Common Goals, Different Paths

Feb. 26-March 3, 04
Common Goals, Different Paths
By Kristen Fox / SUN  Staff Writer
Jesuit priest discusses teachings on salvation in Christianity and other world religions

A majority of the 100 people gathered at the Panasci Family Chapel on Feb. 10 for Le Moyne College’s annual Loyola Lecture were already vaguely familiar with the keynote speaker, Father Jacques Dupuis, SJ. Father Dupuis, a Belgian native, is one of the most controversial and renowned experts on the theology of religions. He has written several significant works on Catholicism and religious pluralism, including his 1997 book, Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism. The work underwent a long investigation by the Roman Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The congregation questioned if the book –– in its openness to other religious traditions –– contradicted church teaching that Christ is the only path to salvation.

The 1998-2001 investigation concluded that while Father Dupuis’ book contained no doctrinal errors, there were “ambiguities and difficulties on important points which could lead a reader to erroneous or harmful opinions.” The congregation requested that future editions include an affirmation that Christ is “the sole and universal mediator of salvation for all humanity.” Before beginning his lecture at the college, Father Dupuis commented briefly on what he referred to as a “difficult time.” “I may have lost some friends in Rome over my book, but I have gained thousands and thousands more all over the world,” he said. Father Dupuis read a prepared paper, “Jesus Christ Universal Savior and Ways of Salvation,” to his audience assembled for the Loyola Lecture. The purpose of the annual lecture is to inform staff, students and community members about the wider aspects of Jesuit involvement throughout the world.

“This is a man who knows and loves the traditions of the Catholic Church,” said Father Arthur Madigan, SJ, rector of Le Moyne’s Jesuit Community. Father Dupuis began with a reference to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “Holy wars are being fought in the name of God,” he said. “The world seems unable to make peace between people.” He said neither recent international events nor criticism by the Vatican sway him from his belief in the need for interfaith dialogue. And he believes that Catholic theology and religious pluralism are not incompatible. “The Holy Spirit is present in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions,” he said. “The diverse paths are conducive to salvation because they have been placed by God himself.” Father Dupuis said some theologians concluded they should “give up their traditional faith in the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as universal savior,” and take the view that “all religions are different paths leading to a common goal.”

“But other approaches to religious pluralism are possible, and Catholics can recognize teaching on salvation in other traditions while believing in the mystery of Jesus Christ as traditionally understood by the church,” he said. Father Dupuis also rejected the view that God had two plans for saving humanity –– one for Christians and a second one for others. Rather, he said there are “complementary aspects of the one plan designed by God eternally.” Observing that it was not religious traditions but God acting through them that brought salvation, Father Dupuis said religious traditions are paths of salvation because “they represent the paths traced by God himself in his search for people.”

Father Dupuis was born in Belgium in 1923 and joined the Society of Jesus in 1941. He spent more than 20 years researching and teaching in India. He lives in Rome, where he serves as professor emeritus of the Pontifical Gregorian University. For 10 years, he was a consultant for the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and helped write “Dialogue and Proclamation,” a 1991 Vatican document on interreligious dialogue.

In honor of his many accolades, Father Dupuis was presented with an honorary degree from Father Charles Beirne, SJ, president of Le Moyne. “It was an outrageous process he was subjected to,” said Father Beirne of the three-year investigation by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. “We’re honoring his whole life’s achievement.”

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