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Examination of an evolving faith

THE CHURCH: THE EVOLUTION OF CATHOLICISM

Br Richard P McBrien, HarperOne, $49

Reviewed by Br Brian Grenier CFC

RICHARD P McBrien, Crowley-O’Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, is remembered with gratitude by an extensive and appreciative readership for his magisterial work Catholicism.

With the publication of his new book, The Church: The Evolution of Catholicism, those readers are now even more greatly in his debt.

It is the fruit of a lifetime of academic specialisation on the nature, mission, ministries and structural operations of the Church.

As the author himself observes, this substantial and attractively presented hardback volume is a history of ecclesiology, not a history of the Church.

While he acknowledges that there is a considerable overlap between these two areas of study, his principle focus is not the events themselves that constitute the unfolding story of the Church over the ages but on the different understandings of the Church which have influenced, informed and shaped them from early Christian times to this post-conciliar era.

In keeping with the first of the four aims of the Second Vatican Council as stated by Pope Paul VI, McBrien seeks to clarify the very nature and raison d’�tre of the Church itself.

In doing so, he presents excellent summaries of the most pertinent council documents and of the contributions to the topic of significant Western and Eastern theologians of different denominational persuasions.

Without descending to the ugly polemics that pass for theological debate in some quarters, he also considers a number of controverted questions in the field of ecclesiology.

As befits a work of this quality, it is furnished with a comprehensive table of contents, a glossary of technical terms, a select thematic bibliography, helpful reference notes and indices of persons and subjects.

Throughout his text the writer provides an English translation of any Latin expressions he uses (for example, the titles of encyclicals and other such documents).

This fine book, which bears the impress of a good teacher, is clearly written and well organised.

However, people with little background in theology may question my assessment that it wears its evident scholarship lightly.

My advice to them and to all readers is to begin with the concluding section, “The Future of the Church and Its Ecclesiologies”.

In addition to material relating specifically to that heading, it contains a synthesis of the whole book and 10 eminently sensible pastoral applications of the text.

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