Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Beyond the Text: Revisiting Jacques Dupuis' Theology of Religions

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Beyond the Text: Revisiting Jacques Dupuis' Theology of Religions

Article excerpt


Jacques Dupuis (1923-2004) was a Belgian Jesuit and one of the Roman Catholic Church's leading theologians of religion. Dupuis' magnum opus remains "Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism". In that work Dupuis attempts to reconcile the particularity of Jesus with the universality of the divine Logos. In order to do so, he utilizes the classical logos ensarkos/logos asarkos distinction. Although he is the Son of God and represents the sacrament of God's salvific will, Jesus Christ is limited by time and space, and cannot exhaust the mystery of God. The surplus of mystery, as well as God's universal intention to save are carried by the logos asarkos, or Holy Spirit, who is also the Spirit of Christ. The Holy Spirit points to and culminates in the 'Christ-event' but is not limited to it, because the Holy Spirit is found in all that is agapic in the world religions.

Dupuis' controversial theology of religions has been much discussed in its theoretical aspect. However, it has been largely neglected in its practical, evaluative aspect. This essay will attempt to answer two related questions. First, how helpful is Dupuis' theology of religions if applied to a certain religion (in this case, Islam)? Second, what can we learn from the successes and failures of application? The questions are important. The theology of religions exists as a discipline in order to assist Christians in their interactions with and inevitable evaluations of other faiths. Therefore, the success or failure of an applied theology of religions is one of the main determinants of its value.

The essay will conclude that the application of Dupuis' theology of religions reveals several problems. Chief among them are an excessive irenicism and a flawed hermeneutic of religions. Nevertheless, these flaws are rectifiable and Fr Dupuis has made a magisterial, invaluable, and perhaps permanent contribution to the discipline.


In Christendom today "genuine religion necessarily entails a relationship with other religions ... In short, to be religious is to be interreligious ... By way of consequence, a theology of religions becomes interreligious theology with a universal imperative." (1) Thus Jacques Dupuis states the project of his book, Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism. The West, once the isolated centre of Christianity (in its mistaken self-concept) now finds itself interacting daily with a multitude of religions, each contributing to the symphony of faith confessions. Perhaps a few centuries ago Western Christianity could afford to sequester itself in its European cocoon, but no more. Now, Christianity and Christians must engage the other, especially the religious other. Dupuis believes that it is the responsibility of theology to provide the means by which such discussion might be fruitful.

Dupuis is uniquely qualified to offer the necessary theology of pluralism. A Jesuit from Belgium, he taught theology in India from 1948 to 1984 where as a minority Christian he interacted with Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists. The West, new to the play of interreligious dialogue, can learn from its Christian brothers and sisters in India who are seasoned experts in the field. Dupuis offers to serve as a medium between the two communities.

Part I of his book Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism offers a superb history of Christianity in relation to the religions of the world. In this section, he touches upon religious pluralism from a biblical perspective by means of a thorough search for passages that might provide a "generous theological evaluation of the other religious traditions of the world" (p. 30). Dupuis outlines the "cosmic Christianity" of the church fathers, many of whom articulated early Logos-Christologies. At the same time, he does not fail to note exclusivist tendencies within the tradition, especially the doctrine "outside the church no salvation," stated implicitly by Chrysostom, explicitly by Augustine, and affirmed by the Council of Trent in 1442. …

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