Advent with Cardinal Daniélou

Some thoughts from the best (and cheapest) book I’ve ever read on the season of Advent

Jean Cardinal Daniélou’s The Advent of Salvation, originally published simply as Advent in 1950, may be the best $3.00 purchase I’ve ever made. The out-of-print book is a classic work on the meaning of Advent. Here are a few of Daniélou’s thoughts about this wonderful but often underappreciated season.

Salvation and History: The Old Testament is the story of God’s education of mankind, preparing man for the reception of supernatural gifts. God’s covenant with Abraham marked the “opening of sacred history,” just as creation had marked God’s action upon the cosmos and the Incarnation marked the beginning of the world to come. The Abrahamic covenant promised salvation to the nations, to be realized in and through the God-man, Jesus Christ.

The first Advent was an outpouring of God’s grace upon an unsuspecting world. Grace is “that bond between mankind and God which can never be broken, because it is founded on the manhood of Christ, in whom Godhead and manhood are henceforth joined together forever. . . . Christ has brought our humanity into the inmost life of God to stay.” We enter that life through baptism, are nourished with the Eucharist, and become partakers of the divine nature: “The mystery of history is summed up in God’s design of giving His spiritual creatures a share in the life of the Trinity.”

John the Baptist: He prepared a way for his cousin, the Messiah, by proclaiming that the Kingdom was at hand. John, who brings grace by preparing the way for conversion, compliments Mary, who brings grace by being the Mother of God, “Since the coming of Christ goes on forever–He is always He who is to come in the world and in the Church–there is always an Advent going on, and this Advent is filled by John the Baptist. It is John the Baptist’s peculiar grace that he prepares the way for what is about to happen.” We can emulate John by calling for conversion, beginning with our own, and preparing the way for the world to meet the Messiah.

The Blessed Virgin: The Mother of God “did not imitate Solomon by asking for wisdom,” he reflects, “She asked for grace because grace is the one thing we need.” How simple and how amazing! Mary’s example of faith should inform our thoughts and shape our actions during Advent. “She is the faithful virgin, who is never anything but faithful, whose fidelity was the perfect answer to the fidelity of God; she was always entirely consecrated to the one true God.” Mary anticipated the birth of her Son for nine months and she now anticipates the birth of the New Creation when He returns in glory.

The Cross: It’s unpopular, of course, but it is the way of Christ–and of His disciples. “The Christian, following Christ, must resemble Him wholly; and the only way to do this is by the Cross.” We can only long for the coming of Christ and eternal life if we die to ourselves. We must know our place–in both this world and the world to come. God desires a unity of all men, in communion with the Father through the Son. The Cross leads to unity; pride leads to death: “The greatest obstacle anyone can put to unity is to want to make himself the center of things.”

The Return of the King: “We live always during Advent,” writes Daniélou, “we are always waiting for the Messiah to come.” Jesus came once and He will come again, but He is not yet fully made known. “He is not fully manifest in mankind as a whole: that is to say, that just as Christ was born according to the flesh in Bethlehem of Judah so much he be born according to the spirit in each of our souls.” Advent is anticipation, preparation, and contemplation of the King.

To think I got all that–and much more–out of a $3 purchase. Thus is a well-focused Advent the pre-Christmas gift that keeps on giving all life long.

[NOTE: Although The Advent of Salvation is no longer in print, you might enjoy what is my all-time favorite Daniélou book, God and the Ways of Knowing.]

This column originally appeared in the December 12-18, 2004 issue of National Catholic Register.

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About Carl E. Olson 1217 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.