Archive for the ‘Avery Cardinal Dulles’ Category


Henri de Lubac: In Appreciation — Cardinal Avery Dulles, S.J.

November 20, 2012

From September 28, 1991. Originally published in First Things, which everyone should read.


Together Rahner, Lonergan, Murray, von Balthasar, Chenu and Congar, Henri de Lubac stood among the giants of the great theological revival that culminated in Vatican II (1962-65). His death on Sept. 4, 1991, leaves Yves Congar, O.P., ill and hospitalized, as the only surviving member of this brilliant Pteiade. (Congar died in 1995)

Born in 1896, de Lubac entered the Society of Jesus in 1913. After serving in the army and being severely wounded in World War I, he studied for the Jesuit priesthood under excellent masters. During his studies he gained an enthusiasm for Thomas Aquinas, interpreted along the lines suggested by Blondel, Rousselot and Marechal. Without any specialized training or doctoral degree he was assigned to teach theology in the Catholic faculty at Lyons, where he taught, with some interruptions, from 1929 to 1961. There, and in his occasional courses at the neighboring Jesuit theologate at Fourviere (1935-40), de Lubac quickly began to forge new directions in fundamental theology and in comparative religion.

DeLubac’s first book, Catholicism (1938), was intended to bring out the singular unitive power of Catholic Christianity and its capacity to transcend all human divisions. Developing his interest in the fathers of the church, he founded in 1940, with his friend Jean Danielou, S. J., a remarkable collection of patristic texts and translations, Sources Chrétiennes (French “Christian sources”), which by now includes more than 300 volumes.

During the Nazi occupation of France, he became coeditor of a series of Cahiers du Témoignage Chrétien (Christian witness notebooks).. In these papers and in his lectures, de Lubac strove particularly to exhibit the incompatibility between Christianity and the anti-Semitism that the Nazis were seeking to disseminate among French Catholics. On several occasions his friends had to spirit him away into hiding to prevent him from being captured and executed by the Gestapo, as happened to his close friend and colleague, Yves de Montcheuil, S.J.

After the war, de Lubac developed his theology in several directions. In an important study of medieval ecclesiology, Corpus mysticum (completed in 1938 but not published until 1944), he demonstrated the inner bonds between the church and the Eucharist. To his mind, the individualism of modern Eucharistic piety was a step backward from the great tradition, which linked the Eucharist with the unity of the body of Christ. Seeking to stem the spread of Marxian atheism, he wrote on the intellectual roots of French and German atheistic socialism. He also composed several shorter works on the knowability of God and the problems of belief.

DeLubac’s most famous work, Surnallirel (1946), maintains that the debate between the Baianists and the scholastics in the 17th century rested on misinterpretations both of Augustine and of Thomas Aquinas. Both parties to the debate, it maintains, were operating with philosophical and juridical categories foreign to ancient theology. Contemporary neo-scholastics, especially in Southern France and Rome, taking offense at de Lubac’s attack on their methodology and their doctrine, interceded with the Holy See for a condemnation. When Pius XII published the encyclical Humani generis (1950), many believed that it contained a condemnation of de Lubac’s position, but de Lubac was relieved to find that the only sentence in the encyclical referring to the supernatural reproduced exactly what he himself had said in an article published two years before.

Seeking to deflect accusations against the Society of Jesus in France, which was being accused of promoting a supposedly modernistic “new theology,” the Jesuit General, John Baptist Janssens, removed de Lubac and several colleagues from their teaching positions and required them to submit their writings to a special process of censorship. These regulations did not affect de Lubac’s work on Origen’s interpretation of Scripture, Histoire et Esprit, which came off the press in 1950, just as the storm was breaking. Because of the restrictions placed on his theological research, de Lubac in this period turned toward the study of non-Christian religions. He published three books on Buddhism, which interested him as an example of religion without God.

In 1953, during his “exile” in Paris, de Lubac published a popular work on the church constructed out of talks given at days of recollection before the war. (He was embarrassed by the triumphal sound of the title given to the English translation, The Splendor of the Church, as well as by suspicions in some quarters that his expressions of love and fidelity toward the church in this book were intended to atone for the offense given by his previous works.) Pained though he was by the widespread doubts about his own orthodoxy, de Lubac was even more distressed that some disaffected Catholics used his troubles as an occasion for mounting bitter attacks on the magisterium and the papacy.

The clouds over de Lubac began to dissipate in the late 1950’s. In 1956 he was permitted to return to Lyons, where he began research for his major study of medieval exegesis, which was to appear in four large volumes between 1959 and 1964. In 1960 Jesuit superiors, fearing that the works of Teilhard de Chardin were about to be condemned by Roman authorities, asked de Lubac to write in defense of his old friend, who had died in 1955. Beginning in 1962, de Lubac published a series of theological works on Teilhard and edited several volumes of Teilhard’s correspondence. Probably more than any other individual, de Lubac was responsible for warding off the impending condemnation.

In 1960 Pope John XXIII, who, as papal nuncio in France, had gained an admiration for de Lubac, appointed him a consultant for the preparatory phase of Vatican II. As a consultant, he found much to criticize in the schemas prepared by the neoscholastic Roman theologians. These schemas, which contained statements intended to condemn both him and Teihard de Chardin, were rejected when the council fathers assembled. De Lubac continued to serve as an expert (peritus) at the council, making his influence felt on many documents such as the Constitution on Divine Revelation and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. Some of his ideas are reflected also in the Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity and in the Declaration on the Non-Christian Religions. ­

Greatly esteemed by Pope Paul VI, de Lubac was one of the 11 council theologians chosen to concelebrate with him at the Eucharist preceding the solemn promulgation of the Constitution on Revelation in November 1965. During the council de Lubac established a close working relationship with Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, who as John Paul II was to elevate him to the rank of cardinal in 1983.

For several years after 1965, de Lubac traveled widely to explain the achievements of the council. He visited the United States and Latin America, as well as many parts of Europe. He published an important commentary on the Constitution on Revelation, and in other writings sought to clarify the relationships between primacy and collegiality, and between the universal and the particular church. Perceiving the advent of a new crisis of faith, he wrote La foi chretienne and L’Eglise dans la crise actuelle (both 1969). His preoccupations with the present state of the church, however, did not prevent him from continuing his studies in the history of theology, such as his work on Pico dell a Mirandola (1974) and on the spiritual posterity of Joachim of Fiore (2 volumes, 1979, 1981).

By his own admission, de Lubac was not a systematic thinker. He never tried to articulate any set of first principles on which to base his philosophical or theological findings. Many of his books are composed of historical studies loosely linked together. Although he made forays into many areas, he never composed a treatise on any of the standard theological disciplines. In his last work, an autobiographical reflection published in 1989, he chided himself for having failed to undertake the major work on Christology that he had once projected.

For all that, de Lubac’s work possesses a remarkable inner coherence. As his friend and disciple Hans Urs von Balthasar pointed out, de Lubac’s first book, Catholicism, is programmatic for his entire career. The various chapters are like limbs that would later grow in different directions from the same trunk. The title of this youthful work expresses the overarching intuition. To be Catholic, for de Lubac, is to exclude nothing; it is to be complete and comprehensive. He sees God’s creative and redemptive plan as including all humanity and indeed the entire cosmos. For this reason the plan demands a unified center and a goal.

That center is the mystery of Christ, which will be complete and plainly visible at the end of time. The universal outreach of the church rests on its inner plenitude as the body of Christ. Catholicity is thus intensive as well as extensive. The church, even though small, was already Catholic at Pentecost. Its task is to achieve, in fact, the universality that it has always had in principle. Embodying unity in diversity, Catholicism seeks to purify and elevate all that is good and human.

In the patristic and early medieval writers de Lubac found an authentic sense of Catholicism. He labored to retrieve for our day the insights of Irenaeus and Origen, Augustine and Anselm, Bernard and Bonaventure. He remained a devoted disciple of Thomas Aquinas, whom he preferred to contemplate in continuity with his predecessors rather than as interpreted by his successors.

In de Lubac’s eyes, a serious failure occurred in early modern times, and indeed to some extent in the late middle ages. This was the breakdown of the Catholic whole into separate parts and supposedly autonomous disciplines. Exegesis became separated from dogmatic theology, dogmatic theology from moral, and moral from mystical. Worse yet, reason was separated from faith, with the disastrous result that faith came to be considered a matter of feeling rather than intelligence.

One step in this process of fragmentation, for de Lubac, was the erection of an order of “pure nature” in the scholasticism of the Counter Reformation. The most controversial act of de Lubac’s career may have been his attack on Cajetan and Suarez for their view that human nature could exist with a purely natural finality. For de Lubac, the paradox of a natural desire for the supernatural was built into the very concept of the human.

De Lubac was convinced that the newness of Christ was both a fulfillment and a gift. Somewhat as nature was a preparation for grace, while grace remained an unmerited gift, so the Old Testament foreshadowed the New, without however necessitating the Incarnation. In his exegesis, de Lubac sought to show how the New Testament gave the key to the right interpretation of the Old Testament, which it fulfilled in a surpassing manner.

De Lubac’s exegesis has often been depicted as anticritical or precritical, but it was neither. It might with greater justice be called, in Michael Polanyi’s terminology, postcritical. De Lubac practiced what Paul Ricoeur was to call a “second naivete.” After having studied the literal sense of Scripture with the tools of modern scholarship, he returned to the symbolic depths of meaning with full awareness that these depths go beyond the literal. The “spiritual” meaning transcends, but does not negate, the “historical.”

At the root of de Lubac’s theology stands an epistemology that accepts paradox and mystery. Influenced by Newman and Blondel, Rousselot and Marechal, he interpreted human knowing as an aspect of the dynamism of the human spirit in its limitless quest for being. Without this antecedent dynamism toward the transcendent, the mind could form no concepts and arguments. Concepts and arguments, however, arise at a second stage of human knowing and are never adequate to the understanding they attempt to articulate. In every affirmation we necessarily use concepts, but our meaning goes beyond them.

De Lubac was satisfied that Vatican II had overcome the narrowness of modern scholasticism, with its rationalistic tendencies. The council, he believed, had opened the way for a recovery of the true and ancient tradition in all its plenitude and variety. But Catholics in France, and indeed in many parts of the world, having imbibed too narrow a concept of tradition, took the demise of neo-scholasticism as the collapse of tradition itself. In postconciliar Catholicism de Lubac perceived a self-destructive tendency to separate the spirit of the council from its letter and to “go beyond” the council without having first assimilated its teaching. The turmoil of the postconciliar period seemed to de Lubac to emanate from a spirit of worldly contention quite opposed to the Gospel.

For his part, de Lubac had no desire to innovate. He considered that the fullness was already given in Christ and that the riches of Scripture and tradition had only to be actualized for our own day. In a reflection on his own achievement he wrote: “Without pretending to open up new avenues of thought, I have rather sought, without any archaism, to make known some of the great common sources of Catholic tradition. I wanted to make it loved and to show its ever-abiding fruitfulness. Any such task required a process of reading across the centuries rather than critical application at definite points. It excluded too privileged an attachment to any particular school, system or period” (Memoire sur l’occasion de mes ecrits).

Terms such as “liberal” and “conservative” are ill suited to describe theologians such as de Lubac. If such terminology must be used, one would have to say that he embraced both alternatives. He was liberal because he opposed any narrowing of the Catholic tradition, even at the hands of the disciples of St. Thomas. He sought to rehabilitate marginal thinkers, such as Origen, Pico delia Mirandola and Blondel, in whom he found kindred spirits animated by an adventurous Catholicity of the mind. He reached out to the atheist Proudhon and sought to build bridges to Amida Buddhism.

But in all of these ventures he remained staunchly committed to the Catholic tradition in its purity and plenitude. He humbly and gratefully accepted what the tradition had to offer and made it come alive through his eloquent prose and his keen sense of contemporary actualities. His eminent success in enkindling love for Christ and the church in the hearts of his readers stemmed, no doubt, from his own devotion, humility and selfless desire to serve. The suffering of his long years of adversity, including two world wars and decades of great tension in the church, are still bearing fruit. In the last few years, as his earthly life drew to a close, his disciples and admirers became more numerous and influential. De Lubac’s creative reappropriation of the ancient tradition has earned him a place of honor in a generation of theological giants.


Philosophy And Theology by Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J.

October 21, 2011

St. Stephen by Carlo Crivelli (1476)

Before he passed away in 2008, Avery Cardinal Dulles was asked to write an essay for a series of seminars sponsored by the Center for Catholic Studies and the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity at the Unversity of St. Thomas in Saint Paul MI. The following extended meditation on the nature of philosophy and theology was the fruit of that effort.

Among academic disciplines, philosophy and theology have a particular affinity with each other because both are concerned with ultimate meaning and transcendent truth. Both deal with the nature and order of reality as a whole and with the final purpose of human existence. They grapple with similar, even identical, questions: Why is there something rather than nothing? What is the place of human beings in God’s plan? Whence do we come, why do we exist, what must we do, and what may we hope for?

Intimately related though they are, the two disciplines differ in their method and to some extent in their object. Philosophy ponders naturally knowable truth by the natural light of reason. It makes inferences from things known by common human experience, which is available to believers and nonbelievers a Theology, by contrast, uses human reason assisted by the added light of faith understand the truth that God has revealed. But since truth is always compatible with truth, the findings of philosophy and theology must, in the end, agree.

The question often arises: how is philosophy related to faith? I am sure that is a very actual question for all of you who teach philosophy in Catholic institutions or to Catholic students. It would be a mistake, I believe, to insist on any one answer to that question. Philosophy can be cultivated in a variety of relationships with faith and theology. I find convenient to distinguish four situations, giving rise to four states of philosophy.

The first state is one of philosophy untouched by Christian faith. All the philosophy produced before the time of Christ would fit into this category. Greeks, in particular, rose to great heights in the time of Plato and Aristotle, to mention but two pre-Christian philosophers. Many Christians have sought to write philosophical works that in no way depend upon the truth of Christian Revelation. Such reasoning at its best can establish many truths that are important for Christian faith; for example, the capacity of the human mind to attain abiding truth and to transcend shifting phenomena; and the possibility of demonstrating the existence and attributes of God, the spirituality and immortality of the human soul, and the obligation to do good and avoid evil.

The Catholic Church teaches that truths such as these can be proved by natural reason, without dependence on Christian faith. (The Church does not teach that these proofs have been constructed by nonbelievers, but only that it is possible for them to be so constructed.)

Philosophy of this type does not deliver a complete and self-contained system. It ends up with some pressing questions that, according to its champions, cannot be solved without revelation. Maurice Blondel, for example, ended his philosophical dissertation on Action with the open question as to whether or not there is a supernatural. Others would say (in the spirit of the early Karl Rahner, S.J.) that philosophy can raise the question of a possible revelation, but that it cannot say whether God will freely disclose himself, still less what that revelation will contain. Will God’s final word be one of condemnation or of pardon and absolution?


In a second state, philosophy is in dialogue with Christian faith. In a Christian civilization such as that of the West since the fourth century, it is almost impossible for philosophy not to be influenced by faith. It is forced to grapple with questions on which believers have taken a definite position, but it does not allow religious faith to dictate the answers to philosophical questions.

This second category is a very broad one because it makes room for philosophers who are variously disposed toward the Christian religion. Three subcategories may be distinguished.

  1. Some are relatively orthodox; they are convinced that philosophy delivers results fully compatible with Christian faith. This would be the case with Malebranche, Leibniz, Kierkegaard, and Marcel.
  2. A second subcategory contains those who remain Christian but who bend the doctrines of faith to some degree to bring them into conformity with their philosophy. Examples might be furnished by Locke, Kant, and Hegel, who were believers but not by most standards orthodox.
  3. The third subcategory would be those who were in dialogue with Christianity but who came to oppose it on philosophical grounds. As examples, one might think of Feuerbach and Marx, Comte and Nietzsche, Heidegger and Sartre. Even though they were atheists, their views about God, the world, and human destiny were profoundly influenced by their exposure to Christianity, the religion they had deserted.

Philosophers never begin their work in a cultural vacuum. Judeo-Christian ideas and values have so permeated the culture of the West that no philosopher can ignore them. They establish the framework in which philosophers think about the dignity and rights of the human person, freedom and responsibility, the human nostalgia for the transcendent and the divine, and many such themes. Even philosophers who do not want to be Christian deal with themes like these in ways closer to Christianity than any pre-Christian thinkers.

It can, of course, be debated whether the influence of Christian culture on philosophy is favorable or detrimental. A nonbeliever might try to escape any such influence as far as possible. But it has to be admitted that philosophy has developed to greater heights in the West than elsewhere in the world. The stimulus of Christianity has contributed significantly to that development.


In its third state, philosophy operates under the aegis of faith. The philosopher is confessedly a believer, who will not admit any contradiction between philosophy and what God has revealed through the Church. But at the same time, he or she recognizes a difference of method between the disciplines and does not wish to behave as a theologian. Writing strictly as a philosopher, he affirms only what can be established by philosophical methods. This is what John Paul II in his encyclical, Fides et Ratio, describes as Christian philosophy. As an example, one might also think of Jacques Maritain.

Minimally, faith operates as a negative norm. The philosopher knows that his discipline cannot prove anything contrary to the word of God. If philosophy seems to be inclined to assert this, it must have gotten off the track. Revelation therefore prevents philosophers from making mistakes they might otherwise make. It alerts them to errors such as atheism, pantheism, polytheism, materialism, determinism, etc.

As John Paul II remarks, the contribution of faith is not merely negative. It makes a twofold positive contribution, subjective and objective. Subjectively, faith purifies the heart of the philosopher, rendering him more perceptive. It overcomes the pride and presumptuousness that so often blind philosophers, and at the same time gives them the courage to tackle problems that might seem too daunting. Objectively, it gives a view of the universe that commends itself to human reason.

It suggests answers to properly philosophical problems that are in principle accessible to reason, but which philosophers might not be able to find without the hints given by revelation. I like to compare this situation to a textbook in mathematics that has the answers to the problems in the back of the book. Knowing the answers helps is no substitute for solving the problem; however it can help the student find the right solution. So, too, revelation suggests answers to philosophical problems that philosophers might not be able to find on their own.

Examples from the field of natural theology come readily to mind. Assisted by biblical revelation, philosophy is able to establish that there is only one God; that God is wise, loving, and personal; that he is eternal, infinite, immutable, etc. The arguments that philosophers make from the nature of God as ipsum esse subsistens do not depend intrinsically on any premises from revelation. They are philosophically valid but would not have occurred to philosophers without the extrinsic help of revelation.

So likewise in the field of anthropology, philosophy is able to show that the human being has a spiritual soul that is naturally immortal. In a Christian civilization, philosophers can find a solid philosophical basis for asserting the dignity and rights of the individual person, the freedom of the will, the capacity to commit sin and to merit rewards, etc. The contemporary debate about abortion too often overlooks the foundation for the rights of the unborn in reason. The problem is treated almost exclusively as a religious issue, indeed as a sectarian one.

The field of cosmology offers many instances of philosophy operating under the aegis of faith. As Christians, we believe that the world was freely created by God and this belief has suggested to philosophers arguments that the world does not exist by necessity, as the ancient Greeks supposed, but only because of a free decision of God’s will. The universe, therefore, is radically contingent. It lacks any reason for existence in itself.

The question of evolution has been a focus of heated debate. Here, again, Christian philosophers are called to make a contribution. Does intelligent design on the part of a Creator mean that God has to intervene at particular points in the process, or can a process that looks like sheer chance from below be identical with the execution of a divine plan? Scientists, philosophers, and theologians all have something to say in this area, but they can do better in collaboration than if they revive the wars of the past.


The fourth situation of philosophy is within theology. John Paul II, turning to this situation in Fides et Ratio reflects on the term ancilla theologiae. At this point philosophers put their skills at the service of theology for the purpose of better understanding the data of revelation. The Greek Fathers and the early councils, as we know, made extensive use of philosophical terms and categories in order to ponder mysteries such as the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Eucharist, and predestination. While contributing their skills to theology, Christian philosophers enriched their own discipline.

The idea of subsistent relations, important for the doctrine of the Trinity, could not have arisen apart from theology. The same may be said for the concept of transubstantiation, much used in Eucharistic theology. Although these concepts first arise within philosophical theology, they have implications outside of theology. The theory of causality was perfected, for example, by the Christian doctrine of creation — a causal operation that presupposes nothing on the part of the recipient. Modern personalist philosophy has derived great benefit from theology. Personalist philosophy, for example, builds on the distinction between person and nature that was developed in theology.

At this fourth level, the distinction between philosophy and theology is more difficult to maintain. The philosophical theologian must be adept in both fields but still keep them apart. The same individual can speak now as a philosopher and now as a theologian. St. Thomas Aquinas, O.P., for example, wrote a number of purely philosophical works, such as his commentaries on Aristotle and his De ente et essentia. Francisco Suarez, S.J., produced the first Christian textbook on metaphysics, a purely philosophical work. Karl Rahner, S.J., composed some purely philosophical works, such as his Spirit in the World, and Karol Wojtyla did likewise in his The Acting Person.


The question may now be raised — and I put it only as a question — whether there is a level of discourse that transcends the distinction between philosophy and theology, blending them into one. As usually understood, theology deals with the contents of Christian revelation rather than with reality as a whole; philosophy deals with reality as a whole, but only without the light of faith. Believers have a hard time putting their faith into brackets and saying only what they could say if they lacked the help of revelation. For this reason I would like to think that there could be such a thing as integral wisdom, which studies the whole of reality with the tools of philosophy and theology together.

This kind of overarching worldview with the combined resources of reason and revelation does not lack a certain foundation in the Bible. In the very first paragraph of Fides et Ratio, John Paul II points out that similar questions are asked in the sacred literature of Israel and in that of India, China, and Greece.

In chapter 2, he notes that the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament picks up themes from that of Egypt and Mesopotamia. The first stage of divine revelation occurs in the book of nature, which, when read with the proper tools of human reason, can lead to knowledge of the Creator. But at a certain point human reason runs up against its limits and needs the added light of the gospel in order to transcend them. If it refuses this further revelation, reason becomes proud and turns into foolishness, as Paul points out in the opening chapter of Romans.

John Paul II seems to be pressing for a recovery of the broad concept of theology espoused by some of the early Christian thinkers. Clement of Alexandria, for example, declared that he had found in the gospel “the true philosophy,” and that “we call philosophers those who love the wisdom that is creator and mistress of all things, that is, knowledge of the Son of God.” Their philosophy, while it no longer restricts itself to the unaided light of reason, still seeks the wisdom that is the goal of philosophy itself.

Vatican II hints at this broader vision of wisdom. In the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, the Council declares that faith does not simply disclose a number of revealed truths; it “casts a new light on everything, manifests God’s design for man’s total vocation, and thus directs the mind toward solutions that are fully human.”

In its closing message “To Men of Thought and Science,” Vatican II exhorted intellectuals to see real science and real faith as friends of one another. “Have confidence in faith,” it declared, “this great friend of intelligence. Enlighten yourselves with its light in order to take hold of truth, the whole truth.”

‘Throughout Fides et Ratio John Paul II urges philosophers not to take refuge in merely linguistic or historical studies but to grapple with the great metaphysical questions that have always been the concern of the wise. As philosophy comes to deal with the true, the beautiful, and the good in their full range, it enters into closer relations with revealed religion.


Before closing, I would like to say a few words about philosophy and the new evangelization. Paul VI, in launching the program, spoke of the need for an evangelization of cultures, because cultural situations can dispose people to be unreceptive to the gospel. The prevalent culture in the West, and increasingly throughout the world, is consumerist. Consumerism, though hardly a philosophical system, has philosophical roots that go back several centuries.

Influenced by the agnosticism of the Kantian school, people have lost confidence in the possibility of gaining real knowledge about anything that transcends what the senses can perceive. They consequently write off religious convictions as arbitrary decisions of the will, rooted perhaps in the unconscious or in ideology, but in any case unsupported by rational grounds. Religion is regarded as something like music — a hobby for those who are inclined to it. In this context people look for satisfactions here and now. The majority seek to pile up wealth and material goods that will secure such satisfactions.

Pope John Paul II in Fides et Ratio calls attention to a variety of contemporary philosophical deviations, such as subjectivism, relativism, historicism, scientism, and pragmatism. Because people doubt that it is possible to get to any solid truth in matters of religion, their religion is permeated with these errors. Subjectivism means an acceptance of the idea that there is no objectively binding truth, but that people may content themselves with finding what is true for them, as though each of us had a different truth. Historical or cultural relativism means that ideas are always culture-bound.

The wisdom of the past is no longer valid for today because it was conditioned by a cultural framework that no longer exists. The teaching of Scripture and tradition, therefore, can no longer be treated as having more than historical interest. Scientism means the presumption that true knowledge and progress are achievable only by exact measurement and rigorous calculation, which are thought to be the methods of science. Pragmatism means that truth is not to be found in abstract theory but in applicability, what actually pays off, what William James called “cash value.” Religion can be useful if it makes people happy and induces them to become better citizens, but it can also lead to hatred and violence, as is obvious in our day. Religion is therefore judged by purely secular criteria.

These errors, rather than others that are strictly theological, are the principal obstacles to religious faith and to the new evangelization. For this reason I would plead with you who are philosophers to take on these tendencies and expose their superficiality. I hope that as Christian and Catholic philosophers you will feel a sense of responsibility to secure the foundations of faith.

The new evangelization, to be successful, must be accompanied by a new apologetics. To clear the way for an effective proclamation of the gospel, philosophers must help to dispel the climate of opinion that makes people antecedently dismiss any such proclamation as incredible. Philosophers might also help to work out a theory of testimony. Paul VI and John Paul II agreed that the modern world is more influenced by witness than by argument. Most people, however, lack an adequate epistemology of testimony. What are the qualities that make a witness credible? The old textbooks spoke of competence and truthfulness, but further work is needed to show what witnesses are competent to be bearers of divine revelation, and what kind of truth is to be sought in the gospel. Some good work has been done in this field, but I doubt that it is known to most teachers and to their students.

While philosophy can make an essential contribution to the new evangelization, I would like to add a word of caution. Philosophy by itself cannot account for the whole process of coming to the faith. The key element in any conversion is the grace of God which enlightens the mind and attracts the will. To sort out the respective contributions of nature and grace requires a cooperative effort on the part of philosophers and theologians together. We must not be content to perpetuate a kind of departmental isolation that makes adherents of the two disciplines strangers to each other. This conference should help in a modest way to overcome the estrangement.


Revelation And The New Testament – Avery Cardinal Dulles

October 25, 2010

Avery Cardinal Dulles

Hebrews 1:1-2
As in other matters, so in the notion of revelation, the New Testament takes up the themes enunciated in the Old Testament, draws them together, and brings them to a higher and unforeseen fulfillment. “All these writings of ancient Israel, both those which are concerned with her past relationship to God and those which dealt with her future one, were seen by Jesus Christ, and certainly by the Apostles and the early Church, as a collection of predictions which pointed to him, the savior of Israel and of the world.” The heart of the New Testament is that the definitive, universal revelation is given to mankind in Jesus, to be authoritatively proclaimed by the Church to all nations until the end of time (Matthew 28:18-20).

The Old Testament affirmation that God spoke to man “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11) was surpassingly fulfilled in the coming of God’s own Son (John 1:17-18). The best summary of the New Testament view of revelation, as related to the Old Testament, is Hebrews 1:1-2: “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.”

Revelation Is Communicated Through Jesus
In the Synoptic Gospels, which concentrate on the ministry of Jesus, revelation is chiefly understood as something which Jesus communicates through his preaching and teaching. As a preacher, Jesus, like John the Baptist, heralds the imminent arrival of the Kingdom of God. He points to his cures and exorcisms as evidences that Satan’s dominion is being overthrown and that God’s rulership is being established. In his capacity as teacher, Jesus gives more detailed and continuous instruction, especially to his chosen disciples. By faith in Jesus, the disciples are initiated into the mystery that will be fully disclosed when the Son of Man appears in glory.

Son vs. Prophet
Is Jesus regarded as a prophet? He is occasionally hailed by this title, and even (with an implied reference to the prediction of the “new Moses” in Deuteronomy 18:18) as the prophet. But the evangelists and apostles do not ascribe this title to Jesus, nor does he himself seem to have been satisfied with it. The designation fails to do justice to the transcendence of his person and of his mission-aspects far better expressed by the term “Son.” In his role as Son he has intimate knowledge of the Father that enables him to be the revealer par excellence: “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew. 11:27).

Jesus as Son is thus the revealer of the Father and his plans. The central theme of the revelation is the arrival of the Kingdom, which is understood as involving all the blessings foretold by the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms. The apostles are the chosen recipients of this revelation, notwithstanding their lack of personal qualifications (Matthew 11:25). They are freely called by Jesus, enlightened by the grace of the Father (Matthew 16:17), instructed by Jesus regarding the true nature of the Kingdom, and appointed to go and preach in his name. Within this general framework, common to all the Synoptics, each evangelist presents the revelation of Jesus with a particular nuance of his own.

Mark has been aptly dubbed by Dibehus and Bultmann the “book of secret epiphanies” For Mark the words and deeds of Jesus have a paradoxical quality. They reveal and yet they conceal. They manifest the messiahship of Jesus in a way that produces, for the most part, only bewilderment and disorientation. The disciples are stupid and obtuse, the parables are confusing, the miracles are uncanny, the more striking of them are to be kept secret until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.

At the climax of the gospel, a Roman centurion who has seen and heard nothing wonderful from Jesus himself except his dying cry proclaims with a sudden burst of faith that Jesus is indeed the Son of God. Later an angel announces that Jesus has arisen from the tomb. But the women to whom the angel brings these tidings say nothing, for they are afraid. And at this point the gospel abruptly ends (for Mark 16 9-16 is a later addition, apparently by another hand). In this disconcerting gospel the revelation brought by Jesus is presented as awesome, haunting, or, to use Rudolf Otto’s term, “numinous.”

Matthew puts the accent not on kerygma but on catechesis Jesus is depicted as the new Moses who promulgates from the Mount the new and perfect law of charity. In the long sermons and moral instructions characteristic of this gospel, revelation appears as a code of behavior for those who enter the Kingdom Written about the time that the rabbis were engaged in codifying the traditions of Judaism at Jamnia, Matthew may be said to offer a kind of anti-rabbinical rabbinism, in which the precepts of the Mosaic law are heightened, universalized, and interiorized. In the face of modem existential interpretations of revelation, the Matthean gospel affords striking evidence that “For some in the primitive Church, if not for all, the penetrating demands of Jesus, no less than the great kerygmatic affirmations-about him, were part of the ‘bright light of the Gospel,’ that is, they were revelatory.”

Luke, as the theologian of history, is concerned with the change of eons that occurred in Christ.
The old era, which leads up to the Baptist, is at an end. Jesus comes, and prays, and the Spirit descends upon him. Driven by the Spirit, he powerfully proclaims that the messianic promises of Isaiah have come to fulfillment in his own, person. More than any other New Testament author, Luke hangs his conception of revelation on a theology of history, with special emphasis on the Holy Spirit as the gift of God in Christ.

Acts is a further development of the Lukan theology of history. Taking for granted that the basic revelation has already been given in Jesus” public and risen life, it shows how the apostles as chosen witnesses (especially Peter and Paul) spread the good news from Jerusalem outward through Judea and Samaria, and far into the Greco-Roman world. This entire operation unfolds under the impetus of the Holy Spirit, who intervenes continually in the life of the infant Church. The visions and ecstasies of the apostles (such as those of Paul and Peter in Acts 9 and 10) may be viewed as a further outpouring of the Pentecostal Spirit, supplementing the previous revelations in the words and deeds of Jesus.

Paul offers a rich and complex doctrine of revelation, which it would take many pages to expound. On the one hand he looks on revelation as something charismatically received through the miraculous action of the Holy Spirit within the apostolic community even after the departure of the risen Lord (dreams and visions, locutions, and glossalalia).

On the other hand he repeatedly insists that the preaching and faith of the Church must be regulated by the gospel, of which he and the other apostles are judges. While he looks on himself as an apostle by reason of the direct revelation he received at Damascus and the mandate he received from the risen Lord to preach to the gentiles, he acknowledges the authority of Peter and the other “pillars” at Jerusalem, and is anxious to maintain solidarity with them (Galatians 2:1-10).

The content of revelation for Paul is, most briefly, the mysterion — that is, the redemptive counsel of God which has hitherto been kept secret. Now at last God has promulgated his astonishing plan — obscurely foretold by the prophets — to offer salvation to all mankind, independently of observance of the Law, through faith in the crucified and risen Jesus. This revelation is something to be proclaimed to all the nations as the glad tidings of salvation. It is God’s word, a word to be accepted in faith and obedience. Far from being a mere body of doctrine, it is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).

Although the notion of apostolic tradition (paradosis) already occurs in the earlier Pauline epistles (2 Thessalonians. 2:15; 1 Corinthians 11), the Pastorals particularly stress the concept of revelation as a deposit (paratheke) to be faithfully safeguarded. and handed on (1 Timothy 6:20; 2 Timothy 1:12.14). We shall see this notion of the depositum fidei later taken up in the documents of the Church.

John, although he never uses the term apokalyptein except in an Old Testament citation, develops a powerful theology of revelation in terms of his doctrine concerning the Logos, testimony, and enlightenment. In his prologue he identifies Christ the Son of God with the divine Logos, thus giving a new meaning to the term “word of God,” which elsewhere in the New Testament is generally a synonym for the “gospel.”

More strongly than other New Testament authors, John accents the idea of testimony, developing the notion in a juridical sense reminiscent of the law courts. Jesus speaks solemnly of what he knows from direct experience, thanks to his intimate life in the “bosom” of the Father. The Son by his words bears witness to the Father, but the Father by his miraculous deeds bears witness to the Son. The Spirit, when he comes, is to bear witness to the Son, and the disciples too are witnesses, for they have been with Jesus from the beginning (John 15:26-27). Thus the whole process of revelation is a chain of testimony.

The words of Jesus and his mighty works engender faith (John 14:10-12), but for anyone to believe he must first be drawn by the Father (John 6:44). To see Jesus is to see the Father (14:9), for the Father and he are one (John 10:30). The disciples, having seen, heard, and actually touched the “word of life,” are charged with proclaiming his word to others, so that they may have fellowship with the Father and the Son (1 John 1:1-3). Revelation, therefore, does not really differ from the gift of eternal life through the Son.

Another theme of great importance in the Johannine theology of revelation is that of light. Christ is the light that shines on all men, but the majority do not come to him. Many in their wickedness prefer to lurk in the darkness. Those who follow Christ are assured of light and life (John 8:12; 12:46). The Spirit of truth abides with the disciples in order to recall to their minds what Jesus has taught, and to guide them into the fullness of truth by saying what the disciples in Jesus’ lifetime were not prepared to hear (John 14:26; 16: 12ff.).

The Johannine Apocalypse
The Johannine Apocalypse is by definition a revelation (John 1:1), and stands in the apocalyptic tradition of the late Old Testament and of intertestamental times. Using the literary form of a series of visions, the author shows how the victory of Christ assures the faithful believers that they will emerge victorious from persecution, and will enjoy the fullness of revelation in the heavenly Jerusalem, where the Lamb himself will be the radiant source of light (John 21:23). The book describes Christ as the “Word of God” (John 19:13), the “King of kings and Lord of lords” (John 19:16), and “the Alpha and the Omega” (John 22 13) Reaching its climax in a description of the final coming of Christ, the book concludes with the aspiration, “Come, Lord Jesus” (John 22:20)

Epistle to the Hebrews
Finally, the Epistle to the Hebrews furnishes us with yet another inspired theology of revelation. Here the prevailing theme is the unity and difference between the two Testaments, each being a revelation of the God who speaks through his word. The word of God, which reaches its completion in Christ as Son, is living, active, sharper than a two-edged sword, so subtle that it penetrates the fine line between soul and spirit, and is able to discern the most hidden thoughts (Hebrews 4:12-13). On the lips of the preacher, the word of God demands ready and instant obedience. “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion’”( Hebrews 3:7f.).

A General Description Of The New Testament Conception Of Revelation
It is a completely gratuitous disclosure of God’s mind and purposes, salvific in intent. God freely decides to publish the good news of his redemptive will toward all mankind, and raises up “vessels of election” (see Acts 9: 15) to herald the message.

The apostles take the place of the prophets as God’s chief heralds (Matthew. 28:19; Luke 24:48; Acts 1:8; John. 17:20; and so forth).

The revelation is to be proclaimed to all mankind, as is evident from the same texts. To the universality of the gospel there corresponds a universal need on the part of mankind. Although in times past God may have been satisfied with a vague and undetermined kind of worship, which attained God only as one unknown (Acts 17:23.30-31), now the time has come for men to repent and to call upon Jesus as universal Savior (Romans 10:12-18; Romans 16:26; 1 Timothy 2:3-7).

The revelation is final, in the sense that it fulfils the whole economy of the Old Testament and ushers in the last age of the world (Hebrews 1:1-2; Ephesians 1:10). Believing Christians have already received this revelation (Romans 16:25f.; 1 Corinthians 2:10; Ephesians 3:3.5). Yet revelation continues to occur, insofar as we are still living in the last times (1 Corinthians. 14:30; Philemon 4:15; John. 16:13).

So obscure is our apprehension of the divine truth in this life, that it falls far short of the face-to-face vision for which we hope (1 Corinthians. 13:12). In many New Testament texts, therefore, the term “reveal” is used in the future tense, with reference to the consummation of history, including the revelation of the man of sin (2 Thessalonians. 2:3.8) and the return of the Son of Man (Luke. 17:30).

In the “Day of the Lord,” as under-stood by Paul, there will be a revelation of God’s wrath against sinners (Romans 2:5), the salvation of the faithful (Romans 8:19), and the glory of Christ with his saints (Colossians. 3:4; 2 Thessalonians 1:10). In Johannine language, the life which is announced by the witnesses of Christ will not be seen as it truly is until he appears at the end (1 John.3:2).

The revelation is communicated through a combination of words and deeds. Paul and Hebrews accentuate the idea that revelation is a word demanding the obedience of faith. Yet, in the gospels, Christ reveals not only by his preaching and teaching (Mark. 1:14f.; John. 6:63.14:10), but also by his symbolic actions, such as cleansing the Temple, embracing little children, cursing the barren fig tree, and the like.

Many of his miracles, such as the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, and the healing of the deaf mute, may be regarded as parables in action. From the point of view of faith, all that Christ did is instructive and revelatory. As Augustine put it in a famous text, “Because Christ himself is the Word of God, the very deed of the Word is a word to us.”

More than this, we may say that in Christ the relation of word and work becomes close to the point of identity. In his character as Logos he is the subsistent Word, the intelligible reflection of the invisible God. In his flesh he is the sacrament of God — the verbun visibile Patris, as Irenaeus would later put it

It is often said that Jesus Christ, as the Incarnate Word, is subsistent revelation This statement has good scriptural support (see 2 Corinthians 4:4-6, Hebrews 1:1-2), but it must be properly understood. He is not revelation for us except insofar as his inner secret becomes manifest through his words and deeds, and through the communication of his Spirit to those who believe. The revelation which he bears actually becomes revelation insofar as he is recognized as Son and Redeemer. In his earthly life, Jesus was supremely docile to the entire tradition of Israel and to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit. In his risen life he appears as one who is no longer picking his way, but has arrived at a full and pacific enjoyment of God’s presence

Jesus As Active Agent In Revelation Or The Supreme Recipient
While the New Testament is mainly interested in Jesus as active agent in revelation, it seems biblically correct to look upon him also as the supreme recipient of revelation The Apocalypse (1 1) speaks of “the revelation of Jesus Christ which God gave him” In the baptismal scene at the Jordan, the Synoptics portray Jesus as seeing the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him in the form of a dove The message, “Thou art my beloved Son, in thee I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22, but see Matthew 3:17 for a different version) comes to Jesus himself Mark does not even fear to report limitations on Jesus’ revealed knowledge (Mark 13 32).

Luke seems at one point to attribute to Jesus a mysterious vision of Satan’s fall (Luke. 10:18 as interpreted by J. M. Creed and others). In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus proclaims, “I preach only what the Father has taught me” (John 8:28), a statement which seems to imply that Jesus first receives the message which he is to transmit to others. But there are other passages in the New Testament which have been interpreted as denying that Jesus receives revelation. To reconcile the various texts in the light of a more developed doctrinal teaching is an important task for Christology.

The Role Of Jesus In The General Theory Of Revelation
The role of Jesus is not unimportant for the general theory of revelation. Too often the theory of revelation has taken its start from the transmission of revelation by the Church, without sufficient attention to the question how revelation was originally received. Some authors naïvely say that it was simply “given” to the Church by inspired prophets and the Son of God, without attending to the complex question of how it came into the human mind of these mediators. Once the focus of interest is shifted to the original acquisition of revelation, it becomes possible to relate revealed knowledge more meaningfully to the total religious quest of mankind.

Errors Regarding Revelation
We have surveyed the Old and New Testaments primarily for positive indications of what the Christian can accept as revelation. But it would be possible also to survey the same sources for indications of what revelation is not. Errors regarding revelation are as old as revelation itself. The prophets of Israel had to contend with superstitious divinatory practices and to silence false prophets who pretended to speak in God’s name without having been sent.

 In the New Testament, Paul had to condemn charismatic excesses, which led to disorder and disedification in community worship (1 Corinthians 14). The Pastoral Epistles warn against teachers who would substitute vain and curious speculations for the sobriety of the Christian gospel. The Johannine writings warn the faithful not to be taken in by pseudo-prophets who deny that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh (1 John 4: 1-2). These heresies, already condemned in the New Testament, have led some scholars to speak of a first-century Christian Gnosticism. Whether or not this term can be justified, it is certain, as we shall see, that Gnosticism became a major heresy in the second century, and thus contributed to the Church’s articulation of its own doctrine concerning revelation.


The Population of Hell — Avery Cardinal Dulles

September 28, 2009
These are reading selections from an article Cardinal Dulles wrote in First Things back in 2003. There were references to some controversies at the time which I have removed as they seemed too topical for my wants, but I’ve kept the overall survey aspect of the Church’s teachings on hell – it is an invaluable resource and timeless overview of the topic. Whether it be commenting on the New Testament or Paul or dealing with contemporary theologians writings on the topic, Cardinal Dulles presents his materials and interpretations with consummate skill. Reading him in this way always causes me continued pain at his absence, wondering what we have been missing.


Jesus and Hell
As we know from the Gospels, Jesus spoke many times about hell. Throughout his preaching, he holds forth two and only two final possibilities for human existence: the one being everlasting happiness in the presence of God, the other everlasting torment in the absence of God. He describes the fate of the damned under a great variety of metaphors: everlasting fire, outer darkness, tormenting thirst, a gnawing worm, and weeping and gnashing of teeth.

In the parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus indicates that some will be condemned. The Son of man says to the goats: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). In the Gospel of John, which says comparatively little about hell, Jesus is quoted as saying: “The hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear [the Father’s] voice and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:28-29).

The apostles, understandably concerned, asked: “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” Without directly answering their question Jesus replied: “Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and not be able” (Luke 13:23-24). In the parallel passage from Matthew, Jesus says: “Enter by the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14). In a parable immediately following this exchange, Jesus speaks of those who try to come to the marriage feast, but are told: “Depart from me, all you workers of iniquity. There you will weep and gnash your teeth” (Luke 13:27-28). In another parable, that of the wedding guest who is cast out for not wearing the proper attire, Jesus declares: “Many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). Taken in their obvious meaning, passages such as these give the impression that there is a hell, and that many go there; more, in fact, than are saved.

Other New Testament References
The New Testament does not tell us in so many words that any particular person is in hell. But several statements about Judas can hardly be interpreted otherwise. Jesus says that he has kept all those whom the Father has given him except the son of perdition (John 17:12). At another point Jesus calls Judas a devil (John 6:70), and yet again says of him: “It would be better for that man if he had never been born” (Matthew 26:24; Mark 14:21). If Judas were among the saved, these statements could hardly be true. Many saints and doctors of the Church, including St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, have taken it as a revealed truth that Judas was reprobated. Some of the Fathers place the name of Nero in the same select company, but they do not give long lists of names, as Dante would do.

References to punishment after death in the remainder of the New Testament simply confirm the teaching of the Gospels. In the Book of Acts Paul says that those ordained to eternal life have believed his preaching, whereas those who disbelieved it have judged themselves unworthy of eternal life (Acts 13:46-48). Peter’s First Letter puts the question: “If the righteous man is scarcely to be saved, where will the impious and sinner appear?” (1 Peter 4:18). The Book of Revelation teaches that there is a fiery pit where Satan and those who follow him will be tormented forever. It states at one point: “As for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their lot shall be the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).

St. Paul and Hell
The testimony of Paul is complex. In his First Letter to the Thessalonians he speaks of the coming divine judgment, in which Jesus will inflict vengeance “upon those who do not know God and upon those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They shall suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). In his epistle to the Romans Paul says that the impenitent Jews are storing up wrath for themselves on the day of judgment (Romans 2:5). In writing to the Corinthians he distinguishes between those who are being saved by the gospel and those who are perishing because of their failure to accept it (1 Corinthians 1:18). In a variety of texts he gives lists of sins that will exclude people from the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:3-6). And he tells the Philippians: “Work out your salvation in fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).

Some passages in the letters of Paul lend themselves to a more optimistic interpretation, but they can hardly be used to prove that salvation is universal. In Romans 8:19-21 Paul predicts that “creation itself will be set free from its bondage of decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God,” but the text seems to refer to the world of nature; it does not say that all human beings will achieve the glorious liberty in question. In 1 Corinthians 15:28 Paul speaks of all things being ultimately subjected to Christ, but he does not imply that subjection means salvation. He presumably means that the demonic powers will ultimately be defeated. In Philippians 2:9-10 he predicts that eventually every knee will bow to Christ and every tongue confess him. But this need not mean a confession that proceeds from love. In the Gospels the devils proclaim that Jesus is the Holy One of God, but they are not saved by recognizing the fact.

Equally unavailing, in my opinion, are appeals to passages that say that God’s plan is to reconcile all things in Christ (Ephesians 1:10; Colossians 1:19-20). Although this is surely God’s intent, He does not override the freedom that enables men and women to resist His holy will. The same may be said of the statement that God “desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). Paul is apparently seeking to stimulate the apostolic zeal of missionaries who will bring the saving truth of Christ to all who do not yet believe. The absolute necessity of faith for salvation is a constant theme in the writings of Paul. I see no reason, then, for ranking Paul among the universalists.

The Teaching of the Church
The constant teaching of the Catholic Church supports the idea that there are two classes: the saved and the damned. Three general councils of the Church (Lyons I, 1245; Lyons II, 1274; and Florence, 1439) and Pope Benedict XII’s bull Benedictus Deus (1336) have taught that everyone who dies in a state of mortal sin goes immediately to suffer the eternal punishments of hell. This belief has perdured without question in the Catholic Church to this day, and is repeated almost verbatim in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC §1022, 1035). Several local councils in the Middle Ages, without apparently intending to define the point, state in passing that some have actually died in a state of sin and been punished by eternal damnation.

The Early Church Fathers
The relative numbers of the elect and the damned are not treated in any Church documents, but have been a subject of discussion among theologians. Among the Greek Fathers, Irenaeus, Basil, and Cyril of Jerusalem are typical in interpreting passages such as Matthew 22:14 as meaning that the majority will be consigned to hell. St. John Chrysostom, an outstanding doctor of the Eastern tradition, was particularly pessimistic: “Among thousands of people there are not a hundred who will arrive at their salvation, and I am not even certain of that number, so much perversity is there among the young and so much negligence among the old.”

St. Augustine and St. Thomas
Augustine may be taken as representative of the Western Fathers. In his controversy with the Donatist Cresconius, Augustine draws upon Matthew and the Book of Revelation to prove that the number of the elect is large, but he grants that their number is exceeded by that of the lost. In Book 21 of his City of God he rebuts first the idea that all human beings are saved, then that all the baptized are saved, then that all baptized Catholics are saved, and finally that all baptized Catholics who persevere in the faith are saved. He seems to limit salvation to baptized believers who refrain from serious sin or who, after sinning, repent and are reconciled with God.

The great Scholastics of the Middle Ages are not more sanguine. Thomas Aquinas, who may stand as the leading representative, teaches clearly in the Summa Theologiae that God reprobates some persons. A little later he declares that only God knows the number of the elect. But Thomas gives reasons for thinking that their number is relatively small. Since our human nature is fallen, and since eternal blessedness is a gift far beyond the powers and merits of every created nature, it is to be expected that most human beings fall short of achieving that goal.

The Population of Hell
The leading theologians of the baroque period follow suit. Francisco Suarez, in his treatise on predestination, puts the question squarely: How many are saved? Relying on the Gospel of Matthew, St. John Chrysostom, St. Augustine, and Pope St. Gregory, he proposes the following estimation. If the question is asked about all men living between the creation and the end of the world, the number of the reprobate certainly exceeds that of the elect. This is to be expected because God was not rightly known before the coming of Christ, and even since that time many remain in darkness. If the term “Christian” is taken to include heretics, schismatics, and baptized apostates, it would still appear that most are damned. But if the question is put about those who die in the Catholic Church, Suarez submits his opinion that the majority are saved, since many die before they can sin mortally, and many others are fortified by the sacraments.

Suarez is relatively optimistic in comparison with other Catholic theologians of his day. Peter Canisius and Robert Bellarmine, for example, were convinced that most of the human race is lost.

Several studies published by Catholics early in the twentieth century concluded that there was a virtual consensus among the Fathers of the Church and the Catholic theologians of later ages to the effect that the majority of humankind go to eternal punishment in hell. Even if this consensus be granted, however, it is not binding, because the theologians did not claim that their opinion was revealed, or that to take the opposite view was heretical. Nor is the opinion that most people attain salvation contradicted by authoritative Church teaching.

Mention should here be made of a minority opinion among some of the Greek Fathers. Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory Nazianzen, and Gregory of Nyssa sometimes speak as though in the end all will be saved. Origen, the most prominent representative of this view, is generally reported as teaching that at the end of time, the damned, now repentant and purified, will take part in the universal restoration of all things (apokatastasis). Three centuries after Origen’s death his views on this and several other topics were condemned by a local council of Constantinople convened by the Emperor Justinian in a.d. 563. Even in his lifetime, however, Origen claimed that his adversaries had misunderstood or misrepresented him. A number of distinguished scholars down through the centuries have defended his orthodoxy on the fate of the damned. The doctrine of the eternity of hell has been firmly in place at least since the seventh century, and is not subject to debate in the Catholic Church.

A Modern Break With Tradition: Maritain and Rahner
About the middle of the twentieth century, there seems to be a break in the tradition. Since then a number of influential theologians have favored the view that all human beings may or do eventually attain salvation. Some examples may be illustrative.

In a “reverie” circulated among friends but not published until after his death, the philosopher Jacques Maritain included what he called a “conjectural essay” on eschatology, in which he contemplates the possibility that the damned, although eternally in hell, may be able at some point to escape from pain. In response to the prayers of the saints, he imagines, God may miraculously convert their wills, so that from hating Him they come to love Him. After being pardoned, they will then be delivered from the pain of sense and placed in a kind of limbo. They will still be technically in hell, since they will lack the beatific vision, but they will enjoy a kind of natural felicity, like that of infants who die without baptism. At the end, he speculates, even Satan will be converted, and the fiery inferno, while it continues to exist, will have no spirits to afflict. This, as Maritain acknowledged, is a bold conjecture, since it has no support in Scripture or tradition, and contradicts the usual understanding of texts such as the parable of the Last Judgment scene of Matthew. But the theory has the advantage of showing how the Blood of Christ might obtain mercy for all spiritual creatures, even those eternally in hell.

Karl Rahner, another representative of the more liberal trend, holds for the possibility that no one ever goes to hell. We have no clear revelation, he says, to the effect that some are actually lost. The discourses of Jesus on the subject appear to be admonitory rather than predictive. Their aim is to persuade his hearers to pursue the better and safer path by alerting them to the danger of eternal perdition. While allowing for the real possibility of eternal damnation, says Rahner, we must simultaneously maintain “the truth of the omnipotence of the universal salvific will of God, the redemption of all by Christ, the duty of men to hope for salvation.” Rahner therefore believes that universal salvation is a possibility.

Hans Urs von Balthasar
The most sophisticated theological argument against the conviction that some human beings in fact go to hell has been proposed by Hans Urs von Balthasar in his book Dare We Hope “That All Men Be Saved?” He rejects the ideas that hell will be emptied at the end of time and that the damned souls and demons will be reconciled with God. He also avoids asserting as a fact that everyone will be saved. But he does say that we have a right and even a duty to hope for the salvation of all, because it is not impossible that even the worst sinners may be moved by God’s grace to repent before they die. He concedes, however, that the opposite is also possible. Since we are able to resist the grace of God, none of us is safe. We must therefore leave the question speculatively open, thinking primarily of the danger in which we ourselves stand.

At one point in his book Balthasar incorporates a long quotation from Edith Stein, now Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, who defends a position very like Balthasar’s. Since God’s all-merciful love, she says, descends upon everyone, it is probable that this love produces transforming effects in their lives. To the extent that people open themselves to that love, they enter into the realm of redemption. On this ground Stein finds it possible to hope that God’s omnipotent love finds ways of, so to speak, outwitting human resistance. Balthasar says that he agrees with Stein.

This position of Balthasar seems to me to be orthodox. It does not contradict any ecumenical councils or definitions of the faith. It can be reconciled with everything in Scripture, at least if the statements of Jesus on hell are taken as minatory rather than predictive. Balthasar’s position, moreover, does not undermine a healthy fear of being lost. But the position is at least adventurous. It runs against the obvious interpretation of the words of Jesus in the New Testament and against the dominant theological opinion down through the centuries, which maintains that some, and in fact very many, are lost.

The conviction of earlier theologians that relatively few are saved rests, I suspect, partly on the assumption that faith in Christ, baptism, and adherence to the Church are necessary conditions for salvation. The first two of these conditions are clearly set forth in the New Testament, and the third has been taught by many saints, councils, popes, and theologians. But these conditions can be interpreted more broadly than one might suspect. In recent centuries it has become common to speak of implicit faith, baptism “by desire,” and membership in the “soul” of the Church, or membership in voto (“by desire”). Vatican II declares that all people, even those who have never heard of Christ, receive enough grace to make their salvation possible….

It is unfair and incorrect to accuse either Balthasar or Richard John Neuhaus (who wrote an article supporting  Balthasar in 2002) of teaching that no one goes to hell. They grant that it is probable that some or even many do go there, but they assert, on the ground that God is capable of bringing any sinner to repentance, that we have a right to hope and pray that all will be saved. The fact that something is highly improbable need not prevent us from hoping and praying that it will happen. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “In hope, the Church prays for ‘all men to be saved’ (1 Timothy 2:4)” (CCC §1821). At another point the Catechism declares: “The Church prays that no one should be lost” (CCC §1058).

Pius IX And John Paul II
The Church continues to insist that explicit faith, reception of the sacraments, and obedience to the Church are the ordinary means to salvation. Pius IX in the Syllabus of Errors (1864) accordingly condemned the proposition: “We should at least have good hopes for the eternal salvation of those who are in no way in the true Church of Christ.” Pius XII in his encyclical on the Mystical Body of Christ (Mystici Corporis, 1943) taught that even those who are united to the Church by bonds of implicit desire-a state that can by no means be taken for granted-still lack many precious means that are available in the Church and therefore “cannot be sure of their salvation.” Vatican II said that anyone who knows that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ and refuses to enter her cannot be saved. If we accept these teachings, we will find it unlikely that everyone fulfills the conditions for salvation.

Pope John Paul II in his Crossing the Threshold of Hope mentions the theory of Balthasar. After putting the question whether a loving God can allow any human being to be condemned to eternal torment, he replies: “And yet the words of Christ are unequivocal. In Matthew’s Gospel he speaks clearly of those who will go to eternal punishment (cf. Matthew 25:46).” As justification for this assessment the Pope puts the rhetorical question: Can God, who is ultimate justice, tolerate terrible crimes and let them go unpunished? Final punishment would seem to be necessary to reestablish the moral equilibrium in the complex history of humanity.

In a General Audience talk of July 28, 1999, the Pope seems to have shifted his position, adopting in effect that of Balthasar. According to the English version of the text he said:

Christian faith teaches that in taking the risk of saying “yes” or “no,” which marks the (human) creature’s freedom, some have already said no. They are the spiritual creatures that rebelled against God’s love and are called demons (cf. Fourth Lateran Council). What happened to them is a warning to us: it is a continuous call to avoid the tragedy which leads to sin and to conform our life to that of Jesus who lived his life with a “yes” to God.

Eternal damnation remains a possibility, but we are not granted, without special divine revelation, the knowledge of whether or which human beings are effectively involved in it. The thought of hell-and even less the improper use of biblical images-must not create anxiety or despair, but is a necessary and healthy reminder of freedom within the proclamation that the risen Jesus has conquered Satan, giving us the Spirit of God who makes us cry “Abba, Father!” (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6)

The last sentence refers to the hope of Christians for their own salvation and cannot be used to support any theory of universal salvation. But the preceding sentence indicates at least an openness to the opinion that we may hope for the salvation of all.

A Shift in Catholic Theology?
One might ask at this point whether there has been any shift in Catholic theology on the matter. The answer appears to be Yes, although the shift is not as dramatic as some imagine. The earlier pessimism was based on the unwarranted assumption that explicit Christian faith is absolutely necessary for salvation. This assumption has been corrected, particularly at Vatican II. There has also been a healthy reaction against the type of preaching that revels in depicting the sufferings of the damned in the most lurid possible light. An example would be the fictional sermon on hell that James Joyce recounts in his Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. This kind of preaching fosters an image of God as an unloving and cruel tyrant, and in some cases leads to a complete denial of hell or even to atheism.

Today a kind of thoughtless optimism is the more prevalent error. Quite apart from what theologians teach, popular piety has become saccharine. Unable to grasp the rationale for eternal punishment, many Christians take it almost for granted that everyone, or practically everyone, must be saved. The Mass for the Dead has turned into a Mass of the Resurrection, which sometimes seems to celebrate not so much the resurrection of the Lord as the salvation of the deceased, without any reference to sin and punishment. More education is needed to convince people that they ought to fear God who, as Jesus taught, can punish soul and body together in hell (cf. Matthew 10:28).

The Demography Of Hell
The search for numbers in the demography of hell is futile. God in His wisdom has seen fit not to disclose any statistics. Several sayings of Jesus in the Gospels give the impression that the majority are lost. Paul, without denying the likelihood that some sinners will die without sufficient repentance, teaches that the grace of Christ is more powerful than sin: “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20). Passages such as these permit us to hope that very many, if not all, will be saved.

All told, it is good that God has left us without exact information. If we knew that virtually everybody would be damned, we would be tempted to despair. If we knew that all, or nearly all, are saved, we might become presumptuous. If we knew that some fixed percent, say fifty, would be saved, we would be caught in an unholy rivalry. We would rejoice in every sign that others were among the lost, since our own chances of election would thereby be increased. Such a competitive spirit would hardly be compatible with the gospel.

We are forbidden to seek our own salvation in a selfish and egotistical way. We are keepers of our brothers and sisters. The more we work for their salvation, the more of God’s favor we can expect for ourselves. Those of us who believe and make use of the means that God has provided for the forgiveness of sins and the reform of life have no reason to fear. We can be sure that Christ, who died on the Cross for us, will not fail to give us the grace we need. We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, and that if we persevere in that love, nothing whatever can separate us from Christ (cf. Romans 8:28-39). That is all the assurance we can have, and it should be enough.


And finally Fr. Barron gives us another overview on the topic:


Avery Cardinal Dulles on Love, the Pope, and C.S. Lewis

August 20, 2009
The late Cardinal Avery Dulles

The late Cardinal Avery Dulles

Pope Benedict XVI’s 2006 encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, has two clearly distinct parts. In the first it deals with the nature of love and of charity, the highest form of love; in the second it treats the charitable activity of the Church. Most of the commentaries have focused on the second part, which raises interesting questions about the relation of Church and state, charity and justice. But the first part also merits careful study, for the encyclical is not primarily concerned with ethical problems but rather with communicating a philosophical worldview in which the Church’s ethical teaching concerning love, marriage, and sexuality is intelligible.

In a famous 1908 study of the theology of love in the Middle Ages, the French Jesuit Pierre Rousselot identified two basic approaches: the more self-centered and the more altruistic. Some medieval thinkers emphasized love as desire (amor concupiscentiae); others emphasized love as benevolence or friendship (amor benevolentiae or amor amicitiae). Rousselot did not find two clear-cut schools in the Middle Ages, but he did find two tendencies. Theologians heavily influenced by Aristotle, such as Thomas Aquinas, argued that creatures who are imperfect continually seek to perfect themselves by embracing what is congenial to their nature. Rousselot called this theory of love “physical” in the sense of natural. The opposite theory, which emphasized self-forgetfulness and sacrifice, Rousselot called “ecstatic.” He found it in certain writings of the Victorine and Cistercian schools and especially among the Franciscans (Alexander of Hales, Bonaventure, and Duns Scotus).

St. Thomas, though he exemplified the natural theory, was more successful than others in reconciling the two points of view. Taking his departure from Aristotle, he held that everything seeks its own good, but he added that God was the common good of the whole universe and that human beings, by their spiritual nature, were open to union with God. “Just because every creature belongs to God naturally by everything it is,” wrote St. Thomas, “it follows that by the very movement of its nature a man or an angel must love God more than itself.” Human beings, in particular, are made in the image of God and thus tend to the divine likeness as their own perfection. St. Thomas, then, while remaining fundamentally in the Aristotelian tradition, escaped the trap of egocentrism.

Some twenty years after Rousselot, the Swedish Lutheran theologian Anders Nygren gave a different analysis in his well-known book Agape and Eros. He agreed that there are two types of love: the self-seeking, which he called eros, and the self-giving, which he called agape. Holding that only agape was truly Christian love, he argued that such thinkers as Augustine and Pseudo-Dionysius, under the influence of Neoplatonism, had taken the wrong path. They improperly commingled the biblical idea of agape with the Greek philosophical idea that the soul was in quest of the divine as the supreme goal of its innate longing. Medieval theologians, therefore, mistakenly thought that God drew all things to himself by his infinite goodness. In Nygren’s estimation, Augustine and the whole medieval tradition failed to grasp the true Christian idea of agape, which meant a totally free gift, unmotivated by any need or desire on the part of the recipient. For Nygren, we are faced by a clear choice between two types of love; no compromise or synthesis between eros and agape is possible.

Writing in France about 1939, Denis de Rougement, son of a Swiss Protestant pastor, also drew a sharp contrast between eros and agape. The idea of eros as a frenzy or divine delirium, he maintained, was characteristic of the mystery religions, Plato, and the Neoplatonists. Love as a dark passion continued to make its appearance in various forms of Manichaeanism and medieval legends such as that of Tristran and Isolde. Whereas eros seeks to escape from the flesh and flee into a world beyond, agape represents God’s embrace of this world and is symbolized by the marriage of Christ and the Church. De Rougement, like Nygren, confronts us with a stark choice between eros and agape.

And yet, as Martin D’Arcy points out in his fine work The Mind and Heart of Love, Nygren and de Rougement have different conceptions of both eros and agape. De Rougement characterizes eros as an irrational passion that is always discontented with earthly and temporal existence; it moves the lover to a total surrender of self and absorption into the All. For Nygren, on the other hand, eros is an intellectual and possessive form of love. As for agape, de Rougement sees it as an affirmation of this world and an acceptance of human limitations, including human life in its concrete conditions. Nygren, on the other hand, sees agape as an act of sovereign freedom, arbitrary in nature, totally unconcerned for human needs and values.

In summary, Christian thinkers tend to integrate the love of desire with the love of generosity or friendship. They grapple with the problem of showing how a love originating in desire can rise to the point of becoming purely disinterested and sacrificial. The Protestant thinkers we have examined set up an unbridgeable gulf between eros, as a passion arising from below, and agape, as a totally altruistic gift from on high. Catholicism, here as elsewhere, stands for a both/and; Protestantism, for an either/or.

In Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict does not narrate the history of the problem but goes directly to the issues, taking eros and agape as the two principal forms of love, thus accepting the problematic of Nygren (though he reaches a different solution). He begins by distinguishing various meanings of eros. Citing Friedrich Nietzsche as a champion of eros as a passion for the infinite, he asks whether Nietzsche was right in charging that Christianity has poisoned and destroyed eros, forbidding us to taste the happiness God has prepared for us.

Nietzsche, Benedict says, is not wholly wrong. The Old Testament firmly rejects eros, if by it one means the “divine madness” that flourished in the fertility cults of ancient paganism and in rites such as temple prostitution. Biblical religion declared war on this intoxicated and undisciplined eros because, instead of elevating its votaries to the divine, it degraded them and stripped them of their dignity. Christianity equally opposes the modern tendency to equate eros with sexual and sensual self-indulgence, turning the body into a mere instrument of pleasure, an object to be bought and sold. The body in this hedonistic view is separated from the spirit and reduced to the status of a thing to be exploited at will.

Quite different, however, is the idea of eros that prevailed in classical philosophy, including in Plato and the Neoplatonists. Accepting this view in modified form, Christian spiritual writers have maintained that all men and women are born with a longing for a beatifying vision of God. They harmonize biblical passages on the ecstasies of Moses, the prophets, and Paul with the Neoplatonist mysticism that found its way into the patristic tradition.

Eros in this theological sense, according to Benedict, is not incompatible with agape. Eros inclines us to receive the gifts of God; agape impels us to pass on to others what we ourselves have received. Eros, then, corresponds to the ascending moment in the spiritual life whereby we turn to God, from whom every perfect gift descends. Eros and agape belong together as two phases of the same process. If we did not receive, we would have nothing to give; and if we were not disposed to give, we would be spiritually unprepared to receive.

In their highest expression, the two types of love reinforce each other. Contemplation of the divine gives us the spiritual strength to take upon ourselves the needs of others. Pope Gregory I explained how Moses, by engaging in dialogue with God in the tabernacle, obtained the power he needed to be of service to his people. Similarly, to become sources from which living waters flow, we must drink deeply from the wellsprings of life. The more deiform we become, the more capable we will be of agape. Conversely, the more concerned we are with service to others, the more receptive will we be to the gifts of God. This will become more evident if we examine what revelation has to tell us about the divine love, the next stage of our investigation.

For Greek philosophers such as Aristotle, God was the supreme object of love, but he was not himself a lover. Biblical revelation, however, gives us a totally different picture of God. John in his first letter makes the bold statement “God is love.” According to Christian theology, all God’s actions regarding the world are motivated and ruled by love. He does not create because of any need in himself but solely out of desire to share something of his own perfection with creatures. God’s action in salvation history is dominated by the mercy and forgiveness that proceed actively and freely from him.

Benedict describes even divine love in terms of agape and eros. The Bible makes it abundantly clear that God is and displays agape. His goodness communicates and diffuses itself. But because God lacks nothing, some theologians deny that there is anything in him corresponding to eros. The encyclical gives a more nuanced answer. It says that God’s love for man “may certainly be called eros.” (In a footnote, it cites Pseudo-Dionysius as calling God both eros and agape.) Because Scripture describes God’s love by metaphors such as betrothal and marriage, the pope thinks it important to recognize that God has a true affection for the persons he loves. But, Benedict adds, God’s eros for man is also totally agape.

The pope is careful to note that God’s love is not selfish and acquisitive. It is not the “ascending” love usually called eros. It corresponds neither to the egocentric desire described by Nygren nor to the dark passion described by de Rougement under the name of eros. But God’s love for creatures includes an element of desire (concupiscentia). He lovingly wills that persons still on the way to salvation achieve the blessedness to which they are called. In saying that God’s eros is also agape, the pope recognizes that God’s desires for his creatures are for their good, not his own.

When reading the English translation, I was surprised to find that the encyclical describes God as “a lover with all the passion of true love.” After speaking of God’s “passion for his people,” it later calls God’s love “passionate.” I asked myself with some anxiety whether the pope was contradicting Thomas Aquinas and the normative theological tradition, which denies that there can be any passion or passivity in God. But, on consulting the original Latin text, I found that the pope never uses passio or its cognates in this context. In the passages just mentioned, he calls God’s marital affection for his people not a passio but a cupiditas (desire) that is fiery (flagrans), not passionate, and has the vehemence (impetus), not the passion, of true love.

This being said, we must recognize that the pope is on guard against allowing the realism of the Bible to be attenuated by the detachment of the philosophers. In his early book Introduction to Christianity, Professor Ratzinger, as he then was, charged that the philosophical idea of God was too self-centered and intellectualistic. God’s love, he contended, was not an unfeeling idea. Now, as pope, he insists that God, far from being self-enclosed, involves himself in the world he has created. The prophets speak of God’s relationship to Israel as that of a bridegroom to a bride, or a parent for a child, and the New Testament depicts Christ as the bridegroom of the Church. These metaphors imply bonds of deep affection.

It is by no means accidental, the pope believes, that Holy Scripture fixes on the metaphor of marriage to express the relationship between God and Israel and later between Christ and the Church. Among creatures, he declares, eros begins with a kind of passionate seeking but leads on to a communion with the other that can satisfy the lover’s craving and supply what the lover lacked. The Song of Songs was accepted into the Hebrew canon because it was read as an allegory of the soul’s mystical marriage with God. Marriage could not fulfill its purpose except by being a permanent and exclusive bond, making the two lovers “one flesh.” “Marriage based on exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa. God’s way of loving becomes the measure of human love.”

The extravagance of God’s love, according to Deus Caritas Est, is dramatically shown forth in the Incarnation and Redemption. “God so loved the world,” says St. John, “that he gave his only Son.” The gospel parables express the way in which God goes in search of the lost sheep. The death of Jesus on the cross is love in its most radical form.

Pope Benedict notes that as love grows it becomes less covetous and more concerned with the good of the other. The first and greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our might. Our love of God must be continually purified. In order to love God with a pure, unselfish love surpassing our affection for any creature, we need the help of divine grace. Love of God in the sense of friendship with him could not be commanded unless it were first given. Twice in his encyclical, the pope refers to the statement in John’s first letter, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins.”

Besides emphasizing the priority of grace, Deus Caritas Est is remarkable for the emphasis it places on the palpability of God’s love as it comes to us through the Incarnate Word. This emphasis is also characteristically Johannine. John in his first letter speaks of how he and others have seen and heard the Word of Life whom he proclaims. Benedict dwells on the many ways in which God makes himself tangibly present to us: through the love story encountered in the Bible, through the public life of Jesus culminating in the mystery of the cross, through Christ’s risen life; through the saints who reflect his loving presence; through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist; and through the Church’s whole life of prayer and worship. All these manifestations of God’s extravagant love for us evoke on our part a response of generous and grateful love
for him.

In the final sections of Part I, Benedict speaks of the ways in which the mutual love between God and humanity results in new relationships of love within the human family. Jesus links the first commandment given in Deuteronomy with the commandment to love one’s neighbor given in Leviticus. The two commandments, says Pope Benedict, are so intertwined that they become one.

St. Thomas Aquinas, who works in terms of an Aristotelian virtue ethics, explains that charity is a single infused virtue but that it expresses itself in two distinct acts: love of God and love of neighbor. God is to be loved simply because of himself, but creatures are to be loved because they actually or potentially reflect divine perfections or because they are means that lead to God.

Working more from Scripture and experience, Pope Benedict reaches similar conclusions. Love of God and neighbor, he says, support each other. Religion becomes rigid and formalistic if it is divorced from communion with our neighbors. Relations with our neighbors, conversely, have no depth unless we can find in them the image of God. If we have learned to encounter others based on a genuine communion with God, we can truly love those whom we do not like or even know. We become capable of looking on them from the perspective of Jesus Christ and, as it were, with his eyes. Thinking and willing in union with the Lord, we experience a spiritual communion of minds and hearts with others who are also in communion with him.

Love of neighbor and love of God are most strikingly realized in the Church as the body of Christ. The sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist are social in nature. Besides uniting us vertically, as it were, with Christ, they unite us horizontally with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Holy Communion draws us out of ourselves and thus toward union with all other Christians. In the words of Saint Paul, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” It is impossible, says Benedict, to possess Christ simply for ourselves, for we belong to him only in company with all who have ever belonged to him. Every authentic celebration of the Eucharist therefore passes over into concrete acts of love.

Part I of the encyclical ends on this note. The concluding sentence reads, “Love is ‘divine’ because it comes from God and unites us to God; through this unifying process it makes us a ‘we’ which transcends our divisions and makes us one, until in the end God is ‘all in all’ ” (1 Corinthians 15:28).

Deus Caritas Est, in its first part, maps out the elements of a rather complete theology of love. In my estimation, the encyclical should be classified as a theological rather than a philosophical document. The sources it cites as authorities are for the most part biblical and patristic. When it cites philosophers, it does not treat them as authorities. It speaks of Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Nietzsche, and Heidegger, but in each case the purpose is to point out how they failed to attain the full truth of biblical revelation. Patristic theologians such as Augustine, Gregory I, and Pseudo-Dionysius, by contrast, are always cited with the intention of reaffirming their views.

Interestingly, the encyclical makes no reference to scholastic authors, not even to Thomas Aquinas. The pope does not disagree with St. Thomas, so far as I can see, but he concentrates on the biblical and patristic roots, perhaps to make his theology more accessible. It is also noteworthy that the encyclical does not mention modern scholars who have traced what they have called the “problem of love” in its medieval and modern history. The pope, I suspect, does not wish to embroil himself in the scholarly disputes between Protestants and Catholics, or even among Catholics themselves. On the whole, his position resembles that of Rousselot, but he does not mention Rousselot or follow his debatable reading of St. Thomas and the medieval tradition.

Benedict instead moves the question forward by showing that the positive features of eros and agape can be combined in the highest expressions of human and divine love. In order to effect this synthesis, he is of course required to exclude certain sensual and demonic forms of eros. Although some authors prefer to say that God’s love is not erotic, the pope prefers to assert that eros in God coincides with agape.

A further question is whether the reality of love is exhausted by eros and agape. Pope Benedict mentions a third Greek term, philia (“friendship”), but he does not indicate whether it is reducible to the other two. In his well-known 1960 book, The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis has chapters not only on eros and agape but also on friendship, which he treats as a distinct species of love. Friends, he says, are not oriented primarily toward one another, as lovers are, but toward a common task or area of interest. Erotic love is exclusive and jealous, whereas friendship is open and inclusive. Two friends are normally pleased to find a third and a fourth to join them.

Aristotle and other ancient philosophers praised friendship as the highest form of love. Cicero, among others, wrote a treatise on it, as did medieval authors such as Aelred of Rievaulx. In the gospels, Jesus calls his disciples friends and expects them to be ready, as friends must be, to lay down their lives for one another. The virtue of friendship has fallen into neglect since the rise of the romantic theory of love in the nineteenth century. Even today, friendship is little esteemed. Friendship with persons of the same sex, Lewis remarks, is sometimes disparaged as a hidden form of homosexuality. But Lewis shows that the properties of friendship and sexual love are very different, even contrary to each other. Perhaps, at some future time, Benedict will supplement Deus Caritas Est with a deeper examination of friendship.

The doctrine of the encyclical could also be developed by a discussion of the Latin term caritas, which appears in the title but is absent in the first part of the encyclical, except in several quotations from Scripture. For Augustine, St. Thomas, and their followers, caritas, or charity, is the highest form of love. It is an infused theological virtue, inclining us to love God and our neighbor with an affection that is a participation in the love proper to God.

C.S. Lewis communicates the same idea in less technical language. Eros and agape (which he prefers to designate as “Need-love” and “Gift-love”) can exist, he says, on either the natural or the supernatural plane. When, with God’s help, our Need-love rises to the point where we recognize our total dependence on God’s love for us, it can become a form of charity. And so likewise, when our Gift-love is so graced that it goes out to include persons who are naturally unattractive and unlovable, it deserves to be called charity in this theological sense of the word. Pope Benedict, it seems, has something similar in mind when he says that love at its most perfect combines in itself the qualities of eros and agape.

At the end of The Four Loves, Lewis makes an important statement that he does not develop at the length it deserves: Grace can arouse in us a higher kind of love than either eros or agape as he understands them. God, according to Lewis, “can awake in man, towards Himself, a supernatural appreciative love. This is of all gifts the most to be desired. Here, not in our natural loves, nor even in ethics, lies the true center of all human and angelic life.”

Earlier in the book, Lewis had drawn a helpful contrast among three forms of love: “Need-love cries out to God from our poverty; Gift-love longs to serve, or even to suffer for, God; Appreciative love says ‘We give thanks to thee for thy great glory.” Corresponding to what the Scholastics called amor complacentiae, it rejoices in the consummate perfection of the divine. As Lewis’ citation from the Gloria indicates, the Church’s earthly liturgy contains anticipations of the hymns of the angels before the throne of God. They no longer seek from him anything that they do not have, nor do they intend to give him anything he might desire. They worship and praise him with loud hosannas, not because they thereby benefit either God or themselves but simply to express their love.

In Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI makes no mention of appreciative love, nor does he discuss the love of the saints in heaven. Nevertheless, from his writings on the liturgy, one may suspect that he would be open to the idea that caritas tends to an eschatological fulfillment that, in the opinion of Lewis, transcends the earthly realizations of eros and agape alike.

 A “Fan Page” for the late Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J.  is  at with articles, videos, etc.


The Old and New Testaments

June 29, 2009
Avery Cardinal Dulles

Avery Cardinal Dulles

No sophisticated reader today needs to be told that the Old Testament did not drop down ready-made from heaven. It recounts the stages by which a people, originally rather primitive and barbaric, were gradually educated in the ways of God. Christians find in it a divinely intended record of the providential process by which Israel was gradually led toward the fullness of revelation in Christ.

Just as we have preparatory revelation in the Old Testament — in some cases very inadequately grasped by a “stiff-necked” people — so too we have preparatory ideas of revelation. The Old Testament contains legends and sagas which would not pass any contemporary tests for historical accuracy. It likewise preserves here and there the traces of primitive mythical thinking. None of it is the work of critically reflective minds in the modern sense. For the Christian, moreover, the Old Testament does not rank as a revelation complete in itself, but only as a part of the whole process of revelation leading up to the New Testament.

Conversely, the New Testament does not stand by itself; it is organically linked to the Old Testament as the matrix out of which it grows. The same themes are resumed and amplified on continually higher planes until at length all the lines converge in Christ, who in turn illumines — and is illumined by — the entire prehistory that points toward him, though in a veiled manner.

A Variety Of Conceptions About Revelation In The Old Testament
In the Old Testament, which in some respects resembles a great museum, we find a fascinating variety of conceptions about revelation. In some of the early books we may detect evidences of superstitious resort to magical practices — divination, dreams, lots, and omens. In facing decisions regarding wars, alliances, and internal political matters, the Israelite leaders were accustomed to consult Yahweh; and this in practice meant obtaining oracular statements from the priests. The priest would normally don a kind of waistcloth called the “ephod” and employ mysterious instruments known as the “urim and thummim” — possibly small sticks or stones which were so marked as to indicate affirmative or negative replies (see Exodus. 28:30; 1 Samuel 30:71., and so forth). Israel differed markedly from other nations in the ancient Near East in that it did not indulge in elaborate divinatory techniques such as hepatoscopy [examination of the livers of sacrificed animals as a technique of divination]. Still more remarkable is the Israelite prohibition of images, which most of the surrounding nations regarded as principal bearers of revelation

Stages Of Salvation History In The Biblical Tradition

(1) The Call of Abraham (Genesis. 12:1-7). The call comes to Abram quite suddenly, it would appear. This revelation, so far as the records disclose, did not rest upon previous events. It is sheer promise, and looks forward to a future fulfillment that is to answer the present word and thus complete the revelation itself by a concrete historical embodiment. The revelation involves Abraham in a partnership with Yahweh, and in this covenant Abraham’s posterity is destined to share (see Genesis. 17:1-4). In the revelation to Abraham attention is focused on the word, which comes gratuitously because God in His mercy wishes to call a particular people to a happier destiny. There are “theophanies” in the Abraham cycle, such as the apparition of the three men in Gen 18 1ff, but in these stories attention is concentrated not on the visible manifestation but on the word God appears in order to speak, and his word is given to inaugurate a new era of history. In later patriarchal narratives, such as the stories of Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, God continues to show His favor to Abraham’s posterity and thus proves his fidelity to his pledged word.

(2) Exodus and Sinai. This is unquestionably the central event in the Old Testament, and hence commends itself to special scrutiny. The cycle begins with the “inaugural vision” and the call of Moses in Exodus 3. The attention of Moses is drawn by a theophany, the symbolic vision of the burning bush. The sign is a miraculous one: the bush, though afire, is not consumed. But God, here again, appears only in order to speak. He identifies himself historically as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and goes far beyond all previous self-revelations by imparting knowledge of his own name (Yahweh). The vision both looks back to patriarchal times and points forward in hope to the future. God’s speech is, as in the case of Abraham, a summons to action. Moses is called to play a decisive role in salvation history. The ultimate aim of this revelation, as of others, is soteriological. Most proximately, it aims to liberate Israel from its Egyptian servitude.

The theophany of Mount Sinai completes what was begun in the initial call of Moses. In Exodus 19: if. Moses receives God’s law for his people amid thunder and lightning, clouds of smoke and trumpet blasts. The revelation essentially consists not in these phenomena but in the word of God: the ten debarim (words) of the Law. And the purpose of the Law is to bring the whole people into a covenant relationship with Yahweh so that they may indeed be “my very own out of all the peoples, a kingdom of priests, a holy nation” (Ex. 19: ff.). Thus the Sinai revelation is ultimately directed to the entire nation and is intended for their salvation.

(3) The Prophets. In a wide sense of the term, Moses himself is a prophet, and he might indeed be called the very prototype of Old Testament prophecy, insofar as he has a direct and familiar relationship to God. Whereas other prophets may know God in dreams and visions, Moses is privileged to speak to him face to face (Numbers 12:6-11.).

In Old Testament usage, the term nabi (a term of obscure etymology which is generally translated “prophet”) covers a wide variety of personages who receive divine communications and inform others of God’s hidden plans and emotions. In the earlier traditions preserved for us in the books of Samuel and Kings, we learn of “speaking prophets,” such as Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, and Elisha. They are gifted with clairvoyance and frequently fall into ecstasies; many of them also perform remarkable miracles. Some of the prophets of this period entered prophetic guilds (the “sons of the prophets”) which seem to have been, in part, hereditary.

In the eighth and seventh centuries, with the advent of the so-called “writing prophets,” prophecy receives what is often referred to as its “classical” form. Clairvoyance and other preternatural phenomena become rarer, and prophecy assumes more clearly its religious role of recalling the nation to fidelity to its covenant promises. Sixteen of our biblical books — the four major (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel) and the twelve minor prophets — are attributed to prophetic authorship. The greater part of these books, it would seem, were written not by the prophets themselves, but by their disciples.

As a study of these works will show, prophecy does not essentially consist in the prediction of future events. The prophets are God’s spokesmen, who receive his word, and pass it on for weal or woe. They are, par excellence, the mediators of the word, and in view of the central place of the word of God in the Israelite view of revelation, special attention must be given to the prophets for a biblical theology of revelation.

The prophets commonly attribute their calling to a sudden action on the part of God, not preceded by any kind of human preparation. This call revolutionized their lives, and demanded utter obedience on their part. A number of rather detailed descriptions of the prophetic call are preserved in the Old Testament. Isaiah in chapter 6 tells of his inaugural vision, including the cleansing of his lips by a burning coal. Jeremiah, in the opening chapter of his work, attributes his vocation to a sovereignly free choice on the part of God: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). When the prophet remonstrates that he is only a youth, the Lord exhorts him to courage: “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:9-10)1 The prophet’s word is powerful since it participates in the omnipotence of God, from whom it comes.

In numerous Old Testament passages allusion is made to severe bodily effects that ensue from the prophetic vision. Ezekiel describes how he sat on the ground overwhelmed for seven days after his call (Ezekiel 3:15) Daniel testifies that after one of his visions he was left pale and trembling, and fell into a deep slumber (Daniel 10:8f.). On another occasion (Daniel 8:27) he was overcome and lay sick for some days. Isaiah writes that his loins were filled with anguish, and that pangs seized him like those of a woman in childbirth (21:3). Jeremiah gives a poignant description of how the prophet feels the power of the word within him, demanding utterance. “There is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:9). While these descriptions are in some cases pseudonymous, and are presumably influenced by stylistic conventions, they undoubtedly contain some valid historical indications of the revelatory experiences of the Hebrew prophets.

Accompanied though it is with unusual psychic phenomena, the prophetic message, at least in the classical prophets, does not have to do with recondite matters pertaining to the world beyond. Unlike many of the medieval mystics, who preferred the cloister, the prophets were normally concerned with political and military matters and participated actively in national affairs. The content of their message reflects a keen perception of the contemporary historical situation, appraised in the light of the Covenant, and does not impart information that would seem to be intrinsically beyond the realm of natural knowledge. When the prophets use promises and threats they do so not in order to show their clairvoyant powers, but in order to bring about repentance and reform.

(4) Deuteronomy. The Deuteronomic literature of the eighth century, which seems to reflect a confluence of the priestly and prophetic currents in the Northern Kingdom, represents a new stage in the theology of revelation. Deuteronomy extends the concept of the “word of God” to include the whole corpus of Israelite legislation — religious, civil, and criminal — rather than just the original ten “words” of Sinai, or even the messages of the prophets. The torah, attributed in its entirety to the great legislator, Moses, is presented not simply as a set of abstract regulations, but as an effective vehicle of God’s will, which it makes present to men. “The word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it” (Deuteronomy 30:14).

The Deuteronomic interpretation of history dominates a number of the historical books (including Judges, Samuel, and Kings), which portray the course of events as the working out in time of the covenant relationship between God and Israel. The idea of history as a medium by which God manifests his attributes and attitudes may be found in some of the most ancient creedal statements embedded in Deuteronomy (for example, Deuteronomy 26:5-6). Elsewhere, history is viewed as the effective unfolding of the promises and threats previously contained in God’s word. As time goes on, the hopes of Israel gradually become centered on the monarchy, which is made a center of cult. The books of Chronicles, from another point of view than the Deuteronomic writings, seek to legitimate the cultic offices founded by David

(5) Messianic and Apocalyptic Expectation In much of the historical literature the Davidic dynasty is idealized with strong religious overtones As the fortunes of this dynasty fade under the divided monarchy, the prophets focus the expectations of Israel on some great future intervention of God analogous to his past actions A blessed era is foretold in which there is to be a new David, a new Moses, a new Covenant, or a new Exodus. This eschatological Messianism, which reaches its highest expression in Deutero-Isaiah and Jeremiah, to some degree prepares for a new form of revelational literature Apocalyptic, which becomes widespread under the depressing circumstances of the Babylonian Captivity and the Maccabean period, is exemplified by Daniel and much of the intertestamental literature Unlike classical prophecy, apocalyptic ceases to look upon the catastrophes of history as effects of God’s punitive will, indeed, it abandons all effort to find meaning in history “History, so far from being the medium in which religious ideas could be expressed, had become literally a marking time until the eschaton should come. The view of revelation characteristic of the Apocalypses, while differing sharply from the prophetic, in some ways resembles the sapiential. The apocalyptic seers seek to interpret dreams and visions and thus to penetrate the secret counsels of God. Unlike prophecy, which is proclaimed openly to all, apocalyptic makes much of esoteric knowledge.

(6) Wisdom Literature. Since much of the Israelite sapiential material consists of collections of homely maxims built upon experience and common prudence, this brand of literature might be thought not to pertain to revelation. But the older traditions look upon wisdom as a charism bestowed at God’s good pleasure. In the patriarchal stories, Joseph is depicted as outstripping the sages of Israel thanks to the illuminations imparted to him from on high (Gen. 41:16.38). Later, Solomon is held forth as a prodigy of inspired sagacity (1 Kings 4:29). Job’s would-be comforter, Eliphaz, attributes his counsel to direct inspiration from heaven. In fact, as Gerhard von Rad observes, he gives the fullest description of the psychology of prophetic revelation that occurs in the Old Testament (Job 4:12-17).

The great wisdom collections, such as Proverbs, Qoheleth, Sirach, and Wisdom, while resting upon ancient sources, were compiled in the Persian and Hellenistic periods. The editors, convinced that all human wisdom comes from God and that the. summit of wisdom consists in obedience to him, interpret the patterns of experience in the light of their religious faith. Insofar as this Jewish wisdom rests unequivocally on the self-manifestation of God through history, prophecy, and law, it too may be said to contain revelation, at least indirectly, by reflection.

(7) Psalms. According to our modern way of thinking, we should be inclined to say that the Psalms should be reckoned not as revelation, but as a human response to it. But this distinction is perhaps artificial since it may be argued that revelation does not achieve itself until it is formulated in human words. In any case, the Israelites saw a close link between prophecy and psalmody, as may be seen, for instance, in the canticles of the prophetesses Miriam (Exodus. 15:20- 21) and Deborah (Judges 5).In the. last words of David, as narrated in 2 Samuel, the “sweet psalmist of Israel” claims inspiration for himself: “The Spirit of the Lord speaks by me, his word is upon my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:2). As inspired hymns of prayer and praise, the psalms are revelatory to us — as they were to the Israelites — of the power, majesty, and fidelity of God, which they celebrate. Many of the psalms incorporate oracles and responses from Yahweh into theft structure.

Summary Of Old Testament Revelation
Summarizing the Old Testament view of revelation, one may say that Yahweh progressively manifests himself, through word and work, as Lord of history. He freely raises up spokesmen of his own choosing, whether patriarchs such as Abraham, national heroes such as Moses, or prophets and seers such as Samuel, Isaiah, and Ezekiel He entrusts them with messages which they are to deliver to others, often to the whole people Although the universal significance of Israelite religion is sometimes suggested (especially in Deutero-Isaiah), the horizons are for the most part particular, insofar as the revelation is addressed to a single nation

The Israelite faith is also inchoative, insofar as it is in tension toward a greater and definitive manifestation yet to come While often accompanied by miraculous theophanies, dreams, and visions, revelation for the Old Testament writers is primarily to be found in the “word of God” The word, however, is not mere speculative speech. It refers to the concrete history of Israel, which it recalls and interprets. It commemorates God’s previous dealings with his people and includes promises for the future, thus arousing faith and hope. The word of God, moreover, is powerful and dynamic, it produces a transforming encounter with the Lord who utters it, and imposes stringent demands on the recipient. It opens up to him a new way of life, pregnant with new possibilities of punishment and deliverance. Revelation is ultimately aimed to bring blessings upon the whole nation, including peace, prosperity, and holiness.

The above is taken from the late Cardinal Avery Dulles’ Revelation Theology.

An obituary written by Joseph Bottum is here.


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