hile in Tulsa, I briefly heard word of the Friday morning death of Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J. I never knew Avery Dulles personally. I decided not to even consider doing my Ph.D. with him because I did not think that he would live long enough to see the process through, given his advanced age. I was startled to discover that I was known to him, as I recounted elsewhere
, and was honoured by his willingness to simply inscribe his new book Magisterium: Teacher and Guardian of the Faith
for me, with not just his signature but even with a brief joke about my name (which I share with another – and famed – Catholic writer, for those not in the know). I had seen Dulles speak a few times, and saw him growing frail as a reed, and heard of his awful decline as symptoms of his polio robbed him of movement in his final months.
Dulles was the most famed of ecclesiologists – of theologians doing ecclesiology, the study of the Church – and therefore of particular note as I write my dissertation on ecclesiology, on Francis Sullivan, who was the other Grand Old Man of ecclesiology, though not as well known in the United States. This was because Sullivan spent his academic ministry in Rome, while Dulles was in Washington and New York, and became very well known here through both his writing and his frequent appearances on the lecture circuit. Sullivan actually served on Dulles's doctoral board in Rome, as Dulles was a latecomer to the priesthood, to the Jesuits, and to scholarship, but the two of them, along with Patrick Granfield, Joseph Komonchak, Richard McBrien, Richard Gaillardetz, William Cardinal Levada, and not least my own director, Michael Fahey, have all together made Ecclesiology a particularly American
field of theological expertise. Dulles's work was prolific, and more than made up for his "late start," with his book Models of the Church
probably being his most (and rightly) famed contribution to the study of the Church. I am going to miss him as a teacher, 'though he's been one from a distance. The clarity and breadth of his insight is a challenge to anyone doing this sort of work.
I include a number of articles, obituaries and recollections below the cut:Cardinal Dulles recalled for brilliance, simplicity, kindness
Catholic News ServiceCardinal Dulles dies at 90; Jesuit theologian made a cardinal in '01
Catholic News ServiceAvery Dulles, 90; Prominent Catholic Cardinal, Theologian The Washington PostAvery Dulles: Friend, Hero, Christian
by James Martin, S.J. for The Washington PostCardinal Avery Dulles, Theologian, Is Dead at 90 The New York TimesEDIT: An unpublished interview with Avery Dulles John Allen/NCRCardinal Dulles recalled for brilliance, simplicity, kindness
By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Cardinal Avery Dulles, a Jesuit theologian who was made a cardinal in 2001, was remembered by friends and admirers for his brilliant mind as well as for his "simplicity and sense of wonder."
Cardinal Dulles died Dec. 12; he was 90. An evening wake was scheduled for Dec. 16 and 17 at Fordham University Church, followed by the celebration of Mass each evening. A funeral Mass for the cardinal was scheduled for Dec. 18 at St. Patrick's Cathedral, followed by burial at the Jesuit Cemetery in Auriesville, N.Y.
Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, retired Washington archbishop, and a fellow member of the 2001 class of cardinals, described the Jesuit scholastic he first met 60 years ago as even then being "an imposing personality with his twang, his razor-sharp intellect and, perhaps more than anything else, his obviously profound dedication to his faith."
"He was one of the truly great American theologians, constantly renewing and deepening his commitment to the truth," said Cardinal McCarrick in one of many statements issued by church leaders, friends and colleagues after Cardinal Dulles' death.
From his early impressions of Cardinal Dulles as a young priest whose first Mass he helped organize, Cardinal McCarrick said his friend was "a holy man, totally without guile or pretense."
Pope Benedict XVI offered his condolences to the Jesuit community and Cardinal Dulles' friends and family. He remarked on the cardinal's "deep learning, serene judgment and unfailing love of the Lord and his church which marked his entire priestly ministry and his long years of teaching and theological research."
The pope said he prays that "his convincing personal testimony to the harmony of faith and reason will continue to bear fruit for the conversion of minds and hearts and the progress of the Gospel for many years to come."
Cardinal Dulles, the son of former Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and nephew of onetime CIA director Allen Walsh Dulles, was the grandson of a Presbyterian minister.
He joined the Catholic Church in 1941 while a student at Harvard Law School. He served in the Navy in World War II, then entered the Jesuits after his discharge in 1946. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1956.
Cardinal Dulles had been the Laurence J. McGinley professor of religion and society at Fordham since 1988. He also had taught in Washington at the former Woodstock College, now folded into Georgetown University, and The Catholic University of America. He had been a visiting professor at Catholic, Protestant and secular colleges and universities.
Prominent among his many writings was his groundbreaking 1974 book, "Models of the Church," in which he defined the church as institution, mystical communion, sacrament, herald, servant and community of disciples, and critiqued each model.
Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said Cardinal Dulles' "wise counsel will be missed," and that "his personal witness to the pursuit of holiness of life as a priest, a Jesuit and a cardinal of the church will be remembered."
Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl of Washington said that Cardinal Dulles' elevation from priest to cardinal was a sign of the particular esteem in which he was held. One of the rare nonbishops to be appointed to the College of Cardinals, he was named a cardinal in recognition of his service to the church as a theologian.
"He presented an authentic Catholic theology that was deeply rooted in the church's intellectual heritage and the American experience of that tradition," Archbishop Wuerl said.
He added that he would cherish the opportunities he had to work with Cardinal Dulles, whom he described as "insightful and ever kind. He had a way of making complicated and sometimes opaque issues clear and intelligible. But he also always had time to listen to others who did not have his level of theological mastery and to welcome their contribution."
Some of his fellow Jesuits recalled Cardinal Dulles for his intellect and for more mundane human traits.
"Cardinal Dulles was man of tremendous intellectual rigor whose teaching and writing contributed greatly to the vibrancy of Catholic intellectual life," said Father Thomas H. Smolich, president of the Jesuit Conference. "Yet for a man with so many gifts, he never viewed himself as anything more than a poor servant of Christ."
Jesuit Father Kevin Burke, president of the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, Calif., said Cardinal Dulles was among the theologians who after the Second Vatican Council brought fresh approaches to ecclesiology, the study of the nature and functions of a church.
"In addition, he began to pay particular attention to the amazing burst of theological creativity among Jesuits that appeared around the time of the council," said Father Burke, according to a release from the Jesuits.
In an article written for the Jan. 5 issue of America magazine, Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen, editor-in-chief, quoted Cardinal Dulles looking back on his own career in "A Life in Theology," the April 2008 lecture at Fordham the cardinal described as his farewell address: "I do not particularly strive for originality. Very few new ideas, I suspect, are true. If I conceived a theological idea that had never occurred to anyone in the past, I would have every reason to think myself mistaken."
The cardinal thought tradition was essential to theological development, noted Father Christiansen.
"Developments of doctrine," the cardinal observed, "always involve a certain continuity; a reversal of course is not development."
Father Christiansen also gave some more personal perspectives about his fellow Jesuit, describing his transition to a small Jesuit community in 1970 after Woodstock College moved from the Maryland countryside to New York City.
"Raised in a household with servants and having lived his life in institutions (the Navy and the Jesuits), small community was his first experience of domesticity," Father Christiansen wrote. "He learned to sew -- he had to be taught several times -- to shop and to cook. His favorite entree: Shake 'n Bake chicken."
The America article said Cardinal Dulles' lanky figure was subject to loving caricature within the Jesuit community, including a portrayal of him as the Mad Hatter in a mural of "Alice in Wonderland" painted in the kitchen of the 102nd Street Jesuit community in New York.
"A photo of the Wonderland mural hung until the time of his death in his room at the Jesuit infirmary," wrote Father Christiansen.Cardinal Dulles dies at 90; Jesuit theologian made a cardinal in '01
By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Cardinal Avery Dulles, a Jesuit theologian who was made a cardinal in 2001, died Dec. 12 at the Jesuit infirmary in New York, Murray-Weigel Hall. A cause of death was not released but he had been in poor health. He was 90 years old.
Cardinal Dulles had been the oldest living U.S. cardinal. His death was announced by the New York-based Jesuit provincial's office. Funeral arrangements were pending.
His death "brings home to God a great theologian and a totally dedicated servant of the church," said Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, president of the U.S. bishops.
"I am deeply saddened at the loss of a personal friend, but I rejoice in the hope that now he sees clearly what he explored so well in his studies on revelation, on grace and on the nature of the church and the papal office," he said in a statement.
Cardinal Dulles gave what was described as a farewell address in April, delivering the Laurence J. McGinley lecture at Jesuit-run Fordham University. In the presentation Cardinal Dulles reconfirmed his faith, his orthodoxy, his spirituality and his commitment to the Society of Jesus.
He also offered a final word against the materialism, relativism, subjectivism, hedonism, scientism and superficial anti-intellectualism he said is found in modern society.
Later that month he had a private meeting with Pope Benedict XVI during the pontiff's visit to New York.
"It was a lovely meeting," said Dominican Sister Anne-Marie Kirmse, the cardinal's executive assistant for the past 20 years. "The pope literally bounded into the room with a big smile on his face," she told Catholic News Service.
The session was called a significant meeting of "two of the leading Catholic theologians who interpreted Vatican II for a generation," by Father James Massa, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Secretariat of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.
Father Massa said Dec. 12 that Cardinal Dulles was a "reliable and faithful interpreter" of the Second Vatican Council for "a generation of priests, scholars and faithful."
Pope John Paul II, who began the practice of naming as cardinals priest-theologians who were already past age 80 and therefore ineligible to vote in a conclave, included Cardinal Dulles in the group of cardinals created in 2001.
Cardinal Dulles, the son of former Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and nephew of onetime CIA director Allen Walsh Dulles, both of whom served in the Eisenhower administration, became known in his own right for his groundbreaking 1974 work "Models of the Church" -- one of 22 books published under his name -- in which he defined the church as institution, mystical communion, sacrament, herald, servant and community of disciples, and critiqued each.
Born Aug. 24, 1918, Cardinal Dulles was the grandson of a Presbyterian minister. He joined the Catholic Church as a young man after he went through a period of unbelief.
"In becoming a Catholic, I felt from the beginning that I was joining the communion of the saints," he said at a 2004 lecture in New York on author C.S. Lewis. "I found great joy at the sense of belonging to a body of believers that stretched across the face of the globe."
He entered the Catholic Church in 1941 while a student at Harvard Law School. He served in the Navy in World War II, then entered the Jesuits after his discharge in 1946. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1956.
Cardinal Dulles had been the Laurence J. McGinley professor of religion and society at Fordham since 1988. He also had taught in Washington at the former Woodstock College, now folded into Georgetown University, in 1960-74, and The Catholic University of America, 1974-88. He had also been a visiting professor at Catholic, Protestant and secular colleges and universities.
Past president of both the Catholic Theological Society of America and the American Theological Society, Cardinal Dulles served on the International Theological Commission and as a member of the U.S. Lutheran-Roman Catholic dialogue. He also served as a consultant to the U.S. bishops' Committee on Doctrine.
His awards include the Croix de Guerre, the Cardinal Spellman Award for distinguished achievement in theology, the Boston College Presidential Bicentennial Award, the Christus Magister Medal from the University of Portland, the Religious Education Forum Award from the National Catholic Educational Association, America magazine's Campion Award, the F. Sadlier Dinger Award for contributions to catechetical ministry, the Cardinal Gibbons Award from Catholic University, the John Carroll Society Medal, the Jerome Award from the Roman Catholic Library Association of America, Fordham's Founders Award, and more than 30 honorary doctorates.
Cardinal Dulles had two other relatives who served as secretary of state: great-grandfather John W. Foster and great-uncle Robert Lansing.
The cardinal was a frequent lecturer on religious and church matters well into his 80s.
In a 2005 lecture, Cardinal Dulles said, "The true spirit of the council is to be found in, and not apart from, the letter" of Vatican II texts. "When rightly interpreted, the documents of Vatican II can still be a powerful source of renewal for the church."
Also in 2005, he said the 1551 teaching of the Council of Trent on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist "remains today as normative as ever." The council described the presence with three adverbs -- "truly, really and substantially" -- that are "the keys that open the door to Catholic teaching and exclude contrary views," he said.
In a New York lecture on the start of the 2004-05 Year of the Eucharist, Cardinal Dulles said Catholics must be aware "the church is in dire need of renewal." Although "holy in her head and in her apostolic heritage," the church remains "sinful in her members and in constant need of being purified," he said, adding many Catholics are ignorant of church teachings, and a few even reject the teachings.
At the first National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington in 2004, Cardinal Dulles said that although for Americans "there is nothing more sacred to our lives than the idea of liberty" the "negative pull" of freedom from responsibilities is drawing the nation into immorality.
"Once freedom operates in a moral vacuum, it becomes meaningless," he said. The United States has proven successful at overthrowing tyrannical regimes, Cardinal Dulles said, but seems unable to create anything more than a "moral vacuum, which is painfully filled by the demons of fraud, drugs and violence."
He said, for example, in post-Taliban and post-communist societies "too many citizens begin to hanker for a return of the ousted rulers who provided at least a minimum of order and security."
In another 2004 talk Cardinal Dulles called for "a rebirth of apologetics," the defense of Christian faith by reason, because "the time is ripe, the need is urgent."
But he called for an apologetics centered on "the living testimony of believers" rather than the traditional arguments from philosophy and historical science, one focused not on the traditional question of "how we get to God" but "how God comes to us."
"The apologetics of personal testimony is particularly suited to the genius of Catholicism," he said. "Such testimony invites us not only to individual conversion but to communion with the whole body of believers."
At the annual Red Mass for the legal profession in Washington in 2003, the cardinal said in his homily that while they cannot legislate virtue, they should have "a sense of the importance of moral convictions and moral training for the health of our society." He stressed that "law and spirit belong together" and are "as inseparable as body and soul."
"Law, at least civil law, is a human achievement," Cardinal Dulles said, "but the spirit, if it is to be upright, depends chiefly upon the grace of God who can transform hearts and fill them with his love."
At an 80th birthday Mass in his honor in 1998, then-Father Dulles told the assembly, "My own adult life has constantly revolved about faith. ... Even in my days as an undergraduate student, my interest was absorbed in the search for faith."Obituaries
Avery Dulles, 90; Prominent Catholic Cardinal, Theologian
By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 14, 2008; Page C08
Cardinal Avery Dulles, 90, a former professor at Catholic University who was born into a family of elite Protestant diplomats and became one of the country's most prominent Catholic theologians, died Dec. 12 at an infirmary at Fordham University in New York. Stricken with polio when young, he had post-polio syndrome, which led to progressive muscular and pulmonary deterioration.
Cardinal Dulles, who was appointed to the College of Cardinals by Pope John Paul II in 2001, was the first academic to be named to the Catholic Church's highest advisory council, as well as the first who had never served as a bishop.
Cardinal Dulles, a very tall and thin figure, was known for his unusual spiritual journey and came to be considered a calm statesman of Catholicism during a time of great turmoil.
Through more than 20 books and 800 articles, he articulated a conservative if tolerant case for Catholicism and the church's positions on contraception, sexuality, the role of women and clergy sex abuse. He served as a bridge between the Vatican and the more liberal American Catholic dissidents after the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s. In his later years, he was seen more as an advocate of orthodoxy and said church sanctions against priests charged in sex abuse scandals were too extreme.
He was the son of former secretary of state John Foster Dulles, who served under President Dwight D. Eisenhower. His uncle, Allen Dulles, was CIA director from 1953 to 1961.
Cardinal Dulles wrote and spoke often of his conversion to Catholicism, a faith still looked at skeptically by many Protestants in 1940, when he joined the church. Among the skeptics was his father, who was initially embarrassed about his son's religious path but later reconciled with him.
Avery Robert Dulles was born Aug. 24, 1918, in Auburn, N.Y., and grew up in a patrician Presbyterian family. His grandfather was a Presbyterian minister, and a great-grandfather and great-uncle had both served as secretaries of state.
Cardinal Dulles, who wrote about his spiritual journey in his autobiographical "A Testimonial to Grace" (1946), considered himself an agnostic when he entered Harvard College in the 1930s. He was drawn to Catholicism by his readings of the poet Dante Alighieri and the Catholic philosopher Saint Thomas Aquinas. The concept of objective moral standards appealed to him, but his spiritual quest was crystallized during a walk in Cambridge, Mass., when he looked at nature and began to see a governing purpose to the world.
"It was a matter of becoming aware of this reality behind everything that existed," he said in a 2001 interview in the New York Times Magazine. "That evening when I got back to my room, I think I prayed for the first time."
After graduating from Harvard in 1940, he served in the Navy during World War II and attended Harvard Law School for a few semesters before entering the Society of Jesus in 1946. He was ordained a Jesuit priest in 1956.
He received a doctorate in theology in 1960 from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and taught at Woodstock College, a now-closed seminary in Maryland, from 1960 to 1974. He was a theology professor at Catholic University from 1974 to 1988.
He wrote and lectured on many topics relating to Catholicism, with a specialty in ecclesiology, or the mission of the church in the world. Through his teaching and writing, Cardinal Dulles became "the United States' preeminent theologian," Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl said in a statement.
Cardinal Dulles was at Catholic University when the Vatican disciplined many theologians who publicly disagreed with church authorities on a host of issues, including contraception, premarital sex, abortion, homosexuality and euthanasia. Cardinal Dulles sat on a faculty committee that defied the Vatican by recommending against the removal of a dissident theologian, but he did not speak out publicly against the church.
He said that he was opposed to the punishment of dissidents but that he could not support theologians and priests who routinely went against the church's teachings. His goal was to unify Catholics, he wrote, and to be a liaison between the Vatican and more free-thinking theologians.
After retiring from Catholic University, Cardinal Dulles joined the faculty at Fordham University, where he taught until last year. He served as president of the Catholic Theological Society of America and the American Theological Society in the 1970s and was also a member of the International Theological Commission, the U.S. Lutheran-Roman Catholic Dialogue and a consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Committee on Doctrine.
He had no immediate survivors.Staff writer Matt Schudel contributed to this report.Avery Dulles: Friend, Hero, Christian
James Martin for The Washington Post
Avery Cardinal Dulles's earthly life, which ended last week, was like something out of a Henry James novel. The scion of a fabled family--his father, John Foster Dulles, was Secretary of State under President Eisenhower--and educated at élite schools, he left his Presbyterian roots for the Roman church and, worse, the Jesuits. (Newsreels covered his 1956 ordination; the footage is now on Youtube.) During World War II, the young man joined the Navy, and won the French Croix de Guerre.
Dulles's conversion from agnosticism came during his undergraduate years at Harvard. As described in his autobiography, his turn to God was half in response to philosophical inquiry, half in response to noticing a tree in springtime, its little buds "in all innocence and meekness" following an unseen law that called to the student. His subsequent career as a Jesuit priest and theologian was, by all accounts, extraordinary. By the time of his death, he had written roughly 800 scholarly articles and 23 books; was considered the dean of American Catholic theologians; and was named a cardinal by Pope John Paul II--the only American Jesuit ever to receive that honor.
Over the last ten years of his life, I was fortunate to come to know a serious scholar who did not take himself too seriously. In October 2001, I was asked to accompany the great man to Boston, where he would receive one of his many awards, at a fundraising dinner. Before we boarded the train near Fordham University in New York, where Avery taught theology, I asked how he felt about the accolade. "I haven't really done anything to deserve it," he said. What about the books, the articles, the lectures? "I suppose," he said, "But I still feel awkward."
We arrived in Boston with barely enough time to dress in the Jesuit community where we were lodging. "Come by my room when you're ready," he said. An hour later, I knocked on his door. When he opened the door he was resplendent in his cardinal's black cassock with red piping, and the grand ferraiolo, or scarlet cape. At age 82, Cardinal Dulles couldn't reach the lowest buttons of his cassock so I knelt down to help. "How do I look?" he said with a sly smile. "As my mother would say," I told him, "you look very handsome." His patrician bearing was evident no matter what he wore; that night, the lanky Jesuit looked like Cardinal Abe Lincoln.
The next morning we caught the 8 a.m. train back to New York. (His Protestant work ethic, undimmed by his Catholicism, opted for the earliest train we could make.) Back at Fordham, a few Jesuits asked how things were in Boston; the country was still reeling from the Sept. 11 attacks. "People in Boston were upset that two of the planes that hit the World Trade Center came from Logan airport," I explained, relating what I heard the night before. Avery said, "How do you think I feel? One of them came from Dulles!"
That was one of the rare times he referred to that place, out of humility. Once, during a stay in Washington, D.C., a young Jesuit was assigned to drive Avery to the airport. He asked, "Which airport are we going to, Father? National or...?" Father Dulles said, "The other one!"
Given his lightheartedness, it seemed appropriate that, in 2001, during the Vatican ceremony when he was made a cardinal, Pope John Paul II placed the customary red biretta on Avery's head, and it toppled into the pope's lap. No one enjoyed telling that story more than the new cardinal. And he enjoyed recounting a tale from his Navy days, when as officer of the watch, he ordered his ship to fire on a German U-Boat in the Caribbean. When dawn came, Ensign Dulles realized that had bombarded a coral reef.
Avery was quietly generous to me, as to so many others. When I wrote about a topic I thought might prove controversial, Cardinal Dulles, in his late 80s, patiently read through a 400-page manuscript. He didn't have to tackle the whole thing, I explained, worried about the demands on his time. If he wanted, he could read only the part in question. "Of course I want to read the whole thing," he said. "How else will I understand it in its full context?" A few weeks later he sent a gracious note saying that all was in accord with "faith and morals." Later, in a phone call, he said the old teacher couldn't resist making a few minor corrections: Was I sure about the spelling of the name of St. Thomas Aquinas's mother? He signed off his calls with Naval precision: "Over and out!"
Avery was a model Jesuit. During a 2001 interview for America, he told me the he felt being a cardinal betokened a responsibility to accept more speaking engagements, even at his advanced age. The son of John Foster Dulles taught his friends what it means to be, in Jesuit lingo, a "man for others." Or, to use two old-fashioned words, what it means to be humble and kind. Or, in more common parlance, what it means to be a Christian.
James Martin, a Jesuit priest, is associate editor of America magazine and author of "My Life with the Saints."
Posted by James Martin on December 15, 2008 1:29 AMCardinal Avery Dulles, Theologian, Is Dead at 90
By ROBERT D. McFADDEN for The New York Times
Published: December 12, 2008
Cardinal Avery Dulles, a scion of diplomats and Presbyterians who converted to Roman Catholicism, rose to pre-eminence in Catholic theology and became the only American theologian ever appointed to the College of Cardinals, died today died Friday morning at Fordham University in the Bronx. He was 90. His death, at the Jesuit infirmary at the university, was confirmed by the New York Province of the Society of Jesus in Manhattan.
Cardinal Dulles, a professor of religion at Fordham University for the last 20 years, was a prolific author and lecturer and an elder statesman of Catholic theology in America. He was also the son of John Foster Dulles, the secretary of state under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and the nephew of Allen Dulles, who guided European espionage during World War II and later directed the Central Intelligence Agency.
A conservative theologian in an era of liturgical reforms and rising secularism, Cardinal Dulles wrote 27 books and 800 articles, mostly on theology; advised the Vatican and America’s bishops, and staunchly defended the pope and his church against demands for change on abortion, artificial birth control, priestly celibacy, the ordination of women and other issues.
His task as a theologian, the Cardinal often said, was to honor diversity and dissent but ultimately to articulate the traditions of the church and to preserve Catholic unity.
When Pope John Paul II designated dozens of new cardinals in early 2001, there were three from the United States. Archbishops Edward M. Egan of New York and Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington were unsurprising choices; it is common for heads of archdioceses to be given red hats. But the selection of Father Dulles was extraordinary. Although his was an influential voice in American Catholicism, he was not even a bishop, let alone an archbishop.
The appointment was widely seen as a reward for his loyalty to the pope, but also an acknowledgment of his work in keeping lines of communication open between the Vatican and Catholic dissenters in America. Cardinal Dulles considered it an honorary appointment. He was 82, two years past the age of voting with other cardinals in electing a new pope.
His investiture with 43 other scarlet-robed cardinals in Rome on Feb. 21, 2001, almost came unstuck. The last to step up to the pope’s golden throne to receive his biretta, the red silk hat of office, Cardinal Dulles approached with his cane, knelt and was accoutered. But as he embraced the pope, his biretta fell to the ground: a humbling at the great moment, he recalled wryly.
He carried the cane because of a recurrence of polio contracted while serving in the Navy in World War II. The polio had left him unable to walk for a time, but the symptoms had disappeared. They reappeared about a decade ago, affecting his leg muscles, and became progressively worse. About a year ago, his arms and throat were affected, leaving him unable to speak. Thus, his farewell address at Fordham last April was delivered by the university’s former president, the Rev. Joseph O’Hare.
Cardinal Dulles was typically self-deprecating, and soft-spoken, a bit awkward: a lanky, 6-foot 2-inch beanpole with a high forehead, a shock of dark hair going gray and a gaunt face with sharp features. Abraham Lincoln without the beard came to mind.
His spiritual passage to Catholicism was like a fable. A young scholar with a searching mind, he stirred from his establishment Presbyterian family to face questions of faith and dogma. By the time he entered Harvard in 1936, he was an agnostic.
In his second book, “A Testimonial to Grace,” a 1946 account of his conversion, Cardinal Dulles said his doubts about God on entering Harvard were not diminished by his studies of medieval art, philosophy and theology. But on a gray February day in 1939, strolling along the Charles River in Cambridge, he saw a tree in bud and experienced a profound moment.
“The thought came to me suddenly, with all the strength and novelty of a revelation, that these little buds in their innocence and meekness followed a rule, a law of which I as yet knew nothing,” he wrote. “That night, for the first time in years, I prayed.”
His conversion in 1940, the year he graduated from Harvard, shocked his family and friends, he said, but he called it the best and most important decision of his life.
He joined the Jesuits and went on to a career as a major Catholic thinker that spanned five decades.
His tenure coincided with broad shifts in theological ideas as well as sweeping changes brought on by the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. These provided new understandings of how the church, after centuries of isolation from modern thought and even hostility to it, should relate to other faiths and to religious liberty in an age when the church was gaining millions of new followers in diverse cultures.
Cardinal Dulles devoted much of his scholarship to interpretations of the Vatican Council’s changes, which he said had been mistaken by some theologians as a license to push in democratic directions. The church, he counseled, should guard its sacred teachings against secularism and modernization.
“Christianity,” he said in a 1994 speech, “would dissolve itself if it allowed its revealed content, handed down in tradition, to be replaced by contemporary theories.”
Theological and academic colleagues, including many who disagreed with him, said Cardinal Dulles had set high standards of intellectual integrity, fairness in judgments and lucidity in lectures, essays and books. They said his was often a voice of mediation between the church and American Catholics who challenged church teachings.
In “The Reshaping of Catholicism” (Harper & Row, 1988), he wrote that the Vatican Council had acknowledged the possibility that the church could fall into serious error and might require reform, that the laity had a right to an active role and that the church needed to respect regional and local differences. But he also emphasized that “a measure of conservatism is inseparable from authentic Christianity.”
Avery Robert Dulles was born in Auburn, N.Y., on Aug. 24, 1918, the son of John Foster and Janet Pomeroy Avery Dulles. His family was steeped in public service. Besides his father, who was secretary of state from 1953 to 1959, and uncle, who directed the C.I.A. from 1953 to 1961, his great-grandfather, John Watson Foster, was secretary of state under President Benjamin Harrison, and a great-uncle, Robert Lansing, held the post under President Woodrow Wilson. Avery’s grandfather, Allen Macy Dulles, was a Presbyterian theologian and co-founder of the American Theological Society.
Avery Dulles attended primary schools in New York City and private secondary schools in Switzerland and New England, but had no strict Presbyterian upbringing.
He attended Harvard Law School for a year and a half before joining the Naval Reserve as a World War II intelligence officer. In 1946, he joined the Society of Jesus, began training for the priesthood and was ordained in 1956 by Cardinal Francis Spellman of New York.
He took a doctorate in theology at the Gregorian University in Rome in 1960, taught at Woodstock College in Maryland from 1960 to 1974 and at the Catholic University of America in Washington from 1974 to 1988, then joined the faculty at Fordham as the Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society.
Cardinal Dulles served as president of the Catholic Theological Society of America in 1975-76 and of the American Theological Society in 1978-79. His books include “Models of the Church,” (Doubleday, 1974), a theological best-seller that appeared in many languages; “A Church to Believe In: Discipleship and the Dynamics of Freedom,” (Crossroad, 1982) on American Catholic theological concerns, and “The Splendor of Faith: The Theological vision of Pope John Paul II,” (Crossroads, 1999).
The cardinal is survived by eight nieces and nephews. His brother, John Watson Foster Dulles, an author and professor, died in San Antonio on June 23, and a sister, Lillias Pomeroy Dulles Hinshaw, died in 1987. Cardinal Dulles remained an active voice in the church into the new century, responding when the church confronted sexual abuse scandals involving hundreds of priests in the United States. After the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops adopted a national policy barring from ministerial duties any priest who had ever sexually abused a minor, Cardinal Dulles said the policy ignored priests’ rights of due process.
“In their effort to protect children, to restore public confidence in the church as an institution and to protect the church from liability suits, the bishops opted for an extreme response,” he said. He noted that the policy imposed a “one-size-fits-all” punishment, even if an offense was decades old and had not been repeated. “Such action seems to reflect an attitude of vindictiveness to which the church should not yield.”An unpublished interview with Avery Dulles
All Things Catholic by John L. Allen, Jr.
Friday, December 19, 2008 - Vol. 8, No. 13
Tributes to Cardinal Avery Dulles, who died last week at the age of 90, have already been penned by people who knew him far better than I did, and who are in a much stronger position to assess his theological legacy. At that level, all I can add to what's already been written is "amen."
What I can contribute to the mix of remembrances, however, are the contents of a previously unpublished interview I had with Dulles two years ago, in October 2006, as part of the research for my forthcoming book on "Megatrends in Catholicism."
I had met Dulles in person only once before, in a spot not exactly conducive to forming deep bonds of intimacy. It was high atop the Jesuit curia building in Rome, overlooking St. Peter's Square, at the time of his installation as a member of the College of Cardinals in 2001. He had agreed to sandwich in a brief interview with me between scrums of TV crews. (To be honest, I think he did so only because his master of ceremonies for that string of events was his fellow New York Jesuit Fr. Keith Pecklers, a professor of liturgy in Rome and a mutual friend.) Nonetheless, when I asked Dulles for an extended interview some five years later, he instantly recalled our meeting on that occasion - a touch of the legendary Dulles graciousness. He invited me to come out to his office on Fordham's Bronx campus to spend a leisurely fall morning talking about the future of Catholicism.
As things turned out, God called Dulles home before the book appeared, so this seems an appropriate moment to share what may have been among his last lengthy, forward-looking reflections.
* * *
I began by explaining the gist of my project, which is to identify the most important forces shaping the future of the Catholic church over the next 100 years. Dulles did not hesitate to offer his candidate: "The internal solidification of Catholicism," he said, a project that Dulles said began under Pope John Paul II and continues under Pope Benedict XVI.
I pressed Dulles to explain what he meant.
"Restoring clarity where there had been confusion in the period following the Second Vatican Council," Dulles said. "Rebuilding a strong sense of Catholic identity, including a clear repudiation of the notion that church history can be divided into a 'before' and 'after' Vatican II. You can see this working itself out today in theology, in liturgy, in religious life … both popes have emphasized the organic connection between the 'now' of the church and what came before."
Interestingly, Dulles hazarded the guess that this "internal solidification," as it plays out over the next half-century or so, might carry the church back to different positions on some matters than those taken by the popes who unleashed it.
Specifically, Dulles said, his hunch was that the church may ultimately return to a "more traditional posture" on both the death penalty and the idea of a "just war." Recent popes, Dulles conceded, beginning with John XXIIII, seem to have taken quasi-abolitionist positions on both matters. Yet used sparingly and with safeguards to protect the interests of justice, Dulles argued, both the death penalty and war have, over the centuries, been recognized by the church as legitimate, sometimes even obligatory, exercises of state power. The momentum of "internal solidification," he said, may lead to some reconsideration of these social teachings.
As a thought exercise, I challenged Dulles.
Let's assume, I said, that this internal solidification succeeds, and that 50 years from now ferment around questions such as women's ordination or the authority of the pope is considered largely passé. Nonetheless, given how big and complex the Catholic church is, it will always have a liberal wing. Might the steady closing of internal debates, I asked, have the unintended effect of shifting liberal Catholic energies from the ad intra to the ad extra realm - thereby reinforcing broadly progressive positions on social issues such as the death penalty and war? That seems an especially tempting hypothesis, I suggested, since those stances appear to enjoy strong support among Catholics from regions such as Africa and Asia, which will be increasingly influential in the 21st century.
Dulles paused for a moment, and then said, "Well, I hadn't thought of it that way, but you could be right." At that stage, one could sense his mental wheels begin to turn, as Dulles tapped his capacity to find something commendable even in currents with which he disagreed.
If a new wave of ad extra energy should carry the church towards greater activism around progressive social causes, Dulles said, it could also have the effect of better embodying Catholic teaching on the true nature of the role of the laity, which he described as being in the world rather than inside the church.
"The lay vocation is primarily ad extra," Dulles said. "It's about being a Christian leaven in the world, evangelizing your own neighborhood, your own family, your profession, and your social contexts. There's not really a great deal of that being done."
In that regard, Dulles said he aligned with critics of the concept of "lay empowerment" that emerged after the Second Vatican Council, which often treats the lay role in terms of ad intra functions: a lector, Eucharistic minister, director of religious education, pastoral association, diocesan chancellor, and so on. In the end, Dulles observed, only a tiny minority of lay Catholics will ever play one of those roles, however valuable they may be. For the vast majority of laity, the arena of their ministry will either be the secular world or nothing at all.
In that light, Dulles said, "it would be a very good thing if the church comes to see the model of an empowered lay person as someone doing something for the Gospel out in the world, rather than moving in the sacristy" - even if, he added with a smile, he might find some of that energy misdirected.
I then pressed Dulles about another possible unintended consequence of "internal solidification." In today's ecclesiastical politics, I suggested, proposals for internal reform are sometimes viewed with caution, not necessarily on their own merits, but out of fear that they may be a Trojan horse for a broader agenda of dissent. Thus when a group such as "Voice of the Faithful" advocates more collaborative models of decision-making, some critics take that as a wedge in the door for a broader attack on the hierarchical structure of the church.
Might it be, I asked, that if internal solidification succeeds, a new climate will emerge in which some of these non-doctrinal reforms could get a more receptive hearing? In other words, is there a possible paradox: The more "conservative" the church becomes, the more open it might become to certain kinds of change?
"It very will might," Dulles said. "Of course, each proposal would have to be examined on its own merits, but you're right that sometimes these discussions are clouded by concern over where they might lead."
If bishops felt more secure that a strong sense of Catholic identity were not at risk, Dulles said, they might feel more inclined to "tinker" with some of the internal "machinery" of the church. Dulles added that in his experience, priests are usually among the first to support lay collaboration, "because it allows them to spend more time doing the things for which they were ordained - hearing confessions, celebrating the other sacraments, doing basic pastoral work."
We also discussed ecumenical and inter-religious dialogue, areas in which Dulles had long been a key Catholic participant. (Among other things, we spoke about the "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" initiative, put together by Fr. Richard John Neuhaus and Charles Colson. Noting that some young evangelicals he met through that work had since converted to Catholicism, Dulles joked, "If things keep going like that, we won't have anyone left to talk to!")
At the time we sat down, Dulles had recently brought out a revised edition of his 1971 book, A History of Apologetics. In it, Dulles makes the point Christianity's original experts on Islam were neither impartial scholars nor specialists in inter-faith dialogue, but medieval apologists - writers from the 7th through the 14th centuries who articulated a strong defense of Christianity in light of Islamic critique.
I laid out my own take on what's happening. Since Vatican II, I suggested, Catholics have understood relations with the religious "other" almost exclusively in terms of dialogue. (As proof, the terms "inter-religious relations" and "inter-religious dialogue" are used almost interchangeably, rather than seeing "dialogue" as part of a broader approach that would also include apologetics and mission.) In part, that's because our paradigm for inter-faith relations has been Judaism, and in the ecumenical field it's been the Orthodox - cases in which Catholics are often cast as the historical aggressor, and our instinct has been to atone.
Today, however, we're facing a new world. The paradigmatic inter-faith relationship is now with Islam, and the most dynamic force on the Christian scene is Pentecostalism. In both cases, Catholics, especially outside the West, are more likely to see themselves as victims rather than victimizers - of Islamic radicalism in some parts of the word, of Pentecostal proselytism in others. For that reason, a growing number of Catholics, especially in the global South, are inclined to see relations with the religious "other" not exclusively in terms of atonement, but also self-defense.
Might that, I asked Dulles, stimulate a comeback for the lost art of apologetics?
"I think so, and in the West it's also influenced by secular critiques of religious belief, by the trivialization of faith itself," Dulles said. "For a while, we basically stopped teaching apologetics in the seminaries and in our universities, and that's left us somewhat vulnerable."
Dulles said requests to update his book on apologetics shows that interest in "the somewhat forgotten tradition of offering a reasoned defense of the faith, in light of contemporary objections," is growing. He added that he's not sure writers such as Cardinal Juan Torquemada or Savonarola, both of whom figure in his book, necessarily offer the best models for contemporary apologetics, pointing instead to masters such as Augustine, Aquinas, Pascal and John Henry Newman.
He urged today's would-be apologists to learn from the past - both the distinctions worked out by previous generations, as well as the mistakes they made.
"If it's going to work, apologetics has to be deeply respectful of the positions of others, and it has to be clearly grounded in reason," Dulles said.
"We have to show that it is reasonable to believe, that faith isn't a purely subjective or emotional stance," Dulles said. "Then we can show that it's reasonable to believe what the Catholic church teaches - without, of course, eliminating the element of mystery, as if every element of Christian faith can be proven like a geometric theorem."
As we wrapped up, Dulles gave me his direct phone number and urged me to call "anytime." He also made me promise to send him a copy of the book when it appeared, something I regret that I now will not have the opportunity to do.
"Of course," he said as I was leaving, "I hope you're talking to plenty of people other than me. Don't take anything I say as Gospel!"
Then his final thought: "By all means, write the book," he said. "It's a good exercise to think about the future of the church. But it's even more important to pray about it, because neither you nor I really know what's going to happen."
* * *
My interview with Dulles came not long after Pope Benedict XVI's lecture at the University of Regensburg, and I asked the cardinal to offer some comments about Catholic/Muslim relations for my weekly column. That previously published portion of our interview can be found here: http://www.nationalcatholicreporter.org/word/pfw100606.htm