Keyword theology of religions

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(1) Matter in question: The necessity of dealing with other religions in theology results from the fact that in modern society as well as in the Church people become aware of the growing influence of other religions. Therefore theology has to deal with two questions: (a) the estimation of different religious messages, (b) a reexamination of theological positions related to other religions. Insofar as religions are attempted answers to the basic human questions and are also occupied with origin and aim of the human race and the world, the experiences of suffering, guilt and death, on the one hand, and the desire for liberation, forgiveness, redemption and salvation, on the other hand, the relation between the different ways of salvation and liberation as they are offered in Christianity and other religions are to be reflected. Because in Christianity salvation is bound to the person of Jesus Christ, his life, death and resurrection, and his life is understood as the Incarnation of God, this part of reflection is centered on God become man.

(2) Hermeneutical indication: In a period of growing intercommunication, in which by the Church dialogue is demanded inside and outside the Church, theology is going to deal with religious communities as they today exist. It therefore enters a field where it does not suffice any more that it talks about others; as far as possible, it has to talk with the others. That means: Before dealing with any estimation of others we have to listen to them, and also theologians have to try to see things, first of all, with the eyes of the others.

Theology of religions, therefore, has to become a fluctuation between knowledge of the alien points of view and reflection on one's own point of view. We also have to see that it becomes less and less possible to subsume all religions under the generic concept of religion, because each religion in itself deserves respect and attention. It is not possible any longer to construct a meta-position, that is to say, a position above or outside of all religions in order to gain a collective sight of the whole universe of religions. We have only the chance to work inside the tension between the own ecclesial-Christian point of view which for theologians is the basic orientation and the normative di rective, and other points of view from where other faithful take their way. On the basis of this attitude a mutual understanding is called for without putting into question or even giving up one's own point of view. Evidently dialogues interested in finding the truth, nevertheless, will lead to corrections on all sides so that no participant of a dialogue will leave it totally unchanged.

Since, however, also interreligious dialogues are not only engaged in a process of mutual knowledge but its partners have to negotiate with each other about the common targets in public life, a common analysis of the societal and individual life, of human needs and the objectives of common concern in pursuing a world of peace and justice is requested too. Indeed in every age the Church has to carry out her responsibility of reading the "signs of the times" and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel (see Gaudium et spes nr. 4); and this she has to accomplish in words and in action. The Church even needs "the help of people who are living in the world, who are expert in its organization and its forms of training, and who understand its mentality, in the case of believers and non believers" (nr. 44).9

(3) Paradigm "Jews and Christians": The most intensive place where today westerners learn how to dialogue is the debate between Christians and Jews. This dialogue got intensified after World War II and the terrible experiences of the time of Nazism when millions of Jews were sent to and murdered in German concentration camps, and Christians became aware that most of the murderers had been baptized. Christians, at first, were shocked and silenced, and then they learnt what it means to show respect for the other subject.10 Since then the Jewish homicide is reason to reexamine the conversation with the adherents of the Old Testament fundamentally.

Several points have to be taken into account:

(a) For Christians Judaism is not a religion like any other because Christianity originated from Judaism. It is the root of Christianity (see Rom 11:18): Jesus has been born as a Jew.

(b) When Christians receive the Jewish Bible as their Holy Scripture they do this, first, because the Jewish Bible was the Holy Scripture of Jesus, and, secondly, because Christians cannot detach them

9 See in more detail H. Waldenfels, Kontextuelle Fundamentaltheologie. Schöningh: Paderborn 4th ed. 2005, pp. 483-501.

selves from God's history with the Jews, but are bound to it, too. The covenant which God concluded with the Jews is unrecalled and remains unrecalled (see Rom 9-11). Therefore, the Church does not take the place of the synagogue as it was maintained for centuries. The so called theory of substitution by which the Church appropriates the attributes originally assigned to the people of Israel to herself cannot be maintained any longer.

(c) And yet, Christians have to deal with the Jews also about Jesus crucified, although the term "Jewish mission" or propagating the faith to the Jews is very misleading and should be avoided by all means. As far as we understand the missionary command of the Church as witnessing of the message of Christ, we have to acknowledge that today a mutual witnessing is to be expected and this will be an exchange of inquiry and response.

(d) A theology of Judaism can be only understood as a dialogical theology, which respects the others as partners who are included into the theological reflection as subjects, and no longer treated as objects of research. One symbol that this is the way into a common future is the fact that more than before Jews and Christians are succeeding in praying together to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who is also the God of Jesus Christ.

(4) The Christian message of salvation: In 1 Tim 2:3-6 we find sentences which for others are at once invitation, claim und challenge:

This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, there is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all.

The passage begins with a sentence which even far beyond the borders of the Church many people will agree upon. God wishes that all human people will find salvation and truth. A motive for contradiction is given with the following sentences in which Jesus Christ is declared the only mediator of salvation between God and men. The contradiction is twofold: (a) Salvation is promised in other religions independently from Jesus Christ. (b) The arguments in favor of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ are put into question even in ecclesial circles; sometimes they are even denied. Here the following points are to be considered:

(1) Replying to the questions we should rather not start from what separates but from what evidently unites us. Religions agree that hu man persons are unable to create their all comprising salvation in virtue of their own abilities; final salvation must be granted so that humans become its receiver. The question is who will give salvation -here the question of God is posed. Moreover, the meaning of salvation differs between the religions although the word "salvation" is used in an almost inflationary way - here the question of salvation is opened.

(2) The Christian answer to both questions is not arrogant and presumptuous as long as the Christian message of salvation does not imply any judgments about non-Christians and is proposed as an invitation which can be freely accepted or rejected. Only in such a way is it possible for others not to end up in a criticism of Christianity without being forced to examine themselves. Nobody can forbid that Christians answer the question of salvation by turning to Jesus Christ und being convinced that Jesus' relation to God is unrivalled in history. Nobody can impede Christians from proclaiming God's saving action as an unmeasured value which they do not want to withhold from other people. Who wishes to contradict has to do it in an argumentative way.

(3) For Christians the true way to God leads through Jesus Christ and his relation to God the Father: "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father." (John 14:9) In Christ God has revealed himself in a Trinitarian way of relations in which humans find new life after guilt and death. For Christians the new life is a new life in community: they call it a "community at the table of the Lord." Salvation is ultimately a loving interpersonal exchange and conversation in which human people get unified because they are united with the triune God.

(4) Such a view of fulfillment does not exclude anybody explicitly any more. Reversely nobody can deny that the concrete course of history has passed through certain periods and that certain events have occurred; and it does not matter whether some people might think these events should better not have happened, or they judge them differently and assign to them a different significance for their life and for others. Concretely speaking, judgments like these do not make life and death of Jesus Christ undone; they also cannot simply destroy their provocation. That also the enlightenment of the historical Buddha and the message of the prophet Muhammad belong to the events which have objectively influenced the course of world history and cannot be made undone cannot be seriously denied. Yet events like these do not rela-tivize each other in their uniqueness by any means. Therefore, it does not help much if adherents of a religious way try to withdraw from the validity and inspiration of their founder. In fact what is gained if Christians do not consider Jesus Christ any more as the savior of the world, "the bread for the life of the world" (John 6:51), and take his words not any further as promise of eternal life (see John 6:68)?

(5) The role of religions: Where New Testament speaks about the environment of Jesus in a personal way, Jews and gentiles, Jews and Greeks are mentioned; another religious grouping does take place. This changes conditionally when Islam appeared. Religions as institutions similar to the Christian Churches in east and west we find only after the discovery of the new world in modern times. From that time on they are organizational formations like states and, later on, cultures. They became competing partners about the middle of the 20th century when former European colonies got their independence and became independent nations. Since then not only the plurality of societal phenomena in general, but religious plurality in a special way calls for its motivation.

Theological research of foreign religions was, at first, occupied with the gods and idols of religions in the Jewish neighborhood of the Old Testament, their estimation and veneration. In the diversity of its aspects this research is still unfinished. Undoubtedly for a long time the overall estimation was negative; the gods were idols fabricated by human hands; they had to be destroyed. When the first part of the book of Genesis was enlarged by the stories of the patriarchs the God of Israel turned to become the God of the whole universe. Later on the prophets began to speak about the "nations" and the "peoples" (see the pilgrimage of the nations to Zion in Is 2:1-3), and the wisdom literature gave profile to God the creator of the universe. In the life of Jesus we meet with many instances where non-Jews were made examples for the Jews to find faith, and Jesus showed that God's grace was not limited to his chosen people. Rom 1:20-23 explicitly states:

Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he made. As a result, they have no excuse; for although they knew God they did not accord him glory or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened. For claiming to be wise, they became fools and changed the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of mortal man or of birds or four-legged animals or of snakes.

In consequence of the biblical statements the Church Fathers positively wrote about the salvific effects produced by Jesus Christ in Word and Spirit for all humankind, all times and all places. In the days of Vatican II texts like these were well elaborated by theologians like Jean Danielou and Henri de Lubac, later on by Jacques Dupuis, though we have to remember that the term "religion" was differently used in the times of the Fathers. Actually the systematic and organizational understanding of religion entered theology only in modern times. There we can discover it in manuals of fundamental theology where the problem of "true religion" was treated and later on the diversity of religions was reflected for the first time.

Only very recently when members of other religions began to live with us in our cities and became even our neighbors and when westerners met with them in the own countries and while traveling to the foreign countries and when they came to know them in their religiosity and their religious conduct, little by little prejudices changed and even disappeared. The question of the existential importance of other religions became unavoidable: it was by no means enough to reach a high estimation of their cultural and artistic values. It cannot be denied that all religions are attempted answers to the fundamental questions of humankind (see Nostra aetate nr.1), and these answers might be given in view of God the creator (see Rom 1). Whether or how far each religion is an echo of God's word (according to Hebr 1) or to the activity of his Spirit is another question; it is being asked, however, in our days because God's word and the activity of his Spirit is touched upon wherever we talk of salvation and human perfection. We have to admit it as a further step when the notification on Jacques Dupuis nr. 8 asserts that it is "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." If this is the case it is difficult to understand why - considering everything which so far has been pronounced by Catholic theologians and the ecclesial magisterium - it should not be allowed to call other religions "ways of salvation." That has to be admitted all the more since the majority of human people will find their existential way of salvation definitely not in an explicit profession of faith in Jesus Christ. This is true, independently from the fact that ultimately human history is not determined by the subjective acceptance or denial of single persons regarding objective elements of the course of history. The cross of Christ remains implanted into the earth outside the gates of Jerusalem, and it does not matter whether people pass by unmindfully or stand by and confess: "Truly, this was the son of God." (Mt 27:54)

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