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Controversial theologian Jacques Dupuis dies at 81 December 29, 2004

Father Jacques Dupuis, the controversial Jesuit theologian whose work drew a rebuke from the Vatican in 2001, has died at the age of 81.

Father Dupuis had been editor of the theological journal Gregorianum , and a consultor to the Pontifical Council for Interfaith Dialogue. He had lived in India and taught in Delhi from 1958 through 1984, and his theological work, with its emphasis on the shared insights of major world religions, has been heavily influential in the discussion of "inculturation" in Asia. The Belgian theologian died in a hospital in Rome on December 28, reportedly of a cerebral hemorrhage. In February 2001, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a formal note cautioning against the arguments found in one of Dupuis's works, Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism , which had been published in 1997. In a 4-page document, the Vatican pointed to serious "ambiguities" and "difficulties" in the theologian's thought, particularly his failure to affirm the unique and necessary role of Jesus Christ and his Church in the work of salvation.

After initially resisting the Vatican's criticisms, Father Dupuis eventually signed the document prepared by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and approved by Pope John Paul II. With his signature he agreed to avoid similar errors in his future work. At the same time, the Jesuit scholar resigned from his faculty post at the Gregorian University, where he had been teaching since his return from India in 1984. He had already, in 1998, stopped teaching a course on Christology, since that topic was the main focus of the criticism raised against his work.

In its critique of Dupuis's work, the Vatican's doctrinal office had emphasized that the salvation "of all mankind" is accomplished only "in and through Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of the Father." The Congregation stressed that it is "contrary to the faith" to regard that essential Christian belief as "limited, incomplete, or imperfect," or to suggest that other world religions can provide the means to achieve salvation apart from the Church. The Vatican note cautioned that "the sacred texts of other religions cannot be considered as complimentary to the Old Testament."

In a press conference at the time that the Vatican admonition was made public, Father Dupuis accepted the content of the doctrinal note. But he continued to argue that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had misinterpreted his work. "I do not uphold these false theories," he said.

The Vatican's case against the work of Father Dupuis was based largely on the document Dominus Iesus , issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in September 2000. That document, affirming the traditional Catholic teaching that salvation is available only through the Church, was in turn designed to counteract the influence of theologians such as Dupuis, and the trend toward religious relativism.

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