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The Catholic Church and Other Religions


Pope Francis speaks to Jewish rabbi in Rome.

The following was a college essay written by Joseph Tuttle. It has been edited and approved by Mary Boneno. If you have a Theology essay that you would like published that received a grade of an A- or higher, please be sure to contact us.

By Joseph Tuttle, Benedictine College

One of the greatest missions of the Catholic Church is inter-religious dialogue. Inter-religious dialogue is “directed at mutual understanding and enrichment, in obedience to truth and respect for freedom” (Dialogue and Proclamation, 9). In this essay, I will discuss the attitude we should take for inter-religious dialogue and how we should view other religions and their beliefs.

I would like to begin by defining the two types of Divine Revelation. The first is cosmic revelation, which has two categories. The first of these categories is natural revelation, which is when one simply looks around at the natural world and can tell something about God based on reason. The second is revelation through the human heart. Take for instance St. Augustine’s quote, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, O Lord.” This describes every human’s inward longing for God.

The second type of Divine Revelation is historical revelation. Historical revelation can be defined as God entering into history to reveal Himself to us. This revelation is seen in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.

Here it should be stated that cosmic revelation is non-propositional, whereas historical revelation is propositional. In other words, “a proposition is a statement that expresses a judgment by making a definite affirmation or negation. The doctrines of the Church, whether by belief or morals, are expressed by, or reducible to, propositions. They are categorical propositions because they make absolute and not merely hypothetical statements about what they affirm or deny” (Hardon, 446). Therefore, historical revelation conveys the truth about God.

There are three different attitudes that one can have toward inter-religious dialogue. The first attitude is Exclusivism, which says that there is no revelation outside of Christianity, and that no one can be saved outside of Christianity. Jan Van Wiele gives a splendid definition: “By ‘exclusivistic’ I mean the model that sees Christianity as holding the exclusive monopoly on truth and salvation” (Wiele, 781).

The second attitude is Inclusivism, which says that other religions have cosmic revelation, but not historical. It also says that non-Christians can be included in the saving work of Christ: “By ‘inclusivistic’ I mean the inter-religious model that recognizes other religions as possibly possessing partial truth and a certain possibility of salvation, on the condition that Jesus Christ functions as the norm and constitutive element of such truth and salvation” (Wiele, 781).

The third attitude is Pluralism which says that there is a plurality of historical revelation and that everybody is saved. It is a belief that God has entered into history many times, and that no single religion gives a complete image of God. Therefore, pluralists believe that multiple religions and a plurality of belief are necessary and good.

Out of these three attitudes, exclusivism was previously believed to be the Catholic Church’s stance on non-Christian religions. “In contemporary theological and historical literature, the majority of authors hold that exclusivism was the dominant interreligious paradigm in the Catholic Church prior to Vatican II, while a minority of authors hold that inclusivism was the dominant paradigm” (Wiele, 781). Although the language of certain textbooks used to teach Catholics was veritably harsh, it was meant to fight indifferentism, which says that one’s personal religion does not matter. However, the Catholic Church was and is inclusivistic, as we will see later on.

The Jansenist heresy was one of the main contributing elements to the exclusivistic belief. They disagreed with St. Robert Bellarmine, S.J., when he said that “people to whom the Gospel has not yet been preached can know through creatures that God exists, and can then be moved by God’s prevenient grace to believe that God exists and rewards those who seek him, and from such faith they can be further led to God directing them and helping them, to prayer and works of charity and in this way they can obtain, through prayer, a greater light of faith” (The Roman Catechism, 1566). Needless to say, Popes Alexander VIII and Clement XI condemned the Jansenist exclusivist position saying “it is condemned to say ‘Pagans, Jews, and others of this sort do not receive in any way any influence from Jesus Christ, and so you will rightly infer from this that in them there is a bare and weak will without any sufficient grace’” (DS, 2305). This shows that the Church was in fact inclusivistic, and it even condemned those who were exclusivistic.

The best possible attitude toward non-Christian religions is inclusivism. In Nostra Aetate, the Church states: “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.” 

Now a few concepts must be understood in order to grasp the Church’s view on inclusivism. The first idea is that of Jesus Christ’s role in the salvation of mankind. The Church teaches that Jesus is the mediator and universal redeemer. This means that “God desires to call all peoples to himself in Christ, and communicate to them the fullness of his revelation and love” (Dominus Iesus, 8).

The second concept is the Church’s role in the salvation of mankind. “With the coming of the Savior Jesus Christ, God has willed that the Church founded by him be the instrument for the salvation of all humanity…. Indeed, the Church, guided by charity and respect for freedom, must be primarily committed to proclaiming to all people the truth definitively revealed by the Lord, and to announcing the necessity of conversion to Jesus Christ and of adherence to the Church through Baptism and the other sacraments, in order to participate fully in communion with God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit” (Dominus Iesus, 22). Therefore, the Church’s ongoing mission is to bring those other religions who have a part of the truth to the fullness of truth revealed in Jesus Christ.

Inter-religious dialogue is in fact a method of evangelization. Now, it must be stated here that dialogue is different from proclamation. Proclamation “is the communication of the Gospel message, the mystery of salvation realized by God for all in Jesus Christ by the power of the Spirit” (Dialogue and Proclamation, 10). Dialogue seeks to value other people for who they are and relate to them in a deeply personal way. In order to have a fruitful dialogue, we should be open and receptive, yet not to the point of giving away our Christian identity. We need to have a positive evaluation of other religions and a sincere desire to bring others to Christ.

There are many “fruits” of dialogue. “In dialogue, Christians and others are invited to deepen their religious commitment, and to respond with increasing sincerity to God’s personal call and gracious self-gift” (Dialogue and Proclamation, 40). Many believe that in the course of dialogue, one’s faith would weaken, but the opposite happens: “Far from weakening their own faith, true dialogue will deepen it…Their faith will gain new dimensions as they discover the active  presence of the mystery of Jesus Christ beyond the visible boundaries of the Church and the Christian fold” (Dialogue and Proclamation, 50). In the end, dialogue is motivated by love of Christ and a willingness to share our faith with others while aiming at “banishing fear and aggressiveness” (Dialogue and Proclamation, 83).

References

Hardon, J. A. (2000). Modern Catholic Dictionary. Eternal Life Publications.

Dominus Iesus. (2000). Vatican Website. http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20000806_dominus-iesus_en.html

Dialogue and Proclamation: (1991). Vatican Website. http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/interelg/documents/rc_pc_interelg_doc_19051991_dialogue-and-proclamatio_en.html

Nostra aetate. (1965). Vatican Website. http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decl_19651028_nostra-aetate_en.html

Wiele, J. V. (2007)   Neo-Thomism and the Theology Of Religions: A Case Study on Belgian and U.S. Textbooks (1870–1950). http://cdn.theologicalstudies.net/68/68.4/68.4.3.pdf 

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