- A Christology of Religions by Gerald O'Collins
Whether or not "the religions" view one another with mutual regard now appears immaterial to the various problems—political, environmental, economic—that theologians of religious difference often claim to wish to help resolve. Theologians offer no evidence, for instance, if various religious leaders were to agree on policy recommendations (they often do), or were to confirm the value of the other religions (they often do), that such mutual agreement or regard would have the least effect on climate, migration, or economic policy-making (agreements and mutual religious regard seem to be of little consequence).
Theologians of religious difference risk redundancy in an epoch when the sharpest human differences are not religious in any traditional sense of the term. Theologians should less often enjoy the assumption of their own, or their traditions', centrality to the problems of this century. If anything, our problems appear to be connected to the final disappearance of the authority of those traditions. [End Page 321]
In A Christology of Religions, the Jesuit O'Collins offers an enormously thoughtful, richly textured, and widely sourced approach to those aspects of Christology—Christ's intercessory, sacrificial, efficacious, and universal priesthood on behalf of all persons, especially in their suffering—that might allow Christians to sense more clearly, and then participate in, Christ's salvific power on behalf of all.
I deeply appreciate this unapologetically christological approach to religious difference, not least because so many theologians born in the mid-twentieth century appear to presume that the problem with Christians is that they are too committed to their own tradition. Would that this were the Christian problem of our time! That problem has, alas, been solved.
O'Collins remains robustly christocentric, grounded thoroughly in tradition—his book begins from Athanasius's vision of "creation and incarnation as together forming one act of divine self-bestowal," and then deftly weaves together biblical, papal, and theological texts from across Christian eras, all the while showing how those resources of Christic incarnation press the Christian beyond the margins of his or her own community.
This christocentric commitment alone is a relief from the long parade of theologians—many but not all of them laypersons—who have believed that it was their role to question a tradition's commitment to itself. O'Collins very helpfully suggests that it is through Christ that Christians must learn to see others. That this point should be offered as a contribution to the Christian theology of religions is itself quite telling.
What this reader most appreciates in O'Collins's work is its relentless clarification of the christological in terms of priesthood—a neglected theological category in an era shadowed by clerical abuses, but one that powerfully entails sacrifice on behalf of others, the cross as the key to perceiving the situation of all human beings both within and beyond any given tradition, and intercession—a theme skillfully developed across two of O'Collins's seven chapters. (I was less persuaded by O'Collins's arguments that we could or should perceive non-Christian others as embodying an implicit faith. The faith or faithlessness of others is no obstacle to intercession on their behalf, and our prayer for the other should not depend upon the other's attitude.)
There is a welcome tonal inspiration from Pope Francis in this work, which emphasizes a willingness to be with others—regardless of their tradition—in the midst of trial. The best theologies of religion remind us of possibilities more humble than telling the denizens of Davos what they should do with [End Page 322] their power. For O'Collins, a more creative possibility in our engagement with others (they need not be "religious" others) is that of prayer. I am persuaded by his suggestion that intercession is an overlooked, important path of mysterious but efficacious participation in God's saving power, and that this intercession should be regularly extended by Christians, through Christ, beyond the Christian community itself. [End Page 323]