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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., 1918-2008: R.I.P.

Truly a godly man, Avery Dulles was of impeccably WASPy heritage (his father was John Foster Dulles, President Eisenhower's Secretary of State). A deist at best, he decided to convert to Catholicism while an undergraduate at Harvard after noticing, on a dreary, late winter's day, the buds on a tree and suddenly realizing "the existence of an all-good and omnipotent God."

I played hooky from RCIA class last year to go hear Dulles speak at Fordham. Already ill, he had great difficulty in speaking so after saying a few words, turned his text over to another priest to read aloud. His mind, though, was still sharp. If I recall correctly, the Cardinal spoke, in a lecture called "Who Can be Saved," on whether or not there is wiggle room in Origen's declaration: "Extra ecclesia nulla salus" ("Outside the Church there is no salvation"). To vastly oversimplify it, Dulles argued (happily) there is but it is up to God, of course, who gets a pass.

After the lecture there was a reception to meet the Cardinal. With a little trepidation I approached him and told him I was a lifelong Anglican who was undergoing instruction to be received into the Holy Catholic Church. His eyes lit up and he beamed at me: "I am very happy for you," he stammered out. A small gesture, perhaps, but I was elated and will remember it the rest of my days.

Good-night, sweet prince; And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

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