A Realist’s ChurchEssays in Honor of Joseph A. Komonchak (edited by Christopher D. Denny, Patrick J. Hayes, and Nicholas K. Rademacher).  Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2015. pp. xiv, 282. $60.00 pb.  ISBN 978-1-62698-155-3.  Reviewed by Paul MISNER, Marquette University emeritus, Milwaukee, WI 53201.


The twelve essays in this Festschrift for Joseph Komonchak by some of his students and fellow scholars are not only, as one might expect, solid and informative contributions to the study of ecclesiology in our age − I found them tremendously stimulating as well.  This may be the case especially for one like myself who has not read Bernard Lonergan’s Method in Theology (1972) for a long time, and who discovers how serviceable it is to articulate the meaning of the church, of what it is, and who constitute it in history.  (This last a nod to Komonchak’s 2008 book title, Who Are the Church?)

            The oeuvre of these two theologians, Lonergan and Komonchak, after all, represents a broad and balanced approach to ecclesiology that the authors (most emphatically Neil Ormerod) signal as the most promising path for the next wave of developments in ecclesiology.  Other contributors also provide examples of the fruitfulness of adopting Lonerganian perspectives, with attention especially to historical and social sciences. 

            Three case studies from the period between the First and the Second World War serve here as illustrations of some of Komonchak’s emphases.  Peter Bernardi delves into the downfall of Cardinal Louis Billot in 1927 as a result of his support of the Action française; Bernardi relates it to the controversy over Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Liberty.  Vefie Poels of Nijmegen investigates the tensions between some American bishops and the Dutch Cardinal Willem van Rossum, head of the Vatican’s Propaganda fide, right after World War I.  The issue was support of the foreign missions and the roles therein of American leadership or Roman centralization.  The case of the lay apostolic initiative of Catherine de Hueck (Doherty) in the local church of Toronto in the 1930s is analyzed by Nicholas Rademacher.

            In the post-conciliar period, Stephen Schloesser presents in chronological sequence a trait of its first half-century.  He notes a recrudescence of the combative stance Roman Catholicism took to modernity in the period between 1815 and 1965 (as characterized in a 1997 essay by Komonchak).  As Schloesser makes the case, “biopolitics” filled the void left in the structure of preconciliar Catholicism by the collapse of anti-modernism.  First came the rejection of the Birth Control Commission’s recommendations in 1968, then the more developed biopolitics of John Paul II (1979-2005) and his “Theology of the Body.”  Definitely a “tour de force” worth reading, as Komonchak himself notes in his valuable “Reflections” (p. 247).

            Four essays concentrate on the significance of Vatican II itself, which has occupied the bulk of Komonchak’s attention in the last half century (pp. 267-70).  William T. Ditewig zeroes in on the Council’s restoration of the diaconate as an important ordained ministry.  Drawing the customary thick line between clergy and laity needs to be recast or deemphasized so as to take advantage of the new deacons for a “servant church” (diakonia).  Dennis M. Doyle notes the role of intellectual conversion (as stressed by Lonergan) and “the struggle within” the church between our postconciliar camps and hermeneutical positions.  Ormond Rush develops the revelation/faith theme and its relation to Lumen gentium 12:  the sensus fidei and sensus fidelium.   Massimo Faggioli adds the recognition of the influence of Cardinal Bea’s ecumenical secretariat at an early stage of the liturgical commission’s work (1960-61), when insistence e.g. on Latin in the liturgy was still dominant.  The reader cannot fail to appreciate the interrelationships of each of these contributions to the understanding of the Council.

            Four more essays on ecclesiology round out the Festschrift.  Their common element is attention to actual conditions, calling for the integration of social scientific inquiry into the manifold dimensions of the life of the church in the world of today.  This may not seem immediately evident if I tell you that Robert Doran’s key essay proceeds from a consideration of the missions of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit within the Trinity.  But in fact the lucid, if condensed, presentation of trinitarian theology as connected to ecclesiology fulfills its title:  “Social Grace and the Mission of the Church.”  The brief concluding Ch. 14 of Method in Theology (1972) on the functional specialty of communications shows its potentiality for illuminating the mission of the church here (Doran p. 178), as in Neil Ormerod’s essay (here pp. 203-219), previously alluded to, and his 2014 book.

            An essay dedicated to the laity by Georgia Masters Keightley highlights Komonchak’s 2008 book title, Who Are the Church?, and appeals to Eastern Christianity’s awareness of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the sensus fidei of the laity.  Their mission is not to be relegated to the secular realm only, as one might suppose from some conciliar moves or texts.  Ann K. Riggs rounds out a distinguished set of essays with a concluding contribution from her experience in global ecumenism, with a particular focus on Black African ecclesiology.