Cardinal Dulles examines controversial Vatican document



CHARLESTON — Cardinal Avery Dulles, one of the pre-eminent theologians in America, spoke at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist the evening of Sept. 28 concerning a recent Vatican document warning against concessions to religious pluralism in the church.

The topic of his speech, Dominus Iesus: In the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church, was published in September of 2000 and was signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Cardinal Dulles said that Dominus Iesus has prompted more negative reaction than any other such document in recent history and that Protestants said the text failed to take into account the past 35 years of ecumenical developments.

“The document was released in commemoration of the jubilee and was an admonition against opinions of certain theologians,” said the cardinal. “The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) does not purport to break new ground. It’s a restating of previous documents and a mosaic of sayings from Vatican II and Pope John Paul II.”

Cardinal Dulles explained that some critics said Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was pursuing his own agenda, but he noted that Pope John Paul II approved the document before publication.

The first three chapters of Dominus Iesus focus on Christ, and the last three chapters discuss the church. Cardinal Dulles gave an overview of each.

In chapter one, he said the role of Christ as the mediator for all revelation is explored. “The Scriptures are inspired by God. Dominus Iesus says other books can transmit a ray of truth, but the only inspired books are Old and New Testaments. Hebrew Scriptures are divinely given texts in preparation for Christ’s coming.”

In chapter two, the doctrine of redemption and salvation is examined. “All salvific declarations are done in unity with Jesus Christ, the one mediator-man,” said Cardinal Dulles.

In chapter three, Dominus Iesus denies that other religions are divinely inspired, adding that they are “gravely deficient.” But, the cardinal said, “God can make himself inspired to people through these religions. Dominus Iesus does not deny that other religions have some salvific power. It leaves open to speculation that non-Christian religions are open to the mediatoral role in Christ.”

In chapter four, the document states that Christ and the church constitute the single mystery necessary for salvation.

“Jesus himself founded the church, and the founding of the church took place in stages. The church is and always must be one. The CDF goes on to assert that this church subsists in the Roman Catholic community. Subsists in that the church exists fully in the Catholic Church and nowhere else,” Cardinal Dulles said.

“Dominus Iesus states that whatever grace is present in other churches is present because of the Catholic Church,” said the cardinal. “Other churches that have retained much of the apostolic heritage are blessed much.”

A two-fold mission to announce the kingdom of Christ and to inaugurate it to all people is discussed in chapter five. “Dominus Iesus leaves room for the church-kingdom relationship. Pope John Paul II denies Christ can be separated from the church, and the church has the task of communicating that to the world,” Cardinal Dulles explained.

The church and salvation are highlighted in chapter six. “Vatican II states that the church is the universal sacrament of salvation. The church is used as an instrument for the redemption of all,” the cardinal said. “It is the will of God that all shall come to truth of Christ in God.”

Bishop Robert J. Baker, following the cardinal’s talk, suggested that Dominus Iesus effects the perspective that the church is one, una Sancta ecclesia. “In that perspective we see ourselves as that one church in relation to other communities. Dominus Iesus is corrective of certain errors. There are limits that not ought be crossed. The church is confident of possessing structures that Christ gave to his church. But we have a great deal to learn how to live out the Gospel more perfectly from other religious communities, who reflect back to us like a mirror the challenges of Christ, some of which as Catholics we may not be living out as we should. The doctrines of Christ in his church need to be lived. We believe that sacraments are a benefit and a blessing. The more we can put that into practice in our lives, the holier we will be.”

In taking questions from the audience, Cardinal Dulles said that current dialogue is trying to build on elements of communion that already exist. But, he cautioned, “There is a tendency not to say what we think will be offensive. Problems are swept under the rug. That is a tendency that should be avoided. It’s very shortsided.”

He closed by saying that through Dominus Iesus, Pope John Paul II does not mean to obstruct dialogue, but simply to solidify its basis.

“In the nature of dialogue, the ideal is for all to present their richest treasures and receive from others’ abundance to their capacity,” Cardinal Dulles said. “Dominus Iesus is meant to guide Catholics in dialogue and statements, and it’s a declaration that’s both timely and required.”