A Brief History of Vatican II. By Giuseppe Alberigo. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2006. Pp. 172. Paperback $20.
History of Vatican II. Vol. 5: The Council and the Transition; The Fourth Session and the End of the Council; September 1965-December 1965. Edited by Giuseppe Alberigo, with Joseph A. Komonchak. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books; Louvain: Peeters Publishers, 2006. Pp. xxii, 686. $801 euro85.
Vatican II Forty Years Later. Edited by William Madges. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2006. Pp. 272. Paperback $30.
What the Second Vatican Council taught is almost as contested today as it was forty years ago. The reason is that its sixteen conciliar texts were the product of a prolonged quest for a consensus and clarity that were ultimately unobtainable. The council members represented widely divergent perspectives and interests, including Thomists versus Augustinians, the divergent interests of the superiors of mission orders, leaders of the young "Third World" churches and the Propaganda Fide, Pope Paul VI's concerns, and those of the curial conservatives, and the majority of the bishops. To harmonize the prevailing diversity of views necessarily meant enshrining ambiguity, as well as indicating new directions in the final documents.
Thanks to Giuseppe Alberigo and Joseph Komonchak, though, we have an outstanding historical record of the council's proceedings and a sophisticated analysis of how clashing viewpoints and different schools of thought came together to result in a redefinition of the nature of the church, its historic missionary task, and its relationship to the modern world, other churches, and other religions.
Their weighty and authoritative five-volume history was published between 1995 and 2006. The fifth and last volume has a detailed account of the dash of ideas and development of texts-in this instance, how they were finalized. Some of the narrative is valuable only as a reference text. But there is much fascinating editorializing and reflection on how the council was received by the wider Christian community. Lukas Vischer's substantial chapter, "The Council as an Event in the Ecumenical Movement," is particularly useful. In a footnote we are told that Vischer was the World Council of Churches' delegate, but an irritating aspect of the entire series is that none of the other chapter authors are introduced. Some are little known. It would have been important to know where they were coming from, in more senses than one.
The council was billed as an ecumenical council, and indeed 103 observers from different churches attended council sessions. The observers gave significant, albeit only informal, input into the deliberations; the mutual excommunication of the Eastern Orthodox was ceremonially removed and a new Secretariat for Christian Unity consolidated a change of tack; and a theological framework for ecumenism was formulated based on shared baptism, with a subtle differentiation of the church of Christ from the "really existing" Roman Catholic Church so that the church of Christ "subsists in the Catholic Church" (Lumen gentium 8). …