A number of leading Catholic bishops are beginning to respond to the highly controversial joint declaration, the “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together” which Pope Francis signed with Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Cairo’s al-Azhar Mosque, during an interreligious meeting in Abu Dhabi on Monday, Feb. 4.
As a current article on LifeSite News points out, the document has incited considerable controversy among Christians for asserting that “the pluralism and the diversity of religions” are “willed by God in His wisdom” – a statement many believe contravenes the Catholic Faith. About the furthest I would be willing to go is that the pluralism and diversity of religions are tolerated by God in His mercy… which is saying quite a different thing.
Now, as I say, a number of bishops are beginning to issue letters of response (and, dare one say it – as a non-Roman Catholic, I do so dare – correction and fraternal reproof) to this document. One of these is Bishop Athanasius Schneider, Auxiliary Bishop of Astana, in Kazakhstan, who has become a notable proponent of Catholic (and more generally, Christian) orthodoxy in these troubled times.
Referencing two of the major hot-button issues of our present age – climate change and the migration crisis, he writes, inter alia,
The most urgent task of the Church in our time is to care about the change of the spiritual climate and about the spiritual migration, namely that the climate of non-belief in Jesus Christ, the climate of the rejection of the kingship of Christ, be changed into the climate of explicit faith in Jesus Christ, of the acceptance of His kingship, and that men may migrate from the misery of the spiritual slavery of unbelief into the happiness of being sons of God and from a life of sin into the state of sanctifying grace. These are the migrants about whom we must care urgently.
“Christianity is the only God-willed religion,” he continues.
“Therefore, it can never be placed complementarily side by side with other religions. Those would violate the truth of Divine Revelation, as it is unmistakably affirmed in the First Commandment of the Decalogue, who would assert that the diversity of religions is the will of God…
“True universal brotherhood can be only in Christ, and namely between baptized persons… outside the Christian Faith no other religion is able to transmit true supernatural life: ‘This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’ (John 17: 3).”
He is not the only one. As another LifeSite News article notes, “Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the former head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office, has released a Manifesto which reads like a correction of many of the doctrinal errors Pope Francis has taught during his tenure as Pope.” In it he writes,
The distinction of the three persons in the divine unity (CCC 254) marks a fundamental difference in the belief in God and the image of man from that of other religions. Religions disagree precisely over this belief in Jesus the Christ… Therefore, the first letter of John refers to one who denies His divinity as an antichrist (1 John 2:22), since Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is from eternity one in being with God, His Father (CCC 663).
In other words, the divinity of Christ is – as orthodox Christians have affirmed for the last two thousand years – absolutely essential to the Christian faith, and marks a distinct divide between our faith and other world religions. If this was not an essential point in the wisdom and plan of God, there would have been no need for Christ at all! As the late great C.S. Lewis put it, Christ is either “a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord.”
“Providing clarity on the Church’s view of Islam, Cardinal Müller rejects the Muslim view that sees Christ as a prophet, rather than the Messiah. ‘We are to resist the relapse into ancient heresies with clear resolve, which saw in Jesus Christ only a good person, brother and friend, prophet and moralist,’ the Manifesto says.”
This is, of course, not only the Muslim view, but also that of the secularists, and even some “liberal” Christians. Now, I am not a Roman Catholic, and I am not in 100% agreement with all aspects of Cardinal Müller’s manifesto, particularly his opposition to the possibility of married priests.
[This was not mandated universally, even in the Roman Church, for non-monastic priests until the 12 century, when at the Second Lateran Council held in 1139, a rule was approved forbidding priests to marry (a stance that was reaffirmed in 1563, at the Council of Trent). And Timothy explicitly states (in 1 Timothy 3:2) that a “bishop” (by extension, also priest – episkopos and presbyteros were used more-or-less interchangeably at that early stage) be “the husband of one wife,” in contradistinction to the polygamy which was common in late Hellenistic antiquity – a Christian distinctive indeed, but hardly a mandate for priestly celibacy! Chastity, yes; celibacy, no.]
But that aside, I cannot but approve of his reaffirmation both of essential Christian doctrine, and of essential Christian morality, in his manifesto. All of us sin and fall short of our Christian ideals, at times. But that makes it all the more important that both doctrine and morality be taught with clarity, lest – as happens all too often in today’s world – we begin to think our fallen nature is God’s will, rather than something which calls us to repent and return to the Lord.
And as I have long argued in many fora, the fact that our human religious impulse comes from God and tends toward God (such that elements of truth may be found in more than one religion) does not mean that religions are equal and interchangeable. As I alluded to above, Christianity is either the fullest and most perfect manifestation of God’s self-revelation to us, and the Way which He calls us to walk, or it is unnecessary and irrelevant.
To put it another way, while God (being sovereign) can save whomsoever He wants, however He wants, He has made it abundantly clear that it is only through Christ that salvation is possible at all. Either Christ really is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” or He is a liar and an imposter, and therefore (as Lewis put it) a demon from hell.
Christianity either means what it says it does, or it is a mockery of the Truth: an irrelevancy, or worse. There really is no middle ground, there.