Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

For the Cardinal Under Ban, the Quarantine Has Ended

by Sandro Magister


A conference has broken the silence on Cardinal Jean Daniélou, one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century. This article covers the mystery of his death, the hostility of his Jesuit confreres and the interview they couldn't forgive him for doing. It also includes and interview of Cardinal Danielou on Vatican Radio in 1972.

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Gruppo Editoriale L’Espresso Spa, May 11, 2012

"Windows open on the mystery": this is the title of the conference with which, two days ago, the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross broke the silence on one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century, the French Jesuit Jean Daniélou, made a cardinal by Paul VI in 1969.

A silence that lasted almost forty years, and began with his passing away in 1974.

In effect, the memory of Daniélou is today reduced, for many, to the mystery of his death by heart attack, one May afternoon, at the home of a prostitute on the fourth floor of Rue Dulong 56 in Paris.

When in reality the true mystery on which Daniélou opened the windows to many, in his activity as a theologian and a spiritual man, is that of the triune God. One of his greatest works was entitled "An essay on the mystery of history." A history not governed by chance, nor by necessity, but filled with the "magnalia Dei," by the grandiose wonders of God, each more astonishing than the last.

Today, few of his books are still available for purchase. And yet they are still of extraordinary richness and freshness. Simple and yet very profound, as few theologians have been able to do over the last century, apart from him and that other champion of clarity named Joseph Ratzinger.

Daniélou stands alongside the current pope because of the historical rather than philosophical framing of his theology, his expertise in the Fathers of the Church (the one enamored with Gregory of Nyssa, the other with Augustine), the completely central role given to the liturgy.

Daniélou, together with his Jesuit confrere Henri De Lubac, was the brilliant initiator in 1942 of the series of patristic texts entitled "Sources Chrétiennes," which marked the rebirth of theology in the second half of the twentieth century and paved the way for the best of Vatican Council II.

An author, in short, absolutely to rediscover.

But the mystery of his death and of the taciturn explanation that followed it must also be resolved.

Mimì Santoni, the prostitute, saw him fall to his knees with his face on the floor before he breathed his last. And to her "it was a good death, for a cardinal." He had gone to bring her money to pay for a lawyer capable of getting her husband out of prison. It was the last of his works of charity carried out in secret, on behalf of despised persons in need of help and forgiveness.

The Jesuits conducted exhaustive investigations to discover the truth. They ascertained his innocence. But they also shrouded the case in a silence that did not dispel the suspicions.

The rupture between Daniélou and his other Jesuit confreres in Paris and the rest of France was in effect the true origin of the neglect that fell upon this great theologian and cardinal.

A rupture that preceded his death by at least two years.

Since 1972, in fact, Daniélou had no longer been living in the residence of "Etudes," the leading cultural magazine of the French Jesuits, where he had lived for decades. He had moved to a convent of sisters, the Daughters of the Heart of Mary.

The clash had been precipitated by an interview with Daniélou on Vatican Radio in which he harshly criticized the "decadence" that was devastating so many men's and women's religious orders, because of "a false interpretation of Vatican II."

The interview was interpreted as an accusation brought against the Society of Jesus itself, the superior general of which at the time was Father Pedro Arrupe, who was also the head of the union of superiors general of religious orders.

The Jesuit Bruno Ribes, director of "Etudes," was one of the most active in making scorched earth around Daniélou.

The positions of the two had become antithetical. In 1974, the year of Daniélou's death, Ribes positioned "Etudes" in open disobedience with respect to the teaching of the encyclical "Humanae Vitae" on contraception.

And he collaborated with other "progressive" theologians – including the Dominicans Jacques Pohier and Bernard Quelquejeu – in the drafting of the law that in that same year introduced unrestricted abortion in France, with Simone Veil as health minister, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing as president, and Jacques Chirac as prime minister.

The following year, 1975, Father Ribes left the helm of "Etudes." And afterward he abandoned the Society of Jesus, and then the Catholic Church.

The following is the interview that earned Daniélou his ostracism.

Forty years later, the decline of the religious orders denounced in it is still in progress, as proven in the United States by the saga of the "Leadership Conference of Women Religious":

> Vatican Diary / The Holy Office puts the American sisters in the corner (30.4.2012)


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.


For more details on the figure of Daniélou and on the events that preceded his death, see the article by Jonah Lynch in "Avvenire" of May 8, 2012:

> Daniélou, la verità usurpata

Father Lynch is the vice-rector, in Rome, of the Fraternity of Saint Charles Borromeo, which prepares priests destined for the missions.

The Fraternity of Saint Charles Borromeo organized, together with the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, the day of study on Daniélou on May 9.

English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.

© 1999-2012  Gruppo Editoriale L’Espresso Spa - Partita IVA 00906801006

Articles in Catholic Culture Library by Cardinal Jean Daneilou

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