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The Church and the Power of Prayer for “the Others”

  • Gerald O'Collins (a1)


This article critically examines the views of Jacques Dupuis, Gavin D'Costa, and Francis Sullivan on the church's intercession for those of other living faiths or of no faith at all. After clarifying what the Scholastic terminology of “final” and “moral” causality means, it shows how 1 Timothy and Vatican II's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy elucidate intercession for “others.” Here a rich tradition of philosophical-theological reflection on the efficacy of prayer can no longer be ignored. Finally, intercession for “others” is inspired by love for them, and brings the faithful to share in Christ's priestly ministry for the whole world. In these ways, the article aspires to open up new themes for the theology of religions.



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1 Dupuis, Jacques SJ, Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1997), 349–52. Dupuis repeated the same view, often in the same words, in Christianity and the Religions: From Confrontation to Dialogue, trans. Berryman, Phillip (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002), 210–13.

2 Dupuis quoted words from the Third Eucharistic Prayer (“Lord, may this sacrifice, which has made our peace with you, advance the salvation of all the world”) in both Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism (350 n. 6) and Christianity and the Religions (210–11).

3 Dupuis, Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism, 91, 102, 111, 186, 217, 263, 286, 288, 294, 307, 311, 347, 356. Although frequently citing 1 Timothy 2:5, Dupuis never went on to observe how, at the celebration of the Eucharist, the crucified and risen Christ continues to exercise his priestly ministry as mediator between God and humankind and to give himself eternally “as a ransom for all.”

4 Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium), 53 (my emphasis). Here and elsewhere the translation is my own, made from the official Latin text of Vatican II's sixteen documents ( Dupuis never appealed to the Prayer of the Faithful in either Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism or Christianity and the Religions.

5 Traditional Scholastic theology, with which, at least in passing, Dupuis associated himself, appropriated Aristotle's classification of causes, in which the final cause denoted the causality exercised by the goal or telos of some action; see Ashley, Benedict M. OP, “Final Causality,” in New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd ed. (Detroit: Gale, 2003), 5:723–27. Much modern philosophy and science dismisses final or “teleological” reasoning and explanations. Salmon, Wesley C. speaks for many when he writes: “A world in which teleological causation operates is not logically impossible, but our world does not seem, as a matter of fact, to be of such a kind” (Scientific Explanation and the Causal Structure of the World [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984], 164).

6 Dupuis, Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism, 348–51; Dupuis, Christianity and the Religions, 210–13. Neither Dupuis nor anyone else who picks up this language from Pius XII, Vatican II, and Congar reflects on the fact that to speak of “the others” being “ordered” or “oriented” toward the church implies some efficient causality being exercised on them by God.

7 On this theme in the Vatican II documents, see O'Collins, Gerald, The Second Vatican Council on Other Religions (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 7779, 115–16.

8 Dupuis, Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism, 131, 134, 162–64; Dupuis, Christianity and the Religions, 46, 155.

9 Dupuis, Christianity and the Religions, 211; here Dupuis repeated what he had already written in Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism, 350.

10 Allan Bernard Wolter, OFM, “Efficient Causality,” in New Catholic Encyclopedia, 5:98–102, at 99.

11 Sullivan, Francis A. SJ, Salvation outside the Church? Tracing the History of the Catholic Response (New York: Paulist Press, 1992).

12 Ibid., 158–59 (my emphasis). Dupuis showed that he was aware of Sullivan's interpreting the church as “an instrument of salvation” for the whole world: Dupuis, Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism, 350; Dupuis, Christianity and the Religions, 210.

13 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration Dominus Iesus, section 22,; also AAS 92 (2000): 742–65, at 763: “God has willed that the church be an instrument for the salvation of the whole human race.”

14 Sullivan, Francis A., “Introduction and Ecclesiological Issues,” in Sic et Non: Encountering Dominus Iesus, ed. Pope, Stephen J. and Hefling, Charles (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002), 4756, at 50–51.

15 D'Costa, Gavin, Christianity and World Religions: Disputed Questions in the Theology of Religions (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 180–86.

16 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Notification on the Book Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism” (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1997) by Father Jacques Dupuis, SJ,; Origins 30 (2001): 605–8.

17 D'Costa, Christianity and World Religions, 183.

18 Ibid., 185–86.

19 Ibid., 183, 185. Obviously what the Eucharist presents is not precisely “the eternal sacrifice of God's self-giving love,” but the eternal sacrifice of the incarnate Son of God's self-giving love.

20 On intercession and petition, see Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, IIa-IIae, q. 83, a. 1–17; Baelz, Peter R., Does God Answer Prayer? (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1962); Baelz, Prayer and Providence: A Background Study (London: SCM Press, 1968); Basinger, David, “Why Petition an Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Wholly Good God?,” Religious Studies 19 (1983): 2541; Brümmer, Vincent, What Are We Doing When We Pray? On Prayer and the Nature of Faith, 2nd ed. (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2008); Foster, Richard J., Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992), 179201; Geach, Peter T., God and the Soul (New York: Schocken Books, 1969); Heiler, Friedrich, Prayer: A Study in the History and Psychology of Religion, trans. McComb, Samuel (New York: Oxford University Press, 1958); Murray, Michael J., “Does God Respond to Petitionary Prayer?,” in Contemporary Debates in the Philosophy of Religion, ed. Peterson, Michael L. and VanArragon, Raymond J. (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004), 242–55; Murray, Michael J. and Meyers, Kurt, “Ask and It Will Be Given to You,” Religious Studies 30 (1994): 311–30; Nédoncelle, Maurice, The Nature and Use of Prayer, trans. Manson, A. (London: Burns & Oates, 1964); Origen, Prayer, trans. Greer, Rowan A., Classics of Western Spirituality (New York: Paulist Press, 1979), 81170; Phillips, Dewi Zechaniah, The Concept of Prayer (Oxford: Blackwell, 1981); Eleonore Stump, Petitionary Prayer,” in Philosophy of Religion: The Big Questions, ed. Stump, Eleonore and Murray, Michael J. (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1999), 353–66; Ceslaus Veleck, OP, “Appendix 3: Prayer,” in Aquinas, Thomas, Summa Theologiae (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1964–66) 39:259–61.

21 See Fitzmyer, Joseph A. SJ, Romans: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (New York: Doubleday, 1993), 533; Koester, Christopher R., Hebrews: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (New York: Doubleday, 2001), 366.

22 Where Matthew 7:7–8 and Luke 11:9–10 had simply promised, “Ask and it will be given to you,” now such confident prayer is to be made “in the name of Jesus.” In and through prayer, the disciples share in Jesus' loving relationship with the Father.

23 Foster, Prayer, 191.

24 Ibid. (my emphasis).

25 Stump, “Petitionary Prayer,” 353 (my emphasis).

26 Ibid., 361–63.

27 In What Are We Doing When We Pray?, Brümmer quotes Kierkegaard (“Prayer changes the one who offers it”), Aquinas, Augustine, and others to establish the impact of prayer on those who pray (26–27).

28 Stump, “Petitionary Prayer,” 357.

29 Rahner, Karl SJ, Foundations of Christian Faith: An Introduction to the Idea of Christianity, trans. Dych, William V. SJ (New York: Seabury Press, 1978), 309.

30 Francis Adam Brunner, CSSR, “Leonine Prayers,” in New Catholic Encyclopedia, 8:500.

31 See the bibliography in O'Collins, Gerald and Kendall, Daniel, The Bible for Theology: Ten Principles for the Theological Use of Scripture (New York: Paulist Press, 1997), 178–79. For further publications on love, see Jeanrond, Werner G., A Theology of Love (London: T&T Clark, 2010), 261–79; and Oord, Thomas Jay, Defining Love: A Philosophical, Scientific, and Theological Engagement (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2010), passim.

32 I discuss in detail the universal presence and activity of the Son and the Spirit in O'Collins, Salvation for All: God's Other Peoples (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 214–29.

33 O'Collins and Kendall, The Bible for Theology, 63–65.

34 See O'Collins, The Second Vatican Council on Other Religions, 158–66.

35 See further O'Collins, Gerald, “The Priesthood of Christ and the Followers of Other Faiths,” Irish Theological Quarterly 78 (2013): 262–78.

36 Wills, Garry, Why Priests? A Failed Tradition (New York: Viking, 2013), 107–15, 156. Failing to show historical sensitivity, Wills dismisses as “eccentric logic” (119, 120) what belonged to the first-century methods of biblical interpretation.

37 Lincoln, Andrew T., The Gospel According to John (London: Continuum, 2005), 7677.

38 On the priesthood of Christ in John's Gospel, see further O'Collins, Gerald and Jones, Michael Keenan, Jesus Our Priest: A Christian Approach to the Priesthood of Christ (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 2426.

39 Wills, Why Priests?, 17, 244.

40 O'Collins and Jones, Jesus Our Priest, 19–24.

41 Ibid., 28–30.

42 Ibid., 14.

43 About the priestly ministry of Christ in which his followers share, Paul has much to say, and so too do 1 Peter and the book of Revelation; see O'Collins and Jones, Jesus Our Priest, 28–44. Wills simply ignores much of this testimony about Christians exercising a priestly ministry.

44 Wills, Why Priests?, 266.

45 Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, rev. and ed. Danker, Frederick William, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.)

46 Wills, Why Priests?, 60–65.

47 Redding, Graham, Prayer and the Priesthood of Christ: In the Reformed Tradition (London: T&T Clark, 2003).

48 For details on Torrance, see O'Collins and Jones, Jesus Our Priest, 224–29.

49 O'Collins, “The Priesthood of Christ and the Followers of Other Faiths.”



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