Vatican II reviewed 25 years afterward

Vatican II Revisited, By Those Who Were There, Edited by Alberic Stacpoole. Minneapolis, Minn.: Winston Press. 365 pp. $24.50. In his insightful foreword to this volume, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago notes that the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) was the largest gathering in history of Roman Catholic bishops; it was a gathering that ``truly represented the great cultural diversity'' of the Roman Catholic Church, and ``it was the first ecumenical council which did not result in a schism.''

But if there was no schism, Vatican II did produce some extraordinary achievements that have dramatically changed the Catholic Church both internally and in its relations with the rest of the world.

In this volume, 23 bishops, advisers, and observers who were present in Rome during the council do more than merely recount their experiences. They also evaluate the council's impact since 1965 and offer some thoughts about the future of the Church in the light of Vatican II. Some contributions are more informative and revealing than others, but each essay presents an important view of a major historical event.

One of the best entries is that of Archbishop Loris Capovilla, who served as Pope John XXIII's secretary. Bishop Capovilla recaptures the optimistic mood of the early 1960s, including the election of a Roman Catholic, John F. Kennedy, to the American presidency. That buoyant mood was central to the council's success in breaking new ground for the Church.

Monsignor John Tracy Ellis's contribution focuses on one of Vatican II's most important achievements. ``Dignitatis Humanae,'' the Declaration on Religious Freedom. Although this declaration was overwhelmingly passed by the bishops, it represented a profound change in official Catholic thinking. Ellis writes that the issue of religious freedom ``was of paramount importance for the Church's future in a world where pluralism had become so pervasive....'' It was the deep commitment of the more than 200 United States prelates who were present in Rome that helped ensure the passage of ``Dignitatis Humanae.''

Cardinal Johannes Willebrands has contributed a chapter on one of Vatican II's most celebrated achievements, the repudiation of the deicide charge against the Jews and the strong condemnation of anti-Semitism. The Dutch cardinal is one of the leading figures in improving relations between Catholics and Jews, and his recollection of the intense struggle to adopt the statement on the Jews makes fascinating reading. The efforts by the Church to build bridges of understanding and respect with Jews and Judaism is, in the cardinal's words, ``like a house built upon a rock - nothing can tear it down.''

As in all such collections, the writing in ``Vatican II'' is sometimes uneven, but in most cases the articles are presented in a straightforward, nontechnical manner.

Unfortunately, ``Vatican II'' has no index, and scholars will find it somewhat difficult to use as a reference work. Nonetheless, this book is indispensable for anyone who is seriously interested in the intellectual, cultural, and religious history of the 20th century.

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