One of the most prolific and important leaders in the Roman Catholic Church, Cardinal Avery Dulles (b. August 24, 1918), passed away on December 12, 2008. Many Protestant Christians may not have noticed but all Christians lost a champion of the faith and a true friend to us all. Dulles, the son of the famous cabinet minister and foreign policy expert, John Foster Dulles, was converted as a college student at Harvard in the late 1930s. He immediately had a vibrant, personal, living faith. His first book, A Testimonial to Grace (1946), which I discovered in a used bookshop some years ago and read, tells the early story. Not too long after his conversion he left the Episcopal Church of his childhood and entered the Catholic Church. His becoming a Catholic was profoundly rooted in his understanding of the faith and his deep commitment to Christ and his church.
Dulles was a teacher of teachers. He taught at Fordham University (twice), Woodstock College and at The Catholic University in Washington, D.C. He continued to write and teach for more than sixty years. He was 90 at his death.
He was made a cardinal of the church by John Paul II, rightly so. Dulles, a Jesuit scholar, was very committed to "core orthodoxy" and yet remained a fresh teaching voice to the end. He was also a major figure in the ecumenical movement and a true friend to American evangelicals. This is how I know about him, at least personally. Though I never met the Avery Dulles I have many friends who knew him very well. I often asked about him and everything I heard was positively inspiring. His life represented that rare combination of intellectual giftedness wedded to deep and immense piety.
Dulles was the author of numerous important books, many of them dealing with the church itself. I first read him as a graduate student when his book, Models of the Church (1974), was required in a class I took in my post-graduate study. His magisterial book, The History of Apologetics (1971), is a volume I still encourage my students to read to this day. In addition I recommend his book Models of Revelation (1983) and The Catholicity of the Church (1985). His book, The Assurance of Things Hoped For: A Theology of Christian Faith (1994) is a kind of magnum opus and a great treatment of the subject of Christian theology. Many will miss him. I counted him one of the greatest theologians of our time.