When Bishops Meet

When Bishops Meet: An Essay Comparing Trent, Vatican I, and Vatican II.  By John W. O’Malley.  Cambridge, MA and London England: Harvard University Press, 2019.


John O’Malley

O’Malley is an author who is an outstanding church historian, whose doctorate studies sermons delivered in the Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican during the sixteenth century. He published three monographs on three ecumenical councils. Now he adds a fourth book comparing these three councils. He asks a number of questions: What do councils do? Does the teaching change? Who is in charge?   Who are the participants? (Popes and Curia, theologians, laity and “others”). What difference did the councils make? Will there be another?

In the conclusion of this book, O. answers the questions. He also indicates that it would not be possible to answer these questions validly unless, as O. does, based on solid studies of each council in and for itself. Each council produces insights otherwise unavailable. Each council is unique. The language used is very import. For example, Vatican II, unlike other councils, has a language that is not used in previous councils. Trent was more legal; Vatican I, was written with canons which were aimed at reforming persons and changing behavior. Vatican II spoke to people of good will and to people of other religions, inviting collaboration, for the common good.

This is a small book, but it studies the “issues under the issues” and O’Malley’s comparison rests on years of study, research and writing and thinking, until the uniqueness of each council is obvious. This work deserves a place for all who want to know more about councils and why future councils will be necessary for the Church and the people of God in future ages.

Ernest Falardeau, SSS

Cleveland, Ohio