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The study of the theme "Christianity and the World Religions" was adopted for study by a large majority of the members of the International Theological Commission. To prepare this study a subcommission was established composed of Bishop Norbert Strotmann Hoppe, M.S.C.; Rev. Barthelemy Adoukonou; Rev. Jean Corbon; Rev. Mario de Franca Miranda, S.J.; Rev. Ivan Golub; Rev. Tadahiko Iwashima, S.J.; Rev. Luis F. Ladaria, S.J. (president); Rev. Hermann J. Pottmeyer; and Rev. Andrzej Szostek, M.I.C. General discussion on this theme took place during several meetings of the subcommission and in the plenary sessions of the International Theological Commission held at Rome in 1993, 1994 and 1995. The present text was approved "in forma specifica" by vote of the commission on 30 September 1996 and was submitted to its president, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, who has given his approval for its publication.


1. The question of the relations among religions is becoming daily more important. Various factors contribute to the current interest in this problem. There is above all the increasing interdependence among the different parts of the world, which can be seen at various levels: For example, an ever greater number of people in most countries have access to information; migrations are far from being a thing of the past; and modern technology and industry have given rise to exchanges among many countries in a way that was formerly unknown. These factors, of course, affect the various continents and countries differently, but to some extent or other all parts of the world are touched by them.

2. These factors of communication and interdependence among the different peoples and cultures have brought about a greater Consciousness of the plurality of religions on the planet, with the dangers and at the same time the opportunities this implies. Despite secularization, the religious sense of the people of our time has not disappeared. The different phenomena which reflect this religious sense are well known despite the crisis affecting the great religions, each in different measure.

The importance of the religious dimension in human life and the increasing encounters among people and cultures make interreligious dialogue necessary. In view of the problems and needs affecting humanity, there is a need to seek enlightenment about the meaning of life and to bring about common action for peace and justice in the world. Christianity does not in fact and cannot remain on the margins of this encounter and consequent dialogue among religions. If the latter have sometimes been and still can be factors of division and conflict among peoples, it is to be desired that in our world they should appear in the eyes of all as elements of peace and unity. Christianity has to contribute toward making this possible.

3. For this dialogue to be fruitful, Christianity, and specifically the Catholic Church, must try to clarify how religions are to be evaluated theologically. On this evaluation will depend to a great extent the relation between Christians and the different religions and their followers, and the subsequent dialogue which will be established with them in different forms. The principal object of the following reflections is to work out some theological principles which may help in this evaluation. In proposing these principles we are clearly aware that many questions are still open and require further investigation and discussion. Before setting out these principles, we believe it is necessary to trace the fundamental lines of the current theological debate. Against this background the proposals which will be subsequently formulated will be better understood.


1.1. Object, Method and Aim

4. The theology of religions does not yet have a clearly defined epistemological status. This fact constitutes one of the reasons governing the current discussion. In Catholic theology prior to Vatican II one can find two lines of thought relating to the problem of the salvific value of religions.

One, represented by Jean Danielou, Henri de Lubac and others, considers that religions are based on the covenant with Noah, a cosmic covenant involving God's revelation in nature and conscience and which is different from the covenant with Abraham. Insofar as they uphold the contents of this covenant, religions have positive values but, as such, they do not have salvific value. They are "stepping-stones to hope" (pierres d'attente), but also "stumbling blocks" (pierres d'achoppement) because of sin. In themselves they go from man to God. Only in Christ and in his Church do they reach their final and definitive fulfillment.

The other line, represented by Karl Rahner, affirms that the offer of grace in the present order of things reaches all men and that they have a vague, even if not necessarily conscious awareness of its action and its light. Given that man is by nature a social being, religions, insofar as they are social expressions of the relation of man with God, help their followers to receive the grace of Christ (fides implicita) which is necessary for salvation, and to be open in this way to love of neighbor which Jesus identified with the love of God. In this sense they can have salvific value even though they contain elements of ignorance, sin and corruption.

5. At the present time the demand for a greater knowledge of each religion is gaining ground; this is necessary before a theology of it can be worked out. Very different elements are involved in the origin and scope of each religious tradition. Hence theological reflection must be limited to a consideration of concrete, well-defined phenomena if sweeping a priori judgments are to be avoided. Thus some advocate a theology of the history of religions; others take into consideration the historical evolution of religions, their respective characteristics which are at times mutually incompatible; others recognize the importance of the phenomenological and historical material that relates to each religion, without however discounting the value of the deductive method; still others refuse to give any blanket positive recognition to religions.

6. In an age which values dialogue, mutual comprehension and tolerance, it is natural that there should appear attempts to work out a theology of religions on the basis of criteria acceptable to all, that is to say, which are not exclusive to any one particular religious tradition. For that reason the conditions for interreligious dialogue and the fundamental presuppositions of a Christian theology of religions are not always clearly distinguished. To avoid dogmatism, external models are sought which are supposed to allow one to evaluate the truth of a religion. Efforts made in this direction are not finally convincing. If theology is fides quaerens intellectum, it is not clear how one can abandon the "dogmatic principle" or reflect theologically if one dispenses with one's own sources of truth.

7. In this situation, a Christian theology of religions is faced with different tasks. In the first place Christianity will have to try to understand and evaluate itself in the context of a plurality of religions; it will have to think specifically about the truth and the universality to which it lays claim. In the second place it will have to seek the meaning, function and specific value of religions in the overall history of salvation. Finally, Christian theology will have to study and examine religions themselves, with their very specific contents, and confront them with the contents of the Christian faith. For that reason it is necessary to establish criteria which will permit a critical discussion of this material and a hermeneutics for interpreting it.

1.2. Discussion on the Salvific Value of Religions

8. The fundamental question is this: Do religions mediate salvation to their members? There are those who give a negative reply to this question; even more, some do not even see any sense in raising it. Others give an affirmative response, which in turn gives rise to other questions: Are such mediations of salvation autonomous or do they convey the salvation of Jesus Christ? It is a question therefore of defining the status of Christianity and of religions as sociocultural realities in their relation to human salvation. This question should not be confused with that of the salvation of individuals, Christian or otherwise. Due account has not always been taken of this distinction.

9. Many attempts have been made to classify the different theological positions adopted toward this problem. Let us see some of these classifications: Christ against religions, in religions, above religions, beside religions. An ecclesiocentric universe or exclusive Christology; a Christocentric universe or inclusive Christology; a theocentric universe with a normative Christology; a theocentric universe with a non-normative Christology. Some theologians adopt the tripartite division exclusivism, inclusivism, pluralism, which is seen as parallel to another: ecclesiocentrism, Christocentrism, theocentrism. Given that we have to choose one of these classifications in order to continue our reflection, we will follow the latter, even though we might complement it with the others if necessary.

10. Exclusivist ecclesiocentrism—the fruit of a specific theological system or of a mistaken understanding of the phrase extra ecclesiam nulla salus—is no longer defended by Catholic theologians after the clear statements of Pius XII and Vatican Council II on the possibility of salvation for those who do not belong visibly to the Church (cf, e.g., LG 16; GS 22).

11. Christocentrism accepts that salvation may occur in religions, but it denies them any autonomy in salvation on account of the uniqueness and universality of the salvation that comes from Jesus Christ. This position is undoubtedly the one most commonly held by Catholic theologians, even though there are differences among them. It attempts to reconcile the universal salvific will of God with the fact that all find their fulfillment as human beings within a cultural tradition that has in the corresponding religion its highest expression and its ultimate foundation.

12. Theocentrism claims to be a way of going beyond Christocentrism, a paradigm shift, a Copernican revolution. This position springs, among other reasons, from a certain bad conscience over the way missionary activity in the past was linked with the politics of colonialism, even though sometimes the heroism that accompanied the work of evangelization is forgotten. It tries to acknowledge the riches of religions and the moral witness of their members, and, as a final concern, it aims at facilitating the unity of all religions in order to encourage joint work for peace and justice in the world.

We can distinguish a theocentrism in which Jesus Christ, without being constitutive of, is considered normative for salvation, and another theocentrism in which not even this normative value is recognized in Jesus Christ. In the first case, without denying that others may also mediate salvation, Jesus Christ is acknowledged as the mediator who best expresses it; the love of God is revealed most clearly in his person and in his actions, and thus he is the paradigm for the other mediators. But without him we would not remain without salvation, only without its most perfect manifestation.

In the second case Jesus Christ is not considered either as constitutive of nor as normative for human salvation. God is transcendent and incomprehensible, so that we cannot judge his intentions with our human modes of understanding. Thus we, can neither evaluate nor compare the different religious systems. Soteriocentrism radicalizes even further the theocentric position, since it is less interested in the question of Jesus Christ (orthodoxy) than in the actual commitment each religion makes to aid suffering humanity (orthopraxis). In this way the value of religions lies in promoting the kingdom, salvation and the well-being of humanity. This position can thus be characterized as pragmatic and immanentist.

1.3. The Question of Truth

13. The problem of the truth of religions underlies this whole discussion. Today one can see a tendency to relegate it to a secondary level, separating it from reflection on the salvific value of religions. The question of truth gives rise to serious problems of a theoretical and practical order, since in the past it had negative consequences in interreligious encounters. Hence the tendency to ease or privatize this problem with the assertion that criteria of truth are only valid for each individual religion.

Some introduce a more existential notion of truth, taking only the correct moral conduct of the person into consideration and discounting the fact that his or her beliefs may be condemned. A certain confusion is produced between being in salvation and being in the truth. One should take more account of the Christian perspective of salvation as truth and of being in the truth as salvation. The omission of discourse about truth leads to the superficial identification of all religions, emptying them basically of their salvific potential. To assert that all are true is equivalent to declaring that all are false. To sacrifice the question of truth is incompatible with the Christian vision.

14. The epistemological conception underlying the pluralist position uses the Kantian distinction between noumenon and phenomenon. Since God, or ultimate Reality, is transcendent and inaccessible to man, he will only be able to be experienced as a phenomenon expressed by culturally conditioned images and notions; this explains why different representations of the same reality are not a priori necessarily mutually exclusive. The question of truth is relativized still further with the introduction of the concept of mythological truth, which does not imply any correspondence with a reality but simply awakens in the subject a disposition corresponding to what has been enunciated. Nevertheless it must be noted that such contrasting expressions of the noumenon in fact end up dissolving it, obliterating the meaning of the mythological truth. Underlying this whole problematic is also a conception which separates the Transcendent, the Mystery, the Absolute radically from its representations; since the latter are all relative because they are imperfect and inadequate, they cannot make any exclusive claims in the question of truth.

15. A criterion for the truth of a religion which is to be accepted by the other religions must be located outside the religion itself. The search for this criterion is a serious task for theological reflection. Certain theologians avoid Christian terms in speaking of God (Eternal One, Ultimate Reality, the Real) or in designating correct behavior (Reality-centeredness and not self-centeredness). But one can see that such expressions either manifest a dependence on a specific tradition (Christian) or they become so abstract that they cease to be useful.

Recourse to the humanum is not convincing because with it one is dealing with a merely phenomenological criterion, which would make the theology of religions dependent on the anthropology dominant in any particular age. It is also said that one must consider as the true religion that which best succeeds either in reconciling finitude, the provisional and changeable nature of its own self-understanding, with the infinitude to which it points, or in reducing to unity (power of integration) the plurality of experiences of reality and of religious conceptions.

1.4. The Question of God

16. The pluralist position aims at eliminating from Christianity any claim to exclusivity or superiority in relation to other religions. For this reason it must assert that the ultimate reality of the different religions is identical, and at the same time relativize the Christian conception of God in its dogmatic and binding form. In this way it distinguishes between God as he is in himself, inaccessible to man, and God as he is revealed in human experience. Images of God are constituted by the experience of transcendence and by the particular sociocultural context. These images are not God, but they point accurately toward him; this can be also said of the nonpersonal representations of the divinity. In consequence, none of them can be considered as exclusively valid.

Hence it follows that all religions are relative not in that they merely point toward the Absolute, but in their positive expressions and in their omissions. Since there is only one God and one plan of salvation, which is the same for all humanity, the expressions of religion are interconnected and mutually complementary. As the Mystery is universally active and present, none of its manifestations can claim to be the ultimate and definitive one. In this way the question of God is intimately bound up with the question of revelation.

17. The phenomenon of prayer which is found in the various religions is also related to the same question. Is it, in short, the same addressee who is invoked in the prayers of the faithful under different names? Divinities and religious powers, personified forces of nature, life and society, psychic or mythical projections—do they all represent the same reality? Is one not taking here an unwarranted step from a subjective attitude to an objective judgment? A polytheistic prayer may be directed to the true God, since a salvific act may occur through an erroneous mediation. But this does not mean that this religious mediation is objectively recognized as a salvific mediation, although it does mean that this authentic prayer was enkindled by the Holy Spirit (Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, "Dialogue and Proclamation: Reflections and Orientations on Interreligious Dialogue and the Proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ" [1991], 27).

1.5. The Christological Debate

18. Behind the theological problematic which we have just looked at, the Christological question which we shall now tackle has always been present. They are intimately interrelated. We treat them separately because of the complexity of the problem. Christianity's major difficulty has always been focused on the "incarnation of God", which confers on the person and action of Jesus Christ the characteristics of uniqueness and universality with respect to the salvation of humanity. How can a particular historical event lay claim to universal relevance? How can one enter into an inter-religious dialogue, respecting all religions and not considering them in advance as imperfect and inferior, if we recognize in Jesus Christ and only in him the unique and universal savior of mankind? Could one not conceive of the person and salvific action of God starting from other mediators as well as Jesus Christ?

19. The Christological problem is essentially bound up with that of the salvific value of religions to which we have already referred. We shall focus here a little more on the study of the Christological consequences of the theocentric positions. One consequence of the latter is salvific theo-centrism so-called, which accepts a pluralism of legitimate and true salvific mediations. Within this position, as we already observed, a group of theologians attributes a normative value to Jesus Christ, since his person and life reveal God's love for men in the clearest and most decisive way. The major difficulty with this conception is that it does not offer, either from within or from outside Christianity, any foundation for this normative role which is attributed to Jesus.

20. Another group of theologians defends a salvific theocentrism with a non-normative Christology To break the link between Christ and God deprives Christianity of any universalist claim about salvation (and thus authentic dialogue with other religions would be made possible), but by implication one would then have to confront the Church's faith and specifically the dogma of Chalcedon. These theologians consider that the latter, as an expression of the Church's faith historically conditioned by Greek philosophy, must be updated because it is hindering interreligious dialogue. The meaning of the incarnation in this view is not objective, but metaphorical, poetic and mythological. It aims only to express the love of God which is incarnate in men and women whose lives reflect the action of God. Assertions of the exclusive salvific meaning of Jesus Christ can be explained in terms of the historico-cultural context: classical culture (only one certain and immutable truth), eschatologico-apocalyptic mentality (final prophet, definitive revelation) and the attitude of a minority (language of survival, only one savior).

21. The most important consequence of this conception is that Jesus Christ cannot be considered to be the unique, exclusive mediator. Only for Christians is he the human form of God, who makes possible in an adequate way man's encounter with God, although without any claim to exclusivity. He is totus Deus because he is the active love of God on this earth, but he is not totum Dei since he does not exhaust in himself the love of God. We could also say: Totum Verbum, sed non totum Verbi. The Logos, being greater than Jesus, can be incarnate also in the founders of other religions.

22. This same problematic crops up again when one asserts that Jesus is Christ, but Christ is more than Jesus. This greatly facilitates an understanding of the universal active presence of the Logos in other religions. But the New Testament texts do not conceive of the Logos of God in isolation from Jesus. Another way of arguing along these lines consists in attributing to the Holy Spirit the universal salvific action of God, which would not necessarily lead to faith in Jesus Christ.

1.6. Mission and Interreligious Dialogue

23. The different positions adopted toward religions give rise to diverse ways of understanding the Church's missionary activity and interreligious dialogue. If religions are simply roads to salvation (pluralist position), then conversion ceases to be the primary object of mission, since the important thing is that each one, encouraged by the witness of others, should live profoundly his or her faith.

24. The inclusivist position no longer considers mission as a task undertaken to prevent the damnation of those who have not been evangelized (exclusivist position). Even while acknowledging the universal action of the Holy Spirit, it observes that the latter, in the economy of salvation willed by God, possesses an incarnational dynamic that leads it to express and objectify itself. In this way the proclamation of the word brings this very dynamic to its full realization. In placing man before a radical decision, it is not simply providing a way of interpreting transcendence, but it is its greatest realization. The announcement and explicit acceptance of faith increases the possibilities of salvation and also personal responsibility. Moreover, mission is today considered as a task directed not only to individuals, but above all to peoples and cultures.

25. Interreligious dialogue is based theologically either on the common origin of all human beings created in God's image, or on their common destiny which is the fullness of life in God, or on the single divine plan of salvation through Jesus Christ, or on the active presence of the divine Spirit among the followers of other religious traditions ("Dialogue and Proclamation", 28). The presence of the Spirit does not occur in the same way in the biblical tradition and in the other religions because Jesus Christ is the fullness of revelation. But different experiences and perceptions, expressions and understandings, coming perhaps from the same "transcendental event", increase greatly the value of interreligious dialogue. Precisely through it the very process of interpretation and understanding of God s salvific action can unfold.

26. "A faith which has not become inculturated is a faith which has not been fully received, which has not been completely thought through, which has not been faithfully lived." These words of John Paul II in a letter to the papal secretary of state (20 May 1982) show clearly the importance of the inculturation of faith. It is recognized that religion is the heart of all culture as the last court of appeal on the question of meaning and as the fundamental structuring force. Hence the inculturation of faith cannot ignore the encounter with religions, which should take place above all through interreligious dialogue.1


27. The preceding status quaestionis has shown how the different approaches to the theology of religions and to their salvific value depend to a great extent on the view which is taken of the universal salvific will of God the Father, to whom the New Testament attributes the initiative for salvation, the unique mediation of Christ, the universality of the action of the Holy Spirit and his relation to Jesus, the function of the Church as the universal sacrament of salvation. The reply to the questions posed requires some brief reflection on these fundamental theological issues.

II. 1. The Father's Initiative in Salvation

28. Only in the light of the divine plan of salvation for mankind, which knows no frontiers of peoples or races, does it make sense to approach the problem of the theology of religions. The God who wishes to save all is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The plan of salvation in Christ precedes the creation of the world (cf Eph 1:3—10) and is realized with the sending of Jesus into the world, proof of the infinite love and tenderness which the Father has for humanity (cf. Jn 3:16—17; 1 Jn 4:9—10; etc.). This love of God goes as far as "handing over" Christ to death for the salvation of mankind and the reconciliation of the world (cf. Rom 5:8-11; 8:3; 32; 2 Cor 5:18-19; etc.). The fatherhood of God, which in general in the New Testament is bound up with faith in Jesus, is seen in more comprehensive perspectives in some passages (cf. Eph 3:14—15; 4:6). God is God of Jews and gentiles (cf. Rom 3:29). Gods salvation, which is Jesus, is offered to all nations (cf. Lk 2:30; 3:6; Acts 28:28).

29. The Father's initiative in salvation is affirmed in First John 4:14: "The Father has sent his Son as the savior of the world." God, "the Father, from whom are all things" (1 Cor 8:6), is the origin of the work of salvation realized by Christ. The title savior, with which Christ is frequently named (cf. Lk 2:11; Jn 4:42; Acts 5:31; etc.) is applied first to God in some New Testament writings (cf. 1 Tim 1:1; 2:3; 4:10; Tit 1:3; 2:10; 3:4; Jude 25), without its being on that account denied to Christ (cf. Tit 1:4; 2:13; 3:6). According to First Timothy 2:3-4, "God our savior ... desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." The salvific will knows no restrictions, but is always united to the desire that men should recognize the truth, that is to say, should adhere to the faith (cf. 1 Tim 4:10, God is "the savior of all men, especially of those who believe"). This salvific will, therefore, should in consequence be proclaimed. It is bound up, on the other hand, with Christ's unique mediation (cf. 1 Tim 2:5—6), to which we will refer in a moment.

30. God the Father is at the same time the goal toward which everything is heading. The ultimate end of God's creative and saving action will be realized when all things have been made subject to the Son; "then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be everything to everyone" (1 Cor 15:28).

31. The Old Testament already has some prefiguration of this universality which will be fully revealed only in Christ. All men, without exception, have been created in the image and likeness of God (cf. Gen l:26f; 9:6); given that in the New Testament the image of God is Christ (2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15), it is possible to think of all men as being determined toward conformity with Christ. God s covenant with Noah embraces all the living beings of the earth (cf. Gen 9:9, 12, 17f). In Abraham "all the families of the earth shall bless themselves" (Gen 12:3; cf. 18:18); this blessing for all comes also through the descendants of Abraham, because of the latter's obedience (cf. Gen 22:17-18; 26:4-5; 28:14). The God of Israel was recognized as such by some foreigners (cf. Josh 2; 1 Kings 10:1-13; 17:17-24; 2 Kings 5:1-27).

In second and third Isaiah one also finds texts which make reference to the salvation of the nations in the context of the salvation of the people of Israel (cf Is 42:1— 4; 49:6—8; 66:18—21; etc., the offerings of the nations will be accepted by God just like the offerings of the Israelites; also Ps 86; 47:10, "the princes of the nations are united to the people of the God of Abraham")- It is a question of a universality which has Israel as its center. Wisdom also is directed to all without distinction of peoples or races (cf. Prv 1:20-23; 8:2-11; Wis 6:1-10, 21; etc.).

II. 2. The Unique Mediation of Jesus

A. Some New Testament Themes

32. We have already pointed out that God the Fathers salvific will is linked to faith in Jesus. He is the only one in whom the saving plan is realized: " There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). That salvation is attained only through faith in Jesus is a constant affirmation in the New Testament. Precisely those who believe in Christ are the true descendants of Abraham (cf. Rom 9:6-7; Gal 3:29; Jn 8:31-58; Lk 1:55). The blessing of all in Abraham finds its meaning in the blessing of all in Christ.

33. According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus felt that he had been sent especially to the people of Israel (Mt 15:24; cf. Mt 10:5-6). These assertions correspond to Matthew's characteristic presentation of the history of salvation: The history of Israel is directed toward its fulfillment in Christ (cf. Mt 1:22-23; 2:5-6, 15, 17-18, 23), and the perfection of the divine promises will be achieved when heaven and earth have passed away and all has been fulfilled (cf. Mt 5:18).

This fulfillment has already begun in the eschatological events of Christ's death (cf. Mt 27:51-53) and resurrection (cf. Mt 28:2-4). But Jesus does not exclude the gentiles from salvation: He praises the faith of some of them, which is not found in Israel (cf. Mt 8:10; Lk 7:9, the centurion; Mt 15:21—28; Mk 7:24—30, the Syrophoenician woman); they will come from the East and the West to sit at table in the kingdom while the children of the kingdom will be thrown outside (Mt 8:11—12; Lk 13:18— 29; cf. 11:20-24).

Jesus, raised from the dead, gives the eleven disciples a universal mission (cf. Mt 28:16-20; Mk 16:15-18; Acts 1:8). The early Church soon begins the mission to the gentiles, by divine inspiration (Acts 10:34). In Christ there is no difference between Jews and gentiles (Gal 4:24; Col 3:11).

34. In the first instance, the universality of the saving work of Jesus is based on the fact that his message and his offer of salvation are directed to all human beings, and all can welcome it and receive it in faith. But in the New Testament Ave find other texts which appear to show that the significance of Jesus goes further, that in some way it is prior to the reception of his message on the part of the faithful.

35. We should note above all that all that exists has been made through Christ (cf. 1 Cor 8:6; 1: 3—10; Heb 1:2). According to Colossians 1:15—20, everything has been created in him and through him, and everything is moving toward him. This same text shows that this causal role of Christ in creation is related to his saving mediation, toward which creation is directed. Jesus is the firstborn of creation and the firstborn from among the dead; in being the firstborn from among the dead, the fact that Jesus is the firstborn of creation seems to attain its full meaning. The recapitulation of everything in Christ is the ultimate intention of God the Father (cf. Eph 1:10). In this universal recapitulation the special role of Christ in the Church stands out: "He has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all" (Eph 1:22—23; cf. Col 1:17). The Pauline parallelism between Adam and Christ (cf. 1 Cor 15:20-22, 44—49; Rom 5:12-21) seems to point in an identical direction. If the first Adam has a universal relevance as the first man and the first sinner, Christ also must have a salvific significance for all, even though the terms of this significance are. not clearly spelled out. The vocation of every human being, who now bears the image of the earthly Adam, is to become an image of the heavenly Adam.

36. "[The Word] was the true light which, in coming into the world, enlightens all men" (Jn 1:9).2 It is Jesus, as the Logos incarnate, who enlightens all men. The Logos has already carried out the role of mediator in creation, not without reference to the future incarnation and salvation, and therefore Jesus comes to his own, who do not receive him (cf. Jn 1:3—4, 10, 11). Jesus announces that God is to be worshipped in spirit and in truth. This worship goes beyond Jerusalem and Mount Gerizim (cf. Jn 4:21—24) and is recognized by the confession of the Samaritans: "This is indeed the savior of the world" (Jn 4:42).

37. The unique mediation of Jesus Christ is connected with the universal salvific will of God in First Timothy 2:5—6: "There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all." The uniqueness of the mediator (cf also Heb 8:6; 9:15; 12:24) corresponds to the uniqueness of the God, who desires the salvation of all. The only mediator is the man Christ Jesus; what is at stake here is also the universal significance of Jesus as the Son of God incarnate. He is the mediator between God and men because he is the Son, become man, who has given himself up to death as a ransom for all.

38. In Paul’s discourse on the Areopagus (Acts 17:22—31) it comes across clearly that conversion to Christ implies a break with the past. Religions have in fact led men to idolatry. But at the same time the authenticity of a philosophical search is acknowledged, which even if it has not attained knowledge of the true God was nevertheless not on a completely wrong track. The groping search for God corresponds to the designs of providence; it too, apparently, must have positive aspects. Is there also a relation to the God of Jesus Christ before conversion (cf. Acts 10:34)? The New Testament does not have a closed attitude toward everything that does not come from faith in Christ; this openness can extend also to religious values (cf. Phil 4:8).

39. The New Testament shows us at once the universality of the salvific will of God and the link between salvation and the redemptive work of Christ Jesus, the only mediator. Human beings attain salvation in recognizing and accepting in faith Jesus the Son of God. This message is directed to all without exception. But some passages seem to suggest that Jesus has a salvific significance for each human being which may apply even to those who do not know him. The New Testament message is not compatible with any limiting of the salvific will of God, or with admitting mediations parallel to that of Jesus or with attributing this universal mediation to the eternal Logos in isolation from Jesus.

B. Motifs from the Tradition Cited in Recent Statements of the Church's Magisterium

40. The universal significance of Christ has been expressed in different ways in the Church's tradition from the earliest times. We have selected some themes that have found an echo in the recent documents of the magisterium, especially in Vatican Council II.

41. The semina verbi, "seeds of the word", can be found outside the limits of the visible Church and specifically in the different religions; this motif is frequently combined with that of the light which enlightens all men and with that of the preparation for the Gospel (AG 11, 15; LG 16, 17; NA 2; Redemptoris missio, 56).

42. The theology of the seeds of the word stems from Saint Justin Martyr. Faced with the polytheism of the Greek world, Justin sees in philosophy an ally of Christianity since it has followed reason; now this reason is found in its totality only in Jesus Christ, the Logos in person. Only Christians know the Logos in its entirety.3 But the whole human race has participated in this Logos. Hence from the beginning there have been those who have lived in accordance with the Logos, and in this sense there have been "Christians" even though the knowledge they have had of the seminal Logos has only been partial.4 There is a great difference between the seed of something and the thing itself. But in any case the partial and seminal presence of the Logos is a gift and a divine grace. The Logos is the power of these "seeds of truth".5

43. For Clement of Alexandria, man is rational to the extent that he participates in the Logos, the true reason that governs the universe. He has full access to this reason if he is converted and follows Jesus, the Logos incarnate.6 With the incarnation, the world has been filled with seeds of salvation.7 But God has been sowing since the beginning of time, so that different parts of the truth are to be found among the Greeks and among the barbarians, especially in philosophy considered in its totality,8 even though alongside the truth there has been darnel as well.9 Philosophy has had for the Greeks a function similar to that of the law for the Hebrews; it has been a preparation for the fullness of Christ.10 But there is a clear difference between the action of God in these philosophers and in the Old Testament. On the other hand, only in Jesus, the light which enlightens every man, can one contemplate the perfect Logos, the whole truth. The fragments of truth belong to the whole.11

44. Justin and Clement are at one in pointing out that these fragments of the total truth known to the Greeks come, in part at least, from Moses and the prophets. The latter are older than the philosophers.12 According to the plans of providence, the Greeks "stole" from them, for they were incapable of thanking for what they had received.13 This knowledge of the truth is therefore not unrelated to the historical revelation which will find its fullness in the incarnation of Jesus.

45. Irenaeus makes no direct use of the idea of the seeds of the word. But he stresses very much that at all moments in history the Logos has been close to human beings, has accompanied them, in view of the incarnation;14with the incarnation, Jesus, in bringing himself, has brought all newness. Salvation is tied therefore to the appearance of Jesus, even though this appearance had already been announced and its effects in a certain sense anticipated.15

46. The Son of God has united himself to every man (cf. GS 22; Redemptoris missio, 6, among many other places). The idea is repeated frequently in the fathers, who take their inspiration from some passages in the New Testament.

One of the passages which gave rise to this interpretation is the parable of the lost sheep (cf. Mt 18:12-24; Lk 15:1-7): The latter is identified with the erring human race, which Jesus has come to seek out. In assuming human nature, the Son has placed all of humanity on his shoulders to present it to the Father. Gregory of Nyssa expresses himself thus:

"We human beings are this sheep.... The Savior takes the whole sheep on his shoulders, for ... since it had been entirely lost, it had to be led back in its entirety. The shepherd carries it on his shoulders, that is to say, on his divinity.... Having taken this sheep upon himself, he makes it one with himself"16 John 1:14, "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us", has also been interpreted on not a few occasions in the sense of dwelling "within us", that is to say, within each person; from the idea of his being in us one can go easily to that of our being in him.17 Containing us all in himself, he can reconcile us all with God the Father.18 In his glorified humanity we can all find resurrection and rest.19

47. The fathers do not forget that this union of human beings in the body of Christ is brought about above all in baptism and the eucharist. But the union of all in Christ through his assuming our nature constitutes an objective presupposition on the basis of which the believer grows in personal union with Jesus. The universal significance of Christ is also revealed for the early Christians in the fact that he liberates man from the princes of this world, who keep him imprisoned in his own particular and national interests.20

48. The Christological dimension of the image [of God]. According to Vatican Council II, Jesus is the "perfect man"; in following him man becomes more human (GS 41; cf. ibid., 22, 38, 45). Moreover the council indicates that only "in mysterio Verbi incarnati mysterium hominis vere darescit" (ibid., 22). Among other bases for this affirmation, a passage in Tertullian is mentioned according to which, in molding Adam from the clay of the earth, God was already thinking of Christ, who was to become incarnate.21 Irenaeus had already pointed out that the Word, the universal architect, had prefigured in Adam the future economy of salvation for humanity, which humanity he himself was to take on.22 Even though the patristic interpretations of the "image of God" are very varied, one cannot dismiss this current of thought, which sees in the Son who is to become incarnate (and is to die and rise from the dead) the model according to which God made the first man. If man's destiny is to bear the image of the heavenly man (1 Cor 15:49) it does not appear mistaken to think that in every man there must be a certain internal disposition toward this end.

C. Conclusions

49. a. Only in Jesus can human beings be saved, and therefore Christianity has an evident claim to universality. The Christian message is directed consequently to all human beings and has to be announced to all.

b. Some texts from the New Testament and from the oldest Christian tradition hint that Christ has a universal significance which is not reducible to that which we have just mentioned. With his coming into the world, Jesus enlightens every human being; he is the final and definitive Adam to whom all are called to be conformed, etc. The idea of the universal presence of Jesus is found, worked out in somewhat more detail, in the ancient doctrine of the logos spermatikos. But even there a clear distinction is drawn between the full appearance of the Logos in Jesus and the presence of the seeds of the Logos in those who do not know him. This presence, which is real, excludes neither error nor contradiction.23 Because of Jesus' coming into the world, and above all because of his death and resurrection, the ultimate meaning of the closeness of the Word to all human beings can be understood. Jesus leads all of history toward its fulfillment (cf. GS 10, 45).

c. If salvation is bound up with the historical appearance of Jesus, personal adherence to him in faith cannot be a matter of indifference for anyone. Only in the Church, which is in historical continuity with Jesus, can his mystery be fully lived out. Hence the inescapable necessity for the Church of announcing Christ.

d. Other possibilities of salvific "mediation" cannot be seen in isolation from the man Jesus, the only mediator. It will be more difficult to determine how human beings who do not know Jesus and other religions are related to Jesus. Mention should be made of the mysterious ways of the Spirit, who gives to all the possibility of being associated with the paschal mystery (GS 22) and whose work cannot be without reference to Christ (Redemptoris missio, 29). The question of the salvific value of religions as such must be situated in the context of the universal active presence of the Spirit of Christ.

e. Since Jesus is the only mediator, who carries out the saving plan of the one God the Father, salvation is one and the same for all human beings: full conformity to Jesus and communion with him in participation in his divine sonship. Consequently one must rule out the existence of different economies of salvation for those who believe in Jesus and those who do not believe in him. There can be no roads leading to God that do not converge in the only road which is Christ (cf. Jn 14:6).

II. 3. The Universality of the Holy Spirit

50. The universality of the salvific action of Christ cannot be understood without the universal action of the Holy Spirit. An initial element of this universality of the work of the Holy Spirit is already found in creation. The Old Testament shows us the Spirit of God hovering over the waters (Gen 1:2). And the book of Wisdom (1:7) points out that "the spirit of the Lord fills the world, is all-embracing and knows what man says."

51. If this can be said of the whole universe, it is especially true of man, created in the image and likeness of God, according to Genesis 1:26—27. God makes man so that he, God, may be present in him, may dwell in him, to look on him with good will, to be joined to him, to be his friend. Thus we can speak of an original friendship, an amicitia originate, of man with God and of God with man (Council of Trent, Session 6, Ch. 7, Denzinger-Schönmetzer [DS] 1528) as a fruit of the action of the Spirit. Life in general—and man's in particular—is placed in a more or less explicit relationship with the Spirit of God in various places in the Old Testament (cf. Ps 104:29-30; Job 34:4-15; Eccl 12:7). John Paul II links the creation of man in the image of God and in divine friendship to the communication of the Spirit (cf. Dominum et vivificantem, 12, 34).

52. The tragedy of sin is this: Instead of closeness between God and man, there is a distance. The spirit of darkness presents God as man's enemy, as a threat (cf. Gen 3:4—5; Dominum et vivificantem, 38). But God has drawn close to man through the different covenants of which the Old Testament speaks. From the beginning, the "image and likeness" signifies a capacity for personal relationship with God and therefore the capacity for a covenant. Thus God gradually drew close to men through the different covenants with Noah (cf. Gen 7:1ff.), with Abraham and with Moses, with whom God made himself a friend (Jas 2:23; Ex 33:11).

53. In the new covenant God drew so close to man that he sent his own Son into the world, becoming incarnate through the action of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary. The new covenant, in contrast to the old, is not of the letter but of the Spirit (2 Cor 3:6). It is the new and universal covenant, the covenant of the universality of the Spirit. Universality means versus unum, toward one. The word spirit means movement, and this movement includes the "toward", the direction. The Spirit is called dynamis (power) (Acts 1:8) and dynamis includes the possibility of a direction. From the words of Jesus about the Spirit, the Paraclete, one can conclude that the "to be toward" is a reference to Jesus.

54. The tight bond between the Spirit and Christ is shown in the anointing of Jesus. Jesus Christ means precisely: Jesus is the anointed of God with the ointment of the Spirit: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; therefore he has anointed me" (Lk 4:18; Is 61:1—2). God has anointed Jesus "with the Holy Spirit and with power", and thus he "went about doing good works and healing all who were in the grip of the devil"' (Acts 10:38). As Irenaeus said:

"In the name of Christ one can understand him who anoints, him who is anointed and the very anointing with which he is anointed. He who anoints is the Father, the anointed is the Son, and the Spirit is the unction or the anointing. As the Word says through Isaiah: 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me' (Is 61:1—2), signifying the Father who anoints, the Son who is anointed, and the unction which is the Spirit.”24

55. The universality of the covenant of the Spirit is therefore that of the covenant in Jesus. He has offered himself to the Father through the eternal Spirit (Heb 9:14), in whom he has been anointed. This anointing is extended to the whole Christ, to the Christians anointed by the Spirit and to the Church. Ignatius of Antioch already indicated that Jesus received the anointing "in order to breathe incorruption into his Church".25 Jesus has been anointed in the Jordan, according to Irenaeus, "so that we might be saved upon receiving the abundance of his anointing."26 Gregory of Nyssa expressed this with a profound and beautiful image:

" The concept of the anointing suggests ... that there is no distance between the Son and the Spirit. In fact, just as between the surface of the body and the anointing of oil neither reason nor sense knows any intermediaries, so the contact of Son with the Spirit is equally immediate; therefore, he who is about to enter into contact with the Son through faith must of necessity enter beforehand into contact with the oil. Neither part lacks the Holy Spirit."27

The whole Christ includes all men in a certain way, because Christ has united himself to all men (GS 22). Jesus himself says: "As often as you did it for one of my least brothers, you did it for me" (Mt 25:40).

56. The Church is the privileged place for the action of the Spirit. In her, the body of Christ, the Spirit stirs up different gifts for the common good (cf. 1 Cor 12:4—11). The formula of Irenaeus is well known: "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is the Church, and where the Church is, there is the Spirit of the Lord and all grace."28 And Saint John Chrysostom: "If the Holy Spirit were not present, then the Church would not exist; if the Church exists, this is a clear sign of the presence of the Spirit."29

57. Some passages of the New Testament seem to insinuate the universal scope of the Spirit's action, always in relationship with the evangelizing mission of the Church, which must reach out to all men. The Holy Spirit precedes and guides the preaching; he is at the origin of the mission to the pagans (Acts 10:19, 44—47).

The overcoming of the sin of Babel will take place in the Spirit. There is a great contrast between the work of those who built the tower of Babel and the work of the Holy Spirit. Those who built the tower of Babel wanted to storm heaven, God's dwelling place, by their own powers. The Holy Spirit, who has descended from heaven as a gift, makes it possible to speak all languages and to hear, each in his own tongue, the wonderful works of God (cf. Acts 2:1—11).

The tower of Babel was an effort to achieve unity without universality: "Let us make a name for ourselves [a sign of unity]; otherwise we shall be scattered all over the earth" (Gen 11:4). Pentecost was the gift of universality in unity: "All were filled with the Holy Spirit. They began to express themselves in foreign tongues and make bold proclamation as the Spirit prompted them" (Acts 2:4). In the gift of the Spirit of Pentecost can be seen also the perfection of the covenant of Sinai (cf. Ex 19:1ff.), which thus turns out to be universal.

58. The gift of the Spirit is the gift of Jesus, who has been raised and ascended into heaven at the right hand of the Father (Acts 2:32; cf. Jn 14:15, 26; 15:26; 16:7; 20:22); this is a constant teaching in the New Testament. The resurrection of Jesus itself is realized through the intervention of the Spirit (cf. Rom 1:4; 8:11). The Holy Spirit is given to us as the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of the Son (cf. Rom 8:9; Gal 4:6; Phil 1:19; Acts 16:7). Therefore one cannot think about a universal action of the Spirit which is not related to a universal action of Jesus. The fathers did not hesitate to put this into relief.30

Only through the action of the Spirit can we men be conformed to the image of the risen Jesus, the new Adam, in whom man definitively acquires the dignity to which he has been called from the beginning: "All of us, gazing on the Lord's glory with unveiled faces, are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image by the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Cor 3:18). Man, who has been created in the image of God through the presence of the Spirit, is re-created in the image of God (or of Christ) because of the action of the Spirit. The Father is the painter; the Son is the model after whom man is painted; the Holy Spirit is the artist s brush used to paint man in creation and in redemption.

59. Thus the Holy Spirit leads to Christ. The Holy Spirit directs all men to Christ, the Anointed One. Christ, in his turn, directs all to the Father. No one comes to the Father save through Jesus, because he is the way (Jn 14:6), but it is the Holy Spirit who guides the disciples to the whole truth (Jn 16:12—13). The word he will guide (Greek: hodegesei) includes the way (Greek: hodos). The Holy Spirit guides therefore along the way that Jesus is, the way that leads to the Father. Consequently, no one can say "Jesus is Lord" save under the action of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3). And the name Paraclete, used by John, shows us that the Spirit is the advocate in the judgment which begins in Jerusalem and continues in history The Spirit, the Paraclete, will defend Jesus from the accusations made against him in the person of his disciples (cf. Jn 16:8—11). The Holy Spirit is thus the witness to Christ, and through him they are able to be disciples: "He will bear witness on my behalf. You must bear witness as well, for you have been with me from the beginning" (Jn 15:26-27).

60. The Spirit, therefore, is the gift of Jesus and leads to him, although the specific way that leads men is known only by God. Vatican II has clearly formulated this matter: "For since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to every man the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery" (GS 22). There is no sense in affirming a universality of the action of the Spirit which is not encountered in relationship with the meaning of Jesus, the incarnate Son, dead and risen. All men by virtue of the work of the Spirit can enter into relationship with Jesus, who lived, died and rose in a specific place and at a specific time. On the other hand, the action of the Spirit is not limited to the intimate and personal aspects of man but embraces also the social dimensions.

As John Paul II says, "This is the same Spirit who was at work in the Incarnation and in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and who is at work in the Church. He is therefore not an alternative to Christ, nor does he fill a sort of void which is sometimes suggested as existing between Christ and the Logos. Whatever the Spirit brings about in human hearts and in the history of peoples, in cultures and religions serves as a preparation for the Gospel and can only be understood in reference to Christ" (Redemptoris missio, 29).

61. The privileged sphere of the Spirit's action is the Church, the body of Christ. But all peoples are called, in different ways, to the unity of the people of God that the Spirit promotes: "This characteristic of universality which adorns the people of God is a gift from the Lord Himself. By reason of it, the Catholic Church strives constantly and with due effect to bring all humanity and all its possessions back to its source in Christ, with Him as its head and united in His Spirit.... All men are called to be part of this catholic unity of the people of God which in promoting universal peace presages it. And there belong to or are related to it in various ways, the Catholic faithful, all who believe in Christ, and indeed the whole of mankind, for all men are called by the grace of God to salvation" (LG 13). It is the very universality of the salvific action of Christ and of the Spirit that leads us to ask about the function of the Church as the universal sacrament of salvation.

II. 4. "The Church, the Universal Sacrament of Salvation"

62. It is not possible to develop a theology of the religions without taking into account the universal salvific mission of the Church, attested to by Holy Scripture and by the tradition of faith of the Church. A theological evaluation of the religions was impeded over a long time because of the principle extra ecclesiam nulla salus, understood in an exclusivist sense. With the doctrine about the Church as the universal sacrament of salvation or the sacrament of the kingdom of God, theology seeks to respond to the new way of posing the problem. This teaching, which was also welcomed by Vatican Council II, is linked to the sacramental vision of the Church in the New Testament.

63. The primary question today is not whether men can attain salvation even if they do not belong to the visible Catholic Church; this possibility is considered theologically certain. The plurality of religions, something increasingly evident to Christians, better knowledge of these religions and the necessary dialogue with them, without leaving until the end the clearer awareness of the spatial and temporal frontiers of the Church—all these considerations make us ask whether one can nonetheless speak about the necessity of the Church for salvation and about the compatibility of this principle with the universal salvific will of God.

A. "Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus"

64. Jesus linked the proclamation of the kingdom of God with his Church. After Jesus' death and resurrection, the reunion of the people of God, now in the name of Jesus Christ, took place. The Church of Jews and gentiles was understood as a work of God and as the community in which one experienced the action of the Lord exalted in the heavens and his Spirit. With faith in Jesus Christ, the universal mediator of salvation, was joined baptism in his name; this mediated participation in his redemptive death, pardon of sins and entrance into the community of salvation (cf. Mk 16:16; Jn 3:5). For this reason baptism is compared with the ark of salvation (1 Pet 3:20ff.). According to the New Testament, the necessity of the Church for salvation is based on the unique salvific mediation of Jesus.

65. One speaks of the necessity of the Church for salvation in two senses: the necessity of belonging to the Church for those who believe in Jesus and the necessity for salvation of the ministry of the Church which, on mission from God, must be at the service of the coming of the kingdom of God.

66. In his encyclical Mystici Corporis, Pius XII addresses the question, How are those who attain salvation outside visible communion with the Church related to her? He says that they are oriented to the mystical body of Christ by a yearning and desire of which they are not aware (DS 3821). The opposition of the American Jesuit Leonard Feeney, who insisted on the exclusivist interpretation of the expression extra ecclesiam nulla solus, afforded the occasion for the letter of the Holy Office, dated 8 August ,1949, to the archbishop of Boston, which rejected Feeney s interpretation and clarified the teaching of Pius XII. The letter distinguishes between the necessity of belonging to the Church for salvation (necessitas praecepti) and the necessity of the indispensable means of salvation (intrinseca necessitas); in relationship to the latter, the Church is a general help for salvation (DS 3867—69). In the case of invincible ignorance the implicit desire of belonging to the Church suffices; this desire will always be present when a man aspires to conform his will to that of God (DS 3870). But faith, in the sense of Hebrews 11:6, and love are always necessary with intrinsic necessity (DS 3872).

67. Vatican Council II makes its own the expression extra ecclesiam nulla salus. But in using it the council explicitly directs itself to Catholics and limits its validity to those who know the necessity of the Church for salvation. The council holds that the affirmation is based on the necessity of faith and of baptism affirmed by Christ (LG 14). In this way the council aligned itself in continuity with the teaching of Pius XII, but emphasized more clearly the original parenthentical character of this expression.

68. In contrast to Pius XII, the council refused to speak of a votum implicitum (implicit desire) and applied the concept of the votum only to the explicit desire of catechumens to belong to the Church (LG 14). With regard to non-Christians, it said that they are ordered in diverse ways to the people of God. In accord with the different ways with which the salvific will of God embraces non-Christians, the council distinguished four groups: first, Jews; second, Muslims; third, those who without fault are ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and do not know the Church but who search for God with a sincere heart and try to fulfill his will as known through conscience; fourth, those who without fault have not yet reached an express knowledge of God but who nonetheless try to lead a good life (LG 16).

69. The gifts which God offers all men for directing themselves to salvation are rooted, according to the council, in his universal salvific will (LG 2, 3, 26; AG 7). The fact that even non-Christians are ordered to the people of God is rooted in the fact that the universal call to salvation includes the vocation of all men to the catholic unity of the people of God (LG 13). The council holds that the close relationship of both vocations is rooted in the unique mediation of Christ, who in his body that is the Church makes himself present in our midst (LG 14).

70. Thus the original meaning is restored to the expression extra ecclesiam nulla salus, namely, that of exhorting the members of the Church to be faithful.31 Once this expression is integrated into the more universal extra Christum nulla salus, it is no longer in contradiction to the universal call of all men to salvation.

B. Paschali Mysterio Consociati

71. The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen gentium) speaks of a gradual ordering to the Church from the perspective of the universal call to salvation, which includes the call to the Church. But on the other hand the pastoral constitution Gaudium et spes opens up a wider Christological, pneumatological and soteriological perspective. What it says about Christians is also valid for all men of good will, in whose hearts grace works in an invisible way. They also can be associated with the paschal mystery through the Holy Spirit, and they can consequently be conformed to the death of Christ and be on the road to the encounter of the resurrection (GS 22).

72. When non-Christians, justified by means of the grace of God, are associated with the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ, they are also associated with the mystery of his body, which is the Church. The mystery of the Church in Christ is a dynamic reality in the Holy Spirit. Although the visible expression of belonging to the Church is lacking to this spiritual union, justified non-Christians are included in the Church, "the Mystical Body of Christ" and "a spiritual community" (LG 8). In this sense the fathers of the Church were able to say that justified non-Christians belong to the ecclesia ab Abel. While these are reunited in the universal Church joined to the Father (LG 2), those who certainly belong "to the body" but not "to the heart" of the Church because they do not persevere in love will not be saved (LG 14).

73. Therefore, one can speak not only in general of an ordering of justified non-Christians to the Church, but also of a bond with the mystery of Christ and his body, the Church. But one ought not to speak of belonging or membership, not even of a gradual belonging, to the Church or of an imperfect communion with the Church, something reserved for non-Catholic Christians (UR 3; LG 15); for the Church in her essence is a complex reality constituted by a visible union and a spiritual communion. Of course, those non-Christians who are not culpable of not belonging to the Church enter into the communion of those called to the kingdom of God; they do so by putting into practice love of God and neighbor; this communion will be revealed as the ecclesia universalis at the consummation of the kingdom of God and of Christ.

C. Universale Salutis Sacramentum

74. When it was presupposed that all would enter into contact with the Church, the necessity of the Church for salvation was understood above all as the necessity of belonging to it. Since the Church has been made aware of her condition as a minority, both diachronically and synchronically, the necessity of the universal salvific function of the Church has become a matter of prime importance. This universal mission and this sacramental efficacy in the order of salvation have found their theological expression in calling the Church the universal sacrament of salvation. As such, the Church is at the service of the coming of the kingdom of God, in the union of all men with God and in the unity of men among themselves (LG 1).

75. God in fact has revealed himself as love, not only because he gives us already a part in the kingdom of God and its fruits, but also because he calls us and frees us to collaborate in the coming of his kingdom. Thus the Church is not only a sign, but also an instrument of the kingdom of God, which breaks out with force. The Church carries out her mission as the universal sacrament of salvation in martyria, leitourgia and diakonia.

76. Through the martyria of the Gospel of universal redemption carried out by Jesus Christ, the Church announces to all men the paschal mystery of salvation, which is offered to them or which they already live without knowing it. As the universal sacrament of salvation, the Church is essentially a missionary Church. For God in his love has not only called men to attain their final salvation in communion with him. Rather, it belongs to the full vocation of man that he realize his salvation, not in the service of "the shadow of things to come" (Col 2:17), but in full knowledge of the truth, in the communion of the people of God and in their active collaboration on behalf of the coming of his kingdom, strength­ened by the sure hope in God's faithfulness (AG 1—2).

77. In the leitourgia, the celebration of the paschal mystery, the Church fulfills her mission of priestly service in representing all humankind. In a way that, in accord with Gods will, it is efficacious for all men, it makes present the representation of Christ who "was made sin" for us (2 Cor 5:21) and who in our place "was hanged on the tree" (Gal 3:13) in order to free us from sin (LG 10). Finally, in the diakonia the Church bears witness to the loving gift of God to men and of the eruption of the kingdom of justice, of love and of peace.

78. Also belonging to the mission of the Church as universal sacrament of salvation is the fact that "whatever good is in the minds and hearts of men ... is not only saved from destruction but is also cleansed, raised up and perfected" (LG 17). For the action of the Spirit at times even visibly precedes the apostolic activity of the Church (AG 4) and his action can be shown also in the religious search and restlessness of men. The paschal mystery into which, in the way God knows, all men can be incorporated is the salvific reality which embraces all mankind, which unites beforehand the Church with those non-Christians to whom she directs herself and to whose service her revelation must always be directed. To the extent to which the Church recognizes, discerns and makes her own the truth and the good that the Holy Spirit has worked in the words and deeds of non-Christians, she makes herself to be more and more the true Catholic Church, "which speaks all tongues, understands and accepts all tongues in her love, and so supersedes the divisiveness of Babel" (AG 4).

79. "So it is that that messianic people, although it does not actually include all men, and at times may look like a small flock, is nonetheless a lasting and sure seed of unity, hope and salvation for the whole human race. Established by Christ as a communion of life, charity and truth, it is also used by Him as an instrument for the redemption of all, and is sent forth into the whole world as the light of the world and the salt of the earth (cf. Mt 5:13-16)" (LG 9).


80. Now that the salvific initiative of the Father, the universal mediation of Christ, the universal gift of the Spirit, the function of the Church in the salvation of all have been examined, we have the elements for providing a sketch of a theology of religions. In the face of the new situation created by religious pluralism, the question arises again about the universal significance of Jesus Christ in relationship to other religions and the function which these may play in God's plan, which is nothing other than bringing all things into one in Christ (Eph 1:10). There is nothing surprising that old themes from the tradition are used to illuminate new situations. Positively, Ave must keep in mind the universal significance of Jesus, of his Spirit and also of the Church. The Church in truth proclaims the Gospel, is at the service of human communion and represents all of humanity through her priestly service in the liturgical celebration of the paschal mystery. Negatively, this universality is exclusive. There is not a Logos which is not Jesus Christ nor is there a Spirit that is not the Spirit of Christ. On these coordinates are inscribed the specific problems that are dealt with in the following. We will study some of the points already highlighted in the status quaestionis.

III. l. The Salvific Value of the Religions

81. The object of discussion today is not the possibility of salvation outside the Church of those who live according to their conscience. This salvation, as was seen before, is not produced independently of Christ and his Church. It is based on the universal presence of the Spirit, which cannot be separated from the paschal mystery of Jesus (GS 22; Redemptoris missio, 10, etc.). Some texts of Vatican Council II deal specifically with non-Christian religions: Those which have not yet received or heard the Gospel are oriented in different ways to the people of God, and belonging to these different religions does not seem to be indifferent to the effects of this "orientation" (LG 16). It is recognized that in the different religions are rays of truth which illuminate all men (NA 2) and seeds of the word (AG 11); because of Gods disposing, there are in these religions elements of truth and goodness (OT 16); one finds elements of truth, of grace and goodness not only in the hearts of men but also in the rites and customs of peoples, although all must be "healed, elevated and completed" (AG 9; LG 17). Whether the religions as such can have salvific value is a point that remains open.

82. The encyclical Redemptoris missio, following and developing the way traced by Vatican Council II, has emphasized more clearly the presence of the Holy Spirit not only in men of good will taken individually, but also in society and history, in peoples, in cultures, in religions, always with reference to Christ (nos. 28, 29). A universal action of the Spirit exists which cannot be separated from or confused with the specific, peculiar action that develops in the body of Christ which is the Church (ibid.). From the formulation of the third chapter of the encyclical, titled "The Holy Spirit, Principal Agent of Mission", it appears that it can be deduced that these two forms of presence and action of the Spirit are derived from the paschal mystery In fact, after developing the idea of the mission set into motion by the Holy Spirit in nos. 21—27, nos. 28—29 talk about the universal presence of the Spirit. At the end of no. 28 it is clearly affirmed that it is the risen Jesus who works in the hearts of men through the Holy Spirit and that it is the same Spirit who distributes the seeds of the word present in the rites and religions. The distinction between the two ways of the Holy Spirit's acting cannot lead us to separate them as if only the first were related to the salvific mystery of Christ.

83. Again there is talk of the presence of the Spirit and the action of God in the religions in nos. 55—56 of Redemptoris missio in the context of the dialogue with the brethren of other religions. The religions are a challenge to the Church, because they stimulate her to recognize the signs of the presence of Christ and the action of the Spirit. "In Christ, God calls all peoples to himself and he wishes to share with them the fullness of his revelation and love. He does not fail to make himself present in many ways, not only to individuals but also to entire peoples through their spiritual riches, of which their religions are the main and essential expression, even when they contain 'gaps, insufficiencies and errors' (Paul VI)" (Redemptoris missio, 55). Also in this context, the different way that Christ makes God present with his Gospel is singled out.

84. Given this explicit recognition of the presence of the Spirit of Christ in the religions, one cannot exclude the possibility that they exercise as such a certain salvific function; that is, despite their ambiguity, they help men achieve their ultimate end. In the religions is explicitly thematized the relationship of man with the Absolute, his transcendental dimension. It would be difficult to think that what the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of men taken as individuals would have salvific value and not think that what the Holy Spirit works in the religions and cultures would not have such value. The recent magisterium does not seem to authorize such a drastic distinction. On the other hand, it is necessary to note that many of the texts to which we have referred not only speak of the religions, but also in conjunction with them speak of cultures, the history of peoples, etc. All these can also be "touched" by elements of grace.

85. In the religions the same Spirit who guides the Church is at work. But the universal presence of the Spirit cannot be compared to his special presence in the Church of Christ. Although one cannot exclude the salvific value of the religions, this does not mean that everything in them is salvific. One cannot forget the presence of the spirit of evil, the inheritance of sin, the imperfection of human response to God s action, etc. (cf "Dialogue and Proclamation", 30—31). Only the Church is the body of Christ, and only in it is given in its full intensity the presence of the Spirit. Therefore, to no one can belonging to the Church of Christ and participation in the fullness of the saving gifts which alone are found in it be a matter of indifference (Redemptoris missio, 55). The religions can exercise the function of a praeparatio evangelica; they can prepare different peoples and cultures for welcoming the saving event, which has already taken place. In this sense, however, their function cannot be compared to that of the Old Testament, which was the preparation of the very event of Christ.

86. Salvation is obtained through the gift of God in Christ, but not without human response and acceptance. The religions can also help the human response, insofar as they impel man to seek God, to act in accord with his conscience, to live a good life (cf. LG 16; also Veritatis splendor, 94; the moral sense of peoples and religious traditions put the action of the Spirit of God into relief). The search for the good is in its ultimate sense a religious attitude (cf. Veritatis splendor, 9, 12). It is the human response to the divine invitation, which is always received in and through Christ.32 It seems that these dimensions—objective and subjective, descending and ascending—must be taken as a unit, as they are given in the mystery of Christ. The religions can therefore be, in the terms indicated, means helping the salvation of their followers, but they cannot be compared to the function that the Church realizes for the salvation of Christians and those who are not.

87. The affirmation of the possibility of the existence of salvific elements in the religions does not imply in itself a judgment about the presence of these elements in each one of the specific religions. On the other hand, the love of God and of one's neighbor, made possible in the final analysis by Jesus the sole mediator, is the only way to reach God himself. The religions can be carriers of saving truth only insofar as they raise men to true love. If it is true that this can be found in those who do not practice any religion, it nonetheless seems that true love for God must lead to adoration and religious practice in union with other men.

III. 2. The Question of Revelation

88. The specificity and unrepeatability of divine revelation in Jesus Christ is based on the fact that only in his person does the triune God communicate himself. Therefore, from this it follows that in the strict sense one cannot speak of the revelation of God save insofar as God gives himself of himself. Christ is thus at the same time the mediator and the fullness of all revelation (DV 2). The theological concept of revelation cannot be confused with that of religious phenomenology (religions of revelation, those which consider themselves based on divine revelation). Only in Christ and in his Spirit has God given himself completely to men; consequently, only when this self-communication gives itself to be known is there given the revelation of God in the full sense. The gift which God makes of himself and his revelation are two inseparable aspects of the Jesus event.

89. Before the coming of Christ, God revealed himself in a special way to the people of Israel as the only living and true God. Insofar as they bear witness to this revelation, the books of the Old Testament are the word of God and have a perennial value (cf. DV 14). Only in the New Testament do the books of the Old Testament receive and manifest their complete meaning (cf. DV 16). But in Judaism the true divine revelation of the Old Testament perdures. Certain elements of biblical revelation have been recognized by Islam, which has interpreted them in a definite context.

90. God has given himself to be known and continues to give himself to be known by men in many ways: through the works of creation (cf. Wis 13:5; Rom 1:19—20), through the judgments of conscience (cf. Rom 2:14—15), etc. God can enlighten men in different ways. Fidelity to God can give rise to a kind of knowledge through connaturality. The religious traditions have been characterized by "sincere individuals marked by the Spirit of God" ("Dialogue and Proclamation", 30). The action of the Spirit does not allow itself to go unperceived in some way by human beings. If, according to the teaching of the Church, "the seeds of the word" and "rays of the truth" are found in the religions, one cannot exclude from them elements of a true knowledge of God, albeit with imperfections (cf. Redemptoris missio, 55). The gnoseological dimension cannot be totally absent where we recognize elements of grace and of salvation.

91. But although God has been able to enlighten men in different ways, we are never guaranteed that these lights will be properly welcomed and interpreted by those to whom they are given. Only in Jesus do we have the guarantee of the full welcoming of the will of God the Father. The Spirit assisted the apostles in a special way in bearing witness to Jesus and in transmitting his message; from the apostolic preaching the New Testament emerged and thanks to it also the Church received the Old Testament. The divine inspiration which the Church recognizes in the writings of the Old and New Testaments assures us that she has recognized in them all and only what God wanted written about himself.

92. Not all religions have sacred books. Although one cannot explicitly exclude any divine illumination in the composition of those books (in the religions which have them), it is much more fitting to reserve the qualification of inspired to the books of the canon (cf. DV 11). The expression the word of God has been reserved in the tradition for the writings of the two testaments. The distinction is clearly included in the ancient ecclesiastical writers, who have recognized seeds of the Word in philosophical and religious writings. The sacred books of the different religions, even when they can form part of an evangelic preparation, cannot be considered equivalent to the Old Testament, which is the immediate preparation for the coming of Christ to the world.

III. 3. Truth as a Problem in the Theology of the Religions and the Pluralist Position

93. The interreligious dialogue is not only a desire stemming from Vatican Council II and fostered by the present pope [John Paul II]. It is also a necessity in the present situation of the world. We know that this dialogue is the major preoccupation of the pluralist theology of the religions during recent times. In order to make this dialogue possible, the representatives of these theologies think that it is necessary for Christians to get rid of any claim of superiority and absoluteness. It is necessary [they think] to consider all the religions as having equal value. They think that one claim of superiority is to consider Jesus to be the sole savior and mediator for all men.

94. Abandoning this claim is therefore considered essential in order for the dialogue to take place. This is undoubtedly the most important issue we must confront. Faced with this way of setting the stage, we must show that Catholic theology in no way undervalues or does not appreciate the other religions when it affirms that everything true and worthy of value in the other religions comes from Christ and the Holy Spirit. This is the best way that the Christian has of expressing his appreciation for these religions.

95. If we compare some of the theological opinions expressed in Chapter 1 with present magisterial concepts and their basis in Scripture and the tradition that was the object of Chapter 2, it can be seen that com­mon to both is the fundamental intention to recognize with respect and gratitude the truths and values encountered in the different religions. Both seek dialogue with them, without prejudices and without wearisome polemics.

96. But the basic difference between the two starting points [the plurality-of-religions school and Catholic theology and the magisterium] is found in the position taken regarding the theological problem of truth and at the same time regarding the Christian faith. The teaching of the Church on the theology of the religions presents its' argument from the center of the truth of Christian faith. It takes into account, on the one hand, the Pauline teaching of the natural knowledge of God and at the same time expresses its confidence in the universal action of the Spirit. It sees both lines anchored in the theological tradition. It values the truth, the good and the beauty of the religions from the inmost depths of the truth of faith itself, but it does not attribute in general the same validity to the truth claim of other religions. To do so would lead to indifference, that is to say, to not taking seriously either one's own truth claim or the truth claim of another.

97. The theology of the religions which we find in official documents argues from the very center of faith. With regard to the way of proceeding taken by pluralist theologies and weighing the different opinions and constant changes which take place in them, it can be affirmed that at bottom they hold an "ecumenical" strategy of dialogue; that is, they are preoccupied with restoring unity among the different religions. But this unity [according to the pluralist view] can be achieved only by eliminating aspects of one's own self-understanding. It—the pluralist view—seeks to gain unity by denying any value to [religious] differences, which are regarded as something threatening; it believes that at least these must be eliminated as particularities or reductions proper to a specific culture.

98. There are many aspects of the change in the way one understands one's own faith in the pluralist theology of the religions. We note the most important: (a) on the historical level a schema of three phases— exclusivism, inclusivism and pluralism—is suggested, a schema which reaches its culmination in pluralism; it is supposed, erroneously, that only the last position—pluralism—is helpful in giving true attention to other religions and achieving religious peace; (b) on the level of the theory of knowledge, the truth capacity of theological affirmations (forms of expression specific to a culture) is reduced or suppressed (theological affirmations are made the equivalent of mythologies); and (c) on the level of theology a platform of unity is sought; [but] the possibility of recognizing the equal dignity [of religions] is purchased by a methodical partialization and reduction (of ecclesiocentrism to Christocentrism and of Christocentrism to theocentrism, while an undefined concept of God is suggested), and by the modification and reduction of the specific contents of faith, especially in Christology.

99. In an epoch characterized by a pluralism of the marketplace, this theology acquires a high degree of plausibility, but only when it is not applied to the position of the interlocutor in the dialogue. The religious dialogue comes to an end the moment one of the following possibilities is presented: (a) that the interlocutor recognizes the thesis of "equal dignity" as historically plural; (b) that he accepts for his own religion the thesis of the limitation or suppression of the truth capacity of all theological affirmations; or (c) he modifies his own theological method and the content of his own affirmations of faith in such a way that they are valid only in relationship to the canons of his own religiosity. In truth, there is nothing to be done except to take account of this indistinct plurality. Therefore, the pluralist theology, as a strategy of dialogue among the religions, not only is not justified in consideration of the truth claim of one's own religion, but simultaneously destroys the truth claim of the other side.

100. Faced with the historical, epistemological or theological oversimplification of the relationship between Christianity and the other religions in the pluralist theology, it is necessary to take as our point of departure the different vision of the religions in the declaration Nostra Aetateof Vatican Council II. It describes what the religions of the world have in common, to wit, the attempt "to counter the restlessness of the human heart, each [religion] in its own manner, by proposing 'ways', comprising teachings, rules of life, and sacred rites" (no. 2), but without denying differences that are equally fundamental: The different forms of Buddhism show man ways through which he perceives the meaning of being by recognizing the radical insufficiency of this contingent world; in the richness of the myths of Hinduism, in its ascetical practices and deep meditations is expressed the trusting search of a refuge in God. With Islam, the Church has more in common, since it recognizes that its followers "adore the one God ... the Creator of heaven and earth" (NA 3).

Recognizing in total clarity what separates us, we cannot, nonetheless, ignore common elements in history and in doctrine. Christianity is united with Judaism in its origin and in their rich common heritage. The history of the covenant with Israel, the confession of the one and only God who reveals himself in that history, the hope in God who comes and in his future kingdom—all this is common to Jews and Christians (cf NA 4). A Christian theology of the religions must be able to express theologically the common elements and the differences between its own faith and the convictions of different religious groups.

The council situates the task in a tension between two aspects: On the one hand, it contemplates the unity of the human race based on a common origin (NA 1). For this reason, anchored in the theology of creation, "the Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions" (NA 2). But on the other hand, the same Church insists on the necessity to announce the truth which is Christ himself: "Indeed, she [the Church] proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ 'the way, the truth, and the life' (Jn 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself (2 Cor 5:18—19)" (NA 2).

101. Every dialogue lives on the truth claim of those who participate in it. But the dialogue between the religions is further characterized by applying the deep structure of each ones original culture to the truth claim of a quite different culture. It is clear that this dialogue is demanding and requires a special sensibility in facing the other culture. In the most recent decades especially this sensibility to the cultural context both of the different religions and of Christianity and its theologies has developed. It suffices to recall the "theologies in context" and the growing significance of the theme of inculturation both in the magisterium and in theology.

The International Theological Commission has already spoken about these themes33 (here it seems necessary to mention only two indications):

1. A differentiated theology of the religions, which is grounded in ones own truth claim, is the basis of any serious dialogue and the necessary presupposition for understanding the diversity of positions and their cultural means of expression.

2. The context—literary, sociological, etc.—is an important means of understanding, at times the only one, texts and situations; such contexts are a possible place for truth, but they are not identified with truth itself.

This indicates the meaning and the limits of the cultural contextuality. The interreligious dialogue treats "coincidences and convergences" with other religions with caution and respect. For the treatment of the "differences" one must take into account that this treatment must not annul coincidences and elements of convergence, and moreover that dialogue about these differences has been inspired by ones own doctrine and corresponding ethics: In other words, the form of the dialogue cannot invalidate the content of one's own faith and ethics.

102. The growing interrelationship of cultures in the present world society and its constant interpenetration into the means of communication bring about the situation in which the question of the truth of the religions has passed to the center of the daily conscience of the person of today. Our present reflections consider some presuppositions of this new situation, but the discussion of the contents of the different religions does not enter into these reflections. This ought to be taken up in the theology of the different places, that is to say, in the different centers of study which are in cultural contact with the other religions.

Faced with the situation of a change of the conscience of man and the situation of believers, it is clear that the discussion about the truth claim of the religions cannot be a marginal or partial aspect of theology. The respectful confrontation with this truth claim must play a role in the center of the daily work of theology; it must be an integral part of it. Today’s Christian, respecting the diversity of religions, must learn to live a form of communion which has its foundation in the love of God for men and which is based on God's respect of man's freedom. This respect before the "otherness" of the different religions is at the same time conditioned by one's own truth claim.

103. Along with love, interest in the truth claim of the other shares the presupposition, structural in character, of appreciation of oneself. The basis of every communication, and hence also of the dialogue among religions, is the recognition of the exigent character of truth. But the Christian faith has its own proper structure of truth: The religions talk "of" the holy, "of" God, "about" him, "in his place" or "in his name". Only in the Christian religion is God himself the one who speaks to man in his Word. Only this way of speaking makes his personal being in a true sense possible for man and at the time communion with God and with all men. The tripersonal God is the heart of this faith. Only the Christian faith takes its life from the God one and three. From the background of Christianity's culture arose the social differentiation which characterizes modernity.

104. To the unique salvific mediation of Christ for all is attributed, on the part of the pluralist position, a claim of superiority; therefore it asks that a more acceptable theocentrism take the place of that theological Christocentrism from which this claim is necessarily deduced. In view of this demand, it is necessary to affirm that the truth of faith is not at our disposal. In facing a strategy of dialogue which asks for a reduction of Christological dogma in order to exclude this claim of Christianity s superiority, we opt instead—with the aim of excluding a "false" claim of superiority—for a radical application of the Christological faith to the form of proclamation proper to it.

Every form of evangelization that does not correspond to the message, to the life, to the death and to the resurrection of Jesus Christ compromises this message and, in final analysis, Jesus Christ himself. The truth as truth is always "superior"; but the truth of Jesus Christ, as made clear by our need for him, is always service to man; it is the truth of the one who gives his life for men in order to make them enter definitively into the love of God. Every form of proclamation which seeks above all and over all to impose itself on its hearers or to dispose them by means of a strategic or instrumental rationality is opposed to Christ, to the Gospel of the Father and to the dignity of the man of whom he has himself spoken.

III. 4. Interreligious Dialogue and the Mystery of Salvation

105. Since Vatican Council II, the Catholic Church has definitively committed herself to interreligious dialogue;34 the present document has been developed with a view to this dialogue, although this is not its fundamental theme. The state of the question about Christianity and its relationship with the religions, theological presuppositions and the consequences which are deduced from them about the saving value of the religions, divine revelation—all these are reflections intended to enlighten Christians in their dialogues with the faithful of other religions.

106. To the extent that these dialogues take place among specialists and are effected in everyday life in words and actions, they not only engage the persons who carry on the dialogue but also and in first place the God whom they profess. The interreligious dialogue as such implies three participants. Therefore in it the Christian is faced with two fundamental questions on which the meaning of the dialogue depends: the understanding of God and the understanding of man.

A. The Understanding of God

107. In the interreligious dialogue, each participant in fact expresses himself according to a definite understanding of God; implicitly he poses to the other the question, Who is your God? The Christian cannot hear and understand the other without posing this question to himself. Christian theology is more than a discourse about God: It is concerned with speaking of God in human language as he is made known through the incarnate Word (cf. Jn 1:18; 17:3). Hence the need of some discernment in the dialogue:

108. a. If the discussion concerns the divinity as a transcendent and absolute value, are we treating an impersonal reality or a personal being?

b. Does the transcendence of God mean that he is a nontemporal myth or is this transcendence compatible with divine action in the history of men?

c. Is God known only through reason or is he also known through faith because he reveals himself to men?

d. Given that a "religion" is a certain relationship between God and man, does it express a God in the image of man or rather does it imply that man is in the image of God?

e. If it is granted that God is one as required by reason, what does it mean to profess that he is one? A monopersonal God is acceptable to reason, but only in his self-revelation in Christ can the mystery of God be welcomed through faith as consubstantial and indivisible one-in-three. This is a major discernment because of the consequences flowing from this for the anthropology and sociology inherent in each religion.

f. The religions recognize essential attributes of the divinity as omnipotence, omniscience, goodness, justice. But to understand the doctrinal coherence of each religion and to overcome ambiguities of an apparently common language, it is necessary to understand the axis on which these divine names turn. This discernment especially concerns the biblical vocabulary, whose axis is the covenant between God and man as this has been fulfilled in Christ.

g. Another discernment is made necessary concerning the specifically theological vocabulary to the extent that it is a tributary of the culture of each participant in the dialogue and of his implicit philosophy. Therefore, it is most important to pay attention to the cultural peculiarity of the two parties, even if both share the same original culture.

h. The contemporary world seems to be preoccupied, at least in theory, with the rights of man. Some integrists, even among Christians, oppose to these the rights of God. But in this opposition what is the God one is dealing with, and in the final analysis, what is the man with whom one is concerned?

B. The Understanding of Man

109. An implicit anthropology is also involved in the interreligious dialogue, and this for two major reasons. On the one hand, the dialogue puts two persons into communication, each one of whom is the subject of his own word and behavior. On the other hand, when believers of different religions dialogue, there takes place an event much more profound than verbal communication: an encounter between human beings with respect to the end toward which each one tends, bearing the weight of his own human condition.

110. In an interreligious dialogue, do the parties have the same concept of the person? The question is not theoretical, but it raises a question for both the one and the other. The Christian party knows without doubt that the human person has been created "in the image of God", that is to say, in a constant call of an essentially relational God and capable of opening "to the other". But are all the participants aware of the mystery of the human person and of the mystery of the God "beyond all"?35 Also the Christian is forced to ask himself the question, From whence does he talk when he dialogues? Whence the scene of his social or religious personage? Whence the depth of his "superego" or of his ideal image? Given that he must bear witness to his Lord and Savior, in what "dwelling" of his soul is this one encountered? In the interreligious dialogue, more than in any other interpersonal relationship, the relationship of each person with the living God is at stake.

111. Here is shown the importance of prayer in the interreligious dialogue: "Man is in search of God. ... All religions bear witness to men’s essential search for God."36 Now then, prayer, as a living and personal relationship with God, is the act of the virtue of religion and finds expression in all the religions. The Christian knows that God "tirelessly calls each person to that mysterious encounter known as prayer."37 If God can be known better only if he himself takes the initiative of revealing himself, prayer shows itself as absolutely necessary because it disposes man to receive the grace of revelation. Thus, in the common search for truth which must motivate the interreligious dialogue: "There is a close relationship between prayer and dialogue.... If on the one hand, dialogue depends on prayer, so, in another sense, prayer also becomes the ever more mature fruit of dialogue."38

To the extent that the Christian lives the dialogue in a state of prayer, he is docile to the movement of the Spirit who works in the heart of the two interlocutors. Then the dialogue makes itself more than an interchange: It becomes an encounter.

112. More profoundly, at the level of what is not said, the interreligious dialogue is in truth an encounter between beings created "in the image of God", although this image is found in them somewhat obscured by sin and death. Put differently, Christians and those who are not are all hoping to be saved. For this reason each one of the religions presents itself as a search for salvation and proposes ways to reach it.

This encounter in the common human condition puts the parties on an equal plane much more real than their merely human religious discourse. Such a discourse is already an interpretation of experience and passes through the filter of confessional mentalities. The problems of personal maturity, the experience of human community (husband and wife, family, education, etc.) and all the questions which gravitate around work in order to "earn one's way in life", far from being themes that would distract from the interreligious dialogue, constitute the ground "to be explored" in this dialogue. Then in this encounter one finds that the "place" of God is man.

113. Now then, the constant factor which underlies all the other problems of the common human condition is nothing other than death. Suffering, sin, failure, deception, failure to communicate, conflicts, injustices ... death is present in all parts and in every moment as the opaque problem of the human condition. Surely man, unable to exorcise death, does everything possible not to think about it. But nonetheless it is in death that the call of the living God resounds with greatest intensity. It is the permanent sign of the divine otherness, for only he who calls nothingness to being can give life to the dead. No one can go to God without passing through death, that fiery place in which the Transcendent reaches the abyss of the human condition.

The only serious question, because it is existential and unavoidable, without which religious discussions are "alibis", is this: Does or does not the living God assume the death of man? Theoretical answers to this question are not lacking, but they cannot evade the scandal which remains: How can God remain hidden and silent before the wounded innocent and the oppressed just man? It is the cry of Job and of all humankind. The answer is "crucial", but beyond all words: On the cross the Word is silence. Relying on his Father, he entrusts to him his last breath. And there (on the cross) is the encounter of all men: Man is in his death, and God unites himself with him in it.

Only the God of love is the victor over death, and only through faith in him is man liberated from the slavery of death. The fiery wood of the cross is thus the hidden place of the encounter. The Christian contemplates on it "him whom they have pierced" and from it receives "a spirit of grace and petition" (Jn 19:37; Zech 12:10). The testimony of his new experience will be that of the risen Christ, the conqueror of death through death.

Interreligious dialogue receives then its meaning in the economy of salvation: It means more than to follow the message of the prophets and the mission of the Precursor; it is grounded in the event of salvation accomplished through Christ and is oriented toward the second coming of the Lord. The interreligious dialogue takes place in the Church in an eschatological situation.


114. At this end of the second millennium, the Church is called to give witness to the crucified and risen Christ "to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8), in different cultures and religions throughout the world. The religious dialogue is connatural to the Christian vocation. It is inscribed in the dynamism of the living tradition of the mystery of salvation, whose universal sacrament is the Church; it is an act of this tradition.

115. As a dialogue of the Church, it has its source, its model and its end in the Holy Trinity. It manifests and actualizes the mission of the eternal Word and of the Holy Spirit in the economy of salvation. Through his Word, the Father calls all human beings from nothing into existence, and it is his breath which gives them life. Through his Son, who assumes our flesh and is anointed by his Spirit, he directs himself to them as to his friends, "he speaks with them on the earth" and reveals to them "all the ways of understanding" (cf. Bar 3:36—38). His living Spirit makes the Church the body of Christ sent to the nations to proclaim to them the good news of the resurrection.

116. The Word can enable us to know the Father, for he has learned all from him, and he has accepted to learn all of man. Thus this must take place in the Church for those who want to encounter their brothers and sisters of other religions and to dialogue with them. It is not Christians who are sent, but the Church; it is not their ideas that they present but Christ's; it will not be their rhetoric that will touch hearts but the Spirit, the Paraclete. To be faithful to the "sense of the Church", the interreligious dialogue begs for the humility of Christ and the transparency of the Holy Spirit.

117. The divine pedagogy of the dialogue does not consist only in words but also in deeds; the words manifest the "Christian newness", that of the love of the Father, to which deeds give testimony. Working in this way, the Church shows herself as the sacrament of the mystery of salvation. In this sense the interreligious dialogue forms a part, according to the times and moments fixed by the Father, of the praeparatio evangelica. In truth, the mutual witness is something inherent in the dialogue between persons of different religions.

The Christian witness here is not, however, the proclaiming of the Gospel, but is already an integral part of the mission of the Church as an irradiation of the love poured out from her through the Holy Spirit. Those who in the different ways of interreligious dialogue give witness to the love of Christ the Savior realize, at the level of the praeparatio evangelica, the burning desire of the apostle "to be a minister of Christ Jesus among the gentiles, with the priestly duty of preaching the Gospel of God so that the gentiles may be offered up as a pleasing sacrifice, consecrated by the Holy Spirit" (Rom 15:16).


1 Cf. International Theological Commission, "Faith and Inculturation", 3, 10; cf. Gregorianum 70 (1989): 640.

2 It appears that this reading is preferable to that of the Vulgate: omnem hominem venientem in mundum. The New Vulgate translates veniens in mundum.

3 Cf. Apologia 1, 5, 4; 2, 6, 7; 2, 7, 2-3 (Biblioteca de autores cristianos [BAC] 116, 186f.; 268; 269).

4 Cf. Apologia 1, 46, 2-4; 2, 7, 1-3 (ibid., 232f.; 269).

5 Cf. Apologia 1, 44, 10; 2, 10, 2; 2, 13, 2-6 (ibid., 230; 272; 276f.).

6 Cf. Protrepticus 1, 6, 4; 10, 98, 4 (Sources chretiennes [SCh] 2 bis, 60; 166); Paedagogus 1, 96, 1 (SCh 70, 280).

7 Cf. Protrepticus 10, 110, 1-3 (SCh 2 bis, 178). 8Cf. Stromata 1, 37, 1-7 (SCh 30, 73-74).

9 Cf. Stromata 6, 67, 2 (Die griechische christliche Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte [GCS] 15, 465).

10 Cf. Stromata 1, 28, 1-3; 1, 32, 4 (SCh 30, 65; 69); 6, 153-54 (GCS 15, 510f.).

11 Cf. Stromata 1, 56-57 (SCh 30, 89-92).

12 Justin, Apologia 1, 44, 8-9; 1, 59-60 (BAC 116, 230; 247-49).

13Clement of Alexandria, Protrepticus 6, 70 (SCh 2 bis, 135); Stromata 1, 59-60; 1, 87, 2 (SCh 30, 93f.; 113); 2, 1, 1 (SCh 38, 32f.).

14 Cf. Adversus haereses 3, 16, 6; 3, 18, 1 (SCh 211, 312; 342); 4, 6, 7; 4, 20, 4; 4, 28, 2 (SCh 100, 454; 634f.; 758); 5, 16, 1 (SCh 153, 214); Demonstratio Apostolica 12 (SCh 406, 100).

15 Cf. Adversus haereses 4, 34, 1 (SCh 100, 846f.).

16 Contra Apollinaristas 16 (Patrologia graeca [PG] 45, 1153). Cf. also Irenaeus of Lyons, Adversus haereses 3, 19, 3 (SCh 211, 380); 5, 12, 3 (SCh 153, 150); Demonstratio Apostolica 33 (SCh 406, 130); Hilary of Poitiers, In Evangelium Matthaei 18, 6 (SCh 258, 80f.).

17 Cf. Hilary of Poitiers, De Trinitate 2, 24—25 (Corpus Christianorum: Series Latina [CCL] 62, 605); Athanasius, Contra Arianos 3, 25, 33, 34 (PG 26, 376; 393-97); Cyril of Alexandria, Commentarius injohannem 1, 9; 5, 2 (PG 73, 161; 753). The idea of "exchange" could also be introduced here; cf. Irenaeus, Adversus haereses 5 Prol. (SCh 153, 14), etc.

18 Cyril of Alexandria, Commentarius in Johannem 1, 9 (PG 73, 164).

19 Cf. Hilary of Poitiers, Tractatus super Psalmos 13, 14; 14, 5 and 17; 51, 3 (Corpus scriptorum ecclesiasticorum latinorum [CSEL] 22, 81; 87f.; 96; 98).

20 Cf. Origen, Homilies on Luke 35 (CGS Orig. W. 9, 200f.); De principiis 4, 11-12 (Or. W. 5, 339s); Augustine, De civitate Dei 5, 13, 19 (CCL 47, 146-48; 154-56).

21 De carnis resurrectione (De res. mort.) 6 (CCL 2, 928; cited in GS 22, note 20): "Quodcumque limus exprimebatur, Christus cogitabatur, homo futurus"; almost immediately is added: "Id utique quod finxit, ad imaginem Dei fecit ilium, scilicet Christi. ... Ita limus ille, iam tunc imaginem induens Christi futuri in carne, non tantum Dei opus erat, sed et pignus"; the same in Adversus Praxean 12, 4 (CCL 2, 1173).

22 Adversus haereses 3, 22, 3 (SCh 211, 438).

23In addition to the texts already quoted cf. Augustine, Epistolae 137, 12 (Patrologia latina [PL] 33, 520f.); Retractationes 1, 13, 3 (PL 32, 603).

24 Adversus haereses 3, 18, 3 (SCh 211, 350-52). Basil of Cesarea, De Spiritu Sancto 12, 28 (SCh 17 bis, 344) and Ambrose of Milan, De Spiritu Sancto 1, 3, 44 (CSEL 79, 33) repeat this idea almost literally.

25 Ad Ephesios 17, 1 (SCh 10, 86).

26 Adversus haereses 3, 9, 3 (SCh 211, 112). For the same Irenaeus the Spirit descends on Jesus in order to "habituate himself" for dwelling in the human race. Ibid., 17, 1 (330).

27 De Spiritu Sancto contra Macedonianos 16 (PG 45, 1321A-B).

28 Irenaeus, Adversus haereses 3, 24, 1 (SCh 211, 474).

29 Hom. Pent. 1, 4 (PG 49, 459).

30 For example see Irenaeus of Lyon, Adversus haereses 3, 17, 2 (SCh 211, 334): "Dominus accipiens munus a Patre ipse quoque his donavit qui ex ipso participantur, in universam terram mittens Spiritum Sanctum"; Hilary of Poitiers, Tractatus super Psalmos 56, 6 (CSEL 22, 172): "Et quia exaltatus super caelos impleturus esset in terris omnia sancti spiritus gloria, subiecit: et super omnem terram gloria tua (Ps 57:6, 12). Cum effusum super omnem carnem spiritus donum gloriam exaltati super coelos domini protestaretur."

31 Cf. Origen, In Jesu Nave 3, 5 (SCh 71, 142ff.); Cyprian, De ecclesiae catholicae unitate 6 (CSEL 3/1, 214E); Epistulae 73, 21 (CSEL 3/2, 795).

32 "Dialogue and Proclamation", 29: "It will be in the sincere practice of what is good in their own religious traditions and by following the dictates of their conscience that the members of other religions respond positively to God's invitation and receive salvation in Jesus Christ, even while they do not recognize or acknowledge him as their savior."

33 "Select Themes of Ecclesiology: On the Occasion of the 20th Anniversary of Vatican Council II" (1985), esp. Chapter 4; cf. text in International Theological Commission: Texts and Documents, 1969—1985 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1985); see also "Faith and Inculturation", Gregorianum 70 (1989): 625-646.

34 Among the documents of John Paul II see Redemptoris missio, 55—57; Tertio millennio adveniente, 52—53; cf. also the document of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, "Dialogue and Proclamation", cited already many times.

35 Gregory Nanzianzen, Carmimum 1, 1, 29 (PG 37, 507).

36 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2566.

37 Ibid., 2567.

38 John Paul II, Ut unum sint, 33.