Pope Francis mourns ‘authoritative biblical scholar’ Cardinal Albert Vanhoye

Cardinal Albert Vanhoye, S.J. Cardinal Albert Vanhoye, S.J. | Marc Girard via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Pope Francis paid tribute on Friday to the late French Cardinal Albert Vanhoye, describing him as an “authoritative biblical scholar.”

The pope sent a condolence telegram on July 30 following the cardinal’s death on Thursday. At 98 years of age, Vanhoye was the world’s oldest cardinal at the time of his death.

In the message sent to Fr. Manuel Morujao, S.J., superior of the Residenza San Pietro Canisio in Rome, where Vanhoye had lived since 2013, the pope said: “On learning the news of the pious passing of dear Cardinal Albert Vanhoye, I wish to express my closeness to you, to the community of San Pietro Canisio, to the entire Society of Jesus, as well as to the family members of the late cardinal and to all those who knew and esteemed him, remembering with affection and admiration this brother who served the Lord and the Church with great dedication.”

“I think with gratitude of his intense work as a zealous religious, spiritual son of St. Ignatius, expert teacher, authoritative biblical scholar, esteemed rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute, diligent and wise collaborator of some dicasteries of the Roman Curia.”

“I also think of his love for the ministry of preaching, which he exercised with generosity, animated by a passionate desire to communicate the Gospel.”

Albert Vanhoye was born on July 24, 1923, in Hazebrouck, northern France. In 1941, at the age of 18, he crossed France on foot to enter the Jesuit novitiate in Le Vignau, southwestern France.

According to the website of the French-speaking Jesuit Province of Western Europe, this was a dangerous undertaking as part of France was then occupied by the Nazis. Vanhoye left the occupied zone clandestinely to avoid being caught and sent to work in Nazi Germany.

After earning a degree in Classics and studying philosophy and theology in Enghien, Belgium, he was ordained a priest on July 26, 1954.

He was sent in 1956 to the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, where he completed a doctorate on the Epistle to the Hebrews. He took his final vows as a Jesuit in the Eternal City on Feb. 2, 1959.

In 1962, he was named a professor at the institute, also known as the Biblicum.

He was dean of the faculty from 1969 to 1975, and rector of the institute from 1984 to 1990.

Vanhoye was a member of the commission that prepared the 1979 apostolic constitution Sapientia Christiana on ecclesiastical universities and faculties.

As secretary of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, he helped to shape the 1993 document “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church” and the 2001 text “The Jewish People and their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible.”

He served as a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the Congregation for Catholic Education, and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).

The French-speaking Jesuit Province of Western Europe said that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the CDF’s then prefect who later became Pope Benedict XVI, called upon Vanhoye “whenever a pontifical text mentioned Scripture or a book commenting on Scripture posed a problem.”

“Cardinal Ratzinger appreciated this tireless worker, humble and desiring only the good of the Church,” it said.

On Feb. 22, 2006, Benedict XVI announced Vanhoye’s nomination as a cardinal. He described the Jesuit as “a great exegete” and said that he was naming Vanhoye as one of three new cardinals over 80 “out of esteem for the services they have rendered to the Church with exemplary faithfulness and admirable dedication.”

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Vanhoye received the red hat on March 24, 2006, having obtained a dispensation from the requirement to be consecrated as a bishop beforehand.

In 2008, Benedict invited the cardinal to preach at the annual Lenten retreat for members of the Roman Curia. Vanhoye focused his meditations on Christ, the High Priest, as described in the Epistle to the Hebrews.

In an interview at the time with L’Osservatore Romano, Vanhoye said that the Letter to the Hebrews was “the only book of the Bible which specifically develops the priesthood of Christ.”

The letter’s author uses the term archierèus, which means “priest-head.”

“Applied to Christ, the term indicates perfect fulfillment of the concept of priest in Christ. Christ is the perfect mediator between God and us. He brings us into his communion with the Father,” Vanhoye said.

Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches and vice dean of the College of Cardinals, is due to celebrate Vanhoye’s funeral Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at 11 a.m. local time on July 31.

The Frenchman’s death leaves the College of Cardinals with 220 members, 123 of whom are eligible to participate in a conclave.

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The world’s oldest cardinal is now the 97-year-old Slovakian Cardinal Jozef Tomko, president emeritus of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses.

In his telegram following Vanhoye’s death, Pope Francis said: “I raise my prayer to the Lord that, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, he may receive this faithful servant of his into the heavenly Jerusalem, and I cordially impart my apostolic blessing to those who mourn his passing, with a special thought for those who lovingly assisted and accompanied him in his last days.”

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