not as well-known today as his fellow Jesuit Henri de Lubac and
theological contemporary Hans Urs von Balthasar, Jean Daniélou holds
an important place 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 philologythe study
of classical languagesand theology, Daniélou was a professor
at the Institut Catholique in Paris and a vital member of the
controversial "New Theology", or ressourcement
movement. However, relatively little has been written about
Daniélou's theological project and vision. Now, in his book, Jean
Daniélou's Doxological Humanism : Trinitarian Contemplation and
Humanity’s True Vocation
& Stock, 2012), Marc C. Nicholas has taken up the task of
providing an overview of Daniélou's theology, with “with
extensive reference to his vast corpus of writings by highlighting
what seems to be the key to his thought: that all human beings were
made for contemplation and that one is only truly human when one
exercises this innate calling in a Trinitarian fashion.”
For those who might not be very familiar with him, who was Jean
Daniélou? What were some of his notable achievements as a writer,
scholar and theologian?
Jean Daniélou (1905-1974) was a French
Jesuit priest who was a prolific scholar and theologian who taught at
the Institut Catholique in Paris from 1944-69, was a peritus
(“expert”) at the Second Vatican Council and was named a cardinal
looking at Daniélou as a scholar-theologian and writer concerning
Christian spirituality, it is important to remember that each of
these disciplines flows from the other. It would be an error to
trifurcate his thought into separate domains. He was always at pains
to maintain the interrelatedness of theology, history and
that in mind, Daniélou made significant contributions in the areas
of Church history, theology and spirituality. In the academic world,
Daniélou is perhaps most well-known for his expertise in the history
of the Church during the earliest centuries of Christianity. His
writings on the development of doctrine, on the great events of early
Christianity and on the great theologians of the patristic period
enjoy considerable prestige because of their value for the historian
of the Church.
Daniélou is well known for his endorsement of the ressourcement
adage, ad fonts,
or “return to the sources” which sought to reconnect contemporary
Catholicism with the great Christian sources of the past. To this
point, Daniélou, along with Henri de Lubac, established the Sources
Chretienne series in France which
inspired other non-francophone attempts to make the Church Fathers
accessible to the greater reading public.
lasting importance is Daniélou’s defense of the Church’s
traditional teaching concerning the “spiritual interpretation”
(Daniélou specifically argues for typological)
of the Christian Scriptures. In his The
Bible and the Liturgy and From
Shadows to Reality, Daniélou maintains
that the modern tendency to limit the interpretation of the biblical
texts to the literal-historical meaning of the textwhich modern
historical-critical methodology doesis a serious breach of
tradition and violates a holistic understanding of the text which was
protected by the spiritual interpretation of texts.
Daniélou is well-known as one of the catalysts to the Novelle
Théologie (a label given to Daniélou
and his confreres by his theological opponents) which emphasized a
return to the earliest Christian sources as a way to renew theology,
a revival of the historical nature of Catholicism and a rejection of
the notion that the Neo-Thomism of the 19th
centuries was the sole arbiter of Catholic doctrine.
Your book begins by outlining a significant “split between
theology and spirituality.” What is that split, how did it come
about, and how does Daniélou address it?
At the outset, it is important to note
that the earliest theologians of the Church were pastors as well as
theologians. Daniélou saw that these individuals were models of the
unity of Christian living and the elucidation of theological truth.
Following the oft-quoted phrase of Evagrius Ponticus that “the one
who prays is a theologian and the one who is a theologian prays,”
Daniélou argued that those who represented the totality of Christian
life manifested this unity of spirituality and theology. This
continued to be true for centuries. However, with the rise of
Scholastic theology in the middle ages, a new theological methodology
was forged which enabled a wedge to be driven between theology and
spirituality. While such great thinkers such as Thomas, Bonaventure
and Albert the Great were able to keep continuity between these
aspects of Christianity, lesser theologians pried theological
methodology apart from its concomitant spirituality. By the 13th
century, the philosophical bases of theology had taken over the
process of theological discourse and had taken over the entire work
of theology. It is not surprising that in the modern period this
division between theology and spirituality begun in medieval
scholasticism is picked up by the Thomist revival of
Neo-Scholasticism in the first half of the 20th century, a group of
theologians to which Daniélou was radically opposed.
responds to this phenomenon in his famous essay “Les orientations
presents de la pensée religieuse.” In it, Daniélou maintains
that a “spiritual theology” must be formed through a variety of
ways. Of utmost importance, the essay develops the need for renewal
in the arena of biblical, patristic and liturgical studies; an
engagement of contemporary philosophy; and an insistence on the
importance of contact with daily life. By emphasizing these aspects
of Christianity, Daniélou saw the revival of a Christianity which
was not a theology “fixed high upon a speculative and atemporal
plane” nor a spirituality which consisted “solely of practical
counsels divorced from the vision of man that justified such
counsel.” Rather, he saw a Christianity which created “integrated
personalities” who kept theology and spirituality in perpetual
What is “doxological humanism,” and in what way does it
express the theological project taken up by Daniélou?
For Daniélou, humanity’s spiritual
aspect is a fundamental human characteristic. We are created as
creatures of prayer and adoration. Therefore, Daniélou never tired
of maintaining that “A city which does not possess churches as well
as factories is not fit for [people]. It is inhuman.” A society
which does not account for humanity’s spiritual reality is not a
true humanism but a humanism which destroys humanity rather than
making it what it was created to be. The human person qua
human is only able to find true
happiness when he realizes that he has a vocation which is realized
in worship, adoration and contemplation. Since humanity’s true
nature is found in adoration, Daniélou’s humanism is based in
doxology, i.e. worship.
According to Daniélou, what is the relationship between sacred
and profane history? How should Christians approach and understand
For Daniélou, there is a certain sense
in which sacred history and profane history are independent of each
other. Profane (pro fanum,
“outside the sanctuary”) history carries the usual associations
of history and constitutes “the whole period of this world’s
existence.” Sacred history, for its part, entails not only this
normal meaning of history, but also entails all of God’s activity
before the creation of the world, his irruption into human history
and his activity when all things have come to an end.
maintaining the distinctness of each of these, he also argues that
one must understand that the relationship between sacred and profane
history is two-fold: 1) that sacred history falls within profane
history, and 2) that secular history falls within sacred history.
The interrelatedness of these two historical domains provides the
historian with a “total history” which accounts for the
contextual nature of Christian history and the pedagogical nature of
What insights does Daniélou provide into the challenges posed
by the contemporary, largely secular, and “technical” society?
What does he think is necessary for the Church to pursue her mission
in the world today?
Importantly, Daniélou notes that
contemporary society does not provide sufficient conditions for
contemplation. Indeed, not only are those conditions absent, but the
frenetic pace of the modern world actively militates against the
leisure required for the development of a robust Christian
spirituality. For him, technical society brings about a change in
the very rhythm of human existence necessary for a full humanity.
One aspect of the wisdom of monastic regulae
was being afforded the appropriate amount of time, solitude and
silence that allowed for the apprehension of the presence of God.
society sees the leisure of contemplation as inefficient, as a waste
of “human resources” and therefore something to be eliminated.
An aspect of Christianity’s mission within the political domain is
to strive to create a society that makes contemplation possible, to
create a society not only with places of work but also with places of
praise and adoration.
One of Daniélou’s most important
books is Prayer as a Political Problem,
which you describe as a “provocative little work.” What is most
provocative about it? How, exactly, is prayer a political problem?
In a society that often maintains that religious practice must
remain a matter of private experience and be wholly absent from
public discourse, it is easy to see that Daniélou’s small volume
would provoke the ire of many in our contemporary setting. But, it
is important to recognize two aspects of what Daniélou demands that
we recognize. First, if part of the concern of politics is to
safeguard the complete development of the human person including his
spiritual life, then politics should provide the means by which to
realize this development. Since Daniélou argues that prayer is a
necessary dimension of the full development of the human person, it
is in turn necessary that prayer be a “political problem.” If
politics does not provide for this it will become inhuman by
eviscerating the humanism it seeks to create.
Pope Francis made headlines and provoked some controversy when
he spoke, shortly after his election, about his desire of a “poor
Church for the poor.” Yet that particular image, or notion, is an
ancient one and it is discussed at length by Daniélou, is it not?
What does Daniélou say about “a Church for the poor”?
Daniélou has quite a particular idea
in mind when he speaks of the “Church of the poor” which he
speaks of in numerous places. He believes that we need to
distinguish two notions in order to understand this idea. For him
the first notion (which he contrasts to the “Church of the poor”),
is the idea of a pure church of saints and martyrs that functions as
a sign or a witness to the corrupt world. This notion is quite
common in many Protestant denominations and has cropped up within the
Catholic Church in different eras throughout church history.
Daniélou contrasts this to the “mixed” notion of the Church
espoused by Augustine of Hippo and others: the Church composed of
both saints and sinners rather than only a spiritual elite. The
patristic image of the Church as a net thrown out into the waters of
the world which catches both good and bad fish is operative in
Daniélou’s understanding of the church of the poor. For, the
Church of the poor is not an institution characterized by its
relative lack of wealth but a Church that is composed of all people
to which the gospel is extended. This is the Church of the masses
made open to all whatever the nature of their poverty whether it be
material or spiritual.
You note that the 20th
century witnessed a number of great Catholic thinkers who explored
and expressed humanism at odds with modern, secular humanism. How
did Daniélou contribute to that project and what has been his
In recent history, humanism in general came to be associated with
the particularly atheistic brand of humanism and unfortunately it was
erroneously thought that Christianity and humanism were at odds with
each other. The reality of the matter was that two kinds of
humanismthe atheistic and the theisticwere seeking to raise
humanity to its proper stature either through a rejection of God or
through an emphasis on the divine origin of humanity respectively.
Thus we have two humanisms vying to be the “true humanism.”
Ultimately, as Benedict XVI consistently demonstrated, atheistic
humanism in the end turns against humanity rather than elevating
humanity leaving Christian humanism as the only humanism to rightly
bear the name.
is a boon to the Catholic Church that some of its theologians were
responsible for the “return of Christian humanism” in the 20th
century. Each of these Catholic humanistsJacques Maritain, Henri
de Lubac, John Paul II and Benedict XVI to name a fewbrought their
own thought to bear on Catholic humanism in general. Daniélou’s
contribution to this humanist revival was to emphasize the idea that
to deny the contemplative aspect of every human being is to deny a
basic human trait and therefore to limit its ability to achieve its
For those who have not read much or any of Daniélou’s works,
what do you recommend?
My first exposure to Daniélou came in
the form of Eerdmans’ inclusion of Daniélou’s Prayer:
The Mission of the Church in their
Ressourcement: Retrieval and Renewal in
Catholic Thought series. Though a slim
volume, it touches upon many of the prevailing themes of Daniélou’s
thought and provides a nice entrée
into many of the themes that arise in other more substantial works.
The Bible and the Liturgy
provides his thoughts about “spiritual interpretation” of the
Bible and the biblical roots of the liturgy. As an adult convert to
Catholicism, this work was instrumental in my conversion so it holds
a place of honor for me personally.
my favorite is another small volume, God’s
Life in Us. In it, Daniélou shows the
reader how the Christian life is inherently Trinitarian and shows how
God draws the Christian into the life of the trinity.