The Three Cardinals
Dr. Mark S. Latkovic
February 17, 2014
I apologize to any of my ornithologist readers, who might have thought that my subject in this essay, the three cardinals, is about birds. It is not. Apologies are also due to any baseball fans among you, who might have thought this essay is about the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team. It is not. Although they wear red, it is, rather, about cardinals of a different kind as you will see…
I consider it one of the great blessings of my life to have studied under and worked with some of the finest Catholic philosophers and theologians of our time at The Catholic University of America and the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. Among them: William E. May, John Finnis, the late Ralph McInerny, the late Benedict Ashley, O.P., Joseph Augustine DiNoia, O.P. (now an Archbishop), the late Fr. Carl Peter, Patrick Granfield, O.S.B., the late Msgr. George G. Higgins (the “labor priest”), Fr. Francis Martin, Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete, Msgr. Robert Sokolowski, Brian Johnstone, C.SS.R., Kenneth Schmitz, Carl Anderson (the future Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus), Stanislaw Grygiel (Blessed Pope John Paul II’s boyhood friend), Fr. John Galvin, Mary Catherine Hilkert, O.P., the psychologist Paul Vitz, and John Haas (now the President of the National Catholic Bioethics Center). I even had a course with and was a graduate assistant to (for a semester) the well-known feminist theologian, Elizabeth Johnson, C.S.R., whose book, Quest for the Living God, the USCCB’s Committee on Doctrine recently criticized.
I was also fortunate enough as a graduate student from the mid-1980s to the early-1990s to hear lectures in various forums by such notables as Elizabeth Anscombe, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, the French Oratorian Louis Bouyer, Servais Pinckaers, O.P. – all since deceased – as well as Germain Grisez, Judge John T. Noonan, Romanus Cessario, O.P., Robert P. George, and the Opus Dei priest Martin Rhonheimer. Among the many men and women I have had as my teachers, three of them stand out simply because they are Cardinals – either living or deceased – in the Roman Catholic Church. Here follows brief personal sketches of each of these men.
Avery Dulles ~ The Convert Cardinal
One of them, an American Jesuit – the first American-born theologian to be made a Cardinal who was not a bishop – is now deceased. I speak in this case of the late Avery Cardinal Dulles (1918-2008), one of the greatest theologians of the 20th century, who I was privileged to have a course with as a graduate student at The Catholic University of America.
The then Father Dulles was kind enough to write me a letter of recommendation for S.T.L. studies almost a quarter of a century ago. He was a Christian gentleman and a marvelous scholar – able to summarize and synthesize many different opinions and then come to a reasonable conclusion all his own on a subject. The subject might be ecclesiology or it might be apologetics, but whatever the topic, you knew that Dulles had covered it with his usual thoroughness. His undying love for the Church was shown forth in the classroom and in his many books and articles.
Unlike many of his followers who wanted to “update” the Church (and who often misused his classic work, Models of the Church – 1974/rev. 2002, to do so), Dulles was better grounded than them in the Tradition that he sought to understand and, yes, sometimes criticize, but criticize as a friend and lover of that Tradition. As a convert (while at Harvard in 1940) from a famous family of Presbyterians (his father, John Foster Dulles was Pres. Eisenhower’s Secretary of State), there was I detected, despite his dry teaching style (the joke among us students was: there is dull, duller, and Dulles!), something of the evangelical missionary about him (see e.g., The New World of Faith – 2000).
By the mid-1980s, when I took his course “Revelation and Faith” (subjects he wrote voluminously on: see e.g., Models of Revelation – 1983/rev. 1992 and The Assurance of Things Hoped For: A Theology of Christian Faith – 1994), Father Dulles was already well on his way of breaking free from some of the moderate Catholic liberalism that characterized his writings from the late 1960s to the early 1980s (see e.g., The Survival of Dogma – 1971). I’m sure that this break had something to do with the man named Karol Wojtyla, who was elected Pope John Paul II in 1978. Dulles wrote frequently on this Polish pope, and he did so with admiration and insight (see e.g., The Splendor of Faith: The Theological Vision of John Paul II – 1999/rev. 2003). His fine 1988 book, The Reshaping of Catholicism (one of my personal favorites), would, in my view, show this break with theological liberalism to be complete.
To take one of Avery’s courses was to be transported into a different time in the Church – when converts knew how to convert! It is a fitting conclusion to his priestly life as a theologian that his last published book before his death in New York City was Magisterium: Teacher and Guardian of the Faith – 2007.
Carlo Caffarra ~ The Canonist Cardinal
The next future Cardinal I would have in the classroom, in an S.T.L. seminar at the Pope John Paul II Institute in the fall of 1988, would be the Italian Msgr. Carlo Caffarra (b. 1938), presently the Cardinal Archbishop of Bologna. More an Augustinian than a Thomist, Caffarra was not only personable in the classroom, he was profound. Maybe it was the thick Italian accent, but to this young graduate student, every word he spoke – whether it was “conscience” or “creation” – seemed to have great Meaning attached to it! At times, given the way he looked, with his swept-back dark black hair and his animated hand gestures, he reminded me of a stylish Italian film director giving directions to his actors! Now, I have never met a stylish Italian film director, but in my imagination, Cardinal Caffarra fits the bill to a tee.
Caffarra, who has a doctorate in Canon Law, lectured during the semester on “The Person as Moral Subject.” He took us, his students, on a fascinating tour of St. Augustine’s metaphysics and moral theology, touching on the saint’s great work, The City of God. He was fond of Augustine’s phrase, “you become what you love.” In his lectures, Caffarra, who is also expert in the area of moral theology, my particular interest, would touch on sexual ethics. I remember him arguing that contraception is “against life, against conjugal love, and against the truth of creation.” His training in both law and moral theology was evident in his logical and razor-sharp mind.
The other qualities – the personal ones – that stand out about him, as I remember the Cardinal, were his great goodness and kindness towards his students. He had a particular love for marriage and the family – subjects he wrote intelligently on and still does to this day. This might explain, for example, his past Presidency of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family in Rome.
A wonderful introduction to this remarkable theologian’s work is his 1981 book, Living in Christ: Fundamental Principles of Catholic Teaching. A work of moral theology, this book reads more like a guide to the spiritual life (with heavy doses of philosophy thrown in!) than the usual stuff found in moral theology. If you want to know what it means to truly “live in Christ” and understand “moral values” read this book. But be prepared to be challenged! It is my hope that his excellent book on Catholic sexual ethics eventually will be translated from the Italian into English at some point.
Angelo Scola ~ The Culture Cardinal
The last Cardinal that I was fortunate enough to have in the classroom, again as a graduate student (in the S.T.D. program) at the John Paul II Institute, had been on the short list of candidates to be the next pope (papabili) after the death of John Paul II, and then again after the resignation of Benedict XVI. I speak of Angelo Cardinal Scola (b. 1941). Scola, another Italian, is presently the Archbishop of Milan, having previously served as the Patriarch of Venice from January 2002 to June 2011. The Cardinal conducted a doctoral seminar in the early 1990s on the “Christian Meaning of Human Suffering,” when he was a visiting professor at the Institute. He was at that time, serving as the President of the Institute’s main campus in Rome, as well as the rector of the Pontifical Lateran University in that city (Before those assignments, he had served as bishop of Grosseto from 1991 to 1995).
He is known as a real intellectual, someone who is comfortable around ideas, and who likes to discuss and debate. And that was evident in the classroom before he was elevated to the cardinalate in 2003 by Pope John Paul II. He is an expert on the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas (on whom he wrote his doctoral dissertation) and the late Hans Urs von Balthasar, the Swiss theologian known for his attention to beauty and glory as categories for understanding the drama of revelation. Scola is also someone very much attuned to the “new evangelization,” as he engages modern culture on so many fronts as a pastor. Of special significance is his founding of the journal Oasis, whose purpose is to foster scholarly ties between Western Christians and the lands of the East, particularly those in the Arab world.
Reading Cardinal Scola is never easy; nor was he an easy teacher to understand, given his thick Italian accent almost two decades ago when I had his seminar. Hearing him lecture again at a conference in Washington D.C. in the fall of 2004, I noticed his English was better, but his sometimes inscrutable style was not! Cardinal Scola can be difficult to follow because, for one thing, he often presupposes a background that the reader may not have and he writes in a style that reminds one of von Balthasar, on whom he has written a primer of sorts (Hans Urs von Balthasar: a theological style – 1995); and if you have read von Balthasar, you know exactly what I mean! Yet, if you’re feeling brave and would like to delve into his work, begin with his The Nuptial Mystery (2005), a wonderful, sprawling book on Christian marriage and the family, which one can skip around in and still profit from. But there can be no doubt, in my mind, that were Scola to become the next pope, the Church would have a worthy successor to Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
Oh, and speaking of Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, I must tell you about the time my wife and I met him in Washington D.C. after an outstanding lecture he gave on Jesus Christ in May 1990 when he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and the Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, fifteen years before he was elected Pope. But that’s a brief story for another essay!