Synthesis of the Declaration of Dominus Iesus
Synthesis of the Declaration of Dominus Iesus
Synthesis of the Declaration ofDominus Iesus
A synthesis of the declaration,Dominus Iesus prepared by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
PUBLISHER & DATE
Catholic News Service, September 14, 2000
In the lively contemporary debate on the relationship between Christianity and the other religions, some Catholic theologians have argued that all religions may be equally valid ways of salvation. Relativistic theories have been presented that either deny or view as superseded certain fundamental truths of the Catholic faith regarding the definitive and complete character of the revelation of Jesus, the inspired nature of the books of sacred Scripture, the inseparable personal unity between the eternal Word and Jesus of Nazareth, the unicity and salvific universality of the mystery of the incarnation, passion, death and resurrection of our Lord 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. Such theories are based on philosophical and theological presuppositions which have become quite common. The declaration highlights some of these; for example, the conviction of the total elusiveness and inexpressibility of divine truth even by Christian revelation; relativistic attitudes toward truth itself, which would hold that 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 regards reason as the only source of knowledge; the metaphysical emptying of the mystery of the incarnation; the eclecticism of those who in theological research uncritically absorb ideas from a variety of philosophical and religious 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.
Because of this debate, the International Theological Commission published a document in 1997 titled “Christianity and the World Religions,” which illustrated, with ample biblical references and theological arguments, the lack of foundation of pluralistic theologies of religions and which reasserted the unicity and salvific universality of the mystery of Christ and the church as the source of all salvation both inside and outside Christianity. Given, however, the rapid spread of the relativistic and pluralistic mentality, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has intervened with the present declaration in order to set forth and clarily certain truths of the faith, following St. Paul’s example: “I handed on to you as of first importance what I myself received” (I Cor. 15:3).
The declaration is structured in six sections, which summarize the essential elements of the doctrine of the Catholic faith on the meaning and salvific value of the other religions.
Against the theory of the limited, incomplete or imperfect character of the revelation of Jesus Christ, which would be complementary to that found in other religions, the declaration reiterates the teaching of the Catholic faith regarding the full and complete revelation of the salvific mystery of God in Jesus Christ. Since Jesus is true God and true man, his words and deeds manifest the totality and definitiveness of the revelation of the mystery of God, even if the depth of that mystery remains in itself transcendent and inexhaustible. Consequently, while admitting that other religions not infrequently reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men (cf. Vatican Council II, Nostra Aetate, 2), the declaration reaffirms that the designation of inspired texts is reserved for the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments because these are inspired by the Holy Spirit, have God as their author and teach firmly, faithfully and without error the truth about God and human salvation. The declaration also states that the distinction must be firmly held between theological faith, which is adherence to the truth revealed by the one and triune God, and belief in the other religions, which is religious experience still in search of the absolute truth and still lacking assent to God, who reveals himself.
Against the thesis of a twofold salvific economy, that of the eternal Word, which would be universal and valid also outside the church, and that of the incarnate Word, which would be limited to Christians, the declaration reasserts the unicity of the salvific economy of the one incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of the Father. The mystery of his incarnation, death and resurrection is the sole and universal source of salvation for all humanity. Indeed, the mystery of Christ has its own intrinsic unity, which extends from the eternal choice in God to the Parousia: “He [the Father] chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4).
Jesus is the mediator and the universal redeemer. Thus, the theory of a salvific economy of the Holy Spirit with a more universal character than that of the incarnate Word, crucified and risen, is erroneous. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the risen Christ, and his action cannot be placed outside or alongside that of Christ. There is a single Trinitarian economy, willed by the Father and realized in the mystery of Christ by the working of the Holy Spirit.
The declaration reasserts the unicity and salvific universality of the mystery of Jesus Christ, who through the event of his incarnation, death and resurrection has brought the history of salvation to fulfillment; in Jesus Christ, salvation history has its fullness, its center and its source. At the same time, however, Christ’s unique mediation does not exclude participated forms of mediation of various types and degrees; these, however, receive meaning and valueonly from that of Christ and cannot be understood as parallel or complementary. Theories of a salvific action of God beyond the unique mediation of Christ are contrary to the Catholic faith.
The Lord Jesus continues his presence and his work of salvation in the church and by means of the church, which is his body. Just as the head and members of a living body, though not identical, are inseparable, so too Christ and the church can neither be confused nor separated.
Therefore, in connection with the unicity and universality of the salvific mediation of Jesus Christ, the unicity of the church founded by him must be firmly believed as a truth of Catholic faith. The Catholic faithful are required to profess that there is a historical continuity between the church founded by Christ and the Catholic Church. In fact, this one church of Christ “subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him” (Vatican Council II, Lumen Gentium, 8). With regard to the “many elements of sanctification and truth” (ibid.) which exist outside the structure of the church, that is to say, in those churches and ecclesial communities which are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church, it must be stated that “they derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church” (Vatican Council II, Unitatis Redintegratio, 3).
Those churches which do not accept the Catholic doctrine of the primacy of the bishop of Rome remain united to the Catholic Church by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid eucharist. Therefore, the church of Christ is present and operative also in these churches, even though they lack full communion with the Catholic Church. On the other hand, the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the eucharistic mystery are not churches in the proper sense; however, those who are baptized in these communities are in a certain communion, albeit imperfect, with the Catholic Church. “Therefore, these separated churches and communities as such, though we believe they suffer from defects, have by no means been deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation” (Unitatis Redintegratio, 3).
The mission of the church is “to proclaim and establish among all peoples the kingdom of Christ and of God, and she is, on earth, the seed and the beginning of that kingdom”(Lumen Gentium, 5). On the one hand, the church is the “sign and instrument of intimate union with God and of the unity of the entire human race” (ibid., 1) and thus the sign and instrument of the kingdom: She is called to announce and to establish the kingdom. On the other hand, the church is the “people gathered by the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” (ibid., 4): She is therefore “the kingdom of Christ already present in mystery” (ibid., 3) and constitutes its seed and beginning. There can be various theological explanations of these questions. However, the intimate connection between Christ, the kingdom and the church cannot be denied or emptied in any way. In fact, the kingdom of God, which we know from revelation “cannot be detached either from Christ or from the church” (John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, 18).
However, the kingdom of God is not identified with the church in her visible and social reality. Indeed, “the action of Christ and the Spirit outside the church’s visible boundaries” must not be excluded (ibid.). In considering the relationship between the kingdom of God, the kingdom of Christ and the church, it is necessary to avoid onesided emphases as is the case of those who, in speaking about the kingdom of God, are silent about Christ or put great stress on the mystery of creation but remain silent about the mystery of redemption, because — they say — Christ cannot be understood by those who lack Christian faith, whereas different peoples, cultures and religions are capable of finding common ground in the one divine reality, by whatever name it is called. Furthermore, the kingdom, as they understand it, ends up either leaving very little room for the church or undervaluing the church. These approaches deny the unicity of the relationship which Christ and the church have with the kingdom of God.
From what has been stated above, some points follow that are necessary for theological reflection as it explores the relationship of the church and of the other religions to salvation. Above all, it must be firmly believed that “the church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: The one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the church” (Lumen Gentium, 14). This doctrine must not be set against the universal salvific will of God; rather, “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”(Redemptoris Missio, 9). For those who are not formally 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” (ibid.).
With regard to the way in which the salvific grace of God comes to individual non-Christians, the Second Vatican Council limited itself to the statement that God bestows it “in ways known to himself ‘(Ad Gentes, 7). Theology is currently seeking to understand this question more deeply. At the same time, however, it is clear that it would be contrary to the Catholic faith to consider the church as a way of salvation alongside those constituted by the other religions.
Certainly the various religious traditions contain and offer religious elements that are part of what “the Spirit brings about in human hearts and in the history of peoples, in cultures and religions” (Redemptoris Missio, 29). One cannot attribute to these, however, a divine origin or anex opere operate salvific efficacy, which is proper to the Christian sacraments. Furthermore, it cannot be overlooked that other rituals, insofar as they follow from superstitions or other errors (cf. I Cor. 10:20-21), constitute an obstacle to salvation.
With the coming of the Savior Jesus Christ, God has willed that the church founded by him be the instrument of salvation for all humanity. This 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 “characterized by a religious relativism which leads to the belief that ‘one religion is as good asanotber”‘ (Redemptoris Missio, 36). As demanded by her love for all people, the church “proclaims and is in duty bound to proclaim without fail Christ, who is ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ (Jn. 14:6). In him, in whom God reconciled all things to himself (cf. 2 Cor. 5:18-19), men find the fullness of their religious life” (Nostra Aetate, 2).
The intention of the present declaration is to reiterate and clarify certain truths of the faith in the face of problematic and even erroneous propositions.
In treating the question of the true religion, the fathers of the Second Vatican Council taught: “We believe 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. Thus, he said to the apostles: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’ (Mt. 28:19-20). Especially in those things that concern God and his church, all persons are required to seek the truth, and when they come to know it, to embrace it and hold fast to it” (Vatican Council II, Dignitatis Humanae, 1).
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