Marie-Dominique Chenu

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Marie-Dominique Chenu OP (7 January 1895, Soisy-sur-Seine, Essonne – 11 February 1990, Paris[1]) was a progressive Roman Catholic theologian and one of the founders of the reformist journal Concilium.

Early life[edit]

Chenu was born on 7 January 1895 at Soisy-sur-Seine, Essonne, and grew up under the name Marcel-Leon. His parents were bakers near Corbeil.

Chenu entered the French Province of the Dominican Order in 1913, taking the name Marie-Dominique and studying at Le Saulchoir, which at the time was located (as a result of the French anti-Church laws of 1905-6) at Kain in Belgium.[2] With the outbreak of World War I and the suspension of teaching at Le Saulchoir, Chenu travelled to Rome in 1914 to study at the Pontificium Collegium Internationale Angelicum, the future Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Angelicum. While at the Angelicum Chenu was ordained in 1919 and completed his doctorate in theology in 1920 under the direction of Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange with a dissertation entitled De contemplatione, which studied the meaning of contemplation in Thomas Aquinas.[3]


In 1920 Chenu was appointed Professor of the History of Dogma at Le Saulchoir (and in late 1921 turned down a request from his doctoral supervisor Garrigou-Lagrange's to return to the Angelicum as a lecturer).[4][5] He began to develop his theological perspective replacing the non-historical approach to Thomism that he had learned from Garrigou-Lagrange at the Angelicum with an historicist reading of Aquinas. At Le Saulchoir he was the teacher of Dominicans Yves Congar and Edward Schillebeeckx.

In 1930 Chenu founded the Institut d'Etudes Médiévales de Montréal.[6]

Chenu served as regent of studies at Le Saulchoir from 1932 to 1942, and was therefore very involved in the move of Le Saulchoir from Belgium to Étoilles, near Paris, in 1937.[7]

In 1937 Chenu privately issued a book entitled Une école de théologie: le Saulchoir. In February 1938 he was called to Rome and reprimanded for this work.

Then, in February 1942, Une école de théologie was placed on the Vatican's "Index of Forbidden Books" and he was removed as rector of Le Saulchoir.[8] He would never again teach there. Friends got him a post at the École des Hautes Études in Paris, and he subsequently taught at the Sorbonne and the Institut catholique de Paris.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s he became involved, as a friar-preacher, in the nascent worker-priest movement, and its attempts to evangelise the anti-clerical industrial suburbs of Paris. Eventually, in 1953, Chenu was among the French Dominicans disciplined by the Master of their Order, Suárez, supposedly to save them from worse treatment by the Vatican.[9] He was expelled from Paris and moved to Rouen, only being allowed to return to the Dominican convent of Saint-Jacques in Paris in June 1962.[10]

Chenu was invited to be a peritus, or expert, at the Roman Catholic Second Vatican Council (1962–65) where he was influential in the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et spes).[11]


Chenu was a forerunner of the ressourcement in theology that preceded the reforms of Vatican II. Chenu played a large role in the reappropriation of historic theological sources that led to the nouvelle théologie. In particular he promoted the return to Thomas Aquinas as a source but rejecting 19th century "modern scholastic" theology.[12]

Although his book Le Saulchoir: Une école de la théologie was put on the Index librorum prohibitorum in 1942 by Pope Pius XII and the Holy Office, because of its then progressive ideas about the role of historical studies in theology, he was later exonerated and his theology embraced by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council.

Liberation Theology[edit]

Father Chenu can be credited with being the grandfather of the liberation theology movement since Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez of Peru, who wrote the first book on Liberation Theology, studied with Chenu at the Institut Catholique de Paris, and cites him numerous times in his ground breaking book. Also now at the end of his life and having been hounded by the Opus Dei Cardinal of Peru, Gutiérrez chose to move to France and become a member of the same Dominican community that Chenu belonged to.[13]

In addition, Pere Chenu was teacher to the American Dominican Matthew Fox, since expelled from the order by Cardinal Ratzinger and now an Episcopal priest, who is recognized as the launcher of the creation spirituality movement. It was Pere Chenu who introduced Fox to that tradition and who supported Fox for many years upon his return to America. Thus Chenu can also be called the grandfather of the creation spirituality movement. This movement puts Original Blessing ahead of original sin, is feminist, earth based, eco-based, works with and not in opposition to science and marries deep mysticism with prophetic action.[14]


  • A full bibliography can be found in Christophe F Potorowski, 'Bibliography of Marie-Dominique Chenu', Contemplation and Incarnation: The Theology of Marie-Dominique Chenu, (Montreal, 2001), pp237–321

Selected works

  • Chenu, Marie-Dominique, O.P. "Position de la théologie," Revue des sciences philosophiques et théologiques 24 (1935): 252. Reprinted in Marie-Dominique Chenu, O.P., La parole de Dieu. Vol. 1, La foi dans l'intelligence, (Paris: Cerf, 1964), pp115–138.
  • Une école de théologie: le Saulchoir, (Kain-les-Tournai/Étoilles, 1937), reprinted as Une école de la théologie: Le Saulchoir, ed. G. Alberigo, (Paris: Cerf, 1985).
  • La théologie comme science au XIIIe siecle, (Paris, 1943; 3rd edn, Paris: Vrin, 1957)
  • Introduction a l'étude de Saint Thomas d'Aquin, (Montreal/Paris, 1950), translated as Toward Understanding Saint Thomas, (Chicago, 1964)
  • La théologie au douzieme siecle, (Paris, 1957)
  • St Thomas d'Aquin et la théologie, (Paris, 1959) [ET: Aquinas and His Role in Theology, trans Paul Philibert, (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2002)]
  • Is Theology a Science?, trans AHN Green-Armytage, (New York, 1959)
  • Le Parole de Dieu, 2 vols, (Paris: Cerf, 1964)
  • Toward Understanding Saint Thomas, trans Albert M Landry and Dominic Hughes, (Chicago, IL, 1964)
  • Peuple de Dieu dans le monde, (Paris: Cerf, 1966)
  • The Theology of Work, trans Lilian Soiron, (Chicago, IL, 1966)
  • Faith and Theology, trans Denis Hickey, (New York: Macmillan, 1968)
  • Nature, Man and Society in the Twelfth Century: Essays on New Theological Perspectives in the Latin West, trans and ed Jerome Taylor and Lester Little
  • Jacques Duquesne interroge le P. Chenu. "Un théologien en liberté." (Paris: Centurion, 1975).
  • "A conversation with Père Chenu." Dominicana 50 (1965): 141ff.


  1. ^ l' Accessed November 13, 2012
  2. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia, "Chenu, Marie-Dominique " Accessed November 13, 2012
  3. ^ Praeambula Fidei: Thomism And the God of the Philosophers, Ralph McInerny, 2006, Accessed May 24, 2012; Nouvelle Théologie and Sacramental Ontology: A Return to Mystery, Hans Boersma, 2009, 136 Accessed May 24, 2012
  4. ^ Jürgen Mettepenningen, Nouvelle Théologie - New Theology: Inheritor of Modernism, Precursor of Vatican II, (London: T&T Clark, 2010), p48
  5. ^ Janette Gray, 'Marie-Dominique Chenu and La Saulchoir', in Gabriel Flynn and Paul D Murray, Ressourcement, (Oxford, 2012), p208.
  6. ^ l' Accessed November 13, 2012
  7. ^ The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism, p. 303 Accessed November 13, 2012
  8. ^ The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism, 304, Accessed November 13, 2012
  9. ^ F Kerr, Twentieth Century Catholic Theologians: From Neoscholasticism to Nuptial Mystery, (Malden, MA; Oxford: Blackwell, 2007), p20
  10. ^ Jürgen Mettepenningen, Nouvelle Théologie - New Theology: Inheritor of Modernism, Precursor of Vatican II, (London: T&T Clark, 2010), p50
  11. ^ (see Walter Principe, "Chenu, M.D" in Harper Collins Encyclopedia of Catholicism. Edited by Richard McBrien, 1995.)
  12. ^ see Ressourcement: A Movement for Renewal in Twentieth-Century Catholic Theology
  13. ^ see A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation(Maryknoll: Orbis, 1988, 1st ed., Maryknoll: Orbis, 1973)
  14. ^ see Confessions:The Making of a Post-Denominational Priest(HarperOne, 1996)

External links[edit]