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  • The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council: A Counterpoint for the History of the Council by Agostino Marchetto
  • Stephen Morgan
The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council: A Counterpoint for the History of the Council by Agostino Marchetto, translated by Kenneth D. Whitehead (Scranton, PA: University of Scranton Press, 2010), xxiv + 723 pp.

In a series of occasional articles and book reviews brought together in this single volume (and originally published as Il Concilio Ecumenico Vaticano II: Contrappunto per la sua storia, Rome: 2005), the former President of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Itinerant Peoples, Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, has opened up a serious academic challenge to the received reading of the history of the Second Vatican Council. He argues compellingly that much of the most influential historiography of Vatican II—that produced by the historians of the so-called Bologna School—depends for its organizational coherence both on a commitment to a hermeneutic of rupture and discontinuity and on privileging certain categories of evidence (those that support its own favored discontinuities), as well as on diminishing the significance of, or even simply ignoring, other sources (those that do not support those positions).

It is a matter of some debate whether it is strictly accurate to call those who followed in the footsteps of Giuseppe Dossetti a "school" in the proper sense, but it is surely beyond argument that the histories of the Council they have produced, for example the quasi-canonical History of Vatican II (the English language translation of which is edited by Giusseppe Alberigo and Fr. Joseph Komonchak, S.J.), have become the received reading of the event of the Council. Indeed, if the historical accounts of the Council given by those who seek to undermine its very legitimacy are excluded, it would be fair to say [End Page 342] that this received reading has been almost the only one presented. It is quite proper, therefore, that its assumptions and methodologies are subject to serious scrutiny, and it is to this task that Marchetto sets his hand.

His approach is, to say the very least, robust. He pulls no punches, and Kenneth D. Whitehead's translation loses none of the pungent tone of the Italian original. Marchetto accuses the authors of the Bologna School of being "saturated with quite evident ideology" (685), "afflicted" with a systematic bias that is "consistently one-sided … in the animosity shown against some of the prominent persons in the Council's minority," and "neither justified, nor… scholarly" (667). Most damning of all, they attend only to that evidence (in the form of diaries and "journalistic" accounts) that supports those theological positions that the proponents of this approach seek to advance (ibid.). These positions are, Marchetto contends, not representative of what happened at the Council, nor of its teaching as expressed in its documents. They are advanced, rather, in support of what was "an extreme position at Vatican II, even among the so-called 'majority'" (382–83).

Most seriously of all, Marchetto suggests, the historians of the Bologna School deliberately and knowingly distort the history of what happened at Vatican II, where there "was a constant and active search for a consensus" (383), in order to present a history of the Council that appeals only to predetermined political and sociological criteria and ignores "what is specific to an ecclesial council" (384). Here he has in his sights the journalistic over-simplification of positions and groups at the Council into what, he suggests, are inappropriate, inaccurate, and inconsistent political categories. These categories are always presented in dialectical opposition: "progressive/reactionary" and "liberal/conservative," for example. It is, Marchetto argues, history in secular, political terms.

Furthermore, the ideology that underpins this historiographical approach, Marchetto maintains, is aimed at winning acceptance for the notion that the Council could have done more, could have been more radical, and that those who wish that it had done so are justified, by the "event" of the Council, in arguing for and behaving in accordance with such more radical positions in the post-conciliar period. It is, he writes, the appeal to "the spirit of Vatican II" (691).

The counterpoint that Marchetto proposes is a history that takes as a normative...


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