Fr. Johannes Dörmann
The Declaration Dominus
Jesus [hereafter DJ] published on August 6, 2000,
by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was particularly
connected with the Pope and the Holy Year, as Cardinal Ratzinger
has pointed out:
The Pope has followed
every stage of the development of this Declaration with
great attention, desiring to mark the culmination of the
Holy Year with a great, solemn profession of faith in
the Lordship of Jesus Christ; in doing so he wished to
focus on what is essential and avoid the trivializing
of issues which so often accompanies such events. (Die
Tagespost, Sept. 22, 2000, p.51)
We can be certain,
therefore, that DJ is the mindset of the Pope and
his ecumenical theology.
warmly welcomed this resolute and entirely "inopportune"
proclamation of the absolute claim of Jesus Christ and the
Catholic Church, while enthusiasts for ecumenism have for
the most part decisively and indignantly rejected it. The
traditional claim to the uniqueness and universality of
Christ and the Catholic Church, which are thus exalted far
above all other religions and denominations, is felt to
be arrogant, pre-Conciliar and antiquated.
In fact, the document
is noteworthy for its calm and objective style, and for
its perceptive rejection of those theologies which arose
in connection with inter-religious and interdenominational
dialogue, and which present a danger to the Faith. But what
of the argument that the publication shows an insensitivity
in the matter of timing?
Coming as it did
at a time when a very lively process of ecumenical rapprochement
was going on, DJ causes us to ask what moved
Rome to make such a clarification at this particular time?
The answer comes from the document itself: it is the devastating
consequences of this dialogue to the life of faith of the
Church. DJ explicitly deals with these consequences.
The destruction wrought by post-Conciliar ecumenism in theology
and the Church's life has given Rome a shock. The Church's
leadership has been forced to put a brake on wayward tendencies
so that the desired ecumenical dialogue can still continue
though within the framework of DJ.
Unmentioned in the
document, however, is that Rome itself, in the wake of the
last Council, set the example by initiating and promoting
the very ecumenical dialogue whose destructive
influence on Faith it now deplores. Not only did Rome do
all it could to promote dialogue with all religions and
denominations, it actually laid the foundation for inter-religious
prayer and worship. DJ, however, contains
no "mea culpa" for Rome's own contribution
to the devastating consequences of ecumenism.
to DJ announces its various themes and presents its
outline (DJ §1).
DJ is a missionary
document. It begins with Christ's missionary command:
"Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to
every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be
saved; he who does not believe will be condemned" (Mk.
command to the disciples is reproduced in the Church's universal
mission, which is realized down to our own day "in
the proclamation of the mystery of God, Father, Son, and
Holy Spirit, and the mystery of the incarnation of the Son,
as saving event for all humanity" (DJ §1). In
this way DJ starts out by reviewing the Incarnation
and the Trinity. Then follows the text of the Creed of Constantinople
(which lacks the "Filioque")and an insistance
that the unabridged totality of the Catholic Faith must
also be the content of the Church's missionary preaching.
Since, to date, the
Church's mission is far from completion, DJ devotes
special attention to the Church's missionary task, "above
all in connection with the religious traditions of the world"
(DJ §2). It follows that the relationship of Christ
and the Catholic Church to these "religious traditions"
is the main theme of DJ. We see how the Congregation
for the Faith understands and wishes to present this relationship
in the following passage, which, in virtue of its importance
for the whole DJ, is given in full (DJ §2):
the values which these religions witness to and offer
humanity, with an open and positive approach, the Second
Vatican Council's Declaration on the relation of the Church
to non-Christian religions states: "The Catholic
Church rejects nothing of what is true and holy in these
religions. She has a high regard for the manner of life
and conduct, the precepts and teachings, which, although
differing in many ways from her own teaching, nonetheless
often reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all
men" (Nostra Aetate [NA] §2). Continuing
in this line of thought, the Church's proclamation of
Jesus Christ, "the way, the truth, and the life"
(Jn. 14:6), today also makes use of the practice of inter-religious
dialogue. Such dialogue certainly does not replace, but
rather accompanies the "missio ad gentes"
directed toward that "mystery of unity,"
from which "it follows that all men and women who
are saved share, though differently, in the same mystery
of salvation in Jesus Christ through his Spirit"
(Dialogue and Proclamation §29:AAS 84 (1992) 414-446;
Gaudium et Spes §22).
In other words, the
Congregation for the Faith's Declaration is dealing with
the same topic as NA, i.e., the relationship between
the Church and the non-Christian religions. Here, the Congregation
for the Faith resolutely declares the absolute claims of
Christ and the Church, but at the same time adopts an "open
and positive" view of the other religions in its fostering
of inter-religious dialogue. The latter is distinguished
from the Church's specific mission, which is the mission
to the nations, which aims at conversion in the traditional
sense (cf. DJ §22). Inter-religious dialogue, however,
does not aim directly at conversion but at the positive
evaluation of the elements of truth in the other religions
and so leads to "an attitude of understanding and a
relationship of mutual knowledge and reciprocal enrichment,
in obedience to the truth and with respect for freedom"
A dialogue that is
only concerned with "positive evaluation of elements
of truth" and avoids dealing with elements of contradiction
is grasping only half of the situation and is deceptively
one-sided. What DJ says, however, is that dialogue
does not replace missio, but accompanies it. This
parallel thrust has its dogmatic roots in the mystery
of unity, which must be understood as the unity of God's
saving work in Jesus Christ for all mankind.
of unity" is the basic theological principle of all
of DJ and the key to understanding it. An absolute
claim is made for this "mystery of unity," not
(as in tradition) in an exclusive sense [i.e., excluding
sects, schismatics, and non-Christians from the Church-Ed.]but—and
this is what is new—in an "open and positive,"
that is, inclusive and integrating sense, so that now all,
though in different degrees, have a share in the absolute
mystery of unity. As DJ often says, this mystery
embraces all mankind and includes not only all men, but
also all religions. So it can say that "all men and
women who are saved share, though differently, in the same
mystery of salvation in Jesus Christ through his Spirit"
(DJ §2). The formulation is ambiguous. "All
men and women who are saved" can quite easily be understood
in the sense of universal redemption, as if salvation were
guaranteed to all ["anonymously," without the
need to convert to Catholicism; this is one of the most
pernicious errors of the "New Theology"-Ed.].
DJ does not
set out to explain the uniqueness and salvific universality
of Christ and the Church in an organic way, but insists
on those truths of the Faith which are endangered by erroneous
theological theories (DJ §3). The whole array of
these inalienable and yet endangered truths of the Faith
is included in the Introduction. The six chapters of the
encyclical (of which I treat in the subtitles ahead) treat
them fully alongside the erroneous theologies which are
in conflict with them. First we will reproduce the brief
summary of the endangered truths of faith (DJ §4):
Erroneous are relativistic
theories which seek to justify religious pluralism, not
only de facto but also de jure (or
in principle). As a consequence, it is held that
certain truths have been superseded; for example, the definitive
and complete character of the revelation of Jesus Christ,
the nature of Christian belief as compared with that of
belief in other religions, the inspired nature of the books
of Sacred Scripture, the personal unity between the Eternal
Word and Jesus of Nazareth, the unity of the economy of
the Incarnate Word and the Holy Spirit, the unicity and
salvific universality of the mystery of Jesus Christ, the
universal salvific mediation of the Church, the inseparability—while
recognizing the distinction—of the kingdom of God, the kingdom
of Christ, and the Church, and the subsistence of the one
Church of Christ in the Catholic Church.
DJ also gives
a brief mention of the "roots" of these ideas,
which "hinder the understanding and acceptance of the
revealed truth" (DJ §4). These roots are philosophical
of the elusiveness and inexpressibility of divine truth,
even by Christian revelation; relativistic attitudes toward
truth itself, according to which what is true for some would
not be true for others; the radical opposition posited between
the logical mentality of the West and the symbolic mentality
of the East; the subjectivism which, by regarding reason
as the only source of knowledge, becomes incapable of raising
its "gaze to the heights, not daring to rise to the
truth of being"; the difficulty in understanding and
accepting the presence of definitive and eschatological
events in history; the metaphysical emptying of the historical
incarnation of the Eternal Logos, reduced to a mere
appearing of God in history; the eclecticism of those who,
in theological research, uncritically absorb ideas from
a variety of philosophical and theological contexts without
regard for consistency, systematic connection, or compatibility
with Christian truth; finally, the tendency to read and
to interpret Sacred Scripture outside the Tradition and
Magisterium of the Church.
I propose to isolate
DJs theological core and answer the following question:
How is the relationship of Christ and the Catholic Church
to the other religions and denominations to be understood
as both absolute and yet "open and positive" and
what kind of consistent theological view of DJ flows
from the "mystery of unity"?
The Fullness and Definitive Nature of the Revelation of
with the principles of theological knowledge, with revelation
and faith, and compares them, in this context,
with the other religions. Using many quotations from Scripture,
Council texts, and the encyclical Redemptoris Missio
[RM], DJ affirms the traditional truth
of the definitive and complete nature of the revelation
of Jesus Christ (DJ §5}. The deepest layer
of this truth of faith is the fact that God Himself has
become man in Jesus Christ. It concludes that nothing the
other religions say about salvation can be put on the same
level as this, nor can they be regarded as complementary
to Christianity (DJ §6).
Man's response to
God's final and complete revelation in Jesus Christ is the
obedience of faith, a grace-given assent to the God who
reveals Himself and to the truth He has revealed (DJ
§7). In the other religions this "theological
faith" is replaced by "inner conviction."
The latter is defined (DJ §7) as "that sum of
experience and thought that constitutes the human treasury
of wisdom and religious aspiration, which man in his search
for truth has conceived and acted upon in his relationship
to God and the Absolute" (DJ §7). Compared with
theological faith, the "inner conviction" found
in other religions [this is a purely subjective conviction
that is not founded on revealed truth-Ed.] is imperfect;
it is "still searching" for the absolute truth
and it lacks the "assent to [the] God who reveals himself."
The Declaration goes
on to contrast the Holy Scriptures of Christianity with
the holy writings of other religions (DJ §8). The
canonical books of the Old and New Testaments are inspired
scriptures. They "firmly, faithfully, and without error,
teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation,
wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures" (Dei
Verbum §11). [This is the notorious passage of Dei
Verbum which is contested because of the ambiguous and
unnecessary phrase "for the sake of our salvation"-Ed.]
On the contrary, the holy writings of the other religions
are not inspired at all, although one can find in them many
elements which are "de facto instruments by
which countless people throughout the centuries have been
and still are able today to nourish and maintain their life-relationship
with God" (DJ §8).
by saying why and how God makes Himself present not only
to individuals, but also in the non-Christian religions
and their holy books:
who desires to call all peoples to himself in Christ and
to communicate to them the fullness of his revelation
and love, "does not fail to make himself present
in many ways, not only to individuals, but also to entire
peoples through their spiritual riches, of which their
religions are the main and essential expression even when
they contain 'gaps, insufficiencies and errors'"
(RM §6).Therefore, the sacred books of other religions,
which in actual fact direct and nourish the existence
of their followers, receive from the mystery of Christ
the elements of goodness and grace which they contain
From what DJ
says, given that God is present not only in the individual
but also in the spirituality of the non-Christian religions,
and that the latter possess many elements that come from
the mystery of Christ, enabling non-Christians-now as in
the past-to nourish and maintain their religious life-relationship
with the Triune God, it follows that the non-Christian religions,
even if only in an imperfect manner, are genuine paths of
salvation leading to God. In fact they can most definitely
be termed "anonymous Christianity."
In DJ, the
full and definitive nature of the revelation of Jesus Christ
is indeed absolute, but in a sense which does not exclude,
but rather includes, the other religions. On the basis of
the all-embracing, absolute "mystery of unity"
in Christ, all men and religions, by participating in this
mystery, also share in the elements of grace that lead to
The Incarnate Logos and the Holy Spirit in the Work
The second chapter
of DJ (DJ §§9-12) begins by opposing those
theological opinions which see Jesus of Nazareth as "complementary
with other revelatory and salvific figures." To substantiate
the universality of the Christian salvation and religious
pluralism, erroneous theologians distinguish between a more
universal economy of salvation of the Eternal Word which
takes effect even outside the Church and without any relationship
to her, and an economy of salvation of the Incarnate Word
which is limited to Christians (DJ §9). Basing itself
on Scripture, the Councils of Nicaea and of Chalcedon, Vatican
II and of Pope John Paul II, DJ stresses the traditional
truth of the personal union between the Eternal Word and
Jesus of Nazareth. From this personal union flows, naturally,
the unity of the one, all-embracing, divine economy of salvation
in Christ (DJ §10).
However, the text
of Gaudium et Spes (§22), quoted in support of the
Declaration, does not teach that Catholic doctrine. The
text is quoted as follows (DJ §10):
...the Second Vatican
Council states that Christ "the new Adam...image
of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15) is himself the
perfect man who has restored that likeness to God in the
children of Adam which had been disfigured since the first
According to the
Church's teaching, Adam's supernatural likeness to God was
not only disfigured by original sin, it was forfeited for
all Adam's descendants. If this likeness to God was not
forfeited but only disfigured, mankind would still exhibit
this likeness to God even after the original sin, albeit
in a defective manner. This, however, is not Catholic teaching
but a particular form of the heterodox theory of universal
pardon, according to which grace is given “a priori”to
Next, DJ relates
the perfect revelation of the Logos (who became man
for the salvation of all men) to the spiritual treasures
of the nations, found primarily in their religions (DJ
In the process
of discovering and appreciating the manifold gifts-especially
the spiritual treasures—that God has bestowed on every
people, we cannot separate those gifts from Jesus Christ,
who is at the center of God's plan of salvation (RM
Since, in the Declaration,
the spiritual treasures of the religions are identified
as "semina Verbi," [literally, "seeds
of the Word"] it follows that they cannot be separated
position, which is inseparably linked with the Holy Spirit,
has further consequences for the relation with the non-Christian
religions. These are drawn out in § 12 of DJ. The
starting point here is what the theologians propose as "the
hypothesis of an economy of the Holy Spirit with a more
universal breadth than that of the Incarnate Word, crucified
and risen" (DJ §12). The response of DJ is
This position also
is contrary to the Catholic faith, which, on the contrary,
considers the salvific incarnation of the Word as a Trinitarian
event. In the New Testament, the mystery of Jesus, the
Incarnate Word, constitutes the place of the Holy Spirit's
presence as well as the principle of the Spirit's effusion
on humanity, not only in Messianic times (cf. Acts 2:32-36;
Jn. 7:39, 20:22; I Cor. 15:45), but also prior to his
coming in history (cf. I Cor. 10:4; I Pet. 1:10-12).
While DJ rightly
rejects the hypothesis of a universal economy of salvation
of the Holy Spirit, it puts forward the view that the Holy
Spirit is sent forth upon all of mankind. The
Scripture adduced in no way justifies that the Holy Spirit
has been sent upon mankind since the beginning of history.
The farewell discourse of Jesus in the Gospel of John shows
that Christ promised to send the Holy Spirit only to His
disciples and the Church. He did not send the Holy Spirit
to the world or to mankind as a whole, which, insofar as
it does not believe, could not and cannot receive this Holy
Spirit. As a result of the intimate bond between the mystery
of Christ and the mystery of the Holy Spirit, DJ deduces
a twofold salvific operation of Christ with and through
the Holy Spirit in the Father's plan of salvation (DJ§12):
1) The entire work of building the Church
through its Head, Jesus Christ, in fellowship with the Holy
Spirit down the centuries; 2)The salvific
work of Jesus Christ with and through the Holy Spirit beyond
the visible borders of the Church.
This second work
gives all men of goodwill the same life of grace that those
who believe in Christ already possess (DJ §12). DJ
sums up its view of the collaboration of Christ and
the Holy Spirit in the work of salvation as follows (DJ
Hence, the connection
is clear between the salvific mystery of the Incarnate
Word and that of the Spirit, who actualizes the salvific
efficacy of the Son made man in the lives of all people,
called by God to a single goal, both those who historically
preceded the Word made man, and those who live after his
coming in history: the Spirit of the Father, bestowed
abundantly by the Son, is the animator of all (cf. Jn.
This text of DJ
fixes the idea that all men experience the Holy
Spirit's operation. This can be understood, all too easily,
in the sense of universal redemption. This is not all, however.
The Declaration sees the Holy Spirit's salvific work not
only in individual human beings, but also in the religions.
It affirms this by the words of Pope John Paul II (DJ
The Spirit's presence
and activity affect not only individuals but also society
and history, peoples, cultures and religions....The Risen
Christ "is now at work in human hearts through the
strength of his Spirit".. .Again, it is the Spirit
who sows the "seeds of the word" present in
various customs and cultures...(RM §§28-29).
It is therefore one
and the same Spirit who was operative in the Incarnation
and is at work in the Church and the other religions for
the salvation of all men and in relation to Christ (DJ
Whatever the Spirit
brings about in human hearts and in the history of peoples,
in cultures and religions, serves as a preparation for
the Gospel and can only be understood in reference to
Christ, the Word who took flesh by the power of the Spirit
"so that as perfectly human he would save all human
beings and sum up all things" (RM, §29).
The Declaration sums
this up as follows (DJ §12):
the action of the Spirit is not outside or parallel to
the action of Christ. There is only one salvific economy
of the One and Triune God, realized in the mystery of
the incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Son of
God, actualized with the cooperation of the Holy Spirit,
and extended in its salvific value to all humanity and
to the entire universe: "No one, therefore, can enter
into communion with God except through Christ, by the
working of the Holy Spirit" (RM §5).
In criticism of this
section the following must be said: it is true that there
is only one, single economy of salvation of the Triune God
which is founded on the mystery of Christ and the Holy Spirit;
but according to Scripture the Holy Spirit was not poured
out upon all mankind, nor is the Holy Spirit present in
all religions, which [allegedly] lead to Christ and to God.
The Saving Mystery of Jesus Christ Is One and Universal
The unicity and salvific
universality of the mystery of Christ is a permanent element
of the Church's deposit of faith, as the Declaration recalls
(DJ §13): It is firmly to be believed that
Jesus Christ, Son
of God, [is] Lord and only Savior, who through the event
of his incarnation, death, and resurrection has brought
to fulfilment the history of salvation which has in him
its fullness and center.
this article of faith with many passages from the New Testament
and goes on to point out that "the universal salvific
will of the One and Triune God is offered and accomplished
once for all in the mystery of the incarnation, death, and
resurrection of the Son of God" (DJ §14). What
is astonishing is that DJ, having set forth the truth
of faith that God wills the salvation of all men invites
theology to "explore if and in what way the historical
figures and positive elements of these religions may fall
within the divine plan of salvation" (DJ §14).
It is asserted that Vatican II set the course for such exploration
by saying that "...the unique mediation of the Redeemer
does not exclude but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation
which is but a sharing in this one source" (Lumen
Gentium [LG]§62). Pope John Paul II also expressed the
same idea in RM (§5):
forms of mediation of different kinds and degrees are not
excluded, they acquire meaning and value only from
Christ's own mediation, and they cannot be understood as
parallel or complementary to his. (DJ §14)
The Declaration also
holds fast to the claim of the unicity and universality
of Jesus Christ's salvific mystery vis-a-vis the
other religions. This claim flows from the sources of faith:
the divine work of salvation in Christ has the aim of giving
"revelation (cf. Mt. 11: 27) and divine life (cf. Jn.
1:12; 5:25-26; 17:2) to all humanity and to every person"
(DJ §15). Yet it grants that in connection with the
unique mediatorship of Christ there are other mediations,
which are to be regarded as participations in Christ's mediatorship.
In this way the other religions become also mediators of
salvation through their participation in the mediatorship
If Christ is operative
in all people and religions through the Holy Spirit, uniting
men with God and pointing them to Himself through the
"semina Verbi" it follows from the mystery
of unity that all religions participate in the unique,
universal mediatorship of Christ.
The Church Is Unique and One
In this chapter DJ
deals with the Church's uniqueness and oneness (DJ
§16), and in this context speaks of the Catholic Church's
relation to the Orthodox and Protestants.
It follows from the
unicity and universality of the salvific mystery of Jesus
Christ that the Church founded by Christ and united to him
in one Body is also unique and universal. According to the
traditional Catholic faith, the Church's essential unity
consists in the unity of faith, of hierarchical order, and
of cult. The historical continuity of the Church founded
by Christ has its roots in the unbroken apostolic succession
(DJ §6).As traditionally understood, the unity of faith
is destroyed by heresy, and the unity of communion is destroyed
by schism. The Church's uniqueness and unity were understood
in an absolute and exclusive way. The Declaration wishes
to overcome this exclusivity by a new and modified inclusivity.
Its starting-point here is the famous passage in LG (§8):
This Church, constituted
and organized as a society in the present world, subsists
in [subsistit in]the Catholic Church, which is
governed by the Successor of Peter and by the bishops
in communion with him. (DJ §16)
us that by the use of the term "subsistit in"
the Council wished to express three things: 1)
The Church of Christ continues to exist fully only in the
Catholic Church; 2) outside of her structure,
many elements can be found of sanctification and truth,
that is, in those Churches and ecclesial communities which
are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church;
3) but with respect to these, it needs to
be stated that "they derive their efficacy from the
very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic
Church" (Unitatis Redintegratio [UR]§3).
Thus, according to
DJ, the Catholic Church's relation to non-Catholics
is analogous to her relation to non-Christians: the Catholic
Church's absolute claim is not to be understood as being
exclusive and separating, but inclusive and uniting. There
is a, full and a less full communion
with the one Church of Christ. There is the fullness of
truth and grace in the Catholic Church and an imperfect
participation in it in the non-Catholic communities.
This said, DJ
distinguishes between Orthodox and Protestants. Both
are "not in perfect communion with the Catholic Church...."
(DJ §17), that is, they are linked to the Catholic
Church in an imperfect communion and so are not really separated
from her. The Orthodox are closer to the Catholic Church.
They "remain united to her by means of the closest
bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist."
They are "true particular Churches" in which the
Church of Christ is "present and operative," even
though they lack full communion with the Catholic Church
since "they do not accept the Catholic doctrine of
the Primacy," which, as DJ teaches, is "the
will of God."
The other Christian
communities, who have preserved neither the Episcopate nor
"the genuine and integral substance" of the Eucharistic
mystery, "are not Churches in the proper sense"
(DJ §17). This verdict, which has created such a
stir, follows entirely logically from the Catholic concept
of the Church. Nonetheless, "those who are baptized
in these communities are, by Baptism, incorporated in Christ
and thus are in a certain communion, albeit imperfect, with
the Church." The result (DJ §17)of all this
is that the Church of Christ is neither the sum of churches
and ecclesial communities, nor a goal to be sought by them.
Complete fullness is already given in the Catholic Church,
not in other communities. In God's saving plan, however
(DJ §17), "the spirit of Christ has not refrained
from using them as means of salvation which derive their
efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted
to the Catholic Church" (UR §3).
The only logical
consequence to be drawn from the Declaration's position
would surely be that people should be clearly summoned to
return to the bosom of the Catholic Church in order to attain
there the fullness of grace and truth. It is difficult to
regard heresy and schism—which have destroyed the unity
of the Church-as means of salvation in the divine plan of
The Church, the Kingdom of God, and the Kingdom of Christ
According to DJ,
the meaning of the expressions "kingdom of heaven,"
"kingdom of God," and "kingdom of Christ"
"in Sacred Scripture, the Fathers of the Church, and
the Magisterium, is not always the same, nor is their relationship
to the Church, which is a mystery that cannot be totally
contained by a human concept" (DJ §18). Nonetheless,
DJ lists the following truths which flow from revelation:
Firstly, it must
be held fast that the kingdom of God cannot be separated
from Christ or the Church (RM§ 18). The inseparable
relationship between Christ and the kingdom does not signify
that the kingdom of God "is identified with the Church
in her visible and social reality" (DJ §19).
In fact, "the action of Christ and the Spirit outside
the Church's visible boundaries" must not be excluded
sees the kingdom of God as open to the world, to all
mankind, for the kingdom includes everyone, that
and the world. Working for the kingdom means acknowledging
and promoting God's activity, which is present in human
history and transforms it. Building the kingdom means
working for liberation from evil in all its forms. In
a word, the kingdom of God is the manifestation and the
realization of God's plan of salvation in all its fullness.
that the Holy Spirit has been given not only to the Church
but to the whole of mankind (DJ § 12) is here applied
to the concept of the kingdom of God, to which all
men are regarded as belonging. It embraces all mankind.
The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is the "divine dynamism"
(i.e., "God's activity") that not only
animates the Church but transforms the entire history of
mankind. We are all involved in building up this kingdom,
freed from all forms of evil. This is the ultimate realization
of the fullness of God's plan of salvation. However, this
thesis plainly points to a kingdom of this world,
one of the New Age, not the New Testament.
The Church and the Religions in the Context of Salvation
DJ is intended
to indicate the direction theology should take "as
it explores the relationship of the Church and the other
religions to salvation" (DJ §20). In accord
with the New Testament (Mk. 16:16; Jn. 3:5), DJ underscores
the traditional teaching that the Church, faith, and baptism
are necessary for salvation. But in the same breath it adds
(DJ §20): "This doctrine must not be set against
the universal salvific will of God" (cf. I Tim. 2:4).
Quoting the words of John Paul II, DJ formulates
the problem this way: "It is necessary to keep these
two truths together, namely, the real possibility of salvation
in Christ for all mankind and the necessity of the Church
for this salvation" (RM §9).
This is also the
view of tradition. Tradition has resolutely taught the general
necessity of the Church for salvation while at the same
time envisaging that individuals who do not actually
belong to the Church can attain salvation if they
are in a state of invincible ignorance of the true religion.
In such a case actual membership of the Church can be replaced
by the desire for it. This means that the
possibility of salvation outside the visible Church is located
in the individual's conscience, i.e., it concerns
the most intimate relationship between God and the soul,
which is per se inaccessible to theological investigation.
On this issue DJ
quotes Pope John Paul II. For those who are not formally
and visibly members of the Church,
salvation in Christ
is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having
a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make
them formally part of the Church, but enlightens them
in a way which is accommodated to their spiritual and
material situation. This grace comes from Christ; it is
the result of his sacrifice and is communicated by the
Holy Spirit (RMS 10).
In traditional terms,
this is "gratia Christ? ("grace of Christ").
The quoted text can be understood in the traditional sense.
out (DJ §21) that, as regards the way in which the
grace of salvation reaches the non-Christian, Vatican II
asserts this takes place "in ways known to God"
(Ad Gentes §7).It encourages theologians, however,
to continue to explore what is the most intimate relationship
between God and the soul.
to one side the unfathomable work of salvation in the individual
heart, moving on to the Holy Spirit's salvific operation
in non-Christian religions, i.e., to what is the
real topic of this chapter: the Church and the religions
in the context of salvation. It begins with a fairly
general statement regarding the role of the religions in
salvation (DJ §21):
various religious traditions contain and offer religious
elements which come from God (NA §2, "semina
Verbi”)and are part of what "the Spirit brings
about in human hearts and in the history of peoples, in
cultures, and religions" (RM §29).
Given what has been
said earlier, this means that even the non-Christian religions,
as religions, mediate salvation. They are genuine means
of salvation, legitimate paths of salvation, albeit of lesser
rank, as DJ explains (DJ §21). It is acknowledged
that some of the prayers and rites of the other religions
can open hearts for God's operation. But, in contrast to
the Christian sacraments, "One cannot attribute to
these, however, a divine origin or an ex opere operato
salvific efficacy [i.e., a saving efficaciousness
worked by the work of the Sacrament itself-Ed.],which
is proper to the Christian sacraments."
The conclusion of
DJ does not follow; for if the religious elements
in other religions come from the Holy Spirit, they must
be recognized as having a divine origin, even if, in this
context, it is said (DJ §21) that "it cannot
be overlooked that other rituals, insofar as they depend
on superstitions or other errors (cf. I Cor. 10: 20-21),
constitute an obstacle to salvation." DJ goes
into further detail as to the difference between the Church
and the religions (DJ §22): it is a truth of faith
that God has instituted the Church for the salvation of
all men, but
[t]his truth of
faith does not lessen the sincere respect which the Church
has for the religions of the world, but at the same time,
it rules out, in a radical way, that mentality of indifferentism....If
it is true that the followers of other religions can receive
divine grace, it is also certain that objectively speaking
they are in a gravely deficient situation in comparison
with those who, in the Church, have the fullness of the
means of salvation.
That is why the Church
is bound to proclaim Christ, in whom "men find the
fullness of their religious life." So it is not a question
of salvation versus perdition, but only of salvation versus
the fullness of salvation. This chimerical alternative is
erroneous in itself and a source of heresy.
Here DJ has
given the fundamental reasons why the Church must continue
to pursue her mission to the nations along with the inter-religious
dialogue. It is generally agreed that the precondition for
dialogue is equality. Accordingly, DJ says
(DJ §22) that this
refers to the equal
personal dignity of the parties in dialogue, not to doctrinal
content, nor even less to the position of Jesus Christ—who
is God himself made man—in relation to the founders of
the other religions.
But in an inter-religious
dialogue the partners meet not only as persons, but also
as representatives of religions. It is impossible to abstract
from the religions themselves.
the Catholic Church's necessity: the Church must proclaim
the necessity of
conversion to Jesus Christ and of adherence to the Church
through Baptism and the other sacraments, in order to
participate fully in communion with God, the Father, Son
and Holy Spirit. (DJ §22).
In other words, although
the Church is necessary for salvation, when it comes to
her relationship to the other religions it is not a case
of salvation or perdition, but only of & fuller
participation in communion with God. This is logical,
since DJ has already stated that non-Christian religions
are genuine paths of salvation, connecting their adherents
its theological position in three points (DJ §23):
1) It re-states only traditional doctrine,
following the example of the St. Paul: "I handed on
to you as of first importance what I myself received"
(I Cor. 15:3). However, with its high esteem of the non-Christian
religions, DJ is not faithful to Scripture nor St.
Paul. 2) With Vatican II, DJ asserts
that "this one true religion continues to exist in
the Catholic and Apostolic Church, to which the Lord Jesus
entrusted the task of spreading it among all people."
In accord with the Council fathers, and on the basis of
the missionary command, the Declaration concludes that "all
persons are required to seek the truth, and when they come
to know it, to embrace it and hold fast to it" (Dignitatis
Humanae §l).But it follows from Christ's command to
spread the Gospel that the search for the
truth has ended. Man must accept and preserve the truth
of Christ already and fully available to him now; 3)
Finally, DJ repeats its underlying theological principle:
the mystery of unity in Christ (DJ §23):
The Christian mystery...overcomes
all barriers of time and space, and accomplishes the unity
of the human family: "From their different locations
and traditions all are called in Christ to share in the
unity of the family of God's children... Jesus destroys
the walls of division and creates unity in a new and unsurpassed
way through our sharing in his mystery. This unity is
so deep that the Church can say with St. Paul: 'You are
no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are saints
and members of the household of God' [Eph. 2:19]"
(Fides et Ratio §70).
That is to say, the
mystery of unity in Christ embraces all mankind.
All men and all religions are integrated into this mystery
and thus have a share in it, although in different degrees,
as children of the one family of God.
The crux of DJ
is the confrontation between the unicity and salvific
universality of Jesus Christ and the Church, on the one
hand, and the non-Christian religions on the other. Its
intent is to lay the foundation for continued inter-religious
dialogue. To be successful, the contrasted positions must
be clear. Clarity is therefore a prime concern of DJ.
According to DJ,
other religions are genuine mediations of salvation.
They point to Christ and lead to Him. This estimate of the
non-Christian religions cannot be supported by Scripture
nor tradition. The weakness in DJ is that the position
of the partner-in-dialogue is not articulated according
to the partner's self-understanding, but determined on the
basis of the contemporary Church's position. The alleged
salvific elements in other religions are not specified but
merely declared to be "seeds of the Word" in some
The view of the other
religions in DJ is not true to historical reality.
In reality these other religions are totalities,
each possessing its own core of life and organization, on
which all assertions are to be understood and interpreted.
They are not oriented to Christ, but to their own cores.
In all of DJ there is no presentation of a single
non-Christian religion in its specific, historical form.
Compare historical religions like Buddhism or Islam with
the Catholic Faith and it is immediately clear that, seen
as totalities, they contradict Catholicism and are not oriented
to Christ through their supposed "semina Verbi."
dialogue is in reality a monologue. The dialogue-partner
himself does not speak. DJ itself, in an entirely
abstract way, pronounces its verdict on the quality of salvation
offered by the non-Christian religions, and on the way they
"anonymously" lead to Christ.
It is completely
baffling that DJ, in its evaluation of the other
religions, ignores mankind's original sin and inclination
to sin, which, after all, are the very preconditions of
redemption. Therefore, it is not in line with Scripture
nor St. Paul, who, in both his speech at the Areopagus and
Epistle to the Romans (Rom. l:l-9ff.), showed his negative
estimate of the pagan religions around him.
Mar. 15, 2001, Vol. 27, No. 5. Translated from the
German by Graham Harrison. Edited and abridged by Fr.
Kenneth Novak for The Angelus.)
The original of
this article appeared in the German Catholic monthly Theologisches.
Katholische Monatsschrift, Vol. 30, No. 11/12, Nov./Dec.
2000, cols. 445-460. The passages of the Dominus Jesus
in English are taken from "Dominus Jesus":
On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ
and the Church (London: Catholic Truth Society, 2000).
Courtesy of the Angelus
Press, Kansas City, MO 64109
translated from the Italian
Fr. Du Chalard
Via Madonna degli Angeli, 14
Italia 00049 Velletri (Roma)