Jesuit priest, missiologist and theologian, b. Brussels, Belgium, July 3, 1883; ordained as a Priest Aug. 24, 1910; d. Louvain, Feb. 11, 1954. Throughout his teaching career (1914–1954) he was professor of dogmatic theology at the College theologique S.J de Louvain. During these same years he was frequently a lecturer or visiting professor at other institutions: the University of Louvain, the Gregorian University in Rome, Fordham University in New York, the University of Rio de Janeiro and others. He also visited many sites where missionaries were working.
Charles is best known for his missiology, the field that inspired his principal writings after 1923. From that year he became a frequent contributor to the "Missiology Weeks" (annual except during World War II) which he directed at Louvain until 1950. In 1926 he began publishing his Dossiers de l'Action Missionnnaire, which eventually became a textbook correlating missionary history and theological reflection. His central position was that "the formal purpose of missions is not first of all to save souls but to establish, to constitute, the visible Church in those countries where this is lacking." He emphasized that it should be the responsibility of the local church, once established or planted, rather than the foreign missioners, to continue and complete the work of conversion. In accord with this principle he strongly supported the positions of Popes Benedict XV and Pius XI "that the first task of missioners is the creation of an indigenous clergy." He was an early proponent of the need for inculturation of the Church among its new peoples. His conception of the Church deepened through the years: "It is not only with souls that the church is concerned; it is the equilibrium of the world as a whole and its eternal value that [the Church] conserves and consecrates." (Etudes missiologiques, p. 37). It was a tribute to his vision that in 1948, when Pope Pius XII was considering convoking an ecumenical council, he named Pierre Charles general secretary for the preparations. In 1951, however, Pius decided not to continue the project. In his writings, Pierre Charles anticipated many missionary aspects of Vatican Council II. Some of his more important writings include: Dossiers de l'action missionnaire, 2nd edition (Louvain 1939); Missiologie (Louvain 1939); Etudes missiologiques (Bruges 1955); The Prayer for all Times (Westminster, Md. 1949); and The Prayer for all Things (New York 1964).
Bibliography: j. levie, "In Memoriam: Le Pere Pierre Charles, S.J. (1883–1954)," Nouvelle Revue Theologique 76 (March 1954) 254–273. j. masson, "Pierre Charles, S.J. 1883–1954 : Advocate of Acculturation," in Mission Legacies, ed. g.h. anderson et al. (Maryknoll, N.Y. 1994), 410–415.