Response to Fr. O'Leary's "Dogma and Religious Pluralism" Part 2
Self-surrender means to give oneself to the Person of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus of Nazareth is the reason for the existence of the Christian. Without Him there can be no Christian. To accept Him, to love Him, and to surrender one’s whole life for Him is to accept what He has done for us. We know that the whole Christian movement started with the conviction that He is risen. If we are going to interact with other religious people, should we not have the same conviction, the same faith, and the same joy of the Christians who saw the risen Jesus? After reading Fr. O’Leary’s article, which I believe is well written, it seems to me that his proposal seems to be too abstract. The Christian faith, however, is rooted in the concrete Person of Jesus of Nazareth who was risen from the dead. It is beneficial to read the words of Fr. Karl Rahner,
“By the resurrection, then, Jesus is vindicated as the absolute saviour. We can also say more cautiously at first: as the final ‘prophet.’ For on the one hand the self-interpretation of Jesus in his message which was vindicated by his resurrection makes him a ‘prophet,’ that is, one who brings a word of God to concrete historical existence over and beyond all ‘eternal truths,’ and calls one to a decision. But this prophet holds that his word is final and unsurpassable. This stands first of all in contradiction to the self-understanding of every other genuine prophet, a self-understanding either explicitly present or to be assumed with the genuineness of a prophetic call from a God who is free. In his word a genuine prophet must allow God in his unlimited possibilities to be greater, and he speaks his word to a definite situation which presently exists, but then gives way to a new and different situation. He must experience and proclaim his word essentially as a promise reaching out into an open and unlimited horizon. Hence Jesus is a prophet who surpasses and subsumes the essence of a prophet with the claim of his word. We must bear in mind here that his word as God’s final word can be understood to be definitive not because God now ceases to arbitrarily to say anything further, although he could have said more, and not because he ‘concludes’ revelation, although he could have continued it had he just wanted to. It is the final word of God that is present in Jesus because there is nothing to say beyond it, because God has really and in a strict sense offered himself in Jesus…Jesus, then, is the historical presence of this final and unsurpassable word of God’s self-disclosure: this is his claim and he is vindicated in this claim by the resurrection. He is of eternal validity and he is experienced in this eternal validity. In this sense in any case is the ‘absolute saviour.’” (Foundations, pgs. 279-280, emphasis by author)
It seems to me that Fr. Rahner, whom Fr. O’Leary seems to admire, provides us a basic understanding of the resurrection. If the final word of God can only be understood in Jesus “because there is nothing to say beyond it,” can we still say with Fr. O’Leary that pluralism is “intrinsic to the nature of the religions as open-ended, incomplete, and always culture-bound paths of thought and imagination” (Dogma and Religious Pluralism no. 1)? If, as Fr. Rahner said, that Jesus is the final prophet and absolute savior, then it seems to me that to say that the Christian religion incomplete is to reject Jesus as the absolute savior. Why is the relativization of the Christian faith necessary if the Christian faith possesses the final word of God? Sure, there can be developments of doctrine. But can we reinterpret the doctrines as if they can be interchangeable with the doctrines of other religions? I will leave it to the readers to judge for themselves if this does justice to the problem of surrendering ourselves to the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, for, why should an atheist become a Christian rather than a Buddhist if the doctrines are the same anyway? Can anything compare to the resurrection of Jesus? If so, then the whole Christian faith is destroyed. For anything to compare to the resurrection of Jesus is to say that there is another savior other than Jesus. It seems to me that religious pluralism is not a form of toleration but a destruction of the meaning and value of the Christian faith, and therefore the reason for the Christian existence. Why should I, who have committed myself to the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, follow Him, even if the very sacrifice of my life requires it, if I can simply jump into another religion? “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot” (Matt. 5:13). Can we still say that a theory of religious pluralism which loses focus on the concrete Person of God which is fully encountered in Jesus of Nazareth and His saving actions is still a light set on a lampstand? Or, shall we say that it has been put “under a bushel basket” (Matt. 5:15)?
It seems to me that the Christian faith must reject religious pluralism. The then Cardinal Ratzinger said,
“[I]inseparable from the Christian identity is the Church’s confession of faith: that is, what the Church has designated, over and above the vicissitudes of theological interpretation, as the genuine word of faith (‘dogma’); inseparable from the Christian identity is, for the Catholic, the essential content of the Christian liturgy, which is independent of the Church’s own volition, that is, the sacraments and the relationship of the Christian to God as exemplarily formulated in the Our Father, the prayer of the Christian; inseparable from the Christian identity, finally, is that fundamental deposit of moral tenets taught by the Church on the basis of the Decalogue and its impact on the Sermon on the Mount and the admonitions of the apostles” (Principles of Catholic Theology, Ignatius Press 1987, pg. 131).
What Cardinal Ratzinger has said then is helpful for the discussion of religious pluralism which Fr. O’Leary advocates. I believe I have already commented on the limitation of Christian dogmas to culture and time by showing that Jesus Christ is an absolute savior and therefore surpasses all times and all cultures. He is also the final word of God and therefore we cannot encounter God without encountering him. In regards to this issue, my reflections above reflects also that of Professor Peter van Inwagen, “May it not be that Islam and Buddhism are not merely accidental instruments of salvation, as literally anything under the sun may be, but intended instruments, spiritual equals of the Catholic Church? I have no way to prove that this is false. If I had, I should be living not by faith but by sight. I can say only this: if that suggestion were true, then the Bible and the Creeds and all of Jewish and Christian history (as Jews and Christians tell the story) is an illusion” (“Non Est Hick” in The Rationality of Belief and the Plurality of Faith: Essays in Honor of William P. Alston, Cornell University Press 1995, pg. 235). And also say with the then Cardinal Ratzinger again, “If all religions are in principle equal, then mission can only be a kind of religious imperialism, which must be resisted. But if in Christ a new gift, the essential gift—truth—is being granted us, then it is our duty to offer this to others—freely, of course, for truth cannot be operative otherwise, nor can love exist” (Truth and Tolerance, Ignatius Press 2004, pg. 105).
The quote above from Principles of Catholic Theology by the current Pontiff offers me another angle to explain why we should reject the religious pluralism of Fr. O’Leary. That angle is the Church as the channel of mercy. The Church, as I have said, came from the side of Christ, which is the same side Divine Mercy was given. Christ’s death is the very reason for the existence of the Church for she was conceived in Calvary. That is why when we are baptized, we become a member of the Church and Scripture speaks of it as being baptized into Christ’s death (Rom. 6:3-4). Mercy cannot be attained apart from the Cross of Jesus Christ. Again, this is what is missing from the perspective of Fr. O’Leary. He does not mention that the Church herself is conceive from Christ’s death and therefore her very being is united in His death. Before I go on with my point, let me just make it evident that Biblical scholars today believe that the death of Jesus Christ is authentic. Bart Ehrman, for example, says,
“The earliest Christians put a good deal of effort into convincing non-Christian Jews that the messiah had to suffer and die, that Jesus’ crucifixion was according to divine plan. It was difficult for them to persuade others in part because, prior to the Christian proclamation of Jesus, there were no Jews, so far as we know, who believed that the messiah was going to be crucified; on the contrary, the messiah was to be great and powerful leader who delivered Israel from its oppressive overlords. Christians who wanted to proclaim Jesus as messiah would not have invented the notion that he was crucified because his crucifixion created such a scandal. Indeed, the apostle Paul calls it the chief ‘stumbling block’ for Jews (1 Cor 1:23). Where then did the tradition come from? It must have actually happened.” (The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writers 3rd Ed., Oxford University Press 2004, pgs. 221-222)
The crucifixion was reserved for people of the lowest status. “Crucifixion was commonly used for two categories of people: political rebels and chronically defiant slaves” (Marcus Borg, co-authored with N.T. Wright, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions, HarperCollins 1999, pg. 88). God was treated by man as if He was of the lowest status. The Cross shows what the devil will do if God becomes man: murder him. Paradoxically, the devil’s murder became the victory of God. Jesus “would go, then, to the place where the satan had made his dwelling. He would defeat the cunning plan which would otherwise place the whole divine purpose in jeopardy…At every point, then, the messianic vocation to which he seems to have given allegiance led him into a dark tunnel, where the only thing left was sheer trust. But we can be confident of what he thought he was thereby going to achieve. He would bring Israel’s history to its climax. Through his work, YHWH would defeat evil, bringing the kingdom to birth, and enable Israel to become, after all, the light of the world. Through his work, YHWH would reveal that he was not just a god, but God” (Jesus and the Victory of God by N.T. Wright, Fortress Press 1996, pg. 609). The Crucified One brought forth the communion between God and man that man had lost because of his pride. Man can now become like God. Mercy which was poured out in Calvary brought forth the communion between God and man, the Church. Jesus Christ in his death renewed the concept of the People of God. God and man are no longer related by a “contract” but by communion, by a fellowship of love, even to the point of man partaking God’s nature. Mercy brings forth the Church, the coming home of the prodigal son to his father. The Church in turn reveals divine mercy which can only be found where she was conceived: in Calvary. Calvary is the only place where one can find mercy, where one can find salvation.
The question is then, where can we find Calvary? Since the Church reveals mercy, it must be said that Calvary is where the Church is. This is especially true of the Mass. The Mass is the sacramental representation of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. That is why we can say with the current Pontiff that “inseparable from the Christian identity is, for the Catholic, the essential content of the Christian liturgy, which is independent of the Church’s own volition, that is, the sacraments and the relationship of the Christian to God as exemplarily formulated in the Our Father, the prayer of the Christian.” The question now then is, how can there be such a relativization of the faith as Fr. O’Leary is proposing if Calvary is found during Mass and the only way to understand the Mass is from her dogmas? Fr. O’Leary might respond by saying that the Liturgy was said before any dogmas were proclaimed. But such a response does not do justice to the understanding of the Mass from the point of view of the early Christians nor does it do justice to our understanding today. The Mass for the early Christians was a memorial as it is today. It can only be understood as the sacramental representation of the Cross or else it is meaningless. We, along with the early Christians, have a firm conviction in our profession of faith, that Jesus is Lord and that He is the only savior of the world. How else can we say the Mass unless we had a conviction of our faith, of our dogmas? Do we not profess the Nicene Creed during Mass? Should we eradicate it in the name of pluralism? One might say that Christians should not eradicate it, but the Buddhists can. But how can they partake of the mystery of faith if they do not profess it? How can they partake of the sacrifice if they do not believe it? The essential content of the Liturgy is to glorify the Father in Jesus Christ with the Holy Spirit. With the Holy Spirit, we re-live the paschal mystery, to partake in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen explains,
"They might have done two things with His death which would have fallen so short of the Way of Divinity. They might have regarded His redemptive death as a drama presented once in history like the assassination of Lincoln. In that case, it would have been only an incident, not a Redemption—the tragic end of a man, not the Salvation of humanity. Regrettably, this is the way so many look upon the Cross of Christ, forgetting His Resurrection and the pouring out of the merits of His Cross in the Memorial Action He ordered and commanded. In such a case, His death would be only like a national Memorial Day and nothing more. Or they might have regarded it as a drama which was played only once, but one which ought often to be recalled only through meditation on its details. In this case, they would go back and read the accounts of the drama critics who lived at the time, namely, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. This would be only a literary recall of His death, as Plato records the death of Socrates, and would have made the death of Our Lord no different from the death of any man. Our Lord never told anyone to write about His Redemption, but He did tell His Apostles to renew it, apply it, commemorate it, prolong it by obeying His orders given at the Last Supper. He wanted the great drama of Calvary to be played not once, but for every age of His own choosing. He wanted men not to be readers about His Redemption, but actors in it, offering up their body and blood with His in the re-enactment of Calvary, saying with Him, ‘This is my body and this is my blood’; dying to their lower natures to live by grace…that they would be changed into Christ." (Life of Christ)
Fr. O’Leary says, “In Buddhism, the experience of emptiness belongs to this level of lived encounter. It is an encounter with ultimate saving reality analogous to the Christian encounter with the risen Christ. The encounter between these encounters can happen at the level of contemplation, but it should also happen at the everyday level of faith, through a sharing of languages, which for the Christian means an attempt to speak of Christ in Buddhist terms. Of course there is no point in doing this unless the Christian accepts that the Buddhist experience is an encounter with the absolutely real, just as a Buddhist could not draw on Christian language unless he believed it to speak from the realm of ultimacy.” (Dogma, no. 4). With Fr. O’Leary, I can agree that there may be some Buddhists who encounter Christ in some way through their “experience of emptiness.” “Mystical graces improperly so-called or minor mystical graces not only are possible outside the visible Church, but they can occur rather frequently in the holiest souls in the state of grace, as a means of making up for the indigence of the environments where God’s children find so little help” (Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Our Savior and His Love for Us, TAN books 1998, pg. 397). But such a concession does not leave room for religious pluralism. It may be that the “experience of emptiness” is “analogous to the Christian encounter with the risen Christ,” but an analogy in its nature is imperfect; the experience of the Buddhist is missing something which is essential to his nature as a religious person. What is essential is to glorify the Father and only work of Jesus Christ glorifies Him: “I glorified you on earth by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do” (John 17:4). The “work” Jesus has accomplished is emptying himself, “taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself becoming obedient to death even death on a cross…to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:7-8,11). The kenosis of the Son even unto death is what fully glorifies the Father and therefore, everyone must participate in His sacrifice if we are going to glorify the Father. What is essential is not simply experiencing emptiness, but offering the Father the Lamb that was slain, to cry out, “To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever” (Rev. 5:13). Worshiping the Father can only be done by the offering of the Lamb with the Holy Spirit: “God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth” (John 4:24). It may be argued that the Buddhist analogously worships the Father by having his own paschal mystery by saying that his experience of emptiness can represent the cross and the peace he receives is the resurrection. I cannot argue that this is not analogous to the paschal mystery, but that which fully glorifies the Father is a communion with the life, death, and resurrection of the Person of Jesus Christ. Can any prayer really equal the worship of the Father during Mass? What prayer represents the death of God and the victory of God the way the Mass presents it? To properly glorify the Father, therefore, includes in the participation of the death and resurrection of His Son, for His Son glorifies Him fully in His supreme kenosis on the Cross. To offer the Father His Son is to please Him and to rescue us from our sins. Take away the Mass and you take away Christianity. Christianity is God longing for us so that we can long for Him. His mercy is the beginning and the end, for it is mercy which gave us life again and it is mercy which we must hope for. The Mass and the sacraments are that which we can kneel down before our Father as a prodigal son to ask for our forgiveness. There is nothing like it. Other religions only have a glimpse of it, but the Catholic faith has it in its fullness, for the Church is conceived in his death and therefore we can say with courage, “Out Father…” The Church came from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Head, and therefore she must profess the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. With the current Pontiff, again, we can say that “inseparable from the Christian identity is, for the Catholic, the essential content of the Christian liturgy, which is independent of the Church’s own volition, that is, the sacraments and the relationship of the Christian to God as exemplarily formulated in the Our Father, the prayer of the Christian.”
Finally, allow me to give my comments to the words of Fr. O’Leary, “Mere assertion will never convince anyone that Christ is `the Saviour of the world' (John 4.42), but a renewed clarification of the salvific impact of Jesus, in terms of the conversion of vision and of life that he effects, may allow that claim to re-emerge on more convincing grounds” (Dogma, no. 4). I cannot help but agree with his assertion that “mere assertion will never convince anyone that Christ is the savior.” The Christian faith is not solely based on dogmas, but we must note that dogmas lead us to the Person of Jesus Christ. One of the weaknesses of Fr. O’Leary’s article is that he talks a great deal of the universality of the Word, but never the particularity. God was revealed to us as the great “I AM.” In a mysterious sense, He is both universal and particular. We cannot take out the fact that He revealed Himself as an “I,” as a Person. When we talk about the God of Jesus Christ, we do not simply say the name “God” as if every person knows what we are talking about. Yes, we may universally know His attributes such as that He is the Creator of the universe. We may even know that He is Infinite Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. But we also have to remember that when we speak of God, we must ask ourselves, “Which God?” The answer, of course, is the God revealed to us by Jesus and encountered with him. God was revealed to us by Jesus as the Eternal Father and we, with the Holy Spirit, cry out “Abba, Father.” The source of all things is the Father and everything must end up going to the Father. Like the Son who was sent to the world by the Father, we must, like the Son, with the Holy Spirit, go back to Him. The Father must be the source of our faith, hope, and love. We Christians must always be a witness to Jesus Christ and His Father: “This is how we know that we remain in him and he in us, that he has given us of his Spirit. Moreover, we have seen and testify that the Father sent his Son as savior of the world. Whoever acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God remains in him and he in God” (1 John 13-15). We must always be the prodigal son. Only as a prodigal son who acknowledges His Father’s blessings and gifts, including the Church and her doctrines, can we Christians be properly called Christians. Dogmas may not be preached immediately, but it must certainly be internalized in each one of us. This leads me to my next question which is, is our purpose on earth to Christianize everyone? The answer is, if in Christ we receive the mercy of the Father which we all long for, the rest our restless hearts long for, the quench of the unending thirst to know Truth, and the joy our whole person yearns for, shall we keep this to ourselves or should we also share Him because to give Him is to love our neighbor? “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). Christians must be re-living the life of Christ or he is a liar and a lunatic. To think that the dogmas are only good for us and not for everyone else is to deprive others of something which is essential to their nature. We must be living in a lie for truth is not limited for us, but must be given freely to everyone. To think that dogmas are only true for me and not for you is to commit an intellectual suicide, for the intellect naturally desires objective truth, not relativism. We must be living in lunacy if we are to think that Jesus is only risen for us and not for everyone else. What kind of faith is a faith which endorses such religious pluralism? Is such a faith a lie or lunacy? If we are going to endorse such a notion of pluralism, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth” (Luke 18:18)?