Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Loss of a Theological Giant

The great Jesuit theologian, Avery Cardinal Dulles, has passed away at the age of 90. The beloved theologian died yesterday at Murray Weigel Hall on the Rose Hill Campus on Fordham University in the Bronx. This is truly a loss of a theological giant for American Catholicism.

Avery Dulles, who was a convert to the Catholic Church, came from a prominent Presbyterian family that included diplomats, Secretaries of State and a director of the CIA. As a Jesuit priest, Dulles taught at Woodstock Theological Center, Catholic University and most recently at Fordham University in the Bronx; wrote 27 books (the most famous being Models of the Church) and countless articles; and became the first American who was not a bishop to be named a Cardinal.

Cardinal Dulles was the most influential and important American theologian of the past half century. As a young theology student at Fordham University, I actually had the opportunity to interview Cardinal Dulles for a class I took during my senior year called Jesuit Theology.

True to what I had heard before sitting down with the Cardinal, Fr. Dulles was a gentle man. He did not like to talk about himself; Cardinal Dulles was much more at home talking about Thomas Aquinas or Karl Rahner than about Avery Dulles. I felt honored as an undergraduate to be able to have some time with this treasure of the University and of American Catholicism as a whole. Talk about the resources available in the Bronx!

His advice to a young theologian was to read, read, read and to always remember the tradition from which the Church sprang. I have taken this advice to heart and hope that as a theology teacher eight years removed from that interview I can muster a small fraction of the theological insight of Avery Cardinal Dulles.

On a lighter note, I must relay a funny anecdote I heard the former President of Fordham University, Rev. Joseph O' Hare, S.J., tell at an event. On election day in 2000, Fr. O' Hare went to vote a short time after Fr. Dulles had completed his civic duty. When he approached the little old Italian lady in Belmont and provided identification, the woman responded "Oh hi, Father. You're the second airport I've had today!" Fr. O' Hare knew he had gone to the same woman as Fr. Dulles.

BoogieDowner, along with countless others, deeply mourns the loss of this great teacher, scholar, and Jesuit.

NY Times Obituary for Avery Dulles

*photo courtesy of Joseph Lawton for the NY Times*


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