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Christ since the Council

09 September 2016

Robin Ward considers a supplementary work by a prolific Jesuit scholar

Christology, Origins, Developments, Debates
Gerald O’Collins SJ
Baylor University Press £33.50



THIS short book by the Jesuit scholar Gerald O’Collins supplements and expands some of the themes considered in the author’s systematic study Christology, first published in 1995, with a second edition in 2008. Indeed, much of it is taken up with answering points made by reviewers of that study, and other parts of O’Collins’s work, and so it reads very much as a conversation piece between scholars, presupposing, on the part of the reader, a willingness to engage not just with the topic of Christology, but the way in which that topic has been discussed in the Anglo-Saxon and German academic world since the Second Vatican Council.

The book is in three sections, but they do not correspond to the three headings in its subtitle. The first section contains a survey of work in the field of Christology since 1965, much of which is simply a list of names and books, although O’Collins’s interest in the work of the Belgian Jesuit Jacques Dupuis is apparent from the start. To this are added two chapters addressing particular points made by reviewers of O’Collins’s work, in particular the two editions of Christology, and his three recent books on the work of Jesus Christ: The Redemption, Jesus Our Redeemer, and Salvation for All. There is a fair amount of tetchy furor academicus here, but the chapters do draw together in one place everything O’Collins’s peers had to say in print about his work.

The second part of the book contains two chapters on biblical material. One, “Paul as a Witness to the Risen Jesus”, is in fact a detailed discussion of whether the use of the verb horao in the New Testament implies a sensory experience of the resurrection. The other, “Peter as Witness to Easter”, begins with a consideration of Martin Hengel’s work on Peter in the New Testament, and then goes on to relate Peter as a witness to the resurrection to the part played by the contemporary papacy. O’Collins agrees with Lutheran critics that the papacy as it has developed is not present in the New Testament, but claims that we can see continuity between Peter’s proclamation of the Easter faith and the annual Urbi et Orbi Easter broadcast from the Vatican.

The third portion of the book contains three chapters on O’Collins’s engagement with Dupuis, whose seminal work Towards a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism, published in 1997, attracted a mild censure from the Roman authorities.

O’Collins first develops his own work on the priesthood of Christ as an appropriate theological tool to relate “the millions who will go through life without ever hearing his name” to the mystery of the incarnation. He then complements this with a review of responses to Dupuis’s work, and, in a final chapter, gives some closer attention to Gavin D’Costa’s critique of Dupuis as an adherent of Karl Rahner’s controversial teaching about “anonymous Christians”.

This book is essentially an appendix to O’Collins’s earlier work, and needs to be read as such: it is untouched by the revival of Thomist Christology seen in the work of Simon Gaine and Thomas Joseph White, but serves to update scholars in a concise way on the state of the various questions raised by O’Collins in his prolific and engaging work.


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