A comment to "Dominus Iesus"

By the Very Rev. Protopresbyter Kyrillos Leret-Aldir B.Th., Ldo. Fil. y Lets.
Rector of the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Andrew
Weston-super-Mare, Great Britain

On 6 September 2000, in Rome, The "Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith" published the Declaration "DOMINUS IESUS." This Congregation is the department of the Office of the Patriarch of Rome to deal with business related, primarily, with the protection of the Christian Faith. The Declaration tries to call the attention of the Roman Catholic men and women who are involved in the ecumenical movement.

The interest of this movement, in the last few years of the 20th century, has become to be more and more concerned with a very broad comprehensibility of the term 'ecumenical'. Perhaps its meaning has become to mean very much - mutandis mutando - its original meaning in the times of the Roman Empire then 'ecumenical' referred to the all known world. Today the ecumenical movement tries to unify, not only the Christian people, also, all living nations, races and ideas; perhaps to form a new age.

I am not an ecumenist, but, in obedience to my Archbishop, I take part in the good diplomatic relationships with the so-called Christian churches of my territorial area. So, I sit in a council of Churches together in my County of Somerset, in England. Judging by the 'puzzlement' and 'anxieties' awakened during the discussion of the document 'Dominus Iesus', in particular the references to 'separated churches', led me to sense that this document is going to be hard to sell among the ecumenical minded enthusiasts around the world.

One of the reasons is that it has placed them in a new station, with surroundings, which are not known to them, not wanted, or, even, rejected so strongly with biblical terms in the past. Now, seeing them 're-stated', reasoned and bible-based, they feel disconcerted and flash blinded. The structures constructed by the ecumenists during the 20th century, avoiding the hated 'return', crushed down…without hope. Indeed, it is not surprising the surge of questions that the Declaration is provoking.

However, reading it, I do not feel discouraged, on the contrary, very encouraged and hopeful. The Declaration deserves attentive reading and analysis. And, to understand fully the mind of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during the writing of this document, we, also, should read the interventions, during the presentation of the Declaration to the media, by the four representatives of the Congregation: Cardinal J. Ratzinger, Mons. T. Bertone, Mons. Fernando Ocáriz and the Revd. Don Angelo Amato.

1. What was the purpose of this document?

The DECLARATION is addressed first to the Roman Catholic Faithful. Who are bishops, priests, other clergy and the people. Therefore, RC persons who are working on the teaching of the faith, theologians, or those who in the world of ecumenism tend to express the R.C. point of view, should know their catechism and the mind of the Magisterium:

  1. In number 14: "It must…be firmly believed as a truth of Catholic faith…" the article of faith.

    Half way through number 16: "The Catholic faithful are required to profess." And number 17: "The Christian faithful are therefore not permitted to imagine…; nor are they free to hold…"

    In respect of discussing with other religions (beginning of number 20): "…some points follow that are necessary for theological reflection… [but]…it must be firmly believed"

However, there is a reason for this clarity and firmness on the part of Christian participation in the mission of the Church "ad gentes":

  1. "…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 conversion to Jesus Christ and of adherence to the Church through Baptism and other sacraments, in order to participate fully in communion with God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Thus, the certainty…does not diminish, but rather increases the duty and urgency of the proclamation…" (Ending of number 22.The underlining is mine).

The second purpose of the document, addressed to the Christians, is to make us face "certain problematic and even erroneous propositions" (number 23) in those times when we find ourselves exploring the relationship of the Church and the other religions to salvation (number 20). In practice, this could also be extended to the relationship of the Church and other 'Churches'. The document reminds that "reiterating and clarifying certain truths of the faith"; the Magisterium follows the example of the Apostle Paul (Conclusion).

The puzzlement, anxieties, and effervescent annoyance aroused through the world of the ecumenism confirm the words of Cardinal Ratzinger, when at the presentation of the document to the press, qualified as 'vivacious' (vivace) the contemporaneous debate.

We cannot close our eyes to the fact that Christianity in our society is devalued by a diffused persuasion that all churches and religions-or none- are considered not only valid for eternal salvation but also even unnecessary. 'What matters is caring…' the modern version for "love one another". In today's society there is a de-formation of the Christian conscience, caused by the ignorance of the rich articulation of the Christian faith and life. The human person has become de-personalised by a reduction to opinion, especially by public opinion. The human being has lost certainty and truth through the fear of being found out of step with the fashion, with the spirit of its contemporaneous society. So the man of today has sought his refuge in relativism.

I shall probably be found at fault for writing 'the man' here and not going along with the fashion of 'feminism' prevalent during the end of the 20th century. The history of culture, philosophy and theology of centuries and its linguistic terminology is out of fashion. The winds of fashion move the present man. This affects the theological circles, in particular, the ecumenical ones. And the Cardinal tells us, that this is a fact not only in the Catholic theological sectors but also in the Catholic public opinion. The world's relativism sickens the Christian faith.

2. Can we take this document as a positive opportunity offered to us all by the Roman Catholic Church to address afresh the difficult question of doctrine, which it re-states?

If the enthusiastic ecumenists were sincere in seeking the will of God and not their own, I would say that this document offers to all a great opportunity. When I say 'all', I mean all, inclusive of the Roman Catholic Church.

Someone could say to me, an Orthodox Christian, "how can you be so optimistic when the document tells you that your Church 'lack[s] full communion with the Catholic Church, since [it does] not accept the Catholic doctrine of the Primacy, which, according to the will of God, the Bishop of Rome objectively has and exercises over the entire Church'?" (Number 17 of the Declaration.)

I would reply, 'My brother, once upon a time I was very hungry; I arrived home tired and late at night; I went to the bread basket to cut a slice of the loaf to make toast, to discover a mote of green mould in the bread. Did I throw the loaf to the trash? No. I was hungry, I knew the will of God was for me to restore my strength, so I left the little greenish area and cut from the rest and ate my toast'. So, let us find in the Declaration the good points for our fresh encounter in the new station of our journey towards the Eternal Life.

Though not a scholar, I am well read and this is the first time that, in a magisterial document of the Church of Rome, I read its teaching based on the fundamental rock of the Creed of the 'One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church', that is, a Creed without the addition of the "Filioque".

The Declaration bases its arguments on the Faith of all those orthodox who are practising the Catholic and Apostolic Faith [(omnibus orthodoxis atque catholicae et Apostolicae fidei cultoribus) Roman Canon]. At last there are not ambiguities, we speak with the Faith of the Catholic Church and not with the language of the Patriarchate of Rome.

I find this a great act of humility from the part of the Roman Church, which begs of us to respond with humility, with a sincere loving effort, not only to listen, but also to respond generously and constructively.

17 October 2000

Return to homepage (framed) | Return to homepage (no frames) | Return to home page