By Carl E. Olson - OSV Newsweekly, 4/29/2012
Nearly 12 years ago, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued Dominus Iesus (“On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church”). Not surprisingly, it upset some non-Christians, who misinterpreted it as an act of arrogant triumphalism.
More surprising were the negative reactions from many Christians, even some Catholics. Then again, the document specifically addressed the teachings of theologians positing that Jesus is just one of many possible means of salvation, or that he only offers salvation to certain people. This position “has no biblical foundation. In fact, the truth of Jesus Christ, Son of God, Lord and only Savior, who through the event of his incarnation, death and resurrection has brought the history of salvation to fulfilment, and which has in him its fullness and center, must be firmly believed as a constant element of the Church’s faith” (No. 13).
In presenting a wide range of biblical evidence, Cardinal Ratzinger referred twice to today’s first reading. “In his discourse before the Sanhedrin, Peter, in order to justify the healing of a man who was crippled from birth, which was done in the name of Jesus (see Acts 3:1-8), proclaims: ‘There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12).” The conflict between Jewish religious authorities and the nascent Christian community had developed quickly. Yet it was a logical development since the proclamation of Jesus as Lord and Messiah was the decisive point of contention. The uniqueness of Jesus Christ was always central to the preaching of the apostles. It is the name of Jesus — literally, in Hebrew, “God saves” — through which salvation is realized and offered to all men.
The uniqueness of Jesus is also evident in his Good Shepherd discourse (Jn 10). In the Old Testament, God is depicted as the good shepherd (Ps 23); Moses (Ex 3:1) and David (2 Sm 5:2) were also described as shepherds.
Jesus the Good Shepherd is unique because of the depth of his sacrifice and the intimacy of his relationship with the Father. Key to that mission of sacrifice was obedience and humility. The Son, equal to the Father, accepted the Father’s call to become man, to dwell among us, and to suffer and die. His divine humility revealed the profound perfect love and complete trust radiating from the mystery of the Trinity.
This, in turn, points to the uniqueness of the Father’s love, not only for the Son, but for us. “Beloved,” wrote St. John in his first epistle, “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God.” By the Sacrament of Baptism, we are cleansed of original sin and filled with divine life, reborn as children of God and “partakers of the divine nature” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1692; 2 Pt 1:4). The Father’s greatest gift is his grace, “a participation in the life of God” that “introduces us into the intimacy of the Trinitarian life” (No. 1997).
But that gift is not a matter of just “me and Jesus”; it requires the Church, the mystical body of Christ, the soul of which is the Holy Spirit. Peter, in addressing the Jewish authorities, stood not as a solitary figure, but as the appointed head of the Church. Jesus, speaking of his sheep, said “there will be one flock, one shepherd.” That shepherd, alone, provides salvation.
Carl E. Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com.
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