- Notes and Comments
During the last third of the twentieth century, the Second Vatican Council (1962–65) was a compass point not only for Catholics but also for ecumenically minded Christians. With the passage of four-plus decades, however, the discussions and especially the debates and the drama behind the conciliar documents are increasingly in danger of being misinterpreted, if not forgotten altogether; it is then important to preserve the memories of the dwindling number of participants for the benefit of posterity both as a matter of historical record as well as a resource for ecclesiological interpretation.
The present volume, which is variously autobiographical, analytical, and anecdotal, presents its author's personal reminiscences and theological reflections about the ecumenical dimensions—antecedent, concomitant, and subsequent—of the Council. In this respect, George H. Tavard has been uniquely privileged: a theologian with ecumenical interests and involvement prior to the Council, when "ecumenism" was an unfamiliar, even suspect, word among Catholics; a conciliar peritus and staff member of the Secretariat for the [End Page 162] Promotion of the Unity of Christians that was responsible for drafting ecumenical statements for the Council's consideration; a participant in numerous official national and international postconciliar ecumenical dialogues; as well as the author of dozens of volumes on a wide range of topics: ecumenism, theology, history, and spirituality.
Perhaps the major value of this short book comes from its author's extraordinary ecumenical experience; for example, one can read elsewhere about the institutional ecclesiology that prevailed in Catholicism prior to Vatican II, but gaining a feel for an ecumenical ecclesiology of "divine presence" comes only through the experience of dialogue; in other words, ecumenical theology is not abstract, but experiential. Similarly, while one might carefully chronicle the long history of interdenominational polemics, their resolution requires a healing of memories that includes the "act of forgetting": "the Church needs to be disencumbered from things remembered that ought to be forgotten" (p.112). One might also note the author's candid appraisal of the postconciliar Church as torn "between gauchist deviation and reactionary conservatism" which can be attributed to (1) "a glaring lacuna at Vatican II itself," (2) "hesitancies on the part of Paul VI," and (3) "the heavy weight of institutional inertia" (p. 122). Ecclesiologists, as well as ecumenists, might then take to heart the "problems of reception" that have plagued even the best intentioned ecumenical documents; finally, theologians would do well then to give explicit attention to the author's concluding question: "Can Theology be Non-Verbal" (pp. 141–48)?
Unfortunately, one finds some slips in this book; for example, the encyclical, Humanae Vitae, published on July 25, 1968, could hardly have "caused an unexpected turmoil in the Summer of 1967" (p. 126). Also, the enumeration of footnotes is sometimes out of sync. In addition, some opinions are at least debatable; for example, while "the condemnation of Anglican Orders, in 1896, by Leo XIII" may have been ecumenically problematic and historically questionable, it seems a stretch to claim, "The canonical category of validity no longer provides, if it ever did, an acceptable standard to describe and evaluate the sacramental experience of other Churches than one's own" (pp. 92–93).
Such shortcomings aside, readers who once eagerly and sometimes anxiously followed the proceedings of Vatican II will be treated to a retrospective that awakens memories, if not nostalgia. Readers for whom Vatican II is a matter of historical investigation and theological reappraisal will also benefit from the insights of an influential insider.
1. Further information is available at Tavard's website: http://www.assumption.us/Tavard/ (accessed: 8 January 2008).