A Deep Question
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Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., RIP

Those who frequent Catholic sites on the web have no doubt seen the above headline a number of times already, but I want to add my voice to the chorus, with perhaps a slightly different twist.

I haven’t actually read very much of Cardinal Dulles’s work, though from what I know he deserved the esteem in which he was held. But he’s long had a sort of cultural significance for me. Dulles was of the old Anglo-Protestant establishment that once defined the United States, and a scion of one of its prominent families: his father was Secretary of State in the Eisenhower administration, a fact which is just barely within my personal memory, and his uncle was director of the CIA. Avery Dulles became a Catholic in 1940, at the age of 22, and entered the Society of Jesus in 1946. I don’t know how his family reacted to his conversion, but I expect there was at the very least some dismay.

The old WASP establishment certainly had its flaws, and is now held in wide disdain. Moreover, in its decadence it often joins in the disdain. But there is a great deal of nobility in its heritage. It laid down the principles of this nation and guided its development. At its best it sought, and often found, a careful balance of abstract principle and practical application.

But of course it needed, and needs, as much as any other human tradition, the supernatural wisdom of the Church. And the career of a man like Dulles gives us a glimpse of what is possible when the best of that world is baptized into a wisdom that it must always lack on its own

I also am a product of that world, albeit of a rather more obscure part of it, and the witness of converts like Cardinal Dulles and Walker Percy (not to mention Newman and Chesterton) is for me a sort of mini-tradition of its own, a place where the best of the Anglo-American tradition can flourish even as it withers in the world at large, and the place—or at least the atmosphere—in which I feel most at home.



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