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From head or heart?

VATICAN II: KEEPING THE DREAM ALIVE

By Denis Hurley OMI, Cluster Publications, South Africa. $29.95

Reviewed by Terry Oberg

TO speak from the head or the heart is the question that permeates these thoughts on the Second Vatican Council.

Denis Hurley OMI, Archbishop of Durban, South Africa, was chosen by Pope John XXIII to be a member of the Central Preparatory Commission which set the initial agenda for Vatican II.

Working with some of Europe’s leading cardinals, he was able to ensure that the progressive majority took control of the council.

When proceedings reached the decision-making stage, he was elected to serve on the Commission for Seminaries, Academic Studies and Catholic Schools.

The head-heart dichotomy surfaces in several ways.

The archbishop lived through the difficult opening sessions when the gathering’s strategy was being moulded.

The two options from which the council fathers had to choose were to proclaim, from the heights of Thomistic theology, dogmas symptomatic of a dangerously triumphant Church or to let the heart rule and seek to communicate compassionately to an increasingly secularist world.

That they opted for the second alternative was due, in no small manner, to this heroic South African prelate.

Secondly, when the author penned these memoirs, he wrote, for the most part, as an objective reporter.

Relying on the facts of which he was aware as an active participant, he outlines the passage of the more important documents from when they were first presented until they were released to an expectant world.

In many cases what emerged was considerably different and better than what was originally proposed.

All this is from the head; strictly factual, minus opinion, minus passion. Grist for any future historian’s mill, a little dull for the average reader.

It is only when he quotes his own despatches from Rome to The Southern Cross, his national Catholic newspaper, that he speaks from the heart.

The disinterested reporter of the memoirs then becomes the passionate commentator, writing to his flock about the greatest event in his life.

Another highlight is when he spoke to his fellow clerics during the council sessions.

His addresses, all included verbatim, were succinct and full of practical recommendations which, invariably, influenced the final draft.

The best example is his timely intervention in the formation of, “The Church in the Modern World”.

He pointed out, apparently in faultless Latin, that the schema, good as it was, did not have, “a clearly settled purpose”.

What, finally, emerged was one of the greatest conciliar statements whose purpose was specific and obvious.

The second part of this publication consists of reflections on Vatican II from several of the archbishop’s associates.

These provide a credible witness to what we have learned in the preceding pages about Denis Hurley and his place in a momentous piece of history.

Apparently these memories were going to be a part of his autobiography. His untimely death prevented more being written.

The Catholic Leader recently carried an interview with Paddy Kearney who is responsible for publishing these reflections.

He is to be congratulated on giving this great archbishop a wider reading audience.

No modern Catholic leader deserves it more.


The book is available from Rainbow Book Agencies, 303 Arthur St, Fairfield, Vic 3078, phone (03) 9481 6611.

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