THE VATICAN has issued a “doctrinal note” intended to counter objections to evangelism.
The note, from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, warns of a “growing confusion”, which has introduced the misapprehension held by some “that any attempt to convince others on religious matters is a limitation on their freedom. . . It is enough, so they say, to help people to become more human or more faithful to their own religion; it is enough to build communities which strive for justice, freedom, peace, and solidarity.”
The note opposes this view vigorously, quoting the Second Vatican Council judgement that the truth “does not impose itself except by the strength of the truth itself”. The note goes on: “To lead a person’s intelligence and freedom in honesty to the encounter with Christ and his gospel is not an inappropriate encroachment, but rather a legitimate endeavour, and a service capable of making human relations more fruitful.”
The note, which talks of “the right” to hear the gospel, acknowledges that non-Christians can be saved “through the grace which God bestows in ways known to him”. None the less, it argues that “the Church cannot fail to recognise that such persons are lacking a tremendous benefit in this world: to know the true face of God and the friendship of Jesus Christ, God-with-us.” And it quotes Pope Benedict XVI: “There is nothing more beautiful than to be surprised by the gospel.”
Regarding concern for the subversion of world cultures, the note refers to the Holy Spirit, “who, after having been operative in the incarnation of Jesus Christ in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, animates the maternal action of the Church in the evangelisation of cultures. Although the gospel is independent from any culture, it is capable of infusing all cultures, while never allowing itself to be subservient to them.”
A key element of evangelism is “sincere dialogue”, says the note, one that takes into account “the hopes, sufferings, and concrete situations of those with whom one is in dialogue”.
The encounter is prey to “deception, selfish motives or arrogance”, however, and the note quotes the Second Vatican Council: “The Church severely prohibits forcing people to embrace the faith, or leading or enticing them by improper techniques.”
The note contains a separate section on ecumenism, dealing specifically with the encouragement of other Christians to join the Roman Catholic Church. It eschews “senseless rivalry” in countries where non-Catholics live, calling for “true respect for the tradition and spiritual riches of such countries, as well as a sincere spirit of co-operation. . .
“With non-Catholic Christians, Catholics must enter into a respectful dialogue of charity and truth, a dialogue which is not only an exchange of ideas, but also of gifts, in order that the fullness of the means of salvation can be offered to one’s partner in dialogue. In this way they are led to an ever deeper conversion to Christ.
“In this connection, it needs also to be recalled that if a non-Catholic Christian, for reasons of conscience and having been convinced of Catholic truth, asks to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church, this is to be respected as the work of the Holy Spirit.
. . . In such a case, it would not be a question of proselytism in the negative sense that has been attributed to this term.”
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