If you have been listening to the rhetoric of some theologians, journalists, and ecumenists during the last month, you're forgiven for thinking the Vatican is about to mandate Latin and burn heretics at the stake. Dominus Iesus: On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church, published September 5 by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, merely reiterates long-standing Roman Catholic beliefs. But critics are calling it "a mixture of medieval backwardness and Vatican megalomania" and "a questionable attempt to bring back the absolutist view of the church of the First Vatican Council with the unlimited primacy of the pope." And if you think that's bad, you should hear what non-Catholics are saying.
Much of the garment-rending, however, is in response to the way Dominus Iesus has been spun. A few clarifications about what Dominus Iesus doesn't say, therefore, are in order.
First, the Vatican's statement doesn't call Protestants "gravely deficient." That phrase was used to describe non-Christian religions: "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. However, all the children of the Church should nevertheless remember that their exalted condition results, not from their own merits, but from the grace of Christ." While Protestants may disagree on the first sentence, to the second we can add a hearty, sola gratia–felt amen.
Dominus Iesus also doesn't say Protestants aren't real Christians. On the contrary, it affirms that Protestant churches—"ecclesial communities" in Vatican-speak—"have ...1