THE CHURCH: The Evolution of
Catholicism, by Richard P. McBrien.
Foreword by Theodore M. Hesburgh,
C.S.C. HarperCollins Publishers. 496
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
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
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
edited by Giuseppe Alberigo.
English version edited by Joseph A.
Komonchak. Orbis Books. 685 pp.
Reviewed by MICHAEL J. DALEY, a religion
teacher at St. Xavier High School in
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
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
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
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
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
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.
IRELAND’S SAINT: The Essential
Biography of St. Patrick, by
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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’
You can order THE BEST AMERICAN CATHOLIC
SHORT STORIES from St. Francis Bookshop.