Last week we began a conversation about what the Pope said last May when he was celebrating Mass: “The Lord has redeemed all of us, with the blood of Christ; all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone. ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!” What did he mean by the blood of Christ being for everyone, including atheists? Will people who do not believe in Jesus get into heaven simply by obeying their conscience or their sincerity? I mentioned that although it sounds like a new openness in the Church, the Pope is not breaking new theological ground as much as going back and deeper into Roman Catholic Theology.
The Roman Church is sacerdotal which means that grace is communicated solely by and through the ministry of the Church. In other words, “outside of the church there is no salvation.” (Extra ecclesiam nulla salus). This very intolerant and exclusive sounding phrase first spoken by Cyprian (3rd century) against schismatics, in our modern ecumenical age has been “re-formulated” by the Church in a positive and inclusive way. Reading through the Catechism of the Catholic Church [(2nd edition) Part One, Section Two, chapter 3, article 9, paragraph 3] is insightful. There is a section on how the RC Church views Protestants as separated brethren: However, one cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these communities [that resulted from such separation] and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers . . . . All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church. That’s good to know.
There are also affirming statements reaching out to the Orthodox, the Jews, and the Muslims. What about others? The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as “a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life.”… To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son’s Church. The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is “the world reconciled.” She is that bark which “in the full sail of the Lord’s cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world.” According to another image dear to the Church Fathers, she is prefigured by Noah’s ark, which alone saves from the flood.
“Outside the Church there is no salvation” 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.
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. “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.”
Thus Pope Francis would still agree that “outside the Church there is no salvation.” However, he does not see it as an exclusive statement indicating damnation for all who are not in the Church as much as a positive invitation and welcome to all who are outside the Church. Keep in mind that Pope Francis recently quoted Pope Paul saying “It’s an absurd dichotomy to think one can live with Jesus, but without the Church, to follow Jesus outside the Church, to love Jesus and not the Church.”
So, with all of the positive vibes being communicated by the Pope, why am I not a Roman Catholic Christian? I’ll tell you next week. Have a good one…