The declaration Nostra Aetate (1965) placed dialogue at the center of the Catholic Church’s relations with other religions, developing the indications given in St. Paul VI’s encyclical Ecclesiam Suam (1964) about the dialogue of salvation and the teaching of the dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium (1964) on the Church. The current phenomenon of globalization instead focuses attention on religious pluralism and the challenge of fundamentalism, and not only Islamic fundamentalism. This is occurring in a cultural context increasingly marked by a pervasive relativism that corrupts all certainty into a “liquid magma” as it were, that perfectly serves the development of a consumerist society where the “disposable” is easily transferred from the product to the consumer and the individual’s social relations, as well as even to God.
In this new context the Christian faith must not stop affirming that God “desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4) and that “there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12) than that of Jesus, who died and rose again to give every human being this salvation. It was the attempt to maintain this tension, without sacrificing either pole, that typified Joseph Ratzinger’s theological approach to interreligious dialogue.
The first step in correctly articulating these two demands is to realize that there have been different ways of doing so, often dependent on different historico-social and pastoral contexts. They are closely linked to the development of the doctrine that “outside the Church there is no salvation” (extra ecclesiam nulla salus), the interpretation of which has often conditioned the correct reception of the “dialogue of salvation” promoted by the Second Vatican Council.