Continuing with our special Countdown to Synod 2010 series . . .
In chapter two of his book Church: Living Communion, Paul Lakeland focuses on ten challenges that the Church today must address. Six of the ten challenges are internal issues: questions of identity and institutional commitment, authority, the roles of women in the Church, and patterns of ministry. The remaining four issues are concerned with how we think of mission and what sort of public face the Church should present to the world. One of these four external issues or challenges is religious pluralism. The question Lakeland seeks to address is: How can the Church grow into an ecumenical relationship with other great religious traditions of the world?
In order to grasp the critical issues in the discussion of religious pluralism we must have a good understanding of the document Dominus Jesus as cited by Lakeland. On August 6, 2000 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) issued a declaration entitled Dominus Jesus that led to many disagreements about the interpretation of the Catholic Church’s relationship with other faiths and with other Christian Churches. The document gave rise to debates ranging over relations between the Church universal and individual churches, not least other Christian communions, matters of interfaith relations, questions concerning the realities of pluralism, and matters of ecclesial authority and governance.
Dominus Jesus appeared to set further explicit and definitive limits to what actually enables a community to be called a church. Certain aspects central to the Catholic faith are discussed: the uniqueness of salvation brought about through God’s incarnation in Christ; the place of the Catholic Church in God’s plan of salvation; and particular questions relating to religious and ecclesiological pluralism.
Upon closer review the prime target of Dominus Jesus was religious “relativism,” which the CDF believed to be a standpoint that tends to perceive all religions as equally valid paths toward salvation. Consequently, we see a shift in focus – from dialogue as noted in the documents of Vatican II – back to evangelization. The document sought to challenge a “false concept of tolerance” in the field of religious pluralism. Hence Dominus Jesus was concerned with attacking relativistic tendencies, that is, viewing all paths to salvation, even those calling themselves “Christian,” as equally valid and beneficial for their adherents. Relativistic theories endangered the Church’s constant missionary proclamation by seeking to justify religious pluralism. Such is the thinking of the CDF under the leadership of then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
After reading the pages in Lakeland’s book on religious pluralism we think there is a real need to acknowledge that Jesus is the “true” but “not the only” bearer of God’s salvation. (See Paul Knitter: The Transformation of Mission in the Pluralist Paradigm.) We think there is a need to re-evaluate this Christological problem within the framework of an estimation of the place of Jesus Christ among other religions. This type of thinking results from the constellation of cultural factors called postmodernity.
Rather than considering in detail some of the negative currents of postmodernity that would form the framework of understanding here, it would be better to look at the positive side of postmodernity and the reception of religious pluralism. Many theologians have passed beyond the tolerance of other religions to a positive appreciation of the religious treasures they contain. They see a breaking down of barriers between people that used to be thought impenetrable. Pluralist theologians do not advocate the reduction of all religions to only one, but they look for commonalities, for the development toward a unification of people, for an ontological unity of humanity. We need to recognize that the universal love of God that is experienced by Christians is, as it were, manifested in the other religions. (See Roger Haight: Jesus, Symbol of God.)
In closing we would now like to quote Paul Lakeland as he describes the role and work of today’s theologians in explaining religious pluralism:
The problem for the teaching Church is that while it wants to treat world religions exactly as we have just described them, and most of the time these days it succeeds, it has to deal with its own and does a poor job understanding the ecclesial role of the theologian. The Church cherishes, proclaims, and lives by divine revelation. The theologian tries to understand. A theologian works liminally, that is, as a kind of frontier person, on the boundaries between what we know and what we do not know. No theologian, any more than any Church leader, can produce new revelation, but it is the theologians’s role in the Church to explore the boundaries of what can be said. It is the role of the teaching authority in the Church to determine, eventually, which of these liminal explorations are consistent with revelation and which are not. And just as the theologian has to respect the tradition and explore it faithfully, so the bishop has to practice patience. Theology is a kind of foraging or scouting expedition into unknown territory, and it cannot be rushed. A theologian carries maps and guides and sends reports back home from stages along the way, but the theologian is not really sure where she or he will end up. Some explorations will result in dead ends, and some will be abandoned. But sometimes you get to the right place by following a more circuitous route than those with direct pastoral concerns find easy to understand. On the other hand, theologians do occasionally need to remind themselves that the objective of their work is a fuller appreciation of the Gospel for the whole community of faith, not just their professional confreres. (p. 110)
Tomorrow we look at Challenge 9: The Church and Political Life.
See also the previous PCV posts
The First Challenge: Identity and Commitment
The Second Challenge: Ministry - Ordained and Lay
The Third Challenge: The Roles of Women in the Church
The Fourth Challenge: Church Teaching and Individual Conscience
The Fifth Challenge: The Religious Formation of the Young
The Sixth Challenge: The Scandal of Sexual Abuse
The Seventh Challenge: Ecumenism
Theologian and author Paul Lakeland will be the keynote speaker at the Catholic Coalition for Church reform's September 18 Synod of the Baptized: "Claiming Our Place at the Table." For more information about this event and to register, click here.