Critical and Reverential Openness toward Other Religions

Light of Truth

Gavin D’Costa is a British Roman Catholic theologian who calls Trinitarian theology a discourse that seems to resemble a doctrine of the Holy Spirit more than anything else. The Spirit’s presence not only implies the presence of the triune God, but also the presence of the Church. This is the most distinctive contribution to contemporary Trinitarian discourse.  He appreciates the effort to restore engagement with the Spirit for a proper understanding of Christ. Pneumatology shapes ecclesiology “precisely because we know Christ through the Spirit”… “First, Christ is not fully known by the Christian Church. Second, the Christian Church does not know its own complete and perfect form prior to the eschaton.” These “abstract possibilities” of prophecy and inspiration in world religions would lead, once they are encountered through discernment, to a deep inculturation of the Church into a fuller grasp of the mystery of Christ, given to us in revelation, and leading us into the fuller Catholicity of the Church. Both these developments in Christology and ecclesiology show us that the Spirit is far from subordinate, but is actively leading the Church into the fullness of the mystery of Christ, in proportion to its critical attentiveness to the Spirit in the world religions.

Christ is normative as the Church is the body of Christ. It has no existence apart from his presence. In John, Luke and Paul, “the persecution of Jesus and the persecution of the Church” are equated. “Pneumatology allows the particularity of Christ to be related to the universal activity of God in the history of humankind”… “The Thomistic principle: gratia non tollitnaturam, sedperficit (grace does not destroy nature but perfects it)” makes Catholic anthropology different to Protestant anthropology.  The human nature is to be purified and uplifted. This will determine a theologian’s understanding of other religions – and more profoundly and basically, the human condition in its fallen state. Nature and grace are conflated in so much as there is an almost Pelagian tendency to affirm good works as the means to salvation. vonBalthasar debates  over Rahner’s “anonymous Christian.” Nostra Aetate and other related documents have argued, suggests  that the Balthasar side of the debate should be favoured, but the silence of the documents will, and should, encourage vigorous and painful debate. The result is that “Christianity is just a better interpretation of the same experience of grace mediated differently in other religions.” The Spirit’s activity in other religions has important structural and cultural dimensions, and does not take place solely in the secret of the heart, or in some asocio-cultural location.  We find the Holy Spirit can be found in the hearts of non-Christian people and also in their values, cultures and religions. God’s grace to be found in the hearts of persons and in visible elements in their religions. Nostra Aetate 2, recognizes that truths can be found in non-Christian religions because all men are enlightened by a ray of Truth. These truths are to be found, according to Vatican II, in conscience and the natural law written in the hearts of all people.

“If non-Christians encounter grace, they do so as embodied social beings and thus through their religious cultures. This means that elements of their religious cultures can mediate grace.” The Church must be the prolongation of the incarnation.  The Church is called to be as Christ to the world. “If we are to enquire about the Spirit in John, we must equally ask about the resurrection, and in John’s logic, this is a question about the disciples who form the Church: yesterday and today’s Christians. The resurrection is a story of the formation of Christian community, just as for Luke, Pentecost marks the beginning of the same story. Awareness of God’s possible work in and through other religions should lead Christianity to having a “critical and reverential openness toward other religions”… “Prayers from other religious traditions can be moved and be authentic promptings by the Holy Spirit.” He also sees the Spirit being the “source of humanity’s existential and religious questioning.”  He allows the possibility that there could be salvation for those who have not heard about Jesus and that elements within a religion may be used by the Holy Spirit in mediating grace to those who seek God sincerely. “The church stands under the judgement of the Holy Spirit, and if the Holy Spirit is active in the world religions, then the world religions are vital to Christian faithfulness.” Whenever God is present, this is the presence of the Triune God; and it is this Triune God who is the foundation of the church. The Holy Spirit’s presence within other religions is both intrinsically Trinitarian and ecclesiological.

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