The Catholic Church and non-Christian religions
First of all, the Catholic Church has a positive vision as regards non-Christian religions.
Where does it find this positive vision?
- This positive vision is expressed and justified by Vatican Council ii as follows:
- “The Catholic Church does not reject anything that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere respect those ways of life and conduct, those precepts and doctrines, which, though differ in many aspects from what she herself believes and proposes, nevertheless often reflect a ray of the Truth which enlightens all men” (NA 2).
- Since these religions have only one origin: God, and only one goal: God, they contain rays of goodness, “elements of truth and grace as by a secret presence of God” (AG 9).
- As regards expressions of revelation which God has made through the cosmos and humanity, these religions may, in a certain way, help those who profess them and live them with a sincere and upright heart to enter into a relationship with God.
- Non-Christian religions further witness, in an insufficient and incomplete way of course, though always true, the presence and action of God, or at least of the sacred, in the world, and God alone knows how much this is needed especially today, as we live in a world which tends to eradicate every sign and gesture of the divine.
- They are expressions of man’s search for an answer to his fundamental questions. As the Council says, men expect from the various religions “answers to the obscure enigmas of the human condition which today, even as in former times, deeply stir the hearts of men: the nature of man, the meaning and goal of our life, moral good and sin, the origin and purpose of suffering, the way to true happiness, death, judgement and retribution after death, and finally, the ultimate and ineffable mystery which encompasses our existence from which we draw our origin and towards which we tend” (NA 1);
- The Catholic Church therefore recognises that in the non-Christian religious traditions there exist “true and good things” (OT 16), “precious, religious and human things” (GS 92), “seeds of contemplation” (AG 11, 15), “rays of the truth which enlightens all men” (NA 2).
- Even those who do not actually belong to the visible Church, they are objectively oriented towards her, they are part of that wider Church known only by God.
- The non Christian religions therefore deserve an attention and esteem of Christians and their spiritual heritage is an effective invitation to dialogue not only on convergent, but also on the divergent elements.
What are the main positive characterstics, common to ohter religions?
- The different religions are expressions of the cultures of peoples, and preserve their spiritual richness;
- They have transmitted and transmit treasures of wisdom and religiosity, and thereby sustain the human and spiritual journey of several generations;
- Through them, every person establishes a relationship with God, with the Transcendent, finds resources for moral responsibility and nurtures hope for the life after death;
- In different religions one realises and develops that natural desire to see God, which is common to every man and constitutes the basis of every religious attitude: this is a truth that Catholic theology has always affirmed, and which Saint Thomas of Aquino has explained very well in the first pages of the Summa Theologica.
Does the Catholic Church also reveal the negative aspects in non-christian religions?
One should, however, never forget nor overlook the fact that non-Christian religions also contain false elements, theoretical and practical errors, malformations, deformations, distortions, reductive visions...
What are the causes of these negative aspects?
- These negative aspects, present in non-Christian religions, depend not so much and not only on the way in which these religions are professed or incarnated by different persons or by different peoples, in varied times and cultures. This also happens in the Christian religion.
- But these negative aspects, these unauthentic elements, are due in great measure also to the very nature of the non-Christian religions. In fact these religions (except for the Jewish religion) are mainly the fruit and effect of man’s efforts and attempts to reach God and enter in contact with Him, although one does not exclude that, in some cases, the founders of these religions might have received some special gifts from above.
- Thus, precisely due to their human origin, these religions easily contain deformed, erroneous and incomplete elements; often due to the fact that the divinities reflect man, they are in the image and likeness of the same limits and defects of man. The history of religions attests to the fact that in many cases men have made, imagined and constructed divinities in their own image and likeness. On the contrary the Bible, in the first pages, attests that it is God who created man in His own image and likeness and calls man to share in His life, giving him also the capacity and strength to realise such an objective.
- The risk of giving rise to, and increasing, these negative aspects is still greater if one considers that man is a sinner, and lives under the influence of personal sin and of the world, and of “the prince of evil”: the devil.
With regard to the positive and negative aspects present in non-christian religions, what does the Catholic Church do?
The Catholic Church:
- respects and ‘assumes’ all that is good and positive in other religions;
- at the same time, in the light of the Gospel, it identifies-purifies-frees people from the distortions and spurious elements in what is assumed, frankly denouncing all that is of non-value, inhuman and non-evangelical in them.
- affirms the absolute novelty and originality of the Christian faith, which consists of the fact that in the Christian religion it is not man who approaches God, but God who comes closer to man, and who especially becomes man in Jesus Christ, who by his death on the cross and his resurrection, wants to save every man, giving him the Holy Spirit which makes man a child of God.
- In this sense, the Christian religion does not say that men reconcile with God, but that “God in Christ has reconciled the world to himself” (2 Cor 5:19).
How could one summarize what has been mentioned above?
Non-Christian religions and religious traditions in general:
- What do they express?
- The anxiety of the human soul;
- The yearning for the absolute;
- The answer to the big questions of human existence.
- What is their relationship with Christianity?
- They are paths towards the Truth;
- They contain semina Verbi (seeds of the Word of God: Jesus Christ).
- They are enveloped in:
- the mysterious paternity of God the Father towards all;
- the universal effectiveness of Christ, the only and definitive Saviour;
- the active presence of the Holy Spirit, which fills each and every one.
- The positive religious aspects present in them:
- They proceed from God;
- They are Christ’s gift, a ray and reflection of His Truth
- They are part of what the Spirit operates in the heart of men and in the history of peoples, in cultures and in religions;
- They can assume a role of preparation for the Gospel, in so far as they are occasions or pedagogical instruments through which the hearts of men are stimulated in opening themselves up to the action of God.
- Therefore, these positive aspects present in other religions, should be:
- appreciated by Christians.
- Nevertheless, these positive aspects are:
- awaiting purification / completion / fulfilment in Christ;
- in an objective deficient situation;
- mixed with negative elements;
- ineffective ex opere operato (the action, the sign does not realise, through itself and by itself, what it signifies).
What are the main characteristics of the christian religion?
- The Catholic Church:
- announces and communicates Christ who is the only Saviour of all;
- is the only true Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic and Apostolic Church
- offers man of every epoch, age, culture… the possibility to fully and authentically realise that fullness of truth and happiness towards which he aspires continuously.
- The Christian faith has in itself an objective “extra” compared to other religions (though unfortunately Christians do not always reflect in their behaviour this “extra”).
How are those who belong to non-Christian religions saved?
“Those who ignore, without any fault of theirs, Christ’s Gospel and His Church, and nevertheless are sincerely searching for God, and under the influence of grace try their best through good works to fulfil God’s will, made known to them through the dictates of the conscience, can achieve eternal salvation” (Vatican Council ii, Lumen Gentium, n.20).
Those who are saved, are they always saved by Christ and his church?
Certainly, even though they don’t know it.
In fact, all salvation comes from Christ-the Head, the only Saviour, through the Church which is His Body. It is therefore the duty of the Church to announce to all that “God wants all men to be saved and reach the full knowledge of the Truth” (1 Tm 2:4), through Jesus Christ who is the only Saviour of all.
Why is jesus Christ the only saviour?
- Jesus Christ is the only saviour, because:
- Since, by the will of God the Father, “only in Him there is salvation; for of all the names in the world given to men, this is the only one by which we can be saved” (At 4:12);
- Since no one can know and enter in communion with God (the Trinity), except through Jesus Christ;
- Christ is the complete and definitive Revealer of the Father and Saviour of men: He is the mediator and the only way to Salvation.
- He is the one who, in so far as being the only begotten Son of God the Father, can bring to fulfilment the hunger and thirst in man’s heart for Truth and Happiness.
- Jesus Christ is the “radiation of the glory” of the only God the Father. He is the Son in the fullest sense of God the Father and He is, therefore, the One who makes us know God perfectly and makes Him present in the midst of humanity. He is light and life, as St John proclaims in the prologue of his Gospel: “In him was life and the life was the light of men”.
NB: If you’d like to deepen your understanding of the above subject, you could read (in addition to the other article by the same author: “Why is it necessary to announce Jesus Christ?”) the following pontifical documents:
Basilica of Saint Ambrose and Saint Charles
Monsignor Raffaello Martinelli
- Vatican Council ii:
- Lumen gentium (LG) ;
- Ad gentes (AG) ;
- Nostra aetate (NA) ;
- John Paul ii, Encyclical Letter Redemptoris missio,1991;
- Congregation for the doctrine of the Faith (CDF):
- Mysterium ecclesiae, 1973 ;
- Dominus Iesus, 2000;