Christophanic Communion: Vatican II & Raimon Panikkar

The following paper was presented at the “Lumen et Vita: A Feast for all People,” Spring 2021 Conference at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. 


ABSTRACT:
The events of the Second Vatican Council were an unprecedented moment in the history of the Church. Vatican II unlocked Christian consciousness to recognize that every person on Earth shares a common destiny in God. The two documents at the forefront of this effort were Nostra Aetate and Gaudium et SpesNostra Aetate opened the doors for expanded dialogue with non-Christian brothers and sisters and boldly stated that the Church “rejects nothing that is true and holy” in other religious traditions. Situating itself “in the world of today,” Gaudium et Spes, the final document of the Second Vatican Council, established a new position for the Church with its “expression of an intimate bond and solidarity with humanity.” Together, Nostra Aetate and Gaudium et Spes ushered a new theological anthropology that inspired the Catholic Church and the faithful to engage the “whole of humanity.” For Panikkar, the Second Vatican Council’s events were a Christophanic moment and an opportunity for Christians to discover a new hermeneutical approach to the world. By following his faith, listening to the signs of the times, and rejecting nothing that is true and holy, Raimon Panikkar transformed how Christians understand inter-religious and inter-cultural engagement. Raimon Panikkar introduces a theology of “Christophany” as a dynamic understanding of Christ that cannot be reduced to mere doctrine, as a method for the Church to live in communion with the world. This essay situates Raimon Panikkar in conversation with the Second Vatican Council and concludes with a Christophanic vision of communion where “every being is a Christophany.”

KEYWORDS:
Second Vatican Council; Raimon Panikkar; Christophany; Nostra Aetate; Gaudium et Spes

Short Summary:
This essay will place Raimon Panikkar in conversation with Vatican II, specifically Nostra Aetate and Gaudium et Spes and detail Panikkar’s Christophanic hermeneutics in light of the Council. This essay invites readers to follow the inspiration of Vatican II and Raimon Panikkar, respond to the signs of the times, reject nothing that is true and holy, and enter into a Christophanic communion where “every being is a Christophany.”


Christophanic Communion:
Vatican II & Raimon Panikkar

Introduction

            At the start of the Second Vatican Council on October 11, 1962, Raimon Panikkar was 43 years old, had only been an ordained priest for 16 years, and had a limited number of published works. Nonetheless, his experience in India and encounter with Hinduism warranted him an invitation to attend the Second Vatican Council. While likely valuable, Panikkar’s presence with the Council fathers could not be considered a monumental contribution as little accreditation is given to him on any council documents. The influence of the Second Vatican Council on Panikkar, on the other hand, cannot go understated. Panikkar understood Vatican II as a landmark historical moment that provided a new theological reflection for “Christians looking for an identity that does not betray their tradition and yet does justice to a new awareness” of the world. When the Council closed on December 7, 1965, Vatican II unlocked new doors for the Church, and in the decades following, Raimon Panikkar widening those doors, welcoming a communion where “every being is a Christophany.”[1]

Second Vatican Council Unlocks New Doors

            The Second Vatican Council “attempted different ways to overcome the restlessness of peoples’ hearts”[2] and move closer to answering “the unsolved riddles of human existence.”[3] The Church affirmed its responsibility to respond to the “grief and anguish, as well as joys and hopes,”[4] afflicting humanity and “interpret them in the light of the Gospel,”[5] to “fashion a world better suited to the surpassing dignity of humanity.”[6] By acknowledging humanity’s shared communion, Vatican II unlocked Christian consciousness to recognize that every person on Earth “all share a common destiny, namely God.”[7] The two documents at the forefront of this effort were “Nostra Aetate: Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions” and “Gaudium et Spes: Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World.”

            Promulgated on October 28, 1965, Nostra Aetate opened the doors for expanded dialogue with non-Christian brothers and sisters and boldly stated that the Church “rejects nothing that is true and holy” in other religious traditions.[8]Assessing Nostra Aetates teaching, Francis X. Clooney, SJ, considers the document a continuation of the Church’s tradition while also being “strikingly distinctive” in its openness to non-Abrahamic religions.[9] The Catholic Church established a precedent with Nostra Aetate “encouraging, even mandating, a deepening of inter-religious learning” and dialogue with other religions.[10]

The church, therefore, urges its sons and daughters to enter with prudence and charity into discussion and collaboration with members of other religions. Let Christians, while witnessing to their own faith and way of life, acknowledge, preserve and encourage the spiritual and moral truths found among non-Christians, together with their social life and culture.[11]

This expanded dialogue carved out a space for the nations of the world and people of all faith traditions into a communion of shared human dignity and pursuit of the common good.

           Continuing this pursuit for the common good, Gaudium et Spes, the final document of the Second Vatican Council, promulgated on December 7, 1965, established a new position for the Church with its “expression of an intimate bond and solidarity with humanity.”[12] Situating itself “in the world of today,” the Church addressed, for the first time, not only Catholics and other Christian Traditions, but the “whole of humanity as well.”[13] Gaudium et Spes recognized the human person as a social,[14] intelligent[15] being, motivated by a conscience,[16] striving[17] for freedom,[18] and guided by the Spirit to be in service to and for one another.[19]

All this holds true not only for Christians but also for all people of good will in whose hearts grace is active invisibly. For since Christ died for everyone, and since all are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery. Such is the nature and the greatness of the mystery of humankind.[20]

By instituting this new anthropology of the human person, encompassed by Christ, the Second Vatican Council forever “inspired believers to take their transformative role in society seriously” as members of both Church and the world.[21]

Widening the Doors of Christology

            Believing firmly in his Roman Catholic faith and inspired by Vatican II, Raimon Panikkar widened the Church’s doors transforming how Catholics understand inter-religious and inter-cultural engagement. For Panikkar, the Second Vatican Council was an opportunity for Catholics to “accept the interpellation of other cultures and open [themselves] to all the areas of the world that are not part of the Abrahamitic cultural.”[22] Vatican II was, for Panikkar, “the opening bar to a piece of music rather than the closing one,” whose tune would continue to reverberate through time.[23]

            As Panikkar struck the newly unlocked keys of Vatican II, he discovered Christological chords “deaf to the cries of men and especially women.”[24] Panikkar lauds the Council and its efforts with Nostra Aetate, noting “for the first time in church history an ecumenical council not only recognized that [non-Christian] religions have a right to exist but even praised them.”[25] However, immediately following his praise of the Council, Panikkar strikes a discord with the fact that “no need was felt [by the Council fathers] to invite representatives of [non-Christian] religions to speak for themselves.”[26] Christian history failed to enter into genuine dialogue. The “Christology that has reached us today” has reduced the contributions of the Americas, and the insights of “Asia, Africa, and Oceania have been practically nil.”[27]According to Panikkar, Christians lack a global, holistic perspective of Christ. Christology is relegated to a culture of foreign conquerors and invaders that used christological[28] images as a means for war and a weapon for colonization.[29]

            Following the opening notes of the Council, Panikkar listened to the signs of the time and interpreted them in the light of Vatican II. Panikkar composed a new hermeneutics that visions “an image of Christ that all people are capable of believing in, especially those contemporaries who, while wishing to remain open and tolerant, think they have no need of either diluting their ‘Christianity’ or of demanding their fidelity to Christ.”[30] Elements of the Second Vatican Council that “looked, respectively, to the present (aggiornamento), the future (development), and the past (ressourcement)” provide a guide for understanding Panikkar’s hermeneutics.[31] His hermeneutics implies both continuity and change (aggiornamento) to the dynamic mystery of Christ that includes “the figure of the historical past and the reality of the present” (ressourcement).[32] This hermeneutics is a development of the collaboration with members of other religions to seek a better understanding of ourselves and “to integrate… how others intemperate us.” The “Christological tradition of the past two millennia” is the muse, not an impediment, for Panikkar’s expansive inter-cultural and inter-religious ensemble.[33]

Christophanic Hermeneutics

           Christophany, “under the light of Christ, the image of the unseen God, the firstborn of all creation,”[34] illuminates every being.[35] Christ is not only bound to God, “but to [humanity] as well: ‘the mystery of [humanity] is seen in its proper light in the mystery of the Word incarnate.”[36] The Word of Christ, which is in “intimate relation with the whole of creation,”[37] invites Christians to discover the “cosmic church… mystērion tou kosmou… the sacramentum mundi, the mystery of the universe” at heart in Panikkar’s Christophanic hermeneutics.[38] To understand that the Word, that life itself, is “imbued with a deep religious sense,”[39] Panikkar suggests three co-equal approaches: Individualistic,[40]Personalistic,[41] and Ādhyātmic (Pneumatic).[42]

            In the Individualistic approach, Panikkar signals first to the particularity of oneself but cautions against the Western myth of individuality that seeks to isolate oneself from others.[43]  Rooting not in individualist isolation but communal love, for “it is only within ourselves that we can meet—and perhaps understand—the mystery of someone else’s identity.”[44] An individual’s unique subtleties mirror creation’s unique distinctions implying a need for continual engagement and dialogue.

            In the second Personalistic approach, Panikkar invites the individual to recognize their web of relationships. “There is no I without the you,” every individual, every being of creation is relational.[45] Each person came into existence because of the relationship of those who came before them. Our presence is possible because of a broader community. Creation is a result of communion, a recognition “that one does not exist without the other, and vice versa.”[46]

            In the third Ādhyātmic (Pneumatic) approach, Panikkar encourages people to meditate on the mystical union of our communal belonging. With this hermeneutical practice, Panikkar suggests the need for people to discover their intimate self, unlock their consciousness, and “awaken to the reality” of their sacred communion with God.[47] This mystical experience of communion, of being and becoming, united with the source and summit of life, of Christ, expands the global unity of Vatican II into a Christophanic communion.

Christophany Communion

            Christians do not have a monopoly on the knowledge of Christ and must experience and listen “to how Christ is seen in other cultures.”[48] Christians ought to “revisit the experience of the mystery of Christ in the light of our times—to recognize the kairos of the present”[49] and embrace a Christophanic theology in communion with all creation.

It is no surprise that a new period in world history should reflect a fresh understanding of Jesus the Christ. If Christ is to have any meaning for Hindus, Andines, Ibos, Vietnamese, and others who do not belong to the Abrahamic lineage, this meaning can no longer be offered in the garb of Western philosophies… Jesus was neither a political liberator nor an ascetic who denied the world, much less a member of the clergy, but simply a being… who lived the fullness of the human. What Jesus did was to participate in the affairs of the earth and the vicissitude of men and women, while knowing that it is the obligation of each of us to assume our responsibilities so that the common effort will achieve greater justice.[50]

The life of Christ’s ministry, death, and resurrection displayed an all-inclusive love of God in communion with all humanity.[51] Christ’s table fellowship welcomed sinners,[52] strangers,[53] and friends[54] and provided an open space for dialogue and conversion,[55] as well as exchanging values and traditions.[56] Christ’s life is an embodiment of a divine pluralistic paradox, a “living symbol of divinity, of humanity, and of the cosmos.”[57] This dynamic understanding of Christ cannot be reduced to a mere doctrine and demands the communal dialogue of Christophany.[58]

           Christophany presents a “great challenge of our times,”[59] one that cultivates a communion in which the “mystery of Christ finds its place.”[60]

Christianness stands for experience of the life of Christ within ourselves, insight into a communion, without confusion, with all reality, an experience that ‘I and the Father are One,’ that labels do not matter, that security is of no importance…[61]

When humanity finds its place in communion with Christ, it cannot be limited to Christian or non-Christian, male nor female, black nor white, gay nor straight, cis or trans, rather Christophany becomes “the maximal actualization of our true identity.”[62]

Conclusion

            The events of the Second Vatican Council were an unprecedented Christophanic moment in the history of the Church. Vatican II unlocked new doors and provided the tools for Christians to come into greater communion with the world. By following his faith, listening to the signs of the times, and rejecting nothing that is true and holy, Raimon Panikkar provided a new hermeneutics that widened the doors of the Church. 

            Fifty fives years after Vatican II, and eleven years after the death of Raimon Panikkar, “the griefs and the anxieties of the [people] of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted,”[63] have been further exacerbated by the dueling pandemics of racism and COVID-19. Now more than ever, humanity needs to follow their faith, listen to the signs of the times, reject nothing that is true and holy, and enter into a communion where “every being is a Christophany.”[64]


Footnotes

[1] Raimundo Panikkar, “The Jordan, the Tiber, and the Ganges: Three Kairological Moments of Christic Self-Consciousness,” in The Myth of Christian Uniqueness: Toward a Pluralistic Theology of Religions, ed. John Hick and Paul F. Knitter (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1987), pp. 89-116, 114.

[2] Vatican II Council, “Nostra Aetate: Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions,” Solemnly promulgated by His Holiness Pope Paul VI on October 28, 1965, §2.

[3] Nostra Aetate §1.

[4] Vatican II Council, “Gaudium et Spes: Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World,” Solemnly promulgated by His Holiness Pope Paul VI on December 7, 1965, §1.

[5] Gaudium et Spes §4.

[6] Gaudium et Spes §91.

[7] Nostra Aetate §1. 

[8] Nostra Aetate §2. 

[9] Francis X. Clooney, SJ, “Nostra Aetate and the Catholic Way of Openness to Other Religions,” in Nostra Aetate: Celebrating Fifty Years of the Catholic Church’s Dialogue with Jews and Muslims, ed. Pim Valkenberg and Anthony Cirelli (Washington, D.C: Catholic University of America Press, 2016), pp. 58-75, 58-59.

[10] Clooney, SJ, “Nostra Aetate and the Catholic Way,” 62.

[11] Nostra Aetate §2. 

[12] Ellen Van Stichel and Yves De Maeseneer, “Gaudium Et Spes: Impulses of the Spirit for an Age of Globalization,” Louvain Studies 39, no. 1 (2015): pp. 63-79, https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.2143/LS.39.1.3144266, 65.

[13] Gaudium et Spes §2. 

[14] Gaudium et Spes §12.

[15] Gaudium et Spes §15.

[16] Gaudium et Spes §16.

[17] Gaudium et Spes §13.

[18] Gaudium et Spes §17.

[19] Gaudium et Spes §11.

[20] Gaudium et Spes §22.

[21] Van Stichel and De Maeseneer, “Gaudium et Spes: Impulses of the Spirit,” 78. 

[22] Raimon Panikkar, Cultures and Religion in Dialogue, ed. Milena Carrara Pavan, vol. VI (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2018), 62.

[23] Raimon Panikkar, “Christ, Abel, and Melchizedek: The Church and the Non-Abrahamic Religions,” Jeevadhara, 1971, pp. 391-403, 392.

[24] Raimon Panikkar, Christophany: The Fullness of Man, trans. Alfred DiLascia (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004), 5.

[25] Panikkar, “The Jordan, the Tiber, and the Ganges,” 101.

[26] Panikkar, “The Jordan, the Tiber, and the Ganges,” 101

[27] Panikkar, “A Christophany for Our Times,” 4.

[28] I have intentionally not capitalized “christological” to avoid linking Christ to the history of oppression noted in this sentence. 

[29] Panikkar, Christophany, 4.

[30] Panikkar, Christophany, 9.

[31] John W. O’Malley, What Happened at Vatican II (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008), 37.

[32] Panikkar, “A Christophany for Our Times,” 5-6.

[33] Panikkar, “A Christophany for Our Times,” 5.

[34] Gaudium et Spes §10.

[35] Panikkar, Christophany, 125.

[36] Panikkar, Christophany, 5, quoting from Gaudium et Spes, 22.

[37] Panikkar, Christophany, 84.

[38] Note: Panikkar uses Vatican II (Lumen Gentum §1) to support his understanding of the “cosmic church” as the site of the Incarnation, see Panikkar, Christophany, 176-179.

[39] Nostra Aetate §2. 

[40] Panikkar, Christophany, 55.

[41] Panikkar, Christophany, 60.

[42] Panikkar, Christophany, 67. 

[43] Panikkar, Christophany, 56. 

[44] Panikkar, Christophany, 57. 

[45] Panikkar, Christophany, 64. 

[46] Panikkar, Christophany, 65.

[47] Panikkar, Christophany, 78-80. 

[48] Panikkar, Christophany, 156-157.

[49] Panikkar, Christophany, 7.

[50] Panikkar, Christophany, 185, 189. 

[51] Nostra Aetate §4. 

[52] Mark 2:13-17; Luke 5:27-32.

[53] Luke 7:36-50.

[54] Luke 10:38-42.

[55] Luke 24:28-43.

[56] Luke 22:7–23.

[57] Panikkar, “A Christophany for Our Times,” 20.

[58] Panikkar, Christophany, 10-12.

[59] Panikkar, Christophany, 19.

[60] Panikkar, Christophany, 20. 

[61] Panikkar, “The Jordan, the Tiber, and the Ganges,” 113.

[62] Panikkar, Christophany, 125.

[63] Gaudium et Spes §1.

[64] Panikkar, “The Jordan, the Tiber, and the Ganges,” 114.


Works Cited

Clooney, SJ, Francis X. “Nostra Aetate and the Catholic Way of Openness to Other Religions.” In Nostra Aetate: Celebrating Fifty Years of the Catholic Church’s Dialogue with Jews and Muslims, edited by Pim Valkenberg and Anthony Cirelli, 58–75. Washington, D.C: Catholic University of America Press, 2016. 

De Cea, J. Abraham Vélez. “Raimon Panikkar (1918-2010): Life and Legacy.” Buddhist-Christian Studies 31 (2011): 215-19. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41416548.

O’Malley, John W. What Happened at Vatican II. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008. 

Panikkar, Raimon. “A Christophany for Our Times.” Theology Digest 39, no. 1 (1992): 3–21. 

Panikkar, Raimon. “Christ, Abel, and Melchizedek: The Church and the Non-Abrahamic Religions.” Jeevadhara, September/October, 1971, 391–403. 

Panikkar, Raimon. Christophany: The Fullness of Man. Translated by Alfred DiLascia. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2004. 

Panikkar, Raimon. Cultures and Religions in Dialogue. Edited by Milena Carrara Pavan. VI. Vol. VI. Opera Omina. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2018. 

Panikkar, Raimundo. “The Jordan, the Tiber, and the Ganges: Three Kairological Moments of Christic Self-Consciousness.” Essay. In The Myth of Christian Uniqueness: Toward a Pluralistic Theology of Religions, edited by John Hick and Paul F. Knitter, 89–116. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1987.

Van Stichel, Ellen, and Yves De Maeseneer. “Gaudium Et Spes: Impulses of the Spirit for an Age of Globalization.” Louvain Studies 39, no. 1 (2015): 63–79. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.2143/LS.39.1.3144266.

Vatican II Council. “Gaudium et Spes: Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.” Solemnly promulgated by His Holiness Pope Paul VI on December 7, 1965. 

Vatican II Council. “Nostra Aetate: Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions.” Solemnly promulgated by His Holiness Pope Paul VI on October 28, 1965.

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