Yves Congar

His Eminence
Yves Marie-Joseph Congar, O.P.
Cardinal Deacon of the Basilica of San Sebastiano al Palatino
Appointed 26 November 1994
Term ended 22 June 1995
Created Cardinal 26 November 1994
Rank Cardinal Deacon
Personal details
Born (1905-04-13)13 April 1905
Sedan, Ardennes, France
Died 22 June 1995(1995-06-22) (aged 90)
Paris, France
Nationality French
Denomination Roman Catholic
Coat of arms {{{coat_of_arms_alt}}}

Yves Marie-Joseph Congar (Yves M.J. Congar, Yves Marie Joseph Congar, Yves-Marie-Joseph Congar), O.P. (13 April 1905 – 22 June 1995), was a French Dominican friar, Catholic priest and theologian. He was made a cardinal of the Catholic Church in 1994.

Early life

Congar was born in Sedan in northeast France in 1905. 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. In 1921 he moved to Paris, to study philosophy. He went to courses by Jacques Maritain, and went to retreats conducted near Paris by the Dominican theologian Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange.

Priest and POW

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 studium and seminary, which at the time was located in Kain-la-Tombe, Belgium, and trained in 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 and about the unity of the Church.

Congar was a faculty member at Le Saulchoir from 1931-1939 (therefore moving with the Institution in 1937 from Kain-la-Tombe to Étoilles 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

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 from 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 he became known as a theological expert. Congar has since been described as the single most formative influence on Vatican II.

Congar was a member of several committees that worked on the drafting of conciliar texts, an experience that he documented in great detail in his daily journal. The journal extended from mid-1960 through to December 1965. Congar decided that it should not be released until the year 2000. The journal was published as Journal d’un theologien 1946–1956 and My Journal of the Council, published in French in 2002 and in 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 from this time. 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, I Believe in the Holy Spirit, 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.[8] 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

In November 1994 he was named a cardinal deacon by Pope John Paul II, shortly before his death on 22 June the following year.[9] His remains were buried in Montparnasse Cemetery.[10]

Selected works

Media Portrayal

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.


  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". Encyclopaedia 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 (2012). My Journal of the Council (English Language Translation ed.). Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press. p. 469. ISBN 978-0814680292.
  9. 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.
  10. "Congar, Ivo". Araldica Vaticana.
  11. Recommended by P. R. Reid in his memoir of Colditz Castle, The Latter Days, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1953, p. 9.
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