Distinctions

Returning to our Christian self-understanding we can summarize our provisional results in the following points:

(1) In our theoretical debate we have to see, on the one hand, the conviction that Christianity acknowledges the life of Jesus Christ to be a universal way to salvation, that is to say, a way which is open to all members of human history, and, on the other hand, the question whether or not Christ's salvific action becomes effective for all humankind. For quite a long time the Church pointedly insisted upon "Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus" (= "Outside the Church there is no salvation") as an ecclesial doctrine; in the meantime the understanding of the formula is reduced again to its original meaning when it was used rhetorically in sermons.16 Moreover, the sentence itself has been replaced by the phrase "Extra Christum nulla salus," "Outside of Christ there is no salvation"; this sentence, too, is not to be interpreted in a rigorous way.

(2) The notification concerning Jacques Dupuis states in nr. 8:

In accordance with Catholic doctrine, it must be held that "whatever the Spirit brings about in human hearts and in the history of peoples, in cultures and religions, serves as preparation for the Gospel (see Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, nr.16)." It is therefore legitimate to maintain that the Holy Spirit accomplishes salvation in non Christians, also through those elements of truth and goodness present in the various religions. To hold however, that these religions, considered as such, are ways of salvation, has no foundation in Catholic theology, also because they contain omissions, insufficiencies and errors regarding fundamental truths about God, man and the world.

The second sentence is noteworthy; for contrary to earlier doctrinal statements concerning the possibility of attaining salvation, salvation is not only ascribed to individuals outside the Church in an abstract way (maybe as "anonymous Christian"); it is rather explicitly connected with "elements of truth and goodness present in the various religions" (in the sense of the second principle of Karl Rahner that religions are "legitimate" as long as some one does not meet with the

16 For a detailed history of the phrase see J. Ratzinger, Volk Gottes. Entwürfe zur Ekklesiologie. Düsseldorf 1969, pp.341-352; also H. Waldenfels, (note 15), pp. 428f.

message of Christ existentially).17 In other words: It is not simply said that God can lead to faith "those who, through no fault of their own are ignorant of the gospel," "in ways known to himself" (Ad gentes nr. 7; cf. Lumen gentium nr. 16), but "the elements of truth and goodness" in other religions are effective for salvation by the power of the Holy Spirit. This statement deserves our attention beyond all others which include the other religions into the process of preparing the road to the gospel. We will discuss later on the notion "ways of salvation."

(3) Moreover, we ought distinguish between the Christian understanding of Christ's salvific activity, which is in reality effective - not withstanding all alien estimations - and the wide spread conviction that the attainment of salvation outside Christianity could be separated from Christ's act of salvation. According to the second point the connection of salvation to Christ might be at the most a possible, but by no means an obliging interpretation. Regarding this view we have to see that an interpretation can be accepted or refused. However, the acceptance or refusal of an interpretation is not to be confused with the acceptance or refusal of the existentially important reality of salvation itself.

(4) Wherever Jesus in his historical limitations is reduced to a degree that the predicate "is" - "God is truly God and truly man" - becomes invalid in reality and, thus turns out to be only a part of the interpretative horizon in which we try understanding Jesus, Christianity is leveled down and loses its uniqueness. Therefore, Christian theology is well advised to reassure itself of this uniqueness always anew. This reassurance presupposes that we deal with reality. Therefore, it is also not enough to talk about different perspectives and positions as long as it is not clear that reality - we might also say: truth - is not primarily a problem of language, but that it stands in itself. We can also not feel satisfied with the insight that humans never can express the totality of truth in their language adequately. About the access to truth people have to come to a common understanding, here they have even to struggle with each other.

Whoever approaches someone else as Christian has to confess himself to the living GOD through JESUS CHRIST, "truly God, truly man," by the power of grace granted by the SPIRIT of Father and Son. For good reasons Jacques Dupuis has declared himself a supporter of

17 See K. Rahner, Christianity and the Non-Christian Religions, in id., Theological Investigations. Vol. 5, pp. 115-134.

a trinitarian Christology. In Jesus we come to see God's face - "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9); through him and his Spirit we shall be guided "to all truth" (John 16:13); in virtue of God's loving self-communication Christians meet others. Only when faith in God, confession to Jesus Christ and life by the power of the Holy Spirit come together, finds the proprium, the characteristic of Christian faith, its true expression. The encounter with others springs from a depth where the question of God is posed, and where it becomes evident from where and what for human persons are living. All this is not primarily a problem of language, but of reality. We might also say: of practice.

Unless we do not wish to end up in merely theoretical disputes we have to perceive the warnings of theologians who live in the brutal experiences of the people who have no voice in their poverty, oppression, and the inhumanity of the life. We ask for the truth, but this side of society is part of the truth from which we cannot turn away in an insensitive way. Truth is not so much a problem of speech as of life and deeds. As we read in John 3:21, "whoever lives," i.e. who practices "the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God." If there is truly competition between religions it can be decided only on the battle-field of life. There we meet with our questions and our answers, our needs and our solutions. It is worthwhile to turn to history where we find the many faces and languages, the many races and colors, the many cultures and religions, men and women, the rich and the poor. And Christians are confronted with the answer which will be given by the Son of man in his final coming when "all the nations will be assembled before him": "Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. what you did not do for one these least ones, you did not do for me." (Mt 25: 32.40)

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