Blog Post

Avery Cardinal Dulles Dies at Age 90

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS Staff Writer The Church is mourning the loss of one of its greatest and most revered theologians, Avery Cardinal Dulles, who died Dec. 12 at Fordham University in New York at the age of ninety. A convert to Catholicism, Cardinal Dulles was known for his staunch defense of the pope and for standing up to demands for changes in Church teaching regarding abortion, artificial birth control, priestly celibacy, the ordination of women and other issues. Most of his scholarship, such as his bestselling book, Models of the Church, was devoted to articulating the true teachings of Vatican II as opposed to theologians who be believed were using misinterpretations as a license to try to push the Church into more democratic directions. Cardinal Dulles believed the Church had to guard its sacred teachings against secularism and modernization. In a 1994 speech, he said: “Christianity, would dissolve itself if it allowed its revealed content, handed down in tradition, to be replaced by contemporary theories." According to the Catholic News Agency (CNA), he was born Avery Robert Dulles in Auburn, New York on Aug. 24, 1918, he was the son of John Foster and Janet Pomeroy Avery Dulles, a family was steeped in public service.   His father served as secretary of state from 1953 to 1959, and an uncle directed the CIA from 1953 to 1961. His great-grandfather, John Watson Foster, was secretary of state under President Benjamin Harrison, and a great-uncle, Robert Lansing, held the post under President Woodrow Wilson. Avery's grandfather, Allen Macy Dulles, was a Presbyterian theologian and co-founder of the American Theological Society. Avery Dulles attended primary schools in New York City and private secondary schools in Switzerland and New England, but had no strict Presbyterian upbringing.   Writing in Newsweek, author George Weigel says young Avery was never taken by his father’s Calvinism and admitted that by the time he began his college years, he was a “thoroughgoing skeptic and agnostic.” But, as he noted in his memoir, A Testimonial to Grace, his agnosticism didn’t last long. On an early spring day in 1938, while walking along the Charles River on a blustery day, he saw a tree in bud and experienced a profound moment. "The thought came to me suddenly, with all the strength and novelty of a revelation, that these little buds in their innocence and meekness followed a rule, a law of which I as yet knew nothing," he wrote. "That night, for the first time in years, I prayed." He converted to Catholicism in 1940, the year he graduated from Harvard, an event that shocked his family and friends, he said, but which he always referred to as the best and most important decision of his life. He joined the Jesuits in 1946 and began a career as a major Catholic thinker that spanned five decades. Ordained in 1956 by Cardinal Francis Spellman of New York, he went on to receive a doctorate in theology at the Gregorian University in Rome in 1960. He taught at Woodstock College in Maryland from 1960 to 1974 and at the Catholic University of America in Washington from 1974 to 1988, then joined the faculty at Fordham as the Laurence McGinley Professor of Religion and Society. Cardinal Dulles served as president of the Catholic Theological Society of America in 1975-76 and of the American Theological Society in 1978-79. In 2001, he was appointed a Cardinal, making him the only American theologian ever appointed to the College of Cardinals. He was 82 at the time, two years past the age of voting with other cardinals in electing a new pope. Many regarded the appointment as a reward for his unflinching loyalty to the pope and as an acknowledgment of his work in trying to keep the lines of communication open between the Vatican and Catholic dissenters in the United States. An incredibly humble man, George Weigel writes that Cardinal Dulles suffered terribly in his later years from the ravages of post-polio syndrome, all of which was born with loving submission to God’s will. “He also kept working, even after his ravaged throat muscles wouldn't allow him to speak,” Weigel recounts. “One friend, on leaving after a visit, said, ‘Avery, is there anything I can do for you?’ The cardinal scratched out on a note pad, "Put some more paper in the printer.’” His coat of arms was the Latin motto, Scio cui credidi, which means "I know in whom I have believed,” which was St. Paul's simple-yet-profound explanation to his disciple, Timothy, of why he was not concerned about his sufferings or his future. “Avery Cardinal Dulles knew in Whom he believed,” Weigel writes. “That made him the man he was, and the theologian he was. That made all the difference in an original American life that spanned more than a third of American history.”   © All Rights Reserved, Living His Life Abundantly/Women of Grace.