Gerard O’CONNELL. Do not Stifle the Spirit: Conversations with Jacques Dupuis. New York: Orbis Books, 2017. pp. 280. $30.00 pb. ISBN 978-1-62698-222-2. Reviewed by Kathleen BORRES, Saint Vincent Seminary, Latrobe, PA 15650


The book Do Not Stifle the Spirit: Conversations with Jacques Dupuis contains an interesting mixture of theological thought and opinion, memoirs, anecdotes, and personal reflection. The pain Fr. Jacques Dupuis, S.J. experienced because of his theological work - spiritual, mental, and emotional in my estimation - fills many of the pages of this running dialogue between Gerard O’Connell, a “journalist specializing in Vatican affairs” (xiv) and Fr. Jacques Dupuis, S.J.  Together, journalist and priest explore the long, painful years that Fr. Dupuis endured because of his teachings, writings, and conferences supporting a theological and religious pluralism rooted in the freedom of the Triune God to manifest himself in various ways before and after the coming of the Word in human form. Though insisting he was not separating “the Word as such before the incarnation of the Word in Jesus Christ” and the Word Incarnate, he was accused of separating the persons (and/or natures) in a Nestorian-like manner. In this regard, Fr. Dupuis, S.J. insists on using the term “distinction”; that is, he distinguishes the activities of the Word in the divine economy. He does not separate persons, as he rightly insists that the Word is one and the same person in the divine economy; but he makes a distinction between the “saving action of the Word of God as such before the incarnation . . . and . . . an abiding saving action of the Word as such, even after the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus’ humanity. . . .” (160). 

Fr. Dupuis speaks of the definitive concentration of the Word incarnate as “constitutive” for an orthodox theology of theological and religious pluralism. He prefers to use the words “decisive” and “constitutive” when referring to the work and revelation of the Word incarnate, in and through his human consciousness, rather than “definitive” and “absolute” since “‘definitive’ means ‘final’” and “absoluteness is an attribute of the divine nature of God, at least if the terms are taken in their rigorous sense” (277-281). To Fr. Dupuis, the limits of Jesus’ human consciousness, the “not yet” fulfillment of the eschaton, and the freedom of God to operate in human history as God did before the incarnation are three reasons for the choice of words. In this regard, Fr. Dupuis does not separate the natures of the Word incarnate or the person (Word) but insists on respecting not only the limits of the Word Incarnate’s human consciousness as he sojourned in life (this side of death) but also what he understands to be a limiting role for the Word’s humanity post-ascension. As he himself writes, “I did not call it ‘absolute’ because of the limited character of the human consciousness, which by definition cannot exhaust the divine mystery” (279) and “the contested point is whether the action of the Spirit is exclusively bound to the mediation of the glorified humanity” (274). On this latter point, Fr. Dupuis does not want the Spirit “unduly . . . reduced to a ‘function’ of Christ” (275). This is admirable; all the while, he rightly asserts there is no separation of the persons in the acts of God, which is also appropriate. 

Fr. Dupuis often refers to Pope John Paul II’s encyclical letter, Redemptoris missio, in defense of his own theological thoughts relative to “the universal active presence of the Spirit of God, a presence and activity which ‘affect not only individuals but also society and history, peoples cultures and religions’” (177). Despite this referral and many attempts to “turn from a Christian-centered perspective to one centered on the personal dealings of God with humankind throughout the history of salvation,” to see the religions of the world as “‘gifts of God’ to the peoples of the world . . . [which can] have a positive significance in God’s overall plan for humanity and a saving significance for their members” (31), Fr. Dupuis found himself convicted of having “‘crossed the Rubicon with the pluralists” and of denying “the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, Son of God, and Savior.” Seeing himself as an advocate for an “inclusivist pluralism,” he is instead seen by many others as adopting a “pluralist paradigm” (298). 

It is clear to this reader that Fr. Dupuis did his very best to walk that very fine line between history and mystery, and particularity and universality - very much part of the divine economy and theological terrain — while staying faithful to “‘the breadth and length and height and depth’ of the mystery (mysterion) realized in Christ Jesus” (298). The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) did not believe he succeeded in actually walking that line in an orthodox way, however, evidenced by its notifications, etc. The different readings of the situation are understandable, though unfortunate. Questions of procedures aside, I found myself at times agreeing with the theological intuitions and insights of Fr. Dupuis and, at other times, appreciating the Congregation’s concerns and points as Fr. Dupuis himself explains them. Methodological considerations were drawn out very well and explicitly in the book, which helped explain the disputations and nuanced thinking of priest and congregation. In that regard, the book is, as one reviewer wrote, “an engaging introduction to the struggle of a top Catholic theologian to defend his writings before the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. It also serves as a crash course on the central issues of the theology of religions.” For this and for the many attempts to explain himself and his positions, I applaud the efforts of Fr. Dupuis, Gerard O’Connell, and all those who contributed to the publication of the book, including the publishing staff at Orbis Books and Fr. Gerald O’Collins, S.J., a dear friend and supporter of Fr. Dupuis.