Jean-Guenolé-Marie Daniélou, S.J. was a French member of the Jesuit order and a Roman Catholic cardinal. He was also a theologian and historian. He also served as a “peritus” (expert advisor) during Vatican Council II.
In 1967 he published the book Prayer as a Political Problem. It is long out of print and nowhere online. In the introduction, the author writes,
The religious problem is a problem of the masses. It is not at all a problem of the elite. When it comes to masses of people, religion and civilization depend very much on one another. There is no true civilization which is not religious; nor, on the other hand, can there be a religion of the masses which is not supported by civilization.
It would appear that today there are too many Christians who see no incongruity in the juxtaposition of a private religion and an irreligious society, not perceiving how ruinous this is for both society and religion.
But how are society and religion to be joined without either making religion a tool of the secular power or the secular power a tool of religion? This book invites the reader to join in the search for an answer to this problem which is vital for tomorrow.
When Danielou was writing, we were just 20 years out of the shadows of World War II. “The Cold War” was in full swing. In the 1960s religious persecution was primarily the sphere of politics. Communism, with its religious and political persecution, was very real as witnessed by the Berlin Blockade, the Hungarian Uprising, the Cuban Missle Crisis, the Prague Spring.
As I survey the religious landscape of our country, the idea of religion as a positive influence on society seems far fetched. What seems troubling is that it is not just the real of politics that seems to threaten religious belief and practice. Danielou was one of the politics, economics, academics (yeah, right)
Gaudiamus et Spes (The Church in the Modern World) was one of the four “major” documents from Vatican II. Danielou was one of the contributors to the document along with Henri de Lubac, Karl Rahner, Yves Congar, Joseph Ratzinger (you might have heard of him) and an archbishop from Krakow named Karol Wojtyla (you’ve definitely heard of him). The document places a heavy emphasis on human “freedom.” It makes clear that “freedom” is not the same as “license” or “indulgence” or wanton feeding of human impulses. The emphasis is that free acts need to be measured against some type of moral standard. Only in this way can one determine whether or not the action is leading toward the person’s thriving. Gaudium et Spes also makes the claim that societies likewise need some type of objective standard to measure its actions. Religion is the standard by which society and the actions its citizens are measured to determine whether or not the society is thriving.
This leads us to one of the issues in Danielou’s second paragraph. The tendency today is to claim that religion is strictly a “private” matter. This is becoming an especially popular position in the state legislature and in Washington D.C.
in a 2018 article about religious freedom (specifically talking about the supreme court case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission) the author writes that,
During Phillips’ case, several members of the Civil Rights Commission expressed the view that faith has no place in the public square, that those who believe in traditional marriage are not welcome in Colorado, and that religious freedom is merely a rhetorical mask for simple bigotry.
If faith has no place in the public square and is strictly a private matter, then no individual can claim a conscientious objection basis that a particular action is against their religious convictions. Discussion about this issue is not new. Is all the way back to the framers of the constitution and the “Establishment Clause found in the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. One can find landmark Supreme Court cases dealing with religious liberty going back to the 1800s.
What is troubling in Masterpiece Cake Shop case is not that the case wasn’t nessarily decided on the grounds of religious liberty. As seen in the Forbes article,
For Justice Kennedy, these statements from the Commission—coupled with evidence that they treated other conscientious objectors differently—was proof that Phillips was not treated fairly and impartially under the law
catholic Church waiting on the issue during Vatican II with the promulgation of The Declaration on Religious Freedom or Dignitatis Humanae.
“Dignitatis humanae spells out the church’s support for the protection of religious liberty. It set the ground rules by which the church would relate to secular states, both pluralistic ones like the United States and officially Catholic nations like Malta… The passage of this measure by a vote of 2,308 to 70 is considered by many to be one of the most significant events of the council.”
In light of such cases as Masterpiece and the Hobby Lobby case, Dignitatis Humanae has not only come under scrutiny but also under criticism in recent years. Voices claim that the document desperately needs to be revisited and that the Catholic Church needs clearer, and perhaps even stronger, language concerning the topic of religious liberty.
Seen in this light, Daniélou’s can definitely be considered prophetic and prescient.