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Church's Self-understanding Has Matured


THE CHURCH: The Evolution of Catholicism
HISTORY OF VATICAN II: The Council and the Transition, The Fourth Period and the End of the Council, September 1965-December 1965, Volume 5
IRELAND’S SAINT: The Essential Biography of St. Patrick
For Better Prayer This Lent

THE CHURCH: The Evolution of Catholicism, by Richard P. McBrien. Foreword by Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C. HarperCollins Publishers. 496 pp. $29.95.

Reviewed by PAT McCLOSKEY, O.F.M., editor of this publication. In 1986 he audited an ecclesiology seminar taught by Father Francis A. Sullivan. S.J., one of McBrien’s mentors, who is frequently cited in this book.

THIS BOOK MASTERFULLY achieves its goal of being “a systematic and relatively comprehensive theology of the Church, that is, of the worldwide Christian community in general and of the Catholic Church, or the Catholic Communion of Churches, in particular. The largest ecclesial component of that communion is the Roman Catholic Church, consisting of over one billion members as of the beginning of the 21st century.”

McBrien has covered much of this ground in his highly respected book Catholicism, as well as in articles, his newspaper column and 24 other books. A priest of the Archdiocese of Hartford, Connecticut, he has taught theology at the University of Notre Dame since 1980. He previously served on the faculties of Pope John XXIII National Seminary and Boston College.

This book presents a history of ecclesiology, which the author describes as “the way in which the Church has grown in its understanding of its own nature, mission, ministries and structures.” He notes that ecclesiology can be controversial “because it touches upon potentially divisive matters that deeply impact the lives and thinking of every active member of the Church.

“Ecclesiology is,” he explains, “the theological study of the Church, which is to say that it studies the Church as a mystery, or sacrament.” After introducing the content and scope of this volume, McBrien devotes separate sections to ecclesiology in the New Testament, between the post-biblical period and the mid-19th century, between Vatican I and Vatican II, the ecclesiology of Vatican II and postconciliar developments regarding the Church’s external mission and internal life. He concludes with a section entitled “The Future of the Church and Its Ecclesiologies.”

This book delivers on the author’s early assertion that ecclesiology “is not the whole of the theological enterprise, but it is central and indispensable to it.” McBrien avoids oversimplifying issues, wherever possible taking a both/and approach instead of an either/or position.

Three times he quotes from St. Augustine of Hippo that many whom God has, the Church does not have; and many whom the Church has, God does not have (De Baptismo 5.38). McBrien writes, “The Church, or new People of God, is not identical with the Reign, or Kingdom, of God.”

Throughout the text McBrien provides helpful summaries, such as the ways that Vatican II reaffirmed preconciliar ecclesiology and areas where the Council innovated (pp. 200- 201). McBrien cites many Orthodox and Protestant theologians in this volume.

Following Yves Congar, O.P., perhaps the greatest Roman Catholic ecclesiologist of the 20th century, McBrien takes the history of the Church very seriously. Even though he quotes extensively from the highly respected John W. O’Malley, S.J., of Georgetown University, he fails to cite O’Malley’s groundbreaking 1971 Theological Studies article, “Reform, Historical Consciousness and Vatican II’s Aggiornamento.”

That article presents five very different approaches to how the Church relates to human history. People who now argue vigorously that Vatican II represented total continuity with previous teachings are, in fact, canonizing an approach to history that the Council itself did not accept.

McBrien does not refer to Pope John Paul II’s “request for pardon” service in St. Peter’s Square (March 12, 2000) or to the International Theological Commission’s document Memory and Reconciliation: The Church and the Faults of the Past. That event and that text have enormous implications for ecclesiology.

McBrien’s 371 pages of text are supported by comprehensive endnotes, a glossary, select bibliography, index of persons and index of subjects.

This volume will stretch and reward its readers.

You can order THE CHURCH: The Evolution of Catholicism from St. Francis Bookshop.


HISTORY OF VATICAN II: The Council and the Transition, The Fourth Period and the End of the Council, September 1965-December 1965, Volume 5, by edited by Giuseppe Alberigo. English version edited by Joseph A. Komonchak. Orbis Books. 685 pp. $80.

Reviewed by MICHAEL J. DALEY, a religion teacher at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio.

IN THE COUNCIL’S HISTORY, Sunday, March 7, 1965, stands as an important date. On this day the revised liturgical rite became official Church practice. Giving visible expression to the Council’s reforms, Pope Paul VI publicly celebrated Mass in Italian with the altar facing the people.

Naturally, some reacted, thinking that the reforms had gone too far; while others, expecting more, were disappointed. This only served to reinforce Paul VI’s concern of “maintaining the unity of the Church when the conciliar decrees, which he regarded as inevitable and indispensable, began to be implemented. Nothing worried him more, he said, than the sight of disunion and disagreements where there ought to be harmony and charity.”

As Vatican II’s fourth session began, it was made clear that this would be the last. Though the majority of bishops would later speak of it as a Spirit-filled, conversion experience of their lives, by the fall of 1965 many bishops were weary from the Church’s being in a state of Council. Rest would have to wait, however, as 11 documents remained to be considered, revised, voted and promulgated.

Convening the session, Paul VI announced the formation of a Synod of Bishops. This body would be a permanent institution and become a concrete expression of the Council Fathers’ desire for greater collegiality in union with the pope in the governing of the Church.

This event was easily overshadowed by the draft of the document on religious freedom. Though some wished that it be buried, Paul VI saw the declaration—along with schema XIII (The Church in the Modern World)—as one of the Council’s crowns.

With the question of doctrinal development in the air and the looming shadow of Pius XII’s “Syllabus of Errors,” some Council Fathers reacted strongly, wanting to send the draft back for substantial revision. Paul VI intervened, however, instructing that a vote be taken, which passed with substantial approval.

This was followed by one of two major events which took place outside the Council, but intimately connected with it. The first was Paul VI’s visit to the United Nations on October 4. Here, he spoke favorably of the international body and its goal of building peace, voicing the memorable line, “War never again.”

The second event took place on December 7, the day before the Council ended. With representatives of the Roman Catholic Church in Istanbul and the Orthodox Church in Rome, Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I lifted the mutual excommunications which had separated the West and East since 1054.

This act only served to highlight the ecumenical nature of the Council. In the span of a few short years, what was once previously avoided—contact—was now deliberately sought. Not only were there Protestant and Orthodox representatives at the Council, but their role moved beyond that of mere spectators to active participants.

Three other conciliar documents demanded attention as “the most important one,” depending on whom one asks. The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, affirming the will of both John XXIII and Paul VI, expressed solidarity with the world rather than separation. Likewise, the Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, reversing centuries of intolerance, opened new doors of understanding to other world religions, especially Judaism. Finally, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation reawakened Catholics to the beauty and treasure of Scripture.

With the Council’s closing, the task of “plowing,” digging up and turning over the soil of the Christian tradition, gave way to the process of “cultivation,” harvesting the fruit of this process. As any gardener knows, though, this is easier said than done. Almost five decades after the Council, we are still, in some ways, both plowing and harvesting, contesting and implementing the teachings of Vatican II.

Though it would make it easier just to read and interpret the texts themselves, History of Vatican II reminds us that the life of the Church does not take place in a vacuum. Having read and reviewed all five volumes of History of Vatican II, I see its most important achievement as communicating the dynamic process that was and is Vatican II.

You can order HISTORY OF VATICAN II: The Council and the Transition, The Fourth Period and the End of the Council, September 1965-December 1965, Volume 5 from St. Francis Bookshop.


IRELAND’S SAINT: The Essential Biography of St. Patrick, by J.B. Bury, with introduction, notes and editing by Jon M. Sweeney. Paraclete Press. 205 pp. $21.95.

Reviewed by KATHRYN ROSENBAUM, intern for this publication last fall and a junior at Xavier University in Cincinnati.

ST. PATRICK IS a well-known and celebrated saint surrounded by a cloud of legends. These legends include St. Patrick banishing snakes from the island of Ireland and using three-leaf clovers as a teaching tool about the Holy Trinity.

St. Patrick, who lived from about 389 to 461, however, has a more complex story than the mythical version that is commonly told. John Bagnell Bury presents a history of St. Patrick in Ireland’s Saint: The Essential Biography of St. Patrick, first published in 1905.

This book was updated in September 2008 by Editor Jon M. Sweeney, who wrote an introduction and lightly edited Bury’s work. In sidebars spread throughout the book, Sweeney added more information about St. Patrick’s life and the history of Ireland during his time. Sweeney quotes other biographers, mystics and historians to give more insight into the life of St. Patrick.

This book is a detailed resource that goes beyond the well-known myths of St. Patrick to explain his significance in Irish Christianity. Few facts are known for certain about Patrick. Bury, and later Sweeney, however, took these facts and combined them with legends, traditions and medieval texts to construct a portrait of Patrick.

Bury presents a biography of a man who was born in Britain and taken in captivity to Ireland. He later escaped from Ireland and returned to Britain, decided that he should serve Ireland as a missionary and became a bishop.

Bury writes, “Patrick did three things. He organized the Christianity that already existed. He converted kingdoms which were still pagan, especially in the west. And he brought Ireland into connection with the Church of the empire, making Ireland formally part of universal Christendom.”

Bury and Sweeney also briefly address the myths that surround St. Patrick. Instead of rejecting these myths, they see Patrick’s character traits displayed in these stories. Thus, although they may not be historically true, the myths have an intrinsic value.

I have a fondness for St. Patrick, since I was born on St. Patrick’s Day, which is believed to be the day of Patrick’s death. But before reading Ireland’s Saint, I was not familiar with many details of his life.

Many historical facts and details are packed into this 205-page biography. Thus, this prose is dense at times and not easy to skim. All the details could have been supplemented by images, maps and charts that would have provided visual representations of these facts.

Furthermore, Sweeney’s sidebars, although they interrupt the text, provide information about Irish history, contemporaries of Patrick and Patrick’s own writing, Confession.

Bury and Sweeney have studied St. Patrick and the culture surrounding him. They are able to present an extensive portrait of St. Patrick beyond the myth that surrounds him.

You can order IRELAND’S SAINT: The Essential Biography of St. Patrick from St. Francis Bookshop.


THE BEST AMERICAN CATHOLIC SHORT STORIES, edited by Dan McVeigh and Patricia Schnapp. Sheed & Ward. 346 pp. $17.95.

Reviewed by LOIS SPEAR, a retired Dominican Sister who lives in Adrian, Michigan. She is the author of God Is With You: Prayers for Men in Prison (St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2002).

THIS BOOK OF 20 short stories, edited by two English professors at Siena Heights University in Adrian, Michigan, is a must-read for anyone who likes a good story. The genesis of the book, according to Patricia Schnapp, R.S.M., was her search for an anthology for her class in American Catholic writers. She found none. After she consulted Dan McVeigh and now-deceased Frank Rotsaert, C.S.C., they decided to fill the gap.

Among the authors selected are some familiar names: J. F. Powers, Flannery O’Connor, Mary Gordon, Andre Dubus. Some are less well-known, especially if their works were published after Vatican II: Tobias Wolff, Richard Russo, T. Coraghessan Boyle.

In the Introduction, the editors give brief summaries of each writer’s background and point of view. The major part of the Introduction, however, focuses on what makes a short story Catholic.

For some of the stories, the main characters are openly Catholic. In Jon Hassler’s “Resident Priest,” Father Fogarty is a retired priest whose bishop sends him on one last assignment, to serve as chaplain for a community of nuns on Kettle Island. In obedience to the bishop, Father Fogarty makes the arduous journey across the marshy causeway to the island. He dies the next day from heart failure caused by overexertion.

In other stories, the Catholic content is far less clear, easily overlapping with Protestant/Christian or Jewish themes: community life, the search for the spiritual, the sense of isolation from a culture that places so much value on individualism.

More specifically Catholic are themes detailing death and resurrection, redemption, forgiveness of sin and the sacramentality of all creation.

In “The Peach Stone,” Paul Horgan uses no overtly Catholic characters. Cleotha and her husband, Jodey, and son, Buddy, are on their way to the cemetery to bury the parents’ two-year-old daughter. Miss Latcher, Buddy’s teacher, accompanies them.

During the four-hour trip to Weed, Cleotha’s old home, the small family shares their feelings—anger, guilt, fear, sorrow—while Miss Latcher remains isolated, unable to release her feelings. For Cleotha, the trip becomes a revelation of God’s love and forgiveness: the trinity of her family’s love, an orchard of blooming peach trees, an oil truck with a tin sign reflecting the blinding brightness of the sun. Each of these small epiphanies transforms sorrow into joy.

For Miss Latcher, unable to free herself from the artificial life she has chosen to live, the journey only increases her sense of failure and sadness. She breaks into tears at the journey’s end.

In Tim Gautreaux’s story, “Died and Gone to Vegas,” Catholic themes are hard to decipher but include a sense of desolation, loneliness and the isolation of the desert and the temptations of Christ. Through an artificial journey to Vegas, “sin city,” the story suggests our fallen nature and need for redemption and forgiveness.

One final theme—storytelling—creates a fragile sense of community among the bourrée players on a Mississippi River dredge while offering a refuge from the poverty and ugliness surrounding them. Tall tales testify to their ability to recognize the real from the unreal and to laugh even while on the precipice of despair.

Stories of this kind with their layers of meaning cry out to be discussed. It need not be in a classroom, however. Families who are homeschooling their teenagers will find that these stories are an excellent way to apply the Catholic beliefs the adults learned in the classroom.

In particular, the stories lend themselves to adult study groups where discussion can lead to new insights about our Catholic faith and how it is lived from some of our best Catholic writers.

Only 13 American Catholic writers have short stories published in this collection. There must be many more. They can be difficult to locate, however, because many of our Catholic authors wrote novels in place of short stories; other writers may have chosen not to categorize themselves as Catholic. Despite these caveats, the editors are already collecting stories for a sequel. Readers might consider nominating their favorite short stories for the editors’ consideration.

You can order THE BEST AMERICAN CATHOLIC SHORT STORIES from St. Francis Bookshop.


For Better Prayer This Lent

Traditional Lenten practices include prayer. St. Irenaeus (c. 130-200) counseled perseverance in prayer and would be inspired by these books.

THE COMPACT CATHOLIC PRAYER BOOK, compiled by the editors (The Word Among Us Press, 200 pp., $12.95), goes from the traditional Sign of the Cross to modern prayers “For the Victims of Sexual Abuse” and “For Freedom From Addictions.” I found the switch to the plural jarring in the Prayer of St. Francis (“Lord, make us instruments of your peace”). But I liked the chapters devoted to the Stations of the Cross and the 20 mysteries of the Rosary.

A CONTEMPORARY NORTH AMERICAN PRAYER BOOK, by William John Fitzgerald (ACTA Publications, 167 pp., $12.95). This retired priest from Omaha, now living in Scottsdale, Arizona, starts by proposing an abbreviated Liturgy of the Hours, with a midday “Island Retreat” for stressed Americans and Canadians. Another section features 30 imaginary pilgrimages to “sacred” sites, like the Sanctuary in Chimayo, New Mexico; Cap-de-la Madeleine in Quebec (Canada’s first Marian shrine); and the World Trade Center site.

THE TREASURY OF AMERICAN PRAYER, by James P. Moore, Jr. (Doubleday, 354 pp., $27, U.S./$33, Canada). These prayers from people in every walk of life reveal how they found comfort by turning to God. This comprehensive, historical look at prayer in this country even includes prayers for each state.


Books can be obtained through St. Francis Bookshop on the Web or at 8621 Winton Road, Cincinnati, OH 45231, phone 1-800-241-6392. All orders must be prepaid. Add $4 for postage and handling, $2 more for each additional book. Ohio residents should also add 6.5 percent for sales tax. The Bookshop offers a free catalog.

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