Jean Daniélou's Master KeyCARL E. OLSON
“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, “is contained in the statement that the Trinity of Persons constitutes the structure of Being, and that love is therefore as primary as existence.”
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.
not as well-known today as his fellow Jesuit Henri de Lubac and thier theological
colleague Hans Urs von Balthasar, Jean Daniélou occupies a key place in twentieth
century Catholic theology, respected 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” 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 such
as 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 Pius 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.” (The Advent of Salvation, p. 33) 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:
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 know.” (The Lord of History, 118)
of his study of the Church Fathers, Daniélou largely avoided the neo-Thomistic
language so commonly used in his time, instead embracing a more relational, personal,
and dynamic vocabulary. More than an assent to intellectual propositions, faith
is 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, 140, 142) This emphasis on the
personal, relational nature of the Christian Faith 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.
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, p. 19) 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 truths
as they had been taught centuries earlier. But Daniélou articulated these truths
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.
Olson. "Jean Daniélou's Master Key." CatholicExchange.com (February,
This article reprinted with permission from CatholicExchange.com.
Carl E. Olson is director of catechesis and evangelization
at Nativity of the Mother of God Ukrainian Church in Springfield, Oregon. His
articles have appeared in This Rock, Envoy, The Catholic
Faith, and New Covenant.
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