You’re interested in what my response might be to the recent censure by the Roman Catholic Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of Peter Phan’s 2004 book Being Religious Interreligiously: Asian Perspectives on Interfaith Dialogue.

I confess I’ve not read the book; it surprises people sometimes when I say this, but I’m just not much interested in pluralism or interfaith dialogue, or not at least of the historicist sort one associates with Phan’s publisher, Orbis Books. I agree with Schuon (as usual) that such ventures too often end up as contests in which the participants vie with each other to see who is willing to give up the most in the way of traditional dogma, all for the sake of “getting along with each other”.

At any rate, in answering your question I suppose I could be somewhat flippant and say that my response is that I’m glad I’m not Catholic! I realize full well, of course, that most Orthodox authorities would be of the same mind as Catholics on the question of whether the Church is the “unique and universal instrument of salvation” (as the CDF document states)—though obviously they wouldn’t identify this saving Church with Rome. Nonetheless it’s also true, as you know, that the East is less insistent than the West on dotting every “i” and crossing every “t”, and this means, at least in my experience, that the perennialist position is more easily tolerated among Orthodox as a possible theologoumenon.

Let me emphasize, however, that a Christian perennialist like myself differs from this Father Phan in one extremely important way—or differs in any case from how the Congregation reportedly construed his position. If Phan does indeed claim that the terms “unique”, “absolute”, and “universal” in relation to the role of Christ as savior “have outlived their usefulness and should be jettisoned and replaced by other, theologically more adequate equivalents”, then my response is to say this is nonsense. Citing the declaration Dominus Jesus (2000), the Congregation insists that it’s inconsistent with a fully Christian faith to believe that Jesus is merely “one of many historical figures who manifest the infinite, the absolute, the ultimate mystery of God”, and I agree. For as the early Councils make clear, Jesus Christ is not in fact a merely “historical figure”; He is the uncreated and eternal Word, who though He was “in” the body was not “circumscribed” by that body (Saint Athanasius).

The real question is this: is one justified in claiming that the salvific presence and deifying operations of this Word are limited to those Gospel events that define Christianity as a specific religion? The perennialist thinks not, believing instead that we should assume Christ was telling us the truth when He said that He has “other sheep who are not of this fold” (John 10:16). As I point out near the end of my article on “Perennial Philosophy and Christianity“, it seems to me obvious that such a theologoumenon, far from narrowing or limiting the range of Christ’s saving work, broadens it immeasurably. As for what then happens to our understanding of Christian missions, you might take a look back at my weblog entry on that subject for 22 April 2007.