An Overdue Reminder That Not All Is Relative
Catholicism offers something no other church does. It's reassuring to know the hierarchy in Rome believes that
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This story originally appeared on Beliefnet in 2000
The Vatican has issued a document, written by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, reasserting that salvation is available only through Jesus Christ, and that "only in the Catholic Church" does the church that Christ founded continue to "exist fully."
The document, "Dominus Iesus" ("Lord Jesus"), does not contain anything that has not been said before. In fact, it consists mainly of quotations from earlier Vatican documents that made the same points. Nonetheless, it has upset the usual critics and church-watchers. Their position seems to be that the Catholic Church is acceptable as long as it keeps a low profile and doesn't make any special claims for itself as the preeminent institution of salvation.
My own feeling is that some such statement from Rome was overdue. The church has been so beset by papal apologies, endless dialogues, and ecumenical appeals that some of us had begun to wonder whether the hierarchy in Rome believed there was anything special about the church they governed. It's reassuring to be reminded that they do.
The other side's disappointment was well captured by the president of the Methodist Evangelical Churches of Italy, who was quoted by the Washington Post: "It's a jump backwards in terms of ecumenism and with dialogues with other religions," he said. "There is nothing new about this, but we had hoped they had taken another road. This is a return to the past."
If you are going to run a religion, in a world of many religions, you had better believe that yours is special. Because if you think there's a better one out there, you might as well close up your shop and join it. If the leaders of a faith are not themselves filled with conviction that they possess the truth to a greater degree than anyone else, their followers won't be, either. There are plenty of non-Christian true believers out there. In a world of timid leadership, the converts and the young will be attracted to those who do believe in the righteousness of their cause. That is why Muslim mosques are being built all over Europe as attendance at Christian churches declines drastically.