Reverend Cardinal Avery Dulles
Avery Dulles, S.J., is a prominent American and Jesuit. The son of the former U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, Avery received one of the highest Church honors when he became a cardinal on February 21, 2001, the first U.S. theologian to do so.
Avery Dulles exemplifies a modern call to ministry. Born in 1918, he was raised in a Presbyterian family, but he called himself an agnostic by the time he got to Harvard. He converted to Catholicism in 1940, calling it “the best decision he ever made” (from his own book,
Cardinal Dulles's conversion shows the impact one person's life can make on the world as a whole. Today, his authority and achievements are widely recognized. His family was not particularly happy about his conversion at the time, but they grew to accept it because of the strength and courage of his faith.Avery Dulles's Models of the Church
Among his many, many accomplishments and contributions to the Catholic Church, one stands out:
Significantly, Dulles calls the Church to attention today. He feels that it has gone off the rails a bit. Why? Cardinal Dulles thinks the Church is developing along a secular line, increasingly taking part in the world outside its domain, and that it is therefore following a flawed path, swaying with passing fads. Not everyone agrees, of course, but if you really want to come to grips with Church history, and therefore form an opinion yourself, it is helpful to see where it has come from.
The five ecclesiological models do not follow a strict chronological order. Rather, a model tends to attract a following within the Church. It is accepted, and then new models develop and overtake it. Some models are from the past; some are from the present. Some of the current models actually exist simultaneously (this is, after all, theological theorizing). Keep in mind that these are not hard-and-fast “structures” but interpretations of how the Church (or factions within the Church) views itself.The Political Society Model
Dulles begins his book by examining the Church in the period of 1600–1940. During this period, the Church was very much a part of and an influence on the secular world, so it is appropriate to look at its organization in terms of a political society or state. Indeed, in a catechism published during this period, the Church referred to Catholicism as “the Perfect Society.”
The political society model is derived from Robert Bellarmine, one of the major influences in Dulles's personal development of ecclesiology. Bellarmine described the Church in a 1588 document with the following words: “The one true Church is as visible and palpable as the Kingdom of France or the republic of Venice.”
The political society approach can be seen most clearly in how the Church operated during the Counter-Reformation. During that time, the Church stressed the visible and structural elements of Catholicism. It saw itself as a community of sacraments and of government, based on bonds of publicly professed faith.
Although a great deal of heroic missionary work was accomplished during this period, the Church's expressed aim was earthbound: to construct a Catholic society. The weakness in this model is that it stresses the visible at the expense of the invisible — a life of grace. The great central mysteries were underrepresented. Dulles concluded that the political society approach resulted in “clericalism, juridicism, and triumphalism.”The Body-of-Christ Model
The body-of-Christ model is based on the approach of the early Christians. It was eventually dropped in favor of other models, but it was again resurrected in the nineteenth century. Much more democratic, this model put the focus back on the Catholic virtues of faith, hope, and charity. It also attempted to fix the imbalance of the political structure model, re-emphasizing the spiritual/mystical side of things.
Interestingly, this model raised two new heads of the Hydra. Stressing mysticism turned out to lead to anti-institutionalism. And by organizing and discussing the church assembly as the body of Christ, the community (taking its leadership from the top, of course) began to think of this as a literal application of what is essentially a metaphor.
Vatican II tried to balance this seesaw between the supernatural community of grace in Christ and the visible community, saying that neither one nor the other is correct in itself. Vatican II stated that the society furnished with hierarchical agencies and the Mystical Body of Christ are not to be considered as two realities but as “one interlocked reality.”The Sacramental Model
The sacramental model, while not dominant in the Church today, still carries a lot of weight and its influence is strongly felt. In every Catechism or book on Catholicism that you read, you hear over and over again about the importance of the sacraments and sacramentals in Catholic life and teaching.
This model, which was also adapted from what we know of the early Church, re-emerged in late 1940s. Vatican II wrote about it in its constitution: “The Church is in Christ as a sacrament or sign and instrument of intimate union with God and of the unity of all mankind.”
As discussed in earlier chapters, the sacramental life of the Church is very important to Catholics because it is a means to express the inexpressible: Spirituality made reality. In the sacramental model, a sacrament is described as both a sign (of God) and an instrument (to worship God).
In fact, acceptance of this model resulted in a very famous and subtle change of wording in the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church (made at Vatican II): “The unique Church of Christ is the Catholic Church” was changed to “The Unique Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church.”The Pilgrim People Model
The pilgrim people model also sprung out of Vatican II. In a way, this model is the most exciting one, and it certainly demonstrates a radical change in Church thinking. This model acknowledges that the Church is not static, that it is unfolding through history, and it embraces the idea that new insights and new methods will be met along the way.
Basically, this model is metaphorical. It sees the Church as traveling with God on a pilgrimage to the future. Vatican II states that the Church is “specially graced in order to lead the rest of mankind on a pilgrimage to its ultimate destiny.”
The problem with the pilgrim people model is that it underemphasizes the relationship between the people and Jesus Christ. Apparently, this model never really caught on outside the Curia and the Vatican II documents.
This kinder, gentler model of the Church addresses basic human needs and what the Church calls its “pastoral strategy”: breaking the Church down from its formidable overpowering size and hierarchy into more approachable components, fostering prayer groups, house churches, and even Pentecostal gatherings. However, the danger to this model — and one that the Church would never tolerate — is that it can (and has) led to individual collectives breaking away from the Church and forming underground “Churches” that then run the risk of becoming sects.The Church-as-Servant Model
The final model introduced by Avery Dulles is a theological one, really an astonishing volte-face from such an authoritarian structure. It is based on the simple idea that Christ came to serve, and therefore the Church must serve the whole world. It is a call for the “servant” Church to share in the problems of human life, rather than dominating it.
This low-key, humble model introduces a fresh attitude of listening to the world. This leads to the social call to action and justice, now promoted throughout many Church documents. The Church's task is to work for peace, liberation, and justice in the secular world, just as much as it is to try to save souls. Church thinkers call this an exciting model, but they prefer to wait and see how it plays out because “further clarifications are required.”