Skip to main content
Harvard University Press - home
When Bishops Meet

When Bishops Meet

An Essay Comparing Trent, Vatican I, and Vatican II

John W. O'Malley

ISBN 9780674988415

Publication date: 08/20/2019

Request exam copy

From one of our foremost church historians comes an overarching analysis of the three modern Catholic councils—an assessment of what Catholicism was and has become today.

Catholic councils are meetings of bishops. In this unprecedented comparison of the three most recent meetings, John O’Malley traverses more than 450 years of Catholic history and examines the councils’ most pressing and consistent concerns: questions of purpose, power, and relevance in a changing world. By offering new, sometimes radical, even troubling perspectives on these convocations, When Bishops Meet analyzes the evolution of the church itself.

The Catholic Church today is shaped by the historical arc starting from Trent in the sixteenth century to Vatican II. The roles of popes, the laity, theologians, and others have varied from the bishop-centered Trent, to Vatican I’s declaration of papal infallibility, to a new balance of power in the mid-twentieth century. At Trent, lay people had direct influence on proceedings. By Vatican II, their presence was token. At each gathering, fundamental issues recurred: the relationship between bishops and the papacy, the very purpose of a council, and doctrinal change. Can the teachings of the church, by definition a conservative institution, change over time?

Councils, being ecclesiastical as well as cultural institutions, have always reflected and profoundly influenced their times. Readers familiar with John O’Malley’s earlier work as well as those with no knowledge of councils will find this volume an indispensable guide for essential questions: Who is in charge of the church? What difference did the councils make, and will there be another?

Praise

  • This magnificent study shows how the Catholic Church has tried to reconcile faithfulness to its core identity throughout the ages. Drawing on his deeply researched studies of councils, O’Malley illuminates how the Church has moved from Trent’s definitions of what was permitted and forbidden to Vatican II’s attempt to articulate the Church’s identity in the modern world—a plea for reconciliation between humans of all faiths and convictions.

    —Charles Taylor, McGill University

Author

  • John W. O’Malley was University Professor in the Department of Theology at Georgetown University and the author of many books, including Four Cultures of the West, Trent, Vatican I, What Happened at Vatican II, and The First Jesuits (all from Harvard); The First Jesuits has been translated into twelve languages. He was a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the American Philosophical Society, and a recipient of the Harvard Centennial Medal as well as Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Society for Italian Historical Studies, the Renaissance Society of America, and the American Catholic Historical Association. O’Malley was a member of the Society of Jesus and a Roman Catholic priest.

Book Details

  • 240 pages
  • 4-3/8 x 7-1/8 inches
  • Belknap Press

From this author

Recommendations