NO ONE CAN SAY "JESUS IS LORD" EXCEPT IN THE HOLY SPIRIT (1 Cor 12: 3). I cited this passage last week in the context of the practice of the prayer of Jesus, which has had such a pivotal role to play in the monastic tradition especially in the Eastern Churches. The Feast of the Transfiguration has been central in the devotion of the theologians and mystics who have taught and practiced this prayer, most prominently Gregory Palamos, its chief exponent from the time of its official recognition as Orthodox teaching in the 14th century. Thus it is surely no mere coincidence that it was on August 6th, the date of the Transfiguration that this year the Doctrinal Congregation in Rome issued a Declaration entitled "Dominus Jesus" which can be translated as "Jesus is Lord", which is the central phrase in the Prayer of Jesus. The word order of the Latin indicates that the emphasis is on "Lord", thus intimating that it is the divinity of Jesus that is the focusSince the word "Lord", in Latin"Dominus", translates "Kyrios" of the Septuagint which is a Greek rendering of the Hebrew tetragrammaton, (Yahwe), the proper name of God, these two words, "Dominus Jesus", are a powerful assertion of the heart of our faith. This statement of the traditional Catholic belief in Jesus received a surprisingly broad attention, much of it critical, both within and outside the Catholic Church. It speaks of matters that are pertinent to all true believers who would live by and witness to their faith integrally today. By reflecting upon new questions that are addressed to the faith today and considering some of the unacceptable answers given, we can arrive at a firmer and fuller grasp of the beliefs that we live by.
It is hardly a source of wonderment that a number of those engaged in ecumenical discussions were among the most vocal and the most violently negative in their criticism. Nor is it a surprise that some Jewish Rabbis and liberal Protestants object to the affirmations made in the body of this decree. Persons who do not believe in the divinity of Christ and who are not open to hearing the claims for such belief can be expected to object to a clear affirmation of these truths. The need for such a statement arose in good part, as the text itself notes, from the prevailing presuppositions characterizing much of today's thought in the area of philosophy and theology. These presuppositions, as Cardinal Ratzinger says in the accompanying letter to the Bishop's Conferences, have been the cause of thegrowing presence of confused or erroneous ideas and opinion both within the church generally and in certain theological circles regarding the doctrines of the unicity and universality of the salvific event of Jesus Christ, the unicity and unity of the church... and the necessity of the church for salvation... (Origins, vol. 30, p. 220).
The document gives a long list of such assumptions which "hinder the understanding and acceptance of the revealed truth (cf Origins vol. 30: No. 14 §4, p. 212)." The first noted is the conviction that divine truth is intrinsically elusive and inexpressible, even when revealed; the second difficulty is perhaps the chief source of the problems addressed: the relativism which maintains that truth is not absolute in itself and so what is true for some is not necessarily true for others; among others that are named the conviction that reason is the only valid source of true knowledge, so that contemplation of revealed truth is not admitted to be a legitimate font of valid knowledge; another that is important in ecumenical discussions and which impedes true dialogue, is eclecticism, which assimilates doctrines from various traditions without regard for consistency and integrity of the thought.
Recognizing that these attitudes, which are referred to under the rubric "a relativistic mentality" (§5), are becoming increasingly accepted, the authors of this statement see the need "to reassert the definitive and complete character of the revelation of Jesus Christ." To believe this teaching firmly is essential for all those who are to be saved. This is not new doctrine; it has been maintained consistently since the time of the primitive Church. Peter, shortly after Pentecost, had already preached that " There is no other name under heaven given to man by which we are to be saved (Acts 4: 12)." Stated more fully it was affirmed in the Vatican II decree "Dei Verbum" §2 in the following terms: "By this revelation then, the deepest truth about God and the salvation of man shines forth in Christ, who is at the same time the mediator and the fullness of all revelation."
The next point made concerns the capacity of human language to convey adequately any truth about the transcendent God. Such truth can be expressed in language fully and completely without diminishment because it is spoken and acted upon in a unique manner, by the Word of God made flesh. Moreover, we have Jesus' assurance that this fullness of truth was taught to the apostles and by their preaching in turn to the whole Church (cf. John 16: 13).
This revelation calls for "the obedience of faith." Faith here is defined as " a personal adherence of man to God. At the same time, and inseparably, it is , in the words of The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 144 a free assent to the whole truth that God has revealed'." This distinguishes the divine gift of theological faith from the belief that is found in other religions. That faith is still in search for absolute truth and still lacks assent to the God who reveals himself. The failure to distinguish between the two is not always maintained by theologians thus causing confusion and blurring the differences between Christianity and the various other religions. They and their scriptures may include certain elements of divine truth, but not in its full clarity or completeness, as Vatican II maintained in Nostra Aetate, 2.
Current theological thinking often takes an approach to Jesus, this document observes, that treats his person as only human and his revelation as merely complementary with other religious figures. In the same spirit it is also taught by some that there is a plan of salvation that is valid outside the Church and independent of the incarnate Word of God. I myself have come across the view, put forth by a Christian, that Jesus is but one of a number of manifestations of God, one of the ten avatars, in fact. This is rather compatible with Hindu thought, not with Christianity. Each time we sing the Gloria at the Eucharist we proclaim the true doctrine concerning the Lord: "You alone are holy, you alone are the Lord, you alone, O Jesus Christ, are most high, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father."
One of the more subtle theories concerning the Incarnation is that there is a distinct salvific activity of the Word apart from Jesus, the Word made flesh, and in addition to or "beyond" his humanity. This is incompatible with Catholic belief. There is only one Word and that Word is now incarnate and exists as God-man in the form of Jesus Christ. Impossible then for the Logos (Word) to have any action apart from Jesus. Nor does the Holy Spirit have a broader, more universal work of salvation than does the incarnate Word, as some propose. The Incarnation is itself a Trinitarian accomplishment. God the Father sends the Word who is conceived through the act of the Holy Spirit. In his lifetime, Jesus is the place where the "Spirit is present in the world, and is the source of his activity in and among men, both before and after his coming in history. His mission in life and his continuing salvific action in the Church and beyond its visible structures and border, are broth intimately bound to the Spirit's inner workings. The Holy Father in his Encyclical Redemptoris Missio §28 has insisted on this intimate association of Christ's work with the Spirit.The Spirit's presence and activity affect not only individuals but also society and history, people, cultures and religions.... The risen Christ is now at work in human hearts through the strength of his Spirit.'... Again it is the Spirit who sows the seeds of the word' present in various customs and cultures, preparing them for full maturity in Christ."
The Pope goes on to affirm that this single saving work extends not only to all of humanity and this world we know, but to the whole of the universe. His conclusion is that "No one, therefore, can enter into communion with God except through Christ, by the working of the Holy Spirit." Pluralism, in certain views of those involved in ecumenism, includes various other mediators of truth, founders of religions and of theological systems, besides Christ and on the same level as he. Those putting forth these teachings maintain that the words claiming unicity and universality of salvation by Christ, and those which denote the absolute character of his role and authority should be eschewed by the church. These opinions are categorically rejected as being incompatible with Catholic doctrine. In the words of the text: "... Jesus Christ has a significance and a value for the human race and its history which are unique and singular, proper to him alone, exclusive, universal and absolute (15)."
A similar ecumenical impulse has led to the devising of theories that detach the person of Christ from the concepts of the kingdom of God, and the kingdom of heaven, as if there are other ways to the kingdom apart from that taught by Jesus, and constituted by him. But, the document, citing Redemptoris Missio of John Paul II, affirms,If the kingdom of God is separated from Jesus it is no longer the kingdom which he revealed. The result is a distortion of the meaning of the kingdom, which runs the risk of being transformed into a purely human or ideological goal and a distortion of the identity of Christ who no longer appears as the Lord to whom everything must one day be subjected (cf. 1 Cor 15: 27) § 18).Although the church is not a definitive entity in itself, yet it also cannot be detached from the kingdom
of God. For she is "a sign and an instrument of the kingdom" to which she is ordered. It is true that the church is a distinct reality but it is inseparably united to Christ and the kingdom. This does not mean the kingdom is limited by the visible and social boundaries of the church. The Lord Jesus and his Holy Spirit work beyond those boundaries, and yet it is true that Jesus himself explicitly "affirmed at the same time the necessity of the church, which men enter through baptism as through a door (§20, citing Redemptoris Missio, 9).'" From the time of St. Cyprian and St. Irenaeus in the second century, the necessity of the church for the salvation of every human being has been consistently proclaimed. The church is "the universal sacrament of salvation", as Lumen Gentium §48 teaches. The graces received by those saved though outside the visible borders of the church are graces won and mediated by Jesus Christ and bestowed by his Holy Spirit. How this dispensation operates in the concrete is surrounded by mystery and theologians are invited to explore its workings so as to elucidate it as far as that can be done and with regard to the other associated doctrines of Catholic tradition.
One important conclusion from this discussion on the necessity of the church and its message of revealed truth is that the mission to the nations is as urgent today as it ever has been. This conclusion counters those who have been asserting that the missionary effort of the church is an anachronism and should be abolished since each individual has equal access to salvation through the traditions present already in the culture into which he or she was born and raised. This is an aberration. In fact equality in ecumenical dialogue refers to the equal personal dignity of each partner and not to the doctrines under discussion, and even less to the personal role of Jesus Christ in relation to founders of other religions. The Catholic position on the missions is set out with confidence in the task assigned her by Christ himself. "Indeed, the church, guided by charity and respect for freedom, must be primarily committed to proclaiming to all people the truth definitively revealed by the Lord and to announcing the necessity of adherence to the church through baptism and the other sacraments in order to participate fully in communion with God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (§22). Far from diminishing the urgency of this obligation, the universal will of God for the salvation of all increases it.
As Pope John Paul II has elsewhere pointed out, to be Catholic is to be called to spread the truth of Christ's revelation. This follows with a special force for those like ourselves who are dedicated to the contemplative way of life as the means of union with God. The Cistercian spirituality of St. Bernard was keenly conscious of this obligation as is showed by his teaching and example as well as by that of many other abbots and monks of the first century of the Order's life. The truth of the Gospel has not only been revealed to us, but also entrusted to us, not to be hidden and buried behind cloister walls but to be cherished, fostered and transmitted in ways that are compatible with our situation in present day society.
Recent Popes have, in words addressed specifically to us Cistercians, impressed this obligation upon us and encouraged us to be creative in sharing the fruits of our life without infringing upon the spirit of our founders. Anyone familiar in detail with the early Cistercian saints and their followers will recognize that leaves considerable flexibility while, at the same time, imposes certain stringent demands. St. Bernard was the first to point out some seeming inconsistencies in his own way of reconciling these two requirements of the monastic vocation that at times are conflicting. Charity that is pure and ardent alone provides the solution to this exacting task. When it is strong, among its most fruitful works is that of creating further expressions of divine love that become possible and can be realized. May the Lord grant that we prove faithful to his teaching and share it among ourselves and our contemporaries according to his Gospel and the mission assigned us by his church.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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Created: Pentecost Sunday, May 18, 1997
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