The Open Church
By Michael Novak

The Open Church


Michael Novak's eyewitness report on the second and pivotal session of Vatican II in 1964 vividly inter weaves pageantry, politics, and theology. An unusually well-informed lay intellectual, who had earned a theological degree just before the Council, Novak applauded the purposes of Pope John XXIII and his successor Paul VI-"to throw open the windows of the church." In this report, he coined the classic description of the foes of the reforms at Vatican II as the party of "nonhistorical orthodoxy," emphasizing the eternal and unchanging, neglecting history and contingency.

The author recounts many moments of high drama-Pope Paul VI's opening speech, the vote on the collegiality of bishops, the plea of Cardinal Bea on behalf of the chapter on Jews, and Bishop De Smedt's defense of religious freedom. His colorful chapter on the American bishops in 1964 serves as a fascinating benchmark, as do his many insights into the new role of the laity. His final chapter is a moving tribute to the Open Church engaging the contemporary world, and his new introduction brings this report up to date.

This work will be of compelling interest to those interested in the post-conciliar fall of Communism, under the great John Paul II-who took his name from his two predecessors at Vatican II.

Originally Published: 1964


“Novak brings to focus on his evaluation of the Council the insights of an informed layman and a candor for which our public discussion of religion has ill-prepared us … his is a valuable and stimulating work.”

New York Times Book Review

“Probably will stand as the best yet.”

Boston Sunday Herald

“Thorough … sincere and well-documented.”


“A useful light for readers who find the issues obscure and disconnected… splendidly free of guile and politics.”

Book Week