Christ and in the Church
by Father Paul K. Raftery, O.P.
Though Our Blessed Lord is no longer Visibly Present in the World through
His Human Nature, He continues to Dwell-in and to Speak-to the World
through His Mystical Body, the
Church. He Prayed at the Last Supper:
"Father, the Glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be One as We are One, I in them
and You in Me . . . so that the World may know that You have sent Me . . . " (John 17:22,23).
Our Lord draws the Church into His Own Divine
Life, Light, and Joy -
His Own Glory - making Her One (1)
with Him and the Father. But what is more, the
Church that is filled with His Life then
Reveals to the World that He has been sent by the Father.
We will Review this sending of the Son into the World by the
Father, especially in the light of a recent (June 2000)
Declaration by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith entitled
Dominus Jesus. This Congregation is one of many Administrative Branches of the Holy See and it deals
specifically with Clarifying Issues of Faith and Morals
that arise in the Church at large. At the request of Pope John Paul II, and under the
Leadership of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the Congregation has released this
Declaration to Reaffirm the Church's Teaching that
Eternal Life is available only through Christ and
His Church. Considering that we are celebrating in this Jubilee Year the entry of the Eternal
Son into our World, we do well to examine the unique place Our Blessed Lord has as the
World's Sole means of Salvation.
The Declaration Dominus Jesus
Before getting into the actual content of the document, it may be helpful to first say something about the Authority of the Congregation
of the Doctrine of the Faith and, in particular, of this Declaration.
Congregations are established by the Roman Pontiff, and to them he delegates his own Supreme Authority.
When a Congregation publishes a Declaration, it is not proclaiming New Doctrine to the
Faithful. Rather it is both reaffirming Teaching that is already held, and providing
Corrections for Erroneous Interpretations that have arisen.
Although it is not a document that comes from the Holy Father himself, no
Declaration can be Published without the Holy Father's Express Approval. Because of this Approval, such a
Declaration is Binding on all the Faithful. It is coming from the Magisterium, or
Teaching Office of the Church, and represents Belief
that Defines us as Catholics. Those who Reject this
or any Doctrinal Pronouncement can not Legitimately call themselves Catholic, for they
have Rejected Belief that is Essential to the
What this particular Declaration is Responding-to is a Growing Acceptance among many in our
Society, and even in the Church, that all Religions provide Equally-valid Roads to
Salvation. The Holy Father wants it to be Clear in the Minds of the
Faithful that this is not Catholic Belief, that there can be no
Relativism in our Belief that
Jesus Christ is the One-and-Only Savior, and
that the Catholic Church is the only Source of
Salvation for our World, as will be explained. Much Current Opinion about Our Lord,
circulating in both Theological and Popular Circles, presents Him as the
Savior for Christians only, not for Buddhists, Muslims, Jews, or any
other Religion. Such Religions, this Error Proposes, have their Own-path to
God, and it is just as Valid and Reliable as that Proclaimed by the Church.
This is what is meant by the idea of "Relativism". Truth is
really at the Heart of the Problem. In a Relativistic
Understanding of the World, each person determines what Truth is for himself; there is no such thing
as Absolute Truth that holds for People of every Time and Place. For the same reason, according to the
Relativistic View, it is not possible that there be a Savior or a
Church that could claim to be the only means of Salvation
for People of every Time-and-Place.
The Fullness of Revelation in Christ
Against this Current-of-Opinion spreading throughout our Society like a
Dominus Jesus teaches that the Church must continue to proclaim what
Our Lord said of Himself: "I am
the Way, the Truth, and the Life" (John 14:6). In Him God has Revealed
Himself Fully and Definitively. He did not give a
Partial Revelation that needs to be Complemented by other Religions. There are no Gaps that require
Filling-in by Hinduism, Islam, or any other Religion. Everything that God has spoken about
Himself has been Revealed in Jesus Christ. Thus, the
Declaration affirms that, "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, is Contrary to the Churchs Faith"
Thus, God has Revealed Himself,
once-and-for-all, in Christ, and the Obligation then falls on Man to Respond to this
Definitive Revelation. He does this through the
Obedience of Faith. The
Intellect and Will, indeed, the Whole Life of a Person, have to be Brought-into-line with
God's Revelation. There must be a Surrendering to it, that is Complete and Unconditional, such that a
Person "Freely Entrusts his Entire Self to God, offering the Full Submission of Intellect and Will to God Who Reveals, . . .
Freely Assenting to the Revelation given by Him" (Vat. II, n. 25).
It is important to note that this Complete Surrender in Faith is not the kind of assent that other
Religions make to their own Teaching or their View of God. There is a difference, the
Declaration emphasizes, between Belief as found in other Religions and the
Theological Virtue of Faith possessed by the Christian.
First of all, Faith is a
Grace (Gift) given by God, and
not the result of a person simply Exercising his own Spiritual-Yearnings. There is nothing in the Nature of Man that can produce
Supernatural Faith, nor can any Leap of the
Mind to Divine Truth take place without
Gods Supernatural Assistance. And Secondly,
Faith moves someone to accept the Absolute Truth of Revelation
and to place Full-Allegiance in God Who Reveals. When there is an ongoing-search for
Absolute Truth which has not found rest in God and
Divine Revelation, there can as yet be no Divinely given Faith. Only a purely
Human Belief is Active, a product of Human Experience and Thought. And such is the Belief of the non-Christian, arising from
"the Human Treasury of Wisdom and Religious Experience" (par. 7). But this cannot be considered in any
way the Equivalent of the Supernatural Act of Faith made by the
The Activity of the Holy Spirit
Among those who Falsely hold that other Religions are themselves Legitimate Paths to
Salvation, there are Various Erroneous Explanations used to Justify their Position.
One of these False Theories is that the
Holy Spirit Acts in the World, Independently of Jesus, the
Word-made-Flesh. According to this Mistaken Outlook,
He has extended His Field-of-Activity beyond
Christianity. To other Religions He has Revealed
Divine Truth, enabling them to Lead People to God, Independently of the
As will be explained below, the Holy Spirit can and does work among the Religions of the World to Guide
them in Subtle Ways to the Fullness of Truth in the Catholic Faith.
But these Religions do not themselves become, through His Action, means of
Salvation, Independent from the Church Jesus established. The
Holy Spirit does not Act on His Own in Human History. From the
Scriptures Themselves we learn of the Holy Spirit as the
Gift of Christ, and His Helper in continuing to Guide the
Church. "When the Spirit of Truth comes, He will Guide you into all the Truth; for He will not speak on
His Own Authority, but whatever He hears He will Speak . . . ." (John 16:13). And so the
Declaration States that the "entire Work of Building the Church by Jesus Christ the Head, in the course of the
Centuries, is seen as an Action which He does in Communion with His Spirit" (par. 12).
The Church Necessary for Salvation
There can be no Failure by the Faithful to Believe and Proclaim the
Truth, Revealed by the Holy Scriptures, that
Salvation comes to Humanity through Christ and no other:
"One can and must say that Jesus Christ has a Significance and a Value for the Human Race and its History,
which are Unique and Singular, proper to Him alone, Exclusive, Universal, and Absolute. Jesus is, in fact, the Word of God-made-man for the
Salvation of all" (par. 15).
This being True for Our Lord, it is also
True for the Church. The
Church's value for the World as a means of Salvation is equally 'Universal' and 'Absolute'.
And this arises from what Our Lord designed the Church
to be for the World. The Declaration explains that the "Lord Jesus, the
only Savior, did not only Establish a Simple Community of Disciples, but Constituted the Church as a Salvific [Salvation-producing]
Mystery: He Himself is in the Church and the Church is in Him" (par. 16). Related to
Our Lord as Members of a Body to its Head, the Two (2)-together,
Our Lord and the Church, form the "Whole Christ".
Thus as there can be no Salvation apart from Christ,
there can also be no Salvation apart from the Church
that is One (1) with Him. 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" (par. 20).
Those Outside the Catholic Church
Other Christians: To hold the Catholic Faith is to
Profess Belief in the Church, Truly Founded by Christ Himself.
There is a Historical Continuity between the Catholic Church of today and the
Church founded by Christ. She was entrusted
above all to the Pastoral-Care of Saint Peter, with the other Apostles Governing and Guiding the
Church in Communion with him. The Division that has
Tragically occurred during the Course-of-History has Fractured this Original
Church of Our Lord. But Truths that were part of the
Original Teaching of Jesus, which have been Preserved Fully in the
Catholic Church, can still be found in a Partial Way in the Communities that have broken-away. In these Communities, the
Declaration tells us, "many elements can be found of Sanctification and Truth".
The Second Vatican Council, to take account of these Elements of the True Faith present in non-Catholic
Denominations, spoke of these Denominations as Subsisting in the Catholic
Church. In other words, the Saving Grace and
Truth found Partially in other Christian Communities, Flows from and is Sustained by the
Full Grace and Truth present in the
Catholic Church. Thus, such Communities, in a diminished-way, are members of Christ's True Church.
They too can reach Salvation, albeit with much greater Difficulty,
through the fragmentary Truths they have retained. So other groups of Christians are
still Members of Christ's Body, but they have this status in-and-through the
Catholic Church: "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" (par. 16).
Other Religions: Christ Wills
that all Men be Saved and come to know the Truth. This is
done Exclusively through the Catholic Church which is His
Chosen-Instrument of Salvation in the World, the "Universal Sacrament of
Salvation" (par. 20). But by God's Design, the
Grace that is Active through the Catholic Church can reach those who are not of
the Christian Religion. Men of Good Will, sincerely
seeking the Truth, have a Desire for God that
He does not Reject.
He regards their Desire as an Obscure, Imperfect Acceptance of Him, but
sufficient for Salvation nevertheless. If they were not being prevented from
knowing Him by Obstacles beyond their control, they
would be turning to Him in Faith. So the
Declaration teaches that "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" (par. 20).
However, with this Mysterious Activity of God among
non-Christian Religions, there is still a need for recognizing how
Imperfect their condition is. There is an immense difference between the
Vast Sea of Divine Grace and
Truth available in the Church, and the
Tiny Pool of Human Wisdom,
not to mention Grave Error, present in
non-Christian Religions. Thus, the Clarification:
"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" (par. 22).
The Churchs Missionary Activity
There would be little need for the Missionary Activity of the Church if non-Christian
Religions were granted the means of Salvation as fully 'Outside' the
Church as 'Inside'. So although People 'Outside' the Church can
come to Salvation, we nevertheless cannot hold that they have arrived until they have come
to the Fullness present in the Catholic Church.
Good people of Other Religions find Truth in the World.
God is giving them Constant Encouragements in their Lives to seek Truth,
and they Cooperate with His Help. Thus, those "who Obey the Promptings
of the Spirit of Truth are already on the way of Salvation" (par. 22). But 'being-on-the-way', is not the same as 'coming-home'.
The Slight-Trickle coming from the Tap is not the same as the Deep and Expansive Reservoir. The desire stirring in many for
Truth imposes an Obligation on the Church to
"go out to meet their desire, so as to bring them to the Truth", to bring them to the very
Source of Divine Grace (par. 22).
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 announce the necessity of conversion to Jesus Christ and of adherence to
the Church through Baptism and the other Sacraments. . . . 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.
If God is going to stir people to seek the Truth,
then this is not going to be a Truth Independent of that Revealed in the
Church. They will be coming to the True Faith, not resting content where
they are. The Mission of the Church is not being Subverted by God
is bringing out into the open the Inherent Contradiction in Theologians, Clergy, or even members of the
Laity who fail to acknowledge Christ and the Church as
the Sole-means of Salvation for the World. Such a Failure
Nullifies the very Words of Our Lord Himself when He
Commanded the Apostles to "Go therefore and Teach 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" (Matthew 28:18-19).
Our Blessed Lord's Insistence on the Mission of the Church to announce the
Gospel and to Baptize makes sense only if the
Fullness of Grace and Truth is present in
Him and His Church. Together
They form the "Whole Christ", Who is
Indispensable for the Salvation of Mankind, without
Whom no one will be Saved.
Prayer to Divine Providence
O Sweet and Tender Providence of God, into Thy Hands I commend my Spirit, to Thee I
abandon myself, my Hopes, my Fears, my Desires, my Repugnance's, my Temporal and Eternal Prospects. To Thee I commit the Wants of my
Perishable Body, to Thee I commit the far more Precious Interests of my Immortal Soul, for whose interests I have Nothing to Fear while
I withdraw it not from Thy Bosom. Though my Faults are many, my Misery Great, my Spiritual Poverty Extreme, my Hope in Thee surpasses all.
It is Greater than my Difficulties, Stronger than Death. Though Temptations should Assail me, I will Hope in Thee, though I should Sink
beneath my Weakness, I will Hope in Thee still, though I should Break my Resolutions a Thousand Times, I will look to Thee Confidently
for Grace to keep them at last; though Thou shouldst Slay me, even then will I Trust Thee, for Thou art my God, my Father and my Friend.
Thou art my Kind, my Tender, my Indulgent Parent, and I am Thy Loving Child, who cast myself into Thy Arms and beg Thy Blessing, who put
my Trust in Thee, and so Trusting, shall Never be Confounded.
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