Tag Archives: eternal life

Baptism radiates light…

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“Baptism is God’s most beautiful and magnificent gift. . . . We call it gift, grace, anointing, enlightenment, garment of immortality, bath of rebirth, seal, and most precious gift. It is called gift because it is conferred on those who bring nothing of their own; grace since it is given even to the guilty; Baptism because sin is buried in the water; anointing for it is priestly and royal as are those who are anointed; enlightenment because it radiates light; clothing since it veils our shame; bath because it washes; and seal as it is our guard and the sign of God’s Lordship.”

St. Gregory Of Nazianzus, Oratio 40,3-4:PG 36,361C

Congratulations to a faithful friend…

To learn more about the necessity of baptism for salvation and eternal life, click here.

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The reasons which ought to lead all men to seek God — Intimations of Immortality by Dr. Jeff Mirus

VISIT THE SOURCE: Catholic Culture

Intimations of Immortality

by Dr. Jeff Mirus

When I was growing up in the 1950s and early 1960s, my world was a Christian world, at least nominally. My earliest efforts at apologetics were all designed to explain the “oddities” of the Catholic Faith to Protestants, and to show why their version of certain Christian ideas was wrong while the Catholic version was right. Since then much has changed. Now we are just as likely to be starting from scratch with people who don’t accept any version of Christianity, or perhaps any serious version of God either.

So from time to time we may profit from reviewing some of the reasons people ought to be interested in God, and especially interested in seeking a revelation from God that can set us on the right path. While people are often brought to a serious examination of the existence of God and the truth of the Christian Faith through personal experiences—whether tragic or triumphant—there are also some intellectual starting points that can get us wondering about these things. I’ll briefly review four of them here.

Our Own Sense of Continuation

There are several indicators of the existence of an immaterial, intellective soul that is necessarily immortal, but the one that impacts us most is simply our own sense of identity and our continuation in that identity. There is no evidence that any other creature has such a sense, that any other bodily creature understands itself as a unique individual with an identity which “ought” to continue beyond the vicissitudes of this earthly life. And no other creature manifests anything like a religious sense.

It is otherwise with us. No matter what age we are, no matter how many changes and struggles we’ve lived through, no matter how many times our cells have died and been replaced in the constant cycle of growth and decay, we still think of ourselves as “ourselves”. I look out from a 62 year-old body feeling exactly like the same “me” who was once fifteen. I am astonished that I should be old, and that life should be drawing inexorably to its close. This is unfathomable; it is a contradiction of everything I instinctively feel about myself. I cannot imagine my own non-existence. I cannot imagine a time when I will be unable to reflect on myself, on who I am. So it is with every man and woman who has ever lived.

Ralph McInerny, in his memoir of his life at Notre Dame (see I Alone Have Escaped to Tell You) makes the telling statement that even after his beloved wife of 50 years died he went on each day feeling immortal. That captures what it means to be human very well. We expect to continue as ourselves, and this leads us inescapably to ponder whether we have a persistent spiritual identity capable of transcending our current bodily existence. This in turn opens our minds to a spiritual world, and to the possibility of a God who is the very ground of our being. As the expression goes, nature abhors a vacuum. If we instinctively expect continuation, yearn for continuation, and seek continuation, then this is reason enough to presume that we will continue, and to examine carefully the question of whether in fact what our instincts tell us is so, and how this can be.

Our Perception of the World

Another profitable line of thought which is very near to us arises from our normal reactions to the world around us. There are at least two questions concerning our experience of the world which strike most of us fairly forcefully in a rather philosophical way. The first is the question of where it all came from. Ultimately, the human mind is not satisfied with the idea that the universe is eternal (which is far harder to believe than that an eternal God created it, given that everything we know about the material world suggests that it is contingent). Nor are we satisfied with the idea that the universe “just happened”, a concept which makes no logical sense to anyone who can think his way out of a paper bag.

It is not even too much to say, I think, that the human mind tends to be unsatisfied with the notion that the world could have evolved randomly from some primordial chemicals without any teleology (or tendency toward an end) having been built into it from the beginning. On the one hand, pure atheistic evolutionism simply pushes the God question beneath a few more layers of cosmic dust. On the other, the imagination has to stretch farther to see the plausibility of atheistic evolutionary theory than it does to see the plausibility of an uncaused Cause. We don’t claim to be able to encompass the Cause in our minds; but logic drives us to assume Its existence. Thus the questions “Where did this come from?” and “How was it designed?” set both the human mind and the human heart to work.

The other obvious question is why, in such a highly ordered universe, so many things are out of sync. How is it that the law of the jungle rules the beasts, that natural disasters occur, that men mistreat each other, that we lack so much in equality, justice and peace? No sooner does our experience of reality enable us to see how things are supposed to work than it shows us the proverbial sticky wicket. It is almost as if something that began flawlessly has somehow been broken, but we don’t see how. In Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton explains that the doctrine of Original Sin fit his experience of reality perfectly, and Blessed John Henry Newman saw things exactly the same way. We anticipate in this Christian doctrine the answer to the question, but the question itself should at least prompt us to seek an answer.

Our Sense of Justice

In An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent, Newman also offered a third line of thought, a highly developed argument based on the personal conscience (see Newman’s Final Argument). It is a universal experience, Newman rightly states, that we instinctively apprehend a difference between right and wrong; we also apprehend that we are under an obligation to do what is right, and we sense strongly that we will be subject to some sort of judgment on this score. Very few indeed are those who have never entertained such thoughts, or who manage to keep them at bay so continually as to forget them altogether.

At the same time, we cannot escape the observation that what is right is very frequently ignored, and that justice in this world is so imperfect as often to be laughable. Too often justice is a standard to which men are more likely to hold others than themselves, yet it remains a standard all the same, and people very typically look forward to a harmonious day when perfect justice will be achieved. Some, it is true, have sought this perfect justice through utopian schemes, and have ended by attempting (unjustly!) to effect it by force. But many, many more have thought it likely that the imbalances of this life would be redressed in another life. If we find ourselves with an outraged sense of justice then, and if nature really does abhor a vacuum, we must be made for a time and place when justice will be done.

Now a sense of right and wrong presumes some sort of law, which in turn presumes a lawgiver; and a judgment rather obviously demands a judge. This realization actually suggests two parallel lines of thought. First, it reinforces the idea that there must exist a God who somehow represents the Good and cares enough to punish those who violate it. Second, it leads us to a near-certainty that such a Judge would certainly wish to reveal Himself so that we should know clearly what He approves and what He abhors. In other words, the argument from conscience points directly at Revelation. It leads us naturally to inquire whether such a revelation has, in fact, been made.

The Christ

Though destined for universal acceptance, Christ entered the world at a particular time in history; His person, His preaching, and His works impress themselves upon the minds of men now at one time and now at another. It cannot be said that every human person, in his lifetime here on earth, will have heard about Jesus Christ. For many, indeed, He would be the end of a sincere search for revelation, if they could but know Him. But not all have known Him; not all, through ordinary human means at least, can know Him.

Nonetheless, a great many have now heard of Him, or have the opportunity of hearing of Him if they are in fact sincerely searching for God and His Revelation—as their consciences and personal reflections naturally lead them to do. For it is again a universal experience of the human mind (unless a man is in proud rebellion or has been carefully taught to the contrary) that one would expect to find a revelation from God precisely in that realm of activity which deals with God most directly, namely religion. And so one who has not already found this revelation ought to be spending some reasonable amount of time and energy in examing the different religions on offer throughout the world.

Now in thus canvassing the various religions, great and small, which vie for our allegiance, it becomes evident that very few claim to be based on a divine revelation, as opposed to the mere insights of their founders. And of those which claim a divine revelation, even fewer (exactly two, Judaism and Christianity) claim to be based on a revelation which was objectively validated by wonders that God alone could perform. Of these two, one claims to be the fulfillment of the other, and its founder is said to have risen from the dead—a claim as arresting as it is unique, and a claim also supported by a considerable historical testimony. My point is simply this: Someone who sincerely seeks answers, and who has heard the claims made on behalf of Jesus Christ, truly owes it to himself to take a closer look.

The Big Picture

The larger issue here is that too often atheists and agnostics dismiss believers by arguing that the claims of religion cannot be proven absolutely, such that on rational grounds doubt becomes impossible. That is true, but it puts the shoe on the wrong foot, as if the unbeliever has no call to look into the matter unless someone first convinces him of a particular religious position. To the contrary, any person who reflects on himself, on the world around him, on the moral order, and even on what he has heard of the claims of Christianity ought to be very serious about exploring and answering the God question. He certainly ought not to seek to ignore it, to isolate himself from its influence, or to heap scorn on those who do not give up so easily. Inquiring minds—which are the very best minds and the only responsible minds—really do want to know.

END OF POST

The Virgin Mary came from heaven to remind us of Gospel truths

From “Ireland’s Biggest FREE Newspaper” ALIVE!

Again and again on his recent trip to Portugal Pope Benedict tried to waken up Catholics to God’s call to them to proclaim Christian hope in today’s secularist world. And to not be afraid of criticism or ridicule.

“The faith,” he said, “needs to come alive in each one of us. A vast effort at every level is required if every Christian is to be transformed into a witness capable of giving an account to all of the hope that inspires him.”

Benedict remarked that “the Virgin Mary came from heaven to remind us of Gospel truths that are the source of hope for a humanity so lacking in love and without hope for salvation.”

And he described Fatima as being “like a window of hope that God opens when man closes the door to him.”

Speaking to artists Benedict explained that the Church’s “key mission in today’s culture is to keep alive the search for truth, and thus for God; to bring people to look beyond penultimate realities and to seek those that are ultimate.”

It is sometimes assumed that Benedict accepts the idea of a smaller Church with a strong identity. “But he made it clear in Portugal that ‘pruning back’ is not his strategic goal,” said one reporter.

Rather, the Holy Father encouraged young people to bear witness to all their contemporaries to the joy that Christ’s strong, gentle presence evokes.

“Tell them that it is beautiful to be a friend of Jesus and that it is well worth following him,” he said.

“Show, with your enthusiasm, that, among all the different ways of life which the world offers us, the only way in which we find the true meaning of life and hence true and lasting joy, is by following Jesus.”

The Pope noted that the Church “has some quarrelsome and even rebellious sons and daughters,” but it is in the saints that she recognises “her most characteristic features, it is in them that she tastes her deepest joy.”

Benedict was in Portugal for the 10th anniversary of the beatification of the two youngest visionaries, Francesco Marto (aged 10 when he died in 1919) and his sister Jacinta (aged 9 when she died in 1920).

He was concerned that individuals and agencies could go on thinking they were Catholic when, in fact they had lost the faith and their very identity.

Catholic agencies need to make sure they protect their Catholic identity and keep “a proper synthesis of spiritual life and apostolic activity,” said the Pope.

“Pressure from today’s culture, which constantly holds up a lifestyle based on the law of the stronger, on easy and attractive gain, ends up influencing our ways of thinking, our projects and the goals of our service,” he cautioned.

It also “risks emptying them of the motivation of faith and Christian hope which had originally inspired them,” he told a gathering of Catholic helpers and volunteers.

Benedict has spoken a number of times about the danger of groups losing their Catholic identity, as happened with several groups in Ireland.

The Holy Father is expected to announce shortly that he is creating a special ‘Council for New Evangelisation’ aimed at promoting a stronger missionary outreach in once Christian countries.

Hat Tip/ALIVE!

END OF POST

Fratres Daily Mass Readings: Easter Sunday, Vigil of the Holy Night of Easter 03.22.08

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Reading I
Gn 1:1—2:2 or 1:1, 26-31a

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth,
the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss,
while a mighty wind swept over the waters.

Then God said,
“Let there be light,” and there was light.
God saw how good the light was.
God then separated the light from the darkness.
God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.”
Thus evening came, and morning followed—the first day.

Then God said,
“Let there be a dome in the middle of the waters,
to separate one body of water from the other.”
And so it happened:
God made the dome,
and it separated the water above the dome from the water below it.
God called the dome “the sky.”
Evening came, and morning followed—the second day.

Then God said,
“Let the water under the sky be gathered into a single basin,
so that the dry land may appear.”
And so it happened:
the water under the sky was gathered into its basin,
and the dry land appeared.
God called the dry land “the earth,“
and the basin of the water he called “the sea.”
God saw how good it was.
Then God said,

“Let the earth bring forth vegetation:
every kind of plant that bears seed
and every kind of fruit tree on earth
that bears fruit with its seed in it.”
And so it happened:
the earth brought forth every kind of plant that bears seed
and every kind of fruit tree on earth
that bears fruit with its seed in it.
God saw how good it was.
Evening came, and morning followed—the third day.

Then God said:
“Let there be lights in the dome of the sky,
to separate day from night.
Let them mark the fixed times, the days and the years,
and serve as luminaries in the dome of the sky,
to shed light upon the earth.”
And so it happened:
God made the two great lights,
the greater one to govern the day,
and the lesser one to govern the night;
and he made the stars.
God set them in the dome of the sky,
to shed light upon the earth,
to govern the day and the night,
and to separate the light from the darkness.
God saw how good it was.
Evening came, and morning followed—the fourth day.

Then God said,
“Let the water teem with an abundance of living creatures,
and on the earth let birds fly beneath the dome of the sky.”
And so it happened:
God created the great sea monsters
and all kinds of swimming creatures with which the water teems,
and all kinds of winged birds.
God saw how good it was, and God blessed them, saying,
“Be fertile, multiply, and fill the water of the seas;
and let the birds multiply on the earth.”
Evening came, and morning followed—the fifth day.

Then God said,
“Let the earth bring forth all kinds of living creatures:
cattle, creeping things, and wild animals of all kinds.”
And so it happened:
God made all kinds of wild animals, all kinds of cattle,
and all kinds of creeping things of the earth.
God saw how good it was.
Then God said:
“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.

Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea,
the birds of the air, and the cattle,
and over all the wild animals
and all the creatures that crawl on the ground.”
God created man in his image;
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them, saying:
“Be fertile and multiply;
fill the earth and subdue it.
Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air,
and all the living things that move on the earth.”
God also said:
“See, I give you every seed-bearing plant all over the earth
and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food;
and to all the animals of the land, all the birds of the air,
and all the living creatures that crawl on the ground,
I give all the green plants for food.”
And so it happened.
God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.
Evening came, and morning followed—the sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the earth and all their array were completed.
Since on the seventh day God was finished
with the work he had been doing,
he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken.

or

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth,
God said: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.
Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea,
the birds of the air, and the cattle,
and over all the wild animals
and all the creatures that crawl on the ground.”
God created man in his image;
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them, saying:
“Be fertile and multiply;
fill the earth and subdue it.
Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air,
and all the living things that move on the earth.”
God also said:
“See, I give you every seed-bearing plant all over the earth
and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit on it to be your food;
and to all the animals of the land, all the birds of the air,
and all the living creatures that crawl on the ground,
I give all the green plants for food.”
And so it happened.
God looked at everything he had made, and found it very
good.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 104:1-2, 5-6, 10, 12, 13-14, 24, 35

R. (30) Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.
Bless the LORD, O my soul!
O LORD, my God, you are great indeed!
You are clothed with majesty and glory,
robed in light as with a cloak.
R. Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.
You fixed the earth upon its foundation,
not to be moved forever;
with the ocean, as with a garment, you covered it;
above the mountains the waters stood.
R. Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.
You send forth springs into the watercourses
that wind among the mountains.
Beside them the birds of heaven dwell;
from among the branches they send forth their song.
R. Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.
You water the mountains from your palace;
the earth is replete with the fruit of your works.
You raise grass for the cattle,
and vegetation for man’s use,
Producing bread from the earth.
R. Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.
How manifold are your works, O LORD!
In wisdom you have wrought them all—
the earth is full of your creatures.
Bless the LORD, O my soul! Alleluia.
R. Lord, send out your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.

or

Ps 33:4-5, 6-7, 12-13, 20 and 22

R. (5b) The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.
Upright is the word of the LORD,
and all his works are trustworthy.
He loves justice and right;
of the kindness of the LORD the earth is full.
R. The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.
By the word of the LORD the heavens were made;
by the breath of his mouth all their host.
He gathers the waters of the sea as in a flask;
in cellars he confines the deep.
R. The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.
Blessed the nation whose God is the LORD,
the people he has chosen for his own inheritance.
From heaven the LORD looks down;
he sees all mankind. R. The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.
Our soul waits for the LORD,
who is our help and our shield.
May your kindness, O LORD, be upon us
who have put our hope in you.
R. The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.

Reading II
Gn 22:1-18 or 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18

God put Abraham to the test.
He called to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am, “ he replied.
Then God said:
“Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love,
and go to the land of Moriah.
There you shall offer him up as a holocaust
on a height that I will point out to you.”
Early the next morning Abraham saddled his donkey,
took with him his son Isaac and two of his servants as well,
and with the wood that he had cut for the holocaust,
set out for the place of which God had told him.

On the third day Abraham got sight of the place from afar.
Then he said to his servants:
“Both of you stay here with the donkey,
while the boy and I go on over yonder.
We will worship and then come back to you.”
Thereupon Abraham took the wood for the holocaust
and laid it on his son Isaac’s shoulders,
while he himself carried the fire and the knife.
As the two walked on together, Isaac spoke to his father Abraham:
“Father!” Isaac said.
“Yes, son, “ he replied.
Isaac continued, “Here are the fire and the wood,
but where is the sheep for the holocaust?”
“Son,” Abraham answered,
“God himself will provide the sheep for the holocaust.”
Then the two continued going forward.

When they came to the place of which God had told him,
Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it.
Next he tied up his son Isaac,
and put him on top of the wood on the altar.
Then he reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son.
But the LORD’s messenger called to him from heaven,
“Abraham, Abraham!”
“Here I am!” he answered.
“Do not lay your hand on the boy,” said the messenger.
“Do not do the least thing to him.
I know now how devoted you are to God,
since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.”
As Abraham looked about,
he spied a ram caught by its horns in the thicket.
So he went and took the ram
and offered it up as a holocaust in place of his son.
Abraham named the site Yahweh-yireh;
hence people now say, (On the mountain the LORD will see.”

Again the LORD’s messenger called to Abraham from heaven and said:
“I swear by myself, declares the LORD,
that because you acted as you did
in not withholding from me your beloved son,
I will bless you abundantly
and make your descendants as countless
as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore;
your descendants shall take possession
of the gates of their enemies,
and in your descendants all the nations of the earth shall find blessing
all this because you obeyed my command.”

or

God put Abraham to the test.
He called to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am, “ he replied.
Then God said:
“Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love,
and go to the land of Moriah.
There you shall offer him up as a holocaust
on a height that I will point out to you.”

When they came to the place of which God had told him,
Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it.
Then he reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son.
But the LORD’s messenger called to him from heaven,
“Abraham, Abraham!”
“Here I am, “ he answered.
“Do not lay your hand on the boy,“ said the messenger.
“Do not do the least thing to him.
I know now how devoted you are to God,
since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.”
As Abraham looked about,
he spied a ram caught by its horns in the thicket.
So he went and took the ram
and offered it up as a holocaust in place of his son.

Again the LORD’s messenger called to Abraham from heaven and said:
“I swear by myself, declares the LORD,

that because you acted as you did
in not withholding from me your beloved son,
I will bless you abundantly
and make your descendants as countless
as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore;
your descendants shall take possession
of the gates of their enemies,
and in your descendants all the nations of the earth shall find blessing
all this because you obeyed my command.”

Responsorial Psalm
16:5, 8, 9-10, 11

R. (1) You are my inheritance, O Lord.
O LORD, my allotted portion and my cup,
you it is who hold fast my lot.
I set the LORD ever before me;
R. You are my inheritance, O Lord.
Therefore my heart is glad and my soul rejoices,
my body, too, abides in confidence;
because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld,
nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption.
R. You are my inheritance, O Lord.
You will show me the path to life,
fullness of joys in your presence,
the delights at your right hand forever.
R. You are my inheritance, O Lord.

Reading III
Ex 14:15—15:1

The LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me?
Tell the Israelites to go forward.
And you, lift up your staff and, with hand outstretched over the sea,
split the sea in two,
that the Israelites may pass through it on dry land.
But I will make the Egyptians so obstinate
that they will go in after them.
Then I will receive glory through Pharaoh and all his army,
his chariots and charioteers.
The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD,
when I receive glory through Pharaoh
and his chariots and charioteers.”

The angel of God, who had been leading Israel’s camp,
now moved and went around behind them.
The column of cloud also, leaving the front,
took up its place behind them,
so that it came between the camp of the Egyptians
and that of Israel.
But the cloud now became dark, and thus the night passed
without the rival camps coming any closer together
all night long.
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea,
and the LORD swept the sea
with a strong east wind throughout the night
and so turned it into dry land.
When the water was thus divided,
the Israelites marched into the midst of the sea on dry land,
with the water like a wall to their right and to their left.

The Egyptians followed in pursuit;
all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and charioteers went after them
right into the midst of the sea.
In the night watch just before dawn
the LORD cast through the column of the fiery cloud
upon the Egyptian force a glance that threw it into a panic;
and he so clogged their chariot wheels
that they could hardly drive.
With that the Egyptians sounded the retreat before Israel,
because the LORD was fighting for them against the Egyptians.

Then the LORD told Moses, (Stretch out your hand over the sea,
that the water may flow back upon the Egyptians,
upon their chariots and their charioteers.”
So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea,
and at dawn the sea flowed back to its normal depth.
The Egyptians were fleeing head on toward the sea,
when the LORD hurled them into its midst.
As the water flowed back,
it covered the chariots and the charioteers of Pharaoh’s whole army
which had followed the Israelites into the sea.
Not a single one of them escaped.
But the Israelites had marched on dry land

through the midst of the sea,
with the water like a wall to their right and to their left.
Thus the LORD saved Israel on that day
from the power of the Egyptians.
When Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the seashore
and beheld the great power that the LORD
had shown against the Egyptians,
they feared the LORD and believed in him and in his servant Moses.

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD:
I will sing to the LORD, for he is gloriously triumphant;
horse and chariot he has cast into the sea.

Responsorial Psalm
Ex 15:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 17-18 

R. (1b) Let us sing to the Lord; he has covered himself in glory.
I will sing to the LORD, for he is gloriously triumphant;
horse and chariot he has cast into the sea.
My strength and my courage is the LORD,
and he has been my savior.
He is my God, I praise him;
the God of my father, I extol him.
R. Let us sing to the Lord; he has covered himself in glory.
The LORD is a warrior,
LORD is his name!
Pharaoh’s chariots and army he hurled into the sea;
the elite of his officers were submerged in the Red Sea.
R. Let us sing to the Lord; he has covered himself in glory.
The flood waters covered them,
they sank into the depths like a stone.
Your right hand, O LORD, magnificent in power,
R. Let us sing to the Lord; he has covered himself in glory.
You brought in the people you redeemed
and planted them on the mountain of your inheritance
the place where you made your seat, O LORD,
the sanctuary, LORD, which your hands established.
The LORD shall reign forever and ever.
R. Let us sing to the Lord; he has covered himself in glory.

Reading IV
Is 54:5-14

The One who has become your husband is your Maker;
his name is the LORD of hosts;
your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel,
called God of all the earth.
The LORD calls you back,
like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit,
a wife married in youth and then cast off,
says your God.
For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with great tenderness I will take you back.
In an outburst of wrath, for a moment
I hid my face from you;
but with enduring love I take pity on you,
says the LORD, your redeemer.
This is for me like the days of Noah,
when I swore that the waters of Noah
should never again deluge the earth;
so I have sworn not to be angry with you,
or to rebuke you.
Though the mountains leave their place
and the hills be shaken,
my love shall never leave you
nor my covenant of peace be shaken,
says the LORD, who has mercy on you.
O afflicted one, storm-battered and unconsoled,
I lay your pavements in carnelians,
and your foundations in sapphires;
I will make your battlements of rubies,
your gates of carbuncles,
and all your walls of precious stones.
All your children shall be taught by the LORD,
and great shall be the peace of your children.
In justice shall you be established,
far from the fear of oppression,
where destruction cannot come near you.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11-12, 13

R. (2a) I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.
I will extol you, O LORD, for you drew me clear
and did not let my enemies rejoice over me.
O LORD, you brought me up from the netherworld;
you preserved me from among those going down into the pit.
R. I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.
Sing praise to the LORD, you his faithful ones,
and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger lasts but a moment;
a lifetime, his good will.
At nightfall, weeping enters in,
but with the dawn, rejoicing.
R. I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.
Hear, O LORD, and have pity on me;
O LORD, be my helper.
You changed my mourning into dancing;
O LORD, my God, forever will I give you thanks.
R. I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.

Reading V
Is 55:1-11

Thus says the LORD:
All you who are thirsty,
come to the water!
You who have no money,
come, receive grain and eat;
come, without paying and without cost,
drink wine and milk!
Why spend your money for what is not bread,
your wages for what fails to satisfy?
Heed me, and you shall eat well,
you shall delight in rich fare.
Come to me heedfully,
listen, that you may have life.
I will renew with you the everlasting covenant,
the benefits assured to David.
As I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander of nations,
so shall you summon a nation you knew not,
and nations that knew you not shall run to you,
because of the LORD, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, who has glorified you.

Seek the LORD while he may be found,
call him while he is near.
Let the scoundrel forsake his way,
and the wicked man his thoughts;
let him turn to the LORD for mercy;
to our God, who is generous in forgiving.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
As high as the heavens are above the earth,
so high are my ways above your ways
and my thoughts above your thoughts.

For just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down
and do not return there
till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats,
so shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
my word shall not return to me void,
but shall do my will,
achieving the end for which I sent it.

Responsorial Psalm
Is 12:2-3, 4, 5-6

R. (3) You will draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation.
God indeed is my savior;
I am confident and unafraid.
My strength and my courage is the LORD,
and he has been my savior.
With joy you will draw water
at the fountain of salvation.
R. You will draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation.
Give thanks to the LORD, acclaim his name;
among the nations make known his deeds,
proclaim how exalted is his name.
R. You will draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation.
Sing praise to the LORD for his glorious achievement;
let this be known throughout all the earth.
Shout with exultation, O city of Zion,
for great in your midst
is the Holy One of Israel!
R. You will draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation.

Reading VI
Bar 3:9-15, 32(4:4

Hear, O Israel, the commandments of life:
listen, and know prudence!
How is it, Israel,
that you are in the land of your foes,
grown old in a foreign land,
defiled with the dead,
accounted with those destined for the netherworld?
You have forsaken the fountain of wisdom!
Had you walked in the way of God,
you would have dwelt in enduring peace.
Learn where prudence is,
where strength, where understanding;
that you may know also
where are length of days, and life,
where light of the eyes, and peace.
Who has found the place of wisdom,
who has entered into her treasuries?

The One who knows all things knows her;
he has probed her by his knowledge
The One who established the earth for all time,
and filled it with four-footed beasts;
he who dismisses the light, and it departs,
calls it, and it obeys him trembling;
before whom the stars at their posts
shine and rejoice;
when he calls them, they answer, “Here we are!”
shining with joy for their Maker.
Such is our God;
no other is to be compared to him:

He has traced out the whole way of understanding,
and has given her to Jacob, his servant,
to Israel, his beloved son.

Since then she has appeared on earth,
and moved among people.
She is the book of the precepts of God,
the law that endures forever;
all who cling to her will live,
but those will die who forsake her.
Turn, O Jacob, and receive her:
walk by her light toward splendor.
Give not your glory to another,
your privileges to an alien race.
Blessed are we, O Israel;
for what pleases God is known to us!

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 11

R. (John 6:68c) Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.
The law of the LORD is perfect,
refreshing the soul;
the decree of the LORD is trustworthy,
giving wisdom to the simple.
R. Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.
The precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the command of the LORD is clear,
enlightening the eye.
R. Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.
The fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever;
the ordinances of the LORD are true,
all of them just.
R. Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.
They are more precious than gold,
than a heap of purest gold;
sweeter also than syrup
or honey from the comb.
R. Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.

Reading VII
Ez 36:16-17a, 18-28

The word of the LORD came to me, saying:
Son of man, when the house of Israel lived in their land,
they defiled it by their conduct and deeds.
Therefore I poured out my fury upon them
because of the blood that they poured out on the ground,
and because they defiled it with idols.
I scattered them among the nations,
dispersing them over foreign lands;
according to their conduct and deeds I judged them.
But when they came among the nations wherever they came,
they served to profane my holy name,
because it was said of them: “These are the people of the LORD,
yet they had to leave their land.”
So I have relented because of my holy name
which the house of Israel profaned
among the nations where they came.
Therefore say to the house of Israel: Thus says the Lord GOD:
Not for your sakes do I act, house of Israel,
but for the sake of my holy name,
which you profaned among the nations to which you came.
I will prove the holiness of my great name, profaned among the nations,
in whose midst you have profaned it.
Thus the nations shall know that I am the LORD, says the Lord GOD,
when in their sight I prove my holiness through you.
For I will take you away from among the nations,
gather you from all the foreign lands,
and bring you back to your own land.
I will sprinkle clean water upon you
to cleanse you from all your impurities,
and from all your idols I will cleanse you.
I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you,
taking from your bodies your stony hearts
and giving you natural hearts.
I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes,
careful to observe my decrees.
You shall live in the land I gave your fathers;
you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

Responsorial Psalm
When baptism is celebrated.
Ps 42:3, 5; 43:3, 4

R. (42:2) Like a deer that longs for running streams, my soul longs for you, my God.
Athirst is my soul for God, the living God.
When shall I go and behold the face of God?
R. Like a deer that longs for running streams, my soul longs for you, my God.
I went with the throng
and led them in procession to the house of God,
Amid loud cries of joy and thanksgiving,
with the multitude keeping festival.
R. Like a deer that longs for running streams, my soul longs for you, my God.
Send forth your light and your fidelity;
they shall lead me on
And bring me to your holy mountain,
to your dwelling-place.
R. Like a deer that longs for running streams, my soul longs for you, my God.
Then will I go in to the altar of God,
the God of my gladness and joy;
then will I give you thanks upon the harp,
O God, my God!
R. Like a deer that longs for running streams, my soul longs for you, my God.

When baptism is not celebrated.
Is 12:2-3, 4bcd, 5-6

R. (3) You will draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation.
God indeed is my savior;
I am confident and unafraid.
My strength and my courage is the LORD,
and he has been my savior.
With joy you will draw water
at the fountain of salvation.
R. You will draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation.
Give thanks to the LORD, acclaim his name;
among the nations make known his deeds,
proclaim how exalted is his name.
R. You will draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation.
Sing praise to the LORD for his glorious achievement;
let this be known throughout all the earth.
Shout with exultation, O city of Zion,
for great in your midst
is the Holy One of Israel!
R. You will draw water joyfully from the springs of salvation.

When baptism is not celebrated
Ps 51:12-13, 14-15, 18-19

R. (12a) Create a clean heart in me, O God.
A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me.
R. Create a clean heart in me, O God.
Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.
I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners shall return to you.
R. Create a clean heart in me, O God.
For you are not pleased with sacrifices;
should I offer a holocaust, you would not accept it.
My sacrifice, O God, is a contrite spirit;
a heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.
R. Create a clean heart in me, O God.

Epistle
Rom 6:3-11

Brothers and sisters:
Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?

We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death,
so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead
by the glory of the Father,
we too might live in newness of life.

For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his,
we shall also be united with him in the resurrection.
We know that our old self was crucified with him,
so that our sinful body might be done away with,
that we might no longer be in slavery to sin.
For a dead person has been absolved from sin.
If, then, we have died with Christ,
we believe that we shall also live with him.
We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more;
death no longer has power over him.
As to his death, he died to sin once and for all;
as to his life, he lives for God.
Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as being dead to sin
and living for God in Christ Jesus.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23

R. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his mercy endures forever.
Let the house of Israel say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
R. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
The right hand of the LORD has struck with power;
the right hand of the LORD is exalted. I shall not die, but live,
and declare the works of the LORD.
R. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
By the LORD has this been done;
it is wonderful in our eyes.
R. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel
Mt 28:1-10

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning,
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.
And behold, there was a great earthquake;
for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven,
approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it.
His appearance was like lightning
and his clothing was white as snow.
The guards were shaken with fear of him
and became like dead men.
Then the angel said to the women in reply,
“Do not be afraid!
I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified.
He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said.
Come and see the place where he lay.
Then go quickly and tell his disciples,
‘He has been raised from the dead,
and he is going before you to Galilee;
there you will see him.’
Behold, I have told you.”
Then they went away quickly from the tomb,
fearful yet overjoyed,
and ran to announce this to his disciples.
And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them.
They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage.
Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid.
Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee,
and there they will see me.”

The Gospel of the Lord.

Who Can Be Saved? by Avery Cardinal Dulles

by Avery Cardinal Dulles

Nothing is more striking in the New Testament than the confidence with which it proclaims the saving power of belief in Christ. Almost every page confronts us with a decision of eternal consequence: Will we follow Christ or the rulers of this world? The gospel is, according to Paul, “the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith” (Rom. 1:16). The apostles and their associates are convinced that in Jesus they have encountered the Lord of Life and that he has brought them into the way that leads to everlasting blessedness. By personal faith in him and by baptism in his name, Christians have passed from darkness to light, from error to truth, and from sin to holiness.

Paul is the outstanding herald of salvation through faith. To the Romans he writes, “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). Faith, for him, is inseparable from baptism, the sacrament of faith. By baptism, the Christian is immersed in the death of Christ so as to be raised with him to newness of life (Rom. 6:3-4).

The Book of Acts shows the apostles preaching faith in Christ as the way to salvation. Those who believe the testimony of Peter on the first Pentecost ask him what they must do to be saved. He replies that they must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and thereby save themselves from the present crooked generation (Acts 2:37-40). When Peter and John are asked by the Jewish religious authorities by what authority they are preaching and performing miracles, they reply that they are acting in the name of Jesus Christ and that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Paul and his associates bring the gospel first of all to the Jews because it is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises. When the Jews in large numbers reject the message, Paul and Barnabas announce that they are turning to the Gentiles in order to bring salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 13:46-47).

A few chapters later in Acts, we see Paul and Silas in prison at Philippi. When their jailer asks them, “What must I do to be saved?” they reply, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.” The jailer and his family at once accept baptism and rejoice in their newfound faith (Acts 16:30-34).

The same doctrine of salvation permeates the other books of the New Testament. Mark’s gospel ends with this missionary charge: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole of creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16).

John in his gospel speaks no less clearly. Jesus at one point declares that those who hear his word and believe in him do not remain in darkness, whereas those who reject him will be judged on the last day (John 12:44-50). At the Last Supper, Jesus tells the Twelve, “This is eternal life, that they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). John concludes the body of his gospel with the statement that he has written his account “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ and that believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

From these and many other texts, I draw the conclusion that, according to the primary Christian documents, salvation comes through personal faith in Jesus Christ, followed and signified by sacramental baptism.

The New Testament is almost silent about the eternal fate of those to whom the gospel has not been preached. It seems apparent that those who became believers did not think they had been on the road to salvation before they heard the gospel. In his sermon at Athens, Paul says that in times past God overlooked the ignorance of the pagans, but he does not say that these pagans were saved. In the first chapter of Romans, Paul says that the Gentiles have come to a knowledge of God by reasoning from the created world, but that they are guilty because by their wickedness they have suppressed the truth and fallen into idolatry. In the second chapter of Romans, Paul indicates that Gentiles who are obedient to the biddings of conscience can be excused for their unbelief, but he indicates that they fall into many sins. He concludes that “all have sinned and fall short” of true righteousness (Rom. 3:23). For justification, Paul asserts, both Jews and Gentiles must rely on faith in Jesus Christ, who expiated the sins of the world on the cross.

Animated by vibrant faith in Christ the Savior, the Christian Church was able to conquer the Roman Empire. The converts were convinced that in embracing Christianity they were escaping from the darkness of sin and superstition and entering into the realm of salvation. For them, Christianity was the true religion, the faith that saves. It would not have occurred to them that any other faith could save them.

Christian theologians, however, soon had to face the question whether anyone could be saved without Christian faith. They did not give a wholly negative answer. They agreed that the patriarchs and prophets of Israel, because they looked forward in faith and hope to the Savior, could be saved by adhering in advance to him who was to come.

The apologists of the second and third centuries made similar concessions with regard to certain Greek philosophers. The prologue to John’s gospel taught that the eternal Word enlightens all men who come into the world. Justin Martyr speculated that philosophers such as Socrates and Heraclitus had lived according to the Word of God, the Logos who was to become incarnate in Christ, and they could therefore be reckoned as being in some way Christians. Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen held that the Wisdom of God gave graces to people of every generation, both Greeks and barbarians.

The saving grace of which these theologians were speaking, however, was given only to pagans who lived before the time of Christ. It was given by the Word of God who was to become incarnate in Jesus Christ. There was no doctrine that pagans could be saved since the promulgation of the gospel without embracing the Christian faith.

Origen and Cyprian, in the third century, formulated the maxim that has come down to us in the words Extra ecclesiam nulla salus—”Outside the Church, no salvation.” They spoke these words with heretics and schismatics primarily in view, but they do not appear to have been any more optimistic about the prospects of salvation for pagans. Assuming that the gospel had been promulgated everywhere, writers of the high patristic age considered that, in the Christian era, Christians alone could be saved. In the East, this view is represented by Gregory of Nyssa and John Chrysostom. The view attributed to Origen that hell would in the end be evacuated and that all the damned would eventually be saved was condemned in the sixth century.

In the West, following Ambrose and others, Augustine taught that, because faith comes by hearing, those who had never heard the gospel would be denied salvation. They would be eternally punished for original sin as well as for any personal sins they had committed. Augustine’s disciple Fulgentius of Ruspe exhorted his readers to “firmly hold and by no means doubt that not only all pagans, but also all Jews, and all heretics and schismatics who are outside the Catholic Church, will go to the eternal fire that was prepared for the devil and his angels.”

The views of Augustine and Fulgentius remained dominant in the Christian West throughout the Middle Ages. The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) reaffirmed the formula “Outside the Church, no salvation,” as did Pope Boniface VIII in 1302. At the end of the Middle Ages, the Council of Florence (1442) repeated the formulation of Fulgentius to the effect that no pagan, Jew, schismatic, or heretic could be saved.

On one point the medieval theologians diverged from rigid Augustinianism. On the basis of certain passages in the New Testament, they held that God seriously wills that all may be saved. They could cite the statement of Peter before the household of Cornelius: “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35). The First Letter to Timothy, moreover, declares that God “desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). These assurances made for a certain tension in Catholic teaching on salvation. If faith in Christ was necessary for salvation, how could salvation be within reach of those who had no opportunity to learn about Christ?

Thomas Aquinas, in dealing with this problem, took his departure from the axiom that there was no salvation outside the Church. To be inside the Church, he held, it was not enough to have faith in the existence of God and in divine providence, which would have sufficed before the coming of Christ. God now required explicit faith in the mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation. In two of his early works ( De Veritate and Commentary on Romans), he discusses the hypothetical case of a man brought up in the wilderness, where the gospel was totally unknown. If this man lived an upright life with the help of the graces given him, Thomas reasoned, God would make it possible for him to become a Christian believer, either through an inner illumination or by sending a missionary to him. Thomas referred to the biblical example of the centurion Cornelius, who received the visitation of an angel before being evangelized and baptized by Peter (Acts 10). In his Summa Theologiae, however, Thomas omits any reference to miraculous instruction; he goes back to the Augustinian theory that those who had never heard the gospel would be eternally punished for original sin as well as their personal sins.

A major theological development occurred in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The voyages of discovery had by this time disclosed that there were large populations in North and South America, Africa, and Asia who had lived since the time of Christ and had never had access to the preaching of the gospel. The missionaries found no sign that even the most upright among these peoples had learned the mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation by interior inspirations or angelic visitations.

Luther, Calvin, and the Jansenists professed the strict Augustinian doctrine that God did not will to save everyone, but the majority of Catholic theologians rejected the idea that God had consigned all these unevangelized persons to hell without giving them any possibility of salvation. A series of theologians proposed more hopeful theories that they took to be compatible with Scripture and Catholic tradition.

The Dominican Melchior Cano argued that these populations were in a situation no different from that of the pre-Christian pagans praised by Justin and others. They could be justified in this life (but not saved in the life to come) by implicit faith in the Christian mysteries. Another Dominican, Domingo de Soto, went further, holding that, for the unevangelized, implicit faith in Christ would be sufficient for salvation itself. Their contemporary, Albert Pighius, held that for these unevangelized persons the only faith required would be that mentioned in Hebrews 11:6: “Without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” They could therefore be saved by general revelation and grace even though no missionary came to evangelize them.

The Jesuit Francisco Suarez, following these pioneers, argued for the sufficiency of implicit faith in the Trinity and the Incarnation, together with an implicit desire for baptism on the part of the unevangelized. Juan de Lugo agreed, but he added that such persons could not be saved if they had committed serious sins, unless they obtained forgiveness by an act of perfect contrition.

In the mid-nineteenth century, the Jesuits of the Gregorian University followed in the tradition of Suarez and de Lugo, with certain modifications. Pope Pius IX incorporated some of their ideas in two important statements in 1854 and 1863. In the first, he said that, while no one can be saved outside the Church, God would not punish people for their ignorance of the true faith if their ignorance was invincible. In the second statement, Pius went further. He declared that persons invincibly ignorant of the Christian religion who observed the natural law and were ready to obey God would be able to attain eternal life, thanks to the workings of divine grace within them. In the same letter, the pope reaffirmed that no one could be saved outside the Catholic Church. He did not explain in what sense such persons were, or would come to be, in the Church. He could have meant that they would receive the further grace needed to join the Church, but nothing in his language suggests this. More probably he thought that such persons would be joined to the Church by implicit desire, as some theologians were teaching by his time.

In 1943, Pius XII did take this further step. In his encyclical on the Mystical Body, Mystici Corporis, he distinguished between two ways of belonging to the Church: in actual fact (in re) or by desire (in voto). Those who belonged in voto, however, were not really members. They were ordered to the Church by the dynamism of grace itself, which related them to the Church in such a way that they were in some sense in it. The two kinds of relationship, however, were not equally conducive to salvation. Those adhering to the Church by desire could not have a sure hope of salvation because they lacked many spiritual gifts and helps available only to those visibly incorporated in the true Church.

Mystici Corporis represents a forward step in its doctrine of adherence to the Church through implicit desire. From an ecumenical point of view, that encyclical is deficient, since it does not distinguish between the status of non-Christians and non-Catholic Christians. The next important document came from the Holy Office in its letter to Cardinal Cushing of Boston in 1949. The letter pointed out—in opposition to Father Leonard Feeney, S.J., and his associates at St. Benedict Center—that, although the Catholic Church was a necessary means for salvation, one could belong to it not only by actual membership but by also desire, even an unconscious desire. If that desire was accompanied by faith and perfect charity, it could lead to eternal salvation.

Neither the encyclical Mystici Corporis nor the letter of the Holy Office specified the nature of the faith required for in voto status. Did the authors mean that the virtue of faith or the inclination to believe would suffice, or did they require actual faith in God and divine providence, or actual faith in the Trinity and the Incarnation?

The Second Vatican Council, in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church and its Decree on Ecumenism, made some significant departures from the teaching of Pius XII. It avoided the term member and said nothing of an unconscious desire for incorporation in the Church. It taught that the Catholic Church was the all-embracing organ of salvation and was equipped with the fullness of means of salvation. Other Christian churches and communities possessed certain elements of sanctification and truth that were, however, derived from the one Church of Christ that subsists in the Catholic Church today. For this reason, God could use them as instruments of salvation. God had, however, made the Catholic Church necessary for salvation, and all who were aware of this had a serious obligation to enter the Church in order to be saved. God uses the Catholic Church not only for the redemption of her own members but also as an instrument for the redemption of all. Her witness and prayers, together with the eucharistic sacrifice, have an efficacy that goes out to the whole world.

In several important texts, Vatican II took up the question of the salvation of non-Christians. Although they were related to the Church in various ways, they were not incorporated in her. God’s universal salvific will, it taught, means that he gives non-Christians, including even atheists, sufficient help to be saved. Whoever sincerely seeks God and, with his grace, follows the dictates of conscience is on the path to salvation. The Holy Spirit, in a manner known only to God, makes it possible for each and every person to be associated with the Paschal mystery. “God, in ways known to himself, can lead those inculpably ignorant of the gospel to that faith without which it is impossible to please him.” The council did not indicate whether it is necessary for salvation to come to explicit Christian faith before death, but the texts give the impression that implicit faith may suffice.

Vatican II left open the question whether non-Christian religions contain revelation and are means that can lead their adherents to salvation. It did say, however, that other religions contain elements of truth and goodness, that they reflect rays of the truth that enlightens all men, and that they can serve as preparations for the gospel. Christian missionary activity serves to heal, ennoble, and perfect the seeds of truth and goodness that God has sown among non-Christian peoples, to the glory of God and the spiritual benefit of those evangelized.

While repeatedly insisting that Christ is the one mediator of salvation, Vatican II shows forth a generally hopeful view of the prospects of non-Christians for salvation. Its hopefulness, however, is not unqualified: “Rather often, men, deceived by the evil one, have become caught up in futile reasoning and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator. Or, some there are who, living and dying in a world without God, are subject to utter hopelessness.” The missionary activity of the Church is urgent for bringing such persons to salvation.

After the council, Paul VI (in his pastoral exhortation “Evangelization in the Modern World”) and John Paul II (in his encyclical Redemptoris Missio) interpreted the teaching of Vatican II in relation to certain problems and theological trends arising since the council. Both popes were on guard against political and liberation theology, which would seem to equate salvation with formation of a just society on earth and against certain styles of religious pluralism, which would attribute independent salvific value to non-Christian religions. In 2000, toward the end of John Paul’s pontificate, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued the declaration Dominus Iesus, which emphatically taught that all grace and salvation must come through Jesus Christ, the one mediator.

Wisely, in my opinion, the popes and councils have avoided talk about implicit faith, a term that is vague and ambiguous. They do speak of persons who are sincerely seeking for the truth and of others who have found it in Christ. They make it clear that sufficient grace is offered to all and that God will not turn away those who do everything within their power to find God and live according to his law. We may count on him to lead such persons to the faith needed for salvation.

One of the most interesting developments in post-conciliar theology has been Karl Rahner’s idea of “anonymous Christians.” He taught that God offers his grace to everyone and reveals himself in the interior offer of grace. Grace, moreover, is always mediated through Christ and tends to bring its recipients into union with him. Those who accept and live by the grace offered to them, even though they have never heard of Christ and the gospel, may be called anonymous Christians.

Although Rahner denied that his theory undermined the importance of missionary activity, it was widely understood as depriving missions of their salvific importance. Some readers of his works understood him as teaching that the unevangelized could possess the whole of Christianity except the name. Saving faith, thus understood, would be a subjective attitude without any specifiable content. In that case, the message of the gospel would have little to do with salvation.

The history of the doctrine of salvation through faith has gone through a number of stages since the High Middle Ages. Using the New Testament as their basic text, the Church Fathers regarded faith in Christ and baptism as essential for salvation. On the basis of his study of the New Testament and Augustine, Thomas Aquinas held that explicit belief in the Trinity and the Incarnation was necessary for everyone who lived since the time of Christ, but he granted that in earlier times it was sufficient to believe explicitly in the existence and providence of God.

In the sixteenth century, theologians speculated that the unevangelized were in the same condition as pre-Christians and were not held to believe explicitly in Christ until the gospel was credibly preached to them. Pius IX and the Second Vatican Council taught that all who followed their conscience, with the help of the grace given to them, would be led to that faith that was necessary for them to be saved. During and after the council, Karl Rahner maintained that saving faith could be had without any definite belief in Christ or even in God.

We seem to have come full circle from the teaching of Paul and the New Testament that belief in the message of Christ is the source of salvation. Reflecting on this development, one can see certain gains and certain losses. The New Testament and the theology of the first millennium give little hope for the salvation of those who, since the time of Christ, have had no chance of hearing the gospel. If God has a serious salvific will for all, this lacuna needed to be filled, as it has been by theological speculation and church teaching since the sixteenth century. Modern theology, preoccupied with the salvation of non-Christians, has tended to neglect the importance of explicit belief in Christ, so strongly emphasized in the first centuries. It should not be impossible, however, to reconcile the two perspectives.

Scripture itself assures us that God has never left himself without a witness to any nation (Acts 14:17). His testimonies are marks of his saving dispensations toward all. The inner testimony of every human conscience bears witness to God as lawgiver, judge, and vindicator. In ancient times, the Jewish Scriptures drew on literature that came from Babylon, Egypt, and Greece. The Book of Wisdom and Paul’s Letter to the Romans speak of God manifesting his power and divinity through his works in nature. The religions generally promote prayer and sacrifice as ways of winning God’s favor. The traditions of all peoples contain elements of truth imbedded in their cultures, myths, and religious practices. These sound elements derive from God, who speaks to all his children through inward testimony and outward signs.

The universal evidences of the divine, under the leading of grace, can give rise to a rudimentary faith that leans forward in hope and expectation to further manifestations of God’s merciful love and of his guidance for our lives. By welcoming the signs already given and placing their hope in God’s redeeming love, persons who have not heard the tidings of the gospel may nevertheless be on the road to salvation. If they are faithful to the grace given them, they may have good hope of receiving the truth and blessedness for which they yearn.

The search, however, is no substitute for finding. To be blessed in this life, one must find the pearl of great price, the treasure hidden in the field, which is worth buying at the cost of everything one possesses. To Christians has been revealed the mystery hidden from past ages, which the patriarchs and prophets longed to know. By entering through baptism into the mystery of the cross and the Resurrection, Christians undergo a radical transformation that sets them unequivocally on the road to salvation. Only after conversion to explicit faith can one join the community that is nourished by the Word of God and the sacraments. These gifts of God, prayerfully received, enable the faithful to grow into ever greater union with Christ.

In Christ’s Church, therefore, we have many aids to salvation and sanctification that are not available elsewhere. Cardinal Newman expressed the situation admirably in one of his early sermons:

The prerogative of Christians consists in the possession, not of exclusive knowledge and spiritual aid, but of gifts high and peculiar; and though the manifestation of the Divine character in the Incarnation is a singular and inestimable benefit, yet its absence is supplied in a degree, not only in the inspired record of Moses, but even, with more or less strength, in those various traditions concerning Divine Providences and Dispositions which are scattered through the heathen mythologies.

We cannot take it for granted that everyone is seeking the truth and is prepared to submit to it when found. Some, perhaps many, resist the grace of God and reject the signs given to them. They are not on the road to salvation at all. In such cases, the fault is not God’s but theirs. The references to future punishment in the gospels cannot be written off as empty threats. As Paul says, God is not mocked (Gal. 6:7).

We may conclude with certitude that God makes it possible for the unevangelized to attain the goal of their searching. How that happens is known to God alone, as Vatican II twice declares. We know only that their search is not in vain. “Seek, and you will find,” says the Lord (Matt. 7:7). If non-Christians are praying to an unknown God, it may be for us to help them find the one they worship in ignorance. God wants everyone to come to the truth. Perhaps some will reach the goal of their searching only at the moment of death. Who knows what transpires secretly in their consciousness at that solemn moment? We have no evidence that death is a moment of revelation, but it could be, especially for those in pursuit of the truth of God.

Meanwhile, it is the responsibility of believers to help these seekers by word and by example. Whoever receives the gift of revealed truth has the obligation to share it with others. Christian faith is normally transmitted by testimony. Believers are called to be God’s witnesses to the ends of the earth.

Who, then, can be saved? Catholics can be saved if they believe the Word of God as taught by the Church and if they obey the commandments. Other Christians can be saved if they submit their lives to Christ and join the community where they think he wills to be found. Jews can be saved if they look forward in hope to the Messiah and try to ascertain whether God’s promise has been fulfilled. Adherents of other religions can be saved if, with the help of grace, they sincerely seek God and strive to do his will. Even atheists can be saved if they worship God under some other name and place their lives at the service of truth and justice. God’s saving grace, channeled through Christ the one Mediator, leaves no one unassisted. But that same grace brings obligations to all who receive it. They must not receive the grace of God in vain. Much will be demanded of those to whom much is given.

Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., holds the Laurence J. McGinley Chair in Religion and Society at Fordham University. This essay is adapted from the Laurence J. McGinley Lecture delivered on November 7, 2007.

The Orate Fratres

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