Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of December 22, 2008
Avery Dulles, leading U.S. theologian, dies at 90
Cardinal said the Church is in dire need of renewal and we need to focus on 'how God comes to us'
BY MARK PATTISON
'Once freedom operates in a moral vacuum, it becomes meaningless.'
Dulles gave the annual Anthony Jordan Lecture Series at Edmonton’s Newman Theological College in 1994.
Past president of both the Catholic Theological Society of America and the American Theological Society, Dulles served on the International Theological Commission and was a regular consultant to the U.S. bishops.
The cardinal was a frequent lecturer on religious and Church matters well into his 80s.
In a 2005 lecture, Dulles said, “The true spirit of the council is to be found in, and not apart from, the letter” of Vatican II texts.
“When rightly interpreted, the documents of Vatican II can still be a powerful source of renewal for the Church.”
Also in 2005, he said the 1551 teaching of the Council of Trent on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist “remains today as normative as ever.” The council described the presence with three adverbs — “truly, really and substantially” — that are “the keys that open the door to Catholic teaching and exclude contrary views,” he said.
In a New York lecture on the start of the 2004-05 Year of the Eucharist, Dulles said Catholics must be aware “the Church is in dire need of renewal.”
Although “holy in her head and in her apostolic heritage,” the Church remains “sinful in her members and in constant need of being purified,” he said, adding many Catholics are ignorant of Church teachings, and a few even reject the teachings.
At the first National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington in 2004, Cardinal Dulles said that although for Americans “there is nothing more sacred to our lives than the idea of liberty” the “negative pull” of freedom from responsibilities is drawing the nation into immorality.
“Once freedom operates in a moral vacuum, it becomes meaningless,” he said.
The United States has proven successful at overthrowing tyrannical regimes, Dulles said, but seems unable to create anything more than a “moral vacuum, which is painfully filled by the demons of fraud, drugs and violence.”
He said, for example, in post-Taliban and post-communist societies “too many citizens begin to hanker for a return of the ousted rulers who provided at least a minimum of order and security.”
In another 2004 talk Dulles called for “a rebirth of apologetics,” the defence of Christian faith by reason, because “the time is ripe, the need is urgent.”
But he called for an apologetics centred on “the living testimony of believers” rather than the traditional arguments from philosophy and historical science, one focused not on the traditional question of “how we get to God” but “how God comes to us.”
“The apologetics of personal testimony is particularly suited to the genius of Catholicism,” he said.
“Such testimony invites us not only to individual conversion but to communion with the whole body of believers.”
An evening wake for the late cardinal was held Dec. 16 and 17 at Fordham University Church.
A funeral Mass was scheduled for Dec. 18 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, followed by burial at the Jesuit Cemetery in Auriesville, N.Y.
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.