Pope Francis on the possibility of salvation for atheists

People are sending me notes about Pope Francis’ fervorino from Mass yesterday.  News outlets (and panicky emails I am getting) are suggesting that the Pope said that atheists go to heaven.  HERE

Alas, we never get what the Pope actually said in its entirety.  We are only getting bits and pieces as determined by someone working for either Vatican Radio or L’Osservatore Romano or… well… it’s hard to know!   This is a problem.  Did the newsie doing the reporting making the right selection of quotes? Is the newsie doing the reporting a theologian?  We should either get everything Francis says or nothing.  Moreover, the Italian accounts and the English accounts of what Francis said differ somewhat.  And who knows how what Francis says in these sermonettes will ultimately be related to the Ordinary Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff?  We are told that it is doesn’t form part of his magisterial teaching, but…  really?  They sure are being played up by the Holy See’s news agencies, aren’t they!

Back to the Pope’s sermon from 22 May.

If you go through his comments as reported, and I did, there is nothing in Pope Francis’s remarks about the possibility of atheists being saved that is not in keeping with the document Dominus Iesus.

In a nutshell, Francis was not talking about non-Catholics or non-Christians.  He was not talking about those who profess another religion with their own mediators.  He was not talking about those who pray to other gods.  He was talking about atheists.

Moreover, Francis was clear that whatever graces are offered to atheists (such that they may be saved) are from Christ.  He was clear that salvation is only through Christ’s Sacrifice.  In other words, he is not suggesting – and I think some are taking it this way – that you can be saved, get to heaven, without Christ.

So, have a care with these sermons.  It is great to get pithy lines from the Holy Father about something that is crystal clear such as, say, the Devil.  It is another when the pithy quip veers into something that is more difficult to untangle.  It is best not to jump to negative conclusions based on the incomplete reports about fervorini of ambiguous magisterial authority.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. This is such a hard subject to explain without either misunderstanding.

    At one extreme is the idea that the only people who can or will be saved are those who are explicitly members of the Catholic Church in this life. At the other extreme is the idea of “y’all come,” pretty much everyone goes to heaven and there’s nothing to worry about.

    The Church’s teaching is that salvation is from and through Christ, and everyone who is saved, is saved through him–and thus, somehow or another, is saved in relationship to his Church.

    The way I put it–I emphasize, this is my way of explaining it–is that if folks are saved, who did not explicitly join the Church in this life, even by baptism–then they are nevertheless members of the Church in eternity. This seems unavoidable, insofar as there is only one Body of Christ–everyone in heaven is a member of the Church. Thus the teaching, no salvation outside the Church–remains in force.

    How can someone be saved who is not a full member of the Catholic Church–or, even more, not baptized? Or, in this case, an atheist?

    It seems to me that while we are bound to the sacraments, God is not (Augustine said that I believe); God’s grace works in far more ways than we can know. People may well reject what is true, not because it’s true, but because they misunderstand it, or else because of other things clouding their perception. What if you knew only a few Christians, and most of them were a bad lot? You might well not give their faith much consideration.

    Here’s an illustration I offer:

    Suppose you stand at the threshold of a room. You know there is another door to the room–you must cross the room to the other door–that other door is “Salvation” and that room is “life.”

    To be Catholic is to have the maximum light in the room. All the alternatives involve far less light–or, if you don’t mind a change in the metaphor, to have far fewer helps.

    The point is, that even with the fullest light, there is no guarantee you will make it. On the other hand, even with a little light, you can make it. Yet having more light is a good thing.

    It’s an imperfect analogy I’m sure, and I’d be delighted to have someone help me improve it.

  2. Acanthaster says:

    Fr Martin, great analogy! Always looking for simple ways to explain that concept using a vocabulary that most can understand.

    Fr Z, thanks for posting something about this. I was just reading an article about it which started off good, but then started confusing itself. Thank you for the encouragement to look at these quotes in context, and in proper translations, by proper sources. It’s interesting how much attention this is getting…almost like…atheists still desire to go to the Heaven they might not believe in. They are still searching!

    PS – Anyone else notice how often Pope Francis does the “But Father! What about____?!” He must read wdtprs.com :)

  3. anilwang says:

    Just as post-Vatican II we’ve forgotten to speak about Hell and the Devil (thanks Pope Francis for reminding us!), we’ve also been lax about salvation outside the Church. We too easily swallow the first part of LG 16 which states that people outside the visible Church can be saved without also gulping down the last part which restates our tendency trust ourselves rather than God and fall away. We too easily assuming “God is merciful, he’ll take care of them” and forget that Jesus said that the way is narrow and few find it or forget the testimony of the saints that they see people falling into Hell like snow flakes.

    I think part of the problem is that too often sin is taught as being just an offense against God that prevents us from getting to Heaven. As a result we get into the “quod gratis asseritur gratis negatur” mindset and assume that a going to Hell is just a status that God can just change his mind about damning people because he’s Good and Merciful.

    We’re no longer taught that God is simple, so God’s Goodness is his Justice is his Mercy is his Wrath and that sin is less an offense to God than it is a corruption of our souls that renders us incapable of loving God above all things or seeing Heaven as worse than Hell. So anyone outside the visible Church is in real danger…especially in the West were we’re taught to love the world above all things.

  4. Phil_NL says:

    Fr Fox,

    My take on this, and I think it boils down to the same point you’re making, goes as follows:
    We as Catholics have the sacraments, of which we can be sure they lead to salvation, per Christ’s love and promise, provided we use them well. Outside the formal Church, there are fewer or no sacraments, which provides fewer ways – or none at all – to use this guarantee. Yet God in His mercy may save more people than those able to rely on our tools; our actions do not bind Him, only His own promises do. Yet the who, and why, and how, of His mercy in this sense is above our paygrade. And it would be a terrible gamble to overly rely on that.

    And as a general note, I always get a slightly foul taste in my mouth if there are people who try to argue that this-or-that-category will not< be saved. Categories don’t have souls, individual people do. And let the Judge judge those souls, as he does with all of us; we mortals are quite unsuitable to make pronouncements for eternity.

  5. onosurf says:

    An atheist friend, a “good guy”, emailed me last night responding to this story and said, “Sweet, I’m going to heaven”. I doubt he is alone.

    Not a fan of this papal sermon – We need more Fulton Sheen and less Paul VI.

  6. James Joseph says:

    It is a regular occurrence to make egregious lapses in judgement while reporting, at least at Rome Reports.

    One instance that pops into my mind was the Caravaggio exhibit a year or three ago. The voice-over said something about the pope sentencing someone to death without mentioning why or even that the sentence was commuted. I am just a simple wage-worker who has been battling uphill everyday. How is it that well-educated, well-placed folks do not do their research? There have been many such occurrences; I have largely stopped watching it due to my lack of patience.

  7. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    “We are told that it is doesn’t form part of his magisterial teaching, but… really?”

    The question is not whether homilies by pope’s form part of the papal magisterium, for of course they do; the question is, How much of a part? The answer is routinely inflated. As for the VPO’s editing of papal remarks, don’t get me started.

  8. Dr. Edward Peters says: the question is, How much of a part?

    The question is: Will they be in the AAS?

    I doubt it.

  9. Katylamb says:

    onosurf: your good atheist friend seems a tad inconsistent. None of the atheists I know believe in heaven, and they wouldn’t pay any attention to what the pope has to say about their eternal fate anyway.
    I try to read anything I can that the pope says, while knowing the translations aren’t always good. Everything he’s said tells me his beliefs are totally orthodox and as Catholic as even the beliefs of traddies. So- I will judge this talk by the other things he says, and know that he does NOT mean that everyone, including atheists, is automatically going to heaven. He calls even atheists to realize that Christ died for their salvation, should they decide to avail themselves of that. And I pray they do. I pray your atheist friend realizes that he can indeed go to heaven, should he seriously consider the path he needs to take to get there.

  10. Katylamb says:

    Yeah, that sentence about the popes beliefs and traddies was sarcasm. Sorry.

  11. joecct77 says:

    Right now, I have no idea. After I am dead, and after my time in Purgqtory, I’ll know for sure.

    I hope.

  12. maryh says:

    @Father Martin Fox
    I like your analogy very much, too.

    Here’s something to make clearer the need for evangelization:
    That room of life we’re moving through is like a mine field. Those of us who are explicitly part of the Church know where those mines are and how to avoid them, and we have a medic on hand in case we step on one, or get too close to one.

  13. anilwang says:

    Fr Martin Fox,

    I see a few problems with that analogy. A priest that turns into an atheist would have far more knowledge than the thief on the Cross or a simple faithful peasant that scarcely knows more than the Our Father and Hail Mary and is rarely able to attend mass due to being stuck in an inaccessible valley. Yet I’m sure that you’d agree that the latter would have far greater chance of salvation than the former. It also raises the question, why doesn’t someone, anyone, call out to the blind person so he can find his way?

    I do think the health analogy repeatedly used by the Church Fathers is the best kind of analogy for sin and salvation. The next life is quite different than this one. Although infinitely better, it also undeniably more rigorous. In this life there is doubt, moral ambiguity, laxity, forgetfulness, privacy, room for petty resentments, and worldly distractions. In the next life, there is none of that.

    Suppose life in outer space is “the world” and the the earth is heaven. The Church gives you the exercise equipment to train your muscles, if you avail yourself of them. If you’ve trained, you will adapt (purgatory) then prosper on earth (heaven). If you haven’t but “repented” at the last minute, you will be given the grace to be placed in a swimming pool so that you’d be weightless on earth, and although you’d need a long time to adapt (purgatory) you would eventually. If you haven’t trained and haven’t repented, when you arrive on earth, your brittle bones and virtually nonexistent muscles will be crushed by the gravity and no-one can help you. You’d be stuck in that state of hell forever.

    How about people outside the Church? Those would be the ones who have the good sense to see in this life they will be crushed in the next life and ask for the grace not to be. We have hope they will be given the grace of the swimming pool.

  14. A Priest says:

    Three quick points of theological clarification:

    A. No one can be saved without faith. This is clearly taught by Scripture and has been often repeated by the Magisterium. (See CCC #161). I am certain that Pope Francis had no intention of calling that into question in any way. The excerpts don’t suggest that, either. (The possibility of implicit faith requires some further distinctions, but the bedrock necessity of faith always remains.)

    B. The quotations given do not talk about someone becoming “good,” in the sense of holy or justified before God, because of any actions he or she might do. The quotations of the Pope are specifically about “doing good.” He says that everyone, even an atheist, should “do good,” and that this commandment is sewn into the human heart. (Sounds like Romans 1-2 to me, especially Rom 2:15-16.) Catholic theology makes further distinctions, since even an action that exteriorly, in its material dimension, is good, cannot be meritorious without faith and charity. (Aquinas teaches this quite explicitly, for exampe.) I would expect that, were he asked, Pope Francis would add this qualification. No need to expect it in a press office version of a daily Mass homily!

    C. Christ did indeed redeem “all” by his sacrifice. St. Paul says this explicitly at 1 Tim. 2:6 (the Latin Vulgate reads “qui dedit redemptionem semetipsum pro omnibus” — the theological term “redemption” is taken from this passage, among others). Now, his work of redemption is perfect, but it still needs to be applied to each one of us, and this happens principally through the sacraments. So there’s no theological problem at all to say that Christ has redeemed atheists — but that redemption still has to be applied to them individually. Nor can an atheist be saved precisely insofar as they are atheists; insofar as they reject God, they are rejecting that redemption. But today’s atheist is potentially tomorrow’s believer.

  15. timothyputnam says:

    Fr. Z,

    I agree that I would prefer to either have the whole text – well translated, or no text at all. These quick and dirty and incomplete translations make the Holy Father seem less refined in his homilies than the good translations show him to be.

    However, I think that in this case, even the quick translation is being misappropriated.

    The Holy Father never even mentions “salvation” for the athiest or anyone else (though you rightly point to the possibility given in Dominus Iesus and quoted in the Catechism). Pope Francis, instead, talked about being redeemed. Since Christ’s sacrifice was for “all,” then all are redeemed. Yet redemption is not the same thing as salvation.

    Both Fr. Dwight Longenecker (on his patheos blog) and Brandon Vogt (on the “strange notions” blog) did a good job at parsing this very issue.

  16. ronconte says:

    Can atheists, who know about the Catholic Christian faith, be saved without converting? By doing good, in full cooperation with grace, an atheist can obtain a baptism of desire, and so enter into the state of grace. The refusal to believe in God is objectively a mortal sin, but it might not be an actual mortal sin, committed with full knowledge and full deliberation, in many cases. So an atheist might be saved by doing good, without converting.

    Can a Pope err in a sermon at Mass? Yes. Pope John XXII erred by saying, in multiple sermons, that the souls of the blessed departed do not see God until after the Last Judgment. The very next Pope, Benedict XII, infallibly defined that all the blessed departed have the Beatific Vision as soon as they enter Heaven, and unceasingly thereafter (Benedictus Deus, 1336). So either sermons are not under the ordinary papal Magisterium, or the ordinary papal Magisterium may err to some limited extent.

  17. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Fr. Z,

    Thank you for adding a ‘fervorino’ tag – and for saying, “We should either get everything Francis says or nothing.”

    At the risk of being otiose as well as prolix, I will venture to expand upon this by cobbling together bits from a couple comments at earlier of your fervorini posts.

    Sandro Magister has an interesting article about the fervorinos:


    in which he notes, “These homilies of the pope are recorded in their entirety. But they do not undergo the procedure for his official discourses, when it comes to the parts improvised off-the-cuff.

    “That is, they are not transcribed from the audio recording, cleaned up in thought and expression, then submitted to the pope and finally made public in the approved text.

    “The complete texts of the weekday homilies of pope Bergoglio remain secret. Only two partial summaries of it are provided, by Vatican Radio and by “L’Osservatore Romano,” redacted independently of one another and therefore with a greater or lesser extent of word-for-word citations.

    “It is not known whether this practice – aimed both at safeguarding the pope’s freedom of speech and at defending it from the risks of improvisation – will be maintained or modified.”

    I wish they were “transcribed from the audio recording,” whether “cleaned up in thought and expression” or not, and very promptly “submitted to the pope and finally made public in the approved text” in its entirety!

    Indeed, in a situation of constant polemics (which, whether one likes it or not, seems the current general situation) the rapid provision of reliable transcriptions and, say, equally reliable English and Spanish translations (the two ‘biggest’ Indo-European world languages) – even with warnings that they are subject to revision (including authorial, to a more ‘final form’!), as an “approved text” which is explicitly not a “final text” – strikes me as the most prudent option. Let any and all quoting polemicists be compared with a full text and all the context that gives!

    I cannot see we will ever easily be in a position of having “nothing” of what is said in a fervorino (any auditor could theoretically prove ‘leaky’, and recall the the story of the memorous young Mozart’s scuttling of the attempt to restrict the Allegri ‘Miserere’ to the Sistine Chapel). So the obvious alternative is the one I take it you are indeed suggesting: “We should get everything” – and as quickly and accurately as possible.

  18. robtbrown says:

    Two points:

    1. IMHO, no one can be saved without acknowledging the existence of God and the immortality of the soul.

    2. My impression is that the pope was refuting the Lutheran idea that Original Sin has so deformed human nature that it is incapable of even the smallest good deed. Fallen man cannot even give a beggar some money.

  19. jonh303 says:

    This really is unfortunate how the media is reporting it and how similar the word redemption is to salvation. Take a look at my article here: http://www.battleforthecoreoftheworld.com/2013/05/pope-francis-says-everyone-is-going-to.html

    At the very least it is a shift in tone from the council of trent: http://catholicism.org/desire-justification-salvation.html

  20. sirlouis says:

    From the incomplete reports I have read, timothyputnam has it right: Pope Francis did not say that atheists can be saved while still being atheists. He said that if atheists will do what is good in the natural order that “we” will meet them in their doing that. Natural good is an approach to God. What Pope Francis did not say is that the approach must be completed by an acceptance of the Truth Who is Christ. Had he said this, a good deal of confusion and false speculation could have been avoided.

    I do wish the man would keep in mind that he is pope and everything he says and does is subject to intense scrutiny. His off-the-cuff comments are subject to mishandling by people who laugh off the doctrine of papal infallibility but at the same time treat the pope’s lightest utterance as revelatory of novel doctrine.

  21. Pingback: Pope Francis on the Possibility of Salvation for Atheists - Big Pulpit

  22. acardnal says:

    Seems to me that the Pope was talking about redemption not salvation vis a vis atheists. Redemption and salvation have different meanings in Catholic theology. As I said in a previous post on this subject, ALL humans – past, present and future – are/were redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection on the cross. And that includes atheists. But not everyone is saved; not everyone is going to spend eternity with the Holy Trinity in heaven. They must have faith and cooperate with God’s grace which is available ordinarily via two modes: prayer and the sacraments. This grace will allow us to know and do God’s will.

    Everyone should recall the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:13-14.

  23. Supertradmum says:

    The CCC is useful here. See the section on merit and my blog.

  24. wmeyer says:

    The refusal to believe in God is objectively a mortal sin, but it might not be an actual mortal sin, committed with full knowledge and full deliberation, in many cases.

    That would be entirely outside of my experience with atheists. To the last one, they have all been very deliberate–and claim to have logical proofs of the non-existence of God–so are objectively and actually (in my understanding) guilty of mortal sin.

    Agnostics might be shielded by ignorance of lack of intention, but not any of the atheists I have known.

  25. Geoffrey says:

    “The question is: Will they be in the AAS?”

    As best as I can tell, the papal catecheses given at the general audiences every Wednesday do not appear in the “Acta Apostolicæ Sedis” (AAS), but rather in the “Insegnamenti”. Dare we hope that these daily homilies of His Holiness will officially appear there?

  26. Cosmos says:

    Why can’t we just admit that we (meaning the contemporary Church) find the exclusivity of the Church’s claims–and Christ’s–slightly embarrassing ?

    We prefer to emphasize the fact that our doctrine is reconcilable with relativistic pluralism in an ultra-narrow sense (i.e., despite what God has told us about salvation, he is free to do whatever he wants) because it makes us sound less judgmental.

    And we are much more worried about sounding judgmental– the ultimate post-modern sin–than fudging on doctrine a little.

    Stated differently, we prefer to exercise the pastoral option to dialogue with our atheist brothers and sisters than to proselytize.

  27. ronconte says:

    Suppose — as a pure hypothetical — that a future Pope infallibly defines that atheists, who know about Christ and His Church, can possibly be saved without conversion to belief in God? Would you:
    A. Accept the teaching and change any views of your own that are contrary,
    B. Interpret the Pope’s teaching in a way that excludes salvation for atheists without belief in God,
    C. Conclude that the teaching cannot be infallible or cannot be of the Magisterium,
    D. Conclude that the Pope (in this mere hypothetical) had fallen into heresy and was no longer able to teach under the Magisterium.

    So often the Catholic faithful adhere to their own ideas, and refuse to accept any correction or true instruction from the Church. If the Pope says something they like, they treat it as absolute dogma. But if the Pope says something they dislike, they have all manner of excuses not to accept it. There is always an interpretation or explanation that will nullify or radically re-interpret an unwelcome teaching. We are a stiff-necked people who do not like to be taught or corrected.

  28. Imrahil says:

    Dear @Fr Fox, thank you very much.

    Dear @wmeyer, I do not claim to have any knowledge about what atheists really think… but your own claim, at least, would rather indicate that they did do so indeliberately. You say they reject to believe in God because they claim some knowledge that He does not exist. And, well, if you do think to know He does not exist, that’s a fairly natural thing you should do. “Full knowledge” would mean they know that He in truth does exist.
    According to my instinct (and I regret to say it, because I know and like very few atheists and very many agnostics), the moral failure is greater in the agnostic, who puts the question aside (by prejudice and/or refusal of effort) than in one who has the bad luck to answer the question wrongly.

    we had better get rid of the notion that it is a mark of good orthodoxy to be a Feeneyite. It is not and never was.

    Dear @Cosmos, for once I’d rather excuse the theologians and say that the will to adapt oneself to worldly pluralism plays a very small part. Even if they proceed into actually untenable sentences (which the ones present in Dominus Jesus, the present Catechism, Spe salvi, and so on are not), the reason is rather the very genuinely Christian feeling of the Mass of Christians who see that their beloved fellow-man is beyond reasonable openness to admonition of formal conversion, yet that he is despite failures not one of the wicked, and would rather have him in Heaven than in Hell. It is the very genuinely very Christian feeling that when we say “God is good” we mean, despite Jes 55,9 which does have to be taken into account, a formula that really has a sense in our language.

    And I said it before and say it again that if we see no other reason (truth to begin with) to convert than to be spared Hell (and to proselytize than to have them be spared Hell), then that won’t work.

    On an aside, dear @anilwang, Heaven will be more, not less, of a Paradise than the Earthly Paradise.

  29. iPadre says:

    Two things:

    1. I think the Vatican News Services does us a great disservice by not publishing the whole text. I don’t care what they think he things, or what personally moves them. His homilies are pretty inspiring, and he has a lot to say. Give his daily homilies a page on the Vatican website.

    2. Are these part of the Magisterium? Well, is he the Pope? Either his teaching is Papal, or it’s not. What makes them part of the Magisterium? When a group of theologians help create a document and fine tooth comb it to be sure there is nothing of error in the text. The Holy Spirit protects the Holy Father’s teachings, not some group of theologians, no matter how good they are. Look at St. Thomas and the Immaculate Conception.

  30. UncleBlobb says:

    “And who knows how what Francis says in these sermonettes will ultimately be related to the Ordinary Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff?”
    “The question is: Will they be in the AAS?”

    Father Z.: Would they then be a part of an “Extraordinary” Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff?

  31. What I’m going to say would seem to be obvious, but I’m not so certain it is obvious to all:

    People have all sorts of conversions, much of which is takes a great deal of time, and comes in parts, and then all the parts rather suddenly fit together, with new pieces making what had been in place for quite awhile, have new meaning, and suddenly fit. Something like a jigsaw puzzle.

    It seems entirely plausible to me that someone can spend a long time as an atheist, only to have the pieces come together rather late–but not too late. Why not even at the last moment, before death?

    Will this happen for everyone? How could I suppose that? But really–explain like I’m 8 years old why this is so unreasonable to suppose? And please show where this event is contrary to anything we profess, and have always professed, as Catholics?

    Of course one must be converted to the truth–and the whole truth, which is Jesus Christ as he brings us into the life of the Trinity.

    So…however late, and however rapidly, one experiences this conversion, it is a conversion to the fullness of the Faith.

    No, one cannot enter into Life without believing in God; for that matter, one cannot enter into life without embracing the Trinity, including the Son.

    Finally I will say this because it seems one must say this, metaphorically in bold type, in order to satisfy some: of course saying this can happen does not mean it happens for everyone who isn’t Catholic and/or isn’t baptized. Possibility does not equal certainty.

  32. Cosmos:

    Speaking for myself, it’s not a question of the exclusivity of our claims being embarrassing. Rather, it’s making sure that what we offer is reasonable, in the best sense of that word.

  33. MichaelJ says:

    Fr. Fox, ultimately you are saying (and I agree) that no athiests (or non-Catholics) will enter Heaven. If an individual has converted “to the fullness of the Faith” as you put it, even at the instant before death, that individual has ceased being, in fact, an athiest or non-Catholic.
    You also say, and again I agree, that we cannot know with certainty if an individual ultimately has accepted Christ’s gift.
    Where we may disagree is how we approach those individuals who are currently non-Catholic.

  34. Matthias1 says:

    I like the following comment someone made:

    — “The Holy Father never even mentions “salvation” for the athiest or anyone else (though you rightly point to the possibility given in Dominus Iesus and quoted in the Catechism). Pope Francis, instead, talked about being redeemed. Since Christ’s sacrifice was for “all,” then all are redeemed. Yet redemption is not the same thing as salvation.”–

    I think (correct me if I am wrong) that a Catholic could certainly hold that Jesus “redeemed” everyone, but it does not follow that everyone will be saved since a person must respond positively to that offer of salvation. It seems like it could be a case of sloppy reporting, where people wrongly hear “Jesus died for/redeemed everyone (duh), and interpret this as “everyone goes to heaven” (or at least all nice atheists go to heaven). It is very far from obvious the Pope Francis actually meant this.

  35. Clinton R. says:

    It is unfortunate that so many already are interpreting Pope Francis’ statement to mean all are saved, regardless of whether or not they are Catholic. Since the Pope has already stated that “He who does not pray to the Lord prays to the devil. When we don’t proclaim Jesus Christ, we proclaim the worldliness of the devil, the worldliness of the demon.” And the same Pontiff has also said: “You cannot find Jesus outside the Church…” So while I don’t believe Pope Francis believes in universal salvation, I do admit the lack of clarity that springs up in his off the cuff remarks, plus the ambiguities of post Vatican II teaching, do lead to the erroneous notion that man can be saved outside the Catholic Church.

  36. Phil_NL says:


    The assumption that people feel ill at ease claiming exclusivity and therefore don’t, is one that disregards several very important aspects, which for me at least lead me to conclude it’s very unwise to claim rigid exclusivity.
    To begin with, there is no agreement even ad intram about what extra ecclesiam nulla salus would mean. Not by a long shot. Hence, it’s highly unclear what kind of exclusivity we ‘should’ claim to begin with.
    Secondly, ours is not a faith where one simply has to cross the t’s and dot the i’s, and if you do, you’re home free, and if not, well, though luck. Compassion and reason both indicate that there will be situations where the t’s aren’t crossed, and the i’s aren’t dotted, and yet only a very harsh god would condemn. As we know God is merciful, that creates a tension; a tension that eats at the exclusivity.
    Last but not least: to claim exclusivity (in the hard-hitting way at least some would favor) is implicitly also to assert the enternal damnation of scores of people. Not just in the abstract, but also specifically, with name, rank and number, so to say. Apart from the damage that could do to those still among us, there’s the question if we are so sure of our case to warrant such bold and broad statements. Let us not forget that the only persons of which we have certainty regarding their eternal fate are the saints. I believe that for good reason the Lord has not also revealed those who didn’t make the cut. Let us be content with that, I say.

  37. Michael:

    Well, since we’re so irenic together, I don’t want to mess that up–but I would say, regarding your question, how to approach non-believers at present…

    I think one should seek every good opportunity to share the goodness of the Faith, in its fullness, with everyone, especially those who do not believe.

    A lot more could be said, particularly about what a “good” opportunity is, as opposed to a not-good one, and what counts as sharing the goodness of the Faith…

    My point is that I am mindful of what Saint Paul said: “I would know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” May we all try to share, at all times, the goodness of Christ with people, with words and example that are edifying.

  38. Fr. Thomas Kocik says:

    Lots of sloppy (if not deliberately mendacious) reporting out there. The most outrageous opening line I’ve read thus far: “Being an atheist is fine, as long as you do good, Pope Francis said Wednesday, rocking the minds of less tolerant Catholics.” And just when I was making great progress with my ex-Catholic, now Evangelical pastor friend. I can already hear his “Aha!”


  39. MichaelJ says:

    Fr. Fox, perhaps I’m reading too much between the lines, but I’m not a hothouse orchid so please, If I’ve gotten something wrong, let me know. I just think that we (an I include myself here) tend to anthropomorphize God too much. His ways are not our ways.
    We can resonably speculate about what He will and will not do given a particular set of circumstances, but we can only be assured that He will do what He has said He will. On that, He seems to be pretty clear.

  40. Michael:

    No you’re fine. I just know that this sort of subject isn’t always discussed peacefully, so I was gratified to have it be so agreeable.

  41. KevinSymonds says:

    Fr. Z.,
    I sent a message with a reference in Italian as to why Pope Francis’ fervorini are not being posted in their entirety. According to the article, it was by the Pope’s own choice so as to preserve the “off-the-cuff” and “spontaneous” nature of his daily homilies.

  42. FranzJosf says:

    No one here has mentioned consent on the part of the individual. God gave us free will for a reason. He wouldn’t be the Most High God otherwise. He’d be the Supreme Dictator; something of a different essence entirely. Doesn’t one have to choose to love God? He never forces an individual to love him, because then it wouldn’t be love. While Christ’s redemptive sacrifice is for all, even atheists, it is only the many that will accept to receive the full benefits, as it were. I think that the first step to heaven is to agree to go, if I’m allowed. If I don’t agree to go, God won’t force me.

  43. janeway529 says:

    Fr. Z,

    Vatican TV has been broadcasting Pope Francis’ homilies, at least as far as the excerpts from the YouTube channels of the Vatican and RomeReports.

    Here’s a link to the Italian Vatican TV excerpt in which Pope Francis says that the “Blood of Christ redeems everyone, including atheists” himself:

  44. janeway529 says:

    Also, isn’t Pope Francis referencing the Vatican II document Nostra Aetate?

  45. WesleyD says:

    “The Blood of Christ redeems everyone.”

    Pope Francis is simply repeating what Pope Innocent X infallibly taught in his condemnation of the five Jansenist propositions. Jansen said that it was semi-pelagian to say, “Christ shed his blood for all men without exception.” Innocent X condemned this as “false, rash, scandalous, and if understood in the sense that ‘Christ died to save only the predestined’, impious, blasphemous, disgraceful, derogatory to divine piety, and heretical.” (DS 2005-6.)

    Pope Francis says that atheists can do good deeds. Again, this is a Catholic doctrine. In 1690, the Holy Office condemned such Jansenist claism as “Pagans, Jews, heretics, aliique huius generis do not receive in any way any influence from Jesus Christ,” as well as Jansenist claims that non-Catholics were unable to do good deeds (DS 2305, 2308, 2311).

    It is unclear whether Pope Francis is also saying that it is possible for a non-Catholic to be saved without joining the Church before his death. But if he is saying this, he is agreeing with Pope Pius IX, who wrote in 1856, “Outside of the Church, nobody can hope for life or salvation unless he is excused through ignorance beyond his control.” (Encyclical Singulari Quidem, 7.) Again, in 1863, “There are, of course, those who are struggling with invincible ignorance about our most holy religion. Sincerely observing the natural law and its precepts inscribed by God on all hearts and ready to obey God, they live honest lives and are able to attain eternal life by the efficacious virtue of divine light and grace. Because God knows, searches and clearly understands the minds, hearts, thoughts, and nature of all, his supreme kindness and clemency do not permit anyone at all who is not guilty of deliberate sin to suffer eternal punishments.” (Encyclical Quanto Conficiamur Moerore, section 5.)

    Of course, these statements must be balanced with severe warnings to those who presume on God’s mercy or assume themselves to be invincibly ignorant! Pius IX indeed included very clear warnings in these encyclicals… just as Pope Francis has spoken repeatedly about how we must evangelize to bring the world to Christ.

  46. Charles E Flynn says:

    Pope Francis teaches that everyone is saved! Wow! (Hold on. Wait a second.), by Carl E. Olson, for the Catholic World Report.

  47. Giuseppe says:

    To quote an old priest I knew: “The Church is bound by the rules of God. God is not bound by the rules of the church.” God can save anyone He chooses. The odds are better if you are a sincere Roman Catholic. But nothing we do or believe guarantees that God will save us. It is up to Him.

    Re. presenting the faith to others. Imagine if you were a Jew and your first effort to reconnect with your faith were through an encounter with a Pharisee. Then you saw the good Samaritan. Whom would you listen too?

  48. ronconte says:

    Pope John Paul II: “Since Christ brings about salvation through his Mystical Body, which is the Church, the way of salvation is connected essentially with the Church. The axiom ‘extra ecclesiam nulla salus’ — ‘outside the Church there is no salvation’ — stated by St. Cyprian (Epist. 73, 21; PL 1123 AB), belongs to the Christian tradition. It was included in the Fourth Lateran Council (DS 802), in the Bull ‘Unam Sanctam’ of Boniface VIII (DS 870) and the Council of Florence (Decretum pro Jacobitis, DS 1351). The axiom means that for those who are not ignorant of the fact that the Church has been established as necessary by God through Jesus Christ, there is an obligation to enter the Church and remain in her in order to attain salvation (cf. LG 14). For those, however, who have not received the Gospel proclamation, as I wrote in the Encyclical ‘Redemptoris Missio,’ salvation is accessible in mysterious ways, inasmuch as divine grace is granted to them by virtue of Christ’s redeeming sacrifice, without external membership in the Church, but nonetheless always in relation to her (cf. Redemptoris Missio, n. 10). It is a mysterious relationship. It is mysterious for those who receive the grace, because they do not know the Church and sometimes even outwardly reject her. It is also mysterious in itself, because it is linked to the saving mystery of grace, which includes an essential reference to the Church the Savior founded. In order to take effect, saving grace requires acceptance, cooperation, a ‘yes’ to the divine gift. This acceptance is, at least implicitly, oriented to Christ and the Church. Thus it can also be said that ‘sine ecclesia nulla salus’ — ‘without the Church there is no salvation.’ Belonging to the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, however implicitly and indeed mysteriously, is an essential condition for salvation.” [All Salvation Comes through Christ, General Audience, 31 May 1995.]

  49. The Masked Chicken says:

    There is a subtle distinction that needs to be made when people discuss this issue and I’m seeing some evidence of the problem, above. Many translators use the terms redemption and salvation as synonymous and they are not. They form a continuum. I wrote an article on this for a popular Catholic magazine a few years ago.

    Redemption comes from the Hebrew terms, ga’al and padah. The term is seldom used in the New Testament, but is translated as exagorazo and lytroo.

    Salvation is referred to by different terms. In the OT, it is yeshuw ‘ah (I’m afraid the diacritical marks won’t show up) and in the NT, it is soterios (although the term is rarely used in the Gospels).

    The original notion of salvation was from the idea of ga’al. If a tribesmen were captured by another tribe, it was the duty of a tribal relative to rescue him. In later Jewish times, this evolved into the idea of the debtor’s prison. When a person was in prison for owing a debt, he could not pay his own way out, even if he came into money while in prison. A relative had to come to pay his way out as a means of humiliation for the prisoner. The process of paying the debt was the ga’al, redemption. This only allowed the family member access to the prisoner. The family member had to walk back to the prison and escort the prisoner out of the prison and out of the jail. This escorting is called the process of salvation, the yeshuw’ah and salvation was said to be complete once the prisoner left the building. Thus, redemption is a one-time payment of a debt, but salvation is a process that has a beginning, middle, and end. For the Christian, the beginning of salvation comes with Baptism; the middle comes in working out life; the end when one dies and passes through the door of the jail of this world.

    Thus, Christ payed the single, one-time price to redeem the whole world – everyone, including atheists (this is why Christ had to become man – to become our relative in the flesh so that he could buy us back). However, the passage out of the jail, from the prison, though the building, and out the last door to the outside, is a process that depends on both the relative and the prisoner, since they hold hands while walking out the jail, and the prisoner can let go at any time. Should he let go, he will be escorted back to the prison cell, since the prisoner cannot save himself. The relative, then, has to go back and get him, potentially, again and again, depending upon how stubborn the prisoner is.

    Thus, all atheists are redeemed by the blood of Christ, since Christ died once, for all (not the many – that applies to the salvation part of the activity – the application of the, “right to leave” the prison) but only those atheists will be saved who, through some means known or unknown, die holding onto the hand of Christ, his relative/deliverer, through the Church, to which the hands of Christ are committed in this world.

    So, redemption is for all, but salvation is for the many. All have been redeemed, but the purchase, the application of the blood payment, the ga’al will not be efficacious in all. The words redemption and salvation are often used equivalently, but one must be careful.

    I hope this clears things up.

    The Chicken

  50. ACS67 says:

    The Holy Father said nothing wrong. It is not surprising that the media would twist his words but it is surprising and disappointing to me that fellow Catholics would do so. It shows a “pharisaical” quality in certain Catholic circles. I’m speaking of certain “hardline” traditional Catholics that I know.

    The Holy Spirit is “present everywhere and filleth all things” (as they pray in the East) therefore the grace of God is given to everyone, without exception. How and when someone responds to the grace of God is quite another matter. It is grace, the presence of the Holy Spirit that prompts people to “do good.” The grace of God is not contingent upon whether or not someone “believes” in it. The Holy Spirit is there regardless of belief. This can be witnessed during tragic events such as the tornado that just happened earlier this week where people helped each other. They are moved to do so by the grace of God, by the Holy Spirit whether they are aware of that or not.

    Another striking point in the Holy Father’s homily that has gotten little attention is the remark he made about our “duty to do good” because we are all made in the image and likeness of God. With the gift of life comes responsibility toward the good not only for ourselves but toward our neighbor.

  51. pseudomodo says:

    Redemption vs Salvation

    1. I buy hockey tickets for everyone in the office but only half come.
    2. I invite 100 people to a wedding but only 65 respond.
    3. My place in heaven is assured (provided I show up at all).
    4. Christ has paid the price with his blood and has redeemed the world but not all will appreciate his offer and respond and be saved.

    It’s actually not that hard to understand.

  52. Sometimes people will complain, why do our bishops seem only to offer mush?

    This is why.

  53. Pingback: No, the Pope Didn’t Just Say All Atheists Go to Heaven – The Atlantic | ENTERTAINMENT BLACKPOOL

  54. Cosmos says:

    The Church has always thought that purposefully committing a gravely evil act, with full knowledge, is a mortal sin. However, what your average Catholic thinks that means for him today and what, say, St. Thomas Aquinas and his contemporaries thought that meant are very, very different. While there are logical arguments to be made on both sides of the argument, it should give a little pause that we seem to think that it is harder to commit a mortal sin than previous doctors of the Church.

    Very similarly, it’s all fine and good to argue that God can save whomever He pleases and that there are conditions under which we assume, or at least hope, that He does. But there is a big difference between believeing that this extraoridinary means of salvation is extraordinary (at least in the West) and believing that it includes almost everyone because of invincible ignorance, psychological barriers, etc. (despite having grown up in western culture and often having gone to Church and literally knowing the Gospel message). This dictinction is often the difference between teaching that Christiainity is merely the “most excellent way” and teaching that it is a matter of life and death.

    The problem is not that there is an impossible logical hurdle to overcome between the exclusivity of salvation in Christ and the possibility of non-Christians being saved. The problem is that the Church, and Chrisitains in general, seem to have given a the former impression for centuries. Our tune has changed in the last couple of generations. I, for one, find this a little troubling.

  55. robtbrown says:

    The Masked Chicken says,

    So, redemption is for all, but salvation is for the many.

    I don’t think “all” should be contrasted with “the many”.

    NB Mt 20:28 and Mk:10:45. The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (redemptionem pro multis).

    All have been redeemed, but the purchase, the application of the blood payment, the ga’al will not be efficacious in all. The words redemption and salvation are often used equivalently, but one must be careful.

    I hope this clears things up.

    As an unapologetic Thomist I cannot buy the above comment.

    a. God’s Will is of itself efficacious
    b. God’s Will is that all men be saved

    Supposing that all men will not be saved, how can both a and b be true?

  56. Cosmos:

    Yes, but…I guess it all depends on the starting-point for ones reflection.

    Both for personal reasons, and also as I consider my vocation, I frequently meditate on the mercy of God. Much of this arises from conversations I have, frequently in the confessional, in which I am trying very hard to convince people that God is merciful. Think about that: sometimes people, even as a priest is about to absolve them, need proof that God loves them. Please: think hard about that.

    So I have devoted a lot of my thoughts, and words, to this subject–for what that may be worth.

    And one of things I tell people–to prove to them so they can get out from a burden they need not carry (because when absolved, they are as forgiven as in baptism)–I point out that while their desire and intention toward salvation is finite and flawed, God’s desire for their salvation is infinite. God’s investment in their–and your and my–salvation is likewise, infinite. He cares about the success of it infinitely more than you or I do.

    No, that doesn’t mean everyone gets saved, and that no one can go to hell. But for me, it bears a good deal of contemplation. If *I* were God, and I set out to save humanity, wouldn’t I prefer to save more, rather than less? And if the make-or-break factor is freedom, that leaves God with a lot of things he can do that are still “fair play.”

    There’s a paradox at work here. If it should be true that most everyone ends up being saved, that’s the last thing God would want to tell us–because being the sort we are, we’d lay back and just wait to be carried into heaven. And that, in turn, is just the sort of attitude that would seem best designed to send us to hell.

    On the other hand, if you want to get the maximum positive response, and have things work out reasonably well, might it not make more sense to say, this is really hard to get and easy to miss. The key is conversion, and buddy, let me tell you, it has to go right through you! It might happen suddenly, but it almost never works that way; instead you have to try and try and try, and keep going back to God, because we’re a bad lot, but not beyond help. And the one sure place, the only place according to God, is there–see that Cross? That’s where you go to get salvation. Sitting in that church called Catholic.

    Or just recall how our Lord put it so many times in the Gospel about the wide way and the narrow way.

    If you’ll pardon the allusion to the tragedy in Oklahoma, if you sound the alarm, loud and fearfully, and really pound the message home, a lot more people will take refuge and ride out the storm safely, than if you say nothing to worry about.

    I don’t know how many people will be saved. When the Apostles asked the Lord that question, he didn’t give a direct answer: instead of answering, “how many,” he pointed them to focus on “how”; yet Scripture gives tantalizing hints: “a multitude no one could count.”

    We sound the alarm and point to the Rescue Ship–yet we may hope that when it’s all said and done, God will have pulled off his own Dunkirk and rescued quite a lot more, using means we didn’t anticipate. And why? Because that’s what he wants to do.

    Oh yes, the will can resist–finally and eternally. Yet consider how many people have written–I think of Augustine and the poem by Francis Thompson–about the way God pursued, and pursued, and pursued them, like a Hound of Heaven.

  57. Cosmos says:

    Fr Martin,
    Beautiful post, thank you for taking the time to write that.
    A few thoughts:
    (1) My problem is not the idea of a broader conception of salvation, it is the apparent disregard for the “scandal” that Church teachers and preachers constantly cause by tweaking, changing, and modifying age-old everything, including age-old teachings. The conclusion that almost everyone draws from this tinkering is “why should I believe that what you are saying now it the Truth, since you will inevitably change it beyond recognition.” In other words, the problem is not the new conception of near universal salvation, the problem is that it contrasts so clearly with what so many authoritative teachers said in the past. Rather than eternal teachings, we have a positivist view of the Magesterium (whatever is most recent is binding and abbrogates the past) that justifies itself with a corrupted version of the development of doctrine.
    (2) I am sunot sure what you mean about the wide and narrow path. Doesn’t the wide path lead to perdition?
    (3) Like many, many Christians before me, I read the scripture and walk away with a picture of a God that pursues and invites with great passion, but not one that gives us much freedom and ulitmately will tolerate our indifference and sin forever. It is not just a matter of God having to let us go, but of his thirst for justice. It feels to me that modern Catholic teaching follows the path of so many Protestants and heretics in creating one aspect of the Gospel as the fixed center point, and relativizing or forgeting everything else that contradicts. What are we to do with verses like this, for example?

    Hebrews 10:
    For if we sin deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries. A man who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy at the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the man who has spurned the Son of God, and profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

  58. Cosmos says:

    Oops: inserted a “not” in fron of “that give us much freedom.” That was an error.

  59. Cosmos:

    I don’t know what to do with such Scriptures (and many others that might have been cited in service to the same point). Go to confession I guess and obtain indulgences for the souls in purgatory, and trust in God’s mercy. But I guess I would add that purgatory seems to me to be a good deal about justice, too.

  60. Darrin says:

    Honestly, I find the interpretation of what Francis has said to be more frightening than confusing. Not only do we have the scriptures that tell us that we must recognize Christ and strive for salvation, but we have the testimony of the saints through history. Time and time again, they remind us that the way to salvation is narrow and that to perdition a wide and easy path to follow. I was born into our Catholic Faith, received all the sacraments of initiation in my youth and was married in The Church. My marriage failed, for various reasons, and I eventually remarried outside of The Church. I go to Mass every week, I do not receive The Eucharist, because my state is such that I do not have the grace to receive. I am petitioning for an annulment so that my wife now can convert to Catholicism and receive the Rites of Initiation herself and our marriage can be convalidated. I believe these to be ultimate truths but, am I wrong? Is my faith misguided? If an atheist, a person who actively denounces the very existence of God, can be redeemed simply by good works, then why do I bother? What is the point and purpose of my faith and what value do I derive from the words of the saints such as , St. Therese of Liseux, St. John Marie Vianney, and others who forcefully speak of the fewness of the saved?

  61. Phil_NL says:


    You – and everyone else here – bothers because God asked us to, even gave us the duty to do so. Whether or not He punishes non-complicance with that duty with damnation or not, does not matter one iota. He still commands what he commands, and as creatures, we’re bound to obey. Not in the least because the commandments are not whims of a higher being, but designed for our benefit. Of course it can be – and often is – a challenge to see that in concrete cases. We’re imperfect, and while we are given the gifts of ratio, we sometimes simply don’t see it, and have to accept in faith the rules we have to follow are in fact a testament to Gods mercy. But it is not ours to judge what should happen to those who do not fulfill this duty, or whom membership in the Church simply hasn’t been given. What happens to those outside the Church, affects in no way what we – as those within – are called to do.

  62. The Masked Chicken says:

    “NB Mt 20:28 and Mk:10:45. The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (redemptionem pro multis).”

    The word in the original Greek (translated as redemptionem) is, lytron, which means

    1) the price for redeeming, ransom
    a) paid for slaves, captives
    b) for the ransom of life
    2) to liberate many from misery and the penalty of their sins

    Now, redemption is a one time payment for all and that is captured in definition 1, but lytron can be applied to a partial group, as well. That is captured in definition 2. Now, if one has a compound logical statement meaning all and part, the only way the statement can be true is if part is referenced, not all. So, when Mt 20:28 say, “to give his life as a random,” that takes into account the all of redemption, and the, “for the many,” takes into account the partial aspect of salvation, but be use this is a compound logical statement, the only way for it to be true when the two propositions, all and many are compounded in a single sentence with the verb, redemption, is to state it in the partial sense. This does not mean there are not two separate aspects of salvation and redemption, merely that lytron is used as an umbrella term, in this case, for both.

    “As an unapologetic Thomist I cannot buy the above comment.

    a. God’s Will is of itself efficacious
    b. God’s Will is that all men be saved

    Supposing that all men will not be saved, how can both a and b be true?”

    That’s because this is not a fair statement of St. Thomas’s position.

    First, it seems that you cannot accept that salvation is a compound process composed of two parts: redemption and salvation. Redemption was accomplished for all, efficaciously, on the Cross. Christ died and rose again according to God’s efficacious will, so his part, the first part was accomplished efficaciously.

    However, God does not efficaciously will that all men be saved, otherwise, what’s the point of it all? God wills that all men have sufficient grace to be saved, but God does notwill that all men have efficacious grace to be saved. It is fair to say that God wills, efficaciously, that all have sufficient grace to be saved. Thus, Christ’s part was accomplished efficaciously, but our part in salvation is accomplished, for the most part, only sufficiently and this is by God’s efficacious grace. So, A and B contain no contradiction, once the idea of salvation is expanded to reveal off of its components.

    Rev. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., in his book, Grace: Commentary on the Summa Theologias of St. Thomas Aquinas, chapter 6, comments:


    “The minor is equally certain: that which is peculiar to the affair of salvation is not the power to do good, but the actual consenting to the good and the good act itself. Thus our Lord says (Matt. 7:21): “Not everyone that saith to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of My Father in heaven.” And in Ezechiel we read: “I will cause you to walk in My commandments, and to keep My judgments, and do them” (36:27). Therefore the conclusion follows: Beyond sufficient grace, which gives the power of doing good, is required efficacious grace, which actuates us to perform that good. And this is admitted by all theologians except the pure Molinists, even by the Congruists who hold that, beyond sufficient grace, congruous grace is required, differing not physically but morally in first act, that is, before consent. Moreover, Molina does not seem to observe canon g of the Council of Orange (Denz., no. 182): “Whatever good we do, God operates in us and with us that we may operate.” Hence a certain grace is given which confers on us, not only the power to act, but the very act itself. Nor does Molinism seem to respect the words of the Council of Trent (Sess. VI, chap. 13, Denz., no. 806): “For, unless men themselves fall short of His grace, God as He began a good work (by sufficient grace), so does He perfect it, working both the willing and the accomplishment” (Phil. 2:13). Likewise, Denz., no. 832. For Molina, God does not effect the willing and accomplishment except by simultaneous concurrence, and therefore what is peculiar to the business of salvation does not derive from God, namely, the good determination itself, and what may be in this man rather than in another who is equally tempted and equally assisted.

    The Chicken

  63. The Masked Chicken says:

    Should, of course, be Theologica.

    The Chicken

  64. PostCatholic says:

    It’s a lot more generous than we atheists on the possibility of salvation for Christians, anyway.

  65. jameeka says:

    Thank you for this discussion, especially Fr Fox and Masked Chicken

  66. Imrahil says:

    Reverend dear @Fr Fox,
    thank you again for your comments, and especially your trials to explain why God might have done as He did.

    Dear @Chicken,
    the thing – shall I say problem – about your quotation of Fr Garrigou-Lagrange, great as the genius of this man (reportedly; I have hitherto missed to learn about him) is, he is not here giving the position of the Catholic Church, per se, but the position of his Dominican order, the Thomist one (more appropriately to be called Báñezist). The grace-dispute between these parties is unsolved matter; and, excuse the impudence, the two magisterial utterance quoted as disprovals in the text you presented are, frankly (Fr Garrigou, pardon me!) rather beside the point, as far as the disproving is concerned. [For certainly, to the Molinist also, he who does a good work does it by God’s grace, and in him who does not resist sufficient grace, it is God who perfects the work… the notion of the precise moment where the soul might “themselves fall short of His grace” or might not is the notion where the problem occurs, because the whole dispute is about the juxtaposition of “sufficient grace” and “possibly they might fall short”.]

    That Molinism had and has heavy influence at the very least on the popular feeling of Catholics, should be clear. It is the teaching of the Church that “there is such thing as a truly but only sufficient grace” (meaning: one not efficient), but how can it be called sufficient – and consequently, how can God be called to have (as He has) Willed the salvation of the one imbued with it – if the reason it is not efficacious is that it could never have been save for the imbuing of yet another grace God were not granting to everyone? Now, the general answer that seems to have been given in preaching, in apologetics, in the casual theological conversation of Catholics, has been: “God saves all except who refuse to be saved.” This is probably a rather strict Molinism, and in all probability simplifying a very complex issue (I need only rase the question of praying and sacrificing for the conversion of others), but nevertheless, as for me, it is the general direction of how I hold things are, and as for the Church, it is both allowed and has all the qualities of widespreadness in the faithful population I mentioned, which latter is not without signification. (The Augustinians, St. Alphonsus, and yet others have produced yet more complex systems, which are rather all worthy of considering.)

    Dear @Cosmos,
    Chesterton once said (do not find where now): “In lovers of truth, there is always a hatred of mere tendency.” If the Church gives a contradiction to what she previously said, it is other matter, but even here let us remember that the teaching on infallibility counts the grand majority of magisterial utterances, and a good deal of actual theorems, as fallible. (Albeit in less degree than it is usually made out, the question of religious tolerance before and after the last Council is such a case.)
    Here, you are very rightly only complaining about a change in tone; but tone is really what Goethe incorrectly said about names, “sound and smoke”. I may be professionally disinclined to see much in tones, and please forgive that, but it is still true that you cannot possibly make a dogma out of a tone, as long as it remains such.

    And even about the tone, I would not be so sure. I myself tend always defend the 1950s, but here it is true: we should not confuse “the age-old tone of preaching” with the tone that happened to be en vogue directly before the last Council came. Nor the tone of a specific country within the Church, great and virtuous as this country may be, and especially if this country stands under the immediate fire of Catholic-Protestant, worse, Catholic-Calvinist altercation. Nor, I guess, the tone of a specific part of the Church only, even if that part is the teaching one.

    Contrast this to the tone of other ages, the tone of other countries, and the tone of the laity. We need not be Conciliar or post-Conciliar for this. The Council, rightly or (in tone) wrongly, rather put more force in reminding people of their duties, and always taking of duties, than laxing a thing. But if you do think of previous tone, then think of E. M. v. Kuehnelt-Leddihns “The Fallen Angel, or, Moscow 1997”. Think of Graham Greene’s “The Heart of the Matter”. Think of Chesterton’s “The Ball and the Cross”. Think of the servants of Pope Alexander VI who upon hearing he was dead, and thinking (without my comment on that) he was damned, were horrified and did not know what to do; something that can only be explained by the exceptionalness of the supposed case. Think of the tone among the laity in Catholic countries in the old times (i. e. the ones before the First World War).

    The priests in their capacity as preachers, to be sure, sometimes, and perhaps too often, preached fire and brimstone. But as it were, or at least as it may have been, they were fulfilling a role with this. There must be – or so it was thought, and there is a great deal to be said for it – a hard preacher of morals for the perfection of society, especially if the society was a supernatural society.
    Also, up to the last Council, some legal detail has had rather little attention: The Sunday obligation, even the venial one, did not include the sermon. Yes, it was said that because of an obligation different in nature (completing one’s religious education), it would be sinful to always stay away from the Sunday sermon, and it was the pious thing to hear it; but the reason still stands, priests had not then the possibility to command a quarter-hour of their sheeps’ attention for their own words. And indeed, there was this custom, or abuse, for the men to come to Church, stay up to the sermon, then go over to the pub (directly in the vicinity, mostly), come back after the sermon. Of course you could not Communicate, then… What I want to say: It’s great enough (I mean that!) if a sermon is, in itself, correct and, in itself, helpful. You cannot seriously expect a course of sermons to confer to you a general tone which is the one and only tone of Christianity; even if this tone is at the same time shared by all preachers.

    As to the wide path, it sure means perdition, but cannot he be said to have entered perdition who has committed a mortal sin?

    As to the Scripture, God does give us much freedom: to sin and, curiously overlooked often, to choose different actions neither of which is sinful… and indeed he won’t tolerate our indifference and sin forever. Noone here suggested otherwise. And always remember that – a fact curiously overlooked by the Calvinists (that was a half-joke) – there is still purgatory.

    Hebrews 10, according to what I guess is the Catholic teaching, refers to Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, because it suggests unforgiveability. And Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, according to explanations (sorry for not doing the quoting and proving), means the sin to close oneself against forgiveness (which is necessary), and even here, St. Thomas says in one place “unforgiveable, that is to say, hard to forgive” (because a miracle is still possible).

    Two suggestions of mine. It is revealed that, with the possible exception of unreasonable unbaptized children, all adults who do not go to Hell ultimately go to Heaven. That is hopeful. If the “natural paradise” were an option for them too, we’d say (foremost to ourselves): “who deserves Heaven? Take what is yours, and be contented!” But it is not so.

    Second, now entering the dangerous realm of private Bible interpretation, our Lord said that all sinners, even those who blaspheme against the Son of Man (excepting precisely the blasphemers against the Holy Spirit), will be forgiven. He says “will be”, not “may be”.

    Dear @Phil_NL,
    thank you! You said just what I’d have wanted to say and, to all probability, could not, and if I could, then with much more words.

    Indeed (this is also @dear Darrin), I guess it is allowed to say that the Elder Son, in fact, had a point. And the answer he receives is, in fact, mysterious. Theologians should give a look at it.

    Dear @Darrin,
    please receive the expression of my compassion for your state of affairs. As for the reason why you should do as you have set out to do, it is that the Lord will reward each good thing done for His sake – and, as St. Francis of Sales mentions, He loves with special love such sorrow, endured for His sake, which is involuntary. One of such rewards, given yet in living time, seems to be Holy Communion, to me.
    (I might think that once you have managed to do what you must, you might wish that some who has faced the same difficulties but has not had the same courage or patience, especially if perhaps you have about one of them as a feeling what we are bound to have as an attitude, charity, would be spared eternally burning in Hell, and rather join you in Heaven.)

  67. Imrahil says:

    Note that when I said “the Elder Son had a point”, I did not mean he was right.

  68. robtbrown says:


    1. The point I made was that your couplet (Redemption – all; Salvation – many) doesn’t jibe with Scripture, where in Mt redemptio is associated with pro multis. Your problem is not with what I wrote but rather with Scripture.

    BTW, you’re the one who said that redemption was predicated of all rather than (the) many.

    I mistakenly thought that you would know that the contrast is the comparison of all (pan–, omnes) with the few (oligoi, pauci), a point I have made more than once in the past few years here. Cf Mt 7:13-14.

    2. You have quoted from Ft Garrigou’s book, but then advanced an opinion, closely resembling Molina’s, that contradicts G-L’s theology.

    a. G-L, taking the Thomist approach, says that grace by definition is efficacious.

    b. Obviously, the objection follows: How can grace be efficacious if God wants all to be saved, while presuming that all are not?

    c. The above needs to be considered while preserving human freedom: Grace perfects human freedom (contra Molina).

    d. G-L’s solution is to say that in the matter of salvation grace is efficacious, but in another way it is not (agree). He compares it powers and acts, that God wills efficaciously that the powers of everyone receive the grace adequate for salvation, but not all receive sufficient grace for the acts necessary for salvation.

    I disagree with his approach because that there is a real distinction between efficacious and sufficient grace but only a virtual distinction between a faculty and its acts.

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  70. ostrich says:

    Now that even the mainstream press has latched on to the idea misguided or otherwise that atheists may be saved will Pope Francis respond clearly?

    He must…

  71. Nancy D. says:

    Only God defines what is Good.

    “No one can come to The Father except through Me.”
    The reason why there can be no atheists in Heaven is because in order to get to Heaven, one must, even if it is at the hour of one’s Death, become part of The Body of Christ. It is through, with, and in Christ, in the unity of God’s Holy Spirit, that The Body of Christ exists.

    Nor can one support same-sex sexual unions and thus same sex sexual acts and remain in communion with The Body of Christ.

  72. The Masked Chicken says:

    Sorry, I am so late coming back to this post, but Robtbrown, you have repeated the statement, twice, that, ex hypothesi, God wills (or wants – not quite the same thing) that all be saved. Could you provide a quote from Scripture for this? I am having trouble finding this in Scripture.

    My point has always been that God wills all to be redeemed, but not all to be saved. Redemption and salvation are two related, but separate terms, involving two different acts of the will. Are we misunderstanding each other? I don’t think that either you or I believe in universal salvation, but St. Paul, clearly states that Christ died, once, for all, His death was for the redemption of all ( and it was a singular act of Christ – we had no originating part in it), not the salvation of all. Pan and omnes applies to redemption, oligoi, pauci, applies to the final act of salvation and that is a cooperative act between man and God.

    In Canon VI of the Sixth Council of Trent, it says:

    “If any one saith, that it is not in man’s power to make his ways evil, but that the works that are evil God worketh as well as those that are good, not permissively only, but properly, and of Himself, in such wise that the treason of Judas is no less His own proper work than the vocation of Paul; let him be anathema.”

    Canon XVII, likewise says:

    “-If any one saith, that the grace of Justification is only attained to by those who are predestined unto life; but that all others who are called, are called indeed, but receive not grace, as being, by the divine power, predestined unto evil; let him be anathema.”

    Clearly, these two Canons, put together means that the act of salvation, in its totality, is a cooperative act, but redemption, the beginning of salvation, but not the end, is a separate act from the final realization of salvation and redemption is always started by one man ( a relative who pays the price), even if the salvation is finished by the two of them leaving the jail.

    Salvation, as understood in Scripture, is a multi-part process (indicating a past, present, and future aspect) and there is no reason to believe that God cannot have separate wills for the separate parts.

    The Chicken

  73. Imrahil says:

    Dear @Chicken,

    there’s plenty of proof that God wills the redemption of anyone. Now it would seem beside the point if God willed the redemption of anyone whose salvation He does not will also. God does not will His work to be useless, cf. Isaiah 55:11.

    And if it is forbidden to say in temptation “God tempts me” (rather, he permits the temptation, Jac 1:13), how much less can it be said of any damned person that God willed his damnation (save with permissive will).

  74. Imrahil says:

    Dear @Nancy D,

    if we are not Scotists or Muslims, let us rather say that God is good, and His Revelation is the Truth. Even God to great extents does not “define” what is good, but find it in His own Essence.

    (Though we men might very much err if we, even reasonably, declare a certain specific thing good with human intelligence.)

  75. The Masked Chicken says:

    “there’s plenty of proof that God wills the redemption of anyone. Now it would seem beside the point if God willed the redemption of anyone whose salvation He does not will also. God does not will His work to be useless, cf. Isaiah 55:11.”

    Except that salvation is not only an act of God, but an act of man in cooperation with God, whereas, redemption, per se, is not (although it can be particiapted in whenever we, “offer up,” our sufferings.

    The Chicken

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