On an otherwise ordinary Sunday morning in 1964, millions of Roman Catholics around the world experienced history. For the first time in centuries, they attended masses that were conducted mostly in their native tongues. This occasion marked only the first of many profound changes to emanate from the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Known popularly as Vatican II, it would soon give rise to the most far-reaching religious transformation since the Reformation.
In this groundbreaking work of cultural and historical sociology, Melissa Wilde offers a new explanation for this revolutionary transformation of the Church. Drawing on newly available sources--including a collection of interviews with the Council's key bishops and cardinals, and primary documents from the Vatican Secret Archive that have never before been seen by researchers--Wilde demonstrates that the pronouncements of the Council were not merely reflections of papal will, but the product of a dramatic confrontation between progressives and conservatives that began during the first days of the Council. The outcome of this confrontation was determined by a number of factors: the Church's decline in Latin America; its competition and dialogue with other faiths, particularly Protestantism, in northern Europe and North America; and progressive clerics' deep belief in the holiness of compromise and their penchant for consensus building.
Wilde's account will fascinate not only those interested in Vatican II but anyone who wants to understand the social underpinnings of religious change.
Melissa J. Wilde is assistant professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania.
"Wilde's innovative methodology has thrown up some extremely interesting ideas. You may not like how she reached her conclusions, but the conclusions themselves are often and fascinating and, for the most part, entirely credible...Wilde offers similar analyses of different sectors of the episcopate--southern European, Latin America, Asian and African--and they add up to an impressive account of the council's convoluted proceedings and machinations. It's often said that Vatican II never pleased anyone completely, but this book makes it abundantly clear that it was energized by what Emile Durkheim, quoted by Wilde, termed a 'collective effervescence'."--Jonathan Wright, Catholic Herald
"Vatican II is a historical treasure trove. It breaks new ground in dealing with theories of religious change in institutions, and it answers some key questions about the dynamics of the council... Very few sociological studies rival Wilde's big picture analysis of huge institutional religious change. Though Vatican II is theory-laden, Wilde writes in an accessible and jargon-free fashion to help us see what was at stake and how good organization makes a difference."--John A. Coleman, America
"Melissa Wilde provides a useful narrative of events, stressing how early victories by the progressives created a snowball of anticipation and confidence...She also provides interesting detail...[T]his book is an impressive first essay by a young and innovative scholar."--David Martin, The Tablet
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