Reviews on Vatican II Books
Vatican II is a topic where anyone and everyone seems to have an opinion. There is a plethora of books that inundate the subject. Our goal with this page is to provide guidance for those who wish to navigate through this storm of literature written about the Council.
The books are organized by author name then book title. Each book is given a rating of "recommended", "mixed", or "not recommended" depending on the book's hermeneutical approach. Our standard in assigning these reviews is none other than our proposed hermeneutics for interpreting Vatican II as a gift of the Holy Spirit in continuity with Sacred Tradition and doctrine with a hermeneutic of faith. If you wish to read more about this, check out our series on Vatican II hermeneutics.
For now most books will be given a paragraph review. Some books however will be given further investigation in the future and a full page will be dedicated to a review of it. Since there is a lot of literature on Vatican II, this page is one that will be updated frequently as we buy more Vatican II books.
Underneath our recommendation is a list of categories. Here is an explanation of them. Books are understood to be generally about the Council unless a conciliar document is specifically mentioned in the list of categories.
Hermeneutics means that the book is presenting hermeneutical methods for interpreting the Council.
Historical means that the book is giving a historical overview of the Council.
Modern Crisis means that the book is a good resource on understanding the postconciliar crisis in the Church. This category is hence not applied to books that are "not recommended".
Progressive means that the author of the book adopts a radical progressive take on Vatican II.
Primary Source means that the author of the book was alive during the Council and participated in it.
Theology means that the book is giving a theological investigation of the Council.
Ultraconservative means that the author of the book adopts the hermeneutical methods of the ultraconservative as outlined in our series on Vatican II hermeneutics.
Originally published in Italian in 1985, this is a often referenced work in ultraconservative circles. It is a nearly 800 page brick of complaints and gripes with the modern Catholic Church. The author Amerio worked as a consultant for Vatican II during the preparatory phase. He traces out many criticisms of modern Catholicism and Vatican II.
The entire project is however doomed from the start since he focuses his attention so much on the radical progressives that he identifies the movement of the whole Church with them. Modernism has won and polluted the Church's doctrines in every way conceivable, that is his core message. It is telling that Marcel Lefebvre described this book as the "most perfect book" on Vatican II.
Rating: Not Recommended
Rating Explanation: This book is fundamentally flawed in its hermeneutical approach since it adopts the hermeneutics of suspicion, ambiguity, disbelief, etc. If one were to buy into the author's claims he would end up believing that Satan as prevailed over the Church, which is patently false!
The book itself is poorly written for it is the rambling complaints of an embittered individual who feels betrayed by his religion written out of a spirit of defeat. As such, this book ought to be avoided for it can damage one's spiritual life.
Amerio, Romano. Iota Unum. Kansas City, MO: Sarto House, 2019.
Theology, Ultraconservative, Hermeneutics, Primary Source
My Journal of the Council
Yves Congar's Journal chronicles his participation in the Council. Congar participated in the drafting of the preparatory documents and later helped drafted several of the Council's documents. He was one of the most influential theologians at the Council. Congar's Journal hence is an intimate portrayal of a theologian at the service of the Church.
Rating Explanation: Congar's Journal is regularly hailed as an important contribution to Vatican II studies. Robert Barron gave it a glowing review for example. I simply haven't seen what others had said about the text. It is certainly not worth $70 for those who are trying to introduce themselves to Vatican II despite the status of Congar and the possible insights the Journal may bring. The Journal is perhaps best for those who have more of an academic interest.
Congar, Yves. My Journal of the Council. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2012.
Pope John's Council
In Pope John's Council, the second volume of a three volume set, Michael Davies sets out to explain how Vatican II fell into error. He attempts to defend and promote the metanarrative of Marcel Lefebvre, founder of the schismatic SSPX movement. The book describes Vatican II as a hostile takeover by "liberal shock troops" who blitzkrieged through all opposition by the conservatives. Vatican II is hence the triumph of modernism. There are many common motiffs in the book found among ultraconservative thinkers such as the ambiguity of Vatican II and the corruption of the liturgy.
Rating: Not Recommended
Rating Explanation: Pope John's Council is highly not recommended because the author employs the hermeneutics of suspicion, theological disbelief, rupture, and ambiguity; and therefore the work can damage one's faith and understanding of Vatican II. Davies is a notorious apologist for the SSPX.
Davies, Michael. Pope John's Council, Volume 2 of Liturgical Revolution. Kansas City, MO: Angelus Press, 1977.
Historical, Theology, Hermeneutics, Ultraconservative
The Reception of Vatican II
Edited by Matthew Lamb and Matthew Levering
This book gives very insightful essays on the sixteen conciliar documents making it a great resource for finding quality scholarly work on the different documents. The articles are based on a hermeneutic of continuity and give in depth theological reflection on the texts. In some respect, this book is a sequel to Vatican II: Renewal within Tradition.
Rating Explanation: The authors here approach the Council from a faithful hermeneutic of continuity, which has led to several wonderful essays.
The Reception of Vatican II, edited by Matthew Lamb and Matthew Levering. Oxford University Press, 2017.
Vatican II: Renewal within Tradition
Edited by Matthew Lamb and Matthew Levering
Vatican II: Renewal within Tradition is a powerful book on Vatican II. It begins by citing the Benedict XVI address in which the Pope examines the hermeneutics of continuity and rupture. The contributing authors of this volume follow the Pope's call for implementing the Council as an act of faith in continuity with Sacred Tradition, and the result is a work of impressive theological depth and inquiry. This volume contains several essays on the conciliar texts making it an essential contribution to our understanding of Vatican II.
Rating Explanation: Vatican II: Renewal within Tradition follows the hermeneutical approach of the Magisterium, that Vatican II is an exercise of faith in continuity with Sacred Tradition. Its contributing authors have given many insightful essays on the Council. Highly recommended.
Vatican II: Renewal within Tradition, edited by Matthew Lamb and Matthew Levering. Oxford University Press, 2008.
The Ratzinger Report
The Ratzinger Report is an interview between Cardinal Ratzinger and Vittorio Messori on the crisis of the modern Church. Chapter two is on Vatican II. In it he makes several well aimed criticisms of both the radical progressive and ultraconservative interpretations. We have quoted extensively from this book across our articles on Vatican II.
In summary, his basic thesis is that the crisis of Vatican II arose due to a lack of genuine catechesis and implementation of the Council. The solutions presented by the progressives and ultraconservatives are nonsolutions because they both betray the Council in their own ways. Vatican II remains the path forward for the Church and hence Catholics have the duty to understand its teachings and to defend them.
Rating Explanation: Joseph Ratzinger was one of the peritus, theological advisors at Vatican II, who helped drafted several of the conciliar texts. This book was written when he was head of the CDF, so we get an intimate window into how the prefect of the CDF who was at Vatican II understood the postconciliar crisis. Ratzinger affirms the continuity of Vatican II, its authority, doctrines, gift of the Holy spirit, and as an enrichment of the faith. This is one of the first books one should turn to for understanding Vatican II.
Ratzinger, Joseph. The Ratzinger Report, trans. Salvator Attanasio and Graham Harrison. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1985.
Primary Source, Theology, Hermeneutics, Modern Crisis
Theological Highlights of Vatican II
Ratzinger's Theological Highlights of Vatican II was originally reports about the four different sessions of Vatican II, one chapter for each session. Ratzinger comments on the great themes of each session, such as the debates on the liturgy, the Council's "rebellion" against the Roman Curia's preparatory schemas, Gaudium et Spes, collegiality, divine revelation, and more. It is of particular historical interest itself since we get the impressions of a young Ratzinger who in the future became Pope Benedict XVI.
Rating Explanation: Gives an orthodox view of the happenings of Vatican II during the conciliar years, making it an important first take of the Council from a thinker who remained deeply commited to Vatican II.
Ratzinger, Joseph. Theological Highlights of Vatican II. Boston: Paulist Press, 2008.
Primary Source, Theology, Historical
A Deeper Vision
Robert Royal's book A Deeper Vision is not a book about Vatican II per se, but an intellectual history of 20th century Catholicism. This makes it a great reference for understanding the intellectual development leading up to Vatican II and the postconciliar period.
Rating Explanation: Royal's work here is well balanced and will prove a valuable resource for those who want to understand the intellectual forces that led to Vatican II and afterwards.
Royal, Robert. A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 2015.
The Vision of Vatican II: Its Fundamental Principles
Ormond Rush has been working on Vatican II hermeneutics for decades. The Vision of Vatican II is his magnum opus on this theme. He breaks Vatican II down into 24 hermeneutical principles that spans 500 pages. It is a remarkable achievement in Vatican II studies and has been a reference source for our work here.
Rating Explanation: Both the scope of The Vision of Vatican II and a price of $70 MSRP means that this not a book for the average layman. It is a volume for academics and reference. While it is certainly a formidable work, this alone is a reason for hesitation for recommending it to simply anyone.
Rush, Ormund. The Vision of Vatican II: Its Fundamental Principles. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2019.
Freedom, Truth, and Human Dignity
David Schindler and Nicolas Healy
Schindler and Healy have put together a remarkable study on Dignitatis Humanae, Vatican II's declaration on religious freedom. This book contains a new, academically rigorous English transation of Dignitatis Humanae with the Latin parallel to it. Healy's essay presents the history of the drafting of the text. Schindler's essay is a Thomistic inspired interpretation of the text. Their methodology is faithful to Vatican II and the Magisterium. As if this weren't enough, Freedom, Truth, and Human Dignity also contains every version of the text which became Dignitatis Humanae and the interventions of Karol Wojtyla and Alfred Ancel, both of whom gave important contributions to the drafing of the document.
Rating Explanation: Freedom, Truth, and Human Dignity fills a major lacuna in scholarship on Vatican II and religious liberty. It presents a fresh interpretation of the text faithful the Magisterium avoiding the excesses of both the radical progressive and ultraconservative views. The one drawback is book's price, but is well worth it for those who wish to seriously study the controversy over the teachings on religious liberty.
Schindler, David L. and Nicholas J. Healy Jr. Freedom, Truth, and Human Dignity. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman's Publishing Co, 2015.
Dignitatis Humanae, Theology
St. Jerome Writing by Caravaggio