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Theological Notebook: The Passing of Fr. Stephen J. Duffy, and the Theology of Grace

Stephen Duffy is one of the very, very few theologians who has even attempted to articulate a careful theology of grace in print in recent years. Those who have heard me speak of a theology of grace have frequently heard me say that the question of grace and freedom – the intersection between divine power and sovereignty with human freedom – is the most difficult problem or subject in theology. People tend to think that trinitarian theology, the Christian doctrine of God, must be hardest, as it is the only subject in all human disciplines that actually transcends humanity itself, but my experience is that once you "get" trinitarian logic, it tends to come together more easily than one might expect. This intersection of divine and human orders, though, like converting analog to digital signals, is really difficult: it's the combination of the difficulties of the doctrine of God with all the complexities of humanity in their universe.

It was the theology of grace that became the truly consuming interest for me in my coursework in theology at Marquette, under the critical eye of Australian theologian Fr. David M. Coffey of the Archdiocese of Sydney. It took me three years of work to even begin to feel that I was understanding Coffey's critique of my approach to grace, arguing the whole way, while other students had simply capitualted to the established formulae of a difficult subject within the field and had then moved on. Coffey wasn't overly-pleased with Fr. Duffy's texts, but used them as the best work available for instruction. Most theologians, he noted dispairingly, who wrote about grace had very little idea of what they were saying, not having taken the time to master the subject's complexities. Instead, they wrote things that sounded acceptable and intelligent on the surface, but increasing familiarity with the question betrayed the sloppiness of the thinking: by having very few people actually specializing in this subject – and instead having most of the theological guild just dealing with it "in passing" – we've settled for a level of problematic generalizations in the field that very few professionals seem to even recognize. And yet grace – God's activity in our lives – is at the very heart of our faith and theology. And so the need for me to master the material. Ask me how that's going. That is, ask me in twenty more years or so....

March 30, 2007
Loyola sadly announces the death of Fr. Stephen J. Duffy

Reverend Stephen J. Duffy, a Priest of the Archdiocese of New Orleans and a Professor of Systematic Theology at Loyola University, died on March 29, 2007 at Ochsner Hospital after a brief illness at the age of 76. He was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and was a resident of New Orleans for the past 53 years. He was predeceased by his parents, Stephen P. Duffy and Ann Gavaghan Duffy originally of County Mayo, Ireland. He is survived by one sister, Mary Duffy Quinn and 5 nieces and nephews, Mary Theresa Quinn Wojciechowski, Eileen Quinn Cassidy, Frank Quinn, Patti Quinn Cavanaugh and Jim Quinn, all of Philadelphia. He is also survived by 5 great nieces and nephews and 1 great great nephew.

Rev. Duffy attended Corpus Christi School and La Salle College High School in Philadelphia. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy at the Marist College. He was ordained a Priest on Feb. 2, 1957. He received a Licentiate in Theology from the Pontificia Universita Gregoriana in Rome, and a Doctorate in Theology from Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Father Duffy was a professor of Theology at Notre Dame Seminary for over 20 years and has been a Professor of Theology at Loyola University from 1971 – 2007 where he served as Chairperson of the Department of Religious Studies for 13 years and was currently the Director of the Department’s graduate program. He was a visiting professor and Donnellan Lecturer in Religion at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland and a Visiting Scholar at St. Edmund’s College at Cambridge University, England. Father Duffy taught in Loyola’s Irish Studies Program at Trinity College in Dublin.

He authored 2 books, Dynamics of Grace: Perspectives in Theological Anthropology and The Graced Horizon: Nature and Grace in Modern Catholic Thought. He published numerous encyclopedia and journal articles and book reviews. He presented papers and lectured extensively both in the United States and abroad.

He was a member of the Catholic Theological Society of America, The American Academy of Religion, and the College Theology Society. At the request of the U.S. Catholic Bishops, Father Duffy served as an Official member of the Baptist-Roman Catholic Dialogue. He was the recipient of Loyola’s Dux Academicus Award in 1999, the highest honor a professor can receive for excellence in teaching and scholarship. It was noted at the time that “he has written and published two books and numerous articles which have received national acclaim among theologians for their depth and insight” and “rather than limiting himself to a narrow subspecialty within his field, he tackles big issues and major thinkers and has created works of lasting value”.

A Memorial Mass will be held at Holy Name of Jesus Church, 6363 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, LA on Saturday, April 14, 2007 at 11:00 A.M.
Tags: books, duffy, grace and freedom/nature, loyola, nouvelle theologie, obituary, theological notebook

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