Yves Congar

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His Eminence
Yves Marie-Joseph Congar,
Cardinal Deacon of the Basilica of San Sebastiano al Palatino
Congar concile 1964.jpg
Appointed 26 November 1994
Term ended 22 June 1995
Created Cardinal 26 November 1994
Rank Cardinal Deacon
Personal details
Born (1904-04-13)13 April 1904
Sedan, Ardennes, France
Died 22 June 1995(1995-06-22) (aged 91)
Paris, France
Nationality French
Denomination Roman Catholic
Coat of arms {{{coat_of_arms_alt}}}

Yves Marie-Joseph Congar, O.P., (Yves Marie Joseph Congar: 13 April 1904 – 22 June 1995) was a French Dominican friar, Catholic priest, and theologian. He is perhaps best known for his influence at the Second Vatican Council and for reviving theological interest in the Holy Spirit for the life of individuals and of the church. He was made a cardinal of the Catholic Church in 1994.

Early life[edit]

Congar was born in Sedan in northeast France in 1904. His father Georges Congar was a bank manager. Congar's hometown was occupied by the Germans for much of World War I, and his father was among the men deported by the Germans to Lithuania. Upon the urging of his mother, Lucie Congar née Desoye (called "Tere" by Yves throughout his life), Congar recorded the occupation in an extensive series of illustrated diaries which were later published.[1] They provide a unique historical insight into the war from a child's point of view.

Encouraged by a local priest Daniel Lallement, Congar entered the diocesan seminary. Moving to Paris in 1921, he had Jacques Maritain among his philosophy teachers and the Dominican theologian Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange as a retreat master.

Priest and POW[edit]

After a year of compulsory military service (1924-5) which Congar spent in the Rhineland, in 1925 he joined the Dominican Order at Amiens where he took "Marie-Joseph" as his name in religion. Towards the end of his theological studies from 1926-31 at Le Saulchoir, the Dominican theologate which at the time was located in Kain-la-Tombe, Belgium, and focused on historical theology, Congar was ordained a priest on 25 July 1930 by Luigi Maglione, nuncio in Paris.[2] In 1931 Congar defended his doctoral dissertation written at Le Saulchoir, on the unity of the Church.

Congar was a faculty member at Le Saulchoir from 1931-1939, moving with the Institution in 1937 from Kain-la-Tombe to Étiolles near Paris. In 1932 he began his teaching career as Professor of Fundamental Theology, conducting a course on ecclesiology. Congar was influenced by the Dominicans Ambroise Gardeil and Marie-Dominique Chenu, by the writings of Johann Adam Möhler, and by his ecumenical contacts with Protestant and Eastern Orthodox theologians. Congar concluded that the mission of the church was impeded by what he and Chenu termed “Baroque theology."

In 1937 Congar founded the Unam Sanctam series, addressing historical themes in Catholic ecclesiology. These books called for a “return to the sources” to set theological foundations for ecumenism, and the series would eventually run to 77 volumes. He wrote for a wide variety of scholarly and popular journals, and published numerous books.

During World War II Congar was drafted into the French army as a chaplain with the rank of Lieutenant. He was captured and held from 1940 to 1945 as a prisoner of war by the Germans in Colditz and Lübeck's Oflag, after repeated attempts to escape. Later he was made a Knight (Chevalier) of the French Legion of Honour, and awarded the Croix de Guerre.[3] In addition he was awarded the Médaille des Évadés for his numerous escape attempts.[4]

Scholar and ecumenist[edit]

After the war, Congar continued to teach at Le Saulchoir, which had been returned to France, and to write, eventually becoming one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century on the topic of the Roman Catholic Church and ecumenism.[5]

Congar was an early advocate of the ecumenical movement, encouraging openness to ideas stemming from the Eastern Orthodox Church and Protestant Christianity.[6] He promoted the concept of a "collegial" papacy and criticised the Roman Curia, ultramontanism, and the clerical pomp that he observed at the Vatican. He also promoted the role of lay people in the church. Congar worked closely with the founder of the Young Christian Workers, Joseph Cardijn, for decades.

From 1947 to 1956 Congar’s controversial writing was restricted by the Vatican. One of his most important books True and False Reform in the Church (1950) and all of its translations were forbidden by Rome in 1952. Congar was prevented from teaching or publishing after 1954, during the pontificate of Pope Pius XII, following publication of an article in support of the ‘worker-priest’ movement in France. He was subsequently assigned to minor posts in Jerusalem, Rome, Cambridge and Strasbourg. Eventually, in 1956, Archbishop Jean Julien Weber of Strasbourg assisted Congar in returning to France.[7]

Congar's reputation recovered in 1960 when Pope John XXIII invited him to serve on the preparatory theological commission of the Second Vatican Council. Although Congar had little influence on the preparatory schemas, as the council progressed his expertise was recognized and some would regard him as the single most formative influence on Vatican II. He was a member of several committees that drafted conciliar texts, an experience that he documented in great detail in his daily journal. The journal extended from mid-1960 to December 1965. Following his direction, his journal was not released until 2000,and was first published in 2002 as Journal d’un theologien 1946–1956 and My Journal of the Council, with English translation in 2012.

After the council, Congar said “respecting many questions, the council remained incomplete. It began a work which is not finished, whether it is a matter of collegiality, of the role of the laity, of missions and even of ecumenism.” Congar's work focused increasingly on the theology of the Holy Spirit, and his 3-volume work on the Spirit has become a classic.[8] He was also a member of the International Theological Commission from 1969 to 1985.

Congar continued to lecture and write, publishing work on wide ranging topics including Mary, the Eucharist, lay ministry and the Holy Spirit, as well as his diaries. His works include The Meaning of Tradition and After Nine Hundred Years which addresses the East-West Schism.

In 1963, Congar was diagnosed with a "diffuse disease of the nervous system" which caused weakness and numbness in his extremities.[9] In 1985, the diagnosis was changed to a form of sclerosis which increasingly affected his mobility and writing ability, and made his scholarly research difficult. He became a resident at the Military Hôpital des Invalides in Paris from 1986.

Cardinal and death[edit]

In November 1994 he was named a cardinal deacon by Pope John Paul II, shortly before his death on 22 June the following year.[10] His remains were buried in Montparnasse Cemetery.[11]

Selected works[edit]

  • Chrétiens désunis: Principes d'un 'oecuménisme' catholique, (Paris: Cerf, 1937), translated as Divided Christendom: a Catholic Study of the Problem of Reunion, trans MA Bousfield, (London: Bles, 1939).
  • Vraie et fausse réforme dans l’Eglise, (Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1950). A second edition was issued in 1968. Translated as True and False Reform in the Church, trans Paul Philibert, (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2011).
  • Jalons pour un théologie du laicat, (1953)
  • Leur résistance, 195? [12]
  • La Tradition et les traditions: essai historique, (Paris, 1960), issued in translation in Tradition and Traditions: An historical and a theological essay, trans Michael Naseby and Thomas Rainborough, (London, 1966).
  • Aspects de l'oecuménisme, (Bruxelles/Paris, 1962)
  • La Foi et la Théologie, (Tournai, 1962)
  • The Mystery of the Temple, or the Manner of God's Presence to His Creatures from Genesis to the Apocalypse, trans Reginald Frederick Trevett, (London, 1962).
  • La Tradition et les traditions: essai théologique, (Paris, 1963), issued in translation in Tradition and Traditions: An historical and a theological essay, trans Michael Naseby and Thomas Rainborough, (London, 1966)
  • Report from Rome: on the First Session of the Vatican Council, translated by A. Mason, (London: Chapman, 1963)
  • Report from Rome II: The Second Session of the Vatican Council, (London: Chapman, 1964)
  • Power and Poverty in the Church, translated by Jennifer Nicholson, (London: Chapman, 1964)
  • Lay People in the Church, translated by Donald Attwater, (London: Chapman, 1965)
  • Dialogue Between Christians: Catholic Contributions to Ecumenism, trans Philip Loretz, (London: G Chapman, 1966).
  • Je crois en l'Esprit Saint, 3 vols, translated as I Believe in the Holy Spirit, 3 vols (Paris:Cert, 1979)
  • Mon Journal du Concile, (1946–1956), ed. with notes Éric Mahieu, (Paris: Cerf, 2002).
  • My Journal of the Council, English translation by Mary John Ronayne and Mary Cecily Boulding, Adelaide: (ATF Theology, 2012)

Media portrayal[edit]

  • Yves Congar is one of the 14 main characters of the series 14 - Diaries of the Great War. He is played by actor Antoine de Prekel.
  • Featured in the documentary series, "The First World War",(2003), Part 2, "Under The Eagle"


  1. ^ Congar, Yves (2012). My Journal of the Council (English Text Copyright ed.). Collegeville, MN: A Michael Glazer Book by Liturgical Press. pp. iv, 303, 416, 465, 468, 469, 746, 841, 852, 853. ISBN 978-0814680292. 
  2. ^ Reinhardt, Mary (26 July 2015). Awakening Liturgical Spirituality in the Royal Priesthood of the Laity with Performance Theory. St. Norbert College. pp. 15–17. 
  3. ^ Saxon, Wolfgang. "Yves Congar, French Cardinal, Is Dead at 91; Vigorous Ecumenist and Promoter of the Laity". New York Times. Retrieved 16 May 2014. 
  4. ^ Groppe, Elizabeth T. "Yves Congar". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 16 May 2014. 
  5. ^ Doyle, D.M., 'Journet, Congar, and the Roots of Communion Ecclesiology' Theological Studies 58 (1997): 461–479; John Anthony Berry, “Ecumenical formation: Yves Congar’s Personal Testimony”, Melita Theologica 59 (2008): 3-19.
  6. ^ Hastings, Adrian, Modern Catholicism (1999, Oxford University Press)
  7. ^ John Anthony Berry, "Yves Congar. Ecumenism and the Changing Face of Roman Catholicism", Ökumenische Begegnungen / Ecumenical Encounters (Beihefte zur Ökumenischen Rundschau 100) (Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanstalt, 2015) p. 158-169
  8. ^ Congar, Yves (1997-11-01). I Believe in the Holy Spirit: The Complete Three Volume Work in One Volume. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company. ISBN 9780824516963. 
  9. ^ Congar, Yves (2012). My Journal of the Council (English Language Translation ed.). Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press. p. 469. ISBN 978-0814680292. 
  10. ^ Sicari, Giovanni. "Short biographies of all the Cardinals from 1198 to 2010 -- Ivo Congar +1995 June 22". Vatican Heraldry. Library of Congress: Minerva Web Preservation Project. Retrieved 24 January 2015. 
  11. ^ "Congar, Ivo". Araldica Vaticana. 
  12. ^ Recommended by P. R. Reid in his memoir of Colditz Castle, The Latter Days, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1953, p. 9.

External links[edit]