Janssens, Louis

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Professor of moral theology; b. July 23, 1908, Olen, Belgium; d. Leuven, Dec. 19, 2001. At the encouragement of the local parish priest, young Janssens left the Flemish village in which he was reared for Herentals, a Walloon village where he attended high school. After studying at the major seminary, Janssens was ordained a priest of the diocese of Mechelen on Feb. 11, 1934. Janssens completed the S.T.D. degree at the Catholic University of Leuven, and in 1939 he was awarded the degree of Magister in Sacra Theologia.

Janssens' earlier work was in the field of patrology. His doctoral thesis was devoted to cyril of alexandria's understanding of divine sonship (grace). He had published articles on gregory of nyssa (1936, under the pen name O. Van den Bergen) and Cyril (1938). Janssens' magisterial thesis, "Personne et société: théories actuelles et essai doctrinal," marked a clear turning point in Janssens' career. It was inspired by his ordinary, Cardinal Van Roey, who wanted the young scholar to study and respond to the depersonalizing social theories of the 1930s. Janssens' teaching career began at Mechelen's Seminary of St. Joseph in 1939, but Janssens was almost immediately called upon to teach a course in social philosophy at Leuven. After lecturing at the university in the area of fundamental dogma, he turned to moral theology, the subject that would occupy his interest until his (mandatory) retirement in 1978.

Throughout his academic career, the human person was a focal point of his interest. For Janssens, the norm of morality is the human person in itself and its relationships (God, others, the world). His contemporary chris tian anthropology focused on the intentionality, the interiority, the physicality, the uniqueness, and the historicity of the human person. These themes appear in Personalisme en democratisering (1957, 1965) and "Personalist Morals" [Louvain Studies (1970)]. For several years he lectured on conjugal morality, a topic to which he devoted a number of essays in local pastoral journals. The development of the birth control pill led him to publish a major article in the Ephemerides theologicae lovanienses (1963), in which he held that the use of the pill in conjugal relationships was licit insofar as its use basically respected the nature and structure of the conjugal act. Janssens' position was widely discussed and supported by theologians in the years preceding the issuance of Paul VI's humanae vitae (1968).

Ever the personalist, Janssens devoted much of his later publication to matters of fundamental moral theology. Chief among his interests was the matter of "ontic good and evil," i.e., pre-moral values and disvalues, and the importance of proportionality in determining the moral rightness of human conduct. Using Aquinas as a source and his own personalism as a frame of reference, Janssens proposed that it was the end that is primary in moral evaluation. Appropriate means are to be chosen with regard to their relationship to that end. Not content merely with theory, Janssens used these insights of fundamental moral theology to advance the discussion of such issues as artificial insemination and organ transplantation. His views received wide circulation. Although Janssens was not cited by name in John Paul II's veritatis splendor (1993), the papal encyclical appears to have taken issue with some of Janssens' theory. In "Teleology and Proportionality: Thoughts about the Encyclical Veritatis Splendor," (1995) Janssens offered his personal reflections on the papal text.

While most of Janssens' writings appeared in Dutch journals, he published a number of significant English-language articles in Louvain Studies. He wrote few books, but one of them, Liberté de conscience et liberté religieuse (1964) was an important component of the dialogue that led to Vatican Council II's Dignitatis humanae.

Bibliography: d. l. christie, "Adequately Considered: An American Perspective on Louis Janssens' Personalist Morals," Louvain Theological and Pastoral Monographs 4 (Louvain and Grand Rapids 1990). l. janssens, "Teleology and Proportionality: Thoughts about the Encyclical Veritatis Splendor," in The Splendor of Accuracy, ed. j. jans and j. selling (Grand Rapids 1995). j. a. selling, ed., Personalist Morals (Leuven 1988).

[r. f. collins]