Archive for the 'Avery Cardinal Dulles' Category

Avery Cardinal Dulles, 1918-2008

Now this is certainly a sad loss for the Catholic Church in America. Cardinal Dulles, S.J. passed away early this morning at Fordham University in New York. I have recently gotten to know the work of Cardinal Dulles, mostly through FIRST THINGS and Church and Society, a book I have commented on several times on this blog.  Even though I am not well read in the theology of Cardinal Dulles, I have greatly enjoyed what I have read. If you want to understand Catholic theology in simple terms from one of the Church’s serious scholars, Cardinal Dulles is a good place to start. He is easy to understand, straight-forward, and intellectually honest with his subject matter. In short, he his a scholar of the first rate. Now perhaps he is not as intellectually stimulating or creative as a Hans Urs von Balthasar or a Henri de Lubac, but Cardinal Dulles never intended to be either. He was found of saying that the last thing he wanted to be was “original”. Cardinal Dulles was a theologian who wanted to pass down to others what was handed down to him. And he did this well.

FIRST THINGS has a nice collection of writings from Cardinal Dulles that have appeared in their fine journal. You can view the list, put together by the journal’s editor, Joseph Bottum, over at their On the Square blog.

The Church will obviously miss Avery Cardinal Dulles, and the Society of Jesus has lost one of its shining stars.

Cardinal Dulles, 1918-2008. Resquiat in Pace.

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Scripture, Authority, and the Development of Doctrine

The small world of blogs that I visit regularly has been abuzz with the topic of authority and the proper understanding of the development of doctrine. It all started with C. Michael Patton over at his popular blog, Parchment and Pen. In his post entitled, Why I Believe That Our Canon is Fallible… And Am Comfortable With It, Patton (following R.C. Sproul) argues that while Scripture is infallible, the list of books which make up the canon is fallible. In other words, because there is no infallible human authority (according to Protestants) to determine which books should make the canon, we have “fallible cannon of infallible books”. In need not be said, that not all Protestants hold to this view as enunciated by Patton and Sproul.

However, this is all very confusing to a Catholic, so Fr. Alvin Kimel of Pontifications and Dr. Mike Liccione of Philosophia Perennis made all the necessary objections based on the meaning authority and interpretation, not to mention epistemology. This debate on sola scriptura leads quite nicely into the issue of authority and the development of doctrine. The debate of the canon, the nature of authority, and the development of doctrine flowing from that authority has even spilled over to the blogs, fides quaerens intellectum and After Existentialism, Light. It’s all been very interesting to read, but one gets the feeling this topic has been much debated through the years in the blogosphere. Overall, this has been a good discussion, and it should be noted that debates like this can (and often do) lead to a greater understanding between Protestants and Catholics, even if we still disagree. To summarize G.K. Chesterton, the purpose of debate is to come to the truth. We debate in order to learn and obtain knowledge, not to win an argument.

The issue of the development of doctrine also dovetails into the issue of reform in the Church. What does true reform look like anyway? Avery Cardinal Dulles takes up this issue in his Spring 2003 Laurence J. McGinley lecture given at Fordham University. In this lecture I think he nicely summarizes some of the points the Catholic participants in the aforementioned debate have been trying to make.

Quoted from Church and Society (Fordham University Press 2008):

Unlike innovation, reform implies organic continuity; it does not add something foreign or extrinsic. Unlike revolution or transformation, reform respects and retains the substance that was previously there. Unlike development, it implies that something has gone wrong and needs to be corrected. The point of departure for reform is always an idea or institution that is affirmed but considered to have been imperfectly or defectively realized. The goal is to make persons or institutions more faithful to an idea already accepted.

Reform may be either restorative or progressive. Restorative reform seeks to reactualize a better past or a past that is idealized. Progressive reform aims to move ahead toward an ideal or utopian future. Either style can run to excess. Restorative reform tends toward traditionalism; progressive reform, toward modernism. But neither direction can be ruled out. Sometimes the past needs to be repristinated; at other times, it may need to be transcended.

In any discussion of reform, two opposite errors are to be avoided. The first, is to assume that because the Church is divinely instituted, it never needs to be reformed. This position is erroneous because it fails to attend to the human element. Since all the members of the Church, including the pope and the bishops, are limited in virtue and ability, they may fail to live up to the principles of the faith itself. When guilty of negligence, timidity, or misjudgment, they may need to be corrected, as Paul, for instance, corrected Peter (Gal 2:11).

The second error would be to assail or undermine the essentials of Catholic Christianity. This would not be reform but dissolution. Paul rebuked the Galatians for turning to a different gospel (Gal 1:6). The Catholic Church is unconditionally bound to her Scriptures, her creeds, her dogmas, and her divinely instituted hierarchical office and sacramental worship. To propose that the Church should reject the divinity of Christ, or retract the dogma of papal infallibility, or convert herself into a religious democracy, as some have done in the name of reform, is to misunderstand both the nature of Catholicism and the nature of reform.

A Jesuit Call To Arms

Avery Cardinal Dulles in his Fall 2006 Laurence J. McGinley lecture compared the challenges Jesuits faced during their birth in the sixteenth century with the challenges they face now in the twenty-first. In concluding his lecture, Cardinal Dulles calls on his fellow Jesuits to regain the holy zeal for Christ and His Church that was theirs in centuries past. Quoted from Church and Society (Fordham University Press 2008):

The challenges of our day are certainly different from those of the sixteenth century, but they are, I bleieve, analogous, and for this reason, I would contend, the Society is well positioned to deal with them. Its charism is by no means outdated…

The sixteenth century, like our own, was a time of rapid and radical cultural change. That time witnessed the rise of anthropocentric humanism, the birth of the secular State, and the autonomy of the social and physical sciences. Jesuits who have studied their own tradition have stellar examples of scholars who equipped themselves to enter into these new fields and show the coherence between the new learning and the Catholic heritage of faith…

The sixteenth century, as the age of great discovery, had early experiences of globalization. Eager to evangelize the whole world, Jesuits were leaders in the missionary apostolate to the Americas, to parts of Africa, to India and the Far East. They not only sent missionaries but also trained them to present the gospel in a manner suited to the cultures of various peoples. Francis Xavier is the most famous, but he was by no means alone…

Proclamation in an accommodated style is not less needed today than in the past. The fields are white for the harvest, but the laborers are few. Who can better fill the urgent demand for priests to proclaim the gospel and administer the sacraments in continents like Africa, where conversions to Christianity are so numerous and rapid? Indigenous Jesuits in the young churches, if they are well trained, can take up the task left to them by foreign missionaries…

The sixteenth century saw the division of Western Christianity between the Protestant nations of northern Europe and the Catholic nations of the south. The Jesuits, few though they were in number, accomplished great things by their energy and heroism. Peter Faber did extraordinary work to stem the tide of heresy in Germany and the Low Countries. He inspired Peter Canisius and a host of others to go forward in his footsteps. One wonders what the Jesuits of those days would do if they were alive today to see the defection of so many Latino Catholics from the Church in the United States and in Central and South America. The need is evident; the principles are clear, but there are all too few talented candidates to take up the task…

A great weakness of the Church in Europe of Saint Ignatius’ day was ignorance of the faith. Many priests were barely literate, and the laity in some countries did not know the basic elements of the creed. Rather than complain and denounce, Ignatius preferred to build. Popular education, he perceived, was on the rise. Taking advantage of the new desire for learning, Ignatius quickly set about founding schools, colleges, and seminaries. The pedagogical efforts of the Jesuits in the past count among their greatest services to the Church. Their educational institutions, I believe, are still among the major blessings that the Society of Jesus offers to the Church and to the culture at large.

Jesuits in the past have entered deeply into the intellectual apostolate. Many were leaders in practical sciences such as political theory… The Church needs loyal and devoted scholars who will carry this kind of reflection further, in view of new and developing situations. Here again the Society has much to contribute if sufficient numbers will hear the call…

The Society can be abreast of the times if it adheres to its original purpose and ideals. The term Jesuit is often misunderstood. Not to mention enemies for whom Jesuit is a term of opprobrium, friends of the Society sometimes identify the term with independence of thought and corporate pride, both of which Saint Ignatius deplored. Others reduce the Jesuit trademark to a matter of educational techniques, such as the personal care of students, concern for the whole person, rigor in thought, and eloquence of expression. These qualities are estimable and have a basis in the teaching of Saint Ignatius. But they omit any consideration of the fact that the Society of Jesus is an order of vowed religious in the Catholic Church. They are bound by special allegiance to the pope, the bishop of Rome. And above all, it needs to be mentioned that the Society of Jesus is primarily about a person: Jesus, the Redeemer of the world. If the Society were to lose its special devotion to the Lord (which, I firmly trust, will never happen) it would indeed be obsolete. It would be like salt that had lost its savor.

The greatest need of the Society of Jesus, I believe, is to be able to project a clearer vision of its purpose. Its members are engaged in such diverse activities that its unity is obscured. In this respect the recent popes have rendered great assistance. Paul VI helpfully reminded Jesuits that they are a religious order, not a secular institute; that they are a priestly order, not a lay association; that they are apostolic, not monastic, and that they are bound to obedience to the pope, not wholly self-directed.

Pope John Paul II, in directing Jesuits to engage in the new evangelization, identified a focus that perfectly matches the founding idea of the Society. Ignatius was adamant in insisting that it be named for Jesus, its true head. The Spiritual Exercises are centered on the Gospels. Evangelization is exactly what the first Jesuits did as they conducted missions in the towns of Italy. They lived lives of evangelical poverty. Evangelization was the sum and substance of what Saint Francis Xavier accomplished in his arduous missionary journeys. And evangelization is at the heart of all Jesuit apostolates in teaching, in research, in spirituality, and in the social apostolate. Evangelization, moreover, is what the world most sorely needs today. The figure of Jesus Christ in the Gospels has not lost its attraction. Who should be better qualified to present that figure today than members of the Society that bears his name?

Legitimate Criticism

In my previous post I mentioned how, during the lecture in question, Cardinal Dulles “speaks quite highly of the role of theologians in the Catholic Church, particularly their role in formulating legitimate criticisms of magisterial teaching.” Since this is open to a wide range of interpretations, I thought it wise to quote exactly what Cardinal Dulles did say on this matter.

Once again, from the Spring 1989 Laurence J. McGinley Lecture, entitled “Teaching Authority in the Church”, quoted from Church and Society (Fordham University Press, 2008 ):

The service of theology to the magisterium can, on occasion, involve criticism. Scholarly investigation may indicate that some reformable teaching of the Church needs to be modified or that concepts that have been used for the communication of the faith are unsatisfactory in terms of contemporary science or knowledge. If so, theologians have the right and even the duty to make their views known.

In the past century or so we have seen many examples of theological criticism, some justified and some unjustified. At times the criticism has been bitter and intemperate and has produced alienation in the Church. An example might be the work of Modernists such as Loisy, Tyrrell, and Buonaiuti at the beginning of the present century. On the other hand, other thinkers of the same period, such as von Hügel and Blondel, very close to the Modernist movement, exerted a strong positive influence on the official teaching through their intellectual probing.

More recently, in the pontificate of Pius XII (1939-58), several of the most eminent Catholic theologians, such as Henri de Lubac, Yves Congar, John Courtney Murray, and Karl Rahner, cautiously advocated doctrinal positions that were, for a time, resisted by the magisterium. They made their proposals without rancor and, when rebuffed, submitted without complaint. After they had proved their loyalty and obedience, they were rehabilitated and invited to take part in Vatican Council II, where they made immense contributions to the official teaching of the Church. In view of cases such as these, it is difficult to deny that critical questioning of current magisterial teaching may sometimes be legitimate.

Theologians Contra Magisterium

This is how Avery Cardinal Dulles ends his Spring 1989 Laurence J. McGinley Lecture, entitled “Teaching Authority in the Church”:

Christianity and perhaps especially Catholic Christianity, requires an element of trust in those who are commissioned to teach officially in the name of Christ. Theologians, like other members of the Church, have no right to demand that the magisterium always follow their own opinions. In fidelity to Christ and the gospel, the magisterium may be obliged to utter hard saying of it’s own.

Under such circumstances, it is easy to protest that the hierarchy is being autocratic. The dissenting theologian will be acclaimed in some quarters as the champion of freedom, the model of courage and independence. But this reaction only raises more acutely the questions: What is true freedom? What are the proofs of courage and independence? When the current of public opinion is flowing against the official teaching, its acceptance, I suggest, may require a greater exercise of freedom and courage than would contestation.

The abuse of authority is a real danger in the Church as in any other society. In our day, however, it is not the greatest danger. Christianity is threatened by the demonic power of public opinion that refuses to submit to the discipline of faith. The tide of public opinion pounds incessantly against the rock of faith on which the Church is built. If the Church allowed herself to be carried away, or even materially weakened, by this demonic force, the prospects of Christian faith in the modern world would be less favorable than they are. The hierarchical magisterium, generally speaking, has been more effective than the theological community in safeguarding the purity of the faith against the trends and fashions of the day.

Church and Society (Fordham University Press, 2008 )

As always, this small excerpt from the lecture fails to do justice to the lecture as a whole. He actually speaks quite highly of the role of theologians in the Catholic Church, particularly their role in formulating legitimate criticisms of magisterial teaching. Although you may not get that from the excerpt quoted above.

I love it when he says – When the current of public opinion is flowing against the official teaching, its acceptance, I suggest, may require a greater exercise of freedom and courage than would contestation. This is just good stuff. And he said this at a Jesuit university!

Avery Cardinal Dulles on Dissent

With specific reference to the issue of women’s ordination, this is how Avery Cardinal Dulles ends his April 1996 Laurence J. McGinley Lecture at Fordham University:

In view of the force of the convergent argument [from scripture, tradition, theology, and magisterial pronouncements] and the authority of the papal office [John Paul II 1994 apostolic letter, Ordinatio sacerdotalis], Catholics can and should give the full assent that the pope has called for.

Because the official teaching runs against the prevailing climate of opinion and because plausible objections have been widely publicized, it is inevitable that a significant number of Catholics, in a country such as our own, will fail to assent.

Those who disagree with the approved teaching, while they are entitled to propose their difficulties, should refrain from treating the question as doctrinally undecided and should abstain from strident advocacy. Pressures for doctrinal change at this point would be futile and even detrimental, since they would provoke countermeasures on the part of Church authorities. The net result would be to divide the Church against herself.

The pastoral leadership of the Church, recognizing the complexity of the theological issues and the inevitability of dissenting views, should be patient with Catholics who feel unable to accept the approved position. While assuring the integrity of Catholic doctrine, the bishops should show understanding for dissenters who exhibit good will and avoid disruptive behavior. Such pastoral consideration, however, should not be taken as license to contest or call into doubt the tradition of the Church, confirmed as it is by recent pronouncements of exceptional weight.

Perfect. It’s worth a second, careful reading. Cardinal Dulles’ cogent analysis of ecclesiastical issues is always welcome. A reading of the entire lecture, entitled “Priesthood and Gender”, is highly recommended. Where can you find this lecture? The above is quoted from the recently released collection of Cardinal Dulles’ complete set of Laurence J. McGinley Lectures, called Church and Society (Fordham University Press, 2008).

Avery Cardinal DullesBiographical Note: After retiring from The Catholic University in America in 1998, Avery Cardinal Dulles was offered and accepted the newly formed Laurence J. McGinley Chair in Religion and Society at Fordham University. One of the duties of the Laurence J. McGinley Chair is to deliver a public lecture each semester (two per year). Cardinal Dulles still holds the Chair, although it is widely rumored he will be stepping down soon due to health concerns. The Cardinal is almost 90 years old and unable to speak, but as they say, his mind is as sharp as ever.


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