KEYS TO THE COUNCIL: Unlocking the Teaching of Vatican II by Richard R. Gaillardetz and Catherine E. Clifford. Liturgical Press (Collegeville, Minn., 2012). 198 pp., $19.95. Reviewed by Brother Jeffrey Gros, FSC, Catholic News Service
For those who did not live through Vatican II or who have not read its 16 documents, Keys to the Council is an engaging and readable introduction. For those who have been nourished on the council resources, it is a marvellous synthesis and review. For those outside the Catholic communion, it is a privileged, brief enumeration of keys to interpreting this most productive council in Catholic history.
While deeply grounded in solid research in Scripture, the Catholic tradition and the history of the council, this is not an academic book. Rather it is a selective exposition of themes embodied in 20 texts representing eight of the council’s 16 documents. Each chapter gives the biblical and historical background of the theme, and the background of the debates and decisions of the council. This background is followed by the pastoral and theological content of the theme and its implication for Catholic life.
The authors use the organization of the council’s
work, grounded in the constitutions on revelation and the liturgy, centred
on those on the church and the church in the modern world. Related to
these core documents are those that relate to the internal life of the
church, its mission and its relationships with Catholics of the Eastern
churches, fellow Christians, Jews and other non-Christian religions,
and freedom in civil society. A useful diagram gives a view of the documents
and their relationship to each other at a glance.
The themes selected are divided according to the council’s
The next set of themes treats of external relations to others and the world: the church’s mission in the world; the role of the laity in this mission; marriage and family; global cultural character of the church’s catholicity; religious freedom; Catholic communion with fellow Christians; the hierarchy of truths in Catholic interpretation of the faith; and relations with Judaism and the world’s religions.
To assist readers, terms that are used from theology and history are defined in boxes throughout the text when they first appear. The book could easily be a guide to parish or ecumenical study, and to the reading of the council texts themselves. They help the first-time reader focus on the specific important ideas and issues introduced into current Catholic faith and practice by the council.
At each stage in Christian history the church develops by reaching back into its rich history for resources to renew its life. It also looks to what God is doing in history of each era to determine how to update to meet the signs of the time with ever fresh expressions of the perennial Gospel. This volume presents a useful balance, in assessing the council, between the old and the new, between continuity and renewal, between the competing values alive in the one church blessed by the direction of the Holy Spirit.
As with any brief text, the authors have had to be selective. One unfortunate
omission, given the worldwide scope of Catholicism and the transitions
we are facing in the globalized future, is the minimal attention to the
decree on mission. However, the overall view of the church articulated
here is hopeful, accurate and a great resource for mission and renewal
for years to come.
Copyright (c) 2012 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops