Novak (novak) wrote,

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Theological Notebook: Seeing Brian Daley Again

An old friend came through town yesterday and today: Brian E. Daley, S.J., one of today's great theological historians. I got to know him when he was a visiting professor at Notre Dame, taking a semester off from his position teaching Patristics at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Boston and considering a move to Notre Dame, seeing how he enjoyed teaching undergraduates as well as graduate students. Even though I wasn't taking a course with him, we got to be friends just meeting and talking in the halls and one night, out to dinner at Macri's Deli before heading over to see a showing of The River Wild, we were telling one another our stories, particularly our spiritual/theological stories, and I was telling him how it was that I had come back to Catholicism after abdicating for some years for an exploration of Evangelicalism. I mentioned that two books in particular had given me a historical context for that American Evangelical experience and for its theology, and which had let me see it in context – a context I was ready to leave behind. These two books were George Marsden, the great historian of American Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism's masterpiece Fundamentalism and American Culture (Marsden, who we wooed to Notre Dame from Duke and who let me sit in on a few of his doctoral seminars, was taken aback when I later told him that) and a book called The Hope of the Early Church, a survey of Christian eschatologies – theologies of death, judgment, end times, afterlife – in the first eight centuries of the Church. That book was by some Jesuit whose name I didn't remember. Seated across from me at the Deli, Brian looked at me, somewhere between awkward and bashful, and said, "I ... I wrote that book." "Get out of town!" I blurted. I mean, what are the odds?

Yesterday, Brian gave Marquette's first annual Theotokos Lecture, a new lecture series recently endowed at the University, entitled 'Woman of Many Names': Mary in Eastern and Western Theology. I asked Dan to pick me up a copy of the printed version, since I couldn't make the lecture as I was finishing up with my babysitting gig with the nieces. But I was able to make it to a session this morning where he was free to meet with graduate students for an hour. I was disappointed that it wasn't better attended, especially given how lively our Patristics/Early Church graduate student and faculty community is here, but apparently it was a nightmare moment of schedule conflicts, with Professors Barnes and Golitzin both out of town. It ended up being a lively conversation with me, Ellen Concannon, who had also known Brian during her Master's at Notre Dame, Professor Del Colle and Brian, and wandered around topics of Marian piety, its development, its interaction with notions of original sin and with the theology of immaculate conception, the papal definitions, ecumenical implications and conflicts in Marian understandings, theologies of the saints and of grace and freedom. We even tied a few things into my dissertation, which I had filled him in on. Tying Marian piety and theology more firmly into theologies of the saints seems obvious, but it was one of the bigger ideas to rattle around in my head from the discussion. I'm more comfortable with the saints and their various histories and spiritualities than I am with some of the excesses of Marian devotion, and to not let the Marian stuff become something separate, but couched within the wider context of our reaction to people of great spiritual gifts made it less an aberration to me. Del Colle said something really interesting about people receiving exceptional callings or graces to particular missions, and that resonated with me, too, because a lot of the excessive Marian language sounds more like a calling to simply a higher status, and that can't be right. So. Good stuff.

Brian's visiting this semester at Fordham University, and had seen Cardinal Dulles a few weeks ago, who is now so fading that he is mostly paralyzed and speechless, the poor man. His longtime secretary knows him so well that, in setting questions up entirely as "yes" and "no" questions, he can still communicate by moving his head, and he seems perfectly lucid. But it's a tragedy for such a great theologian to be so stricken at the end, as it is for anyone, of course. All told, it was good to be able to talk with Brian again, to hear a bit of how he was doing and such. We haven't stayed in touch over the years, but for a time, when I was in my Master's, he was both a good friend and spiritual advisor, with one letter of his in particular, back when he had returned to Boston before moving to South Bend, being a major moment of wisdom for me at a confusing point in my life.
Tags: books, daley, del colle, dissertation, dulles, eastern orthodoxy, ecclesiology, ecumenical, endowed lectures, friends-notre dame era, mysticism/spirituality, old stories, patristics, teachers, theological notebook

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