Author: Worcester, Thomas
Date published: March 1, 2013
THE CHURCH IN COUNCIL: CONCILIAR MOVEMENTS, RELIGIOUS PRACTICE, AND THE PAPACY FROM NICAEA TO VATICAN II. By Norman Tanner. International Library of Historical Studies, vol. 72. New York: I. B. Tauris, 2011. Pp. xi + 249. $92.
A collection of Tanner's previously published articles, essays, and other shorter works on the history of church councils, the volume offers a concise and accessible overview of conciliar practices and accomplishments. T. divides 21 councils into eight of the "Early Church" (Nicaea to Constantinople IV); ten in the "Middle Ages" (Lateran I to Lateran V); and three for the "Modern Era" (Trent to Vatican II). He stresses that the first group of councils were called by emperors or empresses, did their work in Greek, dealt mainly with doctrinal questions, and were primarily Eastern, or even Asian; the medieval councils were Western and Latin, dealt principally with discipline, and most were called by popes; the three "modern" councils were all called by popes, though the degree of papal direction of them varied, as did their doctrinal and/or disciplinary purposes. At Vatican II, while Western European bishops still dominated the council, the rest of the world was growing in representation.
Ecclesiological concerns and an eye to the future undergird this historical narrative. T. calls councils "a good antidote to obsession with the papacy" (172), and he gently and persuasively points out that future councils could play a major role in promoting Christian unity as well as interreligious dialogue; such councils may, he suggests, take place in Manila, Delhi, New York, or indeed anywhere in the world.
More judicious editing would have made this fine volume even better, especially by weeding out needless repetition. At least six times T. contrasts the British parliament and its principle of majority rule, even if a majority is extraordinarily slender, with a conciliar tradition of unanimous consent, or of at least nearly unanimous agreement. A couple of times T. uses a cricket metaphor for explaining the role of the pope in the first millennium; an impenetrable allusion, I suspect, for most American readers. Quibbles aside, T.'s book is well worth the attention of students and scholars alike.
THOMAS WORCESTER, S.J.
College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, MA