Dominus Iesus

Dominus Iesus" is the formula of a profession of faith in Jesus Christ: "Jesus is the Lord." On September 5, 2000, the Roman Congregation of Faith published a declaration, which had been signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on August 6, titled with its opening words "Dominus Iesus." The two words express a program:1 The declaration deals, first of all, with Jesus Christ, his uniqueness and his universal meaning for the history of salvation, and in its final chapters also with the Church. Unfortunately the primary intention of the text was very much concealed in Central Europe because the public attention was immediately drawn to the second part of the declaration which considered the Church and her fundamental hierarchical structures and failed to emphasize what unites Christians as the community of followers of Christ. Instead, it came to the rather offensive assertion that some of the ecclesial communities were not to be called "Churches in the proper sense" (nr.17).

In fact the true intention of Dominus Iesus was underlined by the notification which the same congregation published on February 26, 2001. There it announced some warnings against the book of Jacques Dupuis SJ, Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism.2 The title of the book calls attention to the very concern of the declaration: It was to remind the faithful of the uniqueness of Jesus in a time where religious pluralism is spreading and Christ is seen in line with other religious founders and even interchanged by them. In view of the strong emphasis of Christianity on the importance of Christ's saving action for the history of all humankind, the question is posed: What exactly is the place of Christianity amidst the other religions? Is Chris-

1 On the Lordship of Christ see in more detail J. Sobrino, Christ the Liberator. A View from the Victims. Orbis: Maryknoll, N.Y. 2001, pp.152-169.

2 Published by Orbis: Maryknoll, N.Y. 1997.

jesús christ & the religions tianity only one - and finally arbitrary - religion among others? Or does it insist with good reasons upon the special salvific meaning of Jesus Christ?


The first answer to this question is: Christianity is not to begin by presenting itself as an institutional object or "some thing" which can be compared with other culture-creating Weltanschauung and ways of life, with organizations (churches) and systems (hierarchies, religious doctrines etc.); it has to start by calling attention to a person, to Jesus of Nazareth, with whom began a movement open for all humankind, and in which the founder himself continues to live even beyond his death, - we say: after his resurrection. Therefore, being a Christian in the full sense of the word does not mean so much belonging to a Weltanschauung group or a practice of life called "Christianity" or to an organization called "Church," as it does to find and go existentially one's way of life following the footsteps of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. This basic idea can lose (and has lost) its full expression in the course of Christian and church history, and developed many different grades of distinctness. Actually today Christianity is mainly considered a movement based upon and originally inspired by Jesus of Nazareth, but since long ago split in many branches; at the end it turned out to be an important cultural phenomenon in world history.

That does not prevent that Jesus of Nazareth remains the central figure of Christianity. The philosopher Karl Jaspers (1883-1969) commented on that in a deliberation which still can serve as guide. For him Jesus of Nazareth belongs to the great authorities and figures in history. Moreover, Jaspers maintains that he himself still has a say about him against theologians and church authorities who cannot forbid him to call himself a Christian:

Theologians may say disdainfully that Bible-reading alone does not make one a Christian. I reply that no one knows who is a Christian. All of us are Christians in the sense of bible faith, and whoever claims to be a Christian should be so considered. We need not let ourselves be thrown out of the house which lodged our fathers for a thousand years. The point is how one reads the bible, and what it makes of him.

... In the world, he who considers himself a Christian ought to be deemed one.3

In fact Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ remains the decisive figure of orientation for everything which has developed in Christianity after him until our present time so that its legitimacy has to be examined and measured in view of him. This has to be maintained even if the procedure of examination can be discussed, too.

To repeat it again: The starting point is important for several reasons. When in 1994 my Humboldt-Lectures in Berlin were published under the title Phänomen Christentum, the book got the subtitle Eine Weltreligion in der Welt der Religionen (= A World Religion in the World of Religions).4 This corresponds to today's reality and describes the view of Christianity from the outside. Christianity is one religion with many factors, which in the comparative science of religion can be compared with similar phenomena in other religions. Of course, existentially people might even come to conclusions like "Don't we all believe in one God?" or "All religions are equal." And in fact here as everywhere else in public life also regarding religion arbitrariness has become the predominant option for many people. Consequently they "buy" what they find useful on the "supermarket of religion." Not the truth of religions counts any more, but their utility.

Often this attitude is supported by the fact that in a time full of conflicts humans prefer to look for communalities, for what combines more than for what divides. As a rule the search ends up on the lowest level of mutual consent. Apparently this has the advantage that - as many people think - tolerance can be exercised in the vague form of mutual indulgences and by abandoning the question of truth. Nevertheless, we find today an increasing number of people who are not satisfied with a way of life on the lowest level of common consent just for the sake of peace; they realize that too much is being pushed aside. These people continue to ask for truth, and many do it relentlessly, because they wish to be rooted in the fullness of truth. However, where different people and groups are searching for truth, they cannot avoid contradicting points of view and perspectives; consequently they are not free from differences and occasions to struggle. For if differences

3 See K. Jaspers, Philosophical Faith and Revelation. Collins: London 1967, pp. 20f.

4 Herder: Freiburg; new edition: N. Borengasser: Bonn 2002.

gain profile and give reason not to be satisfied too quickly and to give in too soon, it necessarily leads to mutual criticism. Mutual criticism, however, is part of a life in the world of pluralism.

In this context we have to understand our religious option not to be determined by "some thing" but by a person or a personality like Jesus of Nazareth. A person can claim singularity and uniqueness. And yet, we should not overlook the fact that also in this case the option in favor of Jesus the Christ, at first glance, implies parallelisms and leveling.

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