Vatican CITY – That there are many religions in the world is a fact, but what that plurality communicates with believers about God is a question that theologians are still discussing.
Pope Francis and Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar, a leading authority for many Sunni Muslims, stepped into the debate on February 4 when they signed a document on human brotherhood & # 39; and the improvement of Christian-Muslim relations.
"The pluralism and diversity of religions, color, gender, race and language are wanted by God in his wisdom, by which he created people", according to the document.
The document goes on to insist on the fundamental right of man to freedom of religion, appealing to both Christians and Muslims, not only to tolerate the religious faith of the other, but to acknowledge the faith of the other as something " wanted by God in his wisdom ".
In other words, the message seems to be, if God "wants" religious diversity, then who are human intolerance?
But can God really "want" a variety of religions? And is that what the declaration signed by Pope Francis really says?
In a message on the document, Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, a blogger, tried to explain things by saying that God has an "active or positive will" of what he desires and where possible, and "a" permissive will "by which he allows things to occur that are not in accordance with the order that he has established. "
In that case God tolerates other religions.
But Pope Francis and Sheikh el-Tayeb seemed to claim more and demand an attitude from their believers that goes beyond being tolerant of religious pluralism.
Speaking to reporters who flew back to Rome on February 5, the Pope said: "I want to say this again: from a Catholic point of view, the document does not differ one millimeter from Vatican II."
"Nostra Aetate", the council document on the Church's relationship with other religions, affirmed: "The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions, and with sincere respect regards those modes of conduct and of life, those rules. and teachings that, although in many ways different from the one she holds and sets forth, often reflects a ray of that truth that illuminates all people. "
The council raised the "esteem" of the Church for Muslims and noted that "they worship the only God" and strive to submit to his will. "Although they do not recognize Jesus as God, they worship him as a prophet, they also honor Mary, his virgin mother, sometimes they even call her with devotion."
The Vatican II document does not say that everything comes in all religions from God, but you can not deny that God created people with a desire to seek and find him, and the world's religions at least contain elements of what is needed to go to God. to evolve.
The doctrine of the Second Vatican Council has given a powerful impulse to the field of study and reflection called "theology of religions" or a "theology of religious pluralism".
The field of study is still relatively new and some theologians who specialize in the area have been examined by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith during the past 30 years, especially when they were suspected of relativism & # 39; to go. seems to accept all religions as equivalent paths to God.
In "Dominus Iesus", a document published in 2000 on the essential nature of faith in Jesus and membership of the Catholic Church, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger warned of the danger of "relativistic theories that try to justify religious pluralism".
The future Pope Benedict XVI said that the consequence of believing that God wanted a variety of religions to mean that certain truths have been replaced, for example the definitive and complete nature of the revelation of Jesus Christ, the nature of the Christian faith in comparison with that of faith in other religions, the inspired nature of the books of Holy Scripture "and" the universal salvation mediation of the church. "
But many academics engaged in religious pluralism and missionaries involved in interreligious dialogue believed that Pope Benedict went too far, stressing a real danger, but described it as something that always happens.
"Dominus Iesus," they said, implied that Catholics who saw God's hand at work in the formation and life of other religions continued to deny the most important truths of the Christian faith, including the central belief in the saving power of Jesus & # 39; life, death and resurrection.
The document signed by Pope Francis in Abu Dhabi offered hope to those theologians while examining the theological implications of confirming religious pluralism, not an indication of people wandering from God, but more a sign of the variety of ways God extends to his human beings.
Jesuit Fr. Felix Korner, a professor of theology at the papal Gregorian University in Rome, told the Catholic news service: "When we say" wanted by God in his wisdom ", we look at the world in the belief that is formed by the Bible and the church has placed us in the story, so we must contribute to the transformation of everything that is. "
"Our hope is that in the end everything will be turned into God's kingdom," he said. "On the way there are surprising, incomprehensible, seemingly obstructive things", but the believers believe that God will use them all for the better.
In dialogue he said: "Followers of other religions often hope that we join them, we often hope that they discover the truth of Christ, but we respect the belief decision they have made so far, recognizing their freedom and God's wisdom. . "