Renewing Christianity: A History of Church Reform from Day One to Vatican II

Article excerpt

Renewing Christianity.'A History of Church Reform from Day One to Vatican II. By Christopher M. Bellitto. (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press. 2001. Pp. xii, 233. $18.95 paperback.)

Composing a one-volume history of the Western Church is a daunting task. Although his intended audience is not mentioned, Bellitto's work is aimed at the general public, as well as undergraduates and seminarians. An intellectual historian, he uses the idea of reform as his book's organizing principle. Although writing from a Catholic perspective, he demonstrates in his introduction that the concept of reform is one shared by all Christians.

Some authors have an ideological axe to grind, which both serves to shape and color their thoughts and also acts as a delimiting device to discard material which does not conform to their ideological perspective. To his credit, Bellitto refrains from doing this. Instead, he uses the idea of reform as a means to distill about 2,000 years of history into about 200 pages. Throughout the book he differentiates between personal and structural reform, as well as between reform in capite and in membris. He also distinguishes between reform as restorative and renewal as augmentative and ameliorative (p. 10).

His synthesis of the High and Later Middle Ages is excellent, as might be expected of a medievalist; yet one of his best chapters is on Vatican Council II, which he says breaks new ground with its emphasis on renewal, not just reform. His impartial thoughts on the council's fallout, namely, about polarization, about the speed of implementation, and about the links between the Councils of Trent and Vatican II, invite the reader to further reading and reflection.

Quoting primary sources mostly from secondary works, Bellitto places them judiciously in the text. …