A reflection on standpoints the Apostolic Declaration Dominus Iesus, written on occasion of its 10th anniversary
Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith, handed in the Declaration Dominus Iesus to the Holy Father for his approval ten years ago. Now as Pope, he once again raises the banner rallying Catholics to defend the important role the Church plays for all of humanity. Being that the document’s content are dense and theological, we shall present the crisis it faces today, underlining its urgent message, that Dominus Iesus, Jesus is Lord!
Problem 1: One may find in multiple choices surveys various options under religion: Jewish, Buddhist, Muslims …Atheist, Agnostic! How is it that today we can categorize atheism and agnosticism as a religion? I thought atheism by definition meant belief in no God and that the agnostics were those that state God might exist yet it is impossible for man to know anything of Him.
Is it licit to have on the same platform, equality and religious tolerance for those who don’t believe in God?
Problem 2: In another corner of the same alley, we have religion as only a cultural reality. For example, Christianity is one of the many ways man has expressed his religious totem. They say, “Christianity is a product of the Western civilization. Therefore it should not shun other cultural religious experiences such as the Buddhist totem of Krishna, nor the Tao nor the divine Tree.” (good grief!)
The fundamental problem here is that all men search for a meaning in life, some factor to order and direct his acts, some type of “salvation” as a reward for spiritual merits. Even the agnostics perceive their salvation coming from a coherent life according to their limited knowledge. “Sorry God, if you do exist I couldn’t have obeyed your commandments, for I am such a lowly creature to understand what you have to say.”
Summarizing our actual problem in two words let us call it salvation salad. All men search for a meaning in life and for a salvation, however it’s done in our own way, similar when preparing a salad dish.
“There’s no wrong way to make your salad salvation!”
To give a reasonable answer or solution, we must take a few steps back and analyze our concept of religion. The fact is the 20th century has been plagued with the dictatorship of relativism, resulting in flattening our man’s quest for salvation. Whether you believe in God (or not) no longer matters as long as it brings you closer to a generic eternal.
Warping the concept of Christianity into being one of the many religions, principally surged in the 19th century with Emile Durkheim’s conclusion after studying a number primitive religions. Skepticism, utilitarianism, and pragmatism were also contemporary modes of thoughts to comprehend new discoveries, scientific advances, and technology, promoted especially in philosophy of John Dewey and William James. Our result is a mentality of reduction and a simplification of reality to what works. Applying this mentality to Christianity we thus cancel 18 hundred years of its history and reduce it to a pragmatic personal means of salvation. Great! Go and confess you sins to a tree! If a Church document on contraception doesn’t work for you, don’t put it into your salvation salad!
This perception of Christianity may solve a few problems, such as corruption in some clergy members, but does a great injustice to its authentic meaning. Here is where we present the full title of the Apostolic Declaration, “Dominus Iesus, on the Unicity and the Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church.” Make no mistake; it states Jesus Christ and the Church as the only means of salvation.
To affirm something of this manner is radical and may be considered an obstacle for dialogue between religions. However Christianity carries as its essential characteristic one specific difference: Jesus Christ, God himself founded the Church and His Spirit lives in it. Christianity is the only religion where God himself is the founder and its sustaining force.
To illustrate in a simple way these numbers (16 and 17) of the Apostolic Declaration, we will resort to a work of art, namely a plaque in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Down the hallway toward the sacristy there is a large marble slate on the right side titled, SUMMI PONTIFICES IN HAC BASILICA SEPULTI, Latin for, “high pontiffs buried in this basilica.”
Not only does the glossy marble, framed with gold-tinted bronze seize your attention, but also the extensive list of names and dates is astonishing, making clear that it has been around for 2000 years. However running through the names Peter, Gregory the Great, Urban II, Alexander VI, John Paul II, one experiences a bittersweet sensation toward the Church. This mingling sensation surges while comparing the Church’s dark and weak side to its positive side. We compare the dark ages of the Popes, the Crusades, Inquisition, Protestant Reformation … to the stirring fact that over 1/3 are canonized or beatified, considering the Catholic Renaissance, to them being promoters of the 1st universities hospitals, codes of human rights …
How is it that after so many centuries, this institute still remains standing after passing through numerous dark and bright contrasts? Why have the Romans or the Egyptians ceased to flourish in culture while the Church remains still standing? Is it only due to the capable men leading the Church? No. There’s only one reason: God Himself.
Make no mistake; it is His Church and it will remain firm. It will remain One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic just as it has for 2,000 years regardless of weak men who may have administered it carelessly. And He will bring it to the plenitude of salvation. For he is Dominus Iesus, the Lord Jesus Are you willing to be a part of it?
The Apostolic Declaration concludes inviting us to root out both religious indifferentism and religious relativism through an authentic Witness of Christ. By name we are called Catholic, meaning Universal; this is our mission. Break all boundaries and all barriers; Be not afraid, “I will be with you (the Church), until the end of time!” (Lk 28:20)
Brother Jason Huynh, LC is a seminarian at the Regina Apostolorum University in Rome. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.