Mission and Dominus Iesus

Michael Hull

October 4, 2004

The mission of the Church is the mission of the Lord Jesus. Sacred Scripture tells us that the Lord, despite opposition and fatigue, preached tirelessly from town to town, saying to those who would have him stay with them, "I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose" (Luke 4:42–43; see also Mark 1:38). Jesus identifies his own mission as the proclamation of the kingdom of God. So too, Scripture relates that this mission was entrusted to his apostles and, therefore, to the Church. Each of the four gospels recounts Jesus’ handing over his mission to the apostles and emphasizes a feature of that mission. St. Matthew narrates Jesus’ bestowal of authority on the apostles and his charge to teach the nations "to observe all that I have commanded you" (28:16–20). St. Luke notes that the apostles are the "witnesses of these things" (24:44–49). St. John relates Jesus in prayer to the Father, "As thou didst send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world" (17:18), stressing the continuity of Jesus’ and the apostles’ mission. And St. Mark lays bare the momentous and eternal consequences of the Church’s mission: "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned" (16:15–17).

According to the Second Vatican Council, "the Church on earth is by its very nature missionary, since according to the plan of the Father, she has her origin in the mission of the Son and Holy Spirit" (Ad gentes divinitus, no. 2; see also Lumen gentium, no. 1, and Gaudium et spes, no. 3). Both Paul VI in Evangelii nuntiandi (December 8, 1975) and John Paul II in Redemptoris missio (December 7, 1990) have taught consistently that all peoples have "the right to know the riches of the mystery of Christ" (EN, no. 53), "who is at the center of God’s plan of salvation" (RM, no. 6). The Church’s mission is to evangelize the world in such wise "that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil 2:10–11).

Unfortunately, many within and without the Church have lost their bearings in pursuit of the truth. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, recognizing the need for a clear and concise declaration of the Church’s perennial teaching, issued Dominus Iesus: On the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church (August 6, 2000). For the most part, Dominus Iesus is a compendium of citations from Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture reminiscent of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians: "Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, if you hold it fast—unless you believed in vain" (15:1–2). Unless we have believed in vain, it is our sacred mission as the people of God, the Church, to seek to convert all men to faith in the Lord Jesus.

As Dominus Iesus states so eloquently: "Indeed, the Church, guided by charity and respect for freedom, must be primarily committed to proclaiming to all people the truth definitively revealed by the Lord, and to announcing the necessity of conversion to Jesus Christ and of adherence to the Church through Baptism and the other sacraments, in order to participate fully in communion with God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 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" (no. 22). Thus, Dominus Iesus, by a summary and reiteration of the nature of Christ and the Church, reminds us of our duty to proclaim the name of Jesus, for there is salvation in no other name (Acts 4:12).