I decided to read Gavin D’ Costa’s Christianity and the World Religions after learning about his intellectual movement from Hick, to Rahner (for D’Costa, Rahner’s thought remains synonymous with German Idealism) and finally to the nouvelle theologians.

His book lays out some helpful typologies tracing the various theories of soteriology. D’Costa himself remains thoroughly entrenched within the orthodox vein, such that he argues for the positive merits of “universal-access exclusivism.” In order to maintain this notion, D’Costa makes an argument for, in wonderful nouvelle ad-hoc fashion, the revisiting of the creedal, liturgical and tradition-based accounts of Christ descent into hell.

In a chapter called, “Old Doctrines for New Jobs,” D’Costa makes a case for a subversive orthodoxy; more so than anything offered by John Hick’s bland pluralism. D’Costa states:

“When Catholics speak of Christ’s death ‘once and for all,’ this does not mean that the Eucharist is not a sacrifice in the proper Christological sense. The Eucharist in the present tense actually participates in the event of the cross, an event in the past tense, to apply the fruits of the cross to the church (in the future tense). The Eucharist is the eternal sacrifice of God’s self-giving love. If the Eucharist enacts the cross in this ontological and participatory sense, it must also be the case with the ‘descent into hell,’ as it is with the resurrection. Clearly a lot more argument is required to establish this point, but to claim this movement between the subjective and the objective elements of the atonement in the Eucharist is not to detract an iota from the once-and-for-all nature of the atoning death and resurrection. Rather, it is to iterate that its superabundant merits require mediation, to both the church and the world, and the Eucharist embodies this mediation both retrospectively, in the now, and in the future. I want to suggest that the descent takes place not only at every holy mass said, where the sacrifice of the cross is present, but also and especially during the Easter triduum, at that solemn and dark liturgical moment at the time of Jesus’ death on Good Friday and his descent into the hell of Holy Saturday” (182).

With this statement D’Costa has done something I love: he’s taken the everyday, routine motions of the liturgy and made them something completely strange and mysterious all over again.

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