Rev. Stewart is pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland. Previous article in this series: May 1, 2009, p. 352.
Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions (1965)
Given the Roman Church’s false ecumenism with the Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, and Protestants, it is no surprise that it is engaged in syncretism with pagan religions.1 After all, Jehoshaphat’s false ecumenism with the apostate Northern Kingdom (II Chron. 18; 20:31-37) led him into syncretism with pagan Edom (II Kings 3). Rome has always been syncretistic to some degree. Witness its compromises in the conversion of the barbarians in Northern and Eastern Europe or the acceptance of pagan elements in its missionary work in Asia (where a Jesuit, Francis Xavier, even went too far for the pope), Central and South America, and Africa. In God’s just judgment, those who are willing to sell the truth of His Word in exchange for worldly, economic, or political gain find it hard to stop.2 With apostate churches, like Rome, things are far worse than we imagine; just read Ezekiel 8.
Vatican II (1962-1965) gives modern Rome’s creedal position on both its false ecumenism (the Decree of Ecumenism) and its syncretism (the Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions ).3 The latter is the shortest of Vatican II’s sixteen documents and is namedNostra Aetate in Latin (In Our Age).
The Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions deliberately and explicitly emphasizes, and “gives primary consideration” to (p. 660), “common” ground (pp. 660, 663, 665) between Roman Catholicism and pagan religions. After a somewhat philosophical introduction, which seeks to find some lowest common denominator in man’s humanity and religiosity, and a paragraph outlining the evolutionary idea of the development of religion (pp. 660-661),Nostra Aetate turns to various religions, starting with those “farthest” from Christianity before coming to those “nearest” to it (pp. 661-667).4 Hinduism, Buddhism, and Other Religions
Despite Hinduism’s 330 million gods, holy cows, animal sacrifices, and caste system, the Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions finds in this religion, a religion of some one billion people, many of whom are in India, “a certain perception of that hidden power which hovers over the course of things and over the events of human life” (p. 661):
…in Hinduism men contemplate the divine mystery and express it through an unspent fruitfulness of myths and through searching philosophical inquiry. They seek release from the anguish of our condition through ascetical practices or deep meditation or a loving, trusting flight toward God (pp. 661-662).
Like Hinduism, out of which it arose, atheistic Buddhism teaches reincarnation. On this religion, found predominately in East Asia and numbering about 400 million followers, Nostra Aetate declares,
Buddhism in its multiple forms acknowledges the radical insufficiency of this shifting world. It teaches a path by which men, in a devout and confident spirit, can either reach a state of absolute freedom or attain supreme enlightenment by their own efforts or by higher assistance (p. 662).
The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, is a frequent visitor to the Vatican, for dialogue with the pope on promoting global religious peace.
Sikhism, Jainism, African religions, and native American religions are included in this catch-all statement dealing with smaller, less well-known religions: “Likewise, other religions to be found everywhere strive variously to answer the restless searchings of the human heart by proposing ‘ways,’ which consist of teachings, rules of life, and sacred ceremonies” (p. 662).
Rome believes that there are things that are “true and holy in these religions” and in their “ways of conduct and of life,” for they “often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men” (p. 662).
The world’s 1.5 billion or so Muslims are mostly in Islamic countries and provinces centered in, and spread out from, the Middle East, with wars and conflicts on many of their borders with non-Muslims. Rome states,
Upon the Moslems, too, the Church looks with esteem. They adore one God, living and enduring, merciful and all-powerful, Maker of heaven and earth and Speaker to men. They strive to submit wholeheartedly even to His inscrutable decrees, just as did Abraham, with whom the Islamic faith is pleased to associate itself. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin mother; at times they call on her, too, with devotion. In addition they await the day of judgment when God will give each man his due after raising him up. Consequently, they prize the moral life, and give worship to God especially through prayer, almsgiving, and fasting (p. 663).5
Yet, just to take one example, Pope Urban II declared full remission of all sin for all who would die traveling to, or fighting in, the first crusade (1095)!6 What an about-face in Rome’s views of Islam from the days of the crusades, or even a century ago!
Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (1964) is even more explicit: “along with us, [the Muslims] adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind” (p. 35). Speaking to Muslims in Casablanca in Morocco, John Paul II affirmed, “We believe in the same God, the one and only God, the living God, the God who creates worlds and brings creatures to their perfection” (8 August, 1985).7 When in Turkey (28 November — 1 December, 2006), Benedict XVI, unpopular with many Roman Catholics for being “too conservative,” declared that Christians and Muslims praise the same God.8
What! Islam believes in and worships the same God as Christianity! Even though it denounces the Trinity as blasphemy, rejects the Deity of the Son of God, denies Christ’s crucifixion and atonement on the cross, and decries the inspired Scriptures as hopelessly corrupt! A few centuries before, irate Roman Catholics would have called for the burning of John Paul II and Benedict XVI at the stake for this, and Vatican II would have been denounced as an assembly of heretics!
The Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions reserves its longest treatment for Judaism, a religion with some 12-25 million followers (pp. 663-667). Abraham, Moses, the prophets, Christ, the apostles, and “most of the early disciples” were Jews; the Old Testament is used by both Jews and Christians; and “the Jews still remain most dear to God” (p. 664). In Our Age continues:
Since the spiritual patrimony common to Christians and Jews is so great, this sacred Synod wishes to foster and recommend that mutual understanding and respect which is the fruit above all of biblical and theological studies, and of brotherly dialogues (p. 665).
The Jews’ role in the crucifixion of Christ and Rome’s historic anti-Semitism are explained away in a politically correct way (pp. 665-667).
“Mother” Teresa of Calcutta
A prime example of Rome’s syncretism is seen in “Mother” Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997), darling of Roman Catholics and liberal Protestants, who is being fast-tracked for canonization as a Roman Catholic “saint.”
“Mother” Teresa declared: “If in coming face to face with God we accept Him in our lives, then we are converting. We become a better Hindu, a better Muslim, a better [Roman] Catholic, a better whatever we are…. What God is in your mind you must accept.”
“Mother” Teresa also participated in a “Summit for Peace” in Assisi, Italy, in November, 1986. This blasphemous prayer meeting was arranged by Pope John Paul II and was attended by leaders of pagan religions, including Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, Shinto, Sikh and North American Indian—all of whom united in prayers for world peace.9
“Outside the [Roman] Church There Is No Salvation”?
What then of the famous formula, taken by Rome historically in a self-serving sense: “outside the [Roman] Church there is no salvation”? Robert Zins lists various proclamations by popes and Roman councils from A.D. 585 to 1950, stating Rome’s traditional position.10 For instance, the Council of Florence (1438) declared,
It firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that those not living within the [Roman] Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life, but will depart ‘into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels’ (
In Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (1964), “outside the [Roman] Church there is no salvation” is taken to mean “Whosoever…knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by God through Jesus Christ, would refuse to enter her or to remain in her could not be saved” (pp. 32-33).
This does not seem to exclude Jews or Muslims (pp. 34-35), for they are also included in “the plan of salvation” (p. 35). Moreover, “good” people can be saved in any religion or none:
Those also can attain to everlasting salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of their conscience (p. 35).
The Holy See has clearly given up its historic view of all other religions (and churches!) as false and idolatrous, another U-turn euphemistically called aggiornamento (Italian for “updating”). Rome still sees itself as the church ordained by Christ upon Peter, possessing “the very fullness of grace and truth,” as the Decree of Ecumenism puts it (p. 346), but—and this is the key point—whatever measure of grace and truth is in the other religions (or churches) leads back to Rome as the apex and fulfillment of all religion, for it is Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.
In its evaluation of pagan religions, as throughout its theology, Rome is opposed to God’s Word. All religions are false and idolatrous that do not worship the triune God of the Bible revealed in the cross of the Son of God (first commandment) as He has laid down in the Holy Scriptures (second commandment). Those who follow pagan religions are idolaters. In fact, they are serving demons, as both the Old Testament (Lev. 17:7; Deut. 32:17; II Chron. 11:15; Ps. 106:37) and the New (I Cor. 10:20-21; Rev. 9:20) declare.12The Holy See rejects the scriptural position against paganism because it is thoroughly riddled with higher criticism of the Bible, evolutionism, and humanism; and it is itself pagan and idolatrous. Furthermore, the spirit of the ungodly world wants and promotes syncretism (and ecumenism). Syncretism is seen as the way of promoting world peace. This is evident from the policies and work of many national governments, the United Nations, and various non-governmental bodies, such as the Tony Blair Faith Foundation (TBFF).13 This is the purpose too with modern compendia of the texts of various religions.14
Goal and Methods of Rome’s Syncretism
The goal of Rome’s syncretism (like the goal of its false ecumenism) is the absorption and assimilation of all religions (and churches) into one worldwide religion (and church)—itself! The methods of its syncretism mirror those of its false ecumenism: honeyed words and common social activities: “…prudently and lovingly, through dialogue and collaboration…acknowledge, preserve and promote the spiritual and moral goods found among these men, as well as the values in their society and culture” (pp. 662-663) and “make common cause of safeguarding and fostering social justice, moral values, peace, and freedom” (p. 663). Rome’s number 1 means of syncretism is, of course, dialogue (pp. 662, 665)! If evolutionism reckons that everything has come (eventually) through time and chance, Rome reckons everything will come its way (eventually) through time and dialogue.
With all the Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Protestant churches and others under Rome’s wing through false ecumenism and all the pagans under its umbrella through syncretism, the pope would have the whole world in his hands.
We will conclude by considering Rome’s credentials and gospel as it seeks world dominion.
1 False ecumenism is illegitimate communion between groups claiming to be Christian; syncretism is illegitimate communion between those claiming to be Christian and pagans.
2 Apostate Protestants and the World Council of Churches are also engaged both in false ecumenism and in syncretism with paganism for the same reasons.
3 Both documents are found in Walter M. Abbot (gen. ed.), The Documents of Vatican II (USA: The America Press, 1966, p. 345). Henceforward, pages in parentheses refer to this book. By “Church,” Roman Catholic authors mean the Roman Catholic Church; by “Catholic,” they mean Roman Catholic.
4 Rome works the other way, from those religions “nearest” to it to those “farthest” from it, in two shorter treatments of this subject: Vatican II’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (1964), pp. 34-35, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (USA: Doubleday, 1995), pp. 242-243.
5 Rome’s syncretism with Islam (like all syncretism) is a two-edged sword. Rome sees it as a way to win Muslims to itself, while devout Muslims seek to use it to draw Roman Catholics to Islamic Unitarianism (cf. Malachi Martin, The Keys of This Blood: The Struggle for World Dominion Between Pope John Paul II, Mikhail Gorbachev, and the Capitalist West [New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990], p. 285).
6 Similarly, Islam’s Koran teaches that Allah will bring all those dying in jihad against the infidels straight to paradise, where they will be surrounded by many virgins with big eyes.
7 RC Committee for Other Faiths, “Other Faiths: What Does the Church Teach?” (London: Catholic Truth Society, 1986), p. 27.
8 There is, of course, a sense in which Roman Catholics and pagans do worship the same god: their father below (John 8:44).
9 “‘Mother’ Teresa (1910-1997)” (www.rapidnet.com/~jbeard/bdm/exposes/teresa/general.htm).
10 Robert Zins, Romanism: The Relentless Roman Catholic Assault on the Gospel of Jesus Christ! (USA: White Horse Publications, 1994), pp. 202-205.
11 Quoted in Zins, Romanism, p. 203.
12 For a modern, irenic critique of inclusivism (similar to what I am calling syncretism), see Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson
(eds.), Faith Comes by Hearing: A Response to Inclusivism (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2008).
13 The website of the TBFF carries endorsements for the inter-faith work of Tony Blair (Roman Catholic convert and former prime minister of the UK) from, amongst others, Rowan Williams (Archbishop of Canterbury), Nicky Gumbel (Alpha Course), and Rick Warren (Purpose Driven Life). The TBFF is helping to set up Abraham House in central London, where members of the three “Abrahamic faiths,” Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, can “discover what they share,” “tackle their differences,” and “work for a more peaceful and just world.”
14 For instance, World Scripture: A Comparative Anthology of Sacred Texts (USA: Paragon House, 1995), which contains citations from the books of over twenty different religions, states its purpose: “One guiding principle behind World Scripture is that all religions are connected to the same Ultimate Reality and lead people toward a common goal” (p. 33), which is, as the preface puts it, “peace on earth” (p. xiv). As one would expect, the advisors and contributors include Roman Catholics.