A Spanking From the Mother Church

The Christian community has been working hard for religious unity. A provocative new Catholic document forcefully slaps down those efforts.
From the November 2000 Trumpet Print Edition

Religion gives rise to the most fervent of passions in people. When salvation or damnation are at stake—eternal life—extreme behavior is easy to justify in the name of righteous duty.

That is why religious unity is perhaps the most elusive, even dangerous, pursuit mankind can undertake.

We are right while the others are wrong. This pious belief, which often precedes a compulsion to convert others, has fueled history’s goriest massacres. The crusades, the inquisitions—these were exercises in religious unity: the effort to save souls by bringing them into subjection to the one “right” way.

It has only been in the last few generations that religious unity has commonly come to mean religious tolerance. Now, reconciling major dogmatic contradictions is not as important as peaceful co-existence, with each church merely not looking down on the others. Put another way, setting aside differences is just as good as having no differences at all. In the minds of many, that is religious unity.

Laboring under this belief, ecumenical movements in the Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist and Eastern Orthodox churches have lobbied hard to bring faithful individuals of all denominations together. At the head of the endeavor has been the universal church, the world’s largest single religious body—the Roman Catholic Church.

Pope John Paul ii has seemed to many to be the number-one champion for the cause. Over his 22-year papacy, his attempts to mend relations with Protestant and Eastern Orthodox Christians—even, recently, to patch things up with Jews—have been widely interpreted as Catholicism’s turning the page to a new era of tolerance.

But now, Catholic leaders are clearing up that misunderstanding.

September 5, the Vatican released a document designed to combat the idea that all religions are equal. Buried within its daunting title, “Dominus Iesus: On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church,” is the implicit statement, we are right while the others are wrong.

By “unicity,” the document means the belief that “there exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter [the pope] and by the bishops in communion with him.”

Only those churches that accept the doctrines of “apostolic succession [meaning the uninterrupted transfer of papal authority through the generations from the Apostle Peter to the present-day pope] and a valid Eucharist” are to be considered “true particular churches.” Those that don’t, which include all Protestant denominations, “are not churches in the proper sense,” it says (emphasis mine throughout).

The stern, uncompromising paper was written by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the guardian body of church orthodoxy formerly known as the Inquisition. In it, Ratzinger states that understanding Roman Catholicism as the instrument for saving all humanity “rules out, in a radical way,” that mentality of indifference “characterized by a religious relativism which leads to the belief that ‘one religion is as good as another.’”

While followers of other religions can receive a measure of divine grace, he continues, “it is also certain that objectively speaking they are in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who, in the [Catholic] Church, have the fullness of the means of salvation.

Religious Unity

Many religious authorities, including Catholics, received the announcement with “stunned horror,” in the words of one news report. “The season of embraces is over—Rome speaks plainly,” wrote Marco Tosatti, a Vatican expert, in La Stampa. He added that it represented “a cold shower on the delicate plant which is ecumenism.” Many called it an appalling setback to church unity—by which they surely meant tolerance.

But Dominus Iesus clearly promotes religious unity. For one, its stated intent is to bring back into line the religious relativism creeping into the ranks of Catholic leadership worldwide. But its broader intent is to reiterate and clarify the missionary purpose of the church—that is, to bring other churches’ teachings in line with Roman Catholicism; most specifically, getting them to acknowledge and unite under the authority of the pope.

Mentions of unity are notably present in the declaration. But make no mistake—the Vatican is in no way confusing unity with religious tolerance.

“The lack of unity among Christians is certainly a wound for the church,” the paper says, explaining how disunity “hinders the complete fulfillment of her universality in history.” Such words should be chilling, given Catholicism’s historical attempts to assert the fulfillment of this universality.

According to the document, inter-religious communication ultimately serves only to convert other religions. “Because she believes in God’s universal plan of salvation [that is, that salvation comes only through the universal church], the church must be missionary,” it states. “Inter-religious dialog, therefore, as part of her evangelizing mission, is just one of the actions of the church in her mission ….

“Indeed, the church, guided by charity and respect for freedom, must be primarily committed to…announcing the necessity of conversion to Jesus Christ and of adherence to the church …. Thus, the certainty of the universal salvific will of God does not diminish, but rather increases the duty and urgency of the proclamation of salvation and of conversion to the Lord Jesus Christ.

These words are a return to—a restatement of—a more traditional, more conservative understanding of what exactly constitutes religious unity. The specific actions that this duty and urgency will dictate is left unexplained—to be taken up in future proclamations.

But if history is any indication, with conversion as the goal and salvation at stake, extreme behavior will be easy to justify.

Conservatives in the Vatican

As upset as many Protestant and Jewish leaders were, the content of the September 5 pronouncement is nothing new, insist Vatican officials. It only reiterates long-held doctrines of the church, drawing heavily from the writings of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s and papal encyclicals, including those of John Paul ii.

Though written by Ratzinger, the declaration was issued as having the “sure knowledge” and “apostolic authority” of the pope. Yet, as many commentators and theologians pointed out, it seems to unravel, or, even worse, point in a dangerous direction, much of what he has worked for.

What has raised suspicion among many people is the tone and the timing of the paper’s release. The Vatican surely anticipated a backlash from the religious community. The fact that it still issued Dominus Iesus exposes an alarming trend.

Pope John Paul ii turned 80 this year and is severely weakened by Parkinson’s disease. According to an interview senior Vatican officials granted the London Times this past March, his condition is so poor that a “power vacuum” has opened up in the upper echelons of the Roman Catholic Church. On condition of anonymity, the sources claimed this vacuum is being filled by hard-line right-wingers who “are manipulating the pope to the extent of putting statements into his mouth.”

These ultra-conservatives feel the present pope, while laying the groundwork for a significant return to more traditional Catholic roots, has also watered down some of the strictest Catholic dogmas. Even now they are positioning themselves to correct the problem.

The September 5 declaration that created such a stir is one of several recent moves that prove what the Times interview revealed: The Vatican is being taken over by conservatives.

As Catholic professor John Cornwell put it, the fear even among some senior Vatican clergy is that “ultra-conservatives are intriguing to ensure the election of a reactionary pontiff to continue the current policies and to take the church even further to the right” (Times, March 12). As John Paul ii’s papacy winds down, events are already making plain that his successor will most likely be much more hard-line than he is.

“The race for the conclave is on,” wrote papal biographer Marco Politi in the Rome newspaper La Repubblica, referring to the group of cardinals that will elect the next pope. “[Dominus Iesus] is the first drumbeat in a quiet and resolute battle that is taking place behind the scenes.” In other words, it is a mere taste of what the world can expect from the Vatican in the years ahead. The religious leaders who experienced “stunned horror” over the release of this one document are in for more shocks.

A Powerful Church

What kind of role will the next pope inherit? One stronger than any pope for a long time.

Roman Catholicism is riding high in the world today. Its membership has increased to over a billion. Its leadership has grown in political clout, exchanging visits with phalanxes of governments and church officials worldwide. Through its political wing, the Holy See, it is the only religion with a seat in the United Nations. It is a member of the World Trade Organization, several UN agencies and other international bodies. It has the ear of the European Union, to the point where the pope can speak to its Parliament like a head of state would.

The pope’s office carries a significant and growing religious and political authority, even among non-Catholics, that is unique in the world. The next pope is sure to capitalize upon and extend the reach of the authority he possesses.

This church has held such power in the past. It has united with world leaders, summoning armies under the banner of the cross, using its spiritual clout to steer the political and military might of nations into helping it accomplish its goals.

The recent momentous gains made by the Vatican are worthy of awe and wonder—they should not be overlooked. For the Bible warns of a powerful church exerting tremendous political and spiritual influence over nations in the end time.

In biblical prophecy, this church is pictured as a woman sitting on “many waters,” signifying a globalist reign, and drawing on the wealth of big business: “For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies” (Rev. 18:3).

This description certainly could not apply to any of the church denominations that meekly protested this Catholic document. There is only one religion that comes close to fitting that depiction—a

depiction becoming more fitting as time goes on.

The Lady of Kingdoms

This same church is described in Isaiah 47:5 as the “lady of kingdoms.” In that remarkable passage, God exposes the real thinking behind Dominus Iesus and the Vatican’s other recent efforts at church unity. “And thou saidst, I shall be a lady for ever …. Therefore hear now this, thou that art given to pleasures, that dwellest carelessly, that sayest in thine heart, I am, and none else beside me; I shall not sit as a widow, neither shall I know the loss of children” (Isa. 47:7-8).

This is the church that, just in September, issued a letter to bishops worldwide correcting them on using “sloppy terminology” like calling other Christian denominations “sister churches” of Catholicism. “It must be always clear that the one, holy, catholic and apostolic universal church is not the sister, but the mother of all the churches,” it cautioned. Or, I am, and none else beside me.

This church has never forgotten the Orthodox Schism that began in 1054, and the Protestant Reformation that developed from 1517. “The lack of unity among Christians is certainly a wound for the church,” it writes, “… in that it hinders the complete fulfillment of her universality in history.” Now it is revealing its determination to mend that wound and bring its errant, “gravely deficient,” protestant daughters back into its fold. I shall not sit as a widow, neither shall I know the loss of children.

The fulfillment of this end-time prophecy is sure! The foundation for this religious superpower is being laid today. Headlines like those generated by Dominus Iesus will appear with greater and greater frequency as its power and prestige grows.

This is not a trend to ignore! It is something that must be taken seriously and acted upon before it quickly moves well beyond mere words.

That this church will forcibly re-absorb its daughter churches is frightening enough. Coupling that prophecy with others regarding this great, universal church increases the horror many times over.

Religious Unity in Prophecy

In Revelation 13:11 this church is depicted as a beast. This is where terrible deceit enters the picture. It will not appear as a beast: It looks like a lamb—innocent, just and righteous in the eyes of most people. It actually portrays itself as being like the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.

But this lamb speaks like a dragon! While talking about the necessity to convert people to Christ, about the need to extend salvation to all men through the one right, universal way, this church will commit horrible atrocities—in the name of righteous duty.

Where will it get its strength? From another beast—a multinational, political beast with fearsome military resources—which the church will be guiding spiritually. “And he [the church] exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him [the military power], and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast …. And he doeth great wonders … and deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast … [this is clearly a spiritual power]. And he had power to … cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed” (Rev. 13:12-15).

The prophecy of this ghastly martyrdom would be difficult to believe—if not for the fact that the same church destined to fulfill it has done this very thing repeatedly through its tainted history! This will be the worst carnage ever mounted in pursuit of that terrifying goal of false religious unity!

But the living God of heaven and the true Jesus Christ are not observing impassively as this great church, misappropriating Christ’s name, labors to fulfill its universality in history. They are watching intently, full of emotion, ardently anticipating the day when they will put an ultimate end to its bloody exploits.

Here is the prophecy of that end: “How much she hath glorified herself, and lived deliciously, so much torment and sorrow give her: for she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow. Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her. And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning” (Rev. 18:7-9).

Today, this church is rising before our eyes, making these prophecies leap off the pages of the Bible for those with the eyes to see. Before Christ returns to right its wrongs—to destroy it, out of His truly righteous duty—its ascendancy will shock the whole world into “stunned horror.” If you believe your Bible, you must understand that God never prophesies in vain (Isa. 55:10-11). Every word is certain to come to pass.

But after that church’s reign is abolished, Christ will establish His Kingdom in righteousness. He will then re-educate the entire world in a pure, true universal religion—worship of the one true God. “And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord …” (Jer. 31:34).

At last, the world will enjoy genuine, lasting, religious unity.