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Jean Daniélou and the "Master-Key to Christian Theology" | Carl E. Olson | August 21, 2007
"Without a doubt the master-key to Christian theology, which
distinguishes it utterly from all rational theodicy," the French Jesuit Jean
Daniélou (1905-74) wrote in God and the
Ways of Knowing, "is contained in the statement that the Trinity of
Persons constitutes the structure of Being, and that love is therefore as
primary as existence." This "master-key" was the object of study and love for
Daniélou, whose scholarly and popular writings contemplated the depths of
Trinitarian love and its salvific work in human history.
Although not as well-known today as his fellow Jesuit Henri
de Lubac and theological contemporary Hans Urs von Balthasar, Jean Daniélou
occupies a key place (no pun intended) in twentieth-century Catholic theology, recognized
for his dialogue with other world religions, his writings on the Church Fathers
and Scripture, and his insights into the nature of divine revelation and
Tradition. Trained in philology––the study of classical
languages––and theology, Daniélou was a professor at the Institut
Catholique in Paris and a vital member of the controversial "New Theology", or ressourcement,
movement. His first works were scholarly studies of
the theologies of St. Gregory of Nyssa, Origen, and the Jewish thinker Philo.
His History of Early Christian Doctrine
before the Council of Nicaea is considered
a classic in patristic scholarship.
Daniélou's work with de Lubac included collaboration on Sources Chrétiennes,
a collection of patristic texts translated into French, which were first
published in the 1940s and have since reached four hundred in number. The
series sought to recover the riches of the patristic tradition, especially in
the areas of Biblical interpretation and spirituality. The first volume
published was Daniélou's translation of St. Gregory of Nyssa's spiritual
classic, The Life of Moses.
Recognized for his balanced and insightful examinations of
world religions--especially Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism--and for his
penetrating analysis of modern culture, Danielou was called to be a theological
expert at the Second Vatican Council. There he was consulted on Gaudium et
Spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the
Church in the Modern World, a work that Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul
II, also worked on. In 1969 Daniélou was made a cardinal by Pope Paul VI.
For all of his scholarly brilliance, Daniélou was equally
impressive in his ability to convey complex and subtle theological truths to a
wide readership through a number of popular works. These included books on
liturgy, patristics, prayer, creation, revelation, Scripture and tradition, and
the theology of history. In God And The Ways of Knowing he examines the relationship between pagan beliefs,
philosophy, and Christian theology. The Advent of Salvation is a comparative study of non-Christian religions
and Christianity, similar to his Holy Pagans of the Old Testament. The Scriptural roots of the liturgy and sacraments,
especially as developed by the Church Fathers, are masterfully explored in The
Bible and The Liturgy, while the inner life
of prayer and its cosmic consequences are taken up in Prayer: The
Mission of the Church.
Cardinal Avery Dulles has written
that "Daniélou was a Jesuit of broad culture,
keenly sensitive to the contemporary cultural and philosophical trends. . . .
Fundamental to Daniélou's theology is the idea that God is essentially
personal; he is sovereign subjectivity." Always focused on the master-key of
Trinitarian love, Daniélou often wrote about two essential facets of that
divine life: the progressive revelation, or self-giving, of God within
salvation history, and the continuity of that redemptive history. In The
Advent of Salvation he writes, "The mystery
of history is summed up in God's design of giving His spiritual creatures a
share in the life of the Trinity." God, who is love, continually reaches out to
man, an activity that culminates in the mystery of the Incarnation, a mystery
continued on in the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church. The Christian faith is
not a system, a philosophy, or one religion among many, but a unique and
supernatural encounter with the living God-man. Daniélou wrote, in The Lord of History:
"The mystery of the Holy Trinity, known to us
through the Word made flesh, and the mystery of the deification of man in
him––that is the whole of our religion, summed up in one person,
the person of Jesus Christ, God made man, in whom is everything we need to
Because of his study of the Church Fathers, Daniélou largely
avoided the neo-Thomistic terminology and approach and instead embraced a more
relational and dynamic vocabulary. He emphasized that faith is more than an
assent to intellectual propositions, being a covenantal act in which man gives
himself to the God who first gives Himself to man. "[Man] is thrown, as a
creature of flesh and blood, into the abyss of Trinitarian life, to which all
life and all eternity will have no other object than to accustom him. . . .
Thus man goes on from glory to glory, and the whole history of salvation may be
considered as a gradual unveiling of the ineffable Trinity" (God and the
Ways of Knowing). This emphasis on the
personal, relational nature of Christianity was also championed by de Lubac,
von Balthasar, Karl Adam, Romano Guardini, and Yves Congar and had an obvious
influence on the documents of the Second Vatican Council.
Keenly aware of the damage done by gnosticism in the early
Church, Daniélou stressed the continuity of salvation history over against
dualistic, fragmented concepts of human history, including Marxism, pantheism,
and pseudo-Christian philosophies. "What characterizes Christianity is a
certain wholeness; in it there is the fullness of truth," he wrote, "In the
order of continuity it marks a more advanced stage of evolution, the highest
point of that evolution. I believe this idea to be absolutely essential if we
are to understand how Christianity completes other religions and other
civilizations, and to see as a result that everlasting newness, which Saint
Augustine and so many others have proclaimed. Christianity is and always will
be 'the newest thing out'." (The Advent of Salvation). Scripture is not simply a book filled with
truth-claims, but is a continuous story of Truth: the Old Testament is filled
with the work of divine education preparing for the "fullness of time", the
Incarnation, and the Gospels, which, in turn, resulted in the mission of the
Holy Spirit, as recorded in the New Testament and carried on in the Church.
None of this, of course, was new with Daniélou and the "New
Theology" movement. He and his colleagues simply sought to rediscover and
appreciate these truth, and to appropriate them for a modern generation hungry
to draw spiritual nourishment from the sources of the Faith. In doing so, Daniélou
articulated Catholic doctrine and theology with a striking clarity and beauty,
always drawing upon the language of Scripture and the Church Fathers. In all
that he did, this great French theologian and cardinal sought to use the
master-key in exploring the dynamic, intimate love of the Triune God for man.
This article originally appeared in a slightly different
form on the Catholic Exchange website.
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles, Excerpts, and Interviews:
The History and Purpose of Apologetics | An Interview with
Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J.
Going Deeper Into the Old Testament | An Interview
with Aidan Nichols, O.P.
The Pattern of Revelation: A Contentious Issue |
From Lovely Like Jerusalem | Aidan Nichols, O.P.
Origen and Allegory | Introduction to History and Spirit:
The Understanding of Scripture According to Origen | Henri de Lubac
Motherhood of the Entire Church | Henri de Lubac
Author Page for Henri de Lubac
to The Meaning of Tradition | Yves Congar, O.P.
Jesus Is Catholic | From
In The Fullness of Faith: On the Centrality of the Distinctively Catholic | Hans Urs von Balthasar
of My Thought | From Hans Urs von
Balthasar: His Life and Work
Author Page for Hans Urs von Balthasar
Carl E. Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com.
He is the co-author of The
Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code and author
Catholics Be "Left Behind"? He has written for numerous
Cathlic periodicals and is a regular contributor to National Catholic
Register and Our Sunday Visitor newspapers. He has a Masters in Theological Studies from the University of Dallas.
He resides in a top secret location in the Northwest somewhere between Portland,
Oregon and Sacramento, California with his wife, Heather, their two children, their two cats, and far too many books and CDs.
Visit his (badly outdated) personal web site at www.carl-olson.com.
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