Okay, my friend just responded to my prior little piece on "It's Not So Much What I Think that Matters, It's More What Christ Wants That Matters
." In responding to her email, I decided to just pull some random points out of that response into a little makeshift piece of fairly random thoughts about what the Church has to say about how she relates to other religions. (I apologize ahead of time for how out-of-place the Abraham section seems, but I think it is helpful information in understanding the Church's position.)The Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate)
It's important to note the Vatican II document
on The Relation of the Church to Non Christian Religions: Nostra Aetate
, because it forms the basis of the Catholic Church's approach to other religions today. It's a relatively short, simple, and I dare say interesting Vatican II document
which shows the Church's approach to other religions today. Note that "other religions" in this document does not mean other Christians (e.g. Orthodox and Protestants) denominations. This was partly at the request of non-Catholic Christians that attended Vatican II as observers, and partly because it just makes sense. (If you truly want to know what the Second Vatican Council had to say about the Church's approach to non-Catholic Christians, you will have to read both the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium)
and the Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio)
. And for a more recent view, you'd probably want to read Pope John Paul II's "On Commitment to Ecumenism (Ut Unum Sint)
Allow me to switch gears and (relatively briefly) address Abraham
, as he is significant in understanding the Church's approach to other religions:
1) Christians, Muslims, and Jews all point to Abraham as their patriarch; 2) Abraham was around long before Islam, before Christianity, even before Judaism; and 3) this is what was said to Abraham (Genesis 22:16
"[The Lord] said: 'I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you [Abraham] acted as you did in not withholding from me your beloved son [Isaac], I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore; your descendants shall take possession of the gates of their enemies, and in your descendants all the nations of the earth shall find blessing--all this because you obeyed my command.'"
So, there is a strong belief amongst Christians, Jews, and Muslims that this last bit is going to happen: God will bless all the nations through the descendants of Abraham. There are, of course, varying theories as to how this will happen. The general Christian idea is that Jesus (whom God, like Abraham towards Isaac, did not withhold as his only beloved son) is the one who brings blessings to all mankind.
I'm getting deeper than I intended, but let me make two key points here:
1) If you look at the New Testament with regards to Gentiles (which simply means "non Jews"), you see constant statements about how the Gentiles and the Jews can both be saved through Jesus. This is because Jesus is seen as the one who opens blessings to all mankind. This is also why you see John Paul II saying so much in defense of Jews and even asking for pardon
, because Pope John Paul II and others believe (in the fullness of time), there will be an ultimate unification of Jews and Gentiles into the kingdom of God; that is, into the Church. In fact, this has already happened somewhat, from the beginning of the Church. From the beginning, Peter and the other apostles preached to Jews (and to Gentiles), whereas Paul, though himself a Jew, focused his preaching on the Gentiles (and indeed their cause). Both Jews and Gentiles entered the Church and continue to do so.
2) I hesitate to bother to say this second point, because it's getting even more theologically deep and that is not my intention. But what is also interesting is how in the very first verse in the book of Matthew and thus the Church (cf. Dean P. Bechard's The Scripture Documents
) would say in the first verse of the four gospels: "The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham." The desire here is for the author (Matthew) to show that Jesus is the the descendant promised to both Abraham (for the salvation of all) and to David for: Jesus is the one who blesses all the nations (as per God's covenant with Abraham) and the promised King (as per God's covenant with David). Matthew is ripe with examples of what the Kingdom of God will look like.Jesus Christ, The Truth, is Not Opposed to:
"The Spirit Blows Where the Spirit Wills (John 3:8)"
Back to other religions: our departure point in the Church and indeed our experience in the world is that there are many different types people around the world, of many different religions. So, if Jesus is to bless all nations, what's the point of being a Christian at all? This is a bit of a quandary. After all, I do believe what my favorite priest says so often: "the [Holy] Spirit blows where the Spirit wills (John 3:8
; cf. footnote 4
)." And yet I cannot deny that Jesus is "the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6
)." So how can we reconcile these seemingly opposed ideas?
Pope Benedict XVI says: "We live on Truth. This Truth is a Person
." And thus, we have the answer to Pontius Pilate's
question to Jesus that many of us ask every day: "What is truth? (John 18:37-38
)" And we understand Who--not merely what--the Holy Spirit is sowing when the Holy Spirit sows Truth in men around the world.
More clearly stated: The Holy Spirit is sowing Christ in the hearts of men and women around the world. And it is through Him, through the Truth, that all shall be set free: "Jesus then said to those Jews who believed in him, 'If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples,
and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.' (John 8:31-32
; cf. John 1:1
)" And it is for this reason that Nostra Aetate
The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these [other] religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men."Tolerance" seems to be the word of our era
. But note that the Church's position is more than mere tolerance, her position is "sincere reverence." For what? For reflections of the Truth; that is, for reflections of Christ. (Note that the Church certainly does not revere--nor tolerate--anything contrary to the Truth, that is, contrary to Christ.)How Does Christ Bless The Nations?
But how will Christ bless even those who reject Him in His very essence? For example, how will Christ save those of other religions who reject Him outright? Or if you prefer, how will Christ save those who reject one or more aspects of who He is and what He did on the cross? Well, there is another Second Vatican Council document
that addresses this (though not primarily). In #7, Ad Gentes
God, "who wishes all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, Himself a man, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself as a ransom for all" (1 Tim. 2:45), "neither is there salvation in any other" (Acts 4:12). Therefore, all must be converted to Him, made known by the Church's preaching, and all must be incorporated into Him by baptism and into the Church which is His body. For Christ Himself "by stressing in express language the necessity of faith and baptism (cf. Mark 16:16; John 3:5), at the same time confirmed the necessity of the Church, into which men enter by baptism, as by a door. Therefore those men cannot be saved, who though aware that God, through Jesus Christ founded the Church as something necessary, still do not wish to enter into it, or to persevere in it." Therefore though God in ways known to Himself can lead those inculpably ignorant of the Gospel to find that faith without which it is impossible to please Him (Heb. 11:6), yet a necessity lies upon the Church (1 Cor. 9:16), and at the same time a sacred duty, to preach the Gospel. And hence missionary activity today as always retains its power and necessity.
Nearly every sentence is important here, and I recommend re-reading it (now). This statement of the Vatican II Council Fathers makes it very clear that the Church (that is, all Christians) have a sacred duty to preach the Gospel, though "God in ways known to himself can lead those inculpably ignorant of the Gospel." Furthermore, the Church recognizes that those that are inculpably gnorant of the Gospel--and indeed all--are judged by God Himself (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7
).So, Where Does This Leave us?
As frustrating as the answer may be, the Church humbly states that she does know how God leads "those inculpably ignorant of the Gospel." But this ought not be frustrating, for this is good news. It is good news to know that God does lead others outside his visible Church to Himself. It is good news to know that "the Spirit blows where the Spirit wills, (John 3:8
)." And at the same time, it is good news to know that there is no inherent contradiction, for though many do not know His name, it is ultimately Christ that blesses all. After all, "there is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved. (Acts 4:12