Raimon PANIKKAR, Christianity (Opera Omnia, III/1: The Christian Tradition. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2015, pp. xxii, 370. $90.00. ISBN 978-1-62698-159-1 (cloth). Reviewed by Joseph A. BRACKEN, S.J. , Xavier University, Cincinnati, OH 45207.
This book is divided into two sections. The first is titled Humanism and Cross; the second, Tradition. In the first section, one could easily get the impression that Pannikar is very conservative in his understanding of the role of the Church and Christian theology in contemporary Western culture. For example, he states: “The time has come for Catholic intellectuals to exercise this audacity of spirit . . .not only to defend the teachings of the Church, but also to free themselves from the yoke of four centuries of rationalist philosophers and turn themselves into the makers—fulfillers—of a new—and old—positive vision of the world” (28). The Catholic university is not just one kind of university but the fullness of university that is shaped or in-formed by the Church (39-40). “The world is none other than the still developing Church” 72). A culture that is purely natural is not only incomplete but also impaired and convulsive, unable to achieve its specific and immediate end (75). Christianity is not a humanism in the sense of a natural way of life: “the law of the cross, scandal for the Jews and nonsense for the Greeks, cannot be reduced to any humanism” (81). Humanism represents the exclusion of the idea of redemption: “True humanism attempts to redeem Man by itself. Yet Man cannot save himself. Self-redemption is the topical dream of modern Man” (92). The task of Christendom is not to produce a social order that represents the triumph of Christian values in human life, but to be “humanity’s leaven” even when the cause of Christ externally appears to lose the battle for contemporary hearts and minds (135-36). “It is true that Christendom truly triumphs because of the cross, but it is a silent triumph and a discreet influence, maybe without external effect” (142).
The second section of the book entitled Tradition begins with a long chapter on “Christian Self-Consciousness and World Religions” For the New Testament writers “Christ is the Pantocrator, the ruler of the universe, the Lord” (191). In the Patristic period of the Church’s history, Jesus is seen as “the fulfillment of and, at the same time, the judgment on every religion” because Jesus as the Christ is “the manifestation of that hidden Mystery at work everywhere” (197). At the time of the Arian controversy “Christianity began to be independent of the doctrine of the Trinity; Christ somehow became the God of Christians” (199) as opposed to the gods of other religions. In the Middle Ages Christianity became identified with Christendom understood as the union of Church and State or Empire (201). In the early modern period, the Church became identified with missionary efforts to “delete evil from other religions and civilizations” (202). Only in the 20th century does the notion of dialogue with the adherents of other world religions become a central focus of the Church’s relationships with other religions and non-Christian civilizations.
The logical consequence of this line of thought is that Panikkar sets up a contrast between three affirmations and their negations (false conclusions from the affirmations). The first affirmation is that Christ is Lord, and the first negation is that the Lord is only [in] Jesus. The second affirmation is that the Church is the organism of salvation, and the second negation is that the Church is just the visible Christian church. The third affirmation is that Christendom is a religious structure that directs various aspects of human existence, aiming at salvation; the third negation is that Christendom is the only valid religion (called Christianity). Hence, for Panikkar there really is no other name by which human beings are to be saved, but that name is not simply Jesus of Nazareth but Jesus the Christ, the privileged (but not sole) manifestation of the Divine Mystery at the heart of the God-human being-physical world relationship.
The other chapters in Section Two spell out in greater detail this cosmological scheme that Panikkar calls a “theandric” or “theanthropocosmic” approach to reality (362). Of special note is his distinction between individual and person. “An individual never answers the question of who, only of what. When we ask who somebody is, we are not looking for his individuality—that is, what he is exclusively ‘in himself,’ but the ‘you’ he is to me or to somebody else” (244-45). Faith in Jesus as one’s Lord and Savior is thus based on an interpersonal relation, not on a factual affirmation.
My only reservation with Panikkar’s argument in this book is that he does not lay out an appropriate philosophical conceptuality that would justify linking together three ontologically very different realities (God, the human being and the physical world) within an all-comprehensive tri-unity. Just as with the Thomistic doctrine of the divine persons and their conjoint reality as one God, relationality rather than substantiality would seem to be the First Principle of Being or, more precisely, Becoming. But on a deeper level is what becomes from moment to moment an entity, a process, or somehow both an entity and a process? And what proof do we have that it is more than a logical possibility? Is there an analog within human experience for this highly speculative claim that God, the physical world, and human beings are a process-oriented ontological unity, something that is entitatively one only in virtue of the ongoing dynamic interaction of its diverse parts or members?