Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

"Dominus Iesus" and the Ecumenical Dialogue with Catholics

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

"Dominus Iesus" and the Ecumenical Dialogue with Catholics

Article excerpt

Some time has now passed since Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger presented the declaration, "Dominus Jesus," (1) on behalf of the Vatican's Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (C.D.F.). Except for response in integralist Catholic periodicals, (2) the vast majority of immediate responses were negative. Almost instantly, many Roman Catholic intellectuals reacted with significant embarrassment and anger; non-Catholic theologians, with perplexity. (3) In this essay I would like to focus on the critical Catholic reaction and review the argument of the declaration in order to suggest a model of theological discourse based on Catholic theology that both should help us understand better the difficulties posed by the C.D.F.'s declaration and provide a conceptual platform for ecumenical and interfaith theology.

While most of the immediate criticism concentrated on the timing of the document and its arrogant tone, later reflections-mostly from Catholic voices--were more nuanced and focused on more precise difficulties, generally pointing out (1) that the declaration was intended as an internal document for bishops and Catholic theologians, especially those with controversial approaches to other religions; (4) (2) that the C.D.F. is essentially a watchdog that at times must "bark"; (5) and (3) that the declaration of the C.D.F. does not carry the weight of an encyclical or conciliar document and can be reformed. (6) One criticism points out areas where the C.D.F. exceeded its authority in determining issues that are, in fact, still open in Catholic teaching. (7) Very significant, however, is the repeated description of this document as a step backward, away from the discourse of Vatican II. (8) That council was exceptional in its use of biblical imagery rather than legal definition.

Amid the criticisms, some voices point out the hopeful and positive elements, mainly in the calls by the declaration for further study of the relation of non-Catholic and non-Christian communities to the Catholic Church. (9) We can also find general agreement about the need to approach an ecumenical or interfaith discussion with a clear grasp of the theological position that one represents. (10) Ratzinger himself defended the declaration, appealing to the need to root any theological discourse firmly in recognized positions of faith. (11) In a serious discussion seeking common ground among dissenting traditions, the person in dialogue does not have the right to change the position of the tradition he or she represents.

Next, I would like to show that the difficulty of "Dominus Iesus" (along with many other "internal" Roman Catholic Church documents) lies deeper than tone or timing. The value of this document--as well as the C.D.F.'s role as "watchdog"--is severely muted by a difficulty in its particular theological method, its "curial style" (12)--a method stressing precise definition and logical deduction, one characteristic of legal reflection. I would like to propose that the subject matter of this declaration requires that the theologian adopt a dialectical approach in which the initiating paradoxes are carefully articulated and maintained and in which the resulting conclusions or reconciliations remain couched in poetic intuition, with the resulting difficulty of determining which related positions are compatible or incompatible with the reconciliation and which positions are orthodox or heretical. This examination, I believe, may give some insight about both flaws in the declaration and real possibilities of future su ccessful ecumenical and interfaith studies involving Catholic theologians.

I. Reflections on Method: The Legal Logic of "Dominus Iesus"

While many parts of the declaration resist facile classification, on the whole "Dominus Iesus" is a good example of theology seeking a unified position. Considering the various christological and ecclesiological positions, it is asking and answering the question, "Who is right? …

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