out in the ongoing life of the church. For some of us of less tender years, the book revisits the promise and progression through which we have lived: the insider tales of the mysterious Xavier Rynne, the early tussles among the delegates that resulted in radical marvelous documents, the “smell” of the new church--windows wide open. As noted above, it likewise notes the contemporary redaction of some of its themes.

This book is not meant to be an overly scholarly commentary on the council. Rather, it serves as a tonic to those of us--including some of the authors--who believe that the effects of the Vatican II renewal are dissipating. It reprises the excitement, the surprises, and the real change that the council represents. For those too young to have personal experience of the council--this includes some of the authors--it fills in gaps of understanding. I would recommend it as well for students, particularly like one of mine who thought Vatican II was the summer residence of the pope. It is a valuable but accessible resource to understand the council and its impact on the history of Catholicism.


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