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Avery Robert Dulles (August 24, 1918December 12, 2008) was a Jesuit priest, theologian, cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church and served as the Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society at Fordham Universitymarker from 1988 to 2008. He was an internationally known author and lecturer.

Early life

Dulles was born in Auburn, New Yorkmarker, the son of future U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles (for whom Washington Dulles International Airportmarker is named) and Janet Pomeroy Avery Dulles. His uncle was Director of Central Intelligence Allen Welsh Dulles. Both his great-grandfather John W. Foster and great-uncle Robert Lansing also served as U.S. Secretary of State.

He received his primary school education in New York Citymarker at the St. Bernard's School and attended secondary schools in Switzerlandmarker and the Choate School Choate Rosemary Hallin New Englandmarker.

Dulles was raised a Presbyterian but had become an agnostic by the time he began college at Harvard in 1936. His religious doubts were diminished during a personally profound moment when he stepped out into a rainy day and saw a tree beginning to flower along the Charles River; after that moment he never again "doubted the existence of an all-good and omnipotent God." He noted how his theism turned toward conversion to Catholicism: "The more I examined, the more I was impressed with the consistency and sublimity of Catholic doctrine." He converted to Catholicism in the fall of 1940.

After graduating from Harvard Collegemarker in 1940, he spent a year and a half in Harvard Law Schoolmarker, where he also founded the "St. Benedict Center" (which would become well-known due to the controversial Fr. Leonard Feeney S.J.), before serving in the United States Navy, emerging with the rank of Lieutenant. For his liaison work with the French Navy, he was awarded the French Croix de guerre.

Society of Jesus and elevation to the Cardinalate

Upon his discharge from the Navy in 1946, Avery Dulles entered the Society of Jesus, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1956. After a year in Germany, he studied at the Gregorian University in Rome, and was awarded the doctorate in Sacred Theology in 1960.

Although Jesuits make a promise against pursuing ecclesiastical dignities and do not normally accept promotion within the Church hierarchy, Dulles was created a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church in Rome on February 21, 2001 by Pope John Paul II. At the time of his elevation to cardinal, he was not a bishop, as is normally the case, but only a priest. However, he successfully petitioned the Pope for a dispensation from episcopal consecration due to advanced age. His titular assignment was Cardinal-Deacon of SS. Nome di Gesù e Maria in Via Lata (the Most Holy Names of Jesus and Mary). Because he reached 80 before becoming cardinal, he was never eligible to vote in a conclave. Because he was a cardinal but not a bishop, Dulles became an honorary, non-voting member of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Cardinal Dulles served on the faculty of Woodstock Collegemarker from 1960 to 1974 and that of The Catholic University of Americamarker from 1974 to 1988. He was a visiting professor at: The Gregorian University (Rome), Weston School of Theologymarker, Union Theological Seminarymarker (New York), Princeton Theological Seminarymarker, Virginia Theological Seminarymarker, Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburgmarker, Boston Collegemarker, Campion Hall, Oxfordmarker, the University of Notre Damemarker, the Catholic University at Leuvenmarker, Yale Universitymarker, and St. Joseph's Seminary, Dunwoodie. He was the author of over 700 articles on theological topics, as well as twenty-two books. In 1994, he was a signer of the document Evangelicals and Catholics Together.

Past President of both the Catholic Theological Society of America and the American Theological Society and Professor Emeritus at The Catholic University of America, Cardinal Dulles served on the International Theological Commission and as a member of the United States Lutheran/Roman Catholic Dialogue. He was also a consultant to the Committee on Doctrine of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Over his life, his awards included Phi Beta Kappa, the Croix de Guerre, the Cardinal Spellman Award for distinguished achievement in theology, the Boston College Presidential Bicentennial Award, the Christus Magister Medal from the University of Portlandmarker (Oregonmarker), the Religious Education Forum Award from the National Catholic Educational Association, America magazine's Campion Award, the F. Sadlier Dinger Award for contributions to the catechetical ministry of the Church, the Cardinal Gibbons Award from The Catholic University of America, the John Carroll Society Medal, the Jerome Award from the Roman Catholic Library Association of America, Fordham Founders Award, Gaudium Award from the Breukelein Institute, and thirty-three honorary doctorates.

Dulles was critical of dual-covenant theology, especially as understood in the USCCB's document Reflections on Covenant and Mission.

Farewell address and death

In his later years, the Cardinal suffered from the effects of polio from his youth. On Tuesday April 1, 2008, Cardinal Dulles gave his Farewell Address as Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society. As Cardinal Dulles was unable to speak, former President of Fordham University Father Joseph O'Hare, S.J. read the Cardinal's address. In addition to the loss of speech, the use of his arms was impaired but his mind remained clear and he continued to work and communicate using his computer keyboard. Current Fordham President Father Joseph McShane, S.J. also presented him with the University's President's Medal that evening. April 1, 2008 also marked the date the Cardinal's book, Church and Society: The Laurence J. McGinley Lectures, 1988-2007 (Fordham University Press, 2008) was released.

In his Farewell Lecture, the Cardinal reflected on his weakening condition:

Suffering and diminishment are not the greatest of evils but are normal ingredients in life, especially in old age. They are to be expected as elements of a full human existence.

Well into my 90th year I have been able to work productively. As I become increasingly paralyzed and unable to speak, I can identify with the many paralytics and mute persons in the Gospels, grateful for the loving and skillful care I receive and for the hope of everlasting life in Christ. If the Lord now calls me to a period of weakness, I know well that his power can be made perfect in infirmity. "Blessed be the name of the Lord!"

On April 19, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI gave the ailing Cardinal Dulles a private audience during his apostolic trip to the United States. The Cardinal prepared his written remarks to the Pope prior to the visit.

Cardinal Dulles died on December 12, 2008 at Fordham Universitymarker in the Bronxmarker.

Partial list of publications

  • A Testimonial To Grace Sheed & Ward, New York (1952); the fiftieth anniversary edition of this book was republished in 1996 by the original publishers, with an afterword containing his reflections on the past fifty years.
  • Revelation and the Quest for Unity (1968)
  • Models of the Church, Doubleday (1974), ISBN 978-0385-50545-1
  • Models of Revelation (1983)
  • The Catholicity of the Church (1985)
  • Models of the Church 2nd ed. (1987)
  • The Craft of Theology: From Symbol to System (1992)
  • The Assurance of Things Hoped For: A Theology of Christian Faith (1994)
  • The Splendor of Faith: The Theological Vision of Pope John Paul II (1999; revised in 2003 for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the papal election)
  • The New World of Faith (2000)
  • John Henry Newman (2002) paperback edition to be released in 2009
  • Magisterium: Teacher and Guardian of the Faith, Sapientia Press of Ave Maria University (2007), ISBN 1932589384
  • Church and Society: The Laurence J. McGinley Lectures, 1988-2007, Fordham University Press (2008), ISBN 0823228622


  1. Cardinal Dulles gives farewell speech as Fordham's McGinley professor
  2. Biography of Avery Dulles at Catholic
  3. Royal, Robert Avery Dulles's Long Road to Rome Crisis Magazine July-August 2001
  4. Royal, Robert Avery Dulles's Long Road to Rome Crisis Magazin July-August 2001
  5. Covenant and Mission
  6. Imbelli, Robert P. A Visit with Avery Dulles Commonweal, June 1, 2008
  7. James Martin, SJ. "Three Unreported Papal Stories." America. 16 May 2008. Retrieved 10 July 2009

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