This is a fascinating book in that it combines biographical information with the most significant contributions of the theologians who shaped Vatican II theology and beyond. Traditionalists may not be pleased with Kerr's portrayal of Roman Catholicism in the first half of the twentieth century as having a fortress mentality where Thomas Aquinas's Summa was the main textbook lectured on in Catholic seminaries in order to rid seminarians of the heresy of "modernism."
Some traditionalists may not appreciate the early 20th century being painted so darkly. For instance, Marie Dominique Chenu's major crime was his attempt to read Aquinas in his historical context, rather than as a collection of timeless truths. Chenu was keen on pointing out Aquinas's relation to Augustine, Pseudo-Dionysius, Neo-platonism and the varieties of Aristotelianism permeating the 12th and 13th centuries. Who would object to an historical analysis of Aquinas today? Yet this was consdidered dangerous by the Powers That Be, for it could lead to the relativization of Thomas's thought. Ironically Chenu, or Kerr, observes that early 20th century Catholic thought had a great deal in common with the Enlightenment thought it was seeking to combat. Kerr then notes that Aquinas is hardly read today and that Catholic theology post-Vatican II is much more concerned about "nuptial mysticism" epitomized by the Song of Songs and its patristic commentaries rather than with Thomistic thought. I personally am not quite sure that the loss of Neo-scholasticism and its intellecual rigor has benefited Catholicism. (First Things reviewed Kerr's book in May, 2007 and was also less than sanguine about the apparent demise of Neo-scholasticism.)
Vatican II is portrayed as the council of Yves Congar. His passion for sacred tradition, the reunion of Christendom, episcopal collegiality and greater lay participation were central themes of Vatican II. For many years he was forbidden to teach, preach or write, but his writings did attract the attention of Pope John XXIII who announced to the surprise of all that he was convening a full-scale ecumenical council in hopes of reuniting Christendom in 1959.
Many of the concerns of these pioneers of Vatican II theology seem commonplace today, but these men encountered stiff resistance during their own lifetimes.
Moreover you dont have to be a theologian to read, enjoy and understand this work. It is written in an engaging style and makes some ten theologians, including the present and former pope, more accessible to a wider audience.