The Divided Catholics

The Fourth Session

by Xavier Rynne
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 384 pp., $5.50

What Happened at Rome? The Council and Its Implications for the Modern World

by Gary MacEoin
Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 191 pp., $4.95

Pope Paul VI: Apostle on the Move

by Alden Hatch
Random House, 288 pp., $5.95

Just before the Second Vatican Council opened, The New Yorker published a “Letter from Vatican City.” This was followed at the close of the session by another equally outspoken article describing and summarizing what had taken place. The measure of the distance we have traveled since then may be gauged by the sensation occasioned both by these articles and by those which Time’s Rome correspondent was writing simultaneously.

I know their habits, their next of kin,
But who the hell is Xavier Rynne?

asked Mr. John Cogley, Religion Editor of The New York Times. Speculations about his, her, or their identity gave rise to a spate of closed-circuit jokes of the kind the years render tedious. Once internal evidence had indisputably established that he was not one (or all) of a group of singing nuns it only remained for his readers to assess his reliability as a reporter. And if many have disagreed with his opinions, no one (so far as I know) has questioned the substantial accuracy of his facts. Encouraged by the great interest his work aroused, Mr. Rynne expanded his original articles and had them printed in book form. Subsequent volumes appeared in due course, of which The Fourth Session is the latest, and, naturally, the last. Together they form the only comprehensive history of the Council at present available.

Mr. Rynne’s books will not become the standard work on Vatican II because they are written too close to the event to make this possible. They are, however, exceedingly valuable works of reference written by one who not only had access to inside information but has drawn on an astonishing number of commentaries from all over the world.

The Fourth Session follows the same pattern as its predecessors. An account of each meeting is given with reasonably full quotations from speeches. At the end of every chapter the author sets out a summary of the day’s proceedings, lists all officers and speakers, and tabulates the votes. The last quarter of the book confines itself to straight documentation. A very full appendix gives the Pope’s opening and closing addresses, his speeches at the public session in November, also to the Observers and the United Nations General Assembly. It includes the text of the Motu Proprio which established the Synod of Bishops, the Constitution on Divine Revelation, and the Declaration on Religious Freedom.

Mr. Rynne not only sets the scene but takes us backstage, in one instance giving snatches of a discussion between the members of the Commission set up to revise that awkward Constitution, The Church and the Modern World. The snatches are not in themselves particularly exciting, but they throw light on the way things were done, the pains-taking manner in which a measure of unanimity was achieved, and show us a few moving cogs of a cumbersome machinery ill-adapted to express divergent views.

THE AUTHOR, INDEED, makes no bones about the maneuverings, procedural manipulations, and dishonesties by which the minority attempted to…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your account.