DH 11: Concerning Jesus Christ

How does the document treat the reality of Jesus Christ, of whom most every living human being has heard. Is Christ essential? And how do we tackle the conundrum of presenting Christ, yet not in a coercive way?

God calls (people) to serve Him in spirit and in truth, hence they are bound in conscience but they stand under no compulsion. God has regard for the dignity of the human person whom He Himself created and (people are) to be guided by (their) own judgment and (they are) to enjoy freedom.

Dignitatis Humanae 11 states that in Christ, this divine truth is most manifest. DH appeals to Christ’s gpspel example first of all, noting:

Christ is at once our Master and our Lord and also meek and humble of heart. In attracting and inviting His disciples He used patience. He wrought miracles to illuminate His teaching and to establish its truth, but His intention was to rouse faith in His hearers and to confirm them in faith, not to exert coercion upon them.

Further, Jesus did criticize unbelief, but we see that mostly in those who claim a certain religiosity. But Jesus also taught through the parable of the one who mixed weed seeds in amongst the wheat the divine plan that the final determination of individual salvation occurs in a future, not in the human present.

Faith is indeed essential for salvation:

When He sent His Apostles into the world, He said to them: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved. He who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16).

Yet Jesus abjured the use of force, disappointing those who would have preferred a political Messiah. Instead, he saw himself as a fulfillment of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant (Isaiah 42:1ff, 49.1ff, 50.4ff, and 52:13ff)

In the end, when He completed on the cross the work of redemption whereby He achieved salvation and true freedom for men, He brought His revelation to completion. For He bore witness to the truth, but He refused to impose the truth by force on those who spoke against it. Not by force of blows does His rule assert its claims. It is established by witnessing to the truth and by hearing the truth, and it extends its dominion by the love whereby Christ, lifted up on the cross, draws all men to Himself.

Jesus’ sacrifice set the tone for the Apostolic Era. And by accounts, the early Church was eminently successful in spite of persecution and hardships. Preaching was unflinching, at least as reported in Acts and the Epistles, yet St Paul acknowledged “those of weaker stuff, even though they were in error, and thus they made it plain that ‘each one of us is to render to God an account of himself’ (Romans 14:12) and for that reason is bound to obey (the) conscience.”

The apostles “followed the example of the gentleness and respectfulness of Christ and they preached the word of God in the full confidence that there was resident in this word itself a divine power able to destroy all the forces arrayed against God and bring (people) to faith in Christ and to His service.”

It strikes me that a low regard for non-Christians actually betrays a lack of faith. Salvation is not dependent on people coming to belief and confessing to Christians, but ultimately God and the revealed Jesus Christ. Jesus example and his task for us is quite simple: be a witness and let the unbeliever be converted by testimony (spoken and unspoken). In a sense each conversion opportunity is a court. Christians are not the prosecutors or judges, but merely the attorneys arguing their case. Non-believers are not the defendants, but members of the jury open to being convinced. For the present, God seems satisfied to be on trial, in the sense that individuals make a conscientious judgment on the Truth as presented. It seems to me that Christians should be more concerned about making the best possible case, rather than jump to judgment and usurp a role they have not been given.

Jesus’ way is simple and beautiful. Convince by one’s own witness. Everybody keeps to his or her own role. Freedom is respected.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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