ratzinger - Unicity and salvific universality of Christ and the Church


Reasons for the Christian Claim


The remarks made by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the presentation of the Church document Dominus Iesus. Press Room of the Holy See, September 5, 2000




In the lively contemporary debate on the relationship of Christianity to other religions, the idea is growing that all religions are equally valid ways to salvation for those who follow them. This is a conviction that is widespread by now not only in theological circles, but also in increasingly broad sectors of public opinion, both Catholic and non-Catholic, especially those areas most influenced by the cultural tendencies prevalent in the West today, which can be defined, without fear of contradiction, using the word relativism.… Our Document indicates certain presuppositions of both a philosophical and a theological nature that underlie the differing theologies of religious pluralism currently circulating: the conviction of the ungraspability and inexpressibility of divine truth; 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 overdone subjectivism of those who regard reason as the only source of knowledge; the metaphysical emptying out of the mystery of the incarnation; the eclecticism of those who, in theological research, absorb categories from other philosophical and religious systems, without considering either their internal coherence or their compatibility with the Christian faith; finally, the tendency to interpret Scripture without the Tradition and Magisterium of the Church.


True man, true God

What is the fundamental consequence of this way of thinking and feeling in relation to the center and core of Christian faith? It is the substantial rejection of the identification of the individual historical person, Jesus of Nazareth, with the very reality of God, of the living God. What is Absolute, or He who is the Absolute, can never happen in history in a full and definitive revelation. In history we only have models, ideal figures who refer to the Totally Other, who however cannot be grasped as such in history. Some of the more moderate theologians confess that Jesus Christ is true God and true man, but maintain that because of the limitations of Jesus’ human nature, the revelation of God in Him cannot be deemed complete and definitive, but must always be considered in relation to other possible revelations of God expressed by the religious geniuses of mankind and founders of the world’s religions. In this way, objectively speaking, the mistaken idea is introduced that the world’s religions are complementary to the Christian revelation. It is thus clear that also the Church, the dogmas, the sacraments cannot rate as absolute necessity. Attributing to these finite means an absolute character and considering them to be instead an instrument for a real encounter with the universally valid truth of God, would mean placing the particular on an absolute plane and misrepresenting the infinite reality of God who is Totally Other.


The ideology of dialogue

On the basis of these concepts, maintaining that there exists within history a universal, binding, and valid truth that is accomplished in the figure of Jesus Christ and transmitted by the faith of the Church, is considered a kind of fundamentalism that constitutes an attack against the modern spirit and represents a threat to tolerance and freedom. The concept itself of dialogue takes on a radically different meaning from the one intended by Vatican II. Dialogue, or better, the ideology of dialogue, replaces the mission and the urgency of the appeal to conversion: dialogue is no longer the way to discover the truth, the process by which one discloses to the other the hidden depths of what the other has experienced in his religious life, but that is waiting to be fulfilled and purified in the encounter with the definitive and complete revelation of God in Jesus Christ; dialogue in the new ideological conceptions, which have unfortunately penetrated also into the Catholic world and certain theological and cultural circles, is instead the essence of the relativist “dogma” and the opposite of both “conversion” and “mission.”...


False tolerance

Such a relativist philosophy is found at the base both of post-metaphysical Western thought and of the negative theology of Asia. The result is that the figure of Jesus Christ loses his characteristic of unicity and salvific universality. The fact then that relativism presents itself, under the banner of the encounter between cultures, as the true philosophy of mankind, capable of guaranteeing tolerance and democracy, leads to a further marginalization of those who insist on defending Christian identity and its claim to spread the universal saving truth of Jesus Christ. In reality, criticism of the claim to absoluteness and definitiveness of the revelation of Jesus Christ made by the Christian faith is accompanied by a false concept of tolerance. The principle of tolerance as an expression of respect for freedom of conscience, thought, and religion, defended and promoted by Vatican Council II, and proposed once again in this Declaration, is a fundamental ethical position that is present in the Christian creed, since it takes seriously the freedom of choosing to believe. But this principle of tolerance and respect for freedom is today manipulated and unjustifiably taken too far, when it is extended to an appreciation of content as well, as if all the contents of the various religions and even of the a-religious conceptions of life were to be placed all on the same plane and there no longer existed an objective and universal truth, since God or the Absolute revealed Himself under countless names, but all these names would be true. This false idea of tolerance is connected with the loss and the renunciation of the issue of truth, which indeed is felt today by many to be an irrelevant or secondary issue. The intellectual weakness of the current culture is thus brought to light: without the demand for truth, the essence of religion is no longer any different from its “non-essence,” faith is no different from superstition, experience from illusion. Finally, without a serious claim for truth, even an appreciation of other religions becomes absurd and contradictory, since one has no criterion to determine what is positive in a religion, distinguishing it from what is negative or the fruit of superstition and deception. … The way to salvation is the good which is present in religions as the working of the Spirit of Christ, but is not the religions as such. This is in fact confirmed by every doctrine of Vatican II, “The 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.” (NA, 2) Everything of beauty and truth that exists in religions must not be lost, but instead must be acknowledged and prized. The good and true, wherever they are found, come from the Father and are the work of the Spirit; the seeds of the Logos are scattered everywhere. But we cannot close our eyes to the errors and deceptions that are nonetheless present in religions. Even the Dogmatic Constitution of Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, states, “Very often men, deceived by the Evil One, err in their thinking, and have mistaken divine truth for lies, serving the creature rather than the Creator.” (LG, 16)


A revelation that is definitive and complete

It is understandable that in a world that more and more is growing together, also religions and cultures will meet. This does not lead only to an exterior drawing together of men of different religions, but also to an increasing interest in religious worlds heretofore unknown. In this sense, that is, in the realm of knowledge of each other, it is legitimate to speak of mutual enrichment. This, however, has nothing to do with the abandonment of the claim on the part of the Christian faith to have received as a gift from God in Christ the definitive and complete revelation of the mystery of salvation, and rather we must rule out that mentality of indifferentism based on a religious relativism that leads one to think that “one religion is as good as the other.” (Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Missio, 36)
Esteem and respect for the world’s religions, as well as for the cultures which have brought a real enrichment to the promotion of human dignity and the development of civilization, does not diminish the originality and uniqueness of the revelation of Jesus Christ and does not in any way limit the missionary task of the Church: “The Church proclaims and is called to proclaim unceasingly Christ who is the way, the truth, and the life (Jn 14:6), in which all men find fullness of religious life and in which God has reconciled all things to him.” (Nostra Aetate, 2) At the same time, these simple words indicate the reason for the conviction that holds that fullness, universality, and accomplishment of the revelation of God are present only in the Christian faith. This reason does not lie in a presumed preference given to members of the Church, nor even less in the historical results achieved by the Church in its earthly pilgrimage, but in the mystery of Jesus Christ, true God and true man present in the Church. Christianity’s claim of unicity and salvific universality arises essentially from the mystery of Jesus Christ, who continues his presence in the Church, his Body and his Bride.


“After so Many Misinterpretations,”

the Pope Speaks out Clearly

During the
Angelus on Sunday, John Paul II clarified definitively that Dominus Iesus, which he personally “approved in a special way,” is “close to his heart” for its profound value, putting an end to the whirlwind of misinterpretations and criticisms coming even from representatives of the Church hierarchy. Here are the Pope’s clear and solemn words

With the Declaration Dominus Iesus–Jesus is Lord–approved by me in a special way at the height of the Jubilee Year, I wanted to invite all Christians to renew their fidelity to Him in the joy of faith and to bear unanimous witness that the Son, both today and tomorrow, is “the way, the truth, and the life.” (Jn 14:6) Our confession of Christ as the only Son, through whom we ourselves see the Father’s face (cf. Jn 14:8), is not arrogance that disdains other religions, but joyful gratitude that Christ has revealed Himself to us without any merit on our part. At the same time, He has obliged us to continue giving what we have received and to communicate to others what we have been given, since the Truth that has been given and the Love which is God belong to all people.
With the apostle Peter, we confess that “there is salvation in no one else.” (Acts 4:12) The Declaration Dominus Iesus, following the lead of the Second Vatican Council, shows us that this confession does not deny salvation to non-Christians, but points to its ultimate source in Christ, in whom man and God are united. God gives light to all in a way that is accommodated to their spiritual and material situation, granting them salvific grace in ways known to Himself (Dominus Iesus, VI, n. 20-21). The Document clarifies essential Christian elements, which do not hinder dialogue but show its bases, because a dialogue without foundations would be destined to degenerate into empty wordiness. The same also applies to the ecumenical question. If the document, together with the Second Vatican Council, declares that “the single Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church,” it does not intend thereby to express scant regard for the other Churches and Ecclesial Communities. This conviction is accompanied by the awareness that it is not due to human merit, but is a sign of God’s fidelity, which is stronger than the human weaknesses and sins solemnly confessed by us before God and men at the beginning of Lent. The Catholic Church–as the Document says–suffers from the fact that true particular Churches and Ecclesial Communities with precious elements of salvation are separated from her. The document thus expresses once again the same ecumenical passion that is the basis of my Encyclical Ut unum sint. I hope that this Declaration, which is close to my heart, can, after so many erroneous interpretations, finally fulfill its function both of clarification and of openness.
(from L’Osservatore Romano, October 2-3, 2000)


The Place of Salvation

We publish here portions of an article by Auxiliary Bishop of Rome Rino Fisichella, which appeared in the September 27, 2000, issue of
L’Osservatore Romano, on the declaration Dominus Iesus

If the revelation of Jesus Christ is complete in its contents, then it is also definitive; if it is definitive, this means that what God intended to reveal has reached its accomplishment. The character of fullness and definitiveness, in any case, is not posited, in the first place, in regard to other religions; it concerns, above all, the nature of the choice of faith which must be free and intelligible. Why, indeed, should one “pay obeisance,” that is, entrust one’s whole self, if the contents are incomplete, relative, and still open to change? Why should one believe and totally commit his existence if that to which he is entrusting his life is temporary and contingent? These questions are not posed outside the faith; they are, instead, internal to the faith and demand an answer, without which it is impossible to propose Christian faith as full and total entrusting to God who reveals Himself.
The fullness and definitiveness of the revelation, on the other hand, are based directly on awareness that Jesus of Nazareth is God’s last word to mankind. His words and his actions, from this viewpoint, are a complete break with any example from the earlier tradition.… The thesis of some authors, according to whom the revelation of Jesus is complementary to that of other religions (because the mystery of God cannot be fully expressed in human terms), is tantamount to not understanding the nature of the incarnation. Complementariness, in fact, contradicts the fullness and definitiveness of the revelation, placing it in a dangerous position of relativism that destroys its characteristic of uniqueness.
These ideas, in essence, arise from a schizophrenic analysis. While, on one hand, they force one to consider the historic evidence of other religions, on the other they do not look into the consequences of the fact that God became a part of history. By maintaining that the mystery of God is inexpressible in human terms, they conclude that religions are complementary to each other because they all possess elements of truth and are, in some manner, subject to the action of the Holy Spirit. The incarnation of God, however, witnesses to a unique event in history: in Jesus, revealer and revelation are one.… The revelation of God, therefore, has its own “history,” which begins with the act of creation, where everyone can accept the invitation to believe. It continues in the history of the Hebrew people, whom God chose among other peoples to make his voice heard; it is fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth, because He is the Logos of the Father. These, and not others, are the milestones along the path of revelation of God. This enables us to maintain that manifestations of God and traces of his presence can be recognized outside Biblical revelation, but these, as such, cannot be defined as revelation proper. The psalmist seems to have no doubts on this matter: “For no other nation has He done this, no other has known his judgments.” (Ps 147:20) This does not diminish the characteristic of “ray” or “elements” of truth spread throughout the various religions: on the contrary, it emphasizes their importance by showing that they are ways and means for reaching even now a full knowledge of the mystery. Inter-religious dialogue, as is known, is not in question. This, however, cannot compromise the universal and salvific import of Jesus Christ.… Adopting the idea that other religions are also an instrument of salvation means finding anthropological palliatives that do not correspond to the revealed given. Certainly, for his part, God saves whom He chooses and the way He chooses; historically, however, He Himself has placed the sign and the locus of salvation. The Church’s missionary action is not optional, but a mission received from Christ. Sharing his Gospel with everyone is not an ambition to grandeur, but a service that must be offered to all persons so that they can find the true and lasting meaning of existence.… The revelation of Jesus Christ brings with it the irruption of God into human history. This does not come about in a manner extraneous to human beings, but is intertwined with God’s lowering Himself to become a human person like us. That the second person of the Trinity became a man, while on one hand it allows us to say that Jesus Christ is the “new man” (Gaudium et spes 22), on the other it attests that only in Him can every person grasp the meaning of his life and transform his existence. Here we are no longer dealing with a philosophical conclusion or a Utopian wait that knows no tomorrow. The revelation attests and confirms that, for every man who believes in Jesus Christ, life has become eternal, because death has been vanquished by his resurrection.