Cardinal, biblical scholar, ecumenist; b. May 28, 1881, Riedböhringen, Baden; d. Rome, Nov. 16, 1968. Augustin Bea, the only son of Karl Bea and Maria Merk, completed his early education with the study of theology for two years at the University of Freiburg, and entered the Society of Jesus in 1902, and was ordained ten years later. He studied ancient Near Eastern philology for a semester at the University of Berlin. From 1917 to 1921 he taught the Old Testament in the German theologate at Valkenburg, Holland, where he was also prefect of studies until his nomination as provincial of Bavaria. As visitor to the Japanese mission he was influential in the founding of Sophia University, Tokyo. He went to Rome in 1924 to take charge of Jesuits assigned to graduate studies and taught in the Pontifical Biblical Institute, of which he was rector from 1930 to 1949.
He served on many Roman Congregations, including the pontifical biblical commission and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was confessor to Pius XII (1945–58), and was chairman of the committee for the revision of the Latin psalter. After his creation as cardinal deacon of S. Saba, Dec. 14, 1959 (he was also made bishop), he headed the Secretariate for Promoting Christian Unity (1960–68) until his death.
Bea's service to the Church was chiefly carried out in three disparate areas: administration, biblical studies, and ecumenism. His exceptional talents for government were displayed within the Society of Jesus, and later given broader scope as rector of the Biblicum during 19 years and then as creator and leader of the Secretariate for Promoting Christian Unity. He established the principles for its modus operandi, chose and trained collaborators, and provided the initial impetus and orientation of this commission.
The list of his publications in Scripture is lengthy and impressive. The liberating views displayed in La storicità dei Vangeli (1964) on the vexing question of the historicity of the Gospels, originally circulated as a pamphlet for the fathers of Vatican Council II, are characteristic of his position on biblical issues.
His obituary in Biblica, a periodical of which he was editor 20 years, noted that "by his counselling, and especially by his recommendation of wide reading, he saw to it that his students were made aware that other less restricted positions might be equally, or more, defensible."
Bea made significant contributions to Roman documents, such as the defense of critical biblical scholarship composed by the Biblical Commission in 1941 (against the anonymous attacks of an obscurantist Italian cleric), the encyclical Divino afflante Spiritu (1943), the letter to Cardinal Suhard on the need for scientific exegesis (1948), the detailed progressive program for scriptural teaching in seminaries in 1950, and his role in the drafting of several documents issued by Vatican II, especially that on divine revelation, Dei Verbum.
His ecumenical achievements in the cause of Christian unity stemmed directly from his talents for friendship and his interest and competence in biblical studies. Already in 1935, with the express approval of Pius XI, his participation in the Old Testament congress of Protestant scholars at Göttingen established a precedent from which the present-day Catholic collaboration in common projects concerning the Bible derives.
Bibliography: s. schmidt, ed., Augustin Cardinal Bea: Spiritual Profile; Notes from the Cardinal's Diary, with a Commentary (London 1971). j. hÖfer, "Das geistliche Profil des Kardinal Bea," Catholica 26 (1972) 50–63. h. bacht, "Kardinal Bea: Wegbereiter der Einheit," Catholica 35 (1981) 173–188 k. h. neufeld, "Wirk-same Ökumene: Kardinal Beas Einsatz für die Einigung der Christen," Catholica 353 (1981) 189–210. c. c. aronsfeld, ed. "Augustin Cardinal Bea, 1881–1968: Thoughts on His Centenary," [thematic issue, with extensive bibliographies] Christian Jewish Relations 14:4 3–57. e. lanne, "La contribution du Cardinal Bea à la question du baptême et l'unité des chrétiens," Irénikon 55(1982) 471–499. s. schmidt, Augustin Bea: The Cardinal of Unity (New Rochelle, N.Y. 1992). g. griesmayr, Die eine Kirche und die eine Welt: die ökumenische Vision Kardinal Augustin Beas (Frankfurt am Main 1997).
[d. m. stanley]