Peter, Carl Joseph
PETER, CARL JOSEPH
Priest, theologian, and teacher; b. Omaha, Nebraska, April 4, 1932; d. Washington, D.C., Aug. 20, 1991. Oldest of four children born to Carl J. and Anne Marie (Schinker) Peter. Gifted with a brilliant mind and eidetic memory, the younger Carl excelled at school. As a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Omaha, he studied philosophy and theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome where he was ordained a priest in 1957. After two years as assistant pastor at St. Patrick's Church and dean of studies at Archbishop Bergan Central Catholic High School (1958–60) in Fremont, Nebraska, Peter returned to Rome for doctoral studies. For the next four years he held the posts of assistant vice-rector and repetitor at the North American College, earning the S.T.D. at the Gregorian (1962) and the Ph.D. at the University of St. Thomas Aquinas (1964). His dissertations, both published in their entirety (1964), treated Aquinas' views on the beatific vision and the eviternity of rational souls.
In 1964 Peter was appointed assistant professor of dogmatic theology at the catholic university of america in Washington, D.C., where he spent his academic career. He chaired the Department of Theology (1975–77) and served for two terms as dean of the School of Religious Studies (1977–85). In 1990 he became the first occupant of the Founders (Caldwell-Drexel-Duval) Chair in Theology. He was also a visiting professor at St. John's University (Collegeville, Minnesota) during summer sessions (1970–91 passim ) and a visiting lecturer at Princeton Theological Seminary (1974, 1976).
Peter's theological expertise was also widely esteemed outside the university. He was active in ecumenical dialogues, beginning as a member of the U.S. Bilateral Roman Catholic-Presbyterian and Reformed Churches Consultation (1967–72) and then as a prominent participant in the Roman Catholic-Lutheran Bilateral Ecumenical Consultation in the U.S. (1972 until his death). He served as a Roman Catholic observer (1969–70), as a member of the Interdemoninational Study Group on Intercommunion (1970–71), and as a commission member (1971–72) of the Department of Faith and Order in the National Council of Churches. He was elected president of the catholic theological society of america (1971–72) and received the society's John Courtney Murray Award for Distinction in Theology (1975). He was a peritus to the American delegates to the International Synod of Bishops in 1971, 1983, and 1985. Pope John Paul II appointed him to two five-year terms (1980, 1985) as a member of the International Theological Commission. Beginning in 1986 he was also a theological advisor to the Committee on Doctrine of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Peter had a reputation for being open-minded regarding the positions of others and moderate—"centrist"—in positions he himself espoused.
His numerous publications were in the form of articles and reviews. At the time of his death from a sudden, massive heart attack, he was at work on a book about academic freedom in Catholic theology and the Catholic University of America. Forthright yet prudent, hard working, and deeply concerned about others, he was lavish in his generosity to the University in support of scholars and scholarship and to the needy.
Bibliography: For a bibliography of Peter's books and articles, see Church and Theology: Essays in Memory of Carl J. Peter, ed. p. c. phan (Washington D.C. 1995) 280–84. His personal writings and notes are preserved in the archives of the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.
[n. h. minnich]