Roman Catholicism: Vatican Document Reasserts Catholicism Superiority

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Last Updated By Bill's Bible Basics :
February 16, 2017

Baptist Press

September 8, 2000

VATICAN CITY, Italy (BP) -- A Vatican document issued Sept. 5 won't set well with evangelicals and Protestants. As described in the lead paragraph of a Washington Post story, it 'declares that individuals can attain full salvation from earthly sin only through the spiritual grace of the Catholic Church and that other faiths -- including Protestant Christian ones -- have defects that place their followers in a gravely deficient situation in seeking salvation.'

As recounted in the lead paragraph of a Los Angeles Times story:

"Censuring what it called the spread of 'religious relativism,' the Vatican on Tuesday instructed Roman Catholics to uphold the dogma that their church is the sole path to spiritual salvation for all humanity."

The 36-page Vatican document was released at a news conference in Rome by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the principal Vatican body for defining and upholding theological tradition.

Vatican officials said the document has the explicit approval of 80-year-old Pope John Paul II, who has occupied the papacy for 22 years.

Titled "Declaration Dominus Iesus [Lord Jesus] ... On the Unity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church," the document is the culmination of two years of study, though it breaks no new ground theologically for the Catholic Church, according to news reports, which also noted the document was aimed mainly at Catholic theologians and its timing coincides with the millennial celebration of Jesus' birth.

The position statement seemed to "question the considerable ecumenical gains we have made," said Anglican world leader George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury. His denomination "does not for one moment accept that its order of ministry and eucharist are deficient in any way," he added. The World Council of Churches said that it would be a "tragedy" if Christian cooperation were "obscured by...dialogue about their relative authority and status," reported "The Washington Post."

Vinson Synan, dean of the school of divinity at Regent University and a noted Pentecostal scholar, told Charisma News Service today that he hoped Protestant Christians would focus on the positive aspects of the Vatican announcement. They could agree that salvation is to be found through Jesus Christ.

"But the Catholic church has a PR problem because there are documents going back for centuries stating it is the one and only church, and yet since Vatican II it has opened up to recognize the validity and authenticity of non-Roman Catholic communities. There's a kind of double view that the church has to deal with."

Killian McDonnell, president of the Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, and a recognized Catholic authority on Pentecostal issues, said that he thought Protestants "will disagree, and possibly take offense." He added: "But I don't see this as a rolling back of the ecumenical cause. I think that the statement is just wanting to reaffirm those kind of basic truths which in an ecumenical context sometimes might get lost."

Among the Vatican document's assertions, according to news reports:

-- "This truth of faith does not lessen the sincere respect that the [Catholic] Church has for the religions of the world," but it "rules out, in a radical way, ... the belief that one religion is as good as another."

-- Non-Catholic Christian churches "suffer from defects," partly because they do not recognize the authority of the pope, but they "have by no means been deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation." Other Christian denominations are not "churches in the proper sense," but their members are, through baptism, "in a certain communion, albeit imperfect, with the [Catholic] Church."

-- The office of the pope is rooted in "the will of God," with the entire church "governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him."

-- Other religions, though not specifically named in the document, have "gravely deficient" chances for salvation due to "superstitions or other errors [that] constitute an obstacle to salvation."

-- Catholic missionaries have a duty to evangelize adherents of other faiths, to teach that Jesus is "the sole redeemer." The inter-religious dialogue in which the Catholic Church has engaged other faiths, the document said, is simply "part of her evangelizing mission."

-- The Catholic Church opposes such beliefs as divine truth being elusive; different truths that exist for some cultures; that the last judgment of God does not loom; and that reason can be the only source of knowledge.

-- "The lack of unity among Christians is certainly a wound for the church," the document said, hindering "the complete fulfillment of her universality in history."

The Los Angeles Times noted that the document was preceded by a Vatican order in June that bishops avoid references to "sister churches" and instead remember that "the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church is not sister but 'mother' of all the particular [Christian] churches."

Several news reports noted that the document seemed to be a departure for Pope John Paul II, who is a Catholic traditionalist but has engaged in numerous overtures to mend rifts between Catholicism and other Christian communions such as Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglicans and Lutherans and to promote understanding between Catholics and Jews, Muslims and adherents of other non-Christian religions

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