The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Jean Cardinal Danielou

Jean Cardinal Danielou
I believe I can say, without fear of being contradicted, that one of the most under-appreciated and least read theologians of the 20th century is Jean Cardinal Danielou. After a brief check of my personal library I found 19 books by Danielou, but very few of these are still in print. Indeed, I purchased most from used book stores and online book services. This is a shame, because Jean Danielou still has much to teach us.

He was a French Jesuit who had a major impact on the Second Vatican Council, a man whose writings should certainly be published anew so today's Catholics can come to a better appreciation of the theological awakening that took place during the first half of the past century.

Why has Danielou been so ignored? The reasons stem from two events: the circumstances surrounding his death in 1974 and his public criticism of those who misinterpreted Vatican II. Danielou, who was made a cardinal by Pope Paul VI in 1969, was a man who lived his faith by secretly carrying out works of mercy. Following Our Lord's example, he didn't shy away from society's outcasts and public sinners, but did whatever he could to help those in need. Although a cardinal, he rejected all the trappings, and in his final years lived a life of utter simplicity, working as a chaplain to a community of nuns. Sadly, he died in a way that was fodder for the more sensational media and led many to question his holiness.

Cardinal Danielou had gone to the home of a Paris prostitute, Mimi Santoni, to take her the money she would need to hire a lawyer to free her husband from prison. This was typical of the cardinal's frequent acts of charity to those in need of help and forgiveness. After climbing the stairs to her flat, he suffered a heart attack and collapsed to the floor. You can imagine the furor this caused. The left-wing media had a field day accusing Danielou of using prostitutes and describing the incident as typical of the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church. Although a subsequent investigation confirmed the cardinal's complete innocence, and brought into the open his many works of charity, even many of his Jesuit colleagues failed to defend him against the false charges that were circulating. Why? Because they had already attacked Danielou for his public comments a few years earlier, comments that criticized those, including many Jesuits, who were falsely interpreting Vatican II. Danielou's comments were made during a 1972 interview on Vatican Radio, and from that moment on, this humble, brilliant theologian was shunned by many in his order.

Recently, however, a conference at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross examined Cardinal Danielou's life and teachings, praising him and his work. Here is a brief video tribute to this great theologian:

I have also provided a transcript of the Vatican Radio interview that ruffled so many feathers among those who erroneously thought Vatican II had overturned 2,000 years of Church teaching.


Interview of Cardinal Jean Daniélou on Vatican Radio, October 23, 1972

Q: Your Eminence, is there really a crisis of religious life, and can you give us its dimensions?

A: I think that there is now a very grave crisis of religious life, and that one should not speak of renewal, but rather of decadence. I think that this crisis is hitting the Atlantic area above all. Eastern Europe and the countries of Africa and Asia present in this regard a better state of spiritual health. This crisis is manifesting itself in all areas. The evangelical counsels are no longer considered as consecrations to God, but are seen in a sociological and psychological perspective. We are concerned about not presenting a bourgeois facade, but on the individual level poverty is not practiced. The group dynamic replaces religious obedience; with the pretext of reacting against formalism, all regularity of the life of prayer is abandoned and the first consequence of this state of confusion is the disappearance of vocations, because young people require a serious formation. And moreover there are the numerous and scandalous desertions of religious who renege on the pact that bound them to the Christian people.

Q: Can you tell us what, in your view, are the causes of this crisis?

A: The essential source of this crisis is a false interpretation of Vatican II. The directives of the Council were very clear: a greater fidelity of religious men and women to the demands of the Gospel expressed in the constitutions of each institute, and at the same time an adaptation of the modalities of these constitutions to the conditions of modern life. The institutes that are faithful to these directives are seeing true renewal, and have vocations. But in many cases the directives of Vatican II have been replaced with erroneous ideologies put into circulation by magazines, by conferences, by theologians. And among these errors can be mentioned:

- Secularization. Vatican II declared that human values must be taken seriously. It never said that we should enter into a secularized world in the sense that the religious dimension would no longer be present in society, and it is in the name of a false secularization that men and women are renouncing their habits, abandoning their works in order to take their places in secular institutions, substituting social and political activities for the worship of God. And this goes against the grain, among other things, with respect to the need for spirituality that is being manifested in today's world.

- A false conception of freedom that brings with it the devaluing of the constitutions and rules and exalts spontaneity and improvisation. This is all the more absurd in that Western society is currently suffering from the absence of a discipline of freedom. The restoration of firm rules is one of the necessities of religious life.

- An erroneous conception of the changing of man and of the Church. Even if these change, the constitutive elements of man and of the Church are permanent, and bringing into question the constitutive elements of the constitutions of the religious orders is a fundamental error.

Q: But do you see any remedies for overcoming this crisis?

A: I think that the only and urgent solution is that of stopping the false stances taken in a certain number of institutes. For this it is necessary to stop all of the experimentation and all of the decisions contrary to the directives of the Council; to warn against the books, magazines, conferences in which these erroneous conceptions are being put into circulation; to restore in their integrity the practice of the constitutions with the adaptations requested by the Council. Wherever this appears impossible, it seems to me that those religious cannot be denied who want to be faithful to the constitutions of their order and to the directives of Vatican II, and to establish distinct communities. Religious superiors are bound to respect this desire.

These communities must be authorized to have houses of formation. Experience will demonstrate if the vocations are more numerous in the houses of strict observance or in the houses of mitigated observance. In case the superiors oppose these legitimate requests, recourse to the supreme pontiff is certainly authorized.

Religious life is called to a grandiose future in technological society; the more this is developed, the more it will make felt the need for the manifestation of God. This is precisely the aim of religious life, but in order to carry out its mission it must rediscover its authentic meaning and break radically with a secularization that is destroying it in its essence and preventing it from attracting vocations.


If you are interested in reading several defenses of the cardinal, see the links below: 

The Quarantine Has Ended, by Sandro Magister

The Rehabilitation of  Cardinal Danielou

Search out his books. You will find them eminently readable, for unlike many of his colleagues, he wrote for the average Catholic not strictly for the theologian.

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