The Left, The Right and Dominus IesusPETER KREEFT
Dominus Iesus is one of the most important Church documents of modern times, because it defends the most unpopular aspect of the Church's claim today – its "absolutism." And because it overcomes the dualism of "liberal" vs. "conservative" by which the media classify and evaluate everything.
To see these three points, all we have to do is try to classify Dominus Iesus as "liberal" or "conservative." I put an "L" after all its main "liberal" points and a "C" after all its "conservative" points, and I ended up with 30 Ls and 38 Cs.
But the kicker is that it is not half and half, or halfway in between. It is so "liberal" precisely because it is so "conservative."
To understand this, we should first try to spear those two slippery fish: the "liberal" and the "conservative." I see four essential differences.
First, liberals begin with subjectivity while conservatives begin with objectivity.
Liberals prioritize personal freedom. Conservatives prioritize objective truth. Liberals absolutize persons and see truth as relative to persons. Conservatives absolutize truth and see persons as relative to truth. (Both are right in what they affirm and wrong in what they deny. Both persons and truth are absolute.)
Second, in their anthropology, liberals prioritize the heart while conservatives prioritize the mind. An attempted mutual heart-and-brain transplant between a conservative and a liberal failed because no one could find a conservative who would give up his heart to a liberal or a liberal who had any brains to give to a conservative.
Third, liberals emphasize the abstract universal, the cosmopolitan and the global while conservatives emphasize the concrete particular: individuals, families, neighborhoods and nations.
Fourth, most obviously, liberals love change and conservatives love permanence; liberals love the new, conservatives the old. That is a matter of temperament rather than ideological content, for anti-Establishment liberals turn into Establishment conservatives when they succeed. And truth is not told by clocks any more than time is told by syllogisms.
These four differences manifest themselves in religion as Modernism vs. Fundamentalism, especially regarding salvation. Liberals say you are saved by subjective sincerity, love and openness to the new; conservatives by objective truth and fidelity to the old. Thus, Modernists are typically universalists and inclusivists regarding salvation ("We're all going to heaven, except perhaps the Fundamentalists"), while Fundamentalists are typically exclusivists ("You're going to hell because you're not us").
When Dominus Iesus debuted, both groups gagged. The Fundamentalists found it too liberal and universalistic. The Liberals found it too conservative and exclusivist. It's not surprising that it happened to Dominus Iesus because the same thing happened to Jesus himself: Sadducees and Pharisees, Herodians and Zealots, suddenly found one thing to agree about. They had found their common enemy.
Throughout Christian history the pattern has repeated itself. There have always been the "faith alone" fundamentalists (Tatian, Tertullian, Bernard, Luther) and the "reason trumps faith" liberals (Origen, Abelard, Spinoza, Bultmann), but also the "both-and" defenders of mainline orthodoxy (Justin Martyr, Augustine, Aquinas, Newman, Chesterton).
The same threefold pattern manifests in Judaism. In Islam, of course, the "faith alone" people won the center of the battlefield. Dominus Iesus not only overcomes the "liberal"/"conservative" divide but also unites the positive in both while rejecting the negative. It is not a compromise but a "higher synthesis." Thus many of my labels were neither "L" nor "C" but "LC."
The three main points of the document concern 1) Christ, 2) the Catholic Church and 3) the Kingdom of God. The first is the longest and most important. Its central passage says that:
You can see how this would deeply offend both Modernists and Fundamentalists. Just as Jesus himself did.The point of Dominus Iesus is that it is precisely the "conservative" or "traditional" "high Christology" of the Church and the Bible – so uncompromising on Christ's full divinity, "unicity" or uniqueness and universality – that allows us to have a very "liberal" hope for the salvation of non-Christians. Because all truth and goodness come from him, the truth and goodness in the hearts, lives and religions of non-Christians are his action in their cultures and their hearts.
Second, since the Church is not Christ's artifact but his very body, what is true of him is true of her. Dominus Iesus refutes the "liberal" separation of the two (three cheers for Christ, one for the Church) by correcting its misinterpretation of Vatican II's statement that Christ's Church "subsists in" the Catholic Church:
Justin Martyr, the first Christian philosopher, said that because Christ is the Logos who enlightens all men (John 1:9), whatever has been truly said by the pagan philosophers is properly Christian. All truth is ultimately his truth, not Buddha's or Socrates' or Muhammad's.
Thus our "liberal" assessment of the truths in other religions is based on our "conservative" Christology. This is the double reason, the both "conservative" and "liberal" reason, why we will not and cannot shut up, why we insist on telling the Good News to everyone (including Jews and Muslims): because Christ is the only Savior and because he is already at work in their lives.
Peter Kreeft. "The Left, The Right and 'Dominus Iesus'." National Catholic Register (August 5, 2010).
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Peter Kreeft, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at Boston College. He is an alumnus of Calvin College (AB 1959) and Fordham University (MA 1961, Ph.D., 1965). He taught at Villanova University from 1962-1965, and has been at Boston College since 1965.
He is the author of numerous books (over forty and counting) including: The Snakebite Letters, The Philosophy of Jesus, The Journey: A Spiritual Roadmap for Modern Pilgrims, Prayer: The Great Conversation: Straight Answers to Tough Questions About Prayer, How to Win the Culture War: A Christian Battle Plan for a Society in Crisis, Love Is Stronger Than Death, Philosophy 101 by Socrates: An Introduction to Philosophy Via Plato's Apology, A Pocket Guide to the Meaning of Life, and Before I Go: Letters to Our Children About What Really Matters. Peter Kreeft in on the Advisory Board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.
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