Online Edition – April 2006
Vol. XII, No. 2
The Church and the Other Religions in Relation to Salvation
“Equality, which is a presupposition of inter-religious dialogue, 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” – Dominus Iesus.
On August 6, 2000, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a teaching document on the universality of the Church, the Declaration, Dominus Iesus. The document consists of six parts, the final section being on the relation of the Church to other religions. It was signed by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, and its publication was authorized by Pope John Paul II.
The Introduction to the Declaration explained the rationale for publishing it. It said, in part:
“The Church’s constant missionary proclamation is endangered today by relativistic theories which seek to justify religious pluralism, not only de facto but also de iure (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 As a consequence, it is held that certain truths have been superseded; for example, the definitive and complete character of the revelation of Jesus Christ, the nature of Christian faith as compared with that of belief in other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”. (§ 4)
In the years since Dominus Iesus was issued, the question of the relationship of the Catholic Church with other religions, and the effect on the Church’s worship, has emerged with even greater urgency — and the topic is not unrelated to the first encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, released in January 2006. For this reason, we are reprinting a section of the declaration here. (Footnotes not included. The complete document is accessible on the Adoremus web site: www.adoremus.org/910-00DomJesus.html).
VI – The Church and the Other Religions in Relation to Salvation
20. …[S]ome points follow that are necessary for theological reflection as it explores the relationship of the Church and the other religions to salvation.
21. Above all else, 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. He Himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and baptism (cf. Mk 16:16; Jn 3:5), and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through baptism as through a door. This doctrine must not be set against the universal salvific will of God (cf. I Tim 2:4); 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.
The Church is the universal sacrament of salvation, since, united always in a mysterious way to the Savior Jesus Christ, her Head, and subordinated to Him, she has, in God’s plan, an indispensable relationship with the salvation of every human being. 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; it has a relationship with the Church, which according to the plan of the Father, has her origin in the mission of the Son and the Holy Spirit.
21. With respect to the way in which the salvific grace of God which is always given by means of Christ in the Spirit and has a mysterious relationship to the Church comes to individual non-Christians, the Second Vatican Council limited itself to the statement that God bestows it in ways known to Himself. Theologians are seeking to understand this question more fully. Their work is to be encouraged, since it is certainly useful for understanding better God’s salvific plan and the ways in which it is accomplished. However, from what has been stated above about the mediation of Jesus Christ and the unique and special relationship which the Church has with the kingdom of God among men which in substance is the universal kingdom of Christ the Savior it is clear that it would be contrary to the faith to consider the Church as one way of salvation alongside those constituted by the other religions, seen as complementary to the Church or substantially equivalent to her, even if these are said to be converging with the Church toward the eschatological kingdom of God.
Certainly, the various religious traditions contain and offer religious elements which come from God, and which are part of what the Spirit brings about in human hearts and in the history of peoples, in cultures, and religions. Indeed, some prayers and rituals of the other religions may assume a role of preparation for the Gospel, in that they are occasions or pedagogical helps in which the human heart is prompted to be open to the action of God. One cannot attribute to these, however, a divine origin or an ex opere operato salvific efficacy, which is proper to the Christian sacraments. Furthermore, 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.
22. With the coming of the Savior Jesus Christ, God has willed that the Church founded by Him be the instrument for the salvation of all humanity (cf. Acts 17:30-31). 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 as another’. 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. However, all the children of the Church should nevertheless remember that their exalted condition results, not from their own merits, but from the grace of Christ. If they fail to respond in thought, word, and deed to that grace, not only shall they not be saved, but they shall be more severely judged. One understands then that, following the Lord’s command (cf. Mt 28:19-20) and as a requirement of 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. II Cor 5:18-19), men find the fullness of their religious life.
In inter-religious dialogue as well, the mission ad gentes today as always retains its full force and necessity. Indeed, God ‘desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth’ (I Tim 2:4); that is, God wills the salvation of everyone through the knowledge of the truth. Salvation is found in the truth. Those who obey the promptings of the Spirit of truth are already on the way of salvation. But the Church, to whom this truth has been entrusted, must go out to meet their desire, so as to bring them the truth. Because she believes in God’s universal plan of salvation, the Church must be missionary. Inter-religious dialogue, therefore, as part of her evangelizing mission, is just one of the actions of the Church in her mission ad gentes. Equality, which is a presupposition of inter-religious dialogue, 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. Indeed, the Church, guided by charity and respect for freedom, must be primarily committed to proclaiming to all people the truth definitively revealed by the Lord, and to announcing 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. Thus, the certainty of the universal salvific will of God does not diminish, but rather increases the duty and urgency of the proclamation of salvation and of conversion to the Lord Jesus Christ.
23. The intention of the present declaration, in reiterating and clarifying certain truths of the faith, has been to follow the example of the Apostle Paul, who wrote to the faithful of Corinth: “I handed on to you as of first importance what I myself received” (I Cor 15:3). Faced with certain problematic and even erroneous propositions, theological reflection is called to reconfirm the Church’s faith and to give reasons for her hope in a way that is convincing and effective.
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.
The revelation of Christ will continue to be the true lodestar in history for all humanity: The truth, which is Christ, imposes itself as an all-embracing authority. The Christian mystery, in fact, 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 Saint Paul: “You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are saints and members of the household of God”. (Eph 2:19)
The Sovereign Pontiff John Paul II, at the audience of June 16, 2000, granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with sure knowledge and by his apostolic authority, ratified and confirmed this declaration, adopted in plenary session and ordered its publication.
Rome, from the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, August 6, 2000, the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord.
Joseph Card. Ratzinger, Prefect