Dulles in First Things

In the current issue of First Things (Jan 2007, num. 169; 20-24), Avery Cardinal Dulles, S. J. has a short article entitled “Love, the Pope, & C. S. Lewis.” It is not my purpose to interact extensively with the piece, but I would like to share one or two of my criticisms.

First, and perhaps less importantly, one would expect (as I did) substantial interaction with Lewis, given the article’s title. Of Dulles’s thirty-six paragraphs, only six of the last seven make any mention whatsoever of Lewis (and even those are rather cursory). Pope Benedict XVI and his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, on the other hand, are discussed in all but six paragraphs.

Also, at the end of his first section, Dulles writes

In summary, Christian thinkers tend to integrate the love of desire with the love of generosity or friendship. They grapple with the problem of showing how a love originating in desire can rise to the point of becoming purely disinterested and sacrificial. The Protestant thinkers we have examined set up an unbridgeable gulf between eros, as a passion arising from below, and agape, as a totally altruistic gift from on high. Catholicism, here as elsewhere, stands for a both/and; Protestantism, for an either/or.

Who are the Protestant thinkers Dulles claims to have “examined” (this being a rather generous reference to his three preceding paragraphs)? First, “the Swedish Lutheran theologian Anders Nygren” and “his well-known book Agape and Eros.” Second, “Denis de Rougement, son of a Swiss Protestant pastor.” Chances are you’ve never heard of both, or perhaps even one of these guys. Personally, Rougement is a mystery to me (and after consulting several theology and recent church history texts, he remains as much). To state my point bluntly, Dulles selected two obscure, early twentieth century figures to serve as representative samples of Protestant thought on the theology of love, before going on to generalize that Protestants, in their “either/or” way, “set up an unbridgeable gulf…” This is commonly known as a hasty generalization. While I believe Dulles’s article contains additional deficiencies, I will exercise constraint.

In his defense on one count, perhaps Dulles found little choice but to cite Nygren and Rougement as representative of the Protestant position. Of course, C. S. Lewis was a Protestant, and in my opinion his position is not susceptible to Dulles’s objections. Nevertheless, I (at least) am unable to call to mind other Protestant theologians who treat the theology of love, but then I haven’t published an article on the matter.

Not surprisingly, I disagree with Dulles on many points. This, however, does not mean that I lack respect for him.


7 Responses to Dulles in First Things

  1. Fraiser says:

    Good post (whoever wrote it). I agree with your point regarding the abscurity of these protestant theologians. Sadly, not many theologians have written monographs on the theology of love (a topic I’m pretty sure is rarely addressed by any tradition) but that doesn’t mean that protestants have been silent on the matter. Unfortunately, the likes of Gary Chapman and James Dobson represent what the majority of protestants think about the theology of love than Nygren and Rougement. While these men are not theologians in the stricter sense of the word, they nevertheless express their theology in their thoughts on love (whatever one may think about their theology).

  2. Susan says:

    Perhaps it was taken for granted that everyone has read and examined Lewis’ “The Four Loves” prior to reading Dulles’ article?

    I dont find it particularly worthy of boast that the Catholics wouldn’t distinguish eros from agape love; it kind of gives me a creepy feeling…

  3. Keith says:

    Hi guys,

    Frasier: Thanks for stopping by! I can’t say I’m familiar with Chapman and Dobson (though I have heard of Dobson). If you happen to think of someone who has explicitly treated the theology of love, please let me know of them.

    Susan: Greetings! You’re absolutely right: though he never said so, Dulles may well have taken it for granted that all have read “The Four Loves.” Incidentally, I just got the recordings of Lewis giving the original “Four Loves” talks. Incredible!

  4. Susan says:

    Oh wow! Where did you find that? Hearing Lewis’ voice delivering his own work would be even better than hearing Screwtape on the DaVinci code… 😉

  5. In Bible college (Moody) I read both Nygrens’ book and Lewis’s The Four Loves.

    Nygrens book left me cold. Lewis’s book was a breath of fresh air.

    I agree that Lewis would not be subject at all to the criticism of choosing between love originating in desire or love strictly as a divine impartation. In fact, I think Nygrens’ view is extreme for Protestantism. It’s a bit like criticizing the whole Civil Rights movement by reading one of the Black Panthers.

    Anyway, thanks for your post. I will try to check in from time to time and see what you have to say. I’d be thrilled if you took a look at my blog sometime.


  6. Clint says:


    Keith actually got those recordings from me. I have them on cd and I can give them to you when I get back in town if you are interested in borrowing them.


  7. Susan says:


    Yes! I would love to borrow them! Audio is good for when I’m at work, as I have hours where I cannot read…but I can listen. Thanks!!!!!

    You’re missing quite the weather here…

    prayers for a safe flight and travel back to campus,

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