Thursday Theology #573
June 4, 2009
Topic: Jesuit Theologians--One More Time
Last week's ThTh posting was Steve Kuhl's perceptive and probing review of
Jesuit theologian Francisco Claver's work THE MAKING OF A LOCAL CHURCH. As
some of you know, Philippine Bishop Claver is this week our houseguest on a
visit to his Jesuit colleagues here in St. Louis and to his Lutheran friends
in the Crossings Community. The connecting link is Bob Bertram, who met
Claver on an earlier St. Louis visit--perhaps 30 years ago--which then led to
a chapter in Bob's A TIME FOR CONFESSING dedicated to the Philippine
Revolution where Claver is Bob's major source for interpreting this political event
of 1986 as another case study in Christian Confessing.
For this week another posting about another Jesuit, Cardinal Avery Dulles,
S.J. (1918-2008). But first I want to introduce the author of this
appreciative essay about Dulles: Jukka Kääriäinen. Jukka, as you may have
guessed, is a Finn, born of Finnish Lutheran missionary parents in the
Chinese-speaking world. So he knows two unique languages already from childhood:
Mandarin and Finnish. He contacted me some years ago about doing graduate studies
linking Christian ethics with mission theology. He had just finished his
seminary studies at the LCMS Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. We've continued
in e-mail exchange ever since.
Rev. Jukka Kääriäinen is now pastor of the Lutheran Church of the Messiah
(LCMS) in Princeton, NJ, Lutheran chaplain at Princeton University, and a PhD
candidate in systematic theology at Fordham University, Bronx, NY. His
forthcoming Ph.D. dissertation is entitled, "Missio as Promissio: Lutheran
Missiology Confronts the Challenge of Religious Pluralism."
He keeps sending me chapters as the dissertation progresses. It's a
winner. And you all can hear about it early next year. How so? Jukka is on the
program for next January's Crossings Conference to tell us what he's
discovered in his doctoral dissertation. So, ya'll come.
One of his dear teachers at Fordham was Avery Dulles, S.J. Here's Jukka's
appreciation of this teacher.
Peace and Joy!
IN MEMORY OF MY TEACHER, AVERY CARDINAL DULLES, S.J.
By Rev. Jukka A. Kääriäinen
I had the distinct privilege of being a student of the late Cardinal Avery
Dulles, S.J. (1918-2008) in the spring of 2006 while engaged in my
systematic theology Ph.D. program course work at Fordham University, Bronx, NY. I
won't bother to recount the main facts and numerous accomplishments of Cardinal
Dulles' prolific life; those are well known enough and can be "googled" by
anyone who is interested in them. Instead, what I wish to offer in this
brief essay are some personal reflections on and memories of my late teacher, in
paying tribute to him as a model ecclesial theologian: someone with an
incredibly sharp theological mind, yet offering that mind in humble service to
the Church's ministry and mission.
I first met Cardinal Dulles when I stepped into his graduate seminar on
"The Profession of Faith" in January, 2006. The class examined the history,
importance, role, and use of various kinds of professions of faith, as well as
issues related to the proper reception of and dissent to church teaching:
symbols and confessional writings, council declarations, statements of the
Roman Catholic Church, and, in particular, the 1989 "Profession of Faith." We
examined and covered a wide-ranging group of theologians and documents,
including documents from Vatican II, Yves Congar, Hans Kung, Roger Haight, Pope
Benedict XVI (when he was still Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger), and Francis
Sullivan, among others.
The seminar itself was an exercise in ecumenism and ecumenical dialogue
among young theologians (all of us in our 20's and early 30's), consisting of
myself, an Episcopalian woman, an Orthodox man, and a lay Roman Catholic man.
Given Dulles' frail physical condition already at that time, the seminar
met in a conference room at his residence. Cardinal Dulles' kind, gentle
demeanor and modest humility made a lasting impression on me. In fact, he and my
fellow classmates graciously agreed to change the meeting time of our class
at my request, making it possible for me to take a "Reading in French" class
that same semester.
I doubt I will ever have another chance to have a high-ranking member of
the Roman Catholic magisterium acquiesce to my wishes! His friendly attitude
toward us was evidenced in the tradition of taking a mid-afternoon break
halfway through class for tea, coffee, and biscuits, as well as his treating us
to dinner at a local Italian restaurant at the end of the semester.
Cardinal Dulles' deep commitment to being an ecclesial theologian, doing
theology in service of and for the sake of the Church, came through loud and
clear in various comments he made throughout the semester, of which I wish to
offer the following sampling. "It is the responsibility of the Church alone
to safeguard the Word of God." "We should not divorce proclamation and
teaching. They contain the same content, communicated in two different ways. Why
is this so important? Because it is 'for our salvation.'" "The Church's
indefectibility in the truth hinges on the truthfulness of the actual
propositions (professions) of its faith!" "Creative fidelity to the Church's
teaching," "Martin Luther really should have been made a doctor of the Church." "You
know, I'd like to be a devil's advocate in the canonization process, I
think they should restore that role!"
OK, I threw in those last two comments just to see if you were still paying
attention! Dulles' respect for Luther's theology developed during his
service on the Lutheran-Catholic bilateral dialogues, and he actually did believe
that Luther deserved to be honored as a doctor/ teacher of the Church!
Despite his deep commitment to and respect for the Church, perhaps nothing
epitomized his sober realism regarding the Church's fallenness and sinful
brokenness as when he reportedly said to another of my teachers, Dr. Elizabeth
Johnson, at her doctoral comprehensive exams at the Catholic University of
America, "We would easily forget that the Church is 'holy' unless it were written
in the creed [one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church] to remind us."
In terms of my work in that seminar, I wrote my seminar paper on the topic
of "Church Teaching Authority: Lutheran- Roman Catholic Dialogue." Perhaps
choosing that topic was a bit foolhardy, given that Dulles had long served as
a member of those very dialogues! However, my interest in and the
importance of the topic caused me to overcome any initial misgivings. After my oral
presentation and synopsis of my topic, Dulles introduced the discussion time
by a memorable few words (paraphrasing him from memory): "Yes, Lutherans
have this strong insistence upon the distinction between law and gospel. Of
course obedience to the gospel is what is most important, so whenever we sin
and fall short, the comfort of the gospel is always there to strengthen and
The phrase "obedience to the gospel" struck my ears, and my immediate
reaction was, "Obedience? No. Trust in the promises? Yes." But as I have had time
to ponder that comment, I have come to suspect that perhaps my teacher and
I had more in common theologically than I realized, transcending the
stereotypical portrayal of Roman Catholics as not appreciating the law-Gospel
distinction. After all, our Book of Concord (Kolb/ Wengert, p 164) defines faith
as "obedience to the gospel... reckoned as righteousness... because it receives
the offered mercy and believes that we are regarded as righteous through
mercy on account of Christ." St Paul also distinguishes obedience to the law
from the obedience of faith. It would have been fascinating to engage my
teacher in a discussion of these matters, but unfortunately I never got the
chance to do so.
This incident reminded me once again of the importance of "ecumenical
friendliness," of giving someone the benefit of the doubt and extending them the
courtesy of letting them speak for themselves and clarify their position,
rather than drawing premature, stereotypical conclusions. My teacher modeled
such an approach for all of us during our seminar discussions, especially
when we disagreed, and I would hope to carry that with me as a lasting lesson.
Dulles' written comments on my paper were very gracious: "Your exposition
of Augsburg Confession 28 ["The Authority of Bishops," including the Bishop
of Rome] strikes me as thorough and correct. I was pleased that you went
beyond an exposition of Lutheran concepts of teaching authority and made good
use of the U.S.A. [Lutheran-Roman Catholic] dialogues. Perhaps because I was
a participant in that dialogue, I think highly of its achievements. Your own
assessment of the current ecumenical situation strikes me as realistic."
In closing, I will always remember Cardinal Avery Dulles as epitomizing the
ecclesial theologian, someone who sought in all he did to live out the
attitude and conviction of CREATIVE FIDELITY to the Church's tradition and
teaching. From someone who gained a reputation for doing theology with an
emphasis on models and paradigms (his two most famous books being MODELS OF THE
CHURCH and MODELS OF REVELATION), I believe Dulles' legacy, at least to an
aspiring Lutheran missiologist such as myself, centers on more fully
articulating and grappling with creative fidelity, both as a model and as a challenge,
for doing theology in the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod today. In a recent
issue of an LCMS journal, Dr Leopoldo Sanchez referred to the challenge and
need to develop three Lutheran distinctives: a "theology of difference
(citing Dr J.A.O. Preus III)," a theology of catholicity, with these two factors
serving as fundamental building blocks in constructing a robust, Lutheran
I agree therein lies the challenge. To put words in my teacher's mouth
(always a perilous task, especially when the person is deceased), Dulles would
have said, "You're wrestling with the question of creative fidelity. You're
asking the right questions. I think you need to focus on the creative pole of
that spectrum." How can we, as a church body, hold unity in doctrine and
contextual diversity in mission practice in creative tension? The LCMS has
strongly, and rightly, insisted upon FIDELITY to the Church's confessional
heritage and tradition, but has not been nearly as bold or CREATIVE in
contextual application of such fidelity. What shape and form might such CREATIVE
FIDELITY take, what might that look like, in the years to come? A mere
repetition of past formulas won't do. That much I learned from my teacher, Avery
Dulles. May God grant His one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church more
teachers of such faith, commitment, humility, and intellect. That is my sincere
hope and prayer!