Michael Lawler, Todd Salzman and Eileen Burke-Sullivan, The Church in the Modern World: Gaudium et Spes Then and Now. Liturgical Press, 2014. pp. 198. $19.99 pb. ISBN 978-0-8146-8270-8. Reviewed by Randall WOODARD, Saint Leo University.


This work brings together the expertise and vast experience of each author to offer readers a concise, yet rich text on Gaudium et spes. In addition to a solid theological and historical overview of the topic at hand, each of the six chapters provides an analysis of the social and political events leading up to the ratification of the document itself and an evaluation of the contemporary application and meaning of the principles of GS. In an attempt to, in the words of Pope Francis, not “tame the Holy Spirit” (11) the authors offer a powerful look back into the development of the pivotal Vatican II document as well as a thought-provoking appraisal of how we have implemented and embodied the vision of GS.

The six chapters flow well in terms of their focus and scope. Additionally, each chapter offers deep theological reflection while remaining accessible to an educated / general audience. Chapter one provides a detailed history and background to GS. Although some readers may be very familiar with this material, many students and colleagues, born after the Council, will find this material both new and fascinating. With each passing year, those who did not have the benefit of living through this period and being aware of the political players and theological issues at stake increases. A text such as this helps to keep alive the very human process involved in any theological council. Chapter two deals specifically with ecclesiology while chapter three reviews methodical questions that are essential for a mastery of GS as well as the competing visions that were at stake with its publication. The final three chapters deal with central and lasting themes, namely, marriage (and sexuality), service & justice and the political community and peace.

The book is to be highly recommended for a wide range of theologians with any interest in Vatican II. It is accessible for grad students, yet is a valuable resource for colleagues. The work will be of particular interest to those in the field of ecclesiology, but is relevant to those with teaching or research interests in history, marriage, social justice and sacramental thought. One of the particular strengths of the book is the wide range of scholarship, no doubt a result of the inclusion of each of the three accomplished authors. A wonderful component of the text is the frequent use of Pope Francis’ recent writing and vision. The authors clearly side with the more progressive theologians of the Council (and after), which is not necessarily a limitation, but shapes the focus of the text. Overall, the authors have very successfully met the goals of the book and offer an insightful book with thought-provoking and meaningful analysis of the history, theology and contemporary application of this pivotal document.