Reflections on Dominus Iesus, part two Print
Bishop Hying's Column
Written by Bishop Donald J. Hying, Bishop of Madison   
Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019 -- 12:00 AM
Bishop Donald J. Hying's column

In my last column, I began speaking about the Declaration Dominus Iesus ("the Lord Jesus"), which recalls for us "certain indispensable elements of Christian doctrine" that we all need to keep in mind as we think about one of the big questions confronting the Amazon Synod in Rome, which is simply this: how are we called to relate to followers of non-Christian religions, many of whom have never heard the proclamation of the saving truth of the Gospel?

What are these "indispensable elements of Christian doctrine"? The Declaration mentions more things than we have space to discuss here, but I want to highlight the first one in particular, which has to do with the fullness and definitiveness of the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Forms of relativism

Many people today seem more and more drawn toward various forms of relativism. The most extreme form of relativism denies that there is any absolute truth at all, which is actually quite paradoxical since the very assertion that there are no absolute truths implies the self-contradictory claim that "it is absolutely true that there are no absolute truths."

Moral relativism denies that there is any absolute truth in matters of right and wrong. This is the idea that morality is completely personal and subjective: what's wrong for you can be right for me and vice versa. Everyone is free to determine their own standards of morality and no one should criticize anyone else's moral choices.

Of course, this is deeply problematic as well, because if you follow through the logic consistently, you end up having to say that even something as reprehensible as murder or genocide can be morally right.

Another version of relativism is religious relativism, which denies that there is any absolute truth in matters of religious belief. On this view, no one religion can claim to have the fullness of truth about God, and the conclusion is often drawn that all religions must be equally valid pathways toward God.

There would then be no point in evangelizing the members of another religion, and we would be left only with a form of inter-religious dialogue pursued endlessly for its own sake.

This kind of relativism poses a real danger to the evangelizing mission of the Church, since any Catholic who accepts this way of thinking will no longer see why he should preach the Gospel to his neighbor. Or worse yet, he may even come to view efforts aimed at evangelization as positively wrong!

God's revelation to us in Jesus Christ

But we cannot deny the very core of the mission entrusted by Jesus Christ to the Church and still claim to be his disciples. And that mission is to "Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature" (Mk 16:15); to "make disciples of 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" (Mt 28:19-20).

Therefore, we must strive to overcome this relativistic mentality by renewing our faith in the full and definitive character of God's revelation to us in Christ Jesus. As Dominus Iesus reminds us:

"It must be firmly believed that, in the mystery of Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God, who is 'the way, the truth, and the life' (Jn 14:6), the full revelation of divine truth is given: 'No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him' (Mt 11:27); 'No one has ever seen God; God the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, has revealed him' (Jn 1:18); 'For in Christ the whole fullness of divinity dwells in bodily form' (Col 2:9-10).

What does this mean? The Catechism teaches us that there are "many elements of sanctification and of truth" that can be found outside the Catholic Church (CCC 819). But this does not mean that each religion has received separate and partial revelations from God which now have to be combined together in some kind of syncretistic synthesis.

Rather, everything that is good and true in other religions should be viewed with humble gratitude as a providential preparation for the Gospel, as God lovingly prepares the way for every heart to hear the Good News of the Gospel and to be transformed by Jesus Christ through faith in the saving power of his name.