Vatican II statement on other religions is redolent with ambiguities
Stabroek News
October 14, 2001

Dear Editor,

For Christians, particularly Catholics, Second Vatican Council (1963-65) was a momentous watershed in the history of the quest for ecumenism within Christianity. However, Fr. R.M. Chadwick's letter captioned "The Catholic Church recognises since the Vatican Council that God speaks through other religions" (ll.l0.200l) is quite misleading as it conceals more than it reveals.

The only way that this statement can have any significance in the present environment of dialogue or the absence thereof, is for these other religions to be equally valid means to salvation, liberation, moksha, nirvana etc., since it is claimed God speaks through them. But I do not think that this is what is intended, either by Fr. Chadwick or Vatican II. Let me explain.

Before proceeding it must be said that the Vatican II's "theology of the other" does not break any new ground as does its pronouncements in other areas of Christian life. In this regard the Council simply repeated the views of earlier Catholic thinkers.

In the Vatican II Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non?Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate), which is the document I assume that R.M. Chadwick S.J. is referring to, we read the headline catching sentence, "The Catholic Church rejects nothing which is true and holy in these religions." It continues, "she looks with sincere respect upon those ways of conduct and of life, those rules and teachings which, though differing in many particulars from what she holds and sets forth, nevertheless reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men."

For Christians believing in the dictum of extra ecclesiam nulla salus, that is, there is no salvation outside the Church, the Vatican II statement appears rather conciliatory and generous. Yet the statement as it is is redolent with ambiguities and, for Hindus, at least, it smacks of condescension. Does it mean that all religions are now equally valid ways to salvation and that there is therefore no need for conversion? This could possibly be one interpretation.

Further, if other religions do contain what is true and holy who is to decide what is true and holy in them? Will the Catholic Church reserve the prerogative to make this decision, as it has always done with respect to the other world religions? Or will it allow others to speak for themselves and to decide what is true and holy, something that has never really happened.

As we examine this statement of Vatican II it is necessary to keep in mind that the Catholic Church is prepared to grant that the other religions reflect merely a ray of that Truth, obviously reserving for itself the full Truth. Catholicism is the full truth of which other religions are mere reflections. Finally with regard to this much touted statement cannot it not be said that it is an almighty expression of arrogance? Does the possibility of the existence of truth in other religions depend on the Catholic Church saying so?

Some of the questions raised above are answered by the Vatican II itself. Fr. Chadwick must know of the existence of the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church (Lumen Gentium) which speaking of other faiths declares that, "Whatever goodness or truth is found among them (who through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church) is considered by the Church to be a preparation for the Gospel."

This means that other religions are not valid autonomous systems that can bring full salvation and nirvana on their own. They are mere preparations for the fullness which is the preserve of the Catholic Church alone. What we have here is the new notion of openness being quickly modified by the stress on the uniqueness of Christ as the universal saviour.

Even more explicit is the other Vatican II statement called the Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church (Ad Gentes Divinitus) which emphatically declares; "All must be converted to (Christ) as He is made known by the Church's preaching. All must be incorporated into him by baptism and into the Church which is his body." Even Fr. Chadwick concludes in very much the same vein, for if as he says the other religions are part (the preparatory part?) of God's plan for the salvation of the world, could it not be that Christ is the ultimate saviour of the religious others even if they do not know it? The anonymous saviour of the anonymous Christian? Karl Rahner lives again! The other religions simply, a priori, cannot be equally valid means to salvation. Scarcely disguised, the drumbeat of triumphalism continues with all the clarity of age of religious imperialism.

Yours faithfully,

Swami Aksharananda