The issue of authority in the church is a hot topic. Anthony Oelrich offers his analysis of the subject by investigating the contribution of Yves Congar to this issue. Oelrich is a priest of the diocese of St. Cloud in Minnesota where he serves as pastor of several parishes and as the director of continuing education for clergy. His A Church Fully Engaged: Yves Congar’s Vision of Ecclesial Authority “flows out” of his doctoral dissertation (2005). The book is well organized; its one hundred and forty-two pages of the main text can be read in a few hours.
The core of the book consists of chapters 3–5. Oelrich first discusses two principles of authority, which he identifies in Congar’s writings (chapters 3–4). This is followed by his critical assessment of Congar and by a proposal of a solution (chapter 5).
Oelrich’s first principle of authority is “The Community or Life Principle.” With this principle Oelrich means that “God the Father acts from within the church by means of the Holy Spirit to build up the Body of Christ his Son” (74). This principle “expresses Congar’s deep conviction that there is an interior principle in the life of the church,” that “God does not simply build the church from outside and above but from within” (74). Oelrich sees the implication of this principle in the call of all in the church to become fully engaged in its mission.
The second principle Oelrich calls “The Hierarchical Principle of Authority.” It refers to “the authority of Christ, as transcendent Lord, acting sacramentally to build the church” (111). Oelrich understands this authority to consist in “the mission of service,” which was entrusted “to the college of apostles and their successors, the college of bishops” (111). This authority according to Oelrich “contains a sacra potestas for teaching, governing, and sanctifying the people of God” (112). Oelrich sees the implication of this principle in showing that Christ is “the author of the church’s life” (114).
Oelrich’s difficulty with Congar’s two principles is that they set a dialectic between hierarchy and life. He thinks that Congar “fails to place the various and certainly distinct aspects of the church within an authentic trinitarian dynamic.” While Oelrich acknowledges that the two principles “reveal the true diversity that exists in various aspects of the church,” he holds that they threaten “to diminish the essential unity of the divine economy.” Oelrich does not believe that a dialectical methodology is able “to articulate the trinitarian logic of the church” (129).
Oelrich finds the remedy for this inadequacy in the work of Kilian McDonnell. In McDonnell’s approach to trinitarian theology, Oelrich finds “a sound framework for a richer expression of Congar’s theological insights on authority in the church” (123). Oelrich proposes to ground the hierarchical and life principles in the Trinity. The trinitarian logic for Oelrich would replace the distinction and opposition created by the dialectical method with “diversity . . . in the communion of persons that is the church” (134).
Oelrich demonstrates an admirable mastery of both primary and secondary sources. The bibliography at the end of the book is skillfully organized under different categories. The book can be an excellent resource for graduate students working on the subject of ecclesial authority in connection with Yves Congar. Nonetheless, the author fails to situate this project within the contemporary trajectories of the debate on ecclesial authority. Providing the general context of how and where this study fits these trajectories would have been greatly appreciated by a reader not familiar with the discourse.