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Posted November 15, 2006

Book: Yves Congar: Theologian of the Church
Edited by Gabriel Flynn
Peeters Press. Louvain. W.B. Eerdmans. 2005. Pp. 503

An Excerpt from the Introduction:

The greatest challenge for the Church at the dawn of the third millennium of Christianity is evangelization. Faced with the de-Christianisation of Europe and of the Western world, evinced by the rise and widespread dissemination of modern atheism, unbelief, religious indifference, and an increasingly pervasive amorality, as well as a newly resurgent political hostility to religion extending from the nation states of Europe to the highest level of European parliamentary democracy, the only appropriate Church response is a new proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The cultural challenge posed by a renewed evangelization of European society is gargantuan. In this regard, I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that the French are among the leaders in the field of evangelization in the present generation, as they were in the renewal of ecclesiology and Church a generation ago — the brilliant generation of Cardinals Yves Congar, Henri de Lubac and Father Louis Bouyer, to mention just some of the most illustrious.

. . . In this regard, a point to be noticed is that Cardinal Yves Congar viewed the twentieth century as an occasion of evangelic opportunity: “I know that it is a century of unbelief and religious indifference, that it is also the century of the expansion of Islam, but among the minority of faithful who truly believe, it is a really evangelistic century.” I have argued elsewhere that the Church should engage in a reassessment of its educational apostolate in order to ensure the success of the enterprise of evangelisation for the new millennium, inspired by Pope Paul II. In executing the mission of evangelization, the Church depends on its two richest resources, namely, a holy priesthood and an educated laity — and never has the Catholic laity been so theologically literate and self-confident as it is today. The point I wish to make is that the presence of the priest, alongside his theologically educated and articulate lay friends in the educational apostolate, is more necessary than ever for the renewal of the Church. The Second Vatican Council afirms the teaching office of the priests as co-workers with the bishops in the transformation of the apostolic faith in all its integrity. Pope John Paul II has called for a renewed commitment on the part of all consecrated persons to the Church’s mission of education. He highlights their indispensable contribution to the cause of evangelization and education in his Post-Synodal Exhortation Vita consecrata, given in 1996:

With respectful sensitivity and missionary boldness, consecrated men and women should show that faith in Jesus Christ enlightens the whole enterprise of education, never disparaging human values but rather confirming and elevating them [. . .] Because of the importance that Catholic and ecclesiastical universities and faculties have in the field of education and evangelization. Institutes which are responsible for their direction should be conscious of their responsibility.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Congar’s theology of the laity shows a broad movement from a view of laypeople apparently largely marked, despite Congar’s own best intentions, by it concern to define their role in relation to that of priests and vowed religious, to guard ecclesiastical authority, and to keep the work of the laity firmly within the world, rather than the church. Such an estimation does not hold entirely true even of Congar’s early thought, but by the end of his life, there was no longer any hint of such tendencies. While it could be maintained that the more consistently generous estimation of the laity in the later work reflects no more than the intellectual largesse made possible in the wake of Vatican II, there are signs throughout Congar’s work that from the beginning he was thinking in quite different terms, probing and altering his own paradigms even as he proposed them. The mutuality of clergy and laity, originally parsed as a division of labor between church and world, transformed in the later work into a distinction between two kinds of priesthood and sacramental life, both radically dependent on the High Priesthood of Christ and the power of the Spirit for their diffusion in the world. Without minimizing the differences between the pastoral, monastic and lay vocations, and thus reducing the possibility of creative tension and interaction between them, Congar was able to articulate the value of each kind of vocation and state of life in its distinctiveness, as well as the dual end to which each one is directed: that the world be “charged with the grandeur of God” and that the Trinity of divine Persons from whom all holiness flows be glorified in the human response of self-offering and prayer.

Table of Contents:

Part I. Ecumenical Prefaces

Part II. Yves Congar: Theologian

Part III. Yves Congar: Ecumenist

Part IV. Yves Congar: Historian of Ecclesiology

Part V. Yves Congar and the Theology of Interreligious