As the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council unfolds over the next four years, the struggle over its legacy and meaning will intensify. It is a struggle that began almost as soon as the Council concluded in December, 1965. In Vatican II: The Battle for Meaning, Massimo Faggioli traces the multiple debates that constitute that struggle.

In 2005 those exchanges reached a new turning point with the rise of Jozef Ratzinger, a leader of one of the contending schools of interpretation, to the chair or Peter. As Pope Benedict XVI, he has continued to promote “the continuity” of Vatican II with the whole Catholic tradition as the hermeneutic for interpreting the Council. The countervailing school stresses Vatican II as a Council of reform or, in Pope Benedict’s characterization, of “discontinuity.”

The basic convictions dividing the two major schools concerns their understanding of the relationship of church and world. The defenders of continuity stress the distinction between the church and world; the proponents of reform, their interpenetration. From the fault line of church-world relations follow other divisions over ecclesiology, liturgy and canon law, likewise disputes over doctrinal discipline, pastoral practice and ecumenical dialogue.

Faggioli offers a step by step overview of the still ongoing debate among theologians, historians, bishops, curialists and ecumenical interlocutors. His is a tightly written narrative, giving a detailed roadmap of the scholarly debates, ecclesiastical pronouncements and church events that set the scene for current tensions in Catholic life.

More like an extended bibliographical essay than a compact history, Vatican II: The Battle for Meaning will be of greater use to scholars and graduate students than to ordinary readers. But even scholars in one field, say, systematics, will benefit from its survey of the debates in others, like church history; or, liturgists, for example, will gain insight from the mapping of alternative approaches to pastoral strategy. But even lay readers whose interest has been stirred by the anniversary of the council will find Faggioli’s Vatican II a rich source of suggestions for further reading.

Drew Christiansen, S. J. 

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