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Sandro Magister recounts the fascinating story of Jean Daniélou, a French Jesuit cardinal whom he calls one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century. Daniélou, who managed to succeed at both popular and scholarly commentary, died under questionable circumstances in a bordello in 1974 after having been silenced by superiors in 1972. The result has been that:

Today, few of his books are still available for purchase. And yet they are still of extraordinary richness and freshness. Simple and yet very profound, as few theologians have been able to do over the last century, apart from him and that other champion of clarity named Joseph Ratzinger.

Daniélou stands alongside the current pope because of the historical rather than philosophical framing of his theology, his expertise in the Fathers of the Church (the one enamored with Gregory of Nyssa, the other with Augustine), the completely central role given to the liturgy.

Daniélou, together with his Jesuit confrere Henri De Lubac, was the brilliant initiator in 1942 of the series of patristic texts entitled “Sources Chrétiennes,” which marked the rebirth of theology in the second half of the twentieth century and paved the way for the best of Vatican Council II.

An author, in short, absolutely to rediscover.

But the mystery of his death and of the taciturn explanation that followed it must also be resolved.


Very recently, more details have begun to emerge about Daniélou’s life and death. For Magister, the secrecy surrounding his death (which, it turns out, may have occurred during his involvement in a furtive act of charity) can also partially be attributed to his strong criticism of misinterpretations of the Second Vatican Council. In one radio interview (conveniently excerpted at the bottom of Magister’s post), for example, he warned that “in many cases the directives of Vatican II have been replaced with erroneous ideologies put into circulation by magazines, by conferences, by theologians.” This sprung, he said, from “[a] false conception of freedom that brings with it the devaluing of the constitutions and rules and exalts spontaneity and improvisation.”

Of course, many of the holiest men and women in the Church’s history faced internal obstacles and even suffered vicious defamation during their lives on earth. But truth has a way of prevailing, in time. Daniélou’s hour may have finally arrived.

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