Anthony J. CIORRA and Michael W. HIGGINS, eds. Vatican II: A Universal Call to Holiness.  Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2012.  pp. 172.  $16.95.  ISBN: 978-0-8091-4787-8.  Reviewed by Eric W. HENDRY, Plano, TX 75026-0346

In April 2012, Paulist Press and Sacred Heart University (Fairfield, CT) co-sponsored a conference on the universal call to holiness addressed in the Second Vatican Council.  Presenters hoped to recapture the Council’s energy and vision by focusing attention on the concluding speeches given by seven cardinals in the final days of the Fourth Session.  The foresights contained in the original speeches were reexamined, challenged and adapted in light of historical and contemporary developments within the Catholic Church across the United States during the last half century.  

Editors Ciorra and Higgins contribute a preface and conclusion, respectively.  Massimo Faggioli, a research assistant under Giuseppe Alberigo and strong proponent of the Bologna school, sets the initial context by addressing the continuing battle for the meaning of Vatican II, which he identifies as twofold: a re-centering of theology in its very roots of Christian revelation (i.e. the Council’s vertical axis or spiritual dimension) and a reframing of ecclesiology upon a relational understanding of the Church (i.e. its horizontal axis or social dimension).  Conference presenters analyzed the prophetic challenges issued by the seven cardinals to: “Rulers” (R. Scott Appleby), “Women” (Diana L. Hays), “The Poor, the Sick, and the Suffering” (Roberto S. Goizueta), “Artists” (Michael J. Himes), “Youth” (Sarah L. Heiman and Peter Denio), “Workers” (Nancy Dallavalle), and “Women and Men of Science” (John F. Haught).

Appleby reexamines the context of political authority and religious freedom, in light of a developing trajectory of peacebuilding suggested within the social encyclicals issued by Paul VI, John Paul II and Benedict XVI.  Hays unearths the undercurrents of embedded misogyny and gender bias in the speech issued to women, while applauding that it had simultaneously named “women impregnated with the spirit of the Gospel” to the daunting tasks of humanizing men and saving civilization from self-implosion.  Goizueta raises the preferential option for the poor to the ethical-theological imperative of solidarity with the afflicted; he exposes contemporary society’s discomfort with insecurity, vulnerability and loss of control in relation to society’s growing fear of an ultimate powerlessness that drives us to construct identities, institutions, ideologies and belief systems that delude us with their false invincibility.  Himes thoughtfully challenges the disparaging historical ecclesial views of art as religious decoration or an educational tool, and reassesses the arts for their deeper, richer and even essential spiritual connection with Gospel proclamation; he advocates that art causes us to attend to the grace beneath its existence, an essential step in understanding the sacramental aspect of Catholicism. 

The address by Heiman and Denio to youth (i.e. technically “young adults” in their late teens, twenties and thirties) is somewhat lengthy and perhaps too theoretical, although the authors do stress the positive value in the Council’s desire to “dialogue” with young adults; they offer four postmodern cultural ideals (i.e. ideals emphasizing the experiential, participatory, image-driven and connected nature of postmodern life) as meaningful points of importance and potential dialogue for contemporary young adults seeking to actively participate in the life of the Church.  Following this, Dallavalle proposes an understanding of work as a “co-operative grace,” backed up by the rich history of papal encyclicals dealing with social, political and economic justice; her observations on unjust institutions and dehumanizing trends are further nuanced when these very same justice teachings are applied to the Church itself and how it understands its lay ministers as only extraordinary, and that even within the “secular domain” (i.e. most commonly identified by the hierarchy as the proper domain of the laity) – appropriate lay expertise, such as social policy and wage structures, is typically relativized by the magisterium, demonstrating a striking bias against lay persons.  Haught’s response to the final speech, to women and men of science, evokes the understanding that Gaudium et Spes adopted regarding humanity’s passage from a static concept of reality to a more dynamic, evolutionary one; Haught suggests that the Jesuit priest-scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and his spirituality of “divinizing human action in the world” greatly influenced and reoriented Catholic understanding of natural sciences and human evolution in the decades following the Council, and is deserving of further in-depth study.

Overall, I would highly recommend this collection as a great resource and supplemental text for courses in the history and theology of the Second Vatican Council, or related topical coursework in contemporary ecclesiology.