Catholic DI author weighs in on salvation

April 28, 2009 | By | 32 Replies More

OK, I believe in God.  I am a practicing Roman Catholic.

I’ve seen many comments, criticisms and conclusory statements here and elsewhere about Catholic doctrine on Salvation which my investigation shows may not only be wrong but, seriously wrong. I assert that as a Catholic Christian it is my call to pray and hope that all are reconciled with God (more on that later). Yes, Virginia, that means even my non-believing brothers and sisters. And, my non-believing brothers and sisters don’t have to do anything other than what they are already doing; being good, loving human animals and taking care of each other.

Image by kwerfeldein at Flickr (creative commons)

Image by kwerfeldein at Flickr (creative commons)

Father John Dietzen, in a St. Louis Review feature “Dear Father,” answered a relevant question in his April 17, 2009 column:

“Q: What does the Catholic Church teach about whether Jews, Muslims and others who don’t believe in Christ can be saved and go to heaven? Several friends claim only those who accept Christ and are baptized receive salvation.

A: Many Christians believe as your friends do. This is not, however, Catholic teaching, which is summarized concisely in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The catechism insists, as we would expect, on the essential place Jesus and Baptism have in God’s saving plan.  It adds, however, a crucial sentence: ‘Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Jesus Christ, would either refuse to enter it or to remain in it.’ (No. 846, quoting the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 14).

If you read those words carefully, you can see that the restriction of salvation would not apply to billions of people on earth now and in the past, including most, if not all, people of the Hebrew tradition.

Pope John Paul II reflects upon this Catholic attitude in his moving and hopeful book, “Crossing the Threshold of Hope.” God wants to save all mankind in Jesus Christ, he writes. We don’t know how God does all this, but we know Christ came into the world for all people and ‘has His own ways of reaching them.’ (pp. 80-83) In other words, God has committed Himself to work through Baptism and the other sacraments, but he is not bound or limited by them.

The Church is silent about this mystery, says the Holy Father, and this ‘silence’ is the only appropriate position for Christian faith. Even for Judas, the words of Jesus (Mt. 26:24) do not allow for certain to eternal damnation (p.186). We just don’t know enough about the mystery of God’s saving plan to make such a judgment.

Furthermore, we pray constantly in our liturgy that all people will be saved. As just one of the many instances, Eucharistic Prayer 2 asks, after the consecration, that our deceased brothers and sisters, and ‘all the departed’ all those who have died, will come into the light of God’s presence. It is possible, therefore, and something we hope for and desire.

Perhaps you know of Father Hans Urs von Balthasar, one of the major Catholic theologians of the 20th Century, a friend and close confidant of Pope John Paul II. He wrote much about the possibility of universal redemption, including the book, “Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved,” in which he maintains it is our Christian call to pray and hope that all are reconciled with God. He was named a cardinal but died before he could receive the red hat.

Father von Balthasar reports that before the book’s final text came on the market, he received massive amounts of mail denouncing his ideas as heretical. From my experience dealing with the subject several times through the years, I can empathize with his experience.

Some Catholics point to certain private revelations, such as the apparitions at Fatima, to ‘prove’ that many people are in hell. That must be right, they claim, because the Church has approved many such revelations.

When the Church sanctions private revelations, it is simply saying that there is nothing heretical in them, and Catholics may believe these revelations and act on them if they wish. This does not, however, anoint the content of the revelations as Catholic teaching or doctrine.

Father Dietzen is a priest of the Peoria, Ill. Diocese who writes a question-answer column distributed by Catholic News Service.”

© 2009 reprinted with the express permission of Father Dietzen and CNS.

It makes sense that God, who I believe to be whole and complete, has a plan for salvation for all. If God is whole and complete, God needs nothing. God’s lack of need allows space for infinite giving, for infinite love, for salvation for all. As one who has chosen the Catholic Christian faith, I see my call to support God’s plan and pray and hope for the salvation of all.  I do not and cannot know how salvation for all will look like, or how it may be achieved but, that’s what faith is. Some may see such as a conceit, or arrogant but, in the most humble and awesome of ways, I see and choose love.

Love does not compel any particular political affiliation, nor compel the passage, defeat or repeal of some particular legislation or the reversal of some case decision by some court. Such matters are for those which are of this world.

Love does admit of compassion and mercy. Love sees society as interdependent, a one which seeks to act for the good of all and protects the most vulnerable. Love makes us our sisters’ and brothers’ keepers and, by the grace of God, allows salvation for all.  I believe this is a more accurate reading of the Catholic Church’s doctrine on Salvation than some I have seen posted here before. Thanks also to Fr. Dietzen for his permission to use his work.

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About the Author ()

imothy E. Hogan is a trial attorney, a husband, a father of two awesome children and a practicing Roman Catholic in St. Louis, Missouri. Mr. Hogan has done legal and political work in Jefferson City, Missouri for partisan and non-partisan social change, environmental and consumer protection groups. Mr. Hogan has also worked for consumer advocate Ralph Nader in Washington, DC and the members of the trial bar in the State of New York. Mr. Hogan’s current interests involve remaining a full time solo practitioner pioneer on the frontiers of justice in America, a good husband and a good father to his awesome children.

Comments (32)

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  1. Mike M. says:

    Erich – I heartily agree with your statement # 2. Just exactly what I was thinking this morning. I see this development as no more than a tentative baby step for the Church (cute, but wobbly – a long-awaited sign of early development). Hopefully this is the beginning of a series of further awakenings and positive forward momentum for this calcified, dogmatic and atavistic institution. The Church may actually learn to stop crapping in it’s own pants and show some additional sparks of decency and benevolence in accepting normal human diversity. I think it’s necessary for the Church to mutate and evolve soon, and faster, or just die off.

  2. Tim Hogan says:

    Erich, as you have correctly pointed out, the Church just cleared Galileo. Things take time with the Church which operates on a different time scale. I am hopeful and pray for all.

  3. Ben says:

    But I thought the church operated quickly Tim … ya know the entire cosmos created under 10k years ago. So basically the church operates on whatever the hell time scale it pleases? And about the praying thing, I do not want you praying for me. So go ahead and pray for everyone else, but leave me out 🙂

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Ben – Tim is not a 10,000 year guy and most Catholics aren’t either. I’ll let him speak for himself, but I don’t even know that he believes in intercessory prayer . . .

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