Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Rehabilitating Truth

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Rehabilitating Truth

Article excerpt


MAY A RELIGION other than Christianity serve as a means of salvation? May salvation be separated from the work of Jesus Christ? What may properly be said about faithful non-Christians' relation to God? How does the Church's demand for evangelization of non-Christians square with its demand for serious dialogue among religions? What is the meaning of interreligious prayer?

In Truth and Tolerance, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has gathered thirteen of his previously published essays on these vexed questions in the theology of religions. Mostly from the 1990s, with Ratzinger's more recent comments and elaborations added, the essays are a clear, cogent, and historically learned restatement of fundamental orthodoxy on the questions raised by religious diversity.

The decade from 1992 to 2002 was one in which the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith-and hence also its prefect-gave a good deal of public attention to the theology of religions. There were a number of theologians providing unorthodox answers to the questions of religious diversity, and correcting them played much the same role in the work of the congregation in these years as correcting the work of some liberation theologians had done in the two preceding decades.

And then, in 2000, the declaration Dominus Iesus was proclaimed by the congregation with the pope's ratification certa scientia et auctoritate sua apostolica (which is to say with his certain knowledge and apostolic authority, which makes it for Catholics a weighty document). Its central concern-and there seems little doubt that Ratzinger had more of a hand in its composition than anyone else-was exactly to refute inappropriately pluralistic theologies with a robust statement of the central claims of christological and ecclesiological orthodoxy: the unique and complete salvific significance of the incarnation, passion, and resurrection of Jesus; the close unity of the salvific work of the incarnate Logos with that of the Holy Spirit; the profound intimacy between the Church of Christ and the visible and hierarchically ordered Catholic Church in full communion with the Bishop of Rome; and the necessity of preserving both the Church's evangelical mission to bring the gospel to all and its imperative to engage in serious dialogue with the religious other.

The promulgation of Dominas Iesus was met, as Cardinal Ratzinger notes in Truth and Tolerance, with a "cry of outrage from modern society, but also from great non-Christian cultures such as India: This was said to be a document of intolerance and of a religious arrogance that should have no more place in the world of today." There was also (and this is not discussed in the book) criticism of Dominus Iesus from within the hierarchy. At least two cardinals, Edward Cassidy, then president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and Walter Kasper, the current president, publicly distanced themselves in strong terms from the document.

The controversy, which continues, centered around three issues. The first was the declaration's strong-in the eyes of some, hectoring and triumphalist-language. The second was the effect on intra-Christian ecumenism, for even though this was not the document's major concern, enough was said to make it seem that the pope's demonstrated concern for Christian unity was being undercut. And the third was the question of whether Dominus Iesus (and by extension Cardinal Ratzinger) meant to apply its strictures to the Jewish people and their unbroken covenant with God.

Given this tense and conflicted context, this collection of Ratzinger's work-which was published in German and Italian in 2003 and now appears in English-is timely and important. It holds to the line of Dominus Iesus, but the more relaxed and expansive form of a discursive theological essay (not that Ratzinger's style should exactly be described as relaxed) makes clear what is at issue between Ratzinger and the critics of Dominus Iesm. …

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