"The Kingdom of God is at hand." (Mk 1:14-15)

by Piotr Rajski
Member of the Commission for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations with the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton

I would like to recommend to all Christians, especially those interested in ecumenical and interfaith relations, the book of Jacquis Dupuis - "Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism" (Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY, 1997).  In a very careful and precise language this book outlines the advances of the contemporary theology with regard to the phenomemnon of "religious pluralism." According to Dupuis, religious pluralism is a characteristic of today's world, especially for the Church of Asia, and cannot be left without theological reflection.

This is how Dupuis defines the domain of the theology of religious pluralism: "It searches more deeply, in the light of Christian faith, for the meaning of God's design for humankind of the plurality of living faiths and religious traditions with which we are surrounded" (10). It is interested not only in pluralism de facto, but in pluralism de iure, which means that it searches "for the root-cause of pluralism itself, for its significance in God's own plan for humankind, for the possibility of mutual convergence of the various traditions in full respect of their differences, for their mutual enrichment and cross-fertilization ()" (11).

Dupuis starts with some methodological comments. He states that unlike the dogmatic theologies of the past, which start with the Church's dogmatic enunciation and seek scriptual citations supporting the enunciation, the theology of religious pluralism is inductive, i.e. it starts from the reality as experienced today, and searches for "signs of the times" and a Christian solution to the problems.

It appears that at least part of Dupuis' efforts in this book aim at "de-absolutization" of certain Christian beliefs. To achieve this Dupuis begins from presenting Christianity in the historical context of other God's covenants with the humakind, such as covenant with Adam, Noah, Abraham and Moses. He also lists some "pagan saints of the Old Testament," such as Enoch, Job and Melchizedek, to show that God tried to communicate with the humankind long before he chose to send his son Jesus Christ.

Dupuis proceeds then to the historical and theological analysis of the axiom - "Outside the Church no Salvation," which appears to be the main obstacle toward the theology of religious pluralism. He describes the historical and political situations that led to increasingly rigid interpretation of this axiom, especially during the Council of Florence (1442). He then shows how the discovery of the New World by Columbus 50 years later, with masses of people who were never exposed to the Good News of Jesus Christ (and who according to the axiom would be destined by God for damnation without their fault), forced the Church to rethink and gradually reorient its position.

Among this "substitutes to the axiom" Dupuis analyses theologies of the Act of Dying (death being a "moment of truth," or final decision), and beginning from St. Thomas Aquinas different theologies of "implicit faith in Jesus Christ." The latter approach can be broadly divided into two theories - the "fulfillment theory" and the "theory of the mystery of Christ in the religious traditions."

The first one proposes that various religions of humanity represent the human being's innate desire for union with the Divine. "Christ-event" is fulfillment of these aspirations, while these traditions play no role in the mystery of salvation. The second theory purports that salvation may be obtained without the Gospel, although not without Christ. Karl Rahner's popular concept of "anonymous Christianity" (i.e. that one can open oneself to God's self-gift in Jesus Christ unknowingly, within one's religious tradition), is an example of the second theory. This concept is not sufficient for many reasons, Dupuis explains in his book, and was often criticized as one more example of "Christian hidden imperialism." (There is some merit to this opinion, I think - it is enough to imagine how uncomfortable it could be if someone considered Christians to be, for instance, "anonymous Muslims.")

Dupuis presents then the more contemporary documents, such as the encyclicas Lumen Gentium, Nostra Aetate and Ad Gentes, all seemingly pointing to existence of "elements which are true and good" in other religions. He elaborates on the contribution of the current pope, John Paul II, to the issues of interreligious dialogue and harmony. Dupuis believes that the encyclicas Gaudium et Spes, Redemptor Hominis, Dominus et Vivificantem and other messages of the pope signalled the beginning of a new thinking in the Church. Dupuis writes:

"Through these texts the same teaching is gradually emerging: the Holy Spirit is present and active in the world, in the members of other religions, and in religious traditions themselves. Authentic prayer (), human values and virtues, the treasures of wisdom hidden in the religious traditions, and true dialoque and authentic encounter among their members - these are so many fruits of the active presence of the Spirit" (175).

Dupuis moves then to summerize the debate over theology of religions. He believes there are three fundamental perspectives of looking at the issue of salvation, i.e. ecclesiocentric, Christocentric and theocentric. Parallel to these prespectives are three positions toward other religious traditions: exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralism. He objectively describes these positions paying special attention to the newly emerging theocentric models, such as this of John Hick, advocating a "Copernican revolution" in Christology. Hick wrote for instance: "() having believed for centuries that the other religious traditions revolved around Christianity as their center, today we must acknowledge that the center aroung which all religious traditions revolve (including Christianity) is actually God" (187). Dupuis notes here that Christocentrism of Christian tradition is not opposed to theocentrism. It never puts Jesus Christ in the place of God, but affirms that God had placed him at the centre of his saving plan for humankind () (191).

Another interesting model discused by Dupuis is Paul F. Knitter's "soteriocentrism." According to this conceptualization "() all religions propose a message of salvation or human liberation, () The criterion according to which they need to be evaluated is the measure in which () they actually contribute to the liberation of people () (194).

In the second part of his book, entitled "One God - One Christ - Convergent Paths" Dupuis presents his own solution to the problems of theology of religious pluralism. Realizing that any such theology, in order to be accepted, needs to be "confessional," i.e must uphold the central beliefs of constitutional uniqueness and universality of God's covenant through Jesus Christ, Dupuis proposes the integral model of Trinitarian Christology.

This idea seems paradoxical in the beginning, as the dogma of the Triune God is believed to represent a stumbling block in dialogue with other monotheistic religions. Dupuis argues quite convincingly though that Holy Trinity, if understood correctly, offers much more room for accommmodation of other religious beliefs than strict monotheism. For instance, he draws comparisons between the Holy Trinity and the Hindu concept of saccidananda. According to this concept God, the Absolute, the "One-without-a-second," has three intrinsic natures: Being (sat), Consciousness (cit) and Bliss (ananda) (274). It could be said then, in the words of Sri Aurobindo, that the human being experiences: "in sat, the Father, absolute Beginning and Source of being, in cit, the Son, the divine Word, the Father's Self-knowledge, in ananda, the Spirit of Love, Fullness and Bliss without end." (quoted after LeSaux; 273). Dupuis seems to believe that contact with concepts like this can help theologians to deepen and refine their own thinking about the Holy Trinity.

Among others the trinitarian model, Dupuis writes, should demonstrate that:

Dupuis proceeds then to discuss different aspects of this model. To summerize all these considerations would be beyond the scope of this review. Let us just touch some main points he makes. Dupuis asks many challenging questions, such as: "If () Jesus Christ represents the 'fulness' of divine revelation, has a revelation come to a complete end with him? Or () can divine revelation in any way be conceived as an 'ongoing process' both inside and outside Christianity?" (236). Commenting on theology of sacred scriptures Dupuis notices the growing tendency among theologians to admit the operativeness of the Holy Spirit in these texts (such as Qu'ran), which does not mean that the whole content of these books is the word of God.

Very interesting is what Dupuis says about the fullness of revelation in Jesus Christ, which deserves a longer quotation. Dupuis writes: "Jesus lived his personal relationship to the Father in his human awareness. His human consciousness of being the Son entailed an immediate knowledge of his Father, whom he called Abba. () This experience was actually none other than the transposition to the key of human awareness and cognition of the very life of God. () this revelation is not absolute. () On the one hand, Jesus' human consciousness, while it is of the Son, is still a human consciousness and therefore a limited one. () On the other hand, it is precisely this human experience that Jesus had of being the Son, in relation to the Father, that enabled him to translate into human words the mystery of God that he revealed to us. () The qualitative fullness- let us say, the intensity of the revelation in Jesus Christ is no obstacle, even after the historical event, to a continuing divine self-revelation through the prophets and sages of other religious traditions, as, for example, through the prophet Muhammed. That self-revelation has occurred, and continues to occur, in history. No revelation, however, either before or after Christ can either surpass or equal the one vouchsafed in Jesus Christ, the divine Son incarnate" (249-250).

Dupuis explains further: "() Jesus is referring to the Father with a familiarity never before conceived or attested. () It was something that flowed out of the living experience of a unique intimacy. () The reason why God's self-revelation in Jesus is decisive and unsurpassed is that in his human consciousness Jesus experiences the mystery of the divine life, which he personally shares. This transposition of the Divine Mystery into human consciousness permits its expression in human language. () This revelation is central and normative for Christian faith, in the sense that no one is capable of communicating to human beings the mystery of God with the greater depth than does the Son himself, who has become a human being ()" (270-271). It appears that this proposition not only beautifully affirms the uniqueness of Christ, but also opens the room for encounter with other religious traditions.

As Dupuis often moves from his own ideas to representing ideas expressed by others, it is not always clear, what is his own position on certain issues. He seems to believe in the possibility of differential and complementary revelation (through religious traditions) and thus, after Ward, advocates for so called "open theology." Such theology seeks a convergence of common core beliefs, learns from complementary beliefs in other traditions, is willing to reinterpret its beliefs in the light of new knowledge, accepts the full rights of diverse belief-systems, encourages a dialoque with conflicting and dissenting views, is prepared to confront its own tradition, tries to develop sensitivity to the historical and cultural contexts, in which its own beliefs were formulated.

Among these points of convergence Dupuis quotes convictions that God is only one (for example, "Our God and your God, is One,"  Quran 29:46), as well as experiences of the mystics of all religious traditions "on a quest for union with the same one God, at once transcendent and immamnent, the author of life, who graciously communicates himself to unworthy creatures" (261-2). These mystics seem to have witnessed that "the relationship between the human being and God must be interiorized as it grows. This interiorization is the deed of the Spirit in the spirit of the human being. ()" (277).

While discussing the uniqueness of Christ Dupuis makes another attempt to de-absolutize Christian theology. He writes: "() an inductive theology of religions ought to see the word of God as a dynamic reality (). The 'constitutive' uniqueness of Jesus Christ will stand as an affirmation of Christian faith, but will not be absolutized by relying merely on the unilateral foundation of a few isolated texts: Acts 4:12, 1 Tim 2:5, Jn 14:6. ()" (294). He continues: "The universality of the Christ who, 'being made perfect,' became 'the source of eternal salvation' (Heb 5:9), does not cancel out the particularity of Jesus, 'made like his brothers and sisters in every respect' (Heb 2:17). ()" (297). He complements this point it by quoting from one of the documents of the Indian Theological Association stating that: "() Christ accepted the human condition to the ultimate consequences. He gave himself totally to others; () (as such) Christ is present in every human vicissitude as servant and leaven. He belongs to the whole humanity. Through his servanthood he gives himself incessantly to men and women of all cultures and leads them unobstractively to their self-realization. He is a liberative action, which makes the person whole, transforms the cultures it encounters by forming them into a community of love, in which the other is respected and accepted in his or her self-understanding." (underline by Rajski). (298).

Dupuis discussing "christological hermeneutics" quotes from other theologians, such as Geffre, who wrote "Jesus is the icon of the living God in a unique manner, and we need not wait for another 'Mediator.' But () the very law of God's incarnation through the mediation of history leads (us) to think that Jesus does not put an end to the story of God's manifestations." (299). Schillebeeckx expressed a similar idea when he wrote: "Although we cannot attain Jesus in his fulness unless at the same time we also take into account his unique relationship with God, which has a special nature of its own, this does not of itself mean that Jesus unique way of life is the only way to God. ()" (300).

Advocating for "searching christology" Dupuis proposes: "The uniqueness and the universality of Jesus Christ are neither absolute or relative. We have called them 'constitutive' insofar as the Christ-event has a universal impact: in it God has brought universal salvation; Christ's risen humanity is the gurantee of God's indissoluble union with humankind." (303). It should be asserted though that also from a Christian perspective, it is "God - and God alone- (who) saves." Thus it is an abuse of language to say that religions, or even Christianity, save. (306). Consequently, other religions "too can be made use of by God as channels of his salvation; they can thus become ways or means conveying the power of the saving God - paths of salvation for the people who walk the path." (306).

Dupuis continues by quoting from the Guidelines for Inter-religious Dialogue of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (1989): "The plurality of religions is a consequence of the richness of creation itself and of the manifold grace of God. Though all coming from the same source, peoples have perceived the universe and articulated their awareness of the Divine Mystery in manifold ways, and God has surely been present in these historical undertakings of his children. Such pluralism therefore is in no way to be deplored but rarther acknowledged as itself a divine gift." (315). Polemizing with the "fulfillment theory" Dupuis writes: "The religious traditions of humanity derive from the religious experience of the persons or groups that have founded them. Their sacred books contain the memory of concrete religious experiences with Truth. Their practices, in turn, result from the codification of these experiences. Thus is seems both impractible and theologically unrealistic to maintain that, while the members of the various religious traditions can obtain salvation, their religion plays no role in the process." (318).

In the chapter 13 Dupuis presents the Reign of God, a conceptualization, which seems to allow for other religions to have the saving value for their members. According to the old saying - "Where there is charity and love, there God abides" ("Ubi caritas et amor, Dues ibi est) (322). In the past the Reign of God seemed to be identified with the Roman Catholic Church (e.g., in  Mystyci Corporis, 1943). Since the Vatican II a new perception starts to emerge, in which "(...) the Reign of God is a universal reality, extending far beyond the boundaries of the Church. It is the reality of salvation in Jesus Christ, in which Christians, and others share together; it is the fundamental 'mystery of unity,' which unites us more deeply than differences in religious allegiance are able to keep us apart. (...)" (from: Evangelization in Asia, 1991, document by the FABC's Office for Evangelization) (342).

"Christians and the others," Dupuis writes, "build together the Reign of God each time they commit themselves of common accord in the cause of human rights, each time they work for the integral liberation of each and every human being, but especially of the poor and the oppressed. They also build the Reign of God by promoting religious and spiritual values. ()" (346).

It leads Dupuis to a fresh look at the issue of evangelization and interreligious dialogue. Dupuis quotes John Paul II stating that "all Christians must () be committed to dialogue with the believers of all religions, so that the mutual understanding and collaboration may grow; so that the moral values be strengthened; so that God may be praised in all creation." (Message to the People of Asia, Manila, 1981)(361). He continues to say that "dialogue cannot be 'manipulated,' it cannot be reduced to a means for proclamation ()" (365). He then quotes from Redemptoris Missio, stating that "() dialogue is 'a method and means of mutual knowledge and enrichment' (RM 55) and 'leads to inner purification and conversion' (RM56), but "not of the conversion of the others to Christianity, but of the conversion toward God of both partners of dialogue ()' (365). (It is worth to note here that this seems to be the meaning, in which Our Lady of Medjugorie speaks about conversion.)

"Sincere dialogue implies," Redemptoris Missio continues, "mutual acceptance of differences, or even contradictions, and () respect for the free decisions of persons according to the dictate of their conscience" (RM 41) (367), "(it implies) reciprocity and aims at banishing fear and aggressiveness" (RM 83)(368). Sincere dialogue implies "learning new truth." (373).

Theses on Interreligious Dialogue of FABC's Theological Advisory Commission further clarify these ideas: "The one divine plan of salvation for all people embraces the whole universe. The mission of the Church has to be understood within the context of this plan. The Church does not monopolize God's action in the universe. While it is aware of a special mission of God in the world, it has to be attentive to God's action in the world, as manifested also in other religions. This twofold awareness constitutes the two pole of the Church's evangelizing action in relation to other religions: while proclamation is the expression of its awareness of being in mission, dialogue is the expression of its awareness of God's presence and action outside its boundaries. (...) (371).

"Dialogue cannot be a monologue," Dupuis continues. The "fulness" of revelation in Jesus Christ does not dispense Christians from listening. By the dialogue, Christians and others "walk together towards truth" (DM 13) (382). Among the fruits of dialogue Dupuis mentions:

In conclusion to his book Dupuis quotes Schillebeeckx (1990) to express the notion that "the multiplicity of religions is not an evil, which needs to be removed, but rather a wealth, which is to be welcomed and enjoyed by all" (386). He reaffirms that "the principle of plurality will be made to rest primarily on the superabundant richness and diversity of God's self-manifestations to humankind" and "the immensity of a God who is love" (387). Dupuis writes: "while (Jesus Christ) is constitutive of salvation for all, he neither excludes nor includes other saving figures and traditions. If he brings salvation history to a climax, it is by way not of substitution or supersession, but of confirmation and accomplishment" (388).

As for myself I would like to say that "Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism" is the first theological book in my life, which I read with interest and excitement more characteristic for reading best-selling novels. Naturally, the book is highly sophisticated, and it is good to have a dictionary at hand. What makes it so appealing to read is the beautiful vision of the world to come - the world of dialogue, tolerance and mutual understanding between people of different religious backgrounds. One can only wish that this vision will find a quick way to human hearts. If it happens, it could be justifiably said that this book neared the Kingdom of God.

Last updated: 2001/03/21