Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Wood, Susan K.

Second Advisor

Carey, Patrick W.

Third Advisor

Masson, Robert L.


This dissertation examines closely the theology of Avery Dulles, S.J., arguing that when Dulles' symbolic-mediation theology of revelation is viewed through the lens of his sacramental ecclesiology, there emerges an ecclesiology that recognizes and emphasizes the revelatory nature of the church. This study constructs this "revelation ecclesiology" by bringing Dulles' signature theologies of the church and revelation into conversation.

At the intersection of those two theologies stands the reality of symbol - a defining characteristic for both the theology of the church as a sacramental reality and the theology of revelation as an event of divine self-communication. The study begins, therefore, by defining the concept of symbol, and the related foundational concepts of revelation, church and sacrament, as they function theologically within Dulles' corpus.

The study then demonstrates the crucial role of symbol in the development of Dulles' sacramental ecclesiology, arguing that the unique efficacy of symbol lies at the heart of the sacramental reality. Because of its sacramental nature, the church demonstrates the efficacy and modality of symbol, but also possesses an ontological connection to Christ, the primordial sacrament. The study continues with a demonstration of Dulles' conviction that the phenomenon of divine revelation is an event of communication with a transactional character. Revelation requires both an offer and a reception in order to realize itself as an accomplished event, however, this reception must be according to the mode of the receiver and thus requires a mediation. Symbol is the reality that is uniquely capable of providing this necessary mediation.

Finally, the study concludes that Dulles' corpus provides evidence that the sacrament of the church functions as precisely that symbolic mediation which characterizes the event of revelation. Thus the sacrament of the church is what Dulles has termed a revelatory symbol, i.e., one which expresses and mediates God's self-communication in Christ. A final chapter concludes the study with an exploration of the implications of the constructed revelation ecclesiology for several significant current theological issues and questions: the mission of the church, the unity of revelation, the possibility and necessity of ecclesial reform, ecumenical dialogue, and the question of the closure of revelation.