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Avery Dulles, RIP

Word has come down that Cardinal Avery Dulles, SJ, one of the great figures of the Catholic Church, certainly in the United States, died this morning in the Jesuit infirmary at Fordham.He was 90, and his generally good health had begun to fail of late. America's blog has the announcement. I wasalwaysas impressed with Father Dulles'characterand his faith as I was by what I knew of hiswork, in large part becausehe was also a convert--like me--but also unfailingly kind--which I am not.I will leave it to others who knew him well and who are far more expert in his theology to comment, or better still, towrite more eloquent and instructive posts.For now, requiescat in pace, and AMDG. UPDATE: America has also posted an archive of Dulles' articles in the magazine and an interview with him. Pope Benedict XVI made a special side trip during his April visit to the US to greet Dulles, whose health had begun to fail largely due to the effects of childhood polio.Avery Dulles and Pope Benedict XVI

About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.



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Although I never had the pleasure of meeting Cardinal Dulles in person, I think of him as one of my teachers because I've learned so much from his books and articles. Surely he was one of the great servants of the church of our time.

Here's the reflection I sent to "Commonweal" when Avery Dulles received the red hat.About a decade ago colleagues and former students of Avery Dulles published a volume in tribute to him on the occasion of his seventieth birthday. The books title, Faithful Witness, both defined what the chief task of theology is and expressed our gratitude for Fr. Dulles example in fulfilling it. And now we have papal confirmation of our high regard for him.Pope John Paul II has followed the example of Pope Paul VI and honored the work of a few theologians by naming them to the College of Cardinals. To the names of Congar, Danilou, de Lubac, Grillmeier, Pavan, and von Balthasar can now be added that of Fr. Avery Dulles, S.J., the first U.S. theologian to be so honored. Friends, colleagues and admirers are delighted, and among their not entirely negligible joys they await the day when they can see him in procession among his fellow cardinals, most of whom are plumper, dressed in cardinalatial finery, settling the question what Abraham Lincoln would have looked like in scarlet.The popes action crowns Fr. Dulles long life as a theologian in the service of the Church. His work has largely been marked by a commitment to conversation, which, of course, involves listening as much as it does speaking. And he has been a good listener, first, in the sense that he has attended to the voices of the past in large works on the history of theology, to separated Christians in several ecumenical dialogues, and to fellow Catholics in analyses of post-conciliar Church life and theology. Sympathetic listening was also one of the rules which Fr. Dulles learned from St. Ignatius Loyola at the beginning of the Spiritual Exercises: Let it be presupposed that every good Christian is more ready to save his neighbors proposition than to condemn it. This assumption is the opposite of the odium theologicum that too often poisons the atmosphere of the Church.Fr. Dulles even made the Ignatian rule the basis of a method he made popular in Catholic theology: an analysis of diversity in terms of models, conceptual frameworks, often image-based, which orient and articulate a certain understanding of a reality or doctrine of the faith. Lying behind more particular differences of opinion in the Church often are differences at these prior levels; and an exploration of the more basic differences can encourage modesty and promote mutual understanding and communication, at least if proponents of any one model recognize that no single approach can exhaust the mysteries of the faith. Then none of the models is dismissed out of hand, each having its strengths; and none becomes all-determining, each having its weaknesses. Fr. Dulles has excelled at this type of analysis, and he has refrained from constructing any grand theological synthesis of his own, perhaps out of modesty, perhaps especially out of his great respect for the divine transcendence.The most famous of his books is Models of the Church (1974) in which he described five theoretical approaches to the Church: as institution, communion, sacrament, herald, and servant. His own sympathies at the time seemed to be with the sacrament-model. But in the early 1980s he offered a sixth model, the Church as a community of disciples, which he thought retained the strengths of the other models and was especially appropriate in the circumstances of the Churchs life as a cognitive minority in the contemporary world. The analogy was with the community of disciples stumbling after Jesus during his ministry, and the focus fell on the distinctiveness of the faith required and the counter-cultural challenge it represented.Fr. Dulles says he borrowed the new image from Pope John Paul IIs first encyclical, and for the last twenty years he has been a firm and articulate defender of the present popes teachings and pastoral undertakings. Whereas he once was criticized as a relativist from the right, now some people speak of a conservative shift in his theology; but anyone acquainted with his thought over the years has to admit that respect for the tradition and for the Churchs doctrinal integrity are nothing new in him. It was sometimes said of him, decades ago, that he tended to be conservative when among liberals and liberal when among conservatives. This was always, I think, more than simple impish desire to prevent anyone from becoming too comfortable in his stance. If today he seems often to find it more urgent to be conservative, that is probably in part because he thinks it is a certain liberal paradigm that most needs to be challenged, at least in theological circles. Perhaps his own example might lead us to question the adequacies of these categories altogether, since they are often used as an excuse not to follow St. Ignatius rule, which, it turns out, is not as easy to follow as it might seem.

Father Komonchak, many thanks for that. Jim Martin has posted a personal reminiscence at America that also seems to capture the Avery Dulles character quite well.Here's the link:

You all might be interested that with Avery Dulles' approval and cooperation, Patrick Carey, of Marquette University, has been working on a biography of the Cardinal for the last few years.Jim Martin says in his tribute that Avery was modest about the airport named after his father, but when I first arrived at CUA, Avery drove a car that had a rear bumper sticker that read "Fly Dulles!" The car was a big boat of a thing, and rumor had it that he had inherited it from his Uncle Allen, former head of the CIA. We all wondered what armor it might bear.

There is a fine, well-informed obituary in the London Times:

thank you, David G. and Fr. Komonchak, for the links to the reminiscence and obituary. Both are excellent.Just a few random thoughts. I first encountered then-Fr. Dulles' writings as an undergraduate, when Models of the Church was assigned as a text for an ecclesiology class. In retrospect, I wasn't ready for it - I needed a better grounding in scripture, theology, and the history and contemporary issues in the church to appreciate its clarity and synthesis. I re-read it about twenty years later and came away with a fuller appreciation of how he was able to pull together strands of thought from many different sources and eras and weave it into something coherent and even beautiful.He had a very systematic and organized approach to whatever topic he was elucidating. The intuitive, poetic leap wasn't for him. He thought in outlines and bullets. His approach would be that there are five aspects to topic X, and then he would enumerate them, frequently grounding them in scripture and surveying what saints and theologians had said about X in different eras. The resulting article or book chapter had a a structural integrity that was at once graceful and sturdy. And after erecting his foundation, he would use it to offer penetrating insights and occasionally a sharp comment.When he was elevated to cardinal despite not being the bishop of a major see, the lack of precedent was striking. I wish it was itself a precedent, and other worthy servants from outside the episcopacy - whether lay, religious or clergy - could receive the honor and the electoral responsibilities that come with it for those below the age of 80. There are so many men and women who are deserving, and the church would be the better for it. IMHO.

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