The Universalist Pope?!

Pope Francis appears to have a new, dramatic, position on salvation for the non-believer.  Catholic Online  gives a detailed account of the Pope’s sermon yesterday where he stated that even atheists were redeemed by Christ and would go to heaven if they “do good.”

A quote from the article:

Francis explained himself, “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… “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!” 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.”

I recognize that the pope is not really making himself out to be a universalist, but he definitely opens the door to salvation to anyone regardless of belief. If this is a sign of things to come, I think this pope may have ideas that could really unite Christianity.  If the pope believes an atheist can get into heaven, this seems to change the entire dynamic of Christian interaction with the world.  The fundamental missionary act would be to promote and support good conduct–Christian love–rather than merely spreading Christian theology or belief.  Is the pope implying this? Am I reading too much into it? Whether this represents a sea change or is simply warmer rhetoric, I think its a very positive step. Thoughts?

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44 thoughts on “The Universalist Pope?!

  1. I read something by an Orthodox person that pointed out that a lot of people are misinterpreting the pope. Can’t type too much and I hope that someone will know the link and post it, but the summary is: redemption is different than salvation.

  2. Since “good works’ plays such an important part of a person’s salvation in the Catholic Church, it isn’t too far a leap for the Pope to leave trust in Christ Jesus out of it.

    Anyone CAN do works. But faith in Christ is altogether different AND necessary.

    I’d love to sit down with the Pope and discuss the Book of Romans.

    “No one does good, no not one.”

  3. I think the move away from proselyting is a danger of adopting this view. But it doesn’t have to be implicit in it. As the modern LDS stance demonstrates.

  4. Basically, the idea that “oh Christ forgave everyone” is not an automatic package deal with the stupid notions that:

    A. Everyone’s ways and beliefs are equally admirable and valid; and
    B. Everyone should mind their own business and not try to inspire others to share in the things they believe in.

    And other such tired and self-defeating new age tripe.

  5. I’m doing my best not to have a knee-jerk reaction based on a HuffPo headline about this. I’m reserving comment until I have the time to read everything he said. But it might be relevant to ask if the Pope thinks good works have the power to save or if good works are just a part of the redemption of all things.

  6. Clarification from the Vatican

    http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/05/23/heaven-for-atheists-pope-sparks-debate/?hpt=hp_t2

    “The Rev. Thomas Rosica, a Vatican spokesman, said that people who aware of the Catholic church “cannot be saved” if they “refuse to enter her or remain in her.”

    At the same time, Rosica writes, “every man or woman, whatever their situation, can be saved. Even non-Christians can respond to this saving action of the Spirit. No person is excluded from salvation simply because of so-called original sin.”

    “To stress that the gospel redeems all people, including atheists, is the teaching of the church,” he added. “This is an objective fact that the church believes.”

  7. Fr. Z’s blog. makes a fascinating distinction between atheists and believers in other religions. Is there any substance to this distinction. Does God view atheists differently than pagans?

  8. Seth,

    I think its an interesting question on the ultimate value of proselyting (which seems to be a peculiarly Mormon coinage). I have met many Mormons that think we should send (at least some) kids on purely service missions, and that we would get more converts that way. I agree. The Church has gone corporate in the last 60 years and it alienates many brilliant Mormon kids that are sent on missions who are not into marketing. The mission life serves to give Mormonism a ton of strength, I think giving some kids dramatic service experiences would deepen its cultural roots.

    And proselytizing people to lives of service seems as important to the world as promoting correct belief.

  9. I have met many Mormons that think we should send (at least some) kids on purely service missions, and that we would get more converts that way.

    The Church definitely needs to be giving more time and attention to its PR image. Psyche.

  10. Ultimately, since it is God and God alone who redeemed, God is free to redeem whomever Gofd wishes. The Church can say and teach whatever it thinks, but God is perfectly able to decide to do whatever God wishes.

  11. “The Church definitely needs to be giving more time and attention to its PR image.Psyche.”

    If it wants to spread its gospel across the entire earth, I think PR image is a valid concern. I just think they would do more good by focusing primarily on service rather than conversion. If you claim to be the best, most Christian Church, leading by example is the only good PR.

  12. Do you really think that the church would have more convert baptisms per year if it diverted its missionary efforts from direct proselytization to public service?

  13. Depending on how its done, in some countries, yes. You couldn’t do a whole lot worse than missionaries do in Europe. Creating a stronger service apparatus would make the church more interesting.

  14. @Ken Ranos.
    The Church can say and teach whatever it thinks, but God is perfectly able to decide to do whatever God wishes.

    I think that makes sense. But ultimately people want to know whether they are on the right track. People want to know the dependencies between doing good, believing truth, and being saved in order to navigate their lives and have hope beyond life.

    Maybe it makes sense to believe God is completely arbitrary about salvation in order to focus people on doing good now and being true. Does it continue to make sense to worry so about the nuances of belief and interpretation?

    What the Pope seems to be doing is broadening the community the Church can minister to and with. Acknowledging that atheists can be good partners is a huge step. In the grand scheme of history its pretty momentous.

  15. Depending on how its done, in some countries, yes. You couldn’t do a whole lot worse than missionaries do in Europe. Creating a stronger service apparatus would make the church more interesting.

    “Couldn’t do a whole lot worse” is not the same as more convert baptisms per year. I am super skeptical that doing more service and less proselytizing in western Europe would result in more convert baptisms. There’s a whole lot that has to happen between a person deciding that Mormons are good people and a person deciding to become a Mormon.

  16. Do Evangelicals believe the gospel redeems atheists?

    Only if they want to be redeemed, which means they can’t remain in their atheism if they want redemption.

  17. I prefer to believe that God saves atheists when and where He wills to do so.

    We were all atheists (non-trusters in God) at one point.

    But He has chosen to save some. As Jesus told Nicodemus, “When and where the Spirit wills”

    This is how the Gospel of John puts it, ” Who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, NOR of the will of man, but of God.”

  18. She’s the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church.

    I really think that liberal Christianity is actually a completely different religion.

  19. “I really think that liberal Christianity is actually a completely different religion.”

    The thesis of the book “Christianity and Liberalism”, ironically first given to me by a very liberal minister.

  20. If there is any lesson in the Bible – it’s that you can’t convert people who just flat-out don’t want to convert – even if you have the best tools God has to offer.

    First world Europe is almost hopelessly anti-religion. And more or less comfortably well-off. Few of them see a need for God, and that’s unlikely to change barring traumatic events that I’m far from ready to look forward to or pray for.

    Certainly more service missions isn’t going to change the current cultural rut on the continent. All it’s going to do is cater to the militant secularists who would love to see religion stop trying to influence human affairs and limit itself to holding bake sales.

    Religion is uncomfortable Jared. That’s part of what it’s for.

    Yes, it has good news as a part of it. But it’s also the harsh truth that no one wants to listen to or acknowledge. In many ways – the world simply sucks. And in many ways, the blessed pampered life of the First World sucks, and is reprehensible. The liberal cum-ba-ya squad doesn’t want to be told this, but it doesn’t change the reality.

    More needs to change in the first world than a bunch of liberal white people thinking that self-loathing of their own cultural heritage is an appropriate substitute for actually fixing problems in the impoverished rest of world society.

  21. St. Paul was on his way to arrest and probably kill some Christians. Would anyone say that he wanted to become a Christian? Hardly.

    But God wanted him. And grabbed ahold of Paul (Saul) for His own purposes.

    We are not born of the will of man (ourselves)…but of God.

    After we are chosen, things are a bit different, of course. But God chooses us when we are “dead in our sins and trespasses.

    That is Biblical and the truth of the matter.

  22. I really think that liberal Christianity is actually a completely different religion.

    Yes, it’s called secularism. It just so happens to have the trappings of Christianity.

  23. No, honestly I think it’s a different thing. Right now, in the pagan blog-o-sphere, there’s a big fracas between hard-line reconstructionists who believe that the gods are real beings with independent will and existence, and “pop culture pagans” who think that you can meaningfully honor fictional characters like Superman (not kidding) on the same level as the gods and spirits. What this boils down to is a fundamental difference in the conception of the divine. Is a deity a being with separate, objective existence and will, or is deity something that exists only subjectively, a psychological construct that is the product of (and thus subject to) individual and/or collective mind? The theological ramifications are profound; can these two groups meaningfully be called the same religion (despite the fact that people from each camp might honor, say, “Apollo”)?

    While it’s true that the pop-culture pagans effectively make the divine de facto subject to human cultural norms and assumptions, it’s not accurate to say that pop culture paganism is just secularism. A given non-religious secular American and a pop culture pagan may have largely identical values, but are they the same religion? Just ask the non-religious secular American (who does not, for example, explicitly celebrate religious rituals in honor of Marvel superheroes).

    As I told some of my pagan friends, if this was not actually a live debate in their religious community, I would think it had been concocted as an allegorical fable to illustrate the orthodox/liberal divide in 20th century and contemporary Christianity.

  24. I don’t understand how liberal Christianity can be called secular. The National Council of Churches beleives that the Church should speak on…

    Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START II), Violence in Iraq, Myanmar, War in Afghanistan, Comprehensive Immigration Reform, Ending Gun Violence, Human Trafficking, Rights and Haitians of Dominican Descent in the Dominican Republic, Peace in the Middle East, Christian Zionism, Biotechnology, Ban on Human Reproductive Cloning, Armenian Genocide, Human Biotechnologies, the Founding of Jamestown, Virginia, Global Warming, Bill of Media Rights, Christmas Gift Aid, for Bethlehem, Palestine, Israel and Lebanon, the Threat to Civil and Religious Liberties in Post – 9/11 America, Rebuilding of the Gulf Coast, Voting Rights Act, Disavowal of Torture, Alexandria, Constantinople, the death of Yasir Arafat, intervention to stop the killing in Sudan, the Taco Bell Boycott Called by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), Mount Olive Pickle Boycott, Human Genetics, Public School, Preserving U.S. Pharmaceutical Sales to Canada, The Conflict in the Middle East, Recognizing the Patriarch of Jerusalem etc.
    has issued.

    The NCC may not have much to say about the deity of Christ but they don’t seem to have any problem entering the public square with political pronouncements.

    Not to be outdone by the NCC the National Association of Evangelicals feels bound to make pronouncements on…

    Sudan, Nuclear Proliferation, Arms Trade Treaty, Conflict Minerals, Childhood Obesity, Biotechnology, Domestic Poverty, International Poverty, Educational Inequity, Immigration Reform, Immigration Reform, Prison Reform, Human Trafficking etc.

    I could be missing something but short of boycotting Taco Bell and Pickles liberal Christianity bears a striking similarity to evangelicalism in America?

  25. Seth,

    I agree– religion is about being uncomfortable–pushing yourself to meet aspirations. Otherwise it degenerates into opiate for the masses that Marx and other uber-atheists claim it to be. Its as if most of Europe is off the religious heroin and only milling around methadone clinics. But the methadone lacks the joy, magic, and utter commitment involved in taking the real-deal.

  26. Kullervo, Interesting debate. I think the question of whether someone believes in a “different religion” is a very interesting one. I think the critical question/point the pope brings up is whether assent to certain propositions makes more difference to God than “right” action in the world. If worshiping superman as a construct (or even believing he is real) makes people better can’t they meet the non-believers who believe in being good in the same place. Doesn’t the concept of the good define the religion more than how people get there?

  27. I’m hard pressed to think of a single example of Jesus or the bible teaching economic extortion to bring about repentance.

  28. Jesus cleansing the temple.

    You don’t get much more blatantly anti-economic activity than that.

  29. I’m not sure I grasp what the Lord’s purification of the temple, a house of prayer for all nations, has to do with demanding a church boycott.

    On the one hand you have Jesus correcting aberrant practices affecting worship, rejecting the commercial activity in the outer court, where Gentiles were allowed pray.

    On the other hand you have the economic coercion as a tool for correcting the business practices people don’t like. Ignore for the moment how this binds the conscience of believers in matters where the bible is silent. Go ahead and ignore the unforeseen economic consequences and the pain caused to the unintentional targets of a boycott. Where is coercion, extortion, or blackmail (physical, mental or economic) ever shown to be an option of the Church? The Church is called to preach the gospel of forgiveness and repentance, not force compliance under the threat of economic ruin.

    You can’t so easily separate the love of God from the love of neighbor. Its hard to announce the gospel when you are trying to put someone out of work.

  30. The economic injustices of the day were everywhere. The political injustices of the day were everywhere. The Roman rulers were (in a sense) the Nazis of the day.

    How much time did Jesus spend addressing those injustices and trying to resolve them?

    Almost none.

    He had much bigger fish to fry. Like showing us what it meant to be an authentic human, and dying for our sins. That we might believe in Him.

  31. I agree– religion is about being uncomfortable–pushing yourself to meet aspirations.

    Who says that’s what “religion is about?”

    If worshiping superman as a construct (or even believing he is real) makes people better can’t they meet the non-believers who believe in being good in the same place. Doesn’t the concept of the good define the religion more than how people get there?

    That’s begging the question.

  32. I agree– religion is about being uncomfortable–pushing yourself to meet aspirations.>

    Who says that’s what “religion is about?”

    Me.

    I agree with Seth when he said “Religion is uncomfortable Jared. That’s part of what it’s for.” I agree, partof what religion is about is not being satisfied with our animal selves.

  33. The whole world does ‘religion’. Lifting yourself up. Making yourself better. Even with the help of God. It’s all around us. But no faith is required for that.

    “When the Son of man returns to earth with His holy angels, will He find faith?”

    There will be lots of religion. Always has been. Always will be.
    But true faith in the Living God, Lord Jesus, and His cross for sinners…real sinners….is another matter all together.

  34. For some reason I think that it is “another matter altogether” for you because you define it that way. Perhaps that is why there are very muddy direction in the Protestant world regarding what being saved means to a person in relation to the world and the community.

  35. I’m sure this is just my Wesleyan/Arminian perspective bleeding through, but I didn’t really find anything shocking in what Pope Francis said. If Christ’s atonement was universal (I believe it was) then, yes, Christ has already atoned for the sins of everyone (including atheists, Buddhists, Methodist, Mormons, Baptist, etc.). The question isn’t whether the whole world is covered by the once offered sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, but whether all people are forced to accept this gift and receive salvation.

    So, can an atheist (or other non-Christian) do good? Through God’s grace that he freely gives to all his creation, yes. Does this choice to do good things provide salvation? Only when it is followed by a decision to accept God’s free gift of salvation. If God’s gift is not accepted, no amount of good works is going to bring salvation.

    At least to my reading the Pope is simply saying that Christians and non-Christians can meet where God’s grace is already at work to bring about good things and from there we can lead people to following that grace to its source and eventual salvation.

  36. I guess Pope Francis was pointing out the universality of the salvation OFFER as opposed to views such as limited atonement.

    To my mind, God won’t force anyone to choose Him, and if the person refuses, he or she will eventually cease to exist.

    I’ve one question: as a Christian Universalist, how does one interpret Jesus warnings about hell?
    Keep doing all your good work!

    Lothar’s son – Lothars Sohn

    http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/

  37. To my mind, God won’t force anyone to choose Him, and if the person refuses, he or she will eventually cease to exist.

    This is based on what?

    I’ve one question: as a Christian Universalist, how does one interpret Jesus warnings about hell?

    Who is this question directed to?

  38. Hello everyone,
    I stumbled on this very interesting blog and wish to leave a commentary.

    Salvation, redemption can mean and is used in different context to mean different things, at different times, and for sure this variation is seen across the different Christian faiths.
    In the new Testament, when Jesus says ” thy faith hath saved thee”, we can understand that salvation means healing, to be made whole, to be restored, to be kept from death and destruction, but it also can mean to be sanctified, purified, forgiven and justified, redeemed… And that is an action of grace, when He walked among the children of men, prior to his passion, the atoning sacrifice in Getsemane and on the Cross. All that was required it seems, is that you or someone close to you call on and approach Christ, get his attention, get him coming to you, touch you and save you… Gracias! merci!!
    Jesus made no distinction in who he was healing or restoring from the New Testament. If it was his will, he did. After this healing, most people came to follow and worshim him, or at least recognize him as The Lord, the Son of God.

    After the resurrection, the concept of salvation took an extended dimension. All mankind will be resurrected. All God’s children who walked the earth. But not all will resurrect at the same time. Some will be of the first resurrection and others of the second, prior to the Final Judgment. Salvation can also mean making it to Paradise following passing the veil. We die. We are going back to our Maker and are assigned to the temporary spiritual state of Paradise or hell (spirit prison as it is termed in LDS writings) before the reuniting of the flesh and the spirit.
    .
    Here again there can be yet another level of Salvation, linked to the Second coming of Christ. Those who were in Paradise will be part of the First Resurrection and inherit the Earth at the Millenium reign of Christ together with all the righteous one who will be then on earth, and have been spared (the wicked would have been destroyed then). People of all religions, agnostics and atheists, as long as they are just’ righteous – meaning they have lived honest and virtuous lived on earth in lifting up, loving and serving another fellow being, following the dictates of their conscious – The Light of Christ.
    Also these people might have ended up in the Spirit Prison after their eartlhy life, but accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior there (the reason why Jesus went to Hell between his death and resurrection was we believe to preach his words there and organize evangelisation in the Spirit world and LDS Temple work for the deceased).

    But that is not the end of the story, because in the course of the Thousand Years of Christ’s reign, as the power of the enemy is re-entering earth again after a time being binded out, some saints will fall away and some of the citizens of the Millenium will accept Christ and his Gospel… Then it is time for the final judgment. And the resurrection of those who remained in the spirit prison… It will be then an issue of which glory and kigdom we will receive… The celestial kingdom in all its glory, with eternal families and possibility of progressing into Godhood (what is termed Exaltation and required Temple ordinances), or becoming faithful and eternal servants, spiritual messengers, angels without any family relationships but in full service of God, or cast away forever in outer darkness…

    Now, on that long intro, when the Pope talked on Redemption, which one was he referring to? Perhaps all the kinds… We are to be Christ-like. Not to judge but to seek, find and save the lost ones. Atheists, gays, new-agers, we are all God’s children and He loves us all and has a plan for us all. Some roads back to God are shorter, some longer, but it is narrow for all… Healing comes to all, regardless of belief and confession. It might indeed be a mean into the path of discipleship, but many time it fails (the nine lepers who were unthankful). God is a god of second, and third and seventy seventh chance… As long as one does not deny purposely the Holy Spirit of God (the impardonable Sin) – as long as we are rigteous and virtuous and honest and true to our conscious and conviction, even if we on this earth reject Jesus and His Gospel (it is a gift to know Him, and a calling), and do not live in ways as to oppose and be against them as persecuting them, because our conscious could not be educated to grasp it, there is Hope of Salvation in Jesus Christ, thanks to his Atonement.

    Matthew 12
    31 Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.
    32 And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.

    The gift of free agency is given to us until the end of the Millenium it seems… To chose to be free (or keeping this gift in the Celestial Kingdomand Glory) or lose that freedom (when we are angels of God, we must do what He assigns us to do…. Well at least, we’re not in outer darkness and burning in fire in the chain of Lucifer :)

    a LDS from Scandinavia.

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