Opening the Word: Three unique truths

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, shortly before being elected Pope Benedict XVI, wrote a book, “Truth and Tolerance” (Ignatius Press, $17.95), in which he noted after Easter “it becomes clear that Jesus is the Kingdom in person, so that the good news of the Kingdom has to proclaim him.” This is evident in today’s readings, in which we find three unique truths regarding the Gospel.

The first truth is that Jesus Christ is unique in his person; he is the incarnate word and the Son of God. This is foundational teaching, of course, but it has not kept some Catholics from questioning or even denying Christ’s uniqueness. In 2000, Cardinal Ratzinger, then head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued Dominus Iesus, a declaration on the “unicity and salvific universality of Jesus Christ and the Church.” Dominus Iesus addressed the denial of Jesus’ uniqueness, stating “such a 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). It referred to St. Peter’s discourse before the Sanhedrin, heard in today’s first reading: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

The second truth is that the salvation offered through Jesus Christ is unique; it is the only true salvation available to us. Jesus is not one way among many ways, nor is he one possible guru or teacher among various candidates. He is singular, first, because he is true God and true man and, second, because he alone is able to offer salvation from sin and the gift of eternal life by his death and resurrection. In the words of Dominus Iesus: “one can and must say that Jesus Christ has a significance and a value for the human race and its history, which are unique and singular, proper to him alone, exclusive, universal and absolute. Jesus is, in fact, the word of God made man for the salvation of all” (No. 15). As Jesus states, in today’s Gospel: “I am the good shepherd” — not one shepherd among many. This is an all-or-nothing assertion, followed up by another: “And there will be one flock, one shepherd. This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.”

The third truth is that the saving work of the Son consists in his unique gift of divine life. This is a great theme in both the Gospel of John and John’s first epistle (cf. Jn 1:1-5; 5:21-26; 6:47-63; 1 Jn 1:1-2; 5:11-13). God’s gift of his trinitarian life is intimately connected to his love; in fact, they really cannot be separated, for that life is a perfect and eternal exchange of love. “See what love the Father has bestowed on us,” we hear in today’s second reading, “that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are.” This is not a metaphor or poetic expression but a radical truth. This is summed up well in Dominus Iesus: “From the beginning, the community of believers has recognized in Jesus a salvific value such that he alone, as Son of God made man, crucified and risen, by the mission received from the Father and in the power of the Holy Spirit, bestows revelation (cf. Mt 11:27) and divine life (cf. Jn 1:12; 5:25-26; 17:2) to all humanity and to every person” (No 15).

Amen!

Carl E. Olson is the editor of Catholic World Report.