Massimo FAGGIOLI.  A Council of the Global Church:  Receiving Vatican II in History.  Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 2015.  Pp. 350.  $44.00.  ISBN: 9781451472097.  Reviewed by Paul MISNER, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI 53201-1881.

             At a propitious moment, voilá! this volume of fifteen essays arrives.  It includes thirteen pieces already published in the last ten years and here updated by the prolific historian and interpreter of the Second Vatican Council.  Vatican II itself, a half century ago, came at a time when Christianity had to start reshaping itself for its third great epoch, its truly global age (as Karl Rahner stated in 1984, after its founding Jerusalem epoch and its long Athens/Rome or “European” epoch).  To frame his pleas for a more adequate interpretation of the Council, alongside Pope John XXIII, Faggioli can now invoke Pope Francis, coming from “the ends of the earth.”  An obvious preoccupation of the author is to counter the various ways the conciliar dynamism has been curbed during the Wojtyla-Ratzinger papacies.  To take a prime example, the one-sided stress on the “continuity thesis” in conciliar hermeneutics has downplayed the reform aspects, which after all were and are at the heart of the event.

            Thus a recurring theme of these essays is the potential unlocked by the Council, but of which theologians and church leaders have not yet taken full advantage.  Among the prominent problems addressed repeatedly are the “narratives” of the Council.  Some accounts dismiss the Council’s continuing relevance more or less openly.  Others fail to acknowledge the general course the bishops set, from their first completed opus, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, through all four inter-sessions and sessions until December 1965.  Some of these essays were written during the preparation of Faggioli’s Vatican II:  The Battle for Meaning (2012); they comment on his particular concerns in those years before the unexpected retirement of Benedict XVI in 2013.

Hence the issue of the implementation or reception of the Council occupies a great deal of attention, with the period of Pope Francis seen as introducing a new and dynamic chapter in that more recent history.  Along with the decreasing relative influence of European churches in the Christian world since the Council, Vatican II’s ecclesiological openings to “the margins” now lend themselves to further development.  Even women’s issues, hardly so prominent then, receive attention and impetus when considered in the light of a renewed look at the Council.  The work of more recent analysts such as Christoph Theobald’s reading of the conciliar documents intertextually (pp. 174-79 and elsewhere) suggests applications for a recasting of theological and ministerial formation.

            In this latter endeavor, another 2015 publication of Faggioli’s, Pope Francis, Tradition in Transition (Paulist Press), may be of interest.  Also based on a couple of essays originally published in Italy and here translated and updated, it leaves no doubt where Faggioli is coming from in his critique of conservative, particularly American, “narratives” of the Council that diminish its significance.  Some of his prognoses may seem more like Delphic oracles than solidly based interpretations, as befits commentary on current events.  All the same, these are hunches or hopes arising from close study of the subject and a serious world-historical perspective. 

            This is a book primarily for cognoscenti of Vatican II.  It should at least be accessible in every library covering theology, so as to make available in one volume the author’s essays of the last decade.  The general reader, and readers of other specializations in religious studies to whom the various essays are directed, should first become familiar with John O’Malley’s more readable and more ably edited What Happened at Vatican II (2008) for the history of the Council.  Then one may profitably consult these essays and those of other cited authors on the evolving history of its reception—and contribute oneself to that renewed and fruitful reception.