Cardinal Avery Dulles, a Jesuit, a scion of one of America’s most prominent political families, and widely considered a giant of 20th century Catholic theology in the United States, has died at the age of 90.
Dulles was in residence at Murray-Weigel Hall at the Jesuit-run Fordham University in New York at the time of his death.
Born in 1918, Dulles was the son of the future U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and the nephew of Allen Dulles, who served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, both during the Eisenhower administration. Two other more distant relatives also served as U.S. Secretaries of State.
The future Jesuit priest was raised Presbyterian, and declared himself agnostic at the start of his student days at Harvard in the late 1930s. At the university, however, he came into contact with Catholic thought, and converted to Catholicism in 1940. After a stint in the U.S. Navy, Dulles entered the Society of Jesus and was ordained to the priesthood in 1956.
Those were the years of ferment in the build-up to the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), and as a budding theologian, Dulles reflected the intellectual excitement of that era. He taught at the Jesuit-run Woodstock College from 1960 to 1974, and then at the Catholic University of America from 1974 to 1988.
Over the years, Dulles published 23 books and some 750 articles. Perhaps his best-known book was 1974’s Models of the Church, in which Dulles outlined five different images of the church that have developed over the centuries, from “institution,” “mystical communion” and “sacrament” to “herald” and “servant.” Though Dulles regarded each as valid on its own terms, most readers in the immediate post-Vatican II period regarded the images of “herald” and “servant” as best reflecting the council’s vision, and tended to see Dulles as part of the broadly “progressive” theological outlook associated with Vatican II.
As the post-conciliar period gave way to the John Paul years, however, Dulles began to give voice -- along with a broad swath of Catholic opinion -- to doubts about whether some of the reforms and innovations associated with Vatican II had perhaps led to a weakened sense of Catholic identity.
In a 2006 interview with NCR, for example, Dulles expressed deep admiration for both Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, but added that if he had any criticism, it might be that both men were perhaps “not traditional enough” on some issues, such as the death penalty and the church’s teaching on a just war.
Whatever conclusions Dulles reached, they were always informed by deep learning and considerable generosity to opposing views. Perhaps in recognition of that, Dulles served at various points as president of both the Catholic Theological Society of America and the American Theological Society. Over the years, he was also deeply involved in ecumenical relations, including the United States Lutheran/Roman Catholic dialogue.
In 2001, Pope John Paul II elevated Dulles to the College of Cardinals, the first American-born theologian who was not a bishop to receive the honor. In a typical gesture of humility, Dulles insisted at the time that the pope meant to honor “North American theology” rather than him personally.
During his April visit to the United States, Pope Benedict XVI met privately with Dulles, in what amounted to a farewell. During that 15-minute session, Benedict said he remembered fondly the work Dulles had done for the International Theological Commission, an advisory body to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, during the time then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger served as prefect.
Dulles had a wide circle of friends, among whom he was admired for his keen sense of humor, deep personal calm, and a prodigious work ethic.
Last April, Dulles delivered a farewell lecture as the Laurence J. McGinley professor of religion and society at Fordham. By that stage confined to a wheelchair and unable to speak for prolonged periods, Dulles prepared a speech that was read on his behalf.
In that address, Dulles wrote that his aim had always been “to incorporate the valid insights of all parties to the discussion, rather than perpetuate a one-sided view that is partial and incomplete.”
“I think of myself as a moderate trying to make peace between (opposing) schools of thought. While doing so, however, I insist on logical consistency. Unlike certain relativists of our time, I abhor mixtures of contradiction,” Dulles said.
He also confirmed his deep faith.
“The most important thing about my career, and many of yours, I feel sure, is the discovery of the pearl of great price, the treasure hidden in the field -- the Lord Jesus himself,” Dulles said.
Dulles held 28 honorary doctorates, along with virtually every major award bestowed upon theologians and distinguished intellectuals. His death brings the number of American cardinals down to 16, with 13 under the age of 80 and thus eligible to vote for the next pope. National Catholic Reporter
Eternal Rest Grant Unto Him, O Lord,
And Let Perpetual Light Shine Upon Him.
May His Soul and All the Souls of the Faithful Departed
Through the Mercy of God, Rest in Peace.
This man knows how to write a letter of condolences:
Having learned with sadness of the death of Cardinal Avery Dulles, I offer you my heartfelt condolences, which I ask you kindly to convey to his family, his confreres in the Society of Jesus and the academic community of Fordham University. I join you in commending the late Cardinal's noble soul to God, the Father of Mercies, with immense gratitude for the deep learning, serene judgment and unfailing love of the Lord and His Church whic marked his entire priestly ministry and his long years of teaching and theological research. At the same time I pray 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. To all who mourn him in the hope of the resurrection I cordially impart my apostolic blessing as a pledge of consolation and peace in Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Benedictus PP. XVI
Among his many articles for the Father Richard John Neuhaus' journal, First Things, are:
Among his writings were many works for First Things, including: