Augustin Bea

President of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity
Appointed6 June 1960
Term ended16 November 1968
SuccessorJohannes Willebrands
Other post(s)Cardinal–Deacon of San Saba
Ordination25 August 1912
by Hermann Jürgens
Consecration19 April 1962
by Pope John XXIII
Created cardinal14 December 1959
by Pope John XXIII
Personal details
Augustin Bea

(1881-05-28)28 May 1881
Riedböhringen, German Empire
Died16 November 1968(1968-11-16) (aged 87)
Rome, Italy
DenominationRoman Catholic
Previous post(s)
  • Provincial Superior of the Society of Jesus in Germany (1921-1924)
  • Rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute (1930-1949)
  • Titular Archbishop of Germania in Numidia (1962–1963)
  • President of the Pontifical Commission for the Neo-Vulgate (1965-1968)
MottoIn nomine domini Jesu (In the name of the Lord Jesus)
Coat of armsAugustin Bea's coat of arms

Augustin Bea, S.J. (28 May 1881 – 16 November 1968), was a German Jesuit priest, cardinal, and scholar at the Pontifical Gregorian University, specialising in biblical studies and biblical archaeology. He also served as the personal confessor of Pope Pius XII.

He was made a cardinal in 1959 by Pope John XXIII and served as the first president of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity from 1960 until his death. Bea was a leading biblical scholar and ecumenist, who greatly influenced Christian-Jewish relations during the Second Vatican Council in Nostra aetate. Bea published several books, mostly in Latin, and 430 articles.


Styles of
Augustin Bea
Reference styleHis Eminence
Spoken styleYour Eminence
Informal styleCardinal
SeeGermania in Numidia (titular)

Early life and education

Bea was born in Riedböhringen, today a part of Blumberg, Baden-Württemberg;[1] his father was a carpenter. He studied at the universities of Freiburg, Innsbruck, Berlin, and at Valkenburg, the Jesuit house of studies in the Netherlands. On 18 April 1902, he joined the Society of Jesus, as he "was much inclined to the scholarly life".[2] Bea was ordained a priest on 25 August 1912, and finished his studies in 1914.

Priestly ministry

Bea served as superior of the Jesuit residence in Aachen until 1917, at which time he began teaching Scripture at Valkenburg. From 1921 to 1924, Bea was the provincial superior of Germany. Superior General Wlodimir Ledóchowski then sent him to Rome, where he worked as the superior of the Biennial House of Formation (1924–1928), professor at the Pontifical Biblical Institute (1924–1949), and rector of the Institute of Superior Ecclesiastical Studies (1924–1930). In 1930, Bea was named rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute, a post in which he remained for nineteen years.

Consistory and episcopal ministry

When Pius XII proposed appointing Bea to the College of Cardinals in 1946, Superior General Jean-Baptiste Janssens spoke out against it, as many felt the Holy See was showing preferential treatment to the Jesuits.[3] Raised to the rank of cardinal before his episcopal consecration, Bea was created Cardinal-Deacon of S. Saba by Pope John XXIII in the consistory of 14 December 1959. On 6 June 1960, he was appointed the first president of the newly formed Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, a Curial organisation charged with ecumenical affairs.[4] It was not until two years later that, on 5 April 1962, Cardinal Bea was appointed a bishop: the Titular Archbishop of Germania in Numidia. He received his consecration on the following 19 April from John XXIII himself, with Cardinals Giuseppe Pizzardo and Benedetto Aloisi Masella serving as co-consecrators, in the Lateran Basilica. He resigned his post as titular archbishop in 1963, one year after the Second Vatican Council was convened.

Cardinal Bea was one of the electors in the 1963 papal conclave which elected Pope Paul VI,[5] and was confirmed as the president of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity (renamed the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity by Pope John Paul II on 28 June 1988) on 3 January 1966.

Cardinal Bea liked to visit his native Black Forest

Cardinal Bea died from a bronchial infection in Rome, at the age of 87.[6] He was buried in the apse of the parish church of Saint Genesius in his native Riedböhringen,[4] where there is a museum honouring him.

Impact and legacy

Bea was highly influential at the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s as a decisive force in the drafting of Nostra aetate, which repudiated anti-Semitism. In 1963, he held secret talks with Abraham Joshua Heschel, promoting Catholic–Jewish dialogue.[7] John Borelli, a Vatican II historian, has observed that, "It took the will of John XXIII and the perseverance of Cardinal Bea to impose the declaration on the Council".[8] During a session of the Central Preparatory Commission, he also rejected the proposition that the Council Fathers take an oath composed of the Nicene Creed and the anti-modernist oath.[9] After Alfredo Ottaviani, the heavily conservative head of the Holy Office, presented his draft of the schema on the sources of Divine Revelation, Bea claimed that it "would close the door to intellectual Europe and the outstretched hands of friendship in the old and new world".[10] He is the author of The Church and the Jewish People (New York: Harper & Row, 1966).

The encyclical Divino afflante Spiritu was very much shaped by Bea and Jacques-Marie Voste, O.P. (secretary of the Pontifical Biblical Commission).[11][12]

Marking the 50th anniversary of the Cardinal’s death, Pope Francis called Cardinal Bea, "an outstanding figure”, who should not only be remembered for what he did, but also the way he did it. “He remains”, the Pope said, “a model and a source of inspiration for ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, and in an eminent way for the “intra-familial” dialogue with Judaism."[13]


Published works

Augustin Bea published 430 articles in the years 1918–1968. They dealt with archaeological issues, exegesis of Old Testament texts, Mariology, papal encyclicals, the unity of Christians, anti-Semitism, Vatican II, relations to Protestantism and the eastern Orthodox Churches, and ecumenicism.

Among his books:


  1. ^ "Cardinal Augustin Bea (1881-1968)". Retrieved 9 April 2023.
  2. ^ Time. "The Supreme Realist". 6 July 1962.
  3. ^ Time. "Eight New Hats". 30 November 1959.
  4. ^ a b "Rafferty SJ, Oliver. "Augustin Bea: Scholar, Teacher, Cardinal", Jesuits in Britain, 2014". Archived from the original on 17 May 2019. Retrieved 9 April 2023.
  5. ^ "The Roster of the Membership of the Sacred College of Cardinals". New York Times. 20 June 1963. Retrieved 2 June 2020.
  6. ^ Time. "Recent Events". 22 November 1968.
  7. ^ Remembering Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Man – Forgetting "Imagining Heschel," the Play, The Forward
  8. ^ Tracing the Contemporary Roots of Interreligious Dialogue Archived 9 June 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ Time. "The Supreme Realist". 6 July 1962.
  10. ^ Time. "The Cardinal's Setback". 23 November 1962.
  11. ^ America "Biblical Scholarship 50 years After Divino Afflante Spiritu".
  12. ^ Time. "The Catholic Scholars". 3 May 1963.
  13. ^ O'Kane, Lydia. "Pope: Cardinal Bea a model and inspiration for dialogue", Vatican News, February 28, 2019

Further reading

Records Preceded byAugusto da Silva Oldest living member of the Sacred College 14 August – 16 November 1968 Succeeded byGiuseppe Pizzardo