Jean Daniélou and Humanity's True Vocation | Carl E. Olson | CWR
An interview with Marc C. Nicholas, author of Jean Danielou’s Doxological Humanism
Although 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 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", 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 (Wipf & 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.”
CWR: 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?
Nicholas: 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 in 1969.
When 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 spirituality.
With 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.
Also, 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.
Of 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 text—which modern historical-critical methodology does—is a serious breach of tradition and violates a holistic understanding of the text which was protected by the spiritual interpretation of texts.
Lastly, 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 and 20th centuries was the sole arbiter of Catholic doctrine.
CWR: 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?