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Congar vindicated at Vatican II


French Dominican Yves Congar is widely acknowledged as one of the most important contributors to the theological renewal that culminated in the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

Congar (1904-1995) produced nearly 2,000 books and articles over the course of his long scholarly career. He was a pioneer of ressourcement, a recovery of scripture and the church fathers that fueled new insights in biblical studies, liturgy, ecumenism and ecclesiology.

By the mid-1950s, however, Pope Pius XII had begun to develop reservations about the direction of French Catholicism. The use of modern art in church buildings, a historical approach to the Bible, and the worker-priest movement -- priests who worked in factories, joined unions and supported protests for economic justice -- all alarmed the pope. That the Dominicans were in leadership roles made them an object of special concern.

In February 1954, the order’s master general, acting under pressure from the Vatican, banned three well-known theologians from teaching: Congar, Marie Dominique Chenu and H.M. Feret. Congar and Chenu were sent into a form of exile, in Congar’s case ending up in Cambridge, England, despite his lack of fluency in English. He was also ordered to submit any writings to prior Roman censorship. The crackdown came to be known as the “raid on the Dominicans.”

At Vatican II, Congar was unofficially rehabilitated as he contributed to documents on the church, ecumenism, revelation, missions and the priesthood. In 1994, John Paul II named Congar a cardinal, but citing ill health, Congar declined to attend the consistory in which he was to be officially entered as a member of the college.

This letter is part of a number of Congar’s papers, including his diaries from Vatican II, that are currently being published in French for the first time.

National Catholic Reporter, June 2, 2000