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A. Mong Ih-Ren: In Many and Diverse Ways: Examining Jacques Dupuis’ Theology of Religious Pluralism

Essay published in Dialogue & Alliance, Vol. 25, No. 2, 2011

Jacques Dupuis’ long years of experience in India (1948 – 1984) and of its non-Christian traditions shaped his theology. As a theologian, he had tried to respond to a world in which Christians are increasingly aware of the nature of different religious paths. This led him into conflict with church authorities, although the Vatican II Council document Nostra aetate focuses on the commonality between the Catholic faith and other religions. It states that “the Catholic Church rejects nothing which is true and holy in these religions.” [1] Dupuis took this seriously and sought the significance of other religions in God’s plan for humankind. He was able to see the issue of revelation and salvation in a more complex and broader perspective than he found in the church’s current teaching. Dupuis was convinced that divine revelation is not limited to the Judeo-Christian tradition, but also extended to other religious traditions.

This essay seeks to review Dupuis’ book, Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism, examining the issue of religious pluralism, the paradigmatic shift from ecclesiocentrism [church-centered] to Christocentricism [Christ-centered] and to theocentrism [God-centered], and also the issue of interfaith dialogue.

Jacques Dupuis was born in Belgium in 1923 and entered the Society of Jesus in 1941. As a young Jesuit scholastic, he volunteered for the missions in India. It was at St. Xavier’s College in Calcutta that Dupuis made his first contact with non-Christian students. They attracted him with their goodness and piety which they had learned from their mostly Hindu parents. It seemed clear to Dupuis that God had revealed himself in and through the Hindu religion. Thus he began to reflect on the variety of religions in the world. It was obvious to him that these religions were not simply superstitious.

Dupuis was ordained in 1954, and from 1960 to 1984 he was professor of systematic theology at the Jesuit-run theological faculty, Vidyajyoti Institute of Religious Studies, in New Delhi. In 1984, he became professor of Christology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He also edited Gregorianum, the Gregorian University’s journal. As an advisor to the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, he played an important role in the writing of Dialogue and Proclamation, the Vatican’s 1991 guidelines on inter-religious dialogue, a subject at the heart of John Paul II’s pontificate.

In 1997 Dupuis published his book Towards a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism. This book was investigated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), headed by Cardinal Ratzinger. He cancelled a class for the first semester of 1998/99 so that he could concentrate on responding to the charges brought by the CDF, and in fact wrote nearly 200 pages in reply. Dupuis became professor emeritus in December 1998, when he turned 75. He continued to edit the Gregorian University’s quarterly, Gregorianum, until 2003.

At the heart of Dupuis’ theology is the belief that although Jesus is the Savior of humankind, God also works in other religions. Dupuis never denied the primacy of Christianity, and his theology was a distinctly Trinitarian in character. Dupuis believed that in every authentic religious experience, the triune God of Christian revelation was present and operative.

In an interview in London, Dupuis summed up his theology of religious pluralism:

In a sense we must be prepared to recognise the word of God in the sacred books of those other religious traditions. It remains true, of course, that the fullness of divine revelation is found in Jesus Christ. And the reason for this is that Jesus Christ as the Son of God made man can express the mystery of God more deeply than the prophets of the Old Testament and the prophets of the other religious traditions.[2]

Jacques Dupuis also mentioned his experience in India:

I went through a conversion by living for so many years in India. If I had not lived in India for 36 years, I would not preach the theology that I am preaching today. I consider my exposure to Hindu reality as the greatest grace I have received from God in my vocation as theologian.[3]

Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism is an attempt by Dupuis to give an organic treatment to salvation history that is Christocentric. This means maintaining the Christian identity while engaging in interfaith dialogue and conversation. He insists that the theology of religions must be studied within one’s personal faith perspective, within the presuppositions which faith implies. This theology interprets the data in the perspective of faith commitment. Although theology must necessarily be confessional, Dupuis argues that a Christian theology must adopt a global outlook that incorporates in its vision the entire religious experience of humanity. This means that its horizon must be universal. At the same time, Dupuis maintains that religious faiths differ substantially from one another, and thus it is not possible to have a universal theology. We must acknowledge the “plurality and diversity of beliefs and the mutual acceptance of the others in their otherness.” The model he proposes is not one of mutual assimilation, but of “interpenetration and cross-fertilization of the various traditions in their diversities.”[4]

Religious pluralism

Jacques Dupuis asserts that religious pluralism “has its roots in the depth of the Divine Mystery itself and in the manifold way in which human cultures have responded to the mystery.” He insists that differences must be tolerated, welcomed, and celebrated with thankfulness because they are “a sign of the superabundant riches of the Divine Mystery which overflows to humankind and … an outstanding opportunity for mutual enrichment, ‘cross-fertilization,’ and ‘transformation’ between the traditions themselves.”[5] Religious pluralism is not only a reality (de facto) but must be accepted in principle (de jure). It has a place in God’s plan of salvation. Commitment to one’s faith is compatible with openness to others, and the affirmation of one’s religion need not be confrontational with that of the others. Dupuis also argues that, in the final analysis, a theology of religions must be a theology of religious pluralism.

Religious pluralism persists due in part to the failure of Christian mission, especially in Asia. It can also be welcomed as a positive thing as it shows forth the superabundant generosity of God as he reveals himself to humankind in diverse ways. Therefore, theology must assign to the plurality of religions a positive meaning in God’s overall plan for humanity. The multiplicity of religions in the world is not an obstacle to be removed, but rather a richness to be celebrated and enjoyed by all. In line with Edward Schillebeeckx’s thinking, Dupuis believes that Christianity has a positive relationship with other religions. Christians can maintain their uniqueness and at the same time affirm the positive nature of other religious traditions.[6]

The principle of religious pluralism is based on the richness and diversity of God’s revelation to humankind. According to Dupuis, there is only one divine plan for humanity, but it is multi-dimensional: “it belongs to the nature of the overflowing communication of the Triune God to humankind to prolong outside the divine life the plural communication intrinsic to that life itself.” It is not incidental that God spoke in many and diverse ways before speaking through his son (Hebrews 1:1). The Christ-event does not make obsolete the universal presence and action of the Word and the Spirit.[7]

Although religious pluralism manifests God’s superabundant love for us, Dupuis stresses that we must maintain the constitutive uniqueness and universality of Jesus Christ. The Christ-event is “constitutive” and “relational.”[8] What Dupuis means is that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ opens the way for all of us to reach God, but the uniqueness of Christianity must not be construed as absolute. Only God’s saving will is absolute. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is at once particular in time and universal in meaning. They are unique and yet related to all other divine revelations to humankind in our salvation history, and as such it is relational.

Truth and grace in other religions are not just “stepping stones”; they represent additional benefits to humankind. Dupuis believes they operate in the entire history of God’s relationship with his people and not just in the Christian tradition. The truth of Christianity is neither exclusive nor inclusive; it is related to all that is true in other religions. Thus the Christian theology of religions studies the complementarity and convergence of the various traditions in the light of the mystery of the divine Trinity revealed in Jesus Christ. The final goal of Christianity and other religions is the “eschatological fullness of the Reign of God.”[9]

Some people have mistaken Dupuis’ understanding of religious pluralism de jure in the Hickian sense which means in principle that all major religions are equally valid paths to salvation. But religious pluralism in principle, according to Dupuis, may also mean acknowledging that God is present to people through the spiritual riches that their religions embody and express. The presence and activity of the Spirit touch the cultures and religions of humankind everywhere. Thus the Spirit’s activity in various religions implies some kind of religious pluralism which exists in principle. Thus Gerald O’Collins insists that we need to differentiate between the “pluralists” and the kind of pluralism that Dupuis endorses.[10]

Shifting paradigms

Jacques Dupuis speaks about the paradigm shift in the debate over the theology of religions. He thinks the term ‘paradigm’ is better than ‘model’ to express the change in the understanding of human salvation. Models do not exclude each other; they complement each other and need to be combined in order to give us a comprehensive view of the reality concerned. But paradigm is the opposite in the sense that it excludes the other. It deals with the principles of interpreting reality. You cannot hold a Ptolemaic and Copernician worldview at the same time.[11] Thus, if one paradigm is no longer operative, we need to abandon it or shift to another one.

Firstly, Dupuis speaks of the paradigm shift in theological discourse from ecclesiocentrism to Christocentricism: this means a radical “decentering” of the church and focussing on the mystery of Christ. It is Jesus Christ and not the church that is at the centre of the Christian mystery. Thus a broad Christocentric perspective is to be substituted for a narrow ecclesiocentric approach. Regarding the theology of religions, this paradigm shift from exclusivism to inclusivism requires a distinction between the role of Jesus Christ and the church that cannot be on the same level in the order of salvation. Jesus Christ alone is the mediator between God and human beings according to the gospel. Thus Dupuis claims that “a theology of religions cannot be built on an ecclesiological inflation that would falsify perspectives.”[12] Membership in the church cannot be used as a criterion for the salvation of souls.

Secondly, the shift from Christocentrism to theocentrism. This means God alone stands at the centre. One can hold pluralism in the sense that people can and do find salvation through various religious traditions and also accept, as Dupuis does, that the one, universal, constitutive mediation of salvation comes through Christ. Dupuis reports that at the heart of the paradigm shift is the Christological question: the contention is that a person is saved through faith in Jesus Christ, but not that Jesus Christ is the only way for all human beings to be saved. This means that Jesus Christ is the savior of the Christians, but other ways are also available to non-Christians.[13] Dupuis does not share the view that all religions, including Christianity, despite their differences, have the same validity and equal value.

The Spirit blows where he wills (John 3:8)

Advocates of logocentrism believe that in every event and in every circumstance it is the Word of God who saves and not precisely the incarnated Jesus. Dupuis argues that “the Christ” is just a title and a title does not save. In the prologue of the Gospel of John, we read that the Logos existed before the incarnation. In the same way the Spirit of God was also present before the Christ-event. Thus, Dupuis says we need to move beyond the narrow Christological perspective and build a new theology of religions based on a pneumatocentric model [Spirit-centered] not limited by the particularity of history: “the economy of the Spirit knows no bounds of space and time.”[14]

The Spirit “blows where he wills” (John 3:8); it has been universally present throughout history and remains active today inside and also outside of Christianity. The Spirit also inspires people in their own religious traditions. Discussing the position of Paul Knitter, Dupuis notes that: Christians are assured of salvation in the Christ-event, and asks whether followers of other religions receive this assurance from their own traditions through the “immediate autonomous action of the Spirit of God.”[15] There are two channels through which God saves his people, and the Holy Spirit is the point of entry into the life of people when God communicates himself to them. Dupuis also claims that the model centered on the Holy Spirit cannot be separated from the Christological model. Although the Spirit is present before and after the Christ-event, Christian faith stresses the distinction between these two phases, although they are complementary and inseparable: pneumatocentrism and Christocentrism constitute two inseparable aspects of the divine economy.[16]

When we discuss shifting paradigms and mode of contradiction, we employ the categories and models of Western way of thinking. Dupuis insists that we must move beyond this European way of categorization in order to build a theology of religions that is founded on “harmony, convergence, and unity.” This means that we must abandon the talk of uniqueness in order to discover the “singularity of each religious tradition” and also the “positive significance of the plurality in those traditions.”[17]

One God – one Christ – convergent paths

Jacques Dupuis argues that a Christian theology of religious pluralism must be an interfaith theology. We must be truly committed to our faith while at the same time taking a universal perspective and being open to all human experiences of the absolute. The relationship between Christianity and other religions cannot be viewed “in terms of contradiction and opposition between realization here and stepping-stones there.”[18] It must be seen in terms of interdependence within an organic whole of universal reality, between diverse ways of humanity’s encounter with the Divine mystery.

The Trinitarian Christology proposed by Dupuis implies that Jesus Christ must not be a substitute for the Father, and thus faith-interpretation must be “God-centered.” Jesus is the way and the truth according to the Gospel of John (14:6), but “never the goal or the end.”[19] The mystery of God is made known to us only by the incarnate Son (John 1:18). Dupuis maintains that although Jesus is close to the Father by virtue of the incarnation, the two remain distinct. There is the unbridgeable distance between the Father and Jesus in his human existence. God stands beyond Jesus; he is at the center of the Christian mystery – not in the absolute sense, but in the order of the economy of God’s relationship with his people in history.[20]

Some critics accuse Dupuis of making a personal distinction between the eternal Word of God and the historic Jesus of Nazareth. However, Gerald O’Collins says Dupuis likes to make a distinction but not a separation regarding the two natures of Christ and their respective operations.[21] The Word of God (Logos) is present and active everywhere both before and after the incarnation, and it is not overshadowed by Jesus taking the human form. Dupuis stresses that the Word of God is identical with Jesus of Nazareth. We can distinguish between his human and divine actions, but not between two personal agents. There is only one divine plan of salvation and not two economies of salvation. All people are called to share in this one life of the Trinity through the activities of the Son and the Holy Spirit.[22]

Dupuis also proposes a Spirit-Christology that extends “beyond the resurrection to illustrate the relationship between the action of the risen Lord and the economy of the Holy Spirit.” In building a theology of religious pluralism, the universal presence and action of the Holy Spirit must be affirmed and must serve as a guiding principle. Christology does not exist without pneumatology and it cannot be allowed to develop into a “Christomonism” [“Christ alone”], Dupuis argues.[23] The action of the Spirit is not confined to the risen humanity of Christ. While the Spirit continues to work in total communion with the glorified Christ after resurrection, it also exercises its mission towards the outside through Jesus’ mediation. To maintain that the Spirit’s saving action takes place exclusively through Christ’s glorified humanity is a kind of Christomonism that Eastern theologians renounced.

Against their Western contemporaries, the Eastern theologians have a theology that stresses the role of the Holy Spirit in the divine economy of salvation. It emphasizes the distinct roles of the Son and the Spirit, “even as their hypostatic identities are distinct.” There is also this “relationship of order” between the Son and the Spirit without any subordination of one to the other. Dupuis also stresses that while the Son and the Spirit are distinct, they also complement each other in one economy of salvation. He writes, “The Christ-event is at the center of the historical unfolding of the divine economy, but the punctual event of Jesus Christ is actuated and becomes operative throughout time and space in the work of the Spirit.”[24]

Thus a theology of religious pluralism must be able to hold in “constructive tension” the particularity of the historical Christ-event and the universal action of the Holy Spirit. [25] It will then be able to show that God’s revelation in human cultures and religious traditions outside of Christianity does not imply two channels of salvation, Christology and pneumatology, one for Christians and the other for non-Christians. The two form one divine economy of divine-human relationship.[26] This is very much in line with the ideas Pope John Paul II, who taught that the Spirit operates beyond the visible boundary of the church in the world’s cultures and religions.

Jacques Dupuis says the historical Christ-event must not be allowed to obscure the fact that the Trinity is also operating in the divine economy with its distinct and correlated functions. The Trinitarian mystery implies at once unity and plurality; there is diversity and communion of persons in the Godhead. The Christ-event must be seen within “the manifold modality of the divine self-disclosure and manifestation through the Word and the Spirit.” God’s inner life overflows outside the Godhead, and this means that the root cause of human existence converges and leads to a common goal. Thus “One God – one Christ – convergent paths” means that the Christ-event assures us of God’s diverse ways of reaching humankind; these diverse paths tend towards a mutual convergence in the divine mystery which constitutes our final goal and destination.[27] This understanding of Dupuis is that the activity of the Spirit reaches and enriches non-Christians in and through their own religious beliefs and practices. Since non-Christian religions contain elements of truth and goodness, the Spirit of God is also present in them and their adherents can obtain salvation by following the dictates of their own religions.

History and covenants

The idea that salvation begins only in the vocation of Abraham is misleading, according to Dupuis. Following Karl Rahner, Dupuis believes that world history and salvation history coincide. Human history is the story of God’s relationship with humankind, and this implies both divine self-revelation and salvation. God wills all human beings to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). Karl Rahner bases his belief in the universality of divine revelation on an analysis of the existential condition of human existence, which he calls the “supernatural existential.”[28] Thus, salvation history cannot be reduced to the Judeo-Christian tradition because other religious traditions also have their own prophetic words interpreting divine intervention in the history of their people. God’s gifts to his people are not limited to Israel; it is extended even to its enemies. [29]

Dupuis warns us not to construe the Christocentrism of salvation history into a Christomonism. The centrality of the Christ-event actually enhances the universal presence of the Word and the Spirit throughout salvation history in the many religious traditions of humankind. The Holy Spirit is present in every historical situation, before and after the Christ-event. The Logos-Wisdom and the Spirit had been operative in pre-Christian times. Later they were understood as two distinct persons within the triune God: one is the Son who became incarnated in Jesus Christ and the other is the Spirit. Dupuis says that the two divine persons were present in pre-Christian dispensation. The prologue of St. John’s Gospel affirms this, and St. Irenaeus developed the understanding of the universal presence of the divine Logos before the Christ-event. Thus the Logos was present throughout the history of humankind and culminated in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.[30]

The universal presence of the Spirit is explicitly confirmed by John Paul II in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio (No. 28). Dupuis attempts to theologically combine the universal action of the Word and Sprit in one economy of salvation with the Christ-event. Following the teaching of Rahner, Dupuis asserts that the Logos’ pre-incarnational activity is oriented towards the Christ-event and the Spirit is actually the Spirit of Christ from the beginning of salvation history. Logocentrism and pneumatology call for each other. The action of the Logos, Spirit, and the Christ-event are inseparable aspects of the divine economy[31]

According to Dupuis, a theology of religious plurality must express the universal presence of the Word and Sprit outside the Judeo-Christian tradition. Jesus is not just the founder of Christianity but the “‘refounder’ of the universal covenant.”[32] The covenants relate to each other as diverse ways of God relating to his people – they are “Logophanies,” in which the Logos breaks into history in the incarnation. Thus, Dupuis believes it is wrong to view the covenant of Noah as merely a setting up of natural religion, according to Catholic theology. We must see the covenant with Noah as containing supernatural revelation, a true event of salvation with a “Trinitarian rhythm.”[33] Dupuis writes: “The covenant with Noah thus takes on a far-reaching significance for a theology of the religious traditions of peoples belonging to the ‘extrabiblical’ tradition.” Thus non-Christians are also covenant peoples or “peoples of God.”[34]

Dupuis also makes it clear that the extrabiblical traditions bear the imprint of the Trinity. As we search for traces of the Trinity in creation and in the spiritual activity of human beings, we can also discover these vestiges in non Judeo-Christian traditions. Other religious traditions, Dupuis argues, are also “symbolized by the Noachide covenant, and keep, mutatis mutandis, an enduring value.”[35] Just as Christ has not suppressed the law in the Mosaic covenant, neither has the cosmic covenant in Noah been suppressed by the Christ-event.

In the light of the above, divine revelation is not limited to biblical history but extended to the entire history of salvation. Dupuis believes divine revelation is coextensive with the history of salvation and is extended to all world history. Therefore, the prophetic figures in other religious traditions and their sacred books or oral traditions also contain a “word spoken by God” to people of these beliefs and to all humankind.[36] This is because God wills that other religions also perform functions in his plan for the salvation of humankind – a plan which will be fully disclosed only at the end of time. Dupuis says a theology of the “Word of God” in history must be both Trinitarian and Christological. It will search for the signs of God’s action and the imprint of the Spirit in other religious traditions, and for traces in their sacred books, oral traditions and living memory.[37]

The uniqueness and universality of Jesus Christ are neither absolute nor relative but “constitutive” in the sense that the Christ-event affects us all. It is also relational in the overall plan of God’s design for humanity, and thus the other religious traditions represent true interventions and manifestations of God in history. Therefore, all genuine religious beliefs form an integral part of our salvation history culminating in Jesus Christ.[38] At the same time, the Christian faith must also claim for Jesus Christ a “constitutive uniqueness” for it is in him that the historical particularity coincides with the universal significance.[39]

Paths to salvation

JacquesDupuis claims that Jesus Christ is unique not in the absolute or relative but “constitutive” and “relational” sense. “Constitutive” means that for the Christians, the paschal mystery has a universal significance; it constitutes the privilege channel through which God saves his people. “Relational” means that there is a reciprocal relationship between the way of Jesus Christ and those of other religious traditions. This implies that the universal saving efficacy of Christianity does not gainsay the positive value and saving power of other religions.

Thus members of other religions are saved through their own tradition and not beside or in spite of it. God makes use of other religious beliefs as channels or paths of salvation. If Jesus Christ is the unique mediator between God and men, then other religions have “participative forms of mediation.”[40] However, Redemptoris Missio (No. 5) states that other religious traditions have “participated forms of mediation” only in relation to Christ’s own mediation.

Dupuis argues that the action of the Word of God is not confined by the historic Christ-event; nor is the activity of the Spirit constrained by the risen Christ. The mediation of God takes on different aspects that need to be harmonized. It is necessary to admit God’s presence in other religions – their own religious practice is a way of salvation for their members. We cannot separate a personal, subjective religious life and objective religious tradition made up of words, rites and sacraments. The mystery of salvation is present to all human beings beyond the confines of Christianity. It is present in the church explicitly, but in other religious traditions it is present implicitly, in a “concealed manner, in virtue of an incomplete mode of mediation constituted by these traditions.”[41]

In the same way, the Christ-event cannot be allowed to obscure the abiding presence of the divine Word; the saving power of the Logos is not circumscribed by the particularity of the historical situation; it transcends the limits of time and space. Dupuis writes: “Through the transcendent power of the Logos, Trinitarian Christology is able to account for the mediatory function of religious traditions in the order of salvation, thus laying the foundation for the recognition of a pluralism in God’s way of dealing with humankind.”[42]

Some theologians are troubled by Dupuis calling Christ the “universal” and “constitutive” but not the “absolute” savior. Dupuis speaks of the Christ-event as “decisive” rather than “definitive.” Defending him, Gerald O’Collins argues that Dupuis has never wanted to reduce Christ to one savior among others, but he is aware of the limit involved in the incarnation in history. The incarnation was “a free act of God’s love and not unconditionally necessary.” O’Collins also cautions us about speaking of God’s work of salvation completed with the resurrection of Jesus Christ as the fullness of revelation because this ignores “the glorious manifestation of our Lord” that will take place in the future. He argues that our knowledge of God as revealed in Jesus Christ is limited and is neither “absolute” nor “definitive.” In Fides et Ratio, O’Collins reminds us that John Paul II writes that “every truth attained is but a step towards that fullness of truth which will appear with the final Revelation of God.” Thus, O’Collins thinks it is more accurate to speak of revelation completed in Jesus Christ as “decisive” rather than “definitive,” a term which implies that there is nothing more to expect. [43]

The reign of God and the church

In the Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium, the church is identified with the reign of God both in its historical realization and its eschatological fulfillment. However, Dupuis notes that the reign of God in its historical reality extends beyond the church to all people. This is of great significance to the theology of religions. He stresses that the encyclical letter Redemptoris Missio is the first official church document to distinguish between the church and the reign of God in their journey towards final fulfillment.

Dupuis argues that Jesus did not identify the reign with the “movement” he created and which later became the church. He was actually putting the church at the service of the reign when he commissioned the 12 to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom (Matthew 10:5-15). Thus, the church is to proclaim the reign of God and not itself. The Kingdom of Christ is more comprehensive than the church; Christ’s rule extends beyond the church.

Hence, the theology of religions must teach Christians to be open to the actions of the Spirit in others who also share in the reality of the reign of God in the world. It is through sharing in the reality of the reign of God that the others are also subjected to the saving action of God in Jesus Christ. Dupuis argues that “far from being mutually exclusive, the Kingdom-centered and the Christocentric perspectives are necessarily interconnected.”[44]

The reign of God to which members of other religions belong is the Kingdom of God preached by Jesus Christ. These members follow the call of God within their own traditions and are also active members of the Kingdom. Thus a theology of religions that follows the kingdom-centered model cannot avoid the Christocentric approach. Dupuis claims that the personal life of the followers of other religions cannot be separated from their own traditions. He believes that their own sacred books and sacramental practices also contain “supernatural, graced-fill elements.”[45] Their beliefs and traditions also contribute to the building of God’s Kingdom.

Hence, interreligious dialogue “makes explicit this already existing communion in the reality of salvation, which is the Reign of God that has come for all in Jesus.”[46] In spite of differences, members of different religious traditions are co-members of the reign of God in history, journeying together towards the fullness of God’s Kingdom. Dupuis also makes it clear that the church has no monopoly on the reign of God. While the church is in the world as the “universal sacrament” of mediation, other religions also “exercise a certain mediation of the Reign, different … but no less real.”[47]

Karl Rahner argues that the church has only a provisional status as it advances in history towards the promised future.[48] The followers of other religious traditions also belong to the Kingdom of God. Though they are not members of the church, they share in the fullness of the Kingdom. This is because Christ’s rule extends beyond the church and one day the church will also be absorbed into the Kingdom of God. Dupuis says it is better for a Christian theology of interreligious dialogue to adopt a kingdom-centered approach. Thus Dupuis recognizes the Reign of God as the decisive point of reference and the church exists for the kingdom, not vice versa.

Interfaith dialogue

Dialogue, as an element of evangelization, is different from proclamation – it does not aim at conversion of others to Christianity. It can take several forms: dialogue of life that is open to all; dialogue of commitment to justice and peace; intellectual dialogue; and prayer and contemplation. In Redemptoris Missio, dialogue is part of the church’s evangelizing mission. There is an intimate link between dialogue and proclamation. Dialogue is understood as “a method and means of mutual knowledge and enrichment”; it “leads to inner purification and conversion.” It is not a question of converting the others to Christianity, but of the conversion of all towards God. [49]

In the Vatican document Dialogue and Proclamation, other religious traditions are given a positive role in the salvation of their adherents. The members of other religions are saved by Christ not in spite of or besides but in and through their own traditions. The aim of interreligious dialogue is “a deeper conversion of all towards God” and thus dialogue has its own validity.[50] Sincere dialogue implies mutual acceptance of differences and even contradictions, and also respect for the free decisions of the others.

Dupuis asserts that the principal agent of dialogue is the Spirit of God who animates the partners from both sides. The Christian partners in dialogue must give and receive; they must listen because they do not possess a monopoly on truth in spite of the fact that the fullness of revelation is found in Jesus Christ. They must allow themselves to be possessed by the truth. Christians can gain a lot from this kind of dialogue, such as enrichment of their own faith, deepening of their understanding of the divine mystery which has been communicated less clearly by Christian tradition, purification of their own faith, and demolition of their own prejudices.

Dialogue also has a value in itself. The encounter and experience are ends in themselves because they enable the partners to be open to each other and to God, and finally to a deeper conversion of each to God. According to Dupuis, “the common conversion of Christians and the members of other religious traditions to the same … God of Jesus Christ” is the main aim of interreligious dialogue.[51] Harmony between religious communities can be achieved not by a “universal theology” which removes all differences, but by the development of different theological traditions that take religious pluralism, mutual differences, and dialogue seriously.


Jacques Dupuis’ Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism is magisterial in scope and meticulous in its scholarship. Dupuis’ Christocentric as well as regnocentric [kingdom-centered] approaches seek to venture beyond official Catholic teaching in their acknowledgement of the legitimacy and importance of religious pluralism in the divine plan. On the whole, the book is a powerful statement of a theology that is grounded in classical Christian Trinitarian doctrine. Dupuis’ achievement lies in his ability to move beyond the usual alternatives of theocentrism or Christocentrism, and the alternatives of exclusivism, pluralism, or inclusivism. Written by a systematic theologian who had spent nearly 40 years of his life in India, this book offers very good suggestions and insights on how to carry out dialogue with members of other religious traditions.

Gerald O’Collins has drawn attention to the way Dupuis had developed his theological themes that came from Pope John Paul II in Fides et Ratio. For example, Dupuis stresses the need for interreligious dialogue which is different from a falsely tolerant pluralism, and that God is the only One who is truly absolute, the divine self-revelation whose fullness of revelation will appear only at the end. Dupuis also stresses that we must have a deep respect for all “the treasures of human wisdom and religion” and a special interest in Indian religious and philosophical tradition. O’Collins argues that, like John Paul II, Dupuis recognizes those treasures of non-Christian religions through which their members find salvation. Following John Paul II, Dupuis’ central question is how to profess and proclaim Jesus Christ as the one redeemer of humankind while at the same time recognize the Spirit at work in non-Christian religions.[52]


Ambrose Mong Ih Ren is a Dominican priest doing research in religious pluralism and interfaith dialogue at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.


[1] Declaration on the Relations of the Church to Non-Christian Religion, Nostra Aetate, proclaimed by His Holiness Pope Paul VI on October 28, 1965, no. 2. /archive/hist_ councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decl_19651028_nostra-aetate_en.html.

[2] “Father Jacques Dupuis,” The Times, January 12, 2005, /tol/comment/obituaries/article411125.ece

[3] Quoted in “Father Jacques Dupuis,” The Times, January 12, 2005, http://www.timesonline 2005,

[4] Jacques Dupuis, S.J., Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1997), p. 7.

[5] Ibid., p. 198.

[6] Ibid., p. 387.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., p. 388.

[9] Ibid., p. 390.

[10] Gerald O’Collins, “Jacques Dupuis: His Person and Work,” in Daniel Kendall and Gerald O’Collins, eds., In Many and Diverse Ways: In Honor of Jacques Dupuis (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2003), 25.

[11] Dupuis, Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism, p. 181.

[12] Ibid., p. 185-186.

[13] Ibid., p. 190.

[14] Ibid., p. 196.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid., p. 198.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid., p. 204

[19] Ibid., p. 205.

[20] Ibid., p. 206

[21] O’Collins, “Jacques Dupuis: His Person and Work,” p. 26.

[22] Ibid., p. 27.

[23] Dupuis, Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism, p. 206.

[24] Ibid., p. 207.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid., p. 208.

[27] Ibid., p. 209.

[28] Ibid., p. 218.

[29] Ibid., p. 219.

[30] Ibid., p. 221.

[31] Ibid., p. 222.

[32]Ibid., p. 224.

[33] Ibid., p. 228.

[34] Ibid., p. 226.

[35] Ibid., p. 233.

[36] Ibid., p. 235.

[37] Ibid., p. 235.

[38] Ibid., p. 303.

[39] Ibid., p. 304.

[40] Ibid., p. 307.

[41] Ibid., p. 319.

[42] Ibid., p. 321.

[43] O’Collins, “Jacques Dupuis: His Person and Work,” p. 24.

[44] Dupuis, Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism, p. 345.

[45] Ibid., p. 346.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Ibid., p. 356.

[48] Ibid., p. 357.

[49] Ibid., p. 365.

[50] Ibid., p. 367.

[51] Ibid., p. 383.

[52] O’Collins, “Jacques Dupuis: His Person and Work,” p. 21.