Dulles' Models of Church (1974)

Avery Dulles, SJ (1918-2008), was born in NY to John Foster Dulles (who served as Eisenhower’s Secretary of State) and Janet Pomeroy Avery.  Raised a Presbyterian, he lost he faith before starting college at Harvard in 1936. A conversion experience along the Charles River began his shift from being agnostic and he converted to Roman Catholicism in 1940. After a stint in the Navy, he joined the Society of Jesuits in 1946, was ordained to the priesthood in 1956, and completed doctoral studies in 1960. A prolific author (over 700 articles and 22 books) and accomplished teacher, he was elevated to cardinal (directly from priest without being named a Bishop). He is best known for his 1974 theological work, Models of the Church, which is a standard text in most ecclesiology courses.

As Dulles describes it, Models of Church attempts to transform the type of comparative ecclesiology that reflects on the similarities and differences of various denominations to instead offer five thologically-based approaches that illuminate the strengths and limitations of these models.  He cautions against the potential codification that can occur by recognizing that the Church is a mystery. As a mystery, it can not be limited by a specific description, but can be illuminated by analogies that likely overlap when applied to particular contexts. For example, he writes from a Roman Catholic perspective and acknowledges that the Institutional model predominantly describes the Roman Catholic Church.  Still, the Roman Catholic church also exhibits elements from other models. 

* Institution – Typically seen as a formal organization, the church is seen as “the perfect society” that, by its nature, has a structure of governance (a constitution, rules, governing body, recognized leaders, confessional formulas, prescribed forms of public worship). This model expanads the governance function and highlights its place with the three functions of the church: teaching, sanctifying, and governing with the authority of Christ. It also recognizes the body of Christ that affirms this structure and benefits from this structure.
* Mystical Communion – quoting Jerome Hamer – “the mystical body of Christ ia a communion which is at once inward and external, an inner communion of spiritual life (faith, hope, and charity) signified and engendered by an external communion in profession of faith, discipline and sacramental life.” (49) As such, “the communion given by the Holy Spirit finds expression in a network of mutual interpersonal relaitonships of concern and assistance.” (50) Here the church is viewed as the people of God or body of Christ growing into the final perfection of the kingdom. (88)
* Sacrament – as the sign of the intimate union of God with the human community, the church is an instrument of union and unity.  It is a visible manifestation of the grace of Christ in the human community calling us to embrace every age, race, kind, and condition and manifest God’s dream both within the church and within the world. 
* Herald – As the church is gathered and formed by the word of God, so is its mission to proclaim that which it has heard, believed, and been commissioned to proclaim…. this model is kerygmatic and emphasizes faith and its proclamation. (76) Somewhat paralleling McLuhans’ “the medium is the message, Dulles recognizes that “the gospel is not a system of abstract propositional truths, nor a written document, but rather the event of proclamation itself.”(83)
* Servant – Quoting Richard McBrien, Dulles identifies that the servant church “must offer itself as one of the principle agents whereby the human community is judged by the enduring values of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: freedom, justice, peace, compassion, and reconciliation.” (97) Dedicated to the transformation of the world into the Dream of God,  this model calls us to maintain a preferential option for the poor (Boff’s words, not Dulles), the oppressed, and the outcast.
* Community of Disciples – an amalgamation of the other five models, Dulles offers the Community of Disciples as a “supermodel” with the imperative of making Christ present in the world by taking advantage of the strengths of the other models.

Implicit in Dulles analysis are a set of questions:
* Who are the grounding theologians and what are the guiding theologies that inform these models?
* What image or analogy best represents them?
* What functions or powers are conferred on the Church?
* How is ministry understood and who gets to function in the capacity of leader?
* Who are the beneficiaries in each model and what do they get from the church?
* What are the assets and liabilities of each model?
* How are the marks of the church exhibited? One? Holy? Catholic? Apostolic?
* What is the understanding of revelation?
* What is the view of the end times (The Eschaton)?

To evaluate these models, Dulles suggests seven criteria. He also stresses that each of the criteria have inherent values that tend to lean toward a particular model:

  1. Basis in Scripture (emphasis on community and kerygmatic)
  2. Basis in Tradition (emphasis on community and possibly institution)
  3. Capacity to give church members a sense of their corporate identity and mission (emphasis on institutional and karygmatic)
  4. Tendency to foster the virtues and values generally admired by Christians (emphasis on sacramental and servant)
  5. Correspondence with the religious experience of men today (emphasis on community and servant)
  6. Theological fruitfulness (sacramental)
  7. Fruitfulness in enabling church members to relate successfully to those outside their own group (community and servant)  (190-192)

PREDICTIONS (from 1974!)
Naming that it is beyond our power to foresee the future forms of church, he predicted five trends:
Modernization of structures (a more functional approach to authority)
* Ecumenical interplay (mutual recognition, doctrinal accord, joint worship, practical cooperation)
* Internal pluralism
* Provisionality (“church must continue to provide a zone of relative stability and to enable the faithful to relate meaningfully to their religious past”)
* Voluntariness (“the church will not be able to rely to the same extent as formerly on canonical penalties and sociological pressures in order to keep its members in line”) (199-201) 

How well do you think Dulles did with his predictions?_________________________________________________________
Avery Dulles, Models of Church (New York: Image Books, 1974)
Avery Dulles, Models of Revelation (New York: Image Books, 1985)


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