Reflections on 'Dominus Iesus' Print
Bishop Hying's Column
Written by Bishop Donald J. Hying, Bishop of Madison   
Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019 -- 12:00 AM
Bishop Donald J. Hying's column

The primary aim of the Amazon Synod that is happening right now in Rome is, in the words of Pope Francis, to “identify new ways for the evangelization of that portion of the people of God, and especially the indigenous peoples.”1

This question of how to evangelize is very important, not only for the Amazon Region, but for the whole Church. How do we bring Jesus Christ to those who have never heard of him? And more specifically, how are we called to treat other cultures and other religions with the respect they deserve yet without compromising the saving truth of the Gospel?

Document addressed evangelizing mission of Church

These are big questions, and so I want to take this opportunity to reflect on them with you here in this column. And to do that I want to start by recalling the teaching of the Declaration Dominus Iesus (“the Lord Jesus”), which was issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the year 2000.

This landmark document addressed the question of the evangelizing mission of the Church, in connection with the religious traditions of the world, from the perspective of the uniqueness and the universality of the saving mission of Christ and the Church.

This is an important document in another respect, too, because even though it was issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Pope St. John Paul II really made it his own in a special way. At his Angelus address on October 1, 2000, he explained what he hoped this document would accomplish:

“With the Declaration Dominus Iesus — Jesus is Lord — approved by me in a special way at the height of the Jubilee Year, I wanted to invite all Christians to renew their fidelity to him in the joy of faith and to bear unanimous witness that the Son, both today and tomorrow, is ‘the way, and the truth, and the life’ (Jn 14:6). Our confession of Christ as the only Son, through whom we ourselves see the Father’s face (cf. Jn 14:8), is not arrogance that disdains other religions, but joyful gratitude that Christ has revealed himself to us without any merit on our part. At the same time, he has obliged us to continue giving what we have received and to communicate to others what we have been given, since the gift of Truth and the Love that is God belong to all people.”

For my own part, I want to extend this same invitation again to all of us, to renew our fidelity to Jesus Christ in the joy of faith and to bear witness in humble gratitude to the fact that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Eternal Life for all men and women of all times and places.

Proclaiming the Gospel

The Declaration Dominus Iesus begins by recalling the last words of Christ to his disciples before he ascended into heaven. As disciples of Jesus Christ, these words are also addressed to us: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mk 16:15-16); and:

“All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the world” (Mt 28:18-20). This command of Christ, this Great Commission, is the permanent mission statement of the Church, which “is fulfilled in the course of the centuries in the proclamation of the mystery of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son, as the saving event for all humanity” (Dominus Iesus, 1).

Certainly this does not mean that we should reject or disdain anything that is good and true in the other religions of the world. Of course not! Very often they reflect rays of “the true light that enlightens every man” (cf. Jn 1:9).

At the same time, however, we have to remember that non-Christian religions also involve errors and superstitious practices which we cannot affirm or participate in even out of a well-intentioned desire for mutual respect and understanding. We are called to love and to affirm the dignity of every human person. And it is precisely our love for others — our genuine desire for their ultimate happiness, which is possible only in Christ — that does not allow us to affirm anything that savors of syncretism or religious relativism.

The acceptance of such errors, either in theory or in practice, is a serious threat to the missionary mandate of the Church to preach the Gospel to all nations.

Next week I will continue to reflect on the teaching of Dominus Iesus as it recalls for all of us “certain indispensable elements of Christian doctrine, which may help theological reflection in developing solutions consistent with the contents of the faith and responsive to the pressing needs of contemporary culture” (Dominus Iesus, 3).

1 Pope Francis, Announcement of the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazonian Region (October 15, 2017).