What Happened at Vatican II

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9780674047495: What Happened at Vatican II
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During four years in session, Vatican Council II held television audiences rapt with its elegant, magnificently choreographed public ceremonies, while its debates generated front-page news on a near-weekly basis. By virtually any assessment, it was the most important religious event of the twentieth century, with repercussions that reached far beyond the Catholic church. Remarkably enough, this is the first book, solidly based on official documentation, to give a brief, readable account of the council from the moment Pope John XXIII announced it on January 25, 1959, until its conclusion on December 8, 1965; and to locate the issues that emerge in this narrative in their contexts, large and small, historical and theological, thereby providing keys for grasping what the council hoped to accomplish. "What Happened at Vatican II" captures the drama of the council, depicting the colorful characters involved and their clashes with one another. The book also offers a new set of interpretive categories for understanding the council's dynamics - categories that move beyond the tired 'progressive' and 'conservative' labels. As we approach the fiftieth anniversary of the calling of the council, this work reveals in a new way the spirit of Vatican II. A reliable, even-handed introduction to the council, the book is a critical resource for understanding the Catholic church today, including the pontificate of Benedict XVI.

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Review:

[A] lucid, coherent assessment of the Second Vatican Council.--T. M. Izbicki"Choice" (02/01/2009)

In this elegant and erudite book, the dean of American historians of Christianity tells the story of Vatican II. As a student, John O'Malley attended sessions of the Council. Now he shows us what happened, sets the Council before a richly reconstructed historical background, and makes clear why it still matters so much. His book will be essential reading for anyone interested in the modern history of the Catholic Church.--Anthony Grafton

This is a masterful presentation. It carries the reader deeper into the reality and outcome of Vatican II than do the other existing books on the Council.--Jared Wicks, Professor Emeritus, Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome

With characteristic acumen and grace, John O'Malley has written a splendid book on Vatican II: the history, the meanings, and above all the enduring importance. Once again we are all in this great scholar's debt.--David Tracy

What Happened at Vatican II offers a one-volume history of the Second Vatican Council that not only tells the story in a way that brings out its drama, but, more importantly, calls the reader's attention to distinctive features of this council that are crucial for its interpretation. I do not know of any one volume that compares with this book for an in-depth account of what happened at Vatican II and of the factors that were at play in this major event in the life of the church.--Francis Sullivan, Boston College

It is an axiom that Ecumenical Councils take 50 years to assimilate and digest. If so, this clear and readable account of Vatican II is right on time--and on target. O'Malley's characteristic concision and wide learning luster every page.--Kenneth L. Woodward, Newsweek Contributing Editor and author of Making Saints

This remarkable book, in places a veritable page-turner, not only recaptures the drama and the struggles of Vatican II, but gets to the very heart of the issues under all the many ramifying words and acts of the Council. The reader can see how awkward and inadequate the familiar oppositions of liberal/conservative and progressive/reactionary are to the passionate struggles that took place. In fact, it was only through a recovery of Biblical and Patristic sources that Vatican II managed to return the Catholic Church to the twentieth-century world, and to open a dialogue which the traumas of the Reformation and French Revolution had inhibited.--Charles Taylor, author of A Secular Age

In this single volume, O'Malley has filled the need for a readable account that meets three goals: providing the essential storyline from Pope John's announcement on January 25, 1959, to the council's conclusion on December 8, 1965; setting the issues that emerged into their historical and theological contexts; and thereby providing 'some keys for grasping what the council hoped to accomplish.' ...O'Malley analyzes Pope John's motives and goals, and masterfully lays out the contexts and important issues of the council... O'Malley's book enables one to re-experience the event of Vatican II and to ask whether its initiatives will ever be fully implemented.--Bernard P. Prusak"Commonweal" (02/27/2009)

O'Malley's book represents a gift from his generation, which experienced the council, to the cohort coming of age today. The signal accomplishment of the book is synthesis. In just four hundred pages, O'Malley provides a thorough yet gripping overview of the lead-up to the council and each of its four sessions. He wisely avoids lengthy quotations from the sixteen documents produced by the council, which are sometimes written in opaque, 'churchy' language. Instead, he captures the main points of the texts, as well as the floor debates and behind-the-scenes struggles that generated the council's drama. He thus fills what has long been a gaping hole: the absence of a single volume written at a popular level that provides a guide to the council--both its actual results and what might have been had the bishops headed in another direction... The book is a major accomplishment, which no doubt will help to keep the memory of the council alive.-- (09/01/2008)

A gripping account of the drama of Vatican II as it played itself out over its four sessions from 1962 to 1965. Far from being a dry analysis of the sixteen conciliar documents, the book concentrates on the debates that frothed beneath the deceptive serenity of these documents. Personalities come to the fore in the contest between the minority of bishops who resisted change and the majority who favored it as desirable and necessary... O'Malley's emphasis on the importance of style is arguably his greatest contribution to understanding what happened at Vatican II... O'Malley's book is a helpful remedy for preserving Catholic memory. It rehearses not only what happened at Vatican II for a growing number of readers unfamiliar with the debates and documents but, more important, it gives them a way to think about what happened.-- (10/18/2008)

About the Author:

John W. O'Malley is University Professor at Georgetown University.

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9780674031692: What Happened at Vatican II

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Publisher: Harvard University Press, 2008
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