Address by Cardinal Cahal B. Daly at the launch of “Yves Congar’s vision of the church in a world of unbelief”
18TH OCTOBER 2004
ADDRESS BY CARDINAL CAHAL B. DALY AT THE LAUNCH OF
“YVES CONGAR’S VISION OF THE CHURCH IN A WORLD OF UNBELIEF”
BY DR GABRIEL FLYNN IN MILLTOWN INSTITUTE OF THEOLOGY AND PHILOSOPHY
I am very pleased to have been invited to the launch of this book on Cardinal Congar
by Father Gabriel Flynn, and this for a variety of reasons. First of all, because I
had the privilege of knowing Father Congar at the height of his theological powers
and influence, both as a teacher and as a theological expert or peritus at the Second
Vatican Council. I am delighted that this book will make Father Congar and his writings
better known in Ireland and indeed in the English-speaking world.
I am glad to help to launch this book because it is written by a nephew of a
classfellow of mine from the Maynooth ordination class of 1941, Father Edward
(Ned) Flynn. Father Ned, who, needless to say, as my classfellow, is no longer
young, has been a quiet scholarly priest, combining great scholarship and wide
reading with devoted parish pastoral work over many decades in the Diocese of Meath.
Ned and I have kept in close touch with one another ever since our ordination.
Recently he wrote to me and remarked that he was deriving great satisfaction at
this time from reading St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom, in the original
Latin and Greek respectively. In the same letter, he quoted to me Augustine s
remark: “Quando dixeris Sufficit , periisti”, which we may translate as: “The
day you say to yourself, I ve done enough , is the day you ve had it!”.
May I remark also on the theological ancestry of Father Flynn, as of his uncle,
in the clergy of the diocese of Meath. Father Flynn senior and myself had the
privilege of being taught theology in Maynooth by Father William Moran, a priest
of the diocese of Meath and a great theologian of the first half of the last
century. I have never felt my mind so stretched intellectually as by Father
Moran’s teaching and above all by his examination questions. In his doctoral
dissertation Father Moran advanced the idea of collegiality as a principle of
governance in the early Church, thereby anticipating the Second Vatican Council.
Incidentally, Father Moran taught theology with a conscious aim of its pastoral
application. His nephew’s book shows that Father Congar was inspired by a similar
pastoral intent, as the words in a world of disbelief in his title indicates.
Church renewal in France in the 1950’s.
I am glad also to have been invited to this occasion because this book has brought
me back in spirit to the France and to the Paris with which I fell in love in 1952-3,
during a sabbatical year which I was granted by Queen s University in Belfast,
after I had taken up a teaching post there in scholastic philosophy. I spent the
year between the Institut Catholique and the Sorbonne, with occasional forays into
the College de France and to the Dominican Faculty in Le Saulchoir, where Father
Congar taught and to the Jesuit Faculty in Lyon-Fourvire, where Father de Lubac
taught. I feel about that period of my life somewhat as Wordsworth felt about
being in Paris in the early days of the French Revolution:
“Bliss was it in that time to be alive,
but to be young was very heaven”.
I haven t missed a visit to France any year since then until last year.
The decade of the 1950 s was a golden age in French theology, with Dominicans,
Jesuits, Sulpicians and diocesan clergy leading a great renewal movement in the
Catholic Church in the domains of scripture studies, patristics and theology
generally, as well as in liturgy and pastoral studies and in the sociology of
religion. Congar wrote of the years 1946-7, immediately following World War II,
as among the finest moments in the life of the Church in France. Speaking in
Rome a few days after the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul
VI remarked on this renewal movement, saying that “the intellectual bread of
the Church is baked in the ovens of France”. Pope John Paul II later gave many
signs of his appreciation of Cardinal Congar and his personal friendship with
him, including naming him Cardinal.
The Pope showed a similar respect and gratitude towards Father de Lubac, whose
name is often and rightly linked with that of Father Congar. This dated back to
a visit paid by the young seminarian, Karol Wojtyla to Paris in the same 1950’s
and continued during the Second Vatican Council, when the young Archbishop and
later Cardinal of Krakow worked with both Congar and de Lubac on the drafting of
several of the texts of the Vatican Council. It is recorded that, after the Council,
when Cardinal Wojtyla was giving a lecture in Paris and Father de Lubac was among
the audience, the visiting lecturer noticed Father de Lubac s presence, and
interrupted his lecture to say: “Je m incline devant le grand P re de Lubac”.
Misunderstanding and mistreatment
These two great priest-theologians had bad experiences at the hands of organisms
of the Church, and particularly the Holy Office, in pre-council days. Each was most
regrettably misinterpreted and each was most unjustly treated in the very unfortunate
atmosphere of suspicion which surrounded Pius XII s encyclical Humani Generis. I
remember at the time meeting a notorious int griste priest who boasted to me that
he crossed the Alps at least once a year, carrying a suitcase “full of bombs”. It
was facetiously said in Paris at the time that at any given time one half of French
clergy were in Rome denouncing the other half!
Congar and de Lubac reacted differently to their sad experience in accordance with
their different personalities; but each refused to become soured by it and each was
able to distinguish between the Church, which they loved, and people acting in its
name at a given period. Such books as Congar s Cette Eglise que j aime, and de Lubac’s
Le Myst re de L Eglise, are a remarkable tribute to the love of the Church of two
great theologians who had suffered at its hands.
The post-Council period
The two theologians differed also, though in degree rather than in substance, in
terms of their stances in the post-council period and in their evaluation of the
directions being taken by Catholic theologians after the Council. Congar was a founder
member and remained a strong supporter of the new international theological review,
Concilium, and continued his support for the theologians of the Concilium tendency.
Although he felt and expressed unease at some of the views of this somewhat radical
group, Congar apparently wished to retain contact with them, perhaps in the hope of
having some influence with them. De Lubac, also a founder member of Concilium, soon
came to feel himself out of sympathy with many of the views being expressed in the
pages of that review. His dissatisfaction with the review grew to a point where he
felt obliged to disassociate himself publicly from its views, and he wrote requesting
that his name be removed from the list of members of the editorial board. He told me
that he experienced extreme difficulty in having his name so removed. He became a
contributor to and a strong supporter of the alternative review, Communio.
I kept in touch with Father de Lubac until his death, visiting him at least once a
year in Lyon-Fourvi re and later in the Rue de S vres and in the rue de Gr nelle
and finally in the retirement home of the Little Sisters of the Poor near the Invalides.
I attended his funeral.
My contact with Congar was more intermittent than this. I attended some lectures of
his in Le Saulchoir and occasional public lectures in Paris. In the 1950 s I took
part with him in working groups involved with the drafting of some of the conciliar
texts, particularly Presbyterorum Ordinis, on priestly life and ministry, and Gaudium
et Spes. After the Council, I met him occasionally at meetings of the Council of
European Episcopal Conferences, or at meetings of the French Episcopal Conference,
where Father Congar occasionally attended, like myself, as an Observer.
Fundamentally, Congar and de Lubac were kindred spirits. They were above all men of
the Church, men of the Sources, namely Sacred Scripture and Catholic Tradition, which
is the reflective reception of Sacred Scripture by the great theologians of the Church
down the centuries, and expressed in the liturgy and prayer of the Church and in the
witness of its martyrs, its saints and its mystics. They supported one another in
several series of publications, such as the great series, Sources Chr tiennes, being
new translations in French, with annotations, of the great corpus of patristic texts
published by the ditions du Cerf. Congar suggested to de Lubac that he write the book,
Catholicisme, while de Lubac encouraged Congar in his concentration on ecclesiology,
a field of study to which de Lubac also made an outstanding contribution.
It should be a matter of satisfaction to us in Ireland that two young Irish theologians
are well on the way to becoming recognised experts on Congar and de Lubac respectively:
namely, Father Noel O Sullivan of the Diocese of Cork and Ross, who is studying de Lubac
at the Institut Catholique in Paris, and Father Gabriel Flynn, who studied Congar at
Oxford and in Paris, and whose studies have so far produced the present volume and a
parallel volume, being a series of studies of various aspects of Congar s theology by
international scholars, including Father Flynn, who contributes one of these articles
and edits the volume. The title of this work, which is soon to be published, is “Yves
Congar: Theologian of the Church”, and the title of Father Flynn s own contribution is
“Yves Congar and Catholic Church Reform”. The book is to be published by Peeters of
Louvain in the Louvain Theological and Pastoral Monographs Series. The book will be
published in French and in English.
Congar and de Lubac were not systematic theologians. Congar was quick to say: “I am
not a Rahner”. Much of his writing, like that of de Lubac, was occasional, often
expressing his response to contemporary situations in the Church and to the pastoral
needs of his time. Similarly, de Lubac wrote such books as “The Drama of Atheistic
Humanism”, in response to the challenge of contemporary atheism, and “The Encounter
of Buddhism and the West”, in response to the vogue of Buddhism in France in the 1960’s
and 1970’s. Likewise, Congar addressed himself to the tensions arising in the Catholic
Church after the Second Vatican Council, and to the question of the authentic
interpretation of the Council itself.
Each of these two great theologians of the Council displayed a spirit of fidelity,
serenity and of Pauline “joy and peace in believing” which are particularly appropriate
for us amid the tensions and polarisations of our time. Their testimony is all the more
impressive because of the injustices which they each had suffered. In Congar s case,
it is consoling to read in his Journal of the Council his own sense of immense
satisfaction at his involvement in the formulation of key texts of the Council; indeed,
of how uniquely privileged he felt in having lived to see all that he had toiled for
and struggled for and been unjustly penalised for, being finally firmly embedded in the
theology and pastoral practice of the Church. The Council, he declared, fulfilled for
him all the hopes of a lifetime. He recognised in retrospect that even the conservative
minority at the Council had played a valuable part in resisting excesses and securing
a proper balance in the conciliar texts.
Congar and Contemporary Unbelief
Among the many merits of Dr Flynn s book is the way in which he identifies Congar s
over-riding pastoral concern in his theological writing, particularly in the area of
ecclesiology; namely, his desire to see the Church reformed and renewed in ways which
might arrest and eventually reverse the decline in Christian faith and religious practice
in France and in the Western world generally in the second half of the twentieth century.
In this connection, I venture the comment that Congar was perhaps assuming too readily
that lapsation is primarily the result of reflective decisions to cease from religious
practice and opt out of the community of faith because of deficiencies or faults in the
hierarchical/clerical Church. It seems to me that he was perhaps paying less than due
attention to sociological factors influencing religious practice and belief, even though
these were being extensively studied in France from the mid-century onward, through
the pioneering work of Canon Boulard and others. A similar tendency is found in much
contemporary discussion of decline in religious practice in Ireland.
One result, it seems to me, is that the hierarchy and the clergy are unfairly, or at
least disproportionately, culpabilised for a decline which is due in significant measure
also to sociological factors. Among these, I would list the decline in rural living,
urbanisation, geographical mobility, breakdown in community and in sense of parish,
change of work patterns and of travel-to-work patterns, the replacement of the traditional
Sunday by what the French call le weekend , with its altered pattern of daytime and
nightlife. As a result of these and other sociological factors, religious practice can
gradually become intermittent rather than regular, until gradually other habits are
formed which do not include Sunday Mass. The appeal to justifying causes, such as
clerical abuses or institutional failures, it seems to me, becomes operative mainly
at a second level, when people who have ceased to practice wish to justify their
behaviour to themselves or to others.
Church renewal is, however, no less imperative for this, not primarily as a means to
bring back the lapsed, but in order for the Church to be true to its own mission and
its own tradition. Church renewal is imperative if the Church is to be true to its own
older and purer tradition. And this, of course, is what Congar himself constantly taught.
Church renewal, involving all the members of the Church, is certainly necessary as part
of the Church s mandate to preach the Gospel to all, including those who have drifted
away from active membership. One of Congar s abiding concerns was the distinction between
true and false reform of the Church; hence the title of one of his mould-breaking books,
“Vraie et fausse r forme de l glise”.
Congar was, in the true sense of that word, a traditionalist theologian, seeking to
correct a more limited and fortress-like nineteenth-century vision of the Church by
appealing to an older and more missionary and more Catholic vision. There are many
parallels between Newman and Congar. Maybe these will be traced by someone in another
In his splendid third chapter on Reform and Tradition in Congar’s Ecclesiology ,
Doctor Flynn demonstrates that for Congar tradition is living and life-giving, open
to change in order to be true to itself; it is in the truest sense progressive , and
not reactionary . As Doctor Flynn points out, Congar finds the Church s tradition e
xpressed in a special way in the Church s liturgy.
Passion for Church Unity
Doctor Flynn calls attention repeatedly to Congar s passion for unity between divided
Christian Churches. Congar saw Church renewal, in fidelity to its tradition, as an
essential condition for the restoration of unity. In a collection of reflections and
memories, published in 1974, to which Congar significantly gave the title, Une passion:
l unit , Congar spoke of his own ecumenical vocation , of which he had been conscious
as early as 1929, when he had already decided to dedicate his graduate studies to
ecclesiology. This vocation became a recurring theme for his prayer, expressed
frequently in the words of the Benedictus, and in meditation on the High-Priestly
Prayer of Christ in chapter 17 of St. John s Gospel.
In reading Doctor Flynn s book, I am struck again, as I have always been in reading Congar,
by the relevance to the state of the Church in Ireland in our time of so much of what Congar
was writing thirty and more years ago. In the little book of reflections and memories, One
Passion: Unity , published in 1974, to which I have referred, Congar expresses regret at a
certain mood of contestation (which he describes as transgression ) found in modern or
postmodern culture. This tendency, fostered by the mass media, gives pride of place, he
writes, to everything that questions authority of any kind, anything that contradicts
received knowledge , everything that disturbs received certainties. People of this
tendency exalt the rebel theologian, making of him an heroic type of theological freedom
fighter , (the word Congar uses is gu rrill ro), extolling him even when he may be merely
a cheap denigrator of sound values, dismissing them as mere taboos . Congar does not deny
that there are, at the root of these attitudes, real problems that need to be addressed,
but he sees such attitudes themselves as creating new problems for the Church and new
challenges for pastoral action.
Meanwhile, let me conclude by recalling two anecdotes about Congar which seem to me to
illustrate the man of traditional faith and piety who was also one of the great modern
architects of theological renewal. When he is describing the emotion he felt at the
meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, Congar says that the thought
which came most strongly to him at that time was the thought of his mother, who had
prayed fervently and faithfully for many decades for unity between the Catholic and the
Orthodox Churches; he saw this historic meeting as the beginning of an answer to her
prayers. Fellow-Dominican friars have spoken of their characteristic recollections of
Congar in the declining years of his life: an old friar slumped and head bowed in his
wheelchair, rosary beads slipping through his fingers, content to be close to the Lord
in the Tabernacle for hours on end.
I know of no better introduction to this great theologian s work than the present book
by Dr. Gabriel Flynn. I hope it will have a wide circulation. Buy it. Read it. May it
bring you as much joy and hope as it has brought to me. And then read Congar himself,
for the sake of theology itself, as Cardinal Sali ge of Toulouse wrote in defence of
Congar and others at the time when they most needed defence: pour l honneur de la theologie.
Yves Cardinal Congar: Theologian of the Church in the Modern World – Address by Fr
Among the great Catholic theologians of the twentieth century, there is none more
deserving of recognition than Yves Congar (1904-1995), which is not say that his
voluminous writings (more than 30 books and approximately 1600 journal articles) and
notable achievements are to be reviewed uncritically. Born just a hundred years ago,
in the same year as the Jesuit theologians Bernard Lonergan, Karl Rahner and John
Courtney Murray, Fr Congar outlived all three of them. He was one of the chief architects
of a remarkable renewal in Catholic ecclesiology (the study of the Church, from the
Greek ekklesia, a church ) in the twentieth century. Congar s vision for ecclesial
renewal led to a profound transformation of the Catholic Church, its relationship
with the other churches and the world. In a new book, Yves Congar s Vision of the
Church in a World of Unbelief, I consider the contribution made by him to that
transformation. Situating Congar s ecclesiology in the context of his whole theology,
the book shows how his renewed vision of the Church contributes to the restoration
of unity and helps to redress unbelief.
A distinguished member of the Dominican Order, Congar was a military chaplain and a
prisoner-of-war during the Nazi occupation of France. This experience of war brought
him into close contact with his compatriots and proved to be a unique opportunity
that enriched his theological writing. In 1985, reflecting on that experience of war,
Congar wrote: “But the war proved to be an opportunity because it brought everyone
together. I had the experience of comrades. I was truly one of them, and I continue
to have a deep intimacy with those who remain. Many have now died. We were very close,
very bonded. I had wonderful comrades! That experience showed me that modern unbelief
was much more complex than we had thought.”
The book attempts to show how unbelief provides the common inspiration for Congar’s
thought on the Church and constitutes the raison d tre for his entire programme of
reform at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Congar was a peritus (expert) at
the Council and was to become one of its most influential architects. He placed
himself entirely at the service of the bishops and quickly became engaged in the
preparation of the most important Council documents. As the American Jesuit theologian
Cardinal Avery Dulles, Professor of Theology at Fordham University in New York,
comments: “Thanks to Pope John XXIII, who recognized the importance of his work,
he was able to play so great a part at Vatican II that it could almost be called
Congar’s council”. Congar s assessment of his achievements at Vatican II is important
because it also reveals his view of the theologians role as collaborators of the
bishops. He writes with an obvious sense of achievement: “I must say that I was
completely gratified because what I had worked and prepared for reached the highest
level of the Church s life indeed the official status that Vatican II, the great
Council of our century, gave to all the themes of my work: reform within the Church,
ecumenism, the laity, the missions. In all of this I was able to be of use at the
highest level. We were at the service of the bishops, in a technical sense, but
this also provided the context in which to make suggestions to the bishops which
often happened. If there is a theology of Congar, that is where it is to be found”.
This book represents a revised version of a doctoral thesis submitted to the
University of Oxford in 1999. It is divided into three chapters and aims at
providing an interpretative framework for understanding Congar s theology of
the Church. The first chapter constructs his vision of the Church. It shows
that a renewed ecclesiology forms an essential theological basis for the renewal
of the Church. The second chapter investigates the actual shape of the renewed
Church, paying particular attention to the principal means proposed by Congar
for its renewal. In the third chapter, I assess Congar s idea of a true reform,
based on a recognition of the indefectibility of the Church s visible institution
and a fidelity to its tradition.
Congar contributed to the recovery of the biblical images of the Church which
emphasise its mystical nature rather than the hierarchical and societal aspects
that had been given such prominence in the previously dominant post-Tridentine
ecclesiology. He is perhaps best known for his contribution to the theology of
the laity and to ecumenism. Congar always viewed the renewal of ecclesiology in
conjunction with “wide participation in unitive activities”. The circumstances
of his early life contributed to his ecumenical vocation. The way had been prepared
by childhood relations with Protestants and Jews, contact with a Russian seminary
at Lille, and a lecture given by Professor Marie Dominique Chenu, his fellow
Dominican on the Faith and Order movement of Lausanne. The decisive point that
set his course, however, was his retreat in preparation for ordination. As Congar
notes: “To prepare for ordination I made a special study both of John s Gospel
and Thomas Aquinas commentary on it. I was completely overwhelmed, deeply moved,
by chapter 17, sometimes called the priestly prayer, but which I prefer to call
Jesus apostolic prayer on Christian unity: That they may be one as we are one.
My ecumenical vocation can be directly traced to this study of 1929″.
The book also considers Congar s response to the challenges posed by young people
and to the difficulties affecting the Church in the post-conciliar period. He
expresses profound concern for all young people and, in particular, for those
who occupy a sort no man s land and are neither inside nor outside the Church.
Refusing to accept either an ever decreasing ghettoised Church or the status
quo based on religious observance but without much emphasis on personalised
faith, Congar contends that the Church is forced towards a third solution which,
in his view, is the only possible response to the burning questions of today,
namely, a threshold Church that can support those who are outside the sacramental
life of the Church for whatever reason. In a highly relevant analysis of the
Church, he called for the establishment of “a kind of threshold Church, a Church
for catechumens, in order to support the spiritual life of those whose faith is
unsure and, above all, of those who are unable to participate fully in the
sacramental life”. I hope it will be shown that this volume, published in the
centenary year of Congar s birth, is timely and that it may contribute to a
renewed engagement with one of the great theologians of our time.
Fr Pierre-Marie Gy, OP, the eminent French Dominican liturgist comments: “An
important book about an important topic”.
The Revd Dr John Webster, sometime Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity, University
of Oxford writes: “This is a richly documented and fascinating treatment of Congar.
Dr Flynn s study will provoke renewed engagement in one of the great Christian
thinkers of the twentieth century”.
Martin Long Director of Communications (086 172 7678)