Thursday, February 07, 2008

Peregrinus "bothered" by my remark about Salvation

In the com-box of the previous post, Peregrinus says:
I am bothered also by this statement of yours: “Does it not rather suggest (as in fact is the case) that all mankind can only be saved a) through knowing Jesus as the Saviour of all mankind and b) by coming into the Church?”.

This is not, with respect, the teaching of the Catholic church. Baptism and faith in Christ is the only way to Salvation that we know of. That is, we cannot offer any other way of salvation. At the same time, “those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation” (Lumen Gentium 18). It is simply not the case the church teaches that Jews – or other non-Christians – can be saved only by developing a Christian faith and being baptised.
As I noted in my repost of the blog, I was writing in haste at the end of the night, and did not have the chance to revise what I had written. I have done so now, and the passage Peregrinus objects to has been revised to read:
Does it not rather suggest (as in fact is the case) that salvation comes to humanity as a whole ("the fullness of mankind") when humanity as a whole a) "know[s] Jesus Christ as the Saviour of all mankind" and b) "enters into [God's] Church".
I am, of course, quite aware of the Lumen Gentium passage and all other relevant passages, as I am aware of the recent interpretations put on this by the trio of CDF documents. I would simply like to suggest that there is, in the new prayer, an authoritative statement of the Church's teaching (lex orandi lex credendi).

The Titus 2:4 passage quoted in the new collect ("who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth") does equate (through parallism) "coming to the knowledge of the truth" and "to be saved". The recent CDF document “Doctrinal Note on some aspects of Evangelisation” notes that:
Although non-Christians can be saved through the grace which God bestows in “ways known to him”, the Church cannot fail to recognize that such persons are lacking a tremendous benefit in this world: to know the true face of God and the friendship of Jesus Christ, God-with-us. (Note p. 7)
It also quotes John 17:3 “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (Note p. 4).

So eternal life--or what we mean by "salvation"--is nothing other than coming to know the true face of God through the one whom he sent as his revelation, Jesus Christ. This knowledge, of course, is far more than simple intellectual knowledge--it is full communion with the Divinity, a full sharing in the life of the Holy Trinity. It is what the Orthodox call "theosis". This knowledge is not simply the path to salvation, it IS salvation. To be saved means to know Jesus Christ, to see the face of God in him. And Christ is present in his Church, which is his body, which is therefore truly the sacrament of salvation, etc.

So yes, if Jews, or Buddhists, or Muslims, or Atheists, or indeed anyone in all humankind is to be saved, it can only be by "knowing" Jesus Christ who is the Saviour. Whether, in this life while still on the path to salvation, that knowledge becomes explicit through baptism and faith in Christ, or whether it remains implicit "in a way known only to God" and through a special grace that flows from Christ, is beside the point. The means of salvation cannot be separated from the telos (the goal) of salvation: it is knowing "the only true God and Jesus Christ whom [he has] sent.

8 Comments:

At Thursday, February 07, 2008 4:59:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

Does it not rather suggest (as in fact is the case) that salvation comes to humanity as a whole ("the fullness of mankind") when humanity as a whole a) "know[s] Jesus Christ as the Saviour of all mankind" and b) "enters into [God's] Church".

I’m still not sure that this is quite there, though. It could be read to suggest that, if enough people come to faith in Jesus Christ and enter the church , then those who don’t can still be saved. I don’t think this is quite right either. It suggests that my salvation may depend on the faith-choices of others.

The way I see it (I think):

1. We are called, individually and as a people, to faith in Jesus Christ and to participation in his church. The call is universal; there is no-one, including the Jews, who is not called. The real and continuing covenant between God and the Jewish people is not inconsistent with this call.

2. The church understands that this call is ideally answered by a full and conscious faith in Jesus Christ as the universal Saviour, and by participation in his church, not only through sacramental (water) baptism, but through Eucharistic communion, leading to its ultimate realisation in theosis.

3. This ideal is not always fully realised (at least in this life).

4. Fortunately for most of us, the church does not teach, and has never taught, that only those who achieve this ideal can attain salvation.

5. What God asks of us is that we should answer his call. How we perceive the call, and how we answer it, is inevitably shaped by our situation, circumstances, experiences, capacity for understanding, etc. Plainly, for example, someone to whom the gospel. has never been explicitly proclaimed can neither develop a conscious faith in Jesus Christ nor seek baptism. Nevertheless, precisely because the call is universal, it is extended to them, and God must provide ways in which they can answer it.

6. The same is true of somebody who has heard of the gospel, but who, in good faith, finds its proclamation unpersuasive or even unattractive – whether because of failings in the way in which they are evangelised, or because of their own culture, upbringing, beliefs, etc, or indeed for other reasons. There are ways open to them too of answering the call of God. Imperfect ways, possibly, but God does not ask that we should be perfect; only that we should aspire to be.

7. The Jews are a particular case here, because the context in which they hear the gospel proclaimed – assuming they hear it proclaimed, which in our time most Jews will, one way or another – is their own real and enduring covenant with God, and their understanding of it. Fidelity to the covenant is inherently good and is plainly an answer to God’s call, and a loving God will receive their desire to be faithful to their covenant, even though at one level it can seem to be an impediment to their reception of the gospel.

We are thus left with quite a nuanced position. – all people are called to faith in Jesus Christ and participation in his church as the means to salvation, but no individual necessarily absolutely needs to have faith in Jesus or to be baptised in order to be saved, and Jews in particular have another way of answering the call to salvation which is peculiar to them and which enjoys a unique validity – the Jewish people really do have a covenant with God.

If that is the church’s position, then obviously the church must hope for the explicit conversion of all, including Jews, as the means to their salvation. The revised Extraordinary Form prayer expresses this hope. What the church should not do is assert that explicit conversion is necessary for the salvation of a Jew. The revised EF prayer does not assert that it is, but it comes perilously close in praying that Israel may be saved “as the fullness of mankind enters into your church”. The revised EF prayer also makes no positive reference to the relationship of the Jewish people with God (in distinction to the OF prayer) and this, I think, magnifies the chances of its being misunderstood.

I don’t wish to overstate the significance of this. I suspect that Jews and Jewish bodies who concern themselves with such matters had hoped that the revised EF prayer would be the OF prayer, or something very like it. This is a reasonable and understandable hope. No doubt they are disappointed that the hope was not realised, but I do not know whether too much should be read into it.

I doubt if even 0.1% of Catholics will attend Good Friday liturgies in the extraordinary form, and – genuinely, no offence intended – most of them will not be focussing on the precise meaning and implication of each prayer recited. The EF liturgies, for most participants, are a more holistic experience. At the level of interreligious dialogue, it is fair to ask (and expect) those who concern themselves with the implications of this prayer to put it in its context of wider Catholic teaching on salvation, on the role of the church, and on relations between Christians and Jews. The fact that this prayercould be interpreted to support an outdated and offensive understanding does not mean that it should be, still less that it will be.

 
At Thursday, February 07, 2008 5:57:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

You and I are still talking about slightly different things, Perry. Whatever the path that one walks to salvation, all salvation is ultimate not only through Jesus, but also (in a sense) to Jesus. When the prayer talks about entering the Church, it is following Rom 11:25 (as Fr Z points out). One could say "enters your kingdom", but remember that the recent CDF document rejected any separation (if, at the same time, not totally confusing) the Kingdom and the Church. The Church is the body of Christ. Everyone comes to God through the Body of Christ (quite literally, through his bodily sacrifice etc.) in some way or other. This is what is meant by salvation through Christ. But the great claim is that this salvation entails the teleotic knowledge of Christ, ie. the fulfillment of salvation is in knowing Christ and knowing the Father through him. This in a sense is why baptism and the Eucharist are eschatological events--it is that encounter which is the telos of salvation in the here and now.

Sorry, all a bit mystical perhaps. But the liturgy is meant to spur us on to these considerations.

 
At Thursday, February 07, 2008 7:21:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

R-i-i-i-ght. [Light slowly begins to dawn.]

So what you are saying is, to be saved is to know Jesus Christ as the universal saviour; to be saved is to participate in the body of Christ, which in turn is to enter the church (even though, as we have seen, this may not involve explcit faith, or formal water baptism).

Okay. I think I need to grapple with reading the prayer in that light, but this does make radical sense.

True, this is not the light in which it is likely to be read by a Jew, even one interested in and committed to interreligious dialogue. But, important and all as they may be, the implications for interreligious dialogue are not the main consideration we bear in mind when composing our liturgy.

 
At Thursday, February 07, 2008 9:43:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Your final statement is right on the money, and I believe that is what Papa Benny thinks of the matter too. There are some who seem to think that it is, however.

 
At Friday, February 08, 2008 12:08:00 am , Blogger Rob said...

I think it is important to remember that we do not need to make our entire Tradition agree with the language in Vatican II.

We need to make the language in Vatican II agree with our entire Tradition.

 
At Friday, February 08, 2008 11:46:00 am , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

The “language in Vatican II” is fixed. The Decrees of the Council have been promulgated, and there is no further opportunity for revision.

But, in any event, I think you are making a false distinction between Vatican II and tradition. Vatican II is an intrinsic part of our tradition – and, at the present time in the church’s history, a very important part. Vatican II therefore does not have to “agree with” tradition, still less to be somehow made to agree with tradition. It [i]is[/i] tradition. But it has to be understood in a coherent way in the context of the broader tradition of which it forms a central part.

The present issue illustrates this. We have two extreme positions: (a) Judaism is, to borrow a perhaps pejorative expression, a “separate but equal” path to salvation; (b) Judaism is redundant, superseded, valueless, even a barrier to salvation. Neither of these, I suggest, is a true representation of authentic Catholic tradition.

But there’s no doubt that, in former times, many people holding views which might now be described as “traditional” held the latter view, or something akin to it, and possibly some still do, and that view is easier to hold if you look [i]just[/i] at the EF prayer, which can be read consistently with it (particularly the old version, but I think the new version as well).

There’s equally no doubt that there are some who might be labeled “progressive” whose position is not a thousand miles from the former view, and that view is easier to hold if you look just at the OF prayer, which can be read consistently with it.

Both of these prayers, in other words, are capable of misinterpretation, one in a “conservative” direction, and the other in a “liberal” direction. But catechesis is not the primary function of liturgy, and it is unreasonable to expect a four-line prayer to set out the pretty nuanced position of the Catholic tradition on the salvific significance of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, this is a central question of our faith; a liturgy which risks intensifying misunderstandings on this point is a problem.

 
At Friday, February 08, 2008 5:11:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Your method of stating the Catholic faith in this regard, Perry, is valuable. You have correctly identified the two extremes, and point out that the Catholic Church rejects both these statements. What the Church has not done is to define exactly what the correct form of any statement with the words "salvation" and "Jews" in the same sentence might be. The two prayers as we now have them, the EF and the OF, are the best we have to date in this regard. Take both of them at the same time and you will have something very close to a statement of what the Church actually does teach about the Jews and Salvation.

 
At Friday, February 08, 2008 10:43:00 pm , Blogger Jeff Tan said...

Earlier I was thinking about Judgment Day as described by the Lord when he shall separate the sheep from the goats. Neither group is entirely clear when they had seen the Lord hungry, thirsty, sick, in prison, and so on. What a remarkable basis for choosing who enters the kingdom. One might suggest that they weren't entirely practicing Christians at all.

Or perhaps it is instead true that they are practicing Christians, practicing the pure religion of love which is Christian in substance. Just not in the conventional sense.

On the other hand, I tend to think that they were the ones that simply got lucky. They're not getting in via the front door, one might say. Yes, they manage, but they are severely handicapped in having to go through strange paths, perhaps circuitous, dangerous ones.

Why am I writing like I'm drunk tonight? I think I shall stop now.

 

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