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Deus locutus est nobis in Filio:
Some Reflections on Subjectivity, Christology and the Church

Joseph Card. Ratzinger

Meeting with the Doctrinal Commissions of North America and Oceania
(Menlo Park, California, 9 February 1999)



1. The Cultural and Theological Context

In seeking to sum up the situation of Catholic theology as we come to the end of this century – and indeed to the end of the millennium – more than one observer has remarked that the twentieth century can be divided into two periods: an initial period of intense and fruitful development, almost unparalleled in the history of the Church, which culminated in the Second Vatican Council, and a subsequent period of dissipation in which the earlier accomplishments have not continued. Perhaps there is a certain inevitability in such a process. Recently, in assessing the current state of theology, Cardinal Christoph Schönborn chose to use a phrase which had been coined by another Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal König, who, when asked about theology today, responded that what we have is “molta teologia – poco Dio”: a lot of theology but little about God.[1] In a certain sense, this phrase – with the contradiction it expresses – captures the present situation fairly well. There is more “theologizing” than ever, but it seems that increasingly little of it dares to speak about God.

The roots of the current situation are, however, as much philosophical as they are theological. We find ourselves at the end of the century in a cultural situation characterized by what might be called a “one-sided concern to investigate human subjectivity.”[2] Certainly, the importance of subjectivity cannot be disregarded or minimized. In fact, one of the great accomplishments of theology in the decades leading up to the Second Vatican Council was its concern to show that Catholic doctrine was not simply an elaborate impersonal “system” of truths, but rather a call to the fulfilment of the authentic dignity of the human person, because Christ, the second Adam, is the long-awaited manifestation of what it means to be truly human, the definitive revelation to man of his own human nature: “it is only in the mystery of the Word that the mystery of man truly becomes clear.”[3]

Theology, however, is not practised in a vacuum, and the cultural climate has become one in which a legitimate interest in human subjectivity has deteriorated to the point where the subject alone becomes the fundamental point of reference for all else, and the paradoxical situation arises in which the various human sciences demonstrate the limitations and contingency of every subjective viewpoint, while at the same time it is the unspoken assumption that ail subjective perspectives are equally valid, a view which, as the Encyclical Letter Fides et ratio observes, “is one of today’s most widespread symptoms of the lack of confidence in truth.”[4] Thus, a philosophical climate has established itself which, in its exaggerated subjectivism, is highly sceptical with regard to questions of truth and meaning, believing instead that there is nothing more than various and competing interpretations. It is a subjectivism which is not limited to a cultural elite, but is found diffused throughout society and takes the characteristic form of a pervasive relativism.

It is significant too that, within philosophy, a unilateral focus on human subjectivity has led to a decline of interest in metaphysics and a corresponding increase in the investigation of the phenomenon of language, linguistics and hermeneutics. In such fields, it is not unusual to hear the argument that language is essentially self-referential, that there is no point in speaking about a reality beyond language, or in speaking about truth.[5] At the same time, political critiques of language seek to show how “meanings” are created and maintained in order to preserve power and perpetuate social forms. The Encyclical Letter Fides et ratio speaks of a “crisis of meaning”[6] which sums up the situation quite well, insofar as the question for modern man has become not “are the claims of the Christian religion true?” (do they correspond to what is real?), but rather “is there any reality beyond our interpretations?” It is remarkable also how much contemporary interest there is within theology on questions of language and hermeneutics; it is in this sense that Cardinal König’s remark is true.

Undoubtedly, part of the reason for the contemporary dominance of relativism is that it would seem that this perspective has had impressive results when applied to the area of political or civil life. Relativism presents itself on the political plane in the form of pluralism, as the basis for a democratic system of government, which is founded precisely on the fact that, in matters of social policy, there can certainly be a diversity of legitimate options and thus no single vision can claim to be absolute. In a democracy, the different perspectives recognize the others as partial tendencies for achieving what is best and seek to form a consensus through dialogue and compromise. Political freedom requires a system in which relative positions communicate among themselves and remain always open to new developments. A liberal society would thus be a relativistic society, and only as such can it remain an open society, characterized by tolerance and freedom.

In the area of politics, this manner of thinking is correct up to a certain point. It is true that no political option can define itself as the only correct one. What is relative cannot be made absolute – to believe the contrary is precisely the error of totalitarian political ideologies. However, experience also shows that, when the constituents of a political democracy lack an adequate appreciation for the objective good of the human person, the mere presence of a democratic system is not sufficient to prevent serious evils. Injustices do not become just simply because they have become the consensus of the majority (for example, the killing of the innocent, institutionalized racism, or wars of aggression). Thus, even in the political realm, relativism must impose limits on itself, and those limits are to be found in the irrevocable requirements of a truth about man which transcends the subjectivity of the human person. Today, in the absence of a common commitment to fundamental human goods, democratic societies seem to be becoming increasingly polarized, and legitimate consensus harder to obtain. What this shows is that a one-sided emphasis on subjectivity tends toward increasing fragmentation and isolation within human society.

When relativism is explicitly adopted in the areas of faith and morals, the consequences are grave. In the area of moral theology, the phenomenon is well-known and does not require much comment. It is manifested most characteristically in the view which would attribute to the individual conscience the ability to make infallible decisions about good and evil, the notion that a “moral judgment is true merely by the fact that it has its origin in the conscience.”[7] As the Encyclical Letter Veritatis splendor correctly points out, “such an outlook is quite congenial to an individualistic ethic, wherein each individual is faced with his own truth, different from the truth of others.”[8] If, in philosophy and the human sciences, the investigation into human subjectivity paradoxically illustrates the limitations of the human subject (indeed, the manner in which he may even be determined culturally), while also presuming that there is no viewpoint beyond the subjective, an analogous dynamic presents itself in moral theology in the simultaneous exaltation of human freedom and radical questioning about whether men are indeed truly free.

Even in popular approaches to theology, one finds similar patterns of thought among some Catholic theologians. Perhaps the most common approach is that which begins by maintaining that the reality named by the word “God” is completely beyond our understanding; that is, an uncritical and exaggerated apophaticism is posited. Next, the function of theology becomes understood as that of interpreting or reinterpreting the “foundational texts” of a particular community, texts which are viewed as the expression of that community’s notion or experience of God. The final step is taken when this task of reinterpretation is then exercised at the service of some program; one thinks of certain forms of liberation theology or, more recently, of the hermeneutic employed by some feminist theologians. Notwithstanding the evident intelligence of some of the practitioners of these models of interpretative theology, what often emerges from such work is a tedious predictability. The results are almost always totally foreseeable; it is as if the solution were pre-ordained – as in a sense it is. One finds in such attempts a repetition of what George Tyrrell humorously criticized in the work of Adolf Harnack: “the Christ that Harnack sees, looking back through nineteen centuries of Catholic darkness, is only the reflection of a Liberal Protestant face, seen at the bottom of a deep well.”[9]

One also sees elements of the same phenomenon in what has been called the theology of religious pluralism, which in some parts of the world seems to be assuming the place which a decade ago was occupied by liberation theology. Its configurations are quite different, but what is interesting are its essential lines, above all with regard to the question of truth. The theology of religious pluralism is, on one side, the product of the Western world and its post-Enlightenment philosophical conceptions; on the other, it makes use of the philosophical and religious intuitions of Asia, and it is precisely the connection between these two worlds that determines its particular influence at the present historical moment.

The theology of Christian pluralism is shaped by its Kantian philosophical presuppositions; it is assumed that God, or Ultimate reality, is transcendent and inaccessible, and thus can be experienced only through images and ideas that are culturally conditioned. Thus, what is perceived by the human subject is not reality as it is, but only its representation through our particular system of perception. These epistemological presuppositions are then applied to Christology, and it is asserted that the identification of a single historical figure, Jesus of Nazareth, with the reality of God himself is a form of mythological thinking, true only in the sense that it may be helpful for believers to think in this way. The person of Jesus is expressly relativized so as to become one of a variety of religious masters. History presents us with many such models, ideal figures, who refer us back to what is ultimately real, to the Absolute, the divine mystery which is totally beyond human thought and history.

From this christological position follows a necessary reduction in the understanding of the Church, of doctrine and of sacraments. They are not formally abandoned because, on the contrary, they serve an important symbolic role in directing our attention to the divine, to that which transcends history. But to attribute to these means an absolute character, even as derived from and based upon the absolute event of Jesus Christ, would be to place what is particular on an absolute plane and to distort the infinity of God, who is always beyond what religions can perceive. Similarly, in such a perspective, to maintain that universally valid truth is found in the historical person of Jesus Christ and in the faith of the Church, comes to be seen as a fundamentalism opposed to the spirit of modernity and as a threat to the principal goods of tolerance and freedom.

Furthermore, it is maintained that only through the acceptance of such a relativism can there be authentic dialogue and tolerance. Entering into dialogue would signify exactly what it signifies in the model of political pluralism: the recognition that all perspectives are equally true. Thus, the process of dialogue tends to become a substitute for the search for truth itself. But this is something far different from what was understood in the patristic and scholastic tradition, as well as in the Second Vatican Council. In reality, dialogue comes into being when there is not only speaking but also listening, a listening which becomes the basis of an encounter that leads to reciprocal comprehension. But as Saint Augustine recognized in his own experience of dialogue, human beings are capable of true mutual understanding only when they are conscious of communicating in the truth: the greater their commitment to the fundamental reality of truth, the greater will be their capacity to discover real common ground. Thus, a theological perspective which prefers to set aside the question of truth as something not essential to the discussion or as even counter-productive, is not really able to enter into authentic dialogue. “To believe it is possible to know a universally valid truth is in no way to encourage intolerance; on the contrary, it is the essential condition for sincere and authentic dialogue between persons.”[10]

2. The uniqueness of the person of Jesus Christ

As this brief survey has pointed out, in the cultural context of subjectivism and increasing relativism, it is the very notion of revelation that becomes viewed as problematic, and with this comes a corresponding reduction in the understanding of the person of Christ. We find ourselves in a situation in which some theologians, both within and without the Catholic Church, have become uncomfortable with what seems to be the exclusivistic implications of asserting that in the historical person of Jesus Christ, God himself has become a human being and has spoken to us.

In other words, in a philosophical climate which has become highly sceptical with regard to the question of truth and meaning, and which tends to believe that all we can offer are various and competing systems of interpretations and symbols, it comes to be viewed as useless to speak of something true or real which stands behind these interpretations. In such a climate, the person of Christ tends to be viewed in theology increasingly as a symbol and correspondingly less as a person. This “symbolization” of the person of Christ can take various forms; it can take a relatively conservative form in which Christ is seen as the definitive symbol of the human need for God; it can take the form of seeing Christ as a symbol of the struggle for liberation from unjust social structures or from the oppression of a patriarchal society. But every symbolization of the person of Christ presupposes that there can be other ways, other symbols, for expressing what Christ symbolizes. Christ is a symbol, an expression of God – even a privileged symbol –, but it is recognized that there can be other symbols. The most important consequence of this conception is that Jesus Christ cannot be considered the unique, exclusive mediator. Only for Christians is he the human form of God, the one who facilitates man’s encounter with God.[11]

In the face of these perspectives, it is critical that theology recover an authentic sense of the person of Jesus Christ, because in the final analysis only a person can be something more than a symbol; a person is someone who speaks to us, who speaks a word to us which we receive in faith. There is a great difference between the attitude which seeks to listen to a person who speaks a word, and the attitude which seeks to interpret a symbol. It is the difference between receiving meaning and creating meaning, between understanding and self-assertion.

Indeed, the central claim of the Christian faith is the fact that through a completely free decision, God has decided to reveal himself and to give himself to man. This revelation has its definitive and final culmination in the person of the Incarnate Word, “himself both the mediator and the sum total of revelation.”[12] As the author of the Letter to the Hebrews writes: “In these last days [God] has spoken to us by a Son.”[13] The Catechism of the Catholic Church appropriately includes, as a kind of commentary on this passage, the words of Saint John of the Cross: “In giving us his Son, his only Word (for he possesses no other), he spoke everything to us at once in this sole Word.”[14] It is significant that the Catechism chooses John of the Cross to help explain what revelation means; in this we are reminded that theology has its origin in the encounter with a Word that is always prior to us, a Word who is a person. Theology begins in the receptiveness of faith, and it is for this reason that the saints are theologians in the fullest sense of the term.

In this connection, I would note that in the period since the last meeting, in 1996, between the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and Doctrinal Commissions of Episcopal Conferences, there have been several important steps taken by the Holy See with regard to Catholic doctrine. I have already referred to the Encyclical Fides et ratio; later in our meeting we will speak about others: the Motu proprio Ad tuendam fidem and accompanying Commentary on the Professio fidei;and also the Apostolic Letter Apostolos suos. But there has been another development of significance for Catholic theology which perhaps does not come immediately to mind, and that is the declaration of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus as a Doctor of the Church. In a certain sense, the decision of the Holy Father to declare formally the “eminent doctrine” of this saint is an important and timely reminder of what theology ought to be; the Pope expresses this with succinctness in his Apostolic Letter Divini amoris scientia: “As it was for the Church’s saints in every age, so also for her; in her spiritual experience Christ is the centre and fullness of revelation. Thérèse knew Jesus, loved him and made him loved with the passion of a bride.”[15] To know the person of Christ – this is the foundation of theology.

In the final analysis, the Church’s claim that Jesus of Nazareth is the center and fullness of revelation, the only mediator between God and the human race, in whom all truth is found, is simply her articulation of the response of faith to the person who has revealed himself to her. It is the conviction, as Saint Paul confesses, that the “obedience of faith” must be given to God as he reveals himself.[16] The Church ultimately is made up of those who believe that this Word is true; it is in this sense that she is the Spouse of the Word; she listens to the Word and is formed by the Word. Indeed, it is in the liturgy of the Church that this listening is continually accomplished.

But the fact of the radical uniqueness of the person of Jesus Christ, the fact that he is the Word of God spoken to humanity, does not – contrary to what some would assert – imply the destruction or homogenization of human cultures. In fact, it is precisely the opposite. All cultures can receive this Word precisely because it is a Word which is prior to human speech. This truth is recalled by the Holy Father in Fides et ratio in connection with the listing of peoples in the Pentecost account of the Acts of the Apostles[17] which narrates how through all languages and in all languages, that is, in all cultures which manifest themselves in language, the testimony about Jesus Christ becomes understandable. In all of them, the human word becomes the bearer of God’s own language, of God’s own Logos. The Encyclical puts it this way: “While it demands of ail who hear it the adherence of faith, the proclamation of the Gospel in different cultures allows people to preserve their own cultural identity. This in no way creates division, because the community of the baptized is marked by a universality which can embrace every culture.”[18]

It is by the receptivity of faith in the concrete person of Jesus Christ, through the Spirit, that an authentic pluralism can develop: pluralism happens not when it is made the explicit object of our desire, but when one seeks to receive the truth with all its power. To desire to receive the person of Christ in faith requires that, instead of making myself the measure, I have the trust to accept as the voice and the way of truth the greater understanding which is present as a prior given in the Church’s faith.

3. The subject of the Church and the meaning of the phrase subsistit in

That the Church is the community brought into being by the faithful reception of this single and definitive Word of God implies that it will become a community shaped by the common receptivity to this Word, a common listening which takes place not only at a single moment of history, but a listening which transcends history. Empirically speaking, it was the preaching of the apostles in different languages and cultural contexts which called into existence the social organization of the Church as a kind of single historical subject. One becomes a believer by joining this community of tradition, thought and life, by living personally from its continuity of life throughout history, and by acquiring a share in its way of understanding, its speech and its thought. For the believer, however, the Church is not a sociological subject created by human agreement, but a truly new subject called into being by the Word and in the Holy Spirit, and precisely for that reason, the Church herself overcomes the seemingly insurmountable confines of human subjectivity, by putting man in contact with the ground of reality which is prior to him.

The Church can be so identified with Christ that she can be called his “body.” This bodily unity is to be understood against the Biblical concept of man and wife: they are to become two in one flesh.[19] It is a unity created through the unifying power of love, which does not destroy the duality of the two, but unites them in a profound oneness. And it is here that we find the answer to the problem of human subjectivity mentioned above; it is here that the poles of human subjectivity and the uniqueness of the person of Christ are resolved in the concrete subject of the Church. It is in Christ that the Christian finds his own identity as a subject; in being identified with Christ, in being one with him, one’s own self is restored. In the experience of faith, the Christian knows that he has been accepted by Christ and he is thus enabled to give himself freely to Christ. In this process, the human subject becomes an embodiment of the Church; he simultaneously finds his identity and experiences the purification of human subjectivity, a surrendering of the self and a being drawn into the innermost nature of what is meant by the word “Church.” The Christian’s inclusion in this single ecclesial subject finds paramount expression liturgically as a single response of faith, a response in persona ecclesiae, to God’s revelation when we together say: “I believe.” By its very nature, faith is this believing communion with the whole Church. The “I believe” of the Creed refers not to some private “I”, but rather to the corporate “I” of the Church.

It has always been the conviction of the Church that her subjectivity possesses a recognizable delineation; she is one in faith, one in the celebration of the sacraments, one in apostolic succession and one in ecclesial governance. The Second Vatican Council teaches the historical continuity between the Church founded by Christ and the Catholic Church in the now-famous paragraph 8 of Lumen gentium: “This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although outside of her structure, many elements can be found of sanctification and truth which, as gifts properly belonging to the Church of Christ, impel toward Catholic unity.”[20]

As the response of the House of Bishops of the Church of England to the Encyclical Ut unum sint noted, the phrase subsitit in has been interpreted “in different ways both within the Catholic Church and elsewhere.”[21] In 1985, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith sought to clarify somewhat the mistaken interpretations of the phrase subsisit in, by declaring that Leonardo Boff’s understanding of subsistence, in which the Church of Christ “may also be present in other Christian churches,” was precisely the opposite of the authentic meaning of the conciliar text.[22]

The Congregation’s declaration saw a form of ecclesiological relativism in Boff’s interpretation of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, which contradicts the Council’s fundamental approach. As this relativism possesses its own logic within his ecclesiology, and since it also corresponds to a trend relatively widespread in contemporary theology, it may be helpful to examine it a bit more closely. Boff follows the exegetical theory which holds that the “historical Jesus” did not envisage a Church; the Church originated only after the resurrection in the process of de-eschatologization, due to the inevitable need for institutionalization. In this process, the Church conformed to worldly patterns and adopted a Roman and feudal style (two historical realities which, in fact, are quite distinct from each other). If this were so, that is, if the Church as an institution were due only to the process of de-eschatologization, to a moving away from Jesus’ original message and to the sociological inevitability of the community’s institutionalization, then all institutions within the Church would be only human works. Following from such presuppositions, Boff’s conclusion – that there needs to be permanent change within the Church and that today a totally new Church is called for – is quite logical. It would also follow that there is really no concrete “Church of God;” indeed, from this viewpoint, one would have to ask whether the notion of a Church “of God” would not in fact be completely untenable. If the Church as such resulted only from the loss of the original eschatological tension and from sociological needs, then all the historical Churches are simply human constructions, having their origin in particular historical conditions and, under certain circumstances, must be capable of radical modification. At the most, the Churches would differ from one another only secondarily in their theological quality, but Boff assumes that the “one Church of Christ” could “subsist” in many Churches.

The starting point for Catholic (and Orthodox) theology is, however, quite different. It is clear that the foundation of the Church cannot be ascribed to a hypothetically constructed “historical Jesus,” since, from this point of departure, the idea of the Church has no place. Catholic tradition, however, as already mentioned, chooses a different starting point: it trusts the Evangelists and believes them. Thus, it becomes clear that Jesus, who announced the kingdom of God, also gathered disciples around him for its realization. He did not only give them his word as a new interpretation of the Old Testament, but also, in the Sacrament of the Last Supper, bestowed on them a new unifying center, through which all those who confess faith in him become one with him in a totally new way, in a unity so profound that Saint Paul could describe the community as a being-one-body with Christ, a spiritual body- unity. Thus, it also becomes clear that the promise of the Holy Spirit is not just a vague announcement, but refers to the reality of Pentecost, to the fact that the Church is not thought up and produced by man, but is created by the Spirit; the Church is and always remains the work of the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, the relationship in the Church between institution and Spirit is different from what Boff, and with him some other modern theologians, would propose. The institution is not something that can be deconstructed and reconstructed at will, something that has nothing to do with the reality of faith as such. Rather, this form of bodiliness belongs to the Church herself. The Church of Christ is not something intangible, hidden under the variety of human constructions, but she truly exists as a bodily Church, identified through the confession of faith, the sacraments and apostolic succession. It is significant that in his recent Dogmengeschichte, the Lutheran theologian Wolfgang Bienert departs decisively from Harnack and the liberal positions widely held in the first half of the twentieth century.[23] He argues instead that the three “pre-dogmatic fundamental norms,” as he calls them, “the confession of faith as the norm of truth,” the Biblical canon, and the ecclesial (or episcopal ministry) – elements which are commonly referred to as “early Catholicism” – are not a break from the origin, but profoundly correspond to it and serve its realization.

But “ecclesiological relativism” must also be considered from another angle. If the Church only “subsists” intangibly under the various ‘‘Churches,” then no Church could claim to possess definitively binding teaching authority, and in this way institutional relativism will lead to doctrinal relativism. If belief in “the body” of the Church is taken away, the Church’s concrete claims regarding the content of the faith disappear along with her bodiliness

What the Second Vatican Council wished to express with the subsistit formula – in complete fidelity to the Catholic tradition – is precisely the opposite of any “ecclesiological relativism.” It is that the Church of Jesus Christ exists. Christ himself has willed her existence, and, since Pentecost, the Holy Spirit continuously creates her and, despite every human failure, preserves the Church in her essential identity. The institution is not an inevitable, yet theologically irrelevant or even detrimental formality, but rather, in its essential nucleus, belongs to the concreteness of the incarnation. The Lord keeps his word: “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”[24]

At this point, it is important to examine the word subsistit a bit more closely. With this term, the Council explicated the formula of Pope Pius XII, who had stated in his Encyclical Letter Mystici Corporis Christi that the Catholic Church “is” (est) the one mystical body of Christ. In the distinction between subsistit and est is hidden the entire ecumenical problem. The word subsistit derives from Ancient philosophy, as it was later developed among the Scholastics. It corresponds to the Greek word hypostasis, which of course plays a key role in Christology in describing the union of divine and human natures in the one person of Christ. Subsistere is a special case of esse. It refers to existence in the form of an individual subject. That is exactly what it means here. The Council wanted to say that the Church of Jesus Christ, as a concrete subject in the world, is found in the Catholic Church. This can only occur in a single instance, and thus the notion that subsistit could be multiplied, precisely misses the meaning of the term. With the word subsistit, the Council wanted to express the singularity and non-multiplicability of the Church of Christ, the Catholic Church: the Church exists as a single subject in the reality of history. But the difference between subsistit and est also embraces the drama of ecclesial division, for while the Church is only one and really exists, there is being which is from the Church’s being – there is ecclesial reality – outside the Church. Because sin is contradiction, the difference between subsistit and est cannot, in the final analysis, be completely resolved logically.

In the paradox of the difference between the Church’s uniqueness and concreteness on one hand, and the existence of ecclesial reality outside this single subject on the other, the contradiction of human sin is reflected, the contradiction of division. Such a division is something quite different from the dialectic presented by Leonardo Boff and some other theologians, in which the divisions among Christians are no longer seen as something painful and, in fact, no longer seen even as a splitting, but rather viewed as descriptive of the multiplicity of variations on a theme, in which all the variations are at the same time somehow right and somehow wrong. The view of the Council is totally different. The fact that, in the Catholic Church, the subsistence of the one subject of the Church is present, is something which can in no way be credited to Catholics, but is rather the work of God alone, which he sustains in spite of the continual discrediting failures of the members of the Church. Therefore, they have nothing about which to boast, but rather, ashamed of their sins and at the same time filled with gratitude, they should marvel at God’s faithfulness. But the effects of sin are clear to everyone: the whole world sees the spectacle of separated Christian communities opposed to one another, whose claims to the truth contradict one another, and who thus seem to frustrate the very prayer of Christ on the eve of his suffering and death. While the divisions as historical realities can be grasped by anyone, the ongoing existence of the one Church in the concrete form of the Catholic Church can only be perceived by faith.

Because the Second Vatican Council understood this paradox, it explained that Ecumenism is a duty which is part of the future of the Church on her way through history. Ecumenism thus seeks to re-establish, not the unity of the Church, but rather unity among all Christians and full communion between the Catholic Church and the Churches and ecclesial communities separated from her. At the same time, we must not forget that the lack of unity among Christians is a wound for the Catholic Church, not in the sense of being deprived of her unity, but insofar as the divisions are an obstacle in the way of the full realization of her universal vocation in history.[25]


As the Encyclical Fides et ratio makes clear, we find ourselves at a moment in history in which the Church – by insisting on the existence of a truth beyond subjectivity, a truth found in the person of Jesus Christ – can render a profound service to the world of philosophy and culture. This service will be given to the extent to which Christian theology becomes conscious of its authentic nature and has the courage to speak about God – God who has revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ. In this way, theology becomes true wisdom and true knowledge, divini amoris scientia, the wisdom of the Cross, a wisdom formed by the uniqueness, the definitiveness and the insuperability of the person of Jesus Christ, a wisdom of love in which the Church listens to the Word and speaks that Word in her own voice.




[1] Cf. Christoph Schönborn, “La situation actuelle de la théologie”, Aletheia 10 (décembre 1996), 9.

[2] John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Fides et ratio (September 14, 1998), 5: AAS 91 (1999), 9.

[3] Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, 22.

[4] John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Fides et ratio (September 14, 1998), 5: AAS 91 (1999), 9.

[5] Cf. ibid., 84.

[6] Ibid., 81.

[7] John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Veritatis splendor (August 6, 1993), 32: AAS 85 (1993), 1159.

[8] Ibid., 32.

[9] George Tyrrell, Christianity at the Cross-Roads (London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1909), 44.

[10] John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Fides et ratio (September 14, 1998), 92: AAS 91 (1999), 78.

[11] Such positions are discussed in the document of the International Theological Commission, Christianity and the World Religions (1997), par. 21.

[12] Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Dei verbum, 2.

[13] Heb 1:1-2.

[14] Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 65.

[15] John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Divini amoris scientia (October 11, 1997), 8: AAS 90 (1998), 938.

[16] Rom 16:26; cf. Rom 1:5; 2 Cor 10:5-6.

[17] Acts 2:7-11.

[18] John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Fides et ratio (September 14, 1998), 71: AAS 91 (1999), 60.

[19] Cf. Gen 2:24; Eph 5:30ff; 1 Cor 6:16.

[20] Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, 8.

[21] May They All Be One: A Response of the House of Bishops of the Church of England toUt Unum Sint (London: Church House Publishing, 1997), par. 56.

[22] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Notificatio de scripto P. Leonardi Boff, OFM, «Chiesa: Carisma e Potere» (March 11, 1985): AAS 77 (1985), 758.

[23] Wolfgang A. Bienert, Dogmengeschichte (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1997).

[24] Mt 16:18.

[25] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Litterae ad Catholicae Ecclesiae episcopos de aliquibus aspectibus Ecclesiae prout est communio (May 28, 1992), 17: AAS 85 (1993), 849.