Universal Pope?

May 24, 2013 in Theology · 0 comments

Universal Pope

Pope Fran­cis has gar­nered quite a bit of atten­tion for his com­ments last Wednes­day regard­ing athe­ists and his claim that every­one is redeemed by the blood of Christ. He said, in part:

The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Every­one! “Father, the athe­ists?” Even the athe­ists. Every­one! And this Blood makes us chil­dren of God of the first class! We are cre­ated chil­dren in the like­ness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all!


Many seem to think that the Pope was express­ing some sort of uni­ver­sal­ism: that every­one, regard­less of their beliefs about God, will even­tu­ally be saved. But read­ing his state­ments in the wider con­text of his homily shows that isn’t what he was saying:

The Lord cre­ated us in His image and like­ness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this com­mand­ment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. “But, Father, this is not Catholic! He can­not do good.” Yes, he can. He must. Not can: must! Because he has this com­mand­ment within him. Instead, this “clos­ing off” that imag­ines that those out­side, every­one, can­not do good is a wall that leads to war and also to what some peo­ple through­out his­tory have con­ceived of: killing in the name of God. That we can kill in the name of God. And that, sim­ply, is blas­phemy. To say that you can kill in the name of God is blasphemy.

Instead, the Lord has cre­ated us in His image and like­ness, and has given us this com­mand­ment in the depths of our heart: do good and do not do evil.

The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Every­one! “Father, the athe­ists?” Even the athe­ists. Every­one! And this Blood makes us chil­dren of God of the first class! We are cre­ated chil­dren in the like­ness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this com­mand­ment for every­one to do good, I think, is a beau­ti­ful path towards peace. If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to oth­ers, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gen­tly, lit­tle by lit­tle, we will make that cul­ture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. “But I don’t believe, Father, I am an athe­ist!” But do good: we will meet one another there.

The Pope is essen­tially express­ing the Protes­tant idea of Com­mon Grace: that all peo­ple feel God’s love, enjoy his prov­i­dence, ben­e­fit from his restraint of evil and are endowed with a God-given moral conscience.

Com­mon grace is summed up nicely in Romans 2.14–15:

Indeed, when Gen­tiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for them­selves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the require­ments of the law are writ­ten on their hearts, their con­sciences also bear­ing wit­ness, and their thoughts some­times accus­ing them and at other times even defend­ing them.

But doesn’t the Pope say that we are all redeemed? Yes, but in Catholic the­ol­ogy, redemp­tion doesn’t directly equate with sal­va­tion. Redemp­tion is: “The restora­tion of man from the bondage of sin to the lib­erty of the chil­dren of God through the sat­is­fac­tions and mer­its of Christ.” That is, Christ’s death frees human­ity from sin and gives us the free­dom to come to God … but it is still up to the indi­vid­ual to exer­cise that free­dom and fol­low God. From a Catholic per­spec­tive, every­one is redeemed, but a per­son can indi­vid­u­ally choose to reject God’s grace and there­fore not receive salvation.

So, while I think the Pope offers a won­der­ful mes­sage about how peo­ple of all faiths and back­grounds should work together toward a com­mon good, it is far too hope­ful an inter­pre­ta­tion to say that he’s step­ping beyond ortho­dox Catholic theology.

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