This volume is a collection of seven studies by eminent European Catholic scholars, representing the first phase of an International Research Project in Christology conducted under the auspices of the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome. The primary aim of the studies is to 'exhibit thematically the theoretical presuppositions of the pluralistic theology of religions' (Preface, vii)
More specifically, the studies focus on laying bare the epistemological premises of the operative theory of religion in the writings of contemporary pluralist theologians (as represented e.g. by the works of John Hick, Paul Knitter, Raimundo Pannikar, Stanley Samartha, and others). This analysis of theoretical foundations in turn offers the basis for detailed philosophical and theological critiques of the (in)adequacy of the pluralist theologies for preserving Christianity's central truth claim of Jesus' uniqueness and universality in God's plan of salvation. While each scholar pursues his own line of critique, all insist that Kantian-based epistemologies which a priori reject the possibility of real knowledge of truth, as well as one-sided general theories of revelation which focus only on God's universal salvific offer without attention to the need for perfect receptivity of that offer, cannot do justice to the fullness of God's revelation and salvation realized in Jesus Christ.
After exposing the 'deficiencies' of the pluralist position, a number of the papers then turn to sketching out the parameters and requirements of the 'inclusivist' Christological position sanctioned by Vatican II and post-conciliar teachings. Following are two example of the constructive phase of many of the articles, that of Walter Kasper and Michael Schulz. As do the others represented in this volume, these authors insist that theological reflection on Jesus' place among the religions must be placed in the context of the church's central Trinitarian and Christologial doctrines.
Kasper's analysis concludes that the Trinitarian confession of faith shows God as 'unity in multiplicity,' and that it is this One God who has once and for all—wholly, definitively and unsurpassingly communicated himself in history in the person of Jesus Christ. For Kasper, the Trinitarian and Christological doctrines together offer an understanding of unity that is not 'totalitarian' but that embraces all of humanity in an outpouring of divine love. Thus they lay the foundation for a 'dialogical and diaconal relation to the other religions', capable of respecting, prophetically critiquing and inviting other religions to reach their own fulfillment in Christ.
In his reflection on the question of whether there is but one mediator of salvation, Schulz calls on Chalcedonian doctrine and classical Christology to reaffirm that the mediation of salvation must be 'a mediation between God and humanity and that the mediator must embrace and represent in a perfect way the two parties. By focusing solely on God as the source of salvation and neglecting the universal saving import of Jesus' humanity, pluralist theologians are guilty of a kind of Monophysite or Monothelite identification of salvation with God alone, he writes. In Schulz' words, interfaith dialogue must 'not empty out the center of any religion' in order to ground respect for it'—a view to which all the theologians represented here passionately subscribe.
The articles in this volume were written prior to the publication of Dominus Jesus (the original Italian version of the book being published in 2001.) But they share the same presuppositions and perspective as the document and thus are helpful in clarifying that document's position as well. The tightly argued articles—not an easy read—nonetheless are a valuable resource to help clarify the deeper issues involved in the controversy between the pluralist and the inclusivist positions.
The book deserves a careful reading by all academics involved in reflection on the all-important question of Jesus' relationship to the other religions. It would be useful as well as a textbook for graduate-level courses in Christology and Interfaith Dialogue.