The Vatican’s doctrinal office has issued a new text asserting that Jesus Christ is not one savior among many but the “only Savior” of the world and of all humanity.
Referring back to biblical sources, the document Placuit Deo (“It pleased God”) of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) declares that according to the Christian faith, Jesus Christ is “the only Savior of the whole human person and of all humanity.”
While this statement may seem uncontroversial for many Christians, recent years have seen numerous attempts even among Christian theologians to suggest that people may be saved in different ways, that may or may not involve Jesus.
As recorded in the New Testament Acts of the Apostles, however, Saint Peter famously declared: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Moreover, Jesus himself stated: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
As biblical commentators have noted, Jesus did not proclaim himself to be “a way” or “some people’s truth” but rather the way, the truth and the life.
According to Catholic teaching, this does not mean that only Christians are saved or that all Christians are saved. What it does teach is that no one is saved without Christ.
Placuit Deo builds on the foundations of an earlier document by the CDF, issued in the year 2000 during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II. That document, titled Dominus Iesus (“The Lord Jesus”), went even more deeply into what it means for Christians to assert that salvation is found in Jesus alone.
While acknowledging that the Holy Spirit works in every human soul and is not bound by Church structures, the document insisted that different religions are not equally valid paths to God, and thus it isn’t indifferent which religion one chooses to follow.
This text received enormous pushback from secularists as well as from a number of Catholics, who claimed the Christian Church’s claim of uniqueness was offensive to followers of other religions.
Writing for the LA Times, Richard Boudreaux said that proclaiming Jesus as “the sole redeemer” was “expected to stir unease in Asia and other places where Catholics are a tiny minority” noting that such “exclusive language about salvation” is offensive to Asia’s dominant religions—Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam.
For its part, the Guardian newspaper said that the Roman Catholic church was in “hot water again for saying it is better than all the other religions.”
Some of these critiques were disingenuous misrepresentations of what the document actually said.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel of Milwaukee, for instance, ran the headline, “Vatican Insists Only Faithful Catholics Can Attain Salvation,” an assertion that appeared nowhere in the text and which runs counter to what the Church actually teaches.
In Placuit Deo, most of these controversies have been avoided, not because the text takes back prior claims, but because its focus is not so much on the uniqueness of salvation in Christ, but rather those factors that make it difficult for modern men and women to believe.
Drawing on statements by Pope Francis, the document identifies two key obstacles to belief present in modern culture, described as a radical individualism that smacks of “neo-Pelagianism” (the resurrection of an ancient heresy) and a subjective understanding of God that eliminates the concrete reality of creation and the objective requirements of the moral law.
In other words, in today’s world, many people believe they can save themselves by their own efforts while others redefine salvation to mean whatever they want it to mean. This mentality, the letter suggests, keep people from embracing the Christian message of salvation in its fulness.
While proclaiming Christ as the savior of the world can seem pretty old hat, many Christians consider it to be a message worth repeating. The Gospel (which means “Good News”) continues to be “news” for many, even 2,000 years after the fact.
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