Book Reviews, Reform Councils of Trent and Vatican II, and Vatican I

IMHO, you cannot truly understand the modern Catholic Church without reading William O’Malley’s histories of Trent and Vatican II.

These book reviews include links to our YouTube videos and blogs on the Reform Councils of Trent and Vatican II, plus related topics. Our primary sources for this history are the books by the leading Catholic scholar, Father John O’Malley.


Trent: What Happened at the Council, by John W. O’Malley
What Happened at Vatican II, by John W. O’Malley

YouTube videos and blogs on Council of Trent and Vatican II:
Decree on Religious Freedom:

IMHO, you cannot truly understand the modern Catholic Church without reading John O’Malley’s histories of Trent and Vatican II. O’Malley argues that Vatican II restated the theology of Trent, countering the notion that Trent was a reactionary rather than a reforming council. This polemic view of Trent was influenced by the fact that the Vatican had closed the archives of the Trent Council until early in the twentieth century.

John O’Malley has written books and recorded lectures with Learn25 on Trent, Vatican II, and many other topics. We recommend that you both read his books and listen to the related lectures, the lectures provide the important highlights, the books have more interesting details and events.

Vatican II, Did Anything Happen?, essays by John O’Malley and others

John O’Malley also has authored many books like Vatican II, Did Anything Happen? This is an anthology of essays by him and other scholars who experienced or lived in the years of Vatican II and beyond.

A History of the Popes: From Peter to the Present, by John W. O’Malley
Lectures: 2,000 Years of Papal History: The History of the Popes, the Papacy, and the Catholic Church, Audible Learn25, by John W. O’Malley

Learn 25 had requested that John O’Malley record a series of lectures on the history of all the popes, and he used the lecture notes to write a companion book. He also recorded a series of lectures on the history of all the ecumenical councils.


Let us review the books that helped to inspire the decrees of Vatican II, or books written soon after Vatican II that were written by the participating theologians and bishops.

True and False Reform in the Church, by Yves Congar, Paul Philibert, Translator, Introduction
The Meaning of Tradition, by Yves Congar

YouTube videos and blogs:

Yves Congar’s book on True and False Reform inspired Pope John XXIII to open the windows of the Catholic Church and call the Vatican II into session. He appointed the silenced Yves Congar on the key commission, with the Curia officials, that prepared the preliminary drafts for the topics to be discussed by the bishops in the Council. The Meaning of Tradition also contributed to the Vatican II Decrees on Ecumenicism.

Sources of Renewal: The Implementation of Vatican II, by Pope John Paul II

The future Pope John Paul II provides his interpretation of Vatican II, we found this very useful in our discussion on the Vatican II decree on Religious Freedom. This is much easier to read than many of his other books.

We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition, by John Courtney Murray

Decree on Religious Freedom:

John Courtney Murray was the lead theologian for the Decree On Religious Freedom, his book holds up the American example as a model that the Catholic Church adopted in Vatican II.


Theological Highlights of Vatican II, by Pope Benedict XVI
Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church, by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger and Vittorio Messori

Cardinal Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, penned these excellent Theological Highlights of Vatican II.

The Ratzinger Report was an interview of Cardinal Ratzinger was published in 1985 and discusses his disappointment on how little effect that Vatican II has had on the faith of ordinary Catholics, and the need for catechesis on the Decrees of Vatican II, leading to the issuance of the Catholic Catechism.

The Council, Reform and Reunion, by Hans Kung, Cecily Hasting, Translator
Theological Investigations, Vol. VI: Concerning Vatican Council II, by Karl Rahner

Hans Kung and Karl Rahner were also influential theologians during the proceedings of Vatican II, these books are their insider histories and observations.

We have so many questions about whether Catholics can safely read Hans Kung that we cut a video on this topic. The books of Hans Kung is not on the list of books forbidden to Catholics, because the Vatican II popes abolished the list of forbidden books. Hans Kung was not excommunicated, he was not defrocked, and Pope Benedict even visited him to discuss their days at the University and at Vatican II, where both were leading theologians. In short, Hans Kung was guilty of hubris rather than heresy, and his life and works provide many interesting moral lessons for us today, so we may not be guilty of hubris, of being right in the wrong way, or thinking that we are a fountain of truth.

On our thumbnail on our Hans Kung video, we included a picture of a red Alfa Romeo similar to the red sports car he zoomed through Rome during when attending the Council. He was able to purchase this sports car from the many popular Catholic books he published, many of his critics pointed this as an example of his arrogance and hubris.


John O’Malley does discuss the decrees of Vatican II quite thoroughly, but in the sequence in which they were debated. It is also useful to read the histories of the decrees themselves; after all, the teachings are more important than the history of Vatican II.
A Concise Guide to the Documents of Vatican II, by Edward P. Hahnenberg

The Church in the Making: Lumen Gentium, Christus Dominus, Orientalium Ecclesiarum (from Vatican II), by Richard R Gaillardetz

This is an excellent concise guide on the history of each of the five church constitutions and major decrees of Vatican II, my only complaint is maybe they could have been a little less concise.

The Church in the Making discusses the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium), Decree on the Pastoral Office of Bishops in the Church (Christus Dominus), and Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches (Orientalium Ecclesiarum).

The Documents of Vatican II With Notes and Comments by Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Authorities Kindle Edition
The Sixteen Documents of Vatican II and the Instruction of the Liturgy, with Commentaries by The Council Fathers

You no longer need to purchase books including the Vatican II decrees since you can access them on the Vatican II website.
But, you may be able to purchase inexpensive used copies. The Documents of Vatican II includes comments by Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox scholars. The Sixteen Documents of Vatican II includes commentaries by the Council Fathers.

Keys to the Council: Unlocking the Teaching of Vatican II Paperback, by Richard R. Gaillardetz and Catherine Clifford

The Keys to the Council is another history of the main decrees of Vatican II by several noted scholars.

Vatican II: The Crisis and the Promise, by Alan Schreck Ph.D.

The book, Vatican II, The Crisis and the Promise, is both a history of the council and reflects on the controversies and criticisms of Vatican II.

My Journal of the Council, by Yves Congar, several translators

This book by Yves Congar, My Journal of the Council, is exactly that, his daily diary of his thoughts and emotions on the proceeding of the Council. I will see if I can mine it for interesting stories.

Council Speeches Of Vatican II

And our friends Yves Congar and Hans Kung collected influential speeches made during the sessions of Vatican II by the attending theologians and bishops.


The Legacy of Vatican II, essays by John O’Malley and others
Vatican II: Fifty Personal Stories Paperback, essays by John O’Malley and others

We found two collections of interesting essays by scholars on Vatican II, the editors of such collections always want our friend John O’Malley to be the first scholar to contribute his essay.

From Trent to Vatican II: Historical and Theological Investigations

This is a collection of essays by various scholars on the transition between the Council of Trent to Vatican II, and our friend John O’Malley is again asked to contribute his leading essay.

My Struggle for Freedom: A Memoir, by Hans Küng

This memoir written by Hans Kung late in his life concentrates on the Vatican II years. Fortunately, he does not prominently discuss the proceedings leading to his revocation of the permission to teach Catholic theology.

Models of the Church, by Avery Dulles
Models of Revelation, by Avery Dulles

The Legacy of Pope John Paul II: The Central Teaching of His 14 Encyclical Letters, by Alan Schreck

This is a collection and commentary on the encyclical letters issued by Pope John Paul II, who was a leading theologian of Vatican II.


Catholic History for Today’s Church: How Our Past Illuminates Our Present, by Father John W. O’Malley SJ

This is another look by John O’Malley on the Catholic History, mostly the history from Trent to Vatican II, and how it affects the current Church and today’s Catholics.

Vatican I: The Council and the Making of the Ultramontane Church, by John W. O’Malley (Author)

John O’Malley’s history of Vatican I. This council was scheduled to address many issues, but was cut short by the Franco-Prussian War after it issued the decree on Papal Infallibility. Pope John XXIII decreed that Vatican II would not be a continuation of Vatican I.

When Bishops Meet: An Essay Comparing Trent, Vatican I, and Vatican II, by John W. O’Malley

What more can John O’Malley say about this topic? We purchased this volume to confirm whether our interpretation of his thoughts are accurate, I am not sure if this book would say what the others do not. Perhaps he wrote this book to confront the misunderstandings many Catholics have that somehow Vatican II is a betrayal of the theology of the Council of Trent. The truth is that Vatican II could be seen as Trent II.

The Jesuits: A History from Ignatius to the Present, by Father John W. O’Malley SJ
The First Jesuits, by Father John W. O’Malley

John O’Malley is also Jesuit Priest who is a retired college professor. He has written two basic histories on the Jesuit Order, we have recorded one video on these histories, we will record the other video soon.

About Bruce Strom 185 Articles
I was born and baptized and confirmed as a Lutheran. I made the mistake of reading works written by Luther, he has a bad habit of writing seemingly brilliant theology, but then every few pages he stops and calls the Pope often very vulgar names, what sort of Christian does that? Currently I am a seeker, studying church history and the writings of the Church Fathers. I am involved in the Catholic divorce ministries in our diocese, and have finished the diocese two-year Catholic Lay Ministry program. Also I took a year of Orthodox off-campus seminary courses. This blog explores the beauty of the Early Church and the writings and history of the Church through the centuries. I am a member of a faith community, for as St Augustine notes in his Confessions, you cannot truly be a Christian unless you worship God in the walls of the Church, unless persecution prevents this. This blog is non-polemical, so I really would rather not reveal my denomination here.

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