A Balanced View of Vatican II


by Alan Schreck

Servant, 2005

311 pages, $20.99

To order: (800) 488-0488


Lots of things have been taught and proclaimed in “the spirit of Vatican II,” but what the Second Vatican Council actually said remains, in many ways, the Church's best-kept secret.

Alan Schreck, professor of theology at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, wants to lift the veil. His book, structured in Q&A format, makes the teachings of the 16 documents of Vatican II approachable to a broad range of readers. He also provides background on how the council came about and looks at the “crisis” that has prompted some to heap blame for the Church's problems on the council itself.

Pope John Paul II described the Second Vatican Council as “the great grace bestowed on the Church in the 20th century.” The Council was, after all, about what it meant to be a Catholic today.

Schreck emphasizes the bracing challenge of being a Catholic in the modern world. He puts special stress on the role of Catholic laity who, from the council's perspective, remain the Church's hope for setting the contemporary world ablaze for Christ. So just who are we?

“We are the people gifted with God's Word, who are challenged to know and live that Word as it comes to us in sacred Scripture and sacred Tradition and through the teaching office of the pope and the bishops,” he writes. “Our aim is that Christ may be truly Lord of all, in every aspect of life.”

Obviously, the best introduction to Vatican II would be for Catholics to read the council documents themselves. Since its documents remain, four decades after the council, “best kept secrets,” Schreck's book provides a good summary survey of each text's salient points. Key themes like the universal call to holiness, the Church as communion and People of God, the reform of the liturgy, the apostolate of the laity, the renewal of religious life, ecumenism and the theological anthropology of Gaudium et Spes are all elucidated.

Schreck also provides citations to post-conciliar documents to show the continuity of Catholic teaching, properly noting that the council's teaching should be read together with what preceded it and what followed it. Vatican II was about adaptation, not innovation. The council itself frequently based its reforms on appeals to a more broadly understood past. Liturgical renewal, for example, was supposed to be “reform by remembering,” recognizing that the Church's liturgical tradition did not reach back only to Trent.

My major criticism of the book is Schreck's somewhat superficial and imbalanced presentation of the sources of the “crisis” in the Church that some attribute to Vatican II. No one can deny the problems the Church has faced these past 40 years, but in perspective the Lefebvrists have been minor players in that crisis. To begin the book with extreme traditionalist critics of the council lacks perspective. “Catholic” theology faculties in the United States have not been roiling with people who say Pope Paul VI went too far.

Further, Schreck's analysis of the conciliar crisis is particularly disappointing when compared with his superior exposition of the council's promise. Lopping off the first 35 pages (the “crisis” part) would have sacrificed little and helped the rest of this book a lot.

Useful for parish discussion groups, adult religious education and general readers, this book fills a gap by making the teachings of Vatican II accessible in a way they haven't been till now.

John M. Grondelski writes from Washington, D.C.

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito says of discerning one’s college choice, ‘There has to be something that tugs at you and makes you want to investigate it further. And then the personal encounter comes in the form of a visit or a chat with a student or alumnus who communicates with the same enthusiasm or energy about the place. And then that love of a place can be a seed which germinates in your own heart through prayer.’

Choose a College With a Discerning Mind and Heart

Cistercian Father Thomas Esposito, assistant professor of theology at the University of Dallas (UD) and subprior (and former vocations director) of the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas, drew from his experience as both a student and now monastic religious to help those discerning understand the parallels between religious and college discernment.