The Spirit Is at Work in Other Religions: The Heart of Phan's Theology of Religious Pluralism Is the Complementary Relationship He Perceives between Christianity and Non-Christian Religions

By Ronan, Marian | National Catholic Reporter, September 22, 2017 | Go to article overview

The Spirit Is at Work in Other Religions: The Heart of Phan's Theology of Religious Pluralism Is the Complementary Relationship He Perceives between Christianity and Non-Christian Religions


Ronan, Marian, National Catholic Reporter


THE JOY OF RELIGIOUS PLURALISM: A PERSONAL JOURNEY

By Peter C. Phan

Published by Orbis Books, 225 pages, $35

In April 2006, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith notified Vietnamese-American theologian Peter Phan that his 2004 book, Being Religious Interreligiously: Asian Perspectives on Interfaith Dialogue was "confused" on significant points of Catholic doctrine. A year later, the Committee on Doctrine of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops restated the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's allegations. The unreasonable timelines mandated in each case made it impossible for Phan to respond.

Now, after 11 years, Phan has published the book-length "clarification" demanded by the two entities. The Joy of Religious Pluralism is, in large part, a response to the congregation's assertion that Being Religious Interreligiously "is in open contrast with almost all the teachings of Dominus Iesus," the 2000 Vatican declaration on the "unicity and salvific universality of Jesus Christ and the church."

Phan is a leading Catholic theologian, the first Asian-American president of the Catholic Theological Society of America and recipient of its distinguished John Courtney Murray Award. He is best known for his work on Asian and Asian-American theology and interreligious dialogue, but he is also an expert on Eastern Orthodox iconography, patristics, Karl Rahner and liberation theology

The heart of Phan's theology of religious pluralism is the complementary relationship he perceives between Christianity and non-Christian religions. Only through a sincere and humble dialogue with other religions, Phan believes, can Christianity come to a full realization of its own identity and calling. In this context, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Committee on Doctrine find particularly problematic Phan's positions on Jesus Christ as the unique savior, the salvific significance of non-Christian religions, and the church as the exclusive sacrament of salvation.

The first two chapters of The Joy of Religious Pluralism establish a wider framework for discussing these three issues. In Chapter 1, Phan addresses the inadequacy of the hierarchical conviction that the only way to do theology is to apply the episcopal magisterium --Scripture and tradition --to whatever matter is under consideration. Phan shows that, depending on the question at hand, some or all of the four other magisteria--those of the theologians, the laity, the poor, and believers of non-Christian religions --must also be considered to achieve authoritative teaching.

In Chapter 2, Phan explains that the foundation of Christian theology is the Divine Spirit, who acts in history through both "hands of the Father," the Son and the Holy Spirit. And while the actions of these two hands are interdependent, they are also autonomous. Thus the Holy Spirit was at work before the Son was incarnated in Jesus of Nazareth and is at work after that incarnation, and even outside it, including in the wisdom of other religions.

Phan situates the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's concern regarding his treatment of the salvific universality of Jesus Christ within this framework. Because of its failure to draw on the magisterium of other religions, Phan explains, the congregation is unable to see that the hand of the Spirit was active in some of those religions even before the incarnation of Jesus Christ and is active in their salvific symbols today Only through a pneumatological Christology, one that learns from the messianic representations in Buddhism, Hinduism and the other religions, will the church come to a full understanding of Jesus Christ as savior. …

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