[left]**Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions. **By Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, *Ignatius. 290 pp. $15.95.
[left]Reviewed by Paul J. Griffiths
May a religion other than Christianity serve as a means of salvation? May salvation be separated from the work of Jesus Christ? What may properly be said about faithful non-Christians’ relation to God? How does the Church’s demand for evangelization of non-Christians square with its demand for serious dialogue among religions? What is the meaning of interreligious prayer?
Ratzinger’s way of explaining the distinctiveness of Christianity is subtle, precise, and attuned—as one would expect from a man with so much knowledge of the patristic heritage—to the figural and typological understandings of history and scripture that formed the conventional wisdom of the Church Fathers. Christianity’s distinctiveness does not enter history as an unanticipated bolt from the empyrean. Nor does it simply abolish or lay waste the religions and cultures of the world. Rather, its principal and fullest presence in the world as the institutional form of the Church, Christ’s body, provides those who do not yet know the Church with the lure of a fuller and richer understanding of what they already know, both religiously and culturally. The Christian offer of conversion, then, is an offer that brings with it a culturally and religiously distinctive fulfillment of cultures as they existed before conversion.
There is an important implication in this way of approaching the question, of which Ratzinger is quite aware. Christianity’s relation to various religions is neither logically nor practically different from its relation to various cultures—which is to say that the category “religion” loses much of its usefulness. The Church should address Buddhists, Marxists, secular hedonists, and neo-Stoics in the same voice and with the same attitudes: as a humble but confident offerer of an unsurpassable gift—and at the same time as a sincere and eager listener. These two attitudes are those of proclamation and dialogue, and they are inextricably linked in Ratzinger’s thought, as they are also in the documents of Vatican II. The only partial exceptions are the conversations with those groups to whom the Church is self-consciously already intimately related by family ties—that is to say to the Jewish people, and (perhaps) to Muslims. Ratzinger notes this difference, too, but says little about either Jews or Muslims in these essays.