I noticed that some people are spinning the pope’s remarks from yesterday as saying that anyone who “does good” is redeemed. But is this accurate? And is it consistent with other Catholic teaching on this?
In the remarks, as excerpted here, Francis makes two major points, best as I can tell. First, everyone–no matter their religious belief or lack thereof–is under the obligation to do good, and this shared obligation can be the basis of dialogue and peace. Second, everyone is redeemed “with the Blood of Christ,” even non-Christians, including those who don’t believe in God at all.
Leaving aside the question I raised yesterday of whether this implies a kind of universalism, what the pope doesn’t seem to be saying here is that non-Christians are redeemed by good works. They are redeemed by Christ, but they are also obligated and empowered to do good.
I thought I had a pretty good grip on Catholic theology on this matter, but when I went back and looked at some of the relevant passages in the catechism, the church’s teaching does seem to be somewhat ambiguous on this point. Here’s the text dealing with the oft-repeated claim of “no salvation outside the church”:
846 How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:
Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.
847 This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church
Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.
848 “Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.” (footnotes omitted)
The ambiguity, as I see it, comes from maintaining both that (1) “all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body” and (2) people “who . . . seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience . . . may achieve eternal salvation.” The second statement could be read as saying that people are–or at least can be–saved by their good works–albeit grace-empowered ones.
Maybe the right way to interpret this passage is to say that the work of Christ is what makes salvation possible, but that it can be appropriated by non-Christians through the seeking of God and attempting to do good, with the help of God’s grace?
I’m sure there are readers better informed about Catholic theology than I am who could shed more light on this.
Probably not, but he said this in a homily today:
The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all!
Still, though this is a sermon and not a theological treatise, the pope’s language here sounds awfully categorical. And his two predecessors were both fans of Hans Urs Von Balthasar, who argued that we should at least hope that everyone will be saved.
I started reading the great Catholic theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar’s “Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved?”, and right off the bat what struck me is how similar the public controversy over Von Balthasar’s views was to the brouhaha over Rob Bell’s “Love Wins.”
Obviously there are vast differences here. Von Balthasar was a brilliant (and at times obscure) theologian; Bell is an evangelical preacher whose talents lie more in communicating his message than theological originality. But the controversy, at least based on Von Balthasar’s account here, was drawn along remarkably similar lines.
Here’s Von Balthasar on the criticisms leveled at him by some of his contemporaries (this all took place in the mid-80s). The question at hand is “whether one who is under judgment, as a Christian, can have hope for all men”:
I have ventured to answer this affirmatively and was, as a result, called to order rather brusquely by the editor of Fels (G. Hermes); in Theologisches, Heribert Schauf and Johannes Bokmann added their voices to this reprimand. . . . At a press conference in Rome, besieged about the question of hell, I had made known my views, which had led to gross distortions in newspapers (“L’inferno e vuoto“), whereupon I published, in Il Sabato, that Kleine Katechese über die Hölle (Short Discourse on Hell), which was reprinted in L’Osservatore Romano without my knowledge and aroused the ire of the right-wing papers.
Bokmann is perfectly correct: “If one were certain of attaining the ultimate goal no matter what, a quite essential motivation to conversion and absolute Christian resolve would be lost.” However, I never spoke of certainty but rather of hope. The three critics, by contrast, possess a certainty, and G. Hermes expresses it with matchless force: “Such a hope does not exist, because we cannot hope in opposition to certain knowledge and the avowed will of God.” It is impossible that “we can hope for something about which we know that it will certainly not come about.” Therefore, the closing sentence of the essay declares tersely: “There is no hope for the salvation of all.” If I speak “no less than five times” of the fully real possibility, which confronts every person, of forfeiting salvation, the retort I get is that the matter is “not” treated “seriously by putting on a stern face but by stating the entire and full truth. And the full truth about hell is not stated if one only speaks of its possibility . . . and not its reality.” At this point, a first paradoxical statement occurs: “If we once admit that it is really and seriously possible, even considering all the opposing arguments, that men are damned, then there is also no convincing argument against men’s really being damned.” This is not comprehensible to me: if God sets the “two ways” before Israel, does it necessarily follow that Israel will choose the way of ruin? There was certainly no lack of seriousness behind the presentation of the two ways. But G. Hermes, of course, knows that the possibility is reality; he is not the only one, as we will see, who knows this. Just how will become evident from what follows here.
But first one other regrettable thing: as a consequence of not sharing in this secure knowledge–and R. Schnackenberg, for instance, does not share it when he says of Judas Iscariot that it “is not certain that he is damned for all eternity”–one is then numbered among those “average Catholics” who veil the hereafter in a “rose-red fog” and “wishful fancies”, participate “irresponsibly and cruelly” in “operation mollification” through their “salvation-optimism”, adopt the “dull and colorless garrulousness of present-day Church discourse”, practice “modernistic theology” and call for “presumptuous trust in God’s mercifulness.” So be it; if I have been cast aside as a hopeless conservative by the tribe of the left, then I now know what sort of dung-heap I have been dumped upon by the Right. (pp. 16-20, footnotes omitted).
Change a few names, and lower the general level of erudition all around, and you’ve essentially got the debate between Bell and many of his evangelical critics.
Look, I’m a Protestant, so no pope is ever going to satisfy me. And I totally get that progressive Catholics would be upset by the same-old, same-old on women’s rights, LGBT rights, and other issues about which the Catholic hierarchy remains steadfastly conservative.
But there are reasons for cautious optimism about Pope Francis (né Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio). He is, by most accounts I’ve seen, a humble man attuned to the condition of the world’s poorest people and less hung up on doctrinal minutiae than his predecessor. He also appears to be more oriented toward ecumenism and interfaith relations and less concerned with asserting the superiority of Catholicism in all things. As a Jesuit, he reflects a tradition of engagement with and openness to the world that can be very appealing. I don’t expect him to revolutionize Catholicism, but these provide hints that he could do some real good.
One major concern that’s been raised is whether he’s got it in him to undertake certain reforms needed within the Vatican machinery, and given his age (and Benedict’s re-establishment of the precedent of papal retirements), it’s not unthinkable that his papacy may have little impact at all. But as a fellow Christian I’m certainly happy to pray for the new pontiff and pray that he will represent the love of Jesus to a world sorely in need of it (as we’re all called to do!).
–John Cohn at The New Republic on the end of “compassionate conservatism.”
–Should life be more like a game?
– The rise of white identity politics in DC?
–From Book Forum, a collection of links on how we treat animals. (I guess that makes this a meta-link?)
–How Pearl Jam went from being the biggest rock band in the world to a niche act.
–The Thomas Paine-John Adams debate about economic equality in the early American republic.
–I’m not sure the Ramones were the best candidate for an AV Club “Gateways to Geekery” feature. What band could be easier to get into? Just start listening with the first album–it pretty much establishes the template for everything else.
–Joe Klein is shrill.
The US Catholic bishops’ committee on doctrine is accusing feminist theologian Elizabeth Johnson of “criticiz[ing] and … revis[ing] in a radical fashion the conception of God revealed in Scripture and taught by the Magisterium” in her recent book Quest for the Living God.
What seems to be at issue is Johnson’s contention–more fully fleshed out in her earlier work She Who Is than in QFTLG–that God is ineffable and thus all human language inevitably falls short of the divine mystery. This opens a space for using metaphors and imagery for God drawn from women’s experience and from the world of nature, in addition to traditional masculine imagery. The bishops object that “Father” is not a metaphor for God, but a proper name–one that comes to us through revelation. The bishops also take issue with Johnson’s revisionist approach to some traditional divine attributes, such as impassibility; her view of other religions; and her account of God’s presence in evolution.