Dominus Jesus: a weak document

We offer some pertinent excerpts from a conference given by Fr. Franz Schmidberger in February 2001, "Update: the Vatican and the SSPX; the State of the Union?" in which he discusses the problems with Dominus Jesus, a document published in August 2000 by Cardinal Joseph Ratizinger as prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith.

The good and bad of Dominus Jesus

Two days after the beatifications, a very important document of the Vatican was issued by Cardinal Ratzinger, the declaration Dominus Jesus —The Lord Jesus. There is no doubt this declaration contains very good statements, statements which rejoice us. For example, the cardinal tries to limit the damage done by religious relativism by stating that every Catholic has to believe that only the books of the Old and the New Testament are inspired books, and not other books found in other religions like, for example, the Koran, or the so-called Holy Books of the Hindus, or whatsoever. Unfortunately, he forgot to add that if the Koran is not inspired, you should not kiss it [which the Holy Father has done himself].

There are other important statements, where he says, for example, that there is an enormous difference between the personal conviction of those who follow religious sects and those of the Catholic Faith. He says the Catholic Faith is a grace, is a supernatural gift, whereas the other is a personal adherence by experience or convictions but which has nothing to do with faith as a supernatural virtue. There is an enormous difference.

So far, so good. But..., and this "but" is very important: There are also weak points. There are also weaknesses in this declaration, and especially three points of which I want to make note.

What’s in a word?

The first weak point in this declaration is that it claims that the Church of Christ "subsists" in the Catholic Church. Now, what about this little word, "subsistit"? This is a key word of the whole Second Vatican Council. A key notion. Until the arrival of the Second Vatican Council, it was always said that the Church of Christ is the Catholic Church. There is a full identification between these two notions. They are synonymous. The Church of Christ is the Catholic Church. You cannot explain it better or spell it out better.

Then, in the first draft of the dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium of Vatican II, it was still put "the Church of Christ is the Catholic Church." But there came all these liberal spirits, who said, "Well, this statement, ‘The Church of Christ is the Catholic Church,’ is not very appropriate." Why not? — They answered with two reasons.

The first reason was:

Because there are also elements of sanctification and truth outside of the visible framework of the Catholic Church. For example, Baptism, if it is administered according to the right formula — "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" — and if it is done with the intention really to baptize, then even outside of the visible Body of the Church there is a true valid baptism.

Or, in the Orthodox Church, you find even a valid priesthood, valid Eucharist. So, they said, "Well, it is not so easy to just identify those boundaries or limits."

Second reason:

If we were to clearly identify the Catholic Church simpliciter — that is, just simply — with the Church of Christ, the whole ecumenical movement would burn out. The Protestants would be angered that the Catholic Church had defined that their churches were not the Church of Christ!

And, so, the liberal spirits wanted to find another notion and another word to give the definition. They got the help they needed from a German Protestant, Pastor Schmidt, an observer invited by Cardinal Bea to take part in the Second Vatican Council. And he made the written proposal that in this definition, "The Church of Christ is the Catholic Church," the word "is" be replaced by "subsistit in." He handed this proposal to the then Fr. Joseph Ratzinger, who was at this time the Council expert [peritus] of Cardinal Frings from Cologne, Germany. Fr. Ratzinger in turn gave the proposal to Cardinal Frings who presented it before the Council, and the words "subsistit in" were incorporated into Lumen Gentium.

So it has its origin from the Protestants. We were made aware of this fact by a priest from South Tyrol [old Austria, today annexed as part of northern Italy —Ed.], who wrote last year saying that he knew this Protestant pastor, and that he was still living. We asked him to send us the address. So we wrote to this Protestant pastor, and he confirmed by a letter of August 3rd that he was the one who handed over this proposal to Fr. Ratzinger.  So we see that Fr. Ratzinger had taken a very active role to introduce the words "subsistit in" and rewrite a very important definition of the Catholic Church.

Now, you see the difference immediately. If the Church of Christ is not the Catholic Church but only subsists in the Catholic Church, it subsists perhaps today, but tomorrow it could be otherwise. It could subsist in another denomination, for example, with the Orthodox, or it could be shared among many. That was, for example, the position of Cardinal Newman when he was still an Anglican. He thought that the true Church of Christ was composed of three branches — the Roman Church, the Orthodox, and the Anglican. He gave up this error and he became Catholic. But you see that, if there is no longer any real identification between the Church of Christ and the Catholic Church, the door is open to religious relativism. In his declaration Dominus Jesus, Cardinal Ratzinger has cut down the cockle but left the roots in the earth. Instead of pulling out the roots or using poison to kill the roots, he left them in the earth. And so everything will come forth once again. That’s one point.

The whole truth about "partial churches"

A second point in this declaration which it is important to note is that Cardinal Ratzinger says the Churches which have a true Eucharist, a valid Eucharist, and an apostolic succession (and he is thinking especially of the Orthodox here) are "true partial Churches."

Now, what is a partial Church? — A partial Church is the localized Catholic Church in a diocese, with its bishop, its clergy, and its flock of faithful. So we have the Catholic Church in Chicago, or in Kansas City; or we have the Catholic Church in Milan, Italy, or the Church in Cologne. These are local Churches. But you cannot compare those local Churches with the Orthodox Church; you cannot compare the Orthodox Church as if it were a true partial Church. That’s absurd, because the Orthodox, even if they have a valid Eucharist and a valid priesthood and apostolic succession, they have this apostolic succession only materially, not formally, because they are not linked to the pope. Moreover, they do not recognize quite a lot of dogmas.

For example, their position concerning Purgatory is unclear and confused; they do not accept the procession of the Holy Ghost from both the Father and the Son, nor the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Then, especially, they do not recognize the primacy of the pope. They are schismatics and even, to a certain point, heretics. How can they then be a "partial Church"? To say that they are is absolutely irrational.

More ways than one?

The worst of the three points in Dominus Jesus is a statement taken directly from the Second Vatican Council teaching that the Holy Ghost has deigned these other denominations to be "ways of salvation." Now, once again, we do not deny the fact that there is baptism of desire. We do not deny that people in other denominations can be saved. But what we deny with all vigor and strength is that they are saved — if they are saved — by these other religions. We say they are not saved by these other religions, but they are saved in spite of these other religions. That is what has always been said.

This makes things very clear, because nobody can be saved without our Lord Jesus Christ and the Church He has instituted, the means He has instituted and wanted for our salvation. How can you argue against God, who has given us these means, saying "Well, I will choose my own means"? Cardinal Ratzinger quotes the decree about Ecumenism of the Second Vatican Council in Dominus Jesus, which is very bad and absolutely false!

Once again, we received this declaration Dominus Jesus with mixed feelings. There are good things in it — very Catholic things — but any good is absolutely undermined by the bad in it.