On the strength of common symbols between religions, it has been possible to speak of the “transcendent unity of religions”. However, this poses a number of difficulties, raised by Jean Borella on several occasions1.

The elements that follow, after Jean Borella, propose a more appropriate analogical unity of religions.

The Religion that Names the Others

Let’s begin by returning to the concept of religion, and to the word itself, intended to name all the religions of the world. Let’s start by noting three facts:

  • the initial Latin meaning of religio, originally used only to designate piety, fidelity, or “a set of observances, rules, prohibitions, without referring either to the worship of divinity, or to mythical traditions, or to the celebration of feasts”2, did not seem predestined for the success it now enjoys;
  • no language prior to Christianity had a specific term to designate religion, which allowed the name to take hold;
  • this generic concept should have emerged from the experience of a plurality of singular elements of the same kind, which occurred as early as the time of Alexander, during contacts with what we now call Hinduism and Buddhism. But this is not the case.

We had to wait until the Christian era for this concept to emerge, as if the Christian religious “form” revealed the supra-formal essence of all religion!3 Mankind was thus unaware of the general notion of religion until the emergence of Christianity. But the semantic effect of the appearance of Christianity in the Mediterranean world of the 1st or 2nd century was not limited to endowing human thought with the concept of religion “in general”, it also extended, quite logically, to the naming of each religion in particular. For, if the discovery of the notion of religion (and therefore of religions) did not take place in China, India, Buddhism, Egypt, Israel, Greece or Rome, it must be added that, prior to Christianity, none of these religions had a name for themselves. The names we use, such as Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, even Judaism, are all post-Christian, and some (Hinduism, for example) are very recent. On the contrary, the adjective “Christian”, as we learn from the Acts of the Apostles (XI, 26) appeared in Antioch around the year 45, and the noun “Christianity” (christianismos as opposed to ioudaïsmos), first attested by S. Ignatius of Antioch (Epistles to the Magnesians, 10:1, 3; to the Romans, 3:3; to the Philadelphians, 6:1), seems already in common use at the end of the first century”4.

Denomination Leads to Comparison

Whether comparison led to denomination, or vice versa, the fact remains that, having constituted the other forms of the sacred into religion, Christianity needed to situate itself in relation to them. This situation can be characterized in three combinable ways: existing religions are diverse remnants of primitive revelation, they are purely human works (the product of natural religiosity or the result of other factors), or they are “the devil’s work”.

Each of these hypotheses appears to be both true, in some respects, and false: the latter reminds us that no religion is immune to the devil’s attacks (cf. the parable of the wheat and the chaff), but assumes that God can allow himself to be worshipped and prayed to using forms taught by the devil (a deceiver so powerful that he can satisfy, through an invincible and undetectable illusion, the deepest religious need of all mankind since the dawn of time); the second hypothesis recalls that all religions are certainly rich in human creations and affected by the cultural conditions of their development, but it “confers on human nature a creative capacity out of all proportion to the scale of religious phenomena and the specific originality of each religion”; the first recalls that all religions “are bearers of primordial elements, as proven by the universality of certain truths and symbols”.

This is undoubtedly the most coherent solution. However, it fails to take into account the fact that, over and above their common primordial elements, certain religions appear, without possible dispute, to have been founded by a revelator, such as Buddha or the prophet Muhammad. This can only be seen as the effect of an imposture. The thesis of primordial revelation must therefore be complemented by that of divine intervention, whether direct or indirect (angelic). Acknowledging this “divine origin of (authentic) religions does not of itself entail relativism or syncretism, since each remains unique and, in a way, incomparable”.

So what are we to make of religions that compare and contradict each other? For example, the Buddha teaches the impermanence of the atman (the “self”), in contrast to Hinduism, which affirms its permanence and transcendent reality. Similarly, the Koran rejects the Christian Trinity in the name of Divine Unity (IV, 171; V, 73), as well as the divinity of Christ (IV, 172; V, 17, 72-78; IX, 31-32), which is inseparable from it. This contradiction, in particular between the Koranic “God has no son” and “the Word made flesh is God”, as it stands, is insoluble. All that remains is to seek its meaning.

Rather than juxtaposing religions, it seems necessary to accept the idea of a hierarchy of revelations: the revealing Word expressing the divine Mystery more or less explicitly. For example, Christianity does not reject the fundamental dogma of Islam (no God, apart from God), but on the contrary affirms it (credo in unum Deum: “I believe in one God”), whereas Islam does not “understand” Christ, the Son of God. More precisely, it only recognizes what fits its perspective: Jesus, son of the Virgin Mary, messenger of God, but in such a way that “it could be said that Islam represents what pure Abrahamism can accept of the Christic mystery, and which Judaism had rejected”.

This semi-negation – which is also a semi-affirmation – of Christ by Islam (an explicitly post-Christian religion) is undoubtedly a terrible test for a Christian, but it is rich in teaching: it reminds us of “the irrefutable force of the monotheistic requirement” (witnessed by Islam); it teaches us “the unfathomable depth of the Christian mystery, unfathomable because everything happens as if God had had to tolerate his merciful – and momentary – veiling in the eyes of some of the ‘believers'”.

This is because the Christic mystery “is ‘parousiac’: in it, is realized the perfect immanence of the divine to the human, an anticipated and saving realization of the final moment when ‘God will be all in all'”. In other words, accomplished Christians already belong to the “eighth day” of the world, and Islam realizes a certain “de facto truth” of the attitude of certain Christians towards Christ, that of the Arian heresy. This is why “it was somehow impossible for Christianity to be the ultimate religion, the religion of the end of time”. What is definitively accomplished in the person of Christ is not equally accomplished in the Christian religion, whose task of christifying the world is only “in the process of being accomplished”; otherwise, if this task were accomplished, the Christian religion would have ceased to exist.

Thus, Christianity is both more and less than a religion: “more than a religion, because it is centered on the mystery of Christ, the transcendent unity of all revelations”, in the sense that the Christian “form” surpasses all forms and thus reveals “the religious form” as such; “less than a religion, because this surpassing entails a kind of relative inability to constitute itself truly as a historically existing form”. Its prophetic nature – which “announces the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor., 11:26) – “authorizes” the terminal existence of a religious form: a minimal, stable synthesis of the religious form as such, religion reduced to its essentials.

Christianity is terminal and unsurpassable, in that today it reverberates the eternal, parousiatic light: “the supernatural light of the future Apocalypse”; and Islam is terminal because it represents the simplest form of the original sacred theism5.

The Limits of Religious Unification

We cannot ignore the conjectural nature of these considerations, nor the fact that “there is in the plurality of religions an impenetrable mystery, the secret of God”. However, we can’t avoid trying to think about it, even if “to think is always to put oneself in God’s place”. So, if I am to think about the plurality of religions in an acceptable way, it must be based on my experience of existing religions, and in particular my own religion, which thus becomes “the unsurpassable condition that the revelation of Christ constitutes for me”. But then, the very unification of the concept of religion becomes problematic: if it’s a question of an “apophatic unity of revelations” (apophatic for ineffable and superintelligible), we’re simply affirming the divine origin of manifestations of the sacred, or, for the atheist student, we’re merely endorsing a common designation of religious facts; if it’s a question of a “cataphatic unity of religions” (cataphatic for positively formulable statement), we’re committed to defining the intelligible content of such a supra-religion or inter-religion.

This is where insurmountable difficulties arise for Christianity. For, while it is always possible to disregard the particularizing contingencies of the various religions (the way in which they are phenomenologically distinguished), what is not possible would be to ignore what each one says is essential. For example, if we disregard the historical facts of Shakyamuni in Buddhism and Muhammad in Islam, we can say that these religions are all the same: “Nirvana is nothing other than the extinction of everything that illusorily asserts itself as real apart from the only Real: there is no God but God”. Yet Christianity cannot be subjected to the same treatment: its message is the messenger himself; “particularizing historical contingency as such is given as the absolute of revelation. All Christianity consists in believing that Jesus Christ is the unique incarnation of the unique Son of God”; all religions have said, in one form or another, that God is Father or that He is Spirit, but none has ever said: God is Son.

This “God is Son” means that, through the Trinity revealed by the Son, God “becomes” Father, not only of men and of the world, but above all insofar as God eternally begets God; moreover, Christ being in no way a messenger among others but the Word itself, he “becomes” the Exegesis of the Father (Joa., 1:18).

Whereas other religions, as far as we know, do not “determine” the divine Essence in its essentiality, but content themselves with the “Face” necessary to our relationship with God (the One, the Being, the pure Reality, the Creator and the Rewarder…), the Trinitarian mystery is a “Christianization” of the Absolute, which “extends the Christian ‘form’ beyond the man-God relationship”, which “dogmatizes” Christianity at the level of the Absolute itself. This is what makes Christianity unintegrable in the positive concept of a unity of religions, unless, of course, we reject the two fundamental dogmas (the union of divine and human nature in the one hypostasis or person of the Son, on the one hand, and the one God in three distinct persons, on the other), but then it would no longer be Christianity that would be integrated, it would be Arianism.

As such a reinterpretation is incompatible with the data of Tradition and Scripture, we must reject the cataphatic conception of a unity of religions and stick to an apophatic conception.

An Analogical Unity of Religions

If the plurality of religions is necessary, it is in the very order of this plurality that uniqueness must also manifest itself – a relative uniqueness, that is. Philosophically speaking, different kinds of unity can be distinguished. Generic unity is where we find a single genus common to several species, such as the genus animal, common to oxen and man (man is no less an animal than the ox, but adds to this common genus a reasonable specific difference); “according to this type of unity, the term religion would designate a common genus of which each religion would be a specification, no religion being more or less religion than another, any more than any animal is more animal than another: here, the term religion has a univocal meaning”. Purely nominal unity occurs when there is no common genus between the animal “dog” and the constellation Dog; here, the term dog has an equivocal meaning, it’s a simple homonym. There is a third type of unity, which is neither univocal as in generic unity, nor equivocal as in nominal unity. This is the case where the same denomination can be applied “to different realities, not because these realities share a common genus, but because they bear a determined relation to a primary reality where the essence signified by the denomination is manifested in a more appropriate and perfect manner”. The classic example of such a case is that of “healthy”, which is properly and par excellence said of the animal, but also, and indirectly, of the remedy or physician that procures health, or of the urine that is the sign of it. This unity can be called an analogical unity – the medievals so named it – in the sense of an analogy of attribution: the same term is attributed to different realities in a way that is neither univocal (no generic identity or equivalence between these realities), nor yet equivocal, for, here, “the community of name has its raison d’être in that there is a certain nature that manifests itself in all (the) acceptions” of this term6. But this community of nature manifests itself more or less perfectly, and so this nature will be named only after the reality in which it most visibly makes itself known, and to which it most properly belongs. It will therefore be attributed to other realities “by reference to a first reality”, says Aristotle.

These principles can be applied to the case of religions, on the one hand, since there can be no unity of religions and, on the other, since humanity ignored the general notion of religion until the appearance of Christianity, which named them all.

“All naming distinguishes and separates, but in so doing, it also accomplishes the truth of the multiple by revealing the singular identity of each being. […] In order to achieve self-awareness, and hence awareness of religion as such, Christian thinkers had to experience, through the Christian message, something that surpassed everything they could know in the order of the sacred, i.e. not only the Greek, Roman or Jewish sacred, but also the Indian, Egyptian or Celtic. For the other religious forms to be constituted in their very formality, ceasing to be spontaneous modes of living, blind to themselves, like Monsieur Jourdain who made prose without knowing it7, they had to be defined by what limited them in their very order, in other words, what transcended them. […] By its very appearance, Christianity reveals all religions as religions. In its light, or rather in Christ’s light, the religious nature of other forms has effectively been revealed, whether they know it or not. This is not to say that he is religion as such, for the simple reason that this quintessential Religion does not exist. In fact, few religions are as intimately aware of their formal imperfection as the Christian one: what is most transcendent in it – Christ – does not belong to it and never will.”

From then on, this precarious, ill-defined religion, which may even contemplate with some “envy” the formal splendor or vigorous simplicity or perfume of serenity of the manifestations of the sacred on the surface of the earth, “also knows itself to be the depository of a unique message which consists simply in the coming of God into our flesh, not of the divine, but of God in person, not the ‘descent’ to earth of a divine aspect (avatâra), but the assumption of human nature by the hypostasis of the Word. […] And this is the reason for the secret weakness of the Christian form”8. We can even see the “importance of the Church – a unique phenomenon in the history of religions – as a substitute for this form, which in certain respects is lacking (hence also a certain lack of sense of sacred forms, which seems congenital to Christianity)”9.

This is what has been Christianity’s great problem from the outset, right up to the present day: Jewish, pagan, modern, postmodern forms, and so on. Constant reformation means searching for new forms and not settling on any one. Stable in space, Christianity is in perpetual temporal wandering. But this is also how it retains the power to reveal the formal nature of manifestations of the sacred. As you can see, it’s not easy to be a Christian, or even to think of Christianity in itself. And I’m not talking here about the sublimity of Christ’s commandments, which can be summed up as: ‘Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Mt., 5:48), I’m talking about existing as a Christian at the most elementary level. A Jew or a Muslim feels Jewish or Muslim when he performs the rites of his religion, even if he is not a saint. A Christian always lives in extreme uncertainty as to the Christian truth of his conduct.

Christianity is certainly not the unity of religions, nor is it the Religio perennis (which is merely the mythological and illusory projection of a concept10, but it is historically the primary form by reference to which all other forms have been named according to the truth of their nature. This is why we can well say that the unity of religions is an analogical unity whose primary analog is the religion of Christ11.

The Essence of Christianity

Throughout this article, we have seen a number of elements that show Christianity to be unique (in relation to other religions) or essential (in itself). Let’s recall them:

Its dogmatics, the most transparent expression or formulation of the Christian mysteries, inserted between revelation and theology, constitutes a unique case among the world’s religious traditions – which have, “classically”, a revelation (written or not) that formulates, and theologies that interpret. It is the unparalleled intelligence of the Christian mystery, it seems to us, that has led some of the greatest minds to devote their lives to it and, above all, that has necessitated this dogmatics, to fix – in the face of any “anecdotally” interpretative drift – and to transmit, for two thousand years, the Christian mystery12.

Its “gnosticity” means that Christianity is essentially a gnostic religion, since the incarnate Son (or Word or Logos) is, properly speaking, the Word itself, the Father’s gnosis. All true gnosis, whether it knows it or not, passes through Christ-Logos13.

Its transcendent uniqueness derives from this, and Christianity can therefore be said to be “more than a religion”. Indeed, centered on the mystery of Christ, “the transcendent unity of all revelations”, Christianity – the Christian “form” – transcends all forms and thus reveals “the religious form” as such.

Its filiality derives from the fact that, in Christianity, the message is the messenger himself: the only-begotten Son of God. If all religions have said, in one form or another, that God is Father or that He is Spirit, only Christianity has said: God is Son. So this “God is Son” means that, through the Trinity, God is Father too, but not just of men and the world, but above all as God eternally begets God.

His assumption of human nature through the hypostasis of the Incarnate Word – who came in Person – is incommensurable with a “mere” coming of the divine, even in our flesh, or the “mere” “descent” to earth of a divine aspect (Christ is by no means an avatâra).

His injunction to perfection: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt., 5:48) goes beyond a human capacity that would be deprived of the grace of the Holy Spirit, announced and sent, and exceeds, without question, any other commandment or injunction to conform to particular practices.

If we were now to sum up Christianity in terms of its original and unique essence, we would say14 that 1) God became incarnate in Jesus Christ 2) in order to teach us (doctrine) the Trinitarian Mystery and 3) to command us (spiritual life) to love God and neighbor: charity, 4) helping us to understand the one and realize the other through the grace of the continuous incarnation that is the Eucharist. “We believe, in fact, that no religion is founded on the incarnation of God Himself in the same way as Christianity; none possesses, properly speaking, a Trinitarian theology; none has, like it, reduced the law and the prophets to the commandment of love; none presents a rite similar to that of the Eucharist, where God gives Himself, not only by His grace, not only by His power, not only as a reward to those who do His will, but where God gives Himself in Person in a substantial presence.”15

From here, we can see how the Trinity and charity on the one hand, and incarnation and Eucharist on the other, correspond.

Questions of faith are linked to the Incarnation, and this defines the general form of Christianity in all its historical manifestations, in other words, in its very existence16 and to the Eucharist, which refers to it, will be attached all questions relating to hope (“the proclamation of Christ’s death until He comes”), but therefore also relating to faith (“faith is the substance of the things we hope for”), as well as the priestly institution, consecrating the Eucharistic species, and the ecclesial institution, ensuring the validity of the sacrament through apostolic transmission. And the Church is indeed this reality in act of hope, true messianism, sacramentum futuri.

As for the correspondence between Trinity and charity, it’s that between Christian knowledge par excellence: the essential theological or doctrinal content, and Christian action par excellence: the practical content or essential spiritual path. “Just as God is Trinitarian in nature, so the Christian is charitable in nature. This means that God always acts in a Trinitarian way, and that what ‘inspires’ his action is always Trinitarian. Equally, it means that the (true) Christian always acts in charity, and that what inspires his action is always charitable. But […] this charitable nature of the Christian life is inseparable from the Trinitarian nature of the divine life, and the exercise of this charity is inseparable from the knowledge of this truth”17. This is why charity, the created reflection of the uncreated Trinity, must remain determined by the Absolute. Otherwise, it runs the risk of setting itself up as an absolute, a universal norm, and then the whole human understanding of Christianity would be perverted, as our times seem to show, with or without categories.


  1. “Problématiques de l’unité des religions”, afterword to Bruno Bérard, Introduction à une métaphysique des mystères chrétiens, L’Harmattan, 2005; “La religio perennis n’est pas une religion” in, collectif, René Guénon, Frithjof Schuon. Héritages et controverses, L’Harmattan, 2023.[]
  2. cf. Brelich.[]
  3. From this point of view, a doctrine of the unity of religions is properly Christian: other religions are “more or less perfect forms of the one religion, which, as Saint Augustine says, has existed since the beginning of the world and has finally revealed itself in Jesus Christ”; cf. Jean Borella, “Intelligence spirituelle et surnaturel”, in Éric Vatré, La Droite du Père, Enquête sur la Tradition catholique aujourd’hui, Trédaniel, 1994, p.48.[]
  4. Jean Borella, “Problématique de l’unité des religions”, afterword to Bruno Bérard, Introduction à une métaphysique des mystères chrétiens, Imprimatur du diocèse de Paris, L’Harmattan, 2005.[]
  5. “Spiritual intelligence and the supernatural”, pp.48-51.[]
  6. L. Robin, La théorie platonicienne des Idées et des Nombres d’après Aristote, p. 151, “Problématique de l’unité des religions”, op.cit., p. 267.[]
  7. cf. Molière, Le Bourgeois gentilhomme.[]
  8. “Problématique de l’unité des religions”, pp. 266-270.[]
  9. “Intelligence spirituelle et supernaturel”, op. cit., p. 54.[]
  10. cf. the respective theories of Guénon and Schuon.[]
  11. “Problématique de l’unité des religions”, op. cit., pp. 270-271.[]
  12. cf. Jean Borella, Problèmes de gnose, op. cit. Presented in the form of “paradoxes maxima”, our book, Introduction à une métaphysique des mystères chrétien, en regard des traditions bouddhique, hindoue, islamique, judaïque et taoïste (L’Harmattan, 2005, 302 pages, imprimatur of the diocese of Paris), has attempted to present this unique dogmatics, especially in relation to the mysteries of the Trinity and Christ; cf. Part 1: “The Christian Trinity”, Chapter 1. Paradox resolution – conceptual and doctrinal approaches and Part 3: “The Christian Christ”, Chapter 11. A universal paradoxical synthesis – conceptual and doctrinal approaches. See also our article “Do you have to be intelligent to be saved?[]
  13. cf. John 1:18: The only-begotten Son, in the bosom of the Father, is the Exegesis.[]
  14. With Jean Borella, La charité profanée, op. cit., pp. 27-30.[]
  15. Ibid., p.27.[]
  16. “Thus, for example, is Christian theology, whose historical form – not its content – is constituted in the image of the Incarnation : just as in the Word made flesh, the divine essence takes on a form that is not its own, so Christian truth, in becoming theology, takes on a doctrinal form that is not its own, but that of Greco-Latin culture”; La charité profanée, p. 28 . See also supra, note 48, p. 14.[]
  17. La charité profanée, p. 30.[]