The Catholic Church in a Changing World

A Vatican II-Inspired Approach

Reddit icon
e-mail icon
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
Google icon
LinkedIn icon
Dennis M. Doyle
  • Winona, MN: 
    Anselm Academic
    , February
     356 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


The Catholic Church in a Changing World is the third iteration of a work intended to introduce students and other readers to the world of Catholicism, and more specifically, to the ecclesial self-understanding of the Catholic Church today (original title: The Church Emerging from Vatican II: A Popular Approach to Contemporary Catholicism, Twenty-Third Publications, 1992; Revised and updated, 2002). The most significant sources of that self-understanding, the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, and its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, provide the jumping off point and basic structure for Dennis M. Doyle’s presentation.

Part 1 begins with a general introduction to the Catholic Church and the challenges of the present context and introduces the documents of Vatican II. Part 2 contains eight sections which correspond to the eight chapters of Lumen Gentium (Mystery, People of God, Hierarchy, Laity, the Universal Call to Holiness, Religious, the Eschatological Nature of the Church, Mary), while Part 3 considers the place of the church in the world in accordance with the basic structure of Gaudium et Spes (servant church, Catholic social teaching, marriage and family, culture, economic life, peace and politics, ecology). As the author suggests, the various sections are best read in conjunction with the conciliar documents.

The fruit of a long experience of teaching, this edition updates Doyle’s book “for a new generation of readers” (13), all of them born as the wake of Vatican II subsides and as the modern world, which the council endeavored to address, continues to evolve at an accelerated pace. Each chapter summarizes both historical perspectives and contemporary debate. Following the trajectory of Vatican II’s reflections, Doyle gives ample consideration to the extensive engagement of contemporary Catholicism in ecumenical (interchurch) and interreligious (interfaith) relations, questions of atheism, liberation theologies, the role of women and feminist scholarship, and increasing concern for ecological justice.

This edition contains important new material in which Doyle draws attention to connections between the teaching and trajectories of Vatican II and Pope Francis’ convictions concerning the church and its mission today. Regrettably, while it is mentioned in the list of suggested readings (157), Doyle misses an opportunity to connect Lumen Gentium’s affirmation of the universal call to holiness to Francis’ 2018 exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate, “On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World.” Chapter 21 is devoted to Francis’ vision of the church as one that “balances themes of personal conversion and social liberation” (197), together with concern for renewed attention to the task of evangelization. Doyle invites the reader to consider how Francis seeks to advance a synthesis of Vatican II’s approach to the modern world by combining, in his approach to evangelization, concern for personal conversion and incorporation into the church’s missionary outreach; the search for an authentic expression of faith in teaching and witness; and engaging with the world of science, technology, and culture by reading the signs of the times with discerning eyes (198-99). Finally, while acknowledging that the subject of the global ecological crisis was not a direct concern of Catholic Church teaching in 1965, Doyle traces the development of ecological concern (ch. 36) through the pontificates of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, culminating in Pope Francis’ extended reflection on “integral ecology” in the 2015 Encyclical, Laudato Si, “On Care for our Common Home.”

Each brief chapter is presented in an even-handed and engaging manner—drawing from the experience of the author and others to show both the meaning and the relevance of each topic or text. Discussion questions and lists of suggested readings at the end of each chapter invite further reflection and engagement on the part of the readers. The book includes a helpful index. This highly informative and accessible volume will serve as an excellent teaching resource for undergraduates and adult learners.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Catherine E. Clifford is Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology, Faculty of Theology, Saint Paul University.

Date of Review: 
May 20, 2020
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Dennis Doyle is Professor in the Religious Studies Department at the University of Dayton.


Reading Religion welcomes comments from AAR members, and you may leave a comment below by logging in with your AAR Member ID and password. Please read our policy on commenting.