A new handbook explores Vatican II from scholars’ view from around the world. CNS photo

Resource offers thorough view of Vatican II

  • March 3, 2023

Catherine Clifford doesn’t want to just recover the spirit of Vatican II. She wants to be more thorough.

“Much of the letter has also been forgotten or ignored,” the ecumenist, scholar of the Great Council and professor of systematic theology at Ottawa’s Saint Paul University told The Catholic Register

“When we speak, in a sense, of the dignity and the fullness of each local Church, and the bishops as being true leaders and vicars of Christ in each local Church, of the importance of the conferences of bishops, for example, this is in the Council. It’s not an invention.”

For the next generation of theology students, their life-long struggle with both the letter and the spirit of Vatican II just landed on bookshelves, courtesy of editors Clifford and her Italian-American colleague at Villanova University in Pennsylvania, Massimo Faggioli. The Oxford Handbook of Vatican II was released early in February. 

The 784 pages of essays by eminent theologians and historians from around the world is obviously not aimed at airport bookstands.

“Major international publishers have seen the need to kind of provide new, up-to-date resources,” Clifford explained.

For students, researchers, teachers and professors, this reference book is a starting point for explorations of every topic and concern of the 1962-65 ecumenical council.

“What we’ve attempted to do in this handbook is to find the world’s best scholars on subjects related to Vatican II,” said Clifford.

The book is also full of bibliographies, pointing readers to other resources from the historical record and original documents to contemporary interpretations. It also expands the view of the Council by calling on scholars from around the world.

“The experience of the Church here in North America is not the same as the experience of the Church in Africa, in Asia or in Latin America,” Clifford said. “And that’s just fine. That’s as it ought to be. We have to stop hoping that we will have a kind of uncritical uniformity and understand that the Church and the Christian faith has to become incarnate in each culture.”

Even with that decidedly international perspective, the reference book contains a generous share of Canadian scholarship on Vatican II. Laval University theologians Fr. Gilles Routhier and Philippe Roy-Lysencourt have each made major contributions, in addition to Clifford’s own introduction co-authored with Faggioli.

Is there a reason that this small country keeps popping up in Vatican II scholarship?

“The Council itself and its reception has shaped the life of the Church in this country and there’s no going around it,” she said. “We’ve all been, in a sense, formed in the crucible of the Council and its reception.”

As a professor who teaches everything from introductory courses in theology to graduate seminars for PhD candidates, Clifford looks forward to having this resource lurking in her university’s library.

“I’m very conscious as a teacher that this is not part of the living memory of my students,” Clifford said.

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