Dulles on appreciating the adversary’s point of view

Dulles on appreciating the adversary’s point of view August 30, 2009

In spite of the ideological cleft [in the american Church], it is possible for reasonable adherents of each side to appreciate their adversaries’ point of view. Few conservatives are so extreme that they deny all mutability in the tradition or question the possibility that the church might have something to learn from developments in secular society. The church itself encourages its members to be men and women of their own time and to proclaim the faith within the framework of new cultural situations. Many traditionally Catholic ways of thinking, speaking, and acting derive from the secular culture of the past, including the Hellenism of late antiquity and the classicism of medieval and early modern Europe. These cultural elements should not be unduly sacralized. Doctrinal conservatives should therefore be able to understand why some Catholics might regard the official teaching on the points we are considering [birth control and the ordination of women] as open to change.

Conversely, any progressivist who wants to be a Christian, especially a Catholic Christian, must maintain roots in the past. Christians worship the eternal Son of God, who became flesh some two thousand years ago and proclaimed a Gospel that subsequent generations gladly make their own. Christians seek to regulate their ideas and conduct by a revelation that became complete in the apostolic age and is authoritatively transmitted through the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments and through apostolic tradition. The articles of the creed and the dogmas of the church, while they admit of reformulation and reinterpretation, are abidingly true and cannot be nullified by any future developments. All Catholics should therefore be able to to see why the Catholic teaching on contraception and women’s ordination appears to many as irrevocable.

Avery Dulles, “Humanae Vitae and Ordinatio Sacerdotalis: Problems of Reception,” in Church Authority in American Culture: The Second Cardinal Bernardin Conference, edited by the Catholic Common Ground Initiative (New York: Herder and Herder, 1999), pp.21-22.

UPDATE: Another interesting quote from Dulles in this essay: “Following Vatican II the bitterest dissent has come from right-wing traditionalists” (p. 28).

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  • Pingback: Dulles on appreciating the adversary’s point of view - Christian Forums()

  • I’m inclined to think Dulles knew how to spell ‘America’ with proper capitalization. =)

  • As you probably know, Christopher, text within brackets is not the author’s but the editor’s.

  • ben


    I’m not sure I understand you point here. Cardinal Dulles, while calling for understanding, also clearly taught that Catholics should asset to the Vatican’s clear teaching on both of these questions.

    I suppose the Cardinal, may he rest in peace, is also correct about the bitterest dissent. It is difficult to immagine anyone being more bitter that Bp. Williamson, for example.

    But does he connect the bitter dissent of the right, with mainstream advocates of upholding the teachings against contraception and women’s ordination? For example, Cardinal Stafford has been vocal in defense of both of these doctrines, but nobody would consider him to be a dissenter like Bp. Williamson.

    Doe Dulles speak of vigorous theological conservatives who are not dissenters? Did he label them bitter?