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Five Catholic experts in world religions


Though Dominus Iesus, the Vatican’s new document assailing religious pluralism, mentions no theologians by name (except in a footnote, where Latin American Leonardo Boff is cited) the following are representative thinkers whose views, according to most observers, are indirectly addressed by the document.

Jacques Dupuis

From Belgium, Jesuit Fr. Jacques Dupuis spent 36 years in India before joining the theology faculty at Rome’s Gregorian University. He served for many years as an adviser on interreligious issues to Vatican offices. He is currently under investigation by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for his book Towards a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism (Orbis Books, 1997). In it, Dupuis argues that God’s “Eternal Word” existed prior to incarnation in Jesus and was active in other cultures, inspiring the saving insights each achieves, while Jesus remains the unique “sacrament” of God. Dupuis suggests that Christian missionary efforts should have broader aims than making converts. The goal, he argues, should be building up the reign of God. A cautious interpreter of church documents, Dupuis believes that Christ’s role in salvation is “constitutive” -- that is, all salvation comes through Christ in some sense. Some theologians of religious pluralism have criticized Dupuis for this, as well as for his assertion that other religions will be “fulfilled” in Christianity at the end of time.

Michael Amaladoss

Indian Jesuit Fr. Michael Amaladoss believes the most pressing religious challenge today is defending the oppressed. He supports development of countercultural communities as alternatives to values and assumptions of global capitalism. “Such countercultural communities may not always carry the label ‘Christian,’ ” Amaladoss has written. “In the past our mission has often targeted the followers of other religions. The supposition then was that ours was the only true religion. Our evaluation of other religions and at least of some of their followers is more positive today. Besides, faced with the threat of global disaster brought about by radical modernity, we see in all those committed to an alternate world allies rather than enemies.” This tendency to see collaboration on behalf of justice as more important than religious affiliation has alarmed Vatican officials. Amaladoss is the author of Making All Things New: Dialogue, Pluralism, and Evangelization in Asia (Orbis, 1990).

Raimundo Panikkar

Born in Spain to a Catholic mother and Hindu father, Fr. Raimundo Panikkar has long specialized in the dialogue between Christianity and Asian religions. Of his first trip from Europe to India, Panikkar once wrote: “I left as a Christian, I found myself a Hindu, and I return as a Buddhist, without ever having ceased to be a Christian.” His best-known books include The Cosmotheandric Experience (Orbis, 1993) and The Intra-religious Dialogue (Paulist, 1978). Panikkar believes that while Christians must remain devoted to Christ, it is not necessary to believe that all truth is exhausted by Christ, much less by the historical person Jesus of Nazareth. He has argued that although Jesus is referred to as the Son of God in the New Testament, this does not mean the “Son of God” is always and only Jesus.

Paul Knitter

A former Divine Word Missionary priest, Knitter has long been interested in the intersection between Catholicism and social justice (he once was the target of an FBI probe for his support of Latin American liberation theology). The author of No Other Name? (Orbis, 1985), Knitter sees a gap between the experience of Catholics in interreligious dialogue and the church’s official theology. In dialogue, Knitter says, Catholics develop a respect for another’s religion and sense that it would be wrong to demand they abandon it; yet the church’s teaching requires just that conclusion. Knitter argues that the Holy Spirit can be active in other religions apart from the incarnate Christ. To deny this, he believes, is to commit the ancient heresy of “subordinating” the Spirit to the other persons of the Trinity. Knitter also regards exclusive statements about Jesus in the New Testament, such as calling him the “one Mediator between God and humanity,” as doxological -- the language of devotion and love, not strict logic.

Aloysius Pieris

Jesuit Fr. Aloysius Pieris is the founder and director of the Tulana Research Centre in Kalaniya, Sri Lanka. Pieris earned the first doctorate in Buddhist studies ever awarded to a non-Buddhist by the University of Sri Lanka, and is viewed as one of Asian Catholicism’s leading experts on interreligious dialogue. He is the author of An Asian Theology of Liberation (Orbis, 1996). Pieris believes the fundamental Christian commitment must be not to theological language but to work on behalf of justice, and many observers say his views have strongly influenced the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences on this point. “Spirituality,” he has written, “is not the practical conclusion of theology, but the radical involvement with the poor and the oppressed, and is what creates theology.” Though he advocates a form of liberation theology, Pieris argues that it cannot be based primarily on social analysis as in Latin America, but must also reflect Eastern emphasis on interior liberation.

National Catholic Reporter, September 15, 2000