The Analysis of the declaration Dominus Iesus

About the declaration Dominus Iesus

Vladimír Sakař

In the Christian world the importance of the declaration Dominus Iesus, published on September 5, 2000 in Rome, has been lately discussed. Its author was no one of less importance than the cardinal Josef Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for Faith and Doctrine (earlier Inquisition); it was published under the auspices of the pope who gave it his approbation. The Decree that is being discussed deals with the relationship between the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian Churches as well as between the Roman Catholic Church and non-Christian religions. The Roman Catholic Church is being presented here by the Congregation for Faith and Doctrine, as we are going to see, in a quite traditional way according to its understanding.

The entire decree is quite extensive — as much as 36 pages of text, which has been published in English, French, Italian, Latin, German, Polish, Portuguese and Spanish. From this view, it is particularly interesting that it has not been published also in Greek, Church Slavic and other languages spoken by Eastern Churches; these Churches are old, respectable and undoubtedly (from the legal perspective of the Church) equal in many points with the Roman Catholic Church.

In six paragraphs it summarizes the Roman Catholic teachings on the value of the Roman Catholic Church and other Churches in regard of salvation. The Declaration co-pts, in general features or literally, thoughts of previous documents. In the case of use of biblical quotations, those are always interpreted in compliance with the resolutions of the Church passed during the reign of the emperor Constantin, which are presented as apostolic teachings.

The main ideas of the Declaration:

  1. The Revelation of Jesus Christ is pure and definite. The canonical books of the Old and the New Testament contain infallible truth about God and salvation of man. Their originator is God himself, who, through the Holy Spirit, inspired (literally) the human authors.
  2. Jesus Christ is the only Redeemer of all the people. The Holy Spirit and his impact are inseparable from redemptive mission of Jesus Christ. There is no dual plan of salvation — one for people outside the Church and another for Christians.
  3. The only mediator between God and man is Jesus Christ. Existence of other forms and levels cannot be excluded. Those do not replenish his mediation or are not parallel.
  4. The Church is unique and alone. Jesus Christ carries on his work of salvation within and through the Church. The Roman Catholic Church believes itself to be successional to the Church originated by him; however there are elements of truth and sanctification beyond it. The Church of Christ is present in fellowships that do not recognize the authority of the Roman bishop, too. The connection is secured by apostolic succession and true Eucharist. The fellowships that have preserved neither apostolic succession nor the substance of Eucharist cannot be considered as Church in the literal sense of the word. Imperfect unity with the Roman Catholic Church is reconciled by baptism.
  5. The mission of the Church is to preach the Kingdom of God among all the people and to support them. The Church is the beginning of the Kingdom, which of course is not identical with the Roman Catholic Church.
  6. Christ, the mediator and the only way to salvation is present in his body, i.e. in the Church. That is to be firmly believed that the Church is necessary for salvation. At the same time it should be believed that God wishes salvation for all the people, i.e. even those who do not formally belong to the Church. It is clear that various religious traditions include and provide spiritual facts, which are brought into being in human hearts by the Holy Spirit. It is the truth of faith that God had a wish for Christ to establish the Roman Catholic Church as a means of salvation for all the people. On the other hand the Roman Catholic Church has sincere respect for all religions of the world, however, it strictly rejects claims that all religions are equal and therefore it is unimportant to which of them people belong.

After we have learned about this, we must ask about the sense of the document issued in Vatican and especially about the fact, if there are any changes in attitudes of the Roman Catholic Church itself toward other Churches. First of all it must be stated that the document does not contain anything new — on the contrary, it is the best evidence that the Roman Catholic Church insists on the same attitudes and fundaments as in the times between the rule of Innocencius III until the First Council of Vatican.

The entire document lays great emphasis on the ecclesiastical magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church has no doubts about its superiority. It considers itself as the only legitimate representative of all Christians — local bishop is the head of all Christians (not only Roman Catholics) in individual countries (compare to Rahner, K. — Vorgrimler, H., 1996, p. 49). Information about how the Roman Catholic Church understands the fact that it was entrusted with the magisterium can be found in the fore mentioned brochure: “Out of God's will, the magisterium is entrusted to only two bishops under pope's supervision. This authority may be passed to other eligible teachers according to the ecclesiastical law.” (Rahner — Vorgrimler, 1996, pp. 50, 374 and 375 — which contains the quotation).

Of course, this self-assuredness is based on the doctrine of the apostolic succession. From the historical point of view, it can be hardly proved, because Rome is the very place where a several-year–gap can be found between the supposed (historically pretty lame) presence of the apostle Peter. Acts of Peter are much younger (compare Apocrypha, ed. J. Manek, p. 86). It is not even sure whether Peter died in Rome and whether the Christian body in Rome during the first century A.D. was administered by individual bishops or by the council of elders. “... Ignatios of Antiochia († app. 115 A.D.) proves the existence of monarchical bishops in Syria and Asia Minor, but Rome is not listed there…” (Gelmi, J., 1994, p. 7; compare ibid. p. 9)

The declaration similarly presents the Nicene Creed as the early one. It was originated, as well as the Apostolicum, much later than in the age of the apostles; it is a work of the age of Constantin, i.e. age of the origins of the unified state Church. In the age of the apostles there was probably just this simple creed: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16,16; Mark 8,29), which was perhaps a part of the ceremony of baptism (compare Sakař, V., 1999).

The word “apostolic” can be for the matter best expressed in the way that the Churches are trying to imitate the Churches of the age of the apostles. More generally speaking, this conception can be expressed in the following way: “Ordination is a sacred act, through which the Church entrusts eligible and proof persons with the apostolic work for the sake of Christ.” (Farský, K., 1922, p. 23)

Having been published, the Declaration aroused a huge response and in the Churches outside the Roman Catholic Church demonstration of regret and disagreement.

The prevailing voice in the Roman Catholic Church says that the point of the declaration is not in any case a proclamation of a new doctrine. Its goal is to summarize the Roman Catholic faith in the unique role of Jesus Christ and the Roman Catholic Church for the salvation of mankind. It must be emphasized that each of professing Christians could find verification in the claim that: “the council did not intend to formulate any dogmatic definitions, but wanted to update the life and doctrine of the Church.” (Rahner — Vorgrimler, 1996, p. 137) I find particularly interesting the view of P. Matthiase Gaudron, the Roman Catholic theologian, who says that: “everything that is good on Protestantism is also owned by the [Roman/Catholic] Church. All typical features of Protestantism are, on the contrary, wrong and false and that is why the [Roman] Catholic Church cannot learn or adopt anything from Protestantism.” (Gaudron, M., 2000, p. 26) John Paul II expressed himself as follows: "...the [Roman] Catholic Church is experiencing hardship — just as stated in the document — since the real “separate Churches” and Church communities with worthful elements of salvation are isolated from it. This document brings just the same ecumenical desire as expressed in my encyclical letter Ut unum sint…" (quoted from M. Gaudron, 2000, p. 27)

According to the orthodox Roman Catholics, the cardinal Ratzinger tried to use this document as an “emergency brake”. He thus declared against the commonly spread indifferentism and made an effort to secure a prominent post for the [Roman] Catholic Church (Gaudron, M., l. c., p. 28).

Because of the lack of information, I am incapable to report on the view of the Eastern Churches.

The most interesting might be the statement of the cardinal Idrisse Cassidi, the president of the Papal Council for the Unity of Christians that he spoke at a meeting of the world religions in Lisbon. The text of the document issued by the Congregation for the Faith and Doctrine was meant for the [Roman] Catholic theologians and not to the ecumenical movement. The cardinal's intention is to avoid misinterpretation of the document.

It is fully understandable that a document which is quite frankly proclaiming superiority of the Roman Catholic Church, with the intention that this Church has never even denied, arouses disillusion in the ecumenical society.

First of all, it was the World Council of Churches (WCC) who reminded us that it is necessary, at the beginning of the third millennium, to proclaim collective Christian testimony, which would convey progress that was made since the Second Vatican Council (WCC represents more than 37 Anglican, Protestant and Orthodox member Churches).

The Federation of French Protestants, which thinks the Declaration contradicts the previous calls for dialogue, expressed itself in a similar way; the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury said that the document tends to dispute convergence of Christian Churches of different traditions (the Anglican and Episcopal Churches unite about 87 000 000 believers); even the Evangelic Churches in Germany did not keep aloof. Mr. M. Koch, the president of their council, declared that the Declaration radically impairs ecumenical relationships (Evangelic Churches in Germany have about 28 000 000 believers); members of the Suisse Union of Evangelical Churches raised their voice against the Declaration in the same way and even the Jews do not hide their disillusion and fears of the subsequent course of events.

However, it may be surprising that learned theologians respond to the Declaration in this way, because it really does not reveal anything new. It speaks volumes of excessive to childish gullibility of the top representatives of individual Churches and Church unions. This gullibility is very surprising after centuries of experience, which all these Churches have had with the Papal Court. It is not necessary to lengthily talk about experience of Hussite leaders with the Papal Court, which eventually resulted in the Counter-Reformation of the 17th and 18th century.

The Eastern Churches raised their voice in a similar way, too. Most of them do not consider pope's negotiations in Greece on June 4, 2001 as an act of meekness, but as an act of hypocricy, hiding desire for world rule (Mára, P., LN May 5, 2001, p. 10).

We must remember that “Common Church of all Christians is called catholic (from Greek katholiké), with Jesus Christ as its head. He wants his Church to be based on positive faith in the Gospel (Matthew 16,18). A part of the Common Church is represented by Christian confessions that also call themselves Churches. Therefore, no Church was given right from Jesus Christ to call itself catholic with prejudice to other Churches. The duty of each Church is to lead people to religion in the spirit of Christ and arouse love for one's neighbourh.” (Farský, K. — Kalous, F., 1922, pp. 20–23).


Farský, K.: Stručný výklad náboženské nauky, in: Zpěvník písní duchovních, Praha 1922, s. 1–28.
Farský, K. — Kalous, F.: Československý katechismus. Praha 1922.
Gaudron, M.: Das vatikanische Dokument Dominus Iesus — was soll man davon halten? Mitteilungsbaltt der Priesterbruderschaft St. Pius X., Nr. 263, 2000, s. 24–28.
Gelmi, J.: Papežové, Praha 2000.
Novotný, A.: Biblický slovník, Praha 1956.
Rahner, K. — Vorgrimler, H.: Teologický slovník, Praha 1996.
Sakař, V.: K problematice tzv. apostolika, Nový zápas 25, 1999, s. 12–13.

Besides bibliography listed above other literature and documents, published by the mission for Central and Eastern Europe (Ecclesia Libera), were used.

Published: The Voice…, No. 6/2002, pp. 13–15.

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

Declaration “Dominus Iesus”

On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church

(work digest)

Unicity and Unity of the Church

The Catholic faithful are required to profess that there is an historical continuity — rooted in the apostolic succession — between the Church founded by Christ and the Catholic Church: “This is the single Church of Christ… which our Saviour, after his resurrection, entrusted to Peter's pastoral care (cf. John 21:17), commissioning him and the other Apostles to extend and rule her (cf. Matthew 28:18ff.), erected for all ages as 'the pillar and mainstay of the truth' (1 Timothy 3:15). This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in [subsistit in] the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him”. With the expression subsistit in, the Second Vatican Council sought to harmonize two doctrinal statements: on the one hand, that the Church of Christ, despite the divisions which exist among Christians, continues to exist fully only in the Catholic Church, and on the other hand, that “outside of her structure, many elements can be found of sanctification and truth”, that is, in those Churches and ecclesial communities which are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church. But with respect to these, it needs to be stated that “they derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church”.

Therefore, there exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him. The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches. Therefore, the Church of Christ is present and operative also in these Churches, even though they lack full communion with the Catholic Church, since they do 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.

On the other hand, the ecclesial communities which have not preserved the valid Episcopate and the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic mystery, are not Churches in the proper sense; however, those who are baptized in these communities are, by Baptism, incorporated in Christ and thus are in a certain communion, albeit imperfect, with the Church.

“The Christian faithful are therefore not permitted to imagine that the Church of Christ is nothing more than a collection — divided, yet in some way one — of Churches and ecclesial communities; nor are they free to hold that today the Church of Christ nowhere really exists, and must be considered only as a goal which all Churches and ecclesial communities must strive to reach”. In fact, “the elements of this already-given Church exist, joined together in their fullness in the Catholic Church and, without this fullness, in the other communities”. “Therefore, these separated Churches and communities as such, though we believe they suffer from defects, have by no means been deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church”.

The Church and the Other Religions in Relation to Salvation

From what has been stated above, some points follow that are necessary for theological reflection as it explores the relationship of the Church and the other religions to salvation.

Above all else, it must be firmly believed that “the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and baptism (cf. Mark 16:16; John 3:5), and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through baptism as through a door”. This doctrine must not be set against the universal salvific will of God (cf. 1 Timothy 2:4); “it is necessary to keep these two truths together, namely, the real possibility of salvation in Christ for all mankind and the necessity of the Church for this salvation”.


The intention of the present Declaration, in reiterating and clarifying certain truths of the faith, has been to follow the example of the Apostle Paul, who wrote to the faithful of Corinth: “I handed on to you as of first importance what I myself received” (1 Corinthians 15:3). Faced with certain problematic and even erroneous propositions, theological reflection is called to reconfirm the Church's faith and to give reasons for her hope in a way that is convincing and effective.

In treating the question of the true religion, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council taught: “We believe that this one true religion continues to exist in the Catholic and Apostolic Church, to which the Lord Jesus entrusted the task of spreading it among all people. Thus, he said to the Apostles: 'Go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you' (Matthew 28: 19–20). Especially in those things that concern God and his Church, all persons are required to seek the truth, and when they come to know it, to embrace it and hold fast to it”.

The Sovereign Pontiff John Paul II, at the Audience of June 16, 2000, granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with sure knowledge and by his apostolic authority, ratified and confirmed this Declaration, adopted in Plenary Session and ordered its publication.

Rome, from the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, August 6, 2000, the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord.

Joseph Card. Ratzinger