Sed Contra: What’s All the Fuss?

Deal W. Hudson
November 1, 2000

On the heels of Cardinal Ratzinger’s letter to bishops, Dominus Iesus (Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church), comes the predictable chorus of boos. Once again, the papacy of John Paul II is accused of destroying post-Vatican II progress toward genuine interreligious dialogue by affirming the one way to salvation through Jesus Christ. Those who are booing the loudest don’t even believe in salvation.

The basic misunderstanding of the Church’s teaching on this issue arises from a preoccupation with self-identification and obliviousness to mystical reality. In other words, nothing is real unless it conforms to our self-appraisal. Thus, when Ratzinger reaffirms the traditional doctrine of salvation through Christ, he is heard as saying, “Only those people who call themselves Catholics will be saved, so if you don’t call yourself Catholic, you can’t be saved.”

For Ratzinger, the issue is not how people describe themselves—a person’s objective relationship to God, and whether the quality of that relationship is “saving.” The Church does not require a person to call himself “Catholic” to be saved. After all, Scripture is clear that not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” will be saved. But in an age of self-definition, many hold on to their labels as their saving reality. They can’t imagine something miraculous superadded to their view of themselves that attaches them to a spiritual communion beyond their self-consciously held set of beliefs.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church is clear that those who do not label themselves as Catholics may, in fact, receive salvation. “Furthermore, many elements of sanctification are found outside the visible confines of the Church…. Christ’s Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation.” (819) The point is that regardless of what religious denomination you profess if you are saved, you are saved through Christ and His Church. One can understand why this belief might be a source of irritation to non-Catholics, but that does not absolve Catholics from believing it.

Most people don’t admit the possibility of a truth that encompasses them whether or not they recognize it. The Church is a mystical body first and an institution, “the visible confines,” second. But as an institution, the Church offers communion with the mystical body in a definitive way—definitive but not monopolistic, as the critics have charged. Members of other religious institutions, or no religious institution, may enter into that body unawares and become part of the saving mystery of Christ.

The Catholic faith begins with the belief that Christ’s life, death, and resurrection forever changed the very nature of human existence: He made it possible, once again, for a man to enjoy a graced and eternal life with his Creator. Ratzinger merely reminds us that the incarnation of the Son is the “saving event for all humanity.”

What prompts the letter is the long-term effect of ecumenical dialogue based on “relativistic theories which seek to justify religious pluralism, not only de facto but also de jure (in principle).” Ratzinger’s target, however, is not primarily the well-intentioned parish coordinator who lacks the theological tools to explain the Catholic view of salvation.

The key to Ratzinger’s underlying concern is found in his recent warning against the United Nations Millennium Summit and the “new anthropology…at the base of the New World Order.” “It is precisely here that people are deceived…. They are not advised to love, they are advised, in the final analysis, not to be human.” Here, he strongly implies that the problem is no longer secularism but syncretism, not the loss of faith lamented in the 60s but the political counterfeiting of faith traditions into pseudo-universal moral values.

Needless to say, the universal moral values envisioned by the globalizers won’t include respect for life or the traditional family. But they won’t achieve this left-wing synthesis by attacking the Church directly but rather by finding dissident representatives of Catholicism to carve out of Church teaching whatever will fit into their mold. Sorry to say, many of the talking points for dissident teaching come from the relativistic template of ecumenical dialogue.

The real discomfort caused by Dominus Iesus was not to our brother and sister evangelicals but to the old radical left of our own Church, whose serial marriages with socialism, Marxism, feminism, and postmodernism have left them widowed and lonely in their old age.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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