Recently featured in Communio, a piece we discussed in our study group. Some reading selections follow, see previous post also.
Treat God as the Subject par excellence
The young theologian began to be known with the publication of an article in 1946 entitled Les orientations presentes de la pensee religieuse (Current directions in religious thought).” [Jean Daniélou, "Les orientations presentes de la pensee religieuse," Etudes 79 (1946): 5-21.] In it he describes the situation of theology immediately following World War II:
On the one hand, [there is] the loss of the sense of God’s transcendence by a rationalized theology that treated God as just another object of thought; on the other hand, the mummification of thinking that remained fixed in its scholastic forms and had lost contact with the movement of philosophy and science. But in trying to react against the first, modernism fell into agnosticism, and in seeking to remedy the second, it has arrived at the abuses of critical exegesis.”
[Jean Daniélou, "Les orientations presentes de la pensee religieuse," Etudes 79 (1946): 6.]
present-day theology is facing a threefold task: it must treat God as God, not as an object but as the Subject par excellence ; it must respond to the experiences of the modern soul and take into account the new dimensions that science and history have given to space and time … ; finally it must be a Jean Daniélou concrete attitude toward life, a response, at least, that involves the whole man, the interior light of an action in which life is played out in its entirety. Theology will be alive only if it responds to these aspirations.
[Jean Daniélou, "Les orientations presentes de la pensee religieuse," Etudes 79 (1946): 7]
The Task of Theology
The article then develops in more detail this threefold task under three headings: “Return to the sources,” “Philosophical influences,” and “Contact with life.” In these pages, Daniélou recovers a not-entirely negative reading of the philosophers of the past few centuries: “the human universe that writers like Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, or Kierkegaard have discovered for us, the material universe that opens up to our imaginations the depths of the history of the earth or of the starry skies, oblige theological thinking to expand to the same extent.” [Jean Daniélou, "Les orientations presentes de la pensee religieuse," Etudes 79 (1946): 13] Next he makes a rapid review of the main philosophical currents present at that time, while attempting to indicate some ways in which they should be evaluated.
Theology Must Have Contact With Life
Daniélou insists on contact with life. Theology, he writes,
must take into account the needs of souls, must be animated by an apostolic spirit and be entirely involved in the work of building up the Body of Christ…. It is impossible in our world to separate thought and life; an idea that is not first a testimony appears to be a negligible quantity. Therefore what the men and women of today, living in the world, will ask of theology is to explain to them the meaning of their life. It is no longer possible to dissociate theology and spirituality, as has been done too much in the past.
[Jean Daniélou, "Les orientations presentes de la pensee religieuse," Etudes 79 (1946): 17]
Theology Must Return To Its Sources
But the path that will prove most fruitful is the return to the sources: the Bible, the Fathers of the Church, the liturgy. From the Fathers he will learn to look for figures or types of Christ in the Old Testament. This search revolving around the figure — typology — will permit him to recover categories that were familiar to the Fathers but had been lost in scholastic theology. First of all, the category of history.
In his doctorate on Gregory of Nyssa, Daniélou had already found in epektasis a powerful key for rereading Christian doctrine in harmony with the development of a history, the progressive “economy” through which God manifests himself and lifts up humanity. This was evident already in his first book, Le signe du Temple (The Presence of God). He intuited that in this way one could do justice to a whole galaxy of themes that are dear to modernity without straying from orthodoxy. In the central part of his magisterial The Lord of History: Reflections on the Inner Meaning of History, Daniélou develops this intuition by emphasizing the action of God in history, the magnalia dei. History is the place in which one can know God, who reveals man to himself.”
[FN: It is interesting to note that the famous formula in Gaudium et spes, 22, "Christ reveals man to himself," has precedents in the teaching of de Lubac during the years in which Daniélou was his student in Fourviere. In the Mystery of the Supernatural, de Lubac writes: "In revealing himself to us, Bérulle used to say, God revealed us to ourselves. All light shed upon God is light shed upon man." Cited in E. de Boysson, Le cardinal et l'hinduiste (Paris: Petite Renaissance, 2008), 119. A recent study by William Newton ("John Paul II and Gaudium et Spes 22," Anthropotes 24, no. 2 : 375-412) shows the key role that Daniélou played during the drafting of that document]
But Daniélou is not interested in the accomplishment of a Hegelian, this-worldly, deterministic scheme. He does not want to dissolve every enigma in a grandiose synthesis: rather, he is attracted by the dynamic character of an unceasing relationship with God.
Comprehensiveness and Completeness
Some men are called to specialize and to study precise arguments in greater depth, like miners who follow the vein of minerals along winding paths; Daniélou felt that he personally was required to do just this. Few scholars have done as much as he to promote theological and philological science.
But following these scientific paths could never be at the cost of comprehensiveness and completeness. Daniélou felt that the essential truth of the faith must be accessible to all human beings, within the span of time allowed for an ordinary life made up of much work and many preoccupations. Truth is not accessible only to specialists. “It is very important today to emphasize the fundamental, constitutive elements of the faith.”
E. de Boysson, Le cardinal et l’hinduiste (Paris: Petite Renaissance, 2008), 201
This demand for what is essential not only concerned the moral truths necessary to live well, but extended to every field of knowledge. Let us take the example of the scientific method applied to biblical exegesis, to which we have already alluded. According to Daniélou, it is necessary that
the Old Testament cease to be an archeological curiosity and become a vital food for souls. Today, however, this attempt runs up against the suspicions of some adherents of scientific exegesis who, rightly pleased that they have won out over a reactionary exegesis and restored to science its rights in the study of Scripture, fear that the return to the Fathers might signal a step backward and an easy short cut. But obviously there can be no question of that. The effort that is demanded of us is to recover, in light of the findings of contemporary scholarship, an interpretation that restores to the Old Testament its prophetic and figurative character, which makes up a large part of its interest for us.“
Les orientations presentes de la pensee religieuse, 9
Theology Must Be Vital Food for Souls
There are two fundamental requirements expressed in this passage. First of all, in order for biblical exegesis to be “vital food for souls,” it must be possible to expound its essential contribution in a simple way that is accessible to the Christian people. No less importantly, this essential message must not be a distortion of the material itself. It is necessary for a biblical theology to be closely connected with “the findings of contemporary scholarship.” Danielou’s intention is neither to establish a circle of “the enlightened” nor to consult difficult scientific work with any less rigor.
These desires are quite apparent in his 1942 book, Le signe du Temple. The book inaugurates a sustained series of short popular works aimed at the general public that would continue throughout his life. In its eighty or so pages it tells the story of the world from the creation to the Parousia by way of the sign of the temple. Precisely along the lines that we saw earlier, this book is not just a learned exercise in symbolic interpretation.
In developing the theme of the Temple [our reflection] will discover in Scripture various ways in which God has dwelt among men — since this is what the Temple signifies — in an increasingly prominent fashion. Then this will guide us from the familiar God of the origins to the “hidden” God of Sinai; it will lead us from the indwelling of the Three Persons in the historical humanity of Jesus to his sojourn in the Mystical Body, the Temple of the new economy, and in each member of. this Mystical Body; finally it will reveal to us in his sacramental presence the prophetic anticipation and symbol in the time of the building of the eschatological Temple that St. John describes in his Apocalypse. Thus the Bible will have handed over to us some of its deepest mysteries.
Les orientations presentes de la pensee religieuse, 12
The Story Of Salvation As The Place Of God’s Affectionate Presence
Danielou’s text is written in calm, beautiful prose, full of wonder and devoid of fear, which helps the reader to perceive the immense story of salvation as the place of an affectionate Presence, like a river that carries us toward the sea of God, or a glorious epic. Danielou begins with cosmic religion. He has sympathy for the pagan who perceives a higher presence in the beauty of creation and in the power of natural forces, in the seasons and the cycles of fertility. Through visible things it is possible to know the invisible.
In this sense he does not accept the pessimism of much Protestant theology, in particular of Karl Barth, which regards paganism principally as an obstacle to faith in Jesus Christ. For Danielou, in contrast, this first position of man faced with the cosmos, confronted by the mystery of his own existence, is an entryway to the profound reality of God. Creation speaks to us about the profound unity of salvation history. “The Christian mystery is the mystery of creation,”[Jean Danielou, Le signe du Temple, ou, De la presence de Dieu (Paris: Gallimard, 1942) 9] reads the first sentence. A few pages later, Daniélou makes this more concrete:
God has in some way left creation unfinished, and man’s mission is to bring it to fulfillment. Through his work he exploits unknown material resources, and thus work is sacred, being co-operation in the task of creation. . . . Man is thus the mediator through whom the visible universe is gathered together and offered up, the priest of that virginal creation over which God lovingly watches.
Jean Danielou, Le signe du Temple, ou, De la presence de Dieu (Paris: Gallimard, 1942). Cited from the English translation by Walter Roberts, The Presence of God (Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1959), 11-12
The biblical account also educates us into the current vocation of human beings: man is called not only to respect creation but to collaborate with the Creator so as to bring it to completion. All work participates in this dimension, which is accomplished in the sacrifice of the Mass, in which “the fruit of the earth and work of human hands” becomes the Body and Blood of Christ.
The Temple of the Church
Next, Danielou turns to look not only at the past but also at to the present and the future. The central chapter is dedicated to the “temple of the Church,” the temple of our present day. Here we find the most fascinating pages in the whole book: “[T]he Presence of God is bound up with charity: `If we love one another, God abideth in us” [Jean Daniélou, Le signe du Temple] The Christian community… is not a return to the beginning, a nostalgia for an earlier, still undifferentiated condition, but it is that continuous creation of charity praised by St. Paul.” Charity is hard,
hard as a diamond, lucid, transparent, penetrating to the depths; hard, but not inflicting pain. Violence bruises, irony inflicts pinpricks; charity goes straight to the heart and heals the sufferer… One is obliged to confess, to lay bare the most hidden sores, and to know that in spite of this, one is loved with a never-failing love, which plumbs the depths of misery without harm or derision, and which restores the taste of life to the most despairing of souls.
Jean Daniélou, Le signe du Temple, ou, De la presence de Dieu (Paris: Gallimard, 1942) 32-33
The Church, which is much more than an edifice or an institution, however venerable, is reborn and rebuilt in charity. These vertiginous pages then open the way to the final chapters, which are dedicated to the “prophetic,” “mystical,” and “heavenly” temple. Or better, to the presence of God in contemplation and prayer, in the experience of the mystics, and in the eternal life that awaits and attracts us. From this very first book we can see the style that will be the hallmark of all Daniélou’s literary production: it brings everything in — poetic passages and philological research, typology and e discoveries of archeology — while leading to a precise and attractive description of the mystery of man and God.
He knew how to use scientific instruments cordially, without being content, however, with the cut-and-dry rationalism that is often their final product. He preferred to investigate the entirety of the real to the dogged pursuit of a detail. It is a method that respects the breadth of vision of the Fathers, who were often poets and pastors, theologians and exegetes, without creating any opposition among the disciplines. The adventure of knowledge involves the whole man, including his emotions, his desires, and the symbols that resist exhaustive comprehension but link us back to the beginnings of time and spur us onward toward our luminous celestial destiny.
Let us note, in conclusion, that Danielou seems to anticipate by around sixty years the exegetical method that Pope Benedict XVI recently proposed in his three volumes on Jesus of Nazareth, in which he respectfully uses the historical-critical method but invites scholars to proceed further.
[FN: If scholarly exegesis is not to exhaust itself in constantly new hypotheses, becoming theologically irrelevant, it must take a methodological step forward and see itself once again as a theological discipline, without abandoning its historical character.... It must recognize that a properly developed faith-hermeneutic is appropriate to the text and can be combined with a historical hermeneutic, aware of its limits, so as to form a methodological whole... .
In Dei Verbum, 12
Fundamentally this is a matter of finally putting into practice the methodological principles formulated for exegesis by the Second Vatican Council (in Dei Verbum, 12), a task that unfortunately has scarcely been attempted thus far" (Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week -- From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, trans. Philip J. Whitmore [San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011], xiv-xv). It would be interesting to examine more closely this convergence of intentions.]
Not only the text, but also the Spirit; not only the fact, but also its significance within the great story of God with man. Time is not the abyss that separates us from the beatitude of Eden, leaving in our hands only a few fragments of parchment that are irremediably corrupted. On the contrary: time is the canvas on which an even more grandiose work than the first one is being executed. The work of Daniélou helps us to see it emerge.