Retired Pope Benedict XVI greets a cardinal before a consistory at which Pope Francis created 20 new cardinals in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Feb. 14. (CNS photo/Paul Haring). Right: Jean Danielou, SJ (1905-74) in an undated photograph.
Rome, Italy (CNA/EWTN News).-
Theological giants Benedict XVI and one of his heroes the
controversial Cardinal Jean Danielou have been hailed for illuminating
through their respective works the ever-relevant answer to a modern
world in crisis: Jesus Christ.
“If you want to be modern, you have to look at Jesus,” Rome-based theology professor Father Giulio Masparo told CNA Feb. 13.
And through the writings of the late French cardinal in particular, he
noted, the Christian claim in today's world is infinitely superior “than
what you can find by thinking that everything is relative.”
Fr. Masparo, a professor in Dogmatic Theology at the Pontifical
University of Santa Croce in Rome, helped to organize a Feb. 12-13
conference titled: “Study days: Danielou-Ratzinger before the Mystery of
Held at the University of Santa Croce, the
conference explored the great continuity between Cardinal Danielou and
Benedict XVI, who are both known for placing a historical frame around
their theological writings.
Originally from Neuilly-sur-Seine,
France, Cardinal Danielou was a Jesuit, and is considered one of the
greatest theologians of the 20th century. He is known for his clarity in
explaining profound concepts in a comprehensible way for the unlearned
Danielou was highly criticized following the Second
Vatican Council, a false interpretation of which he faulted for the
crisis in religious life and the increase in secularization which
In a controversial interview with Vatican Radio in
1972, the cardinal stressed that “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.”
“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,” he said.
Cardinal Danielou also faulted “a
false conception of freedom” that devalued religious constitutions and
“an erroneous conception of the changing of man and the Church” for many
of the crisis that unfolded after the Vatican council.
However, despite the criticism directed at the French cardinal,
then-Bishop Josef Ratzinger was an avid supporter of Danielou, and
placed great value on his stance and writings.
The two maintain
numerous similarities in their theological writings, beginning with
their historical gaze at theology, their emphasis on scripture and
turning to the Church Fathers.
Danielou and now-retired pope
Benedict XVI, or “Father Benedict” as he wishes to be called, also place
a great emphasis on the liturgy and, perhaps most importantly, the idea
“In one word I can say that for them the meaning of our world is Christ,” Fr. Masparo said.
For them, “if you read the Gospel, if you pray, if you go to church and
receive the sacraments, your sight changes and you are able to see that
below the surface there is the presence of God, of Jesus Christ not
only in the time we are living but also within the matter we are living
with,” the priest said.
Because of the emphasis that both place
on the relationship between being and history, they are “very modern”
in the sense that they address one of the key concerns in contemporary
In the midst of a world in crisis where man is
searching and can’t seem to find what he is looking for, Danielou and
Benedict XVI step into the middle of “this puzzle” with the answers
provided by scripture, which are enlightened by the Church Fathers.
“What they wrote is wonderful and I think it can show a way out of this
crisis situation that we are living in now,” Fr. Masparo said, noting
how both dug into the past with the goal of finding meaning for their
One contemporary issue the theologians can shed
light on is that of homosexuality, the priest said, pointing
specifically to Cardinal Daneilou whose brother, Alain, was a
prominent Buddhist and gay author.
“This is the typical point
where we can see the crisis of our time because we are not able to
manage differences. We have tried to find a solution saying ‘ok, we have
no differences,’ but you always have differences,” Fr. Masparo
“If you have homosexuality, you have to manage the
difference between homosexual and heterosexual. You cannot erase all the
Both of the theologians found the solution to
the problem of differences by looking to the way Jesus dealt with them
in the Gospels, the priest noted, saying that before doing anything else
Christ accepted the people who came to him.
embodied this in the way that he encountered his brother. After finding
out that Alain was same-sex attracted, his shocked family threw him out,
and they went through a lot of suffering, the priest observed.
However, Cardinal Danielou had the opposite reaction and dedicated his
life to praying for his brother, and accepted his different ideas while
remaining open to him. Alain, Fr. Masparo said, “recognized this love of
“We are living in the world where everybody has
the perception that they must change in order to be ‘right,’ (but)
Jesus’ answer is that you are right just as you are, because you are
mine, because I created you,” the priest explained.
Christ, he said, “told us to love everybody, so I think it’s a big
problem now when we are talking about Catholicism that the topics of
homosexuality (and) abortion are just moral topics.”
we are all sinners, we are all “right” by nature because we have been
created in the image of God, he noted, and stressed that because of this
a homosexual person can never be considered a problem.
priest's view, the problem lies with today's gay rights movement at
large, as he believes it reduces the individual to a definition. “Life
is more complex.”
“We have to learn from each other and at the
same time to keep our ideas,” Fr. Masparo said, adding that we have been
given the freedom to maintain different beliefs, which must be accepted
with respect for the other person.
Each person has the freedom
to believe there is a wrong way of doing things and to promote a
different method, he said, stressing that the Church, in her teachings,
“is not imposing a behavior on anybody.”
People, the priest
said, should believe what they want, but emphasized that “there is a
truth,” and history will tell who was right and who was wrong.
One of the reasons why Cardinal Jean Denielou is so little known outside
the French Catholic circles is because he died suddenly, of a heart
attack, while visiting the house of a prostitute. The fact was used by
the French secular press to imply the “hypocrisy” of the Jesuit’s moral
Alain, as famous an author in the Agnostic circles as his
brother was in the Catholic one, wrote after the death of the French
“His death and the scandal provoked by it, when he
had become one of the leading figures of the Church, was a sort of
posthumous vendetta, one of those favors that the gods bestow on those
whom they love. If he had died just a little while sooner or later, or
if he had been visiting a lady of the sixteenth arrondissement (an
expensive neighborhood in Paris) under the pretext of works of charity,
instead of bringing the revenue of his theological writings to a poor
and needy woman, there would have been no scandal.”
always dedicated himself to disregarded people. For a certain period he
had celebrated a Mass for the sake of homosexuals. He tried to help
prisoners, criminals, troubled young people, prostitutes. I deeply
admired this ending of life similar to that of the martyrs, whose
fragrance rises to heaven amid the opprobrium and sarcasm of the crowd.”
According to Vatican analyst Sandro Magister, since 2012, when the
first conference on Jean Danielou was held in Rome, “the quarantine has
ended for this Cardinal.”
Related on CWR: "Jean Daniélou and Humanity's True Vocation" (August 20, 2013)