Pastoral Issues

Evangelism or Bust: A Response to Reflections On Covenant And Mission

by John Pacheco

On August 12, 2002, the delegates of the Bishops Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (BCEIA) of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a very controversial document entitled Reflections on Covenant and Mission.

That document touched off a storm of controversy in part because its comments and observations effectively exempted the Jews from accepting Jesus Christ and the New Covenant for salvation.

Here are some selected (and quite disturbing) highlights from the document:

"In a remarkable and still most pertinent study paper presented at the sixth meeting of the International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee in Venice twenty-five years ago, Prof. Tommaso Federici examined the missiological implications of Nostra Aetate. He argued on historical and theological grounds that there should be in the Church no organizations of any kind dedicated to the conversion of Jews. This has over the ensuing years been the de facto practice of the Catholic Church."

"From the point of view of the Catholic Church, Judaism is a religion that springs from divine revelation. As Cardinal Kasper noted, "God's grace, which is the grace of Jesus Christ according to our faith, is available to all. Therefore, the Church believes that Judaism, i.e. the faithful response of the Jewish people to God's irrevocable covenant, is salvific for them, because God is faithful to his promises."

"Thus, while the Catholic Church regards the saving act of Christ as central to the process of human salvation for all, it also acknowledges that Jews already dwell in a saving covenant with God. The Catholic Church must always evangelize and will always witness to its faith in the presence of God's kingdom in Jesus Christ to Jews and to all other people. In so doing, the Catholic Church respects fully the principles of religious freedom and freedom of conscience, so that sincere individual converts from any tradition or people, including the Jewish people, will be welcomed and accepted."

"However, it now recognizes that Jews are also called by God to prepare the world for God's kingdom. Their witness to the kingdom, which did not originate with the Church's experience of Christ crucified and raised, must not be curtailed by seeking the conversion of the Jewish people to Christianity."

Feeling the weight of such heretical nonsense, Cardinal Keeler, the U.S. Bishops' Moderator for Catholic-Jewish relations, did some damage control within 4 days of this publication. On August 16, 2002, he issued a press release, stating that the document in question...

"does not represent a formal position taken by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) or the Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs (BCEIA). The purpose of publicly issuing the considerations which it contains is to encourage serious reflection on these matters by Jews and Catholics in the U.S." (

If the Cardinal meant to encourage "reflection" on the un-nuanced teachings put forward in that document, he certainly received a substanial amount of "reflecting" by many angry Catholics. As the cited selection make plain, the document's more controversial statements border on rank heresy. And, as this particular subcommittee found out rather quickly (guauging by the Cardinal's prompt response), their weather balloon got popped relatively quickly by many Catholic Faithful. It turns out that the rank and file let this subcommittee know, rather forcefully and vigorously, that they would not accept ANY teaching which contradicts the deposit of faith, or provides a carte blanche to the liberal theocrats who want to water down one of the Church's central teaching on the universal submission to Christ.

This fiasco, however, should cause all Catholics to pause and reflect carefully on the Church's teaching on evangelization of all peoples. It is my position that the Jews continue to have a special place in salvation history through our common heritage of the Old Covenant, but this mere fact does not give the Church the license or option of withholding the Gospel from them - anymore than it does to the invincibly ignorant. The Second Vatican Council, in its Decree on the Mission Activity of the Church, for instance, made it plain that ALL men are to be evangelized without exception. In fact, this is the very reason that the Church exists, and therefore it is ridiculous to posit, in light of Dominus Iesus (issued only 2 years ago), that the Jews are in an equal position to Christians in regards to salvation - even if they are somehow mysteriously connected to us through God's Word.

For the sake of brevity, I have chosen a few sources from the Church's authorative tradition to show that there is no objective salvation outside of Christ:

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God." (3:16-21)

"I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (14:6)

- The Gospel of Jesus Christ According to John

"The most Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics, can have a share in life eternal; but that they will go into the eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless before death they are joined with Her; and that so important is the unity of this ecclesiastical body that only those remaining within this unity can profit by the sacraments of the Church unto salvation, and they alone can receive an eternal recompense for their fasts, their almsgivings, their other works of Christian piety and the duties of a Christian soldier. No one, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, no one, even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ, can be saved, unless he remain within the bosom and the unity of the Catholic Church."

- Pope Eugene IV, Cantate Domino, 1441

"And here, beloved Sons and Venerable Brethren, it is necessary once more to mention and censure the serious error into which some Catholics have unfortunately fallen. For they are of the opinion that men who live in errors, estranged from the true faith and from Catholic unity, can attain eternal life. This is in direct opposition to Catholic teaching. We all know that those who are afflicted with invincible ignorance with regard to our holy religion, if they carefully keep the precepts of the natural law that have been written by God in the hearts of all men, if they are prepared to obey God, and if they lead a virtuous and dutiful life, can attain eternal life by the power of divine light and grace. For God, Who reads comprehensively in every detail the minds and souls, the thoughts and habits of all men, will not permit, in accordance with his infinite goodness and mercy, anyone who is not guilty of a voluntary fault to suffer eternal torments (suppliciis). However, also well-known is the Catholic dogma that no one can be saved outside the Catholic Church, and that those who obstinately oppose the authority and definitions of the Church, and who stubbornly remain separated from the unity of the Church and from the successor of Peter, the Roman Pontiff (to whom the Saviour has entrusted the care of His vineyard), cannot attain salvation."

- Pope Pius IX, Quanto Conficiamur, 1863 (Denz. 1677))

The Church's constant missionary proclamation is endangered today by relativistic theories which seek to justify religious pluralism, not only de facto but also de iure (or in principle). As a consequence, it is held that certain truths have been superseded; for example, the definitive and complete character of the revelation of Jesus Christ... (4)

Therefore, the theory of the limited, incomplete, or imperfect character of the revelation of Jesus Christ, which would be complementary to that found in other religions, is contrary to the Church's faith. Such a position would claim to be based on the notion that the truth about God cannot be grasped and manifested in its globality and completeness by any historical religion, neither by Christianity nor by Jesus Christ. (6)

Thus, faith requires us to profess that the Word made flesh, in his entire mystery, who moves from incarnation to glorification, is the source, participated but real, as well as the fulfilment of every salvific revelation of God to humanity, and that the Holy Spirit, who is Christ's Spirit, will teach this entire truth (Jn 16:13) to the Apostles and, through them, to the whole Church. (6)

There is only one salvific economy of the One and Triune God, realized in the mystery of the incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, actualized with the cooperation of the Holy Spirit, and extended in its salvific value to all humanity and to the entire universe: No one, therefore, can enter into communion with God except through Christ, by the working of the Holy Spirit. (12)

It was in the awareness of the one universal gift of salvation offered by the Father through Jesus Christ in the Spirit (cf. Eph 1:3-14), that the first Christians encountered the Jewish people, showing them the fulfilment of salvation that went beyond the Law and, in the same awareness, they confronted the pagan world of their time, which aspired to salvation through a plurality of saviours. (13)

The content of this participated mediation should be explored more deeply, but must remain always consistent with the principle of Christ's unique mediation: Although participated forms of mediation of different kinds and degrees are not excluded, they acquire meaning and value only from Christ's own mediation, and they cannot be understood as parallel or complementary to his. Hence, those solutions that propose a salvific action of God beyond the unique mediation of Christ would be contrary to Christian and Catholic faith. (14)

However, from what has been stated above about the mediation of Jesus Christ and the unique and special relationship which the Church has with the kingdom of God among men which in substance is the universal kingdom of Christ the Saviour it is clear that it would be contrary to the faith to consider the Church as one way of salvation alongside those constituted by the other religions, seen as complementary to the Church or substantially equivalent to her, even if these are said to be converging with the Church toward the eschatological kingdom of God. (21)

With the coming of the Saviour Jesus Christ, God has willed that the Church founded by him be the instrument for the salvation of all humanity (cf. Acts 17:30-31). This truth of faith does not lessen the sincere respect which the Church has for the religions of the world, but at the same time, it rules out, in a radical way, that mentality of indifferentism characterized by a religious relativism which leads to the belief that ‘one religion is as good as another'. If it is true that the followers of other religions can receive divine grace, it is also certain that objectively speaking they are in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the Church, have the fullness of the means of salvation. (22)

- Dominus Iesus
(On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church), August 6, 2000

Divinely sent to the nations of the world to be unto them "a universal sacrament of salvation," the Church, driven by the inner necessity of her own catholicity, and obeying the mandate of her Founder (cf. Mark 16:16), strives ever to proclaim the Gospel to all men. The Apostles themselves, on whom the Church was founded, following in the footsteps of Christ, "preached the word of truth and begot churches." It is the duty of their successors to make this task endure "so that the word of God may run and be glorified" (2 Thess. 3 :1) and the kingdom of God be proclaimed and established throughout the world. In the present state of affairs, out of which there is arising a new situation for mankind, the Church, being the salt of the earth and the light of the world (cf. Matt. 5:13-14), is more urgently called upon to save and renew every creature, that all things may be restored in Christ and all men may constitute one family in Him and one people of God. (1)

This missionary activity derives its reason from the will of God, "who wishes all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, Himself a man, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself as a ransom for all" (1 Tim. 2:4-5), "neither is there salvation in any other" (Acts 4:12). Therefore, all must be converted to Him, made known by the Church's preaching, and all must be incorporated into Him by baptism, and into the Church which is His body. For Christ Himself, "by stressing in express language the necessity of faith and baptism (cf. Mark 16:16; John 3:5), at the same time confirmed the necessity of the Church, into which men enter by baptism, as by a door. Therefore those men cannot be saved, who though aware that God, through Jesus Christ, founded the Church as something necessary, still do not wish to enter into it, or to persevere in it. Therefore, though God in ways known to Himself can lead those inculpably ignorant of the Gospel to find that faith without which it is impossible to please Him (Heb. 11:6), yet a necessity lies upon the Church (1 Cor. 9:16), and at the same time a sacred duty, to preach the Gospel. And hence missionary activity today as always retains its power and necessity. (7)

- Ad Gentes (Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church), December 7, 1965

There are therefore a few things which are certain:

1) There is no objective salvation outside of Christ (and the New Covenant).

2) On knowing the truth of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church, persons are obligated to enter her or lose their salvation.

3) Being a loving and merciful God, those who are not formal members of the Catholic Church may still be saved if they are genuinely ignorant of the Catholic Faith. However, even then, they are "in a gravely deficient situation" in regards to their salvation, the deficiency of which is measured, in part, by how close their teachings and ministers are conformed to the Catholic faith.

4) The Church has a sacred duty to preach the Gospel to ALL men, Jew or Gentile. This is the teaching of Ad Gentes and this is the teaching of Sacred Scripture (Cf. Matthew 28:19, 1 Cor. 9:16, Ezekiel 33:8-9)

In these teachings, the Council and Holy Scripture are reminding us of two things: first and foremost, no one is exempted from being evangelized with the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ because there is no objective means of salvation other than by Jesus Christ through His Body, the Catholic Church.

Secondly, Catholics may not presume to use God's gracious allowance which He affords the ignorant, Jew or Gentile, as an excuse to discharge us from the duty to preach the Catholic faith. The ignorant still do not have the benefit of sacramental graces which infinitely assist the faithful in achieving salvation which can be found only in Catholic and Apostolic Faith.

Our Holy Father, Pope Pius XII of happy memory, reminded us of this fact not too long ago:

"As you know, Venerable Brethren, from the very beginning of Our Pontificate, We have committed to the protection and guidance of heaven those who do not belong to the visible Body of the Catholic Church, solemnly declaring that after the example of the Good Shepherd We desire nothing more ardently than that they may have life and have it more abundantly. Imploring the prayers of the whole Church We wish to repeat this solemn declaration in this Encyclical Letter in which We have proclaimed the praises of the "great and glorious Body of Christ" and from a heart overflowing with love We ask each and every one of them to correspond to the interior movements of grace, and to seek to withdraw from that state in which they cannot be sure of their salvation. For even though by an unconscious desire and longing they have a certain relationship with the Mystical Body of the Redeemer, they still remain deprived of those many heavenly gifts and helps which can only be enjoyed in the Catholic Church. Therefore may they enter into Catholic unity and, joined with Us in the one, organic Body of Jesus Christ, may they together with us run on to the one Head in the Society of glorious love. Persevering in prayer to the Spirit of love and truth, We wait for them with open and outstretched arms to come not to a stranger's house, but to their own, their father's home." (Mystici Corporis Christi, 103)

As stated above, those who are not as fortunate to be Catholic obviously do not have these aids, and therefore their salvific position in relation to a Catholic's position is infinitely more deficient, although admittedly there is a gradation of deficiency. (For instance, an Eastern Orthodox with a valid priesthood is in a comparatively better position than an Anglican whose orders are not recognized by Rome (see the Encyclical Letter Apostilicae Curae by Pope Leo XIII). But the Anglican is in a better position than a Jew is in because the Anglican is a baptized Christian. The Jew, on the other hand, is in a better position than the Buddhist because of his monotheism and the patrimony of the Old Covenant.)

What true Catholic, if he cares for the salvation of his fellow man, would allow him to play "Russian Roulette" with his soul? The Church therefore must adhere to the Council's directives and continually preach the Gospel to everyone who is not in communion with Rome. But what is the Gospel? In part, it is for all men to enter the Catholic Church, and receive the gift of eternal life. It is a distortion to use God's mercy for those who have not heard the Gospel as a guiding principle in approaching unbelievers. The attitude of "Ask me no questions, I'll tell you no truths" has no place in the Catholic Church. It is also a perversion of the Church's evangelical misssion to exempt any group from being evangelized. As St. Paul reminds us:

"What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin...But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." (Romans 3:9,21-24)

John Pacheco
The Catholic Legate
February 26, 2003