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Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism.

Jacques Dupuis, S.J. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1997. 433pp. $50.00 (cloth).

Jacques Dupuis is a Belgian Jesuit who taught theology in India and is now professor of theology at the Gregorian University in Rome. He has been writing for three decades on the relation between Christianity and non-Christian religions. In this book he proposes a Christian theology of religious pluralism. The various non-Christian religious traditions, he believes, are divinely willed paths for the mediation of revelation and salvation, which complement the revelation found in Christianity. Nevertheless, Dupuis holds that they remain related to the universal mediation of Christ and to the Christian Church. His method of approaching these questions is influenced by liberation theology. Any theology of religious pluralism, he thinks, must begin from within religious dialogue, rather than from dogmatic propositions.

The first section of the book is a historical review of Israelite and Christian approaches to religious pluralism from biblical times to the present. He notes that the Old Testament recognizes holiness outside of Israel: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Job, Melchizedek, etc., are "pagan saints." The covenants with Adam and Noah were universal covenants with all humanity. "Before God manifested himself to Abraham and Moses, he had done so to the nations" (34). Both the wisdom and the Spirit of God are universally present in human history. John's Gospel affirms a Logos-Wisdom Christology in which the Logos is the "true light, which enlightens everyone" (John 1:9). The early fathers (Justin, Irenaeus, Clement) developed a Logos-theology which understood the Logos as a universal principle of revelation and salvation available even to non-Christians. Dupuis cites St. Justin: "Those who have lived in accordance with the Logos are Christians, even though they were called Godless, such as . . . Socrates and Heraclitus, and others like them" (58).

During the fourth century, however, the axiom "Outside the Church no salvation," originally applied by Cyprian to heretics and schismatics, came to be applied to Jews and pagans (89). Augustine believed that, because of original sin, those who died without Christian baptism could not be saved. He thus transmitted to the Middle Ages an exclusivistic understanding of the axiom. The Council of Florence (1442) asserted that all those dying outside the Catholic Church would go to hell (95).

The discovery of the New World led to a reconsideration of the rigid interpretation of the axiom. Various "substitutes for the Gospel" (chapter 4) were developed. A common expedient was the appeal to the possibility of an implicit faith in Christ, or a baptism of desire, by which unbelievers could be saved. This became the common theology after the Council of Trent.

Vatican II, while clearly affirming that non-Christians could be saved, stopped short of affirming that non-Christian religious traditions might themselves mediate salvation. John Paul II, however, has written frequently (e.g., in Redemptoris Missio) of the presence of the Spirit in non-Christian religious traditions.

The second section of the book develops a synthetic theology of religious pluralism. Dupuis criticizes the usual positions of exclusivism (only one religion is true), pluralism (all religions are equally valid paths to ultimate reality), and inclusivism (Christianity includes and supersedes the revelation found in other religions). Rather, working from a model of "Trinitarian Christology," he argues that the Logos and the Spirit remain active outside the Christian Church both before and after the death of Christ. God, working through the Logos and the Spirit, has established authentic covenants with "extra-biblical" peoples, such as Hindus and Buddhists: "They too are covenant peoples and deserve to be called 'peoples of God'" (226). These covenants are grounded in the universal and cosmic covenant with Noah, which has never been abrogated. Like the covenant with the Jews, they are related to the Christian covenant, but represent distinct manifestations of the Logos. Similarly, there is authentic revelation, prophecy, and words of God in non-Christian religious traditions, just as there was in the Hebrew tradition: "We must maintain that the religious experience of the sages and rishis (seers) of the nations is guided and directed by the Spirit" (247).

Although Jesus is the sacrament of God's revelation and represents its qualitative fullness, the revelation through Jesus does not exhaust the revelatory activity of the Logos or the Spirit (299). No other revelation can equal or surpass Christian revelation, but nonetheless there may be non-Christian revelations which complement it: "The religious traditions of the world convey different insights into the mystery of Ultimate Reality" (279). Such traditions are related to Christ, since all activity of the Logos and the Spirit are also activities of Christ. They are also related to the Church, since the Church is the sacrament of the kingdom of God (353), where God's universal saving work is most clearly manifest.

This book, magisterial in scope and meticulous in its scholarship, surveys and sums up centuries of Catholic thinking on the subject of religious pluralism. Its theology, which is Christocentric rather than ecclesiocentric, ventures beyond official Catholic statements in its acknowledgement of the legitimacy and importance of religious pluralism in the divine plan. The book, however, does have some limitations. Although Dupuis dialogues extensively with contemporary scholars such as John Hick and Paul Knitter, his focus is largely on Roman Catholic theology; developments in Protestant theology are treated briefly if at all. His principal dialogue partners among world religions are Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Judaism. No attention is given to tribal or shamanic religious traditions. Many Christians will think that he assumes too easily the implicit activity of the Logos and the Spirit in non-Christian religions, and will note that he scarcely considers the possibility of distorted or demonic elements in other traditions.

But these qualifications do not vitiate the core of his argument. This book is a powerful statement of a theology which is grounded in classical Christian Trinitarian doctrine, but which moves beyond the usual alternatives of theocentrism or Christocentrism, and exclusivism, pluralism, or inclusivism. Scholars will find it a challenging yet indispensable resource for years to come.

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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Nichols, Terence L.
Publication:Cross Currents
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1999
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