The Dominus Iesus, on the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church
is a document that was published by the Vatican
's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
on September 5, 2000. The document had been in preparation for several years and was met with immediate criticism, both from outside and inside the Church's ranks. The most criticism, in fact, came from other Christians
This was due to the strong stance the document takes on the validity of other religions and churches. Plainly put, it stated that Christianity was the one true religion, and that the Roman Catholic Church was the one true church within that religion. John Shelby Spong called this a return to "the mentality of the inquisition, not in deeds but in attitudes."1 Many critics claimed the document ignored the previous thirty years' progress towards ecumenical reconcillation. Hans Kung, a Swiss Catholic theologian, said the document was "a mixture of medieval backwardness and Vatican megalomania."2
Some theologians countered that the document did not deviate much from what was set forth in Vatican II. The official doctrine before Vatican II was that the church of Christ was exclusively identified with the Roman Catholic Church.3 This doctrine continued in the first two drafts of Vatican II's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, but was modified in the final version to say the church subsists in the Church.4 What "subsists in" meant was never fully clarified, but most Christians noted this change as a more accepting stance on other denominations.
However, the document creates more clearly defined boundaries. In section IV 17, it states that "the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery, are not Churches in the proper sense." Anglicans and Protestants took this as a referral to them. Their suspicions were further confirmed by a directive from the Congregation forbidding Catholic Bishops to use the term "sister church" when referring to Protestant churches.5
The resulting boundaries set forth cause no end to the friction with other religions and I view this with dismay as the Church enters the second millenium. I also view this with a certain amusement, as the claims of lone validity seem to be grasps at the unattainable; the Church no longer has the hold on the world it did in the years before, and their power will only diminish in time. The only question in my mind is if this document is a catalyst of the forthcoming fall, or merely a sign of the continuous decline.
1Spong, John Shelby. A New Christianity for a New World. HarperCollins, 2001. p 225.
2Doogue, Edumund, and Stephen Brown. Christianity Today, September 11, 2000.
3From the Cantate Domino in 1441: "none of those who are not within the Catholic Church, not only Pagans, but Jews, heretics and schismatics, can ever be partakers of eternal life, but are to go into the eternal fire 'prepared for the devil, and his angels' unless before the close of their lives they shall have entered into that Church."
4Francis A., Sullvian, SJ. The Impact of Dominus Iesus on Ecumenism. America, October 28, 2000.
5Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone. Note on the Expression Sister Churches. Catholic News Service, September 14, 2000.