Kevin J. AHERN, ed. Visions of Hope: Emerging Theologians and the Future of the Church. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2013. pp 261. $40.00. ISBN: 9781626980167. Reviewed by Eric W. HENDRY, Plano, TX 75026
In March 2012, several dozen graduate students and young theologians met together in Boston, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council and to discuss what they identified as the major challenges currently facing the Catholic Church. Dubbed the Emerging Theologians conference, their original presentations cautiously addressed their collective hopes on the future developments of liturgy, ministry, dialogue, ethics and ecclesiology.
While the conference participants represented Catholic theological institutions on six continents, most (eighteen) of the twenty-two presentations collected for this volume were written by those who studied at universities in the United States. Boston College was represented by the most (eleven) contributors i.e. current graduate students, doctoral candidates and those who recently completed a PhD; the University of Notre Dame and Katholieke Universiteit Leuven were each represented by a pair of individuals; other young contributors came from Fordham, Chicago, Dayton and the Pontifical Gregorian University. A total of nine women and twelve men submitted contributions; an introduction and conclusion are offered by Ahern, the editor.
The keynote presentation by Massimo Faggioli, a researcher under G. Alberigo (Bologna) and currently an assistant professor at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN, offers readers an interesting beginning point to investigate the relevancy and lasting impact of Vatican II and contemporary theological developments. Faggioli views Sacrosanctum Concilium as the primary target of hostile, anti-conciliar elements within the Church, and offers a hopeful analysis of the ad intra - ad extra balance achieved in the ressourcement of both liturgy and ecclesiology.
There are seven specific presentations that I see as stand-out contributions within this entire collection: in the Liturgy section, Elizabeth L. Antus (Notre Dame) addresses the basic need of sacramental hospitality and radical inclusiveness toward individuals suffering with intellectual disabilities; in the Ministry section, Anselma Dolcich-Ashley (Notre Dame) writes of the serious damage done to hierarchical authority as a result of mishandled clergy sexual-abuse scandals, and the emergence of new forms of baptismal authority from both within and outside of existing Church structures; in the Dialogue section, Heather Miller Rubens (Chicago) addresses recent ecumenical cooperation and a preferential trajectory of dialogue over and above evangelization in post-conciliar development, while Sandra Arenas (Leuven) writes on the interplay between the sensus fidelium and the concept of a consensus ecclesiarum across denominations involved in dialogue; in the Ethics section, Ellen Van Stichel (Leuven) identifies the benefits of grounding Catholic social justice in the Trinitarian-relational anthropology of E. Cambón, and his notion of kenotic, self-giving love as the motivating reason for all forms of social justice; in the final section on Ecclesiology, Amanda Osheim (Boston College) concentrates on the principles of dialogical discernment and the orthopraxis of reception, especially needed in the relationships between lay ecclesial ministers, lay theologians and bishops, while B. Kevin Brown (Boston College) contrasts the different approaches of Walter Kasper and Joseph Ratzinger as evidence of the historic shifts in understanding the reciprocal relationship between the local church and the universal church. Each of the presenters offers a fresh, positive and hopeful vision for the future of post-conciliar Catholic theology.
Overall, the twenty-two contributions are of varying quality, style and length (the shortest essay is 4 pp, the longest is 22 pp), and it should be noted that not all of their contributions are equally coherent. I also anticipate that the price itself – $40 for a collection of (mainly) student essays – might actually hinder its widespread adoption at some institutions. Nevertheless, I recommend this collection as a good supplemental text for both upper-level undergraduate and graduate courses dealing with the Second Vatican Council and contemporary Catholic theologies.