September 2015 Print

Book Review: The Inside Story of Vatican II

The Inside Story of Vatican II

By Rev. Ralph M. Wiltgen, S.V.D.

When it comes to Vatican II, we need not indulge on the mystifying ‘spirit’ of the Council, nor even thumb through Sheed’s Is it the Same Church? To get the record straight there is nothing like the good old The Rhine Flows into the Tiber, in its new edition called The Inside Story of Vatican II. A professional historian, journalist and eye-witness, Fr. Ralph M. Wiltgen presents the modern reader with a history of that council which is at once factual, authoritative, impartial, thorough, and totally interesting.

The Inside Story describes how each of the 16 conciliar documents was painstakingly hammered out. And it brings to light how the Council’s activity was guided constantly by groups rather than by individuals. Yet key individuals were quite pivotal for writing the history of Vatican II. Cardinal Liénart, not five minutes into the first general meeting, asked to give more time to select the candidates for commissions of study, which led to a striking victory of the liberal alliance in re-directing the Council’s course.

Partisan spirit was gaining ground as things went on, and it appeared as if St. Peter’s basilica was turning into an immense pressure cooker. No one knew what stew would result from it except that things would never be the same after. Wiltgen’s original title suggests the prevailing of the group from the Rhine River countries. Said Yves Congar: “In short, the Rhine was in reality that broad current of vigorous Catholic theology and pastoral science which had got under way in the early 1950s…” What Congar celebrated indeed was what had been condemned only 15 years earlier by Humani Generis of Pius XII as the “new theology”; headed by French and German avant-garde crypto modernists.

Those who revel in mystery novels will enjoy reading this volume, which has the breadth of an open landscape and the sharpness of the finest details on persons and events. One feels like entering the maze of in-depth theological themes, but having a sense of direction as such doctrines are incarnated in historical and personal lives. One comes across totally extravagant personages, subtle periti and veritable armies in battle alignment of conservatives vs. liberals, each vowing to die rather than surrender.

These pages were written by an outsider, simply gleaning information to feed his Council News Service, who could truly say: “What I saw and what I heard, and the facts that I ferreted out, I now pass on to you.” For those who still believe with the publisher of TAN Books that “the Holy Spirit mysteriously worked within the Council to bring about what God desired for His Church”; each of the 400 pages of facts will quickly set the record straight.


Fr. Dominique Bourmaud