I was on vacation last week, so I missed the hubbub on facebook and the internet in general that resulted when the Huffington Post released an article on Pope Francis’s mass last Wednesday. The article featured this compelling headline:
“Pope Francis Says Atheists Who Do Good Are Redeemed, Not Just Catholics”
This headline was in response to these head-scratching words from the Pope:
“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! (from Radio Vatican — read more)
As expected, blog-rolls and facebook feeds lit-up with claims and questions about whether or not Pope Francis is a universalist. Some compared him to Rob Bell. David Gibbons from Charisma news says that the Pope is not endorsing universalism; rather, Gibbons says, “Francis was only affirming the doctrine that Christ redeemed the whole world. Whether people accept that belief is another matter.” This blogger provides a helpful, brief history of the subject of universalist and inclusivist beliefs in the church. (I encourage you to read it if you’d like to know more) and compares the Pope to C.S. Lewis.
I think both of the linked articles, above, are helpful in thinking through the Pope’s remarks. However, what many seem to miss is the main point of Pope Francis’s sermon. According to Radio Vatican, the main goal of the sermon was to endorse not universal salvation but universal peace through the creation of a “culture of encounter” in which everyone — Atheist, Muslim, and Catholic alike — contributes to peace through good works. And it is helpful to read what the Pope said just after those controversial words quoted above. He went on to say:
…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.” It sounds to me like Pope Francis isn’t talking so much about specific individual “salvation,” but about the common grace available to all through Christ that enables everyone to display God’s image, however fractured that may be. It seems like Pope Francis is affirming that as humans created in God’s image, we each have the ability to pursue peace and do good (albeit imperfectly), and that, Pope Francis says, is the basis for peace in the world.
I encourage you to read the rest of the Pope’s remarks for yourself at the Radio Vatican website.
(More articles at www.ThinkingThroughChristianity.com)