Sunday, March 11, 2007

Interreligious Dialogue?

For some, my meditation this week may seem to contradict how the Scriptures speak about salvation, especially understood in light of passages like the following: "There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved." (Acts 4.12, NRSV). But does it? Let me place the quotation in the context of the article it came from, and then make a few brief comments.

"Remarkable is the greater openness of the Catholic Church towards people of other religious traditions and persuasions. The development has not been without problems, since some people have resisted it and others have pushed openness beyond the desirable point."

Cardinal Arinze, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue at the Vatican, offered reflections on how the Church sees herself and other religions, and "whether a friendly attitude towards other religions undermines the necessity of preaching Jesus Christ or puts Catholic identity at risk."

"With reference to other religions, the Church sees a great difference between them and herself," Cardinal Arinze said. "The other religions are expressions of the human soul seeking God, with some beautiful spiritual insights, but also not without errors. Christianity is rather God seeking humanity." Noting that "Vatican II declares the Church ... as necessary for salvation," the former bishop of Onitsha, Nigeria, added that people who do not know Christ are nevertheless included in God's plan of salvation.

"There are, however, conditions. They must be sincere in their seeking of God. They must be open to the secret but real action of the holy Spirit in them. They should follow their conscience in all matters of right and wrong." A human's religious response to God should be free, he said, a principle the Church has not always respected. But he also said, "To say that every individual has the right to religious freedom is not to condone religious indifferentism or irresponsibility, nor is it to promote the installation of a supermarket of religions."

Like language, architecture and local customs, Cardinal Arinze said, "Religion is one dimension of culture, a transcendent element of it." Thus the Church encourages "inculturation" of the Gospel, embracing the positive elements of each culture while challenging the negative ones. And, in the last analysis, the Church also encourages interreligious dialogue. "The answer is that interreligious dialogue, properly understood and faithfully carried out, helps to show how complementary this element is to proclamation and how the Catholic Church is committed to both."

I'd like to hear your reaction about this quote and this teaching of the Catholic Church, if you have the time. It is a teaching that is easily misunderstood and pushed too far (Universalism comes to mind) or too quickly resisted, as Cardinal Arinze himself notes in the first paragraph of the article. It does, however, reveal some fascinating thinking about God - views that have emerged in emerging circles, some of which go to that Beyond the Desirable Point that Arinze mentions and some that fit quite comfortably within Catholic teaching.

What is this particular teaching of the Catholic Church not saying? It is not saying that Christ or His Church is unnecessary in the plan of salvation (John 14, and certainly we must also take into consideration the implication of Romans 1 and St Paul's teaching on natural revelation). Just the opposite, in fact. The Fathers always speak of the necessity of the Church in the plan of salvation, even saying, "Outside the Church there is no salvation" (St Cyprian). The Catechism restates this belief positively: "All salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church, which is His Body." Sections 847 and 848 of the Catechism say the following:

"This affirmation [Outside the Church there is no salvation] is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:

Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation.

"Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men."

The Catechism then proceeds to begin speaking of the Church's missionary mandate.

The question, it seems to me, is what effect did Christ's sacrifice have on this world? Not, "Not a bit, because of Limited Atonement." (Some have resisted it.) Not, "All are saved because of his sacrifice." (Some push it beyond a desirable point.) But, "Christ has redeemed the world, but not all are saved." And while I'm not keen on splitting connotational hairs, that's where I am right now. And I believe that it is true to the story of the scriptures (John 1.29). What that means for interreligious dialogue, and the question of who God will save, is, I imagine, all part of the conversation.

St Alphonsus Ligouri's Stations, Station 12: Jesus Dies Upon the Cross

V: We adore You, O Christ, and we praise You. (Genuflect)

R: Because, by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world. (Rise)

V: Consider how Your Jesus, after three hours of agony on the cross, is finally overwhelmed with suffering and, abandoning Himself to the weight of His body, bows His head and dies. (Kneel)

R: My dying Jesus, / I devoutly kiss the cross on which You would die for love of me. / I deserve, because of my sins, to die a terrible death; / but Your death is my hope. / By the merits of Your death, / give me the grace to die embracing Your feet and burning with love of You. / I yield my soul into Your hands. / I love You with my whole heart. / I am sorry that I have offended You. / Never let me offend You again. / Grant that I may love You always; and then do with me as You will.

(Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be.)

Let me mingle tears with thee
Mourning Him who mourned for me,
All the days that I may live.

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