James I. HEFT, with John O’Malley, eds., After Vatican II: Trajectories and Hermeneutics. Grand Rapids: William B,. Eerdmans, 2012. pp. 194. $28.00. ISBN: 978-0-8028-6731-5 (pbk.). Reviewed by Dolores L. CHRISTIE, University Heights, OH 44118
There is no shortage of retrospectives on the fiftieth anniversary of Vatican II. This book highlights the work of a small group of scholars that gathered for a conversation on the singular council: to discuss the “issues behind the issues,” as the Preface puts it. The essays that resulted from this meeting reflect two categories: first, studies of how the council was received; second, commentaries on several of the final council documents and where we are now. Topics include new Catholic movements such as Cursillo and the Legionaries of Christ, developments in moral theology, changes in attitudes and actions toward those of other faiths. One article focuses on the insights of Henri de Lubac. The final essay, by Joseph Komonchak, sums up the conversation and the book’s contents.
The stepping off point for these contributions was John O’Malley’s book, What Happened at Vatican II, published in 2009. O’Malley sets the tone in this book in the Introduction. He sees the council as having a history ( the preliminary meetings and documents that preceded the actual council), a concrete set of documents that were produced, and an ongoing organic place for the development of the insights of those documents in the years beyond. He prefers the word “trajectory” to the more commonly used “reception.” The documents of Vatican II departed from previous councils in that they are interdependent in vocabulary, themes, and key values, says O’Malley. The essays in this book reflect that interdependence, often referencing one another in their treatments of individual topics. The unfinished work of Vatican II includes how to deal with change, how to deal with the implications of what is “a truly world church,” and how that church conducts its mission. Likewise, it is not altogether settled as to how the center and periphery of the church internally should interact.
In a short review of a compilation of themes and authors it is difficult to give each piece due consideration. Notable articles are those of Cathleen Kaveny and Francis Sullivan, who is some ways represent the best of two different generations of Catholic thinkers. Kaveny’s article notes, as others have, that no specific council document deals with morality. It is necessary, then, to look to the spirit of Vatican II as the pointer to moral teaching to follow. She uses the unlikely documents, Veritatis splendor and Evangelium vitae to illustrate her premise. Characteristic of her personal optimism, Kaveny goes on to give a very positive reading of both documents. She concludes that both documents are written in the spirit of the council. Sullivan’s article fleshes out what he believes to be the direction of that spirit toward those of other or no religious contexts. It offers some interesting background that one might not ordinarily find in articles on the church’s relationship to other religions.
This collection is rich. It would be a helpful adjunct to a course on the council. Particularly for those who do not know the history, the piece on moral theology Darlene Fozard Weaver will be helpful. Some of the articles contribute fresh perspectives, others are helpful to articulate the impact and legacy of the council to a generation that thinks Vatican II is the summer residence of the pope. Some are easier reading than others, but all have something to say.