Review: What Happened at Vatican II

What Happened at Vatican IIWhat Happened at Vatican II by John W. O’Malley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yet as this book has shown, it is possible to move beyond specific issues, to move beyond proof-texting techniques that lift sentences or paragraphs out of context, to move beyond loaded labels like conservative/reactionary and progressive/liberal, which are the ways the council has until now consistently been approached and interpreted. I have tried to show that it is possible to move beyond those approaches to arrive at generalizations about the council grounded in its narrative contexts and in the vast expanse of the documentation it has left behind. In order to arrive at such generalizations, I devised out of the same narrative and documentation some categories of analysis and interpretation, a hermeneutic, and much of the burden of the book has been to validate those categories.

That is the scope and burden of this book. I hope that it has rendered persuasive both the generalizations and the categories through which I have arrived at them. I hope, more fundamentally, that the accomplishment of the book has been to render a little clearer what happened – and what did not happen – at the Second Vatican Council. (p 313)

With these words John O’Malley brings his book, What Happened at Vatican II, to a close, having sketched through the preparations and deliberations of the Second Vatican Council, the “biggest meeting ever held”, that has left an indelible mark on the life of the Catholic Church not only through the sixteen documents that came from it but also from the style of Church that it sought to bring to reality.

O’Malley insightful and eminently readable book is written in an engaging style which unfolds the narrative of the council, some of the personalities of the major participants, the complexities and intrigue that marked the council’s deliberations in such a way that the reader is left with a very clear understanding of the significance of this watershed event in the life of the Catholic Church.

I strongly recommend this book for anyone wanting to achieve an understanding of just what happened at Vatican II.

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