Dilatato Corde 7:1
July – December, 2017
Gerard O’Connell
Conversations with Jacques Dupuis

Orbis Books
Orbis Books is to be commended for publishing Do Not Stifle the Spirit. Most of the book is devoted to a sustained interview between Jacques Dupuis and his friend, the journalist Gerard O’Connell. The final part of the interview—Dupuis preferred to call it a “conversation”—concerns Dupuis’ painful experience of being investigated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). On a more general level, the book provides a significant witness to the influence of Vatican II on the Catholic Church’s theory and practice of dialogue with other religions.
Those who are not familiar with the amazing corpus of Jacques Dupuis would be advised to turn first of all to the last chapter in this book, “The Theology of Religious Pluralism Revisited: A Provisional Balance Sheet.” This chapter is a heretofore unpublished essay by Professor Dupuis in which, as he puts it, he hopes “to be able to contribute a more synthetic response to the discussion [regarding religious pluralism], to present, as exactly as possible, the present status quaestionis of the argument, and to make a further contribution to theological reflection on the subject” (p. 258).  If readers patiently absorb this text, they will appreciate all the more the preceding conversations between these two friends as a precious, even intimate sharing.
My interest in reading this book was to understand the position of the teaching office (magisterium) of the Church vis-à-vis interreligious dialogue as this position was delineated by the CDF. I was a part of the implementation of the refreshing directives of Vatican II, but I did not closely follow the later official church documents that seemed to contradict the spirit and teachings of that ecumenical council. I therefore hoped to learn from the disputes that have taken and are taking place within the Catholic Church regarding  interreligious dialogue and thus become more skillful in my encounters with adherents of religions that are different from ours.
I have read other books that describe how institutions of the church’s magisterium have resisted certain theological developments, for example Yves Congar’s The Diary of a Theologian (1946-1956) [Journal d’un theologien], first published by Editions du Cerf in 2000, and Richard R. Galliardetz’s  When the Magisterium Intervenes: The Magisterium and Theologians in Today’s Church (Michael Glazer Publisher 2012), which includes a case study of the American bishops’ investigation of Elizabeth Johnson. I used Do Not Stifle the Spirit to sharpen my own theological language and conceptual facility regarding the issues we face in dialogue today.
 Is there a compelling Catholic view of religious pluralism, or are we still at an impasse, with two competing voices, one exclusive, the other inclusive, each insisting that its position is the true expression of Christian faith?
I live in USA where many citizens self-identify as evangelical Christians.  A theological position common to all of them is that being born again assures one’s eternal salvation.  Conversely, they believe that those who are not born again in Jesus Christ are at least at risk of not being saved.  More specifically, I reside in Indiana, the home of the Vice President of the United States,, Mike Pence, who identifies himself as an Evangelical, although he was baptized Catholic. The current polarization regarding Universal Health Care is intensified by attraction of many Evangelicals to the “Prosperity Gospel,” a teaching that interprets wealth as a reward for the virtuous—and who can therefore pay for their own health care. Seen against this background, the topic of pluralism is not a rarified dogmatic theological debate reserved for academics. An exclusive view of salvation has practical implications for the way we share resources and take care of one another.  
The extended conversation recorded in this book took place shortly before Dupuis died at the age of 81.  His credentials as a professor, writer and lecturer are impressive.  His sharp and agile mind made him one of the foremost post-Vatican II Catholic theologians. One can surmise that it was precisely because his writing and teaching were so clear, concise and compelling that he was singled out for investigation by the CDF.
Born in 1923 in Belgium, Dupuis became a Jesuit in 1941. He was missioned to India in 1948 and there taught Christology and Religions for thirty-six years. In 1984, he was called to teach Theology and Non-Christian Religions at the Gregorian University of Rome. He was made director of the journal Gregorianum and appointed consultor at the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. He died on December 29, 2004, only a few days after celebrating fifty years of priesthood. We learn from these conversations that his vocation was tested, but that he stayed the course as a Jesuit, Catholic theologian, original thinker, and brilliant writer and lecturer. The publication of these conversations was delayed because Father Dupuis stipulated that they not be published while Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was prefect of the CDF. He obviously did not foresee that Cardinal Ratzinger would be elected to the papacy in 2006 and serve until his resignation in 2013.
Dupuis’ assignment as a missionary and theological professor in India for thirty-six years gave him an informed and irreversible respect for the symbolic voice of another religious tradition.  As a Jesuit trained in Western European thought, he had to reconcile his received content with his lived experience in Asia.
While he was a professor at the Gregorianum, Dupuis gave special attention to a God-centered salvation for all peoples, an Eastern inculturation of Church, and a wisdom approach to Jesus’ saving mystery. More specifically, he taught that
  1. God’s plan of salvation includes all peoples and does not require the adherents of other religious traditions to renounce their own religious lights and truths and convert to a Catholic point of view. This understanding of salvation casts doubt on evangelization as an absolute mandate;
  2. The Catholic Church that is situated in Rome has an obligation to enable other cultures to worship and reflect on their religious convictions according to their indigenous thought patterns. This understanding of the teaching role of the Catholic Church challenges the hegemony of Western philosophical systems;
  3. The unique and absolute encounter with the human Jesus and the Christ of Glory need not be exclusive, but can include other self-revelations of God as found in the scriptural texts of other religious traditions and in other cultures where a lived experience of God is manifested. This understanding of divine revelation appears to be at odds with the Catholic Church’s insistence on Jesus Christ as the only and all-sufficient self-revelation of God.
The consequence of applying this way of thinking about the relationship of Christianity—and more specifically, the Catholic Church—to other religious and cultural traditions is that the whole missionary enterprise shifts from saving souls to accompanying others and working with them to bring about a more just and equitable society. The Catholic Church is no longer the definitive arbitrator, dispensing justice and safeguarding faith and morals. Rather it becomes one of the lights in a constellation of wisdom traditions that are found within many civilizations and highly evolved cultures. 
In his conversations with O’Connell, Dupuis speaks about his contact with some of the interreligious pioneers he met in India:
I had been in Belgium a disciple of an extraordinary master, Pierre Johanns, the founder of the “Calcutta Jesuit School of Indology.” During my early years in Calcutta, I came to be acquainted closely with his former colleagues and successors, all engaged in the meeting of Christianity and Hinduism at a deep theological level. Later I came to know personally the pioneers of the movement all over India. I can only mention them by name: Jules Monchanin and Henri Le Saux (Abhishiktananda), the co-founders of the Saccidananda ashram of Shantivanam; Francis Mahieu Acharya, the founder of the Monastery of Kurisumala; Bede Griffiths who, after Monchanin’s death and the departure of Abhishiktananda for Uttarkashi, where he lived as a hermit at the sources of the Ganges, took over the direction of the Saccidananda ashram; Raimon Panikkar, the synthesis of East and West; Sisters Vandana and Sara Grant, the co-foundresses of the ecumenical ashram of Pune; and others. All those men and women impressed me very much and influenced deeply my thinking as I was developing my own view of the relationship between Christianity and the religions of the world. While not being always in agreement with their theological positions, I could not but admire the earnestness with which they engaged in the problem and the breadth of vision with which they attempted to solve it. My own theological development would not have been what it became without my personal knowledge of those pioneers. (p. 32)
Today, many come to the table of interreligious dialogue prompted by the writings, insights and witness of those early pioneers.
In a review written for Dilatato Corde, it is appropriate to note that the CDF did not grant Dupuis permission to contribute to a project directed by Dr. Fabrice Blée, ​Associate Professor at the Faculty of Theology at Saint Paul University, Ottawa.  Dr. Blée wrote his doctoral dissertation on the work of the North American Commission for Monastic Interreligious Dialogue (MID). During the years he was working on his dissertation, I served as executive secretary of MID’s board of directors.  He visited me at Beech Grove a few times to gather data about the first thirty years of MID.  For me, he represented the next generation of scholars and seekers who were moving forward in the dialogue with an inquiring mind and open heart.
Describing his intended collaboration with Blée, Dupuis said that he was invited to write a book to serve as a general introduction to the meeting of Christianity with each of the main religious traditions of the East. Specifically, he was invited to contribute a volume that would put forth, from a Christian theological viewpoint, the foundation for a theology of religious pluralism and interreligious dialogue. He conceived the book as a kind of succinct presentation of what he had written over the years on those two basic topics, for example, the possibility of “plural belonging” or of interreligious prayer. He titled his manuscript, which was completed by the end of March 2004, “Pluralisme religieux et dialogue.”
The reason given for denying Dupuis permission to publish was that his position on the Church’s relation to other religions was not in compliance with the CDF’s Dominus Iesus.  To get a feel for the dispute between Dupuis and the CFD, I will summarize the argument of the declaration of Dominus Iesus, having already highlighted—in reference to the principal themes of his teaching at the Gregorianum—three of the most salient points from Father Dupuis’ 188-page refutation to the “notification” of the CDF that he was not in compliance with Catholic faith and doctrine. The sequence of this four-year investigation by the Congregation is a little complicated since Father Dupuis was notified about his non-compliance just months prior to the publication of Dominus Iesus in the year 2000. One might speculate that Dominus Iesus was written to refute Jacques Dupuis’ signature book Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1997).
The main point of Dominus Iesus is that dialogue cannot replace the mission of the Church, which is to proclaim the Gospel and baptize all nations.  The revelation of Jesus Christ introduces into our history a universal and ultimate truth.  This truth requires total faith and belief in the unicity of salvation through Jesus Christ as mediated by the one true, catholic and apostolic church.  Jesus is not one among the many manifestations of the Absolute or the Logos; he is the way, truth and life.  There is only one Person, Jesus, the Christ, and only one plan of salvation.  It is contrary to Christian faith to think that there exists “a salvific action of God beyond the unique mediation of Christ (12).  Just as there is only one Christ, there is only one Church.  The Catholic faithful are required to profess that there is a historical continuity—rooted in apostolic succession—between the church founded by Christ and the Catholic Church. (16) The church founded by Christ subsists in the Catholic Church (16).  Christians not in union with the pope are a wound for the Church (17). Other religions are not churches in the proper sense because they have no valid episcopate, do not possess a genuine and integral Eucharist, and do not accept the primacy of the bishop of Rome (17). Other religions can draw from the fruits of Christ’s sacrifice, which has infinite merit, but these fruits are channeled through the one church he founded (20). Other religions are a preparation for the Gospel: they are occasions or pedagogical aids that help the human heart open itself to God’s action (21).  Dialogue should be inspired by a search for the truth: God “desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth”(1 Tim 2:4). Hence, the church must be missionary (22). Equality, which is a presupposition of inter-religious dialogue, refers to the equal personal dignity of the parties in dialogue, not to doctrinal content, nor even less to the position of Jesus Christ — who is God himself made man — in relation to the founders of the other religions (22). Jesus destroys the walls of division and creates unity in a new and unsurpassed way through our sharing in his mystery (23).

How Dupuis responds to the CDF’s insistence on these positions is testimony to his obedience both to higher authority and to his own conscience. The main point I hope to make in this review is that this is a book to be read seriously and respectfully.  What we will find in it is not just the record of a long and painful debate between a theologian and the CDF, but the testimony of a faith-formed Jesuit theologian who brings his entire lifetime of study and fidelity to each concern raised.  The book is important for the process it describes as well as its content. 
With regard to the book’s content, two of Dupuis’ positions deserve highlighting. He was charged with “separating” the Word of God from Jesus, “separating” the salvific action of the Word from that of Jesus. He was alleged to have created this “separation” by positing a distinct salvific economy or salvific ways equivalent to the Christian way.  His brilliant reply was to note that the Church does, in fact, accept other religions as salvific. The covenant made with Abraham and Moses was not abolished by the New Covenant. 
The second position of Dupuis that should be emphasized is his compassionate understanding of the position of those who cannot accept any theological development from sources other than those coming from Western Europe. He recognized that it was because of his experience of living and teaching in India for thirty-six years that he could no longer accept the Roman Catholic Church’s exclusivist position with regard to salvation.
The concept of unicity became clear to me while I was at the table of Catholic/Muslim dialogue. Muslims understand unicity in terms of two distinct claims:  First, God is One, not Trinity; second, since any differentiation would diminish God, God’s Oneness is what it means to be God. According to my reading of Dominus Iesus, a similar claim is being made: God, Jesus Christ, and the Church are Absolutely One; to claim that there is a fundamental difference between them would diminish the truth about God.
We can learn from these conversations with a remarkable Jesuit theologian. More than clarity of doctrine, I found wisdom in the life and words of Jacques Dupuis inspiring. His example demonstrates that those who are engaged in interreligious dialogue can trust their immersion in Asia Eastern religions and other world cultures. His example also shows me how to have more compassion for other residents of Indiana who profess they’ve been saved and that I’m at risk!  Whether it be in relation to the CFD, to Muslims, to followers of other religions, or to Christian Evangelicals who preach a Gospel of prosperity, we can imitate Dupuis’ willingness to differ while listening to them with respect.  This moving toward the other is the “we” of Revelation. The Spirit cannot be stifled.
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