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  • The Belgian Contribution to the Second Vatican Council: International Research Conference at Mechelen, Leuven and Louvain-la-Neuve (September 12–16, 2005)
  • John W. O’Malley S.J.
The Belgian Contribution to the Second Vatican Council: International Research Conference at Mechelen, Leuven and Louvain-la-Neuve (September 12–16, 2005). Edited by Doris Donnelly, Joseph Famerée, Mathijs Lamberigts, and Karim Schelkens. [Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium, Vol. CCXVI.] (Leuven: Uitgeverij Peeters. 2008. Pp. xii, 716. €85,00 paperback. ISBN 978-9-042-92101-6.)

No one paid the Belgians at Vatican II a higher tribute than Father Yves Marie Joseph Congar, the important French Dominican peritus at the council, who observed in his diary that in large measure it was at the Belgian College in Rome that the council got its theological shape. Monsignor Gérard Philips, Bishop Émile-Joseph De Smedt, and, of course, Cardinal Léon-Joseph Suenens are familiar to even casual students of Vatican II, but they are only the most prominent members of a remarkably well-trained group of prelates and theologians that, as Congar suggests, had a collective impact on the council unlike that of any other national group. This volume provides both a panoramic overview of the Belgian contribution and careful analyses of key figures in their relationship to the council and to other participants in it.

With over half the papers in English, it is especially welcome in the North American context, where few scholars have followed the remarkable outpouring on the continent in the past twenty years of studies that have moved our understanding of the dynamics of the council far beyond the tired categories of progressives and conservatives that still largely hold sway here. The volume is also welcome as a corrective to the still commonly held opinion, à la Father Francis X. Murphy, C.Ss.R. (aka Xavier Rynne), that the council, despite what may have happened afterward, was an unmitigated triumph for “the progressives.” In that regard it provides good case studies of the conflicts over theology and strategy that after the historic votes on collegiality on October 30, 1963, weakened the united front of those who had opposed, successfully, the original drafts of the council documents.

The volume is divided into three parts. The first, “Methodological Issues,” is relatively short and opens with John A. Coleman’s analysis of the council from a sociological viewpoint. In this section Leo Kenis’s apologia for the importance of “private sources” for an understanding of the council is convincing and is an explicit and effective rebuttal of Agostino Marchetto’s dismissal of such sources, part of his campaign to belittle the five-volume History of Vatican II edited by Giuseppe Alberigo (Maryknoll, NY, 1995–2006).

The second part is dedicated to Suenens and opens with the long, sober, and extremely well-informed piece by Mathijs Lamberigts and Leo Declerck [End Page 630] on Suenens’s role at the council. This piece provides the framework for the five that follow, each of which deals with Suenens’s relationship with other prelates at the council—with Cardinals Julius Döpfner, Giacomo Lercaro, Paul-Émile Léger, and Giovanni Battista Montini/Paul VI. While they are all revealing, the pivotal contribution among the five is by Declerck and Toon Osaer on Suenens and Montini. Organized chronologically, it is a model of clarity and editorial reserve. Not surprisingly, it throws as much light on Montini/Paul VI as it does on Suenens.

The final, and longest, section looks at other members of “the Belgian team”—Squadra Belga, the Italian moniker the Belgians were given during the council. Under the rubric of the squadra is included a contribution by Eddy Louchez on the Belgian missionary bishops, an often neglected aspect of the story of Vatican II. Jared Wicks’s piece is especially helpful for two reasons. First, he provides a list of the ten tasks the periti performed before and during the council, and then, by using Charles Moeller as an example, he illustrates how the periti contributed to the important and tricky task of revising the schemata in light of the modi received from the bishops.

In his article contrasting the strategies Philips...


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