Brief Book Review: The Catholic Church in a Changing World

The Catholic Church in a Changing World: A Vatican II-Inspired Approach
by Dennis M. Doyle

Who’s it for? College students (or an adult education study group) on the topic of contemporary Catholicism or Vatican II ecclesiology; the breadth (though not the depth) of the treatment would be useful to beginning graduate students of ecclesiology

Why is this book useful? Each of the thirty-six chapters (range: 7-11 pages) follows a similar format: introduction to topic (often explicitly from the author’s own experience with students), short chapter overview (usually naming corresponding sections of Lumen gentium, Gaudium et spes, or occasionally other conciliar or post-conciliar documents), several sections discussing key points, a chapter summary, five questions “For Further Reflection,” and a helpful list of suggested readings for the chapter topic

What will you like the most? A wide range of ecclesial/ecclesiological topics, mostly gathered under the eight sections (twenty-four chapters) of Part II (“Lumen gentium: A New Self-definition for the Church”) or the three sections  (nine chapters) of Part III ( “Gaudium et spes: The Church Engaging the World”), covering topics as diverse as “The Nature and Mission of the Church” (Ch. 4), “Ecumenical Progress” (Ch. 9), “The Hierarchical Structure of the Church” (§4), “The Laity” (§5), “The Pilgrim Church” (Ch. 22), “Women and Official Catholic Teaching” (Ch. 27), “Religious Pluralism” (Ch. 29), “Underlying Principles of Catholic Social Teaching” (Ch. 31), and “Economics, Politics, Peace, Ecology” (§12)

What will most inspire you? The very successful and balanced effort to connect this variety of topics to the Council’s treatment of the Church in two key constitutions, and thus to the ongoing relevance of the Council even given the many ecclesial/ecclesiastical developments (and three papacies) since it closed in 1965

Suggestions. There are two areas that I would like to suggest could be better developed by Doyle in this college textbook, one having to do with form, the other with content.

Regarding the form, the transitions between parts, sections, and chapters are minimal to non-existent. Having the last sentence of each chapter summary simply state what the next chapter topic will be does not make for an effective transition. Ch. 15, “A Spirituality of Work,” the third chapter in §5, “The Laity,” concludes its summary: “The next chapter will discuss Christian spirituality in connection with the universal call to holiness” (p. 149). One would need to consult the table of contents, recall the outline of sections listed at the beginning of Part II (108 pages earlier), or notice the new left-page header two pages later in order to realize that a new section (§8) entitled “The Universal Call to Holiness” is beginning. The reader must also make her or his own sense of why some chapters fall under certain sections out of the titles alone.  Most are somewhat obviously sensible groupings, while others are not very clear, and some are rather strained. For example, under the §9 title, “Mary and the Church” (a reasonable title for the last section dealing with Part II dedicated to Lumen gentium, given that Mary is treated at the end of that document), Doyle deals with three topics, Chapters 25-27, respectively titled “Mary as Symbol of the Church,” “Women in the Catholic Church,” and “Women and Official Catholic Teaching.” Other than a loose relationship to Mary being female and a discussion of the quasi-official theology of complementarity, it is difficult to see why the two chapters on women are placed on the section on Mary.  The desire to have three chapters per section may have driven this decision, but it certainly could use further explanation. 

As for the content – and this may be especially significant for readers of Pray Tell – granting that ecclesiology is the primary theological discipline being engaged, there is still a surprisingly minimal treatment of liturgy and sacrament that is such a key part of contemporary ecclesial experience, particularly given the Council’s decision to treat that topic first.  While the important passage from Sacrosanctum concilium 14 on full, conscious, and active participation in the liturgy is cited (p. 64), there is little exploration of what this new emphasis on participation was to entail in its depths and barely any allusion to its significance for Catholicism at the time of the Council and for today.

Kudos. Doyle is to be commended for making the array of topics he covers come alive for contemporary college students, and for his balanced and dialogical approach to sometimes difficult or contentious issues in Christianity and religion generally and the Catholic Church in particular. College students who read this textbook would know that this author cares very much about his own students’ learning and well-being as persons, whose intellectual development requires an understanding of religious faith that goes beneath the surface, regardless of where they themselves may stand with respect to Catholicism, church, religion, or spirituality.  Along with feeling cared about, they will indeed learn a great deal about the Catholic Church in a changing world.

Doyle, Dennis M. The Catholic Church in a Changing World: A Vatican II-Inspired Approach. Winona, MN: Anselm Academic, 2019. 356 pages.

REVIEWER: David Stosur

David Stosur serves as Professor of Religious Studies at Cardinal Stritch University specializing in liturgical theology. He recently published “A Tale of Two Translations: Rhetorical Style and the Post-Conciliar English Translations of the Mass” in Theological Studies 79 (2018).

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