The Lasting Legacy of Cardinal Daniélou

Reviled by his progressive contemporaries, Jean Daniélou accurately diagnosed many of the problems that continue to trouble the Church today.

The August 7-11 meeting in St. Louis, Missouri of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious reminds us of the sober words of Cardinal Jean Daniélou, SJ in 1972. The LCWR featured a keynote speaker whose theme was “Conscious Evolution,” which is as removed from the Pope and the Magisterium as science fiction is from Albert Einstein.

In the National Catholic Reporter on August 6, 2012 Alice Popovici wrote of the LCWR keynote speaker: “Barbara Marx Hubbard, an evolutionary thinker who is to speak this week before the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, is not Catholic or part of any mainstream religion. But she says she has faith in the future.”  

By sharp contrast, Daniélou warned in an interview on Vatican Radio on October 23, 1972:

One of the greatest threats to religious life today is the mass of disputable theological opinions. In minimizing the supernatural aspect of God’s gift, in minimizing everything that pertains to the action of the Spirit, it destroys the very base on which the religious life is built. That is why it is important today to seek out spiritual directors and theologians from those who represent the true thinking of the Church. There must be a care to have a deep unity with the sovereign Pontiff and with the orientations given by him the Sovereign Pontiff, in particular those which concern religious life.

As to a union with the Sovereign Pontiff, the LCWR rejected even the presence of the canonical pontifical delegate:

Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle, who has been charged by the Vatican with responsibility for supervising a reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), has been told by the group’s leaders that his presence ‘would not be helpful’ at the LCWR’s annual assembly this week.

On the subject of the crisis in religious life, again in 1972 Daniélou spoke thus:

Vatican II declared that human values must be taken seriously. It never said that we were entering in to a secularized world where the religious dimension would be no longer present in civilization. It is in the name of a false secularization that religious men and women give up their religious habit and abandon the adoration of God for social and political activities. And this is, furthermore, counter to the spiritual need manifested in the world of today. (Why the Church?, p. 166-167)

Robert A. Connor succinctly summarizes the cardinal’s lifetime work:

After his short spell as a military chaplain ended with the fall of France in 1940, he devoted himself to the study of the Fathers of the Church, and with Fr. Henri de Lubac was one of the founders of Sources Chrétiennes, a popular yet scholarly series of key writings from the patristic period. Over the years, Daniélou produced a flow of books and articles on the worship and theology of the Early Church. Such was his reputation and influence that Blessed Pope John XXIII named him as a theological expert for the Second Vatican Council. In 1969 he was made a cardinal by Pope Paul VI, and elected to the Académie Française.

Why would a patristics scholar of Daniélou’s stature get involved in current Church events at such a popular level?

Perhaps in the tradition of Jesuits such as Robert Bellarmine and Augustine Bea, Daniélou was expressly made bishop and cardinal in 1969 by the Pope. Not surprisingly, a flood of protest pamphlets descended from the clerestory and marred the Mass of ordination. The battle was engaged. Newspapers carried the photo of the “indoor snowfall” in the sanctuary of the church where the ordination took place. Friends of Daniélou reported that same year, 1969, that he had refused these ecclesiastical awards. However, Pope Paul VI had personally ordered him under obedience to accept being made bishop and cardinal “so that you might suffer with me for the Church.” The son of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Jean Daniélou, might have added, “If this be the case, then together we will proceed, both of us to suffer for Christ.”

At that point Daniélou accepted the burden imposed upon him. He went on to engage in energetic apologetics, what his opponents reduced to polemics favorable to the Pope and the Magisterium, with special reference to Humanae Vitae. They called him a reactionary and a traditionalist, in French “intégriste.”

Unlike many who agreed with Daniélou but remained primarily scholars, he became an activist-popularizer at the price of deeper scholarship. For Daniélou the Jesuit, the apostolate was first. He was not a careerist, but apostolic to the end. He completed the Jesuit “tertianship” in 1940, and in his notes from that experience, he pleaded with God for the grace of apostolic zeal (Carnets Spirituels, p. 241).

In Western Europe and the Americas the voices of Catholic orthodoxy were few and constantly attacked at that time, especially from inside the Church. The Pope needed every voice that he could get, especially after the withering assaults upon his person subsequent to July 1968 and the promulgation of Humanae Vitae.

After the Second Vatican Council, American and European Catholic popular and semi-popular periodicals and publishing houses either disappeared or mutated into organs of fashionable progressivism. Especially in the wake of that fateful year of 1968, they undermined the ecclesiastical Magisterium. Catholic writers who were orthodox in faith and morals found it next to impossible to get published in Western Europe and North America.

With few exceptions, Alba House, the Daughters of St. Paul/Pauline Books and Media (under the spiritual influence of Father John A. Hardon, SJ), OSV, and the Franciscan Herald Press were the only publishing houses that remained. They published books consciously faithful to the Magisterium before the founding of Ignatius Press in 1978.

Before the birth of Ignatius Press, the heroic and unflagging persistence of the Franciscan Herald Press’ chief editor, Father Mark Paul Hegener, O.F.M. brought us Daniélou’s Why the Church? in English translation in 1975, the year after the cardinal’s sudden death in Paris. This book was a collection of talks, interviews, and essays delivered in France and in Rome in defense of the historical Church and her authoritative teaching. It was surely as unwelcome in avant-garde circles in the United States as it was in European progressivist ones. Both Hegener and Daniélou were maligned, the objects of scorn as they fought against a growing opposition within the Church. This movement made an effort to portray orthodox Catholics as mere relics of a bygone age. Cardinal Daniélou wrote:

To misunderstand this, to think that we are all going to start from scratch, to believe that everything that came from yesterday is useless to the man of today because today’s man is radically different from the man of yesterday, is one of the greatest illusions of a certain number of philosophers and theologians of today. And it is a total illusion, for what constitute the essential elements, namely, human nature and the spiritual life, are permanent realities. It would be particularly stupid to say that in the area of human genius we had made great strides since Plato or since Dante, or since Shakespeare. That really would be stupid, for there is no progress in the qualitative order of genius. Bach and Mozart will always remain, because they have reached greater depths than certain modern works which grow old so quickly. (Why the Church?, p. 180)

Commenting on the era of Daniélou, an American academic in 2012 put it this way:

In those days, the quasi-Catholic intellectual did not want to read anything defending the Church’s tradition, which is fundamentally Eucharistic. Crouzel noticed the refusal of supposedly Catholic journals to publish defenses of the reservation of Orders to men. Some of us were attacked a number of times during those years for daring to uphold this rank injustice and, worse, for appearing to regard our opponents as not too bright. Those were the days when feelings began to trump honesty, even honest inquiry, and since then little has changed.

In other words, we can say that Daniélou was not alone in the Church’s hour of need. Intellectuals met in Strasbourg in 1971, and intellectuals who had formed the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars met in Kansas City in 1977. They tried. Joseph Ratzinger and others broke with Concilium in 1970. Abandoning Concilium, Americans and Europeans, including Jean Daniélou, took up the invitation of Hans Urs von Balthasar in 1972 to found Communio, an international Catholic journal that would “cross fertilize” various cultural and language groups within the context of Catholic orthodoxy. Louis Bouyer, Henri de Lubac, Stanislas de Lestapis, Stanislas Lyonnet, Ignace de la Potterie, Louis Ligier, Hubert Jedin, John R. Sheets, Paul M. Quay, Benedict Ashley, William E. May, and others worked in their respective fields with dignity and fidelity. Cardinal John Wright founded the Paul VI Institute to foster orthodox catechetics on the diocesan level; a fine example of it flourished in the Archdiocese of Saint Louis, Missouri. There were other small efforts which were not sustained. But it was somehow left to Daniélou to be the voice heard for a time above all others before his untimely death.

This voice was silenced in 1974 and subsequently his memory was nearly erased. Here is how Sandro Magister put it in a May 2012 Chiesa column for Espresso Online:

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 “Études,” 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 “Études” 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 “Études.” And afterward he abandoned the Society of Jesus, and then the Catholic Church.

The hostile media tried to defame Cardinal Daniélou by falsifying the circumstances of his death. We know now the truth. After a symposium sponsored jointly by the Fraternity of Saint Charles Borromeo and by the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (Opus Dei) on May 9, 2012 entitled “Windows Open on the Mystery,” there is no possible doubt left. His death was in the context of a secret work of charity:

In May 1974, the 69-year old cleric was the chaplain to a group of nuns in Paris, and lived alone in a small apartment close to the convent. On a Monday afternoon that month, the local police were astonished when a Madame Santoni, known to her customers as “Mimi,” phoned them urgently to say that a cardinal had just died in her apartment. They were right to be startled, for the Rue Dulong was one of Paris seedier areas, and the woman in question was known to them as a “madame” and the wife of a man recently jailed for pimping.

When a cardinal suffers a fatal heart attack, with a substantial sum of money in his pocket, and in the house of a prostitute, there’s a story that can run for weeks. The Paris newspapers had a field day, with the anti-clerical Le Canard Enchaîné trumpeting yet another exposé of Catholic hypocrisy.

One thing was for sure, Cardinal Daniélou’s reputation as an authoritative teacher in the Church was eclipsed by his death. Although the French Jesuits carried out a thorough investigation into his sudden death and discovered the visit to the Santoni residence was part of his secret works of charity to the most despised people in need of God’s love, his confrères made little effort to dispel the miasma of suspicion that enshrouded the name of this illustrious scholar. That afternoon Cardinal Daniélou’s final errand of mercy was to give Madame Santoni money to hire a lawyer to get bail for her jailed husband.

Legends and myths perdure, however. After so many years many of those who would have longed for the full truth to be disclosed have already gone to their Lord, while the young do not even know the name “Daniélou.”

But one thing is known to the young. Small religious communities from re-founded older ones are gaining youthful recruits each year. Cardinal Daniélou, in that October 1972 interview, recommended:

I think that the unique and urgent solution is shift from the false orientations taken in a certain number of Institutes. For that, we must stop all the experimentations and all the decisions which are contrary to the directives of the Council; we must be on guard against the books, magazines, and workshops where these erroneous conceptions are diffused; we must restore in their integrity the practice of the Constitutions with their adaptations asked by the Council. In the places where this appears to be impossible, it seems to me that we cannot refuse to the religious who want to be faithful to the Constitutions of their Orders and to the directives of Vatican II the right to form distinct communities. The religious superiors are obliged to respect this desire. These communities must be authorized to have their own houses of formation. Experience will show if vocations are more numerous in the houses of strict observance or in the houses of less strict observance. In the cases where superiors would be opposed to these legitimate demands, recourse to the Sovereign Pontiff is certainly authorized.

Americans, at least, are familiar with Father Benedict Groeschel’s Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, Father Andrew Apostoli’s Franciscan Sisters of the Renewal, Mother Mary Quentin’s Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, and Mother Assumpta Long’s Dominican Sisters of Mary, the Mother of the Eucharist. These are only some of the new offshoots from older religious communities which are thriving in the Church today. Cardinal Daniélou predicted that “experience” would show, and so it has. His counsel to seek recourse to the pope also bore fruit when Cardinal James Hickey and Cardinal Augustin Mayer, OSB, among others, assisted in the formation of the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, which has formal pontifical status. Cardinal Mayer also helped fledgling individual communities achieve canonical pontifical right.

One can be assured the CMSWR would gladly invite Archbishop J. Peter Sartain of Seattle to their meetings—and there would be no chance of Barbara Marx Hubbard ever hearing from the CMSWR.

If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.

About Brian Van Hove, S.J. 0 Articles
Brian Van Hove, S.J., now retired, was for many years the chaplain to the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Michigan.