There have been twenty-one universal gatherings’ecumenical councils’of the Catholic Church. The first opened in 325, the last closed in 1965, and the names of many ring out in the history of the church: Nicea, Chalcedon, Trent, Vatican II. Though centuries separate the councils, each occurred when the church faced serious crises, sometimes with doctrinal matters, sometimes with moral or even political matters, and sometimes with discerning the church’s relation to the world. The councils determined much of what the Catholic Church is and believes. Additionally, many councils impacted believers in other Christian traditions and even in other faiths.
In this accessible, readable, and yet substantial account of the councils Joseph Kelly provides both the historical context for each council as well as an account of its proceedings. Readers will discover how the councils shaped the debate for the following decades and even centuries, and will appreciate the occasional portraits of important conciliar figures from Emperor Constantine to Pope John XXIII.
Joseph F. Kelly, PhD, is professor of religious studies at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio. He is author of The Origins of Christmas, An Introduction to the New Testament for Catholics, The Collegeville Church History Timeline, and The Birth of Jesus According to the Gospels, all published by Liturgical Press.
Kelly has written quite a bit on topics related to church history and has a very easy to read writing style. In this present volume he offers a brief overview of all the ecumenical councils of the church situating them in their historical periods. He gives information on specific issues dealt with at each council and highlights some of the significant players in each of them.
Kelly makes this important history not only interesting, but also timely and important for every person in the pew. He weaves the issues the councils addressed into their historical context and makes the individuals who were involved come alive.
Joseph Kelly has written a remarkable text on the general councils of the Catholic Church. The work abounds in deft characterizations of major figures in Christian history. It tells an often complicated history with mastery of the salient points, even adding touches of humor. It conveys massive amounts of information in prose easy to read and digest. It sets the councils' teaching and reform decrees in the vital context of a church caught up in the swirl of cultural and political changes. Best of all, it contributes a concise account, accurately set forth, to the current discussion and argument over the significance of the Second Vatican Council and its work to refashion Catholic life for the present day.
Jared Wicks, SJ, Emeritus professor of theology, Gregorian University, Rome, Consultor, Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity
Highly recommended. Lower- and upper-level undergraduates; general readers.
Terrific. . . . If I were to teach a course on the councils, [Kelly's] would be the book.
John O'Malley, SJ, Georgetown University, Author of What Happened at Vatican II
Joseph F. Kelly has written a history of ecumenical councils-but more than that. His narrative begins before Nicea (325) and continues past Vatican II (1962-65), as he sets the councils in their historical and theological context. In clear and lively style, he traces some of the greatest achievements of the church of Jesus Christ, without neglecting troubled times and stubborn impasses. Readers will not only learn much from this book but also enjoy it as they do so.
Joseph T. Lienhard, SJ, Fordham University
In clear and concise language, Kelly describes the political and theological context of the councils that made Catholicism what it is today.
Thomas J. Reese, SJ, Senior Fellow, Woodstock Theological Center, Georgetown University, Washington, DC