A simple book fails through its simplicity

By  Bernard Daly, Catholic Register Special
  • January 17, 2008

 …Here comes a sea followed by an ocean…: Very simple reflections on the Second Vatican Council, after 40 years, by Fr. Gianni Carparelli (Caritas Project Publishing, softcover, 179 pages, $15.00 by phone at 416-294-2327)

A book praising Vatican II should prosper. Unfortunately, this one might be hurt because its reflections on Vatican II are not just “very simple,” as the title says, but too simple and fragmented. These reflections have also been marred by careless editing. 

The editing errors may result from too hasty translation of an Italian text and could be corrected before a second printing. It is much more difficult to fathom why the council texts are presented in this fractured fashion.

Carparelli, a widely-known Toronto priest, says he conceived the book to help parishioners at Transfiguration parish in Toronto, people at his Caritas and Mater Dei centres, and family support groups in Montreal, Hamilton and Vancouver. He urges them, and all readers, to live the Vatican II vision of communion (solidarity, love) because God is communion and all humanity is called to communion.

He especially recommends study of John XXIII’s Sept. 11, 1962 radio message and his address opening Vatican II a month later, as well as Paul VI’s first and final messages to the council and his 1975 message on evangelization 10 years after the council closed.

Then, insisting that the 16 Vatican II documents are as crucial today as 40 years ago and should be studied avidly, he summarizes each of them. Curiously, however, his summaries tend to neglect or mishandle some main council themes.

There is no obvious explanation for this as Carparelli is not one of those who accuse Vatican II of blunting a sense of divine mystery and threatening church unity. On the contrary, he urges us to study John XXIII and Paul VI because “I strongly feel that along the way we have lost something of that enthusiasm and vision.”

Carparelli's review of the Pastoral Constitution on the Church illustrates his approach. In chapter one on the mystery of the church, he ignores the teaching in article eight so crucial to ecumenism and relations with non-Christian religions: that the Christ’s church “subsists in the Catholic Church …. (but) many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside its visible confines….”

He does not mention chapter two on the people of God, chapter six on consecrated religious life or chapter seven on the pilgrim church. Chapter two teaches the equality of all Christians who share in the royal priesthood by entering the church through faith and Baptism. It also aids our understanding of sin in the church it is seen as pilgrim people and clarifies the need for constant renewal and reform.

He reviews chapter four on the laity, but fails to stress that article 31 says the church has a secular character through the special lay vocation “to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will.” Nowhere in Carparelli’s discussion about the laity is there the clarity of article five of the Decree on the Lay Apostolate, which says “the mission of the church is not only to bring people the message and grace of Christ but also to permeate and improve the whole range of the temporal.”

From what Carparelli says about Vatican II teaching on the laity nobody could understand why John Paul II noted that the council “wrote as never before on the nature, dignity, spirituality, mission and responsibility of the lay faithful.”

Lay members must be active both inside the church and in the world, but their particular vocation is to permeate and improve the temporal, and to do this as self-starters, not waiting on the clergy (art. 43, Church in the World). This council teaching gives no support to Catholic business and political leaders who protest the church should stay out of business and politics. Catholic laity are the church and are called to “impress the divine law on the affairs of the earthy city” — perhaps the most neglected teaching of Vatican II.

Carparelli’s most complete summaries are those for the nine council decrees. However, the review about Eastern Catholic Churches at times confuses these and the much larger Orthodox Churches not in communion with Rome. His brief history of the Catholic-Orthodox division should be in the section on ecumenism.

For the three council declarations, the section on Christian education is the most satisfactory. A fuller presentation about religious freedom would include reference to instances of freedom denied even in Catholic countries. Regarding the declaration on non-Christians, vital council teaching about Jews is downplayed; and a quotation from a 1963 report about ecumenism by then Fr. Joseph Ratzinger has no place in a discussion of non-Christians.

How can Carparelli write so persuasively in praise of Vatican II in general, and yet bypass or neglect key council teaching on specific topics? The book provides no answer. However, readers who take his advice to study the council texts will surely discover these vital themes for themselves.

(Daly is publisher emeritus of The Catholic Register.)

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