Answers to Main Objections Against Dominus Iesus

Author: Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger


Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

In an interview published on 22 September 2000, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung invited Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to respond to the principal objections raised against the Declaration Dominus Iesus. Even if the questions and answers reflect the German context, the text of the interview offers sound explanations that are also applicable and useful outside this context. The daily edition of L'Osservatore Romano therefore published an Italian translation of the interview, omitting the parts that only concern the German situation. Here is a translation of the Italian version of the interview.

Your Eminence, you head a structure in which "thereare tendencies to ideologization and to an excessive penetration of foreign and fundamentalistelements of faith". The reprimandwas containedin a communication publishedlast week by the German section of the European Society for Catholic Theology.

I must confess that I am very annoyed by this kind of statement. For some time now I have known by heart this vocabulary, in which the concepts of fundamentalism, Roman centralism and absolutism are never missing. I could formulate certain statements on my own without even waiting to receive them, because they are repeated time and again, regardless of the subject treated.

I wonder why they never think up anything new.

Are you saying that criticism is false because it is repeated too often?

No. It is only that this type of predefined criticism fails to address the various topics.

Some proffer new criticism with the greatest of ease, because they consider everything that comes out of Rome in the light of politics and the division of power, and do not tackle the content.

Indeed the content is somewhat explosive. Is it really surprising that a document in which it is claimed that Christianity is the sole repository of truth and the ecclesial status of Anglicans and Protestants is not acknowledged should encounter such opposition?

I would like first of all to express my sadness and disappointment at the fact that public reaction, with a few praiseworthy exceptions, has completely disregarded the Declaration's true theme. The document begins with the words "Dominus Iesus"; this is the brief formula of faith contained in the First Letter to the Corinthians (12:3), in which Paul has summarized the essence of Christianity: Jesus is Lord.

With this Declaration, whose writing he followed stage by stage with great attention, the Pope wanted to offer the world a great and solemn recognition of Jesus Christ as Lord at the height of the Holy Year, thus bringing what is essential firmly to the centre of this occasion which is always prone to externalism.

The widespread resentment precisely concerns this "firmness". At the peak of the Holy Year, would it not have been more appropriate to send a signal to the other religions rather than setting about confirming one's own faith?

At the beginning of this millennium we find ourselves in a situation similar to that described by John at the end of the sixth chapter of his Gospel: Jesus had clearly explained his divine nature in the institution of the Eucharist. In verse 66 we read "After this, many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him". In general discussions today, faith in Christ risks being smoothed over and lost in chatter. With this document, the Holy Father, as Successor of the Apostle Peter, meant to say: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God" (Jn 6:68ff.). The document is intended as an invitation to all Christians to open themselves anew to the recognition of Jesus Christ as Lord, and thus to give a profound meaning to the Holy Year. I was pleased that Mr Kock, President of the Protestant Churches of Germany, recognized this important element in the text in his reaction, which was moreover very dignified, and compared it to the Barmen Declaration of 1934, in which the recently founded Bekennende Kirche rejected the Church of the Reich founded by Hitler. Prof. Jüngel of Tübingen also found in this text—despite his reservations about the ecclesiological section—an apostolic spirit similar to that of the Barmen Declaration. In addition, the Primate of the Anglican Church, Archbishop Carey, expressed his grateful and decided support of the true theme of the Declaration. Why, on the other hand, do the majority of commentators disregard it? I would be glad to have an answer.

The explosive element of a political-ecclesiastical nature is contained in the section of the document concerning ecumenism. With regard to the evangelical section, Eberhard Jüngel made a statement, asserting that the document ignores the fact that all the Churches "in their own way" want to be what in fact they are: "one holy, catholic and apostolic Church". So is the Catholic Church deceiving herself by claiming to have the exclusive right, since, according to Jüngel, she shares these rights with the other Churches?

The ecclesiological and ecumenical issues of which everyone is now speaking occupy only a small part of the document, which it seemed to us necessary to write in order to emphasize Christ's living and concrete presence in history. I am surprised that Jüngel should say that the one holy, catholic and apostolic Church is present in all the Churches in their own way and that (if I have understood correctly) he thus considers the matter of the Church's unity to have been resolved. Yet these numerous "Churches" contradict one another! Ifthey are all Churches "in their own way", then this Church is a collection of contradictions and cannot offer people clear direction.

But does an effective impossibility also stem from this normative impossibility?

That all the existing ecclesial communities should appeal to the same concept of Church seems to me to be contrary to their self-awareness. Luther claimed that the Church, in a theological and spiritual sense, could not be embodied in the great institutional structure of the Catholic Church, which he regarded instead as an instrument of the Antichrist. In his view, the Church was present wherever the Word was proclaimed correctly and the sacraments administered in the right way. Luther himself held that it was impossible to consider the local Churches subject to the princes as the Church; they were external institutions for assistance and were certainly necessary, but not the Church in the theological sense. And who would say today that structures which came into being by historical accident like, for example, the Churches of Hesse-Waldeck and Schaumburg-Lippe, are Churches in the same way that the Catholic Church claims to be? It is clear that the Union of German Lutheran Churches (VELDK) and the Union of Protestant Churches in Germany (EKD) do not want to be the "Church". A realistic examination shows that the reality of the Church for Protestants lies elsewhere and not in those institutions which are called regional Churches. This should have been discussed.

The fact is that the Evangelical side now considers the definition "ecclesial community" an offence. The harsh reactions to your document are clear proof of this.

I find the claim of our Lutheran friends frankly absurd, i.e., that we are to consider these structures resulting from chance historical events as the Church in the same way that we believe the Catholic Church, founded on the apostolic succession in the Episcopate, is the Church. It would be more correct for our Evangelical friends to tell us that for them the Church is something different a more dynamic reality and not so institutionalized, or part of the apostolic succession. The question then is not whether the existing Churches are all Churches in the same way, which is obviously not the case, but in what does the Church consist or not consist. In this sense, we offend no one by saying that the actual Evangelical structures are not the Church in the sense in which the Catholic Church intends to be so. They themselves have no wish to be so.

Was this question addressed by the Second Vatican Council?

The Second Vatican Council tried to accept this different way of determining the locus of the Church by stating that the Evangelical Churches are not actually Churches in the same way that the Catholic Church claims to be so, but that "elements of salvation and truth" are found in them. It might be that the term "elements" was not the best choice. In any case, its sense was to indicate an ecclesiological vision in which the Church does not exist in structures but in the event of preaching and the administration of the sacraments. The way in which the dispute is now being conducted is certainly wrong. I wish there had been no need to explain that the Declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has merely taken up the Council's texts and the postconciliar documents, neither adding nor removing anything.

On the other hand, Eberhard Jüngel sees something different there. The fact that in its time the Second Vatican Council did not state that the one and only Church of Christ is exclusively the Roman Catholic Church perplexes Jüngel. In the Constitution Lumen gentium,it says only that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him", not expressing any exclusivity with the Latin word "subsistit".

Unfortunately once again I cannot follow the reasoning of my esteemed colleague, Jüngel. I was there at the Second Vatican Council when the term "subsistit" was chosen and I can say I know it well. Regrettably one cannot go into details in an interview. In his Encyclical Pius XII said: the Roman Catholic Church "is" the one Church of Jesus Christ. This seems to express a complete identity, which is why there was no Church outside the Catholic community. However, this is not the case: according to Catholic teaching, which Pius XII obviously also shared, the local Churches of the Eastern Church separated from Rome are authentic local Churches; the communities that sprang from the Reformation are constituted differently, as I just said. In these the Church exists at the moment when the event takes place.

But should we not say then: a single Church does not exist. She is divided into numerous fragments?

In fact, many of our contemporaries consider her such. Only fragments of the Church are said to exist, and the best of the various pieces should be sought. But if this were so, subjectivism would be warranted: then everyone would invent his own Christianity and in the end his personal taste would, be decisive.

Perhaps the Christian actually has the freedom to interpret this "patchwork" also as subjectivism or individualism.

The Catholic Church, like the Orthodox Church, is convinced that a definition of this kind is irreconcilable with Christ's promise and with fidelity to him. Christ's Church truly exists and not in pieces. She is not an unattainable utopia but a concrete reality. The "subsistit" means precisely this: the Lord guarantees the Church's existence despite all our errors and sins, which certainly are also clearly found in her. With "subsistit", the intention was to say that, although the Lord keeps his promise, there is also an ecclesial reality outside the Catholic community, and it is precisely this contradiction which is the strongest incentive to pursue unity. If the Council had merely wished to say that the Church of Jesus Christ is also in the Catholic Church, it would have said something banal. The Council would have clearly contradicted the entire history of the Church's faith, which no Council Father had in mind.

Jüngel's arguments are philological and in this regard he claims that the interpretation of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which you have just explained, is "misleading". In fact, according to the terminology of the ancient Church, the one divine being also "subsists", and not in one person alone but in three. The following question arises from this reflection: If, therefore, God himself "subsists" in the difference between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and yet is not separated from himself , thus creating three reciprocal othernesses, why should this not also apply to the Church, which represents the "mysterium trinitatis"in the world?

I am saddened to have to disagree again with Jüngel. First of all, it is necessary to observe that the Church of the West, in her translation of the Trinitarian formula into Latin, did not directly adopt the Eastern formula, in which God is a being in three hypostases ("subsistences"), but translated the word hypostasis with the term "person", since in Latin the word "subsistence" as such did not exist and would therefore not have been adequate to express the unity and difference between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

However, I am particularly determined to oppose this increasingly widespread tendency to transfer the Trinitarian mystery directly to the Church. It is not suitable. In this way we will end up believing in three divinities.

In short, why cannot the "otherness" of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be compared to the diversity of ecclesial communities? Is Jüngel's not a fascinating and harmonious formula?

Among the ecclesial communities there are many disagreements, and what disagreements! The three "persons" constitute one God in an authentic and supreme unity. When the Council Fathers replaced the word "is" with the word "subsistit", they did so for a very precise reason. The concept expressed by "is" (to be) is far broader than that expressed by "to subsist". "To subsist" is a very precise way of being, that is, to be as a subject which exists in itself. Thus the Council Fathers meant to say that the being of the Church as such is a broader entity than the Roman Catholic Church, but within the latter it acquires, in an incomparable way, the character of a true and proper subject.

Let us go back a step. One is struck by the curious semantics which are sometimes found in Church documents. You yourself have pointed out that the expression "elements of truth", which is central in the current dispute, is somewhat infelicitous. Might not the expression "elements of truth" betray a sort of chemical concept of truth? The truth as a recurrent system of elements? Or: is there not something overbearing about the idea of being able to separate truth from falsehood or from partial truth through theorems, since certain theorems claim to reduce the complex reality of God to a pattern drawn with a compass?

The Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Church speaks of "many elements of sanctification and of truth" that are found outside the visible structure of the Church (n. 8); the Decree on Ecumenism lists some of them: "The written word of God, the life of grace, faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit and visible elements" (n, 3). A better term than "elements" might exist, but its real meaning is clear: the life of faith that the Church serves is a multifaceted structure and various elements can be distinguished inside or outside it.

Nevertheless, is it not surprising that there should be a desire to make a phenomenon that escapes empirical verification, such as religious faith, intelligible through theorems?

With regard to faith and to making it understandable through theorems, dogma is distorted if it is regarded as a collection of theorems: the content of faith is expressed in its profession, whose privileged moment occurs in the administration of the sacrament of Baptism and is thus part of an existential process. It is the expression of a new direction in life, but one which we do not give ourselves but receive as a gift. This new direction to our life also implies that we emerge from our ego and selfishness and enter that community of the faithful which is called the Church. The focal point of the baptismal formula is the recognition of the Trinitarian God. All subsequent dogmas are no more than explications of this profession and ensure that its fundamental orientation, the gift of self to the living God, remains unaltered. Only when dogma is interpreted in this way can it be properly understood.

Does this mean that from this spiritual perspective one can no longer arrive at the content of faith?

No, the certitude of the Christian faith has its own content. It is not an immersion in an inexpressible mystical dimension in which one never comes to the content. The God in whom Christians believe has shown us his face and heart in Jesus Christ: he has revealed himself to us. As St Paul said, this concreteness of God was a scandal to the Greeks in the past and, of course, still is today. This is inevitable.

One is struck by the ease with which precisely in Church circles people tend to appear "injured" or "full of suffering" regarding definitions of the faith which emphasize content rather than form. How do you explain this moralization of the intellectual clash, which now seems a constant for theologians?

It is not only a moralization but also a politicization: the Magisterium is considered to be a power that should be countered with another power. In the last century Ignaz Döllinger had already expressed the idea that the Church's Magisterium should be opposed by public opinion and that theologians should play a decisive role in this. However, believers at the time rejected Döllinger's positions en masse and supported the First Vatican Council. I maintain thatthe harshness of certain reactions is also explained by the fact that theologians may feel that their academic freedom is threatened and wish to intervene in defence of their intellectual mission. Naturally, a decisive role is also played by the climate fostered by secular culture, which is more compatible with Protestantism than with the Catholic Church.

I detect a certain irony when you speak of the intellectual mission of theologians. And so what about the academic freedom of Catholic theologians? Might not insistence on the ecclesial nature of theology that is faithful to doctrine be a kind of conditioning? And often is there not a lack of transparency in granting the permission to teach Church doctrine (the nihil obstat)?

For theology, conformity with the Church's faith does not mean submitting to conditions that are foreign to theology. By its nature, theology seeks to understand the Church's faith, which is the presupposition of its existence. In certain cases, moreover, Evangelical Church leaders have had to deprive academics of their mission to teach, because they had abandoned the foundations of this mission. As for us and the nihil obstat, we must first remember that no one has a right to a teaching post. Faculties of theology are not obliged to communicate to individual candidates the reason why they were not chosen or what prompted their decision. We communicate to our Bishops the reason why, in our opinion, the nihil obstat cannot be granted to a certain candidate. How to inform him of this is then up to the Bishop. In a certain number of cases a correspondence was begun with the candidates, whose explanations often made it possible to change the decision from negative to positive.

Peter Hünermann's criticism centres on the following: by reinforcing the obligation to take an oath of fidelity, theologians and clergy are also required to hold as valid teachings that are only indirectly connected with the truth of revealed faith but not explicitly revealed.

I have already addressed in detail the false information on this in my two articles in Stimmen der Zeit in 1999 and in my contribution to Wolfgang Beinert's book, published that same year, Gott - ratlos vor demBösen?,so I will be brief. Hünermann directs his criticism at the so-called second level of the profession of faith, which distinguishes teaching that is valid and indissolubly linked to Revelation from true and proper Revelation. It is utterly false to say that the Fathers of the First and Second Vatican Councils expressly rejected this distinction. On the contrary, precisely the opposite is true. The concept of Revelation was re-elaborated at the beginning of the modern era with the development of historical thought. A distinction began to be made between what had been actually revealed and what was derived from Revelation, without being separate from it or directly contained in it. This historicization of the concept of Revelation had never existed in the Middle Ages. The separation of the two levels took conceptual form at the First Vatican Council through the distinction made between "credenda" (to be believed) and "tenenda" (to be held). Archbishop Pilarczyk of Cincinnati recently explained this concept in the document Papers from the Vallombrosa Meeting (2000). Moreover, it is enough to leaf through any theology book from the pre-conciliar period to see that this is what was precisely written, even if details in elaborating the second level were debated and still are today. The Second Vatican Council naturally accepted the distinction formulated by the First Vatican Council and strengthened it. I fail to understand how one can assert the contrary.

The greatest criticism does not concern these distinctions so much as the claim of the highest magisterial authority for teachings which have only the status of "theologically well-founded", in which, despite their good foundations, objections are still raised that have never been completely eliminated.

Of course, with teachings to be held ("tenenda") something more than "theologically well-founded" is meant; the latter are changeable. The literature includes among these "tenenda" important moral teachings of the Church (e.g., the rejection of euthanasia and assisted suicide), so-called dogmatic facts (e.g., that the Bishops of Rome are the Successors of St Peter, the legitimacy of Ecumenical Councils, etc.).

Let us return again to your Congregation's disputed document. Rather than being blamed for failing to emphasize content rather than form, the Declaration Dominus Iesus is often accused of a somewhat tactless approach that irritates the spokesmen of other religions and denominations. Cardinal Sterzinsky of Berlin said that in theological formation it is necessary not to forget in sermons the "when, where and how". In Roman documents, however, it seems that this has been forgotten. And Bishop Lehmann of Mainz said that he would have liked "a text written in the style of the great conciliar texts", and wonders to what extent the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith collaborated with other curial authorities in preparing the document. In this connection, he mentions the Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

As for collaboration with the other curial authorities, the President and Secretary of the Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Cassidy and Bishop Kasper, are members of our Congregation, as is the President of the Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Cardinal Arinze. They all have a say in the matter, as I do. The Prefect, in fact, is only the first among equals and is responsible for the orderly conduct of the work. The three members of the Congregation I have just mentioned took an active part in drafting the document, which was presented several times at the ordinary meeting of the Cardinals and once at the plenary meeting in which all our foreign members take part. Unfortunately, Cardinal Cassidy and Bishop Kasper were prevented by concurrent engagements from taking part in some of the sessions, although they had been informed of the dates of these meetings well in advance. Nevertheless, they received all the documentation and their detailed written vota were communicated to the participants and thoroughly discussed.

Did they get a hearing?

Almost all the proposals of the two persons in question were accepted, because the opinion of the Council for Unity was naturally very important for us in dealing with this matter. Moreover, I can easily understand that the German Bishops are particularly sensitive to difficulties arising from the situation in our country. But there is also another side to the coin. Just recently, for example, on my way home I met two men in their prime who came up to me and said: "We're missionaries in Africa. How long we've waited for those words! We're constantly meeting difficulties, and missionaries are becoming fewer and fewer". I was deeply touched by the gratitude of these two people, who are in the front lines of preaching the Gospel. And this is only one of the many reactions of this kind. The truth is always disturbing and never easy. Jesus' words are often terribly hard and expressed without much diplomatic subtlety. Walter Kasper rightly said that the sensation caused by the document betrays a communications problem, because classical doctrinal language, as used in our document in continuity with the texts of the Second Vatican Council, is entirely different from that of newspapers and the media. But then the text should be interpreted and not held in contempt.

In the discussion of your Congregation's document, the question of the possibilities and limits of ecumenism was raised once again. The problems connected with the ecumenical project do not only concern the existence of a tendency on both sides to tone down what divides and no longer to take seriously the indispensable demand to prevail. In an article 15 years ago in Theologische Quartalschrift, you had already warned against considering "ecumenism as a diplomatic task of a political kind", and in this sense you criticized the "ecumenism of negotiation" of the immediate post-conciliar period. What did you mean?

First of all, I would distinguish between theological dialogue and political or business negotiations. Theological dialogue is not concerned with finding what is acceptable and eventually suitable to both parties, but with discovering profound convergences behind the different linguistic forms and with learning to distinguish what is connected to a specific historical period from what instead is fundamental. This is possible particularly when the context of the experience of God and Self has changed, when the language can thus be confronted with a certain detachment and fundamental insights can flow from passions that divide.

Can you give an example of this?

It is obvious in the doctrine of justification: Luther's religious experience was essentially conditioned by the difficult aspect of God's wrath and a desire for the certainty of forgiveness and salvation. However, the experience of God's wrath has been completely lost in our era, and the idea that God cannot damn anyone has become widespread among Christians. In a now very different context, they were able to seek points that the two sides have in common, starting from the Bible, which is the foundation we share. I can find no contradiction, then, between Dominus Iesus, which only repeats the central ideas of the Council, and the consensus on justification. It is important that dialogue be conducted with great patience, with great respect and, especially, with total honesty. The challenge posed to us all by agnosticism consists in abandoning historical preconceptions and going to the heart of the matter. For example, to go back to a previous point in our conversation, honesty means not applying the same concept of Church to the Catholic Church and to one of the Churches formed according to the borders of former principalities.

So then, after the publication of your document is the ecumenical formula of "reconciled diversity" still valid?

I accept the concept of a "reconciled diversity", if it does not mean equality of content and the elimination of the question of truth so that we could consider ourselves one, even if we believe and teach different things. To my mind this concept is used well, if it says that, despite our differences, which do not allow us to regard ourselves as mere fragments of a Church of Jesus Christ that does not exist in reality, we meet in the peace of Christ and are reconciled to one another, that is, we recognize our division as contradicting the Lord's will and this sorrow spurs us to seek unity and to pray to him in the knowledge that we all need his love.

Occasionally one reads passages from the Pope and his collaborators which relativize the division of Christianity in a dialectical treatment of salvation history. The Pope then speaks of "a metahistorical reason" for the division and, in his book Crossing the Threshold of Hope, he wonders: "Could it not be that these divisions have also been a path continually leading the Church to discover the untold wealth contained in Christ's Gospel and in the redemption accomplished by Christ? Perhaps all this wealth would not have come to light otherwise". Thus the division of Christians seems a pedagogical work of the Holy Spirit, since, as the Pope says, for human knowledge and human action a "certain dialectic" is also significant. You yourself wrote: "Even if the divisions are human works and human sins, a dimension proper to the divine framework exists in them". If this is so, one wonders by what right can the divine pedagogy be opposed by identifying the Church of Christ with the Roman Catholic Church. Are not the conceptual imprecisions deplored in the ecumenical dialogue also found in the speculations of salvation history on God's pedagogy?

This is a difficult subject which concerns human freedom and divine governance. There are no valid answers in an absolute form because we cannot go beyond our human horizon, and therefore we cannot unveil the mystery that links these two elements. What you have quoted from the Holy Father and from me could be roughly applied to the well-known saying that God writes straight with crooked lines. The lines remain crooked and this means that the divisions have to deal with human sin. Sin does not become something positive because it can lead to a growth process when it is understood as something to be overcome by conversion and to be removed by forgiveness.

Paul already had to explain to the Romans the ambiguity stemming from his teaching on grace, according to which, since sin leads to grace, then one could be at ease with sin (Rom 6:19). God's ability to turn even our sins into something good certainly does not mean that sin is good. And the fact that God can make division yield positive fruits does not make it positive in itself. The conceptual imprecisions which do in fact exist are due to the disturbing unfathomableness of the relationship between the freedom to sin and the freedom of grace. The freedom of grace is also shown by the fact that, on the one hand, the Church does not sink and break up into antithetical ecclesial fragments in an unrealizable dream. By God's grace the Church as subject really exists and subsists in the Catholic Church; Christ's promise is the guarantee that this subject will never be destroyed. But on the other hand, it is true that this subject is wounded, inasmuch as ecclesial realities exist and function outside it. In that fact the tragedy of sin and the paradoxical breadth of God's promise most clearly emerge. If this tension is removed to reach clear formulas, and it is said that all ecclesial communities are the Church, and that all, despite their disagreements, are that one and holy Church, then no ecumenism exists, because there is no longer any reason for seeking authentic unity,

The same question can be asked again from another angle: whether the question of religious profession is related to that of personal salvation. Why mission, why the disagreement over "truth" and Vatican documents if, in the end, man can reach God by all paths?

The document is far from repeating the subjectivist and relativist thesis that everyone can become holy in his own way. This is a cynical interpretation, in which I sense a contempt for the question of truth and right ethics. The document affirms, with the Council, that God gives light to everyone. Those who seek the truth find themselves objectively on the path that leads to Christ, and thus also on the path to the community in which he remains present in history, that is, to the Church. To seek the truth, to listen to one's conscience, to purify one's interior hearing, these are the conditions of salvation for all. They have a profound, objective connection with Christ and the Church. In this sense we say that other religions have rites and prayers which can play a role of preparing for the Gospel, of occasions or pedagogical helps in which the human heart is prompted to open itself to God's action. But we also say that this does not apply to all rites. For there are some (anyone who knows something of the history of religions can only agree) which turn man away from the light. Thus vigilance and inner purification are achieved by a life that follows conscience and helps to identify differences, an openness which, in the end, means belonging inwardly to Christ.

For this reason the document can affirm that mission remains important, since it offers the light that men and women need in their search for truth and goodness.

But the question remains: since, as you have said, salvation can be achieved through every path, provided that one lives according to one's conscience, does mission then not lose its theological urgency? For what else can be meant by the thesis of the "Intimate and objective connection" between non-Catholic paths of salvation and Christ, if not that Christ himself makes superfluous the distinction between a "full" and "deficient" truth of salvation, since, if he is present as the instrument of salvation, he is always and logically "fully" present.

I did not say that salvation can be achieved by every path. The way of conscience, the keeping of one's gaze focused on truth and the objective good, is one single way, although it can take many forms because of the great number of individuals and situations. The good is one, however, and truth does not contradict itself. The fact that man does not attain one or the other does not relativize the requirement of truth and goodness. For this reason it is not enough to continue in the religion one has inherited, but one must remain attentive to the true good and thus be able to transcend the limits of one's own religion. This has meaning only if truth and goodness really exist. It would be impossible to walk the way of Christ if he did not exist. Living with the eyes of the heart open, purifying oneself inwardly and seeking the light are indispensable conditions of human salvation. Proclaiming the truth, that is, making the light shine (not putting it "under a bushel, but on a stand"), is absolutely necessary.

It is not the concept of Church that irritates Protestants, but the biblical interpretation of Dominus Iesus, which says that it is necessary to oppose "the tendency to read and to interpret Sacred Scripture outside the Tradition of the Church's Magisterium" and "presuppositions ... which hinder the understanding and acceptance of the revealed truth". Jüngel says: "The inappropriate revaluation of the authority of the Church's Magisterium corresponds to an equally inappropriate devaluation of the authority of Sacred Scripture".

Fortified by 500 years of experience, modern exegesis has clearly recognized, along with modern literature and the philosophy of language, that mere self-interpretation of the Scriptures and the clarity resulting from it do not exist. In 1928 Adolf von Harnack said, with typical bluntness, in his correspondence with Erik Peterson that "the so-called 'formal principle' of old Lutheranism is a critical impossibility; on the contrary, the Catholic one is better". Ernst Käsemann has shown that the canon of Sacred Scripture as such does not ground the Church's unity, but the multiplicity of confessions. Recently, one of the most important Evangelical exegetes, Ulrich Luz, has shown that "Scripture alone" opens the way to every possible interpretation. Lastly, the first generation of the Reformation also had to seek "the centre of Scripture", to obtain an interpretive key which could not be extrapolated from the text as such. Another practical example: in the clash with Gerd Lüdemann, a professor who denied the resurrection and divinity of Christ, etc., it has been pointed out that the Evangelical Church cannot do without a sort of Magisterium. When the contours of the faith are blurred in a chorus of opposing exegetical efforts (materialist, feminist, liberationist exegeses, etc.), it seems evident that it is precisely the relationship with the professions of faith, and thus with the Church's living tradition, that guarantees the literal interpretation of Sacred Scripture, protecting it from subjectivism and preserving its originality and authenticity. Therefore the Magisterium does not diminish the authority of Sacred Scripture but safeguards it by taking an inferior position to it and allowing the faith flowing from it to emerge.

The Declaration of your Congregation indicates the acceptance of "apostolic succession" as a decisive criterion for the definition of a "Sister Church" by the Roman Catholic Church. A Protestant like Jüngel rejects this principle as non-biblical. For him, the successor of the Apostles is not the Bishop but the biblical canon. In his opinion, any person who lives according to the Scriptures is a successor of the Apostles.

The assertion that the canon is the successor of the Apostles is an exaggeration and mixes up things that are too different. The canon of Scripture was arrived at by the Church in a process that continued into the fifth century. The canon, then, does not exist without the ministry of the successors of the Apostles and, at the same time, establishes the criterion of their service. The written word is not a substitute for living witnesses, just as the latter cannot replace the written word. Living witnesses and the written word refer to one another. We share the episcopal structure of the Church as the way to be in communion with the Apostles, with the whole ancient Church and with the Orthodox Churches; this should give cause for reflection. When it is asserted that someone who lives according to the Scriptures is a successor of the Apostles, the following question is left unanswered: who decides what it means to live according to the Scriptures and who judges whether someone is really doing so? The thesis that the successor of the Apostles is not the Bishop but the biblical canon is a clear rejection of the Catholic Church's concept. At the same time, however, we are expected to use this same concept to define the Churches of the Reformation. It is a logic that I frankly do not understand.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
22 November 2000, page 10
29 November 2000, page 6
6 December 2000, page 8

L'Osservatore Romano is the newspaper of the Holy See.
The Weekly Edition in English is published for the US by:

The Cathedral Foundation
L'Osservatore Romano English Edition
320 Cathedral St.
Baltimore, MD 21201
Subscriptions: (410) 547-5315
Fax: (410) 332-1069