Theology & Censorship

A Surprising History, a Hopeful Future

When Cardinal Avery Dulles died in December 2008, a distinguished German theologian friend of mine who had known him for many years told me that Avery was “one of the noblest men” he had ever met, blessed with a holy readiness to listen to every side of an argument or discussion. Neither my friend nor I knew at the time of a “discussion” Dulles had had with certain diocesan authorities shortly before the publication of his influential 1974 book Models of the Church. The case may offer a useful object lesson regarding the relationship between official teaching and theology—an issue raised recently by two controversies to which I shall later return.

In 1971, then-Fr. Dulles had published The Survival of Dogma: Faith, Authority, and Dogma in a Changing World, a book that aimed “to achieve a general vision of the dialectical interpenetration between stability and change, fidelity and initiative, in the areas of faith, authority, and dogma.” The Survival of Dogma had borne a nihil obstat and an imprimatur, and when preparing to publish Models of the Church, Dulles expected to follow the same procedure. With his superior’s permission, in January 1973 he again negotiated a contract with John J. Delaney at Doubleday. He asked Francis A. Sullivan, SJ, the distinguished professor of ecclesiology at the Gregorian University in Rome, to read the manuscript. Sullivan made some useful suggestions,...

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About the Author


Leo J. O’Donovan, SJ, a frequent contributor to Commonweal, is president emeritus of Georgetown University.