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book review

Receiving the Council: Theological and Canonical Insights and Debates
Liturgical Press (2009)

By: Ladislas Orsy
Review By: Barbara Riviello Guerin

Receiving the Council is an objective yet personal diagnosis of the state of the Catholic Church's highly centralized and authoritarian organizational structure and its impact on the ability to realize the value of the Second Vatican Council. The author focuses on the theological understanding of the Church as a communion and how the role of the hierarchy should flow from that as compared to the role of the hierarchy which has evolved and is perpetuated at the present time by the Vatican.

Orsy discusses how the collegial vision of Vatican II has been compromised by John Paul II's apostolic letter Apostolos Suos. He explains how a recent canon law excludes the laity from governance of the church and why this goes against tradition and is theologically untenable. He poses a poignant question to all non-ordained people, "At what point in your life did you become a layperson?" and points to Vatican Council II's description of the people of God as "the whole body of the faithful who have received an anointing which comes from the holy one…" (p. 43). What Orsy is saying amounts to the laity being denied their postconciliar role by a Vatican that is passing laws mandated from the top to give ever greater power – indeed absolute power – to the absolute monarch.
Orsy addresses the issue of the administration of justice in the church by setting Church justice side by side with secular legal wisdom and showing how it falls short in comparison. He then takes apart "definitive doctrine," a new category of doctrine created by John Paul II which is not "infallible" but which nevertheless is "irreformable" (i.e., can't be changed) – a logical inconsistency on the face of it.

On page xii of the Prologue, Orsy writes: "I wish to present my opinions as insights, proposed for debate. Nothing more, nothing less. …In probing the insights, a good step forward is to offer them to the living community: let the believers' sense of faith judge them. Let the insights become disputed questions. Disputations in the spirit of openness and charity always had a place of pride in the intellectual history of the Christian community. St. Thomas Aquinas was a supreme master of it. He liked to preface his affirmations by contrasting questions. Such a venerable tradition should not become extinct. After all, the entire body of the faithful has been entrusted with the fullness of the evangelical message. Hence, no one should ever be left out of the process of seeking its fuller understanding." (p. xii).

This book makes a credible argument in favor of "disputations" which, according to Orsy are an inherent part of the dynamic and integrated process of reception. Without this quest for understanding, the church remains passively entrenched in ignorant and silent obedience. The process of reception ends when one is willing and ready to act, to bring to life the value that the Council intended to impart. Receiving the Council is "above all, an obsequium [deference, yielding] to God, honoring God, and only secondarily an act of obedience to the law." (p. 67).

"If Paul the Apostle ever returned to the face of the earth and found a church where silent obedience is the rule far and wide, a church without the merry manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit, one wonders: what would Paul say?" (p. 45).

Receiving the Council is an excellent read for anyone who is seeking to "use their gifts of grace and wisdom where the Holy Spirit is not hampered by our rules." (p. xiii).

Barbara Riviello Guerin is an executive consultant for the IBM Company, a mother, grandmother and an MA candidate in Religious Studies at Mount St. Mary's College in Los Angeles. She is a FutureChurch board member.

Focus on FutureChurch

Spring 2010


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