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Two Respectful Questions to Cardinal Dulles

Is the Catholic Church the Church of Christ?
Is the Catholic Church the Only Way to Salvation?


Atila Sinke Guimarães

Recently Cardinal Avery Dulles, SJ, gave two talks commemorating the 40th anniversary of the opening of Vatican II, which took place October 11, 1962. The first talk was delivered October 12 at Loyola University, New Orleans, and was reported by The Times Picayune (October 13, 2002). The second talk was given October 30 at Georgetown University, Washington DC, and was reported by The Washington Times (October 31, 2002).

The schema Cardinal Dulles followed in both talks seems to be the same, which is understandable. I am writing this article on November 11, and until now, I have not had access to the original texts, so I will base my comments on the above mentioned news reports I have at hand. If my present article will come to the attention of Cardinal Dulles, as I hope it will, I ask him the courtesy to send me the entire speech (PO Box 23135 – Los Angeles – CA – 90023), should it not be published in the magazine America or in the NCCB journal Origins, which I normally receive. If and when I will obtain the complete text I certainly will check if my comments remain pertinent, and will publicly correct them in case they do not.

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Cardinal Avery Dulles - America, March 5, 2001
Fr. Avery Dulles was neither a Bishop nor an Archbishop, but a simple priest when he was named Cardinal. To have thus been chosen to be a Cardinal-Presbyter represents, according to an old Vatican tradition that has been maintained in the post-Conciliar period, a special honor and a singular approval of his intellectual works. An example of such a case coming from better days would be the theologian Fr. Louis Billot, SJ, who played a decisive role in writing the original draft of the Encyclical Pascendi. He also had an important part in other fronts of the anti-Modernist fight. He was elevated by St. Pius X to the honor of the Cardinalship.

To give examples coming from worse days, i.e., these unfortunate post-Vatican II times in which we live, I mention just three among many: Fr. Jean Daniélou, SJ, the first theologian of Nouvelle Théologie who received the title of Cardinal from Paul VI; Fr. Henri de Lubac, SJ and Fr. Yves Congar, OP, both theologians of the same progressivist current, were raised to this honor by John Paul II as a reward for their important contributions to the final documents of Vatican II. Fr. Avery Dulles also was chosen to be a Cardinal-Presbyter as recompense for his progressivist thinking.

Today Cardinal Dulles tries to appear conservative. This designation is each day being applied in a broader sense. I recall that even Fr. Karl Rahner and Fr. Urs von Balthasar were considered as such at the end of their lives. But, at least they had the honesty to deny it publicly, stating that none of their progressivist convictions had changed. For documentation on the topic, please check my Animus Delendi I, chapter III, footnote 25.

On the contrary, Cardinal Dulles publicly claims to be a conservative. He “firmly supports the traditional teachings of Pope John Paul II and the Holy See today” (The Washington Times). He also includes himself among “the more conservative interpreters who won the Vatican II legacy” (WT). What happened to the progressivist theologian Avery Dulles of the 60’s and the 70’s? Did he convert? Is he defending today those very principles that he attacked yesterday? Or did he not convert? In this case is he trying to appear conservative as just a way to fool public opinion and make it digest a “conservative” presentation of the same progressivist errors? I really don’t know. For this reason I am asking Cardinal Dulles to respond to my questions. Here they are:

1. Is the Catholic Church the Church of Christ?

On this topic one can read apparently contradictory statements by theologian Avery Dulles.

Today, according to The Times Picayune (TP), Dulles said: “Many think the Council taught that non-Christian religions could offer a path to salvation. Rather …. they all have fatal flaws. The one true religion exists in the Catholic Church.” According to The Washington Times (WT) Dulles also stated: “The greatest post-Vatican II misunderstanding is that the Church gave up her claim to be the only way to salvation.”

Anyone who quickly reads these statements reaches the conclusion that Cardinal Dulles is talking about the Catholic Church and is defending the dogma extra Ecclesiam nulla salus [outside the Catholic Church there is no salvation]. Hence, for this reader the Cardinal appears as a strong conservative and perhaps even a traditionalist. This conclusion, however, is not as objective as it appears from the first reading.

There are two problems involved with this statement. One is to know what Church Dulles is talking about. Another is to know if he in fact was defending the mentioned dogma. In my first question I will deal with the former, and in my second question with the latter.

When Cardinal Dulles affirmed that “the one true religion exists in the Catholic Church,” was he saying that the Catholic Church is the true religion? Or was he stating that there would be another religious entity broader than the Catholic Church existing somewhere else and sharing a part of its plenitude with the Catholic Church?

If one goes back to read what Dulles defended in the past, an interesting clarification enters the picture. Twenty-three years ago addressing the same topic, Dulles published the article “Ecumenism: Problems and future possibilities” for a book of collected works by various authors published in Italian: Toward the Church of the Third Millennium [Verso la Chiesa del Terzo Millennio, Brescia: Queriniana, 1979]. In that article he wrote:

“The Church of Jesus Christ is not identified with the Roman Catholic Church. Certainly, it subsists in Roman Catholicism, but it is also present in various ways and in various degrees in other Christian communities in so far as they are also faithful to that which God initiated in Jesus and they obey the inspiration of the Spirit of Christ” (pp. 108-9).

If today Fr. Dulles still defends the same thesis that the Church of Christ is different from and broader than the Catholic Church, then his recent statements to the TP and WT should be understood as referring to this strange “Church of Christ.” If the reader is interested in knowing what is behind and who supports this “Church of Christ” he can refer to my recently released Animus Delendi II, part II, chapter II. This “Church” would encompass Catholics, Protestants, and Schismatics. Then, when Cardinal Dulles said that “the one true religion exists in the Catholic Church,” he would not be defending that the Catholic Church is the true religion, but that she shares the “true religion” that would exist elsewhere. It would be a Jesuit twist in a way of presenting the words to give the impression that he was defending a conservative position.

Also, when he stated that “many think the Council taught that non-Christian religions could offer a path to salvation. Rather …. they all have fatal flaws,” he would not be referring to Protestant and Schismatics, as a quick reading might suggest. These people would have open access to Heaven, since they would be included in the “Church of Christ.” Actually Dulles would be referring to Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, etc. That is to say, he would be dealing with an entirely different reality than what appears in the first reading. If this is the case, then he would be playing a trick: a subtle progressivist thesis is presented in a way that gives the impression that he is defending the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church, but actually he is defending the opposite.

If Cardinal Avery Dulles would have used these hermeneutic ruses to appear conservative to his audience, then one would be dealing with a crafty sophist instead of a respectable teacher.

How can the dilemma be resolved? Without rushing to make a judgment, I choose the direct method. I respectfully place my question to him here:

Could Your Eminence be so kind as to clearly answer this question: Do you still defend what you wrote in 1979 about the Church of Christ? Id est, do you still defend that there is a Church of Christ different from and broader than the Catholic Church?

2. Is the Catholic Church the only way to salvation?

Dulles stated to The Washington Times: “The greatest post-Vatican II misunderstanding is that the Church gave up her claim to be the only way to salvation.” In a superficial reading of this phrase one would say that he is defending that Vatican II unequivocally taught that the Catholic Church is the only way to salvation.

Contrary to this impression, the Decree Unitatis redintegratio clearly stated that salvation can exist outside of the Church. It is this text to which I refer: “The brethren divided from us also carry out many of the sacred actions of the Christian religion. Undoubtedly, in ways that vary according to the condition of each Church or Community, these actions can truly engender a life of grace, and can rightly be described as capable of providing access to the community of salvation …. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation ….” (3c, 3d). I could quote other similar texts.

In the same article quoted above, Fr. Dulles also wrote in 1979: “It can be considered that the Council implicitly taught that the united church of the future will not come about by a capitulation of the other churches and their absorption into Roman Catholicism. The desired una sancta can be a joint creation, which will simultaneously complete and transform all the churches that enter it. The Catholic Church, without being dissolved in any way, would modify herself by entering this embracing unity” (ibid., pp. 112-3). My comment: if the other “churches” do not need to convert to the Catholic Church, then she is not the only necessary way to salvation.

One can see, therefore, that neither the Council supported the dogma “outside the Catholic Church there is no salvation,” nor did the theologian Dulles defend it in 1979.

Given these apparent contradictions, I place my second question to Cardinal Avery Dulles:

Could Your Eminence explain what “Church” you were talking about when you stated that “the greatest post-Vatican II misunderstanding is that the Church gave up her claim to be the only way to salvation”? Is this Church the Catholic Church as one understands in the first reading of your statement? Or it is an ethereal “Church of Christ” referred to in my first question?

A warning to Readers

Until I receive answers to my questions, let me make just one more comment to warn the reader. It is dangerous to believe in the “conservative” comments of present day theologians when they have had a progressivist past. History has taught us that after Arianism was condemned, its supporters tried to infiltrate its errors inside the Church by means of an astute semi-Arianism, which presented itself as “moderate” and “conservative.” An analogous process took place with Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism. Protestantism was strongly condemned at the Council of Trent, but a “moderate” version of it, Anglicanism, served as a model for the infiltration of Gallicanism in the Catholic Church. Mitigated versions of Protestantism also can be found within the Catholic Church in currents such as Baianism, Jansenism, Quietism and Febronianism.

There has not been a condemnation of Progressivism by the last four Popes. There has been, however, a good Catholic reaction against many changes that have been made from the Council on. Trying to avoid the difficulties caused by this reaction, the heads of Progressivism have applied a strategy similar to that which was employed by heretics in the past. They divided their troops between “moderate” or pseudo-conservatives, and radicals. I sustain that the “moderate” or “conservative” interpretation of the principles of Vatican II, which are changing the Catholic Church in her institution, her Dogma and her Morals, is a way to support the victories that the progressivist current achieved at that Council. “Moderates” and radicals, pseudo-conservatives and progressivists are fellow companions in the same take-over of the Catholic Church. The “moderates” anesthetize public opinion, and the radicals perform the surgeries that are needed for the advance of their revolutionary ideals. And the whole operation is being made under the supervision of the religious authority.

Posted December 8, 2002


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