Jean Daniélou

May 16, 2018 in Inspirational Jesuits

The ressourcement movement in mid-20th century Catholic theology featured many great people, and Jean Daniélou SJ was one of them. He was as remarkable for his goodness of life as he was for his deep scholarship and his brilliant ability to draw fresh theological thinking out of his attention to the earliest Christian sources, the writing of the Early Church Fathers.

Jean-Guenolé-Marie Daniélou S.J. was a Roman Catholic cardinal and a French member of the Jesuit order. He was also a noted theologian and published historian and a member of the Académie Française.

He was born on 14 May 1905 in Neuilly-sur-Seine. He was the son of Madeleine Clamorgan and Charles Daniélou, his father being an anticlerical politician who served in the French government, while his mother was an educator and the founder of institutions for women’s education. His brother Alain was a noted Indologist and a renowned historian.

Daniélou studied at La Sorbonne and passed his agrégation in grammar in 1927. He joined the Society of Jesus in 1929 and during his regency taught at a boys’ school in Poitiers, from 1934 to 1936. He then studied theology at Fourvière in Lyon under Henri de Lubac, who introduced him to patristics and the Fathers of the Church. He was ordained a priest on 20 August 1938.

During World War II, from 1939–1940 Daniélou served with the French Air Force. With the fall of France to the Nazis he returned to civilian life and entered doctoral studies, completing in 1942 his thesis on the spiritual doctrine of St. Gregory of Nyssa. He was then appointed chaplain to the female section of the École Normale Supérieure, at Sèvres. He spent most of his time on research in patristics and in that same year, along with the Jesuits Claude Mondésert, and Henri de Lubac he founded the Sources Chrétiennes collection, a bilingual collection of patristic texts.

Then in 1944 he was named Professor of Early Christian History at the Institut Catholique de Paris, later becoming dean there. Beginning in the 1950s he produced several historical studies which included The Bible and the Liturgy, The Lord of History, and From Shadows to Reality that provided background for the development of Covenantal Theology.

Thoroughly grounded in the Fathers of the church, who worked from Scripture, Daniélou generally avoided the neo-Thomistic terminology and approach and used a more relational vocabulary, emphasizing our self-gift in response to God’s gift in Jesus Christ, with the gradual unveiling of the Trinitarian life in history.

Pope John XXIII appointed Daniélou a peritus for the Second Vatican Council. In 1969 Pope Paul VI made him a cardinal, with the episcopal titular see of Taormina, and Cardinal-Deacon of San Saba. Similar to his theology professor Henri de Lubac he twice refused the cardinalate but accepted on the insistence of Paul VI. He was elected to the Académie Française on 9 November 1972, to succeed Cardinal Eugène Tisserant, who himself was a prominent and long-time member of the Roman Curia.

In 1974 he died unexpectedly at the age of 69 in the home of a parishioner. He was said to be bringing money to pay for the bail of the woman’s husband. Daniélou’s brother Alain pointed to this as proof that he had always gone out of his way to serve those in most need.