The interwebs have been all aflutter of late over Pope Francis’s statement that all are redeemed. HuffPo (in)famously seemed to spin this as an endorsement of universalism, the belief that all people will eventually be saved. Not to wander too far into the theological quagmire here, but Catholicism—and much of Protestantism—makes a division between redemption (Christ by his death enables all to be saved if they choose) and salvation (the acceptance of this redemption). This is a division that some in the blogosphere have been making quite a lot out of (here and here), sometimes to the point of forgetting that, in Catholic theology, the possibility of the salvation of all is permitted.
We may do well to recall Catholicism’s middle position between universalism and a conservative Protestant view that all non-Christians are hellbound. The Catholic theologian Karl Rahnar famously spoke of “anonymous Christians” and the Catholic theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar held that we might reasonably hope that all men will be saved. Fr. Barron does a particularly fine job of clarifying the differences between Von Balthasar’s position and simple universalism:
(In case you think this is simply the strange notions of a couple of prominent theologians, check out paragraph 16 of the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium.)
It’s worth thinking a bit about why Christians sometimes seem so upset by the possibility that non-Christians might not be hellbound. In the wake of the Francis controversy, First Things reprinted portions of a 1964 homily by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) in which he acknowledges the potential salvation of non-Christians and begins to answer the question about why Christians might find this possibility so unsettling. His point is important enough that it bears reprinting a fair portion of his homily:
The question that torments us is . . . why, if there are so many other ways to heaven and to salvation, should it still be demanded of us that we bear, day by day, the whole burden of ecclesiastical dogma and ecclesiastical ethics? . . .
If we are raising the question of the basis and meaning of our life as Christians . . . then this can easily conceal a sidelong glance at what we suppose to be the easier and more comfortable life of other people, who will “also” get to heaven.
We are too much like the workers taken on in the first hour whom the Lord talks about in his parable of the workers in the vineyard (Mt 20:1-6). When they realized that the day’s wage of one denarius could be much more easily earned, they could no longer see why they had sweated all day. . . .
But the parable is not there on account of those workers at that time; it is there for our sake. For in our raising questions about the “why” of Christianity, we are doing just what those workers did. We are assuming that spiritual “unemployment”—a life without faith or prayer—is more pleasant than spiritual service. Yet how do we know that?
We are staring at the trials of everyday Christianity and forgetting on that account that faith is not just a burden that weighs us down; it is at the same time a light that brings us counsel, gives us a path to follow, and gives us meaning. We are seeing in the Church only the exterior order that limits our freedom and thereby overlooking the fact that she is our spiritual home, which shields us, keeps us safe in life and in death. We are seeing only our own burden and forgetting that other people also have burdens, even if we know nothing of them.
And above all, what a strange attitude that actually is, when we no longer find Christian service worthwhile if the denarius of salvation may be obtained even without it! It seems as if we want to be rewarded, not just with our own salvation, but most especially with other people’s damnation—just like the workers hired in the first hour. That is very human, but the Lord’s parable is particularly meant to make us quite aware of how profoundly un-Christian it is at the same time. Anyone who looks on the loss of salvation for others as the condition, as it were, on which he serves Christ will in the end only be able to turn away grumbling, because that kind of reward is contrary to the loving-kindness of God.
Eve Tushnet‘s piece on why Christianity isn’t just all about getting to heaven makes a similar point. She’s also due a h/t for both the First Things and GetReligion link.
Despite all the coverage given to Francis’s homily, far-and-away the best talk he actually gave this week was his public Q&A. In the Q&A he responds to four questions submitted in advance about his own faith journey, the challenge of evangelization, how we can live as “a poor church for the poor,” and how we can help persecuted Christians throughout the world. The whole thing is a delight from beginning to end and is worth watching in full if you have the time.
*Sheesh* that was a whole lotta theological quick takes! Here, quick, have a catbeard!
And there’s more where that came from.
If catbeards aren’t your thing, how’s about Chaucerian memes?
I leave you with the immortal wisdom of James Franco, now conveniently rounded up on a regular basis in movie reviews for Vice magazine. Gawker has gathered together some of the greatest hits so far. Do enjoy*:
This is life. Man versus nature. Man’s machines. Man’s mastery of the planet. Man’s destruction of the planet. Man’s ushering in of the apocalypse. But it is also beautiful.
I mean, WTF? How? How did the film’s makers achieve this poetry?
Well, here it is: man, mastering the seas and the world, doing horrible things, brave things, impossible things. Because we are man. We need to survive. And conquer.
*Not that context really helps here, but they’re all from a review of a documentary about commercial fishing.
For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!