Is it the Church’s Mission to “get people to heaven”?

In a recent post on her blog, Kate Edwards gives us more of her analysis of the Australian Church. One thing that stuck out for me (quite incidental to her over all post) was this paragraph:

Thus, my starting point for this series is the conversion of Australia: the ‘new evangelization’ if you will. It is meant to promote reflection on what graces we need in this coming Year of Grace to achieve internal reconciliation and promote the Church’s mission of getting people to heaven.

It was that last phrase that struck me, and caused me to ponder: IS the mission of the church “to get people to heaven”?

For a given meaning of “getting to heaven” (or the more usual phrase “going to heaven”), I know what she means and don’t actually disagree with her. But I do wonder if envisaging the mission of the Church in this particular way is this really the best way to foster the work of evangelisation.

I have asked before (and will keep asking) the question “What is the Gospel?” because I firmly believe that unless we grasp what the Gospel – the Good News – actually is, we will not be able to proclaim it. An important study in this regard is what the Gospel meant when Jesus announced it in 1st Century, pre-70AD, Israel. Equally important (and this is not exactly the same thing) is what St Paul meant by it in the same period when he was proclaiming it to the Gentiles. We would need to study the four Evangelists also, whether pre- or post-70AD and whether for Jewish or Gentile audiences.

But at this point I would just like to note that we do not find anywhere in the New Testament the suggestion that the Good News Jesus preached was about how to “get people to heaven”. That idea is later – much later, I would argue. Various historical changes in language and context led to “getting to heaven” to be the dominant image used for the “Good News” which the Church proclaimed. It was not the original idea behind the proclamation or the mission entrusted to the Apostles.

(Please don’t get me wrong here – I am not saying we should do away with the idea of “going to heaven” when we die, but I do think that we should understand that this is a development of the original form of the proclamation of the Good News which has not, in many or all respects, preserved the full content of that original proclamation.)

I will take it as a given that the Scriptures (either Old or New) do not talk about “getting people to heaven” as the climax and fulfillment and the aim of Gospel. (You might want to argue that point with me, but here I am on another tangent beyond that one). It occurred to me last night while falling asleep to investigate the Catechism of the Catholic Church on this matter. Now, I have already expressed elsewhere my surprise that the Catechism is rather sparse on the actual definition of the Gospel. Given that, I want to ask: Does the Catechism say anything about “getting people to heaven” or “going to heaven”?

I found one clear reference to this idea, and it is from a secondary source: the life of St Rose of Lima:

§618 …Apart from the cross there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven [St. Rose of Lima: cf. P. Hansen, Vita mirabilis(Louvain, 1668)].

I did find the original of this work by Hansen on the internet, but it was in facsimile and (lacking a precise citation for the quotation) I could not find the original Latin phrase. But I hazard a guess that here the Catechism is actually borrowing words directly from the Vita mirabilis; that is, the idea of “getting to heaven” is not here original to the compilers of the Catechism, but to St Rose herself. And I would expect nothing else. In the context, it makes perfect sense. But while Jesus most certainly did proclaim his sacrificial death on the cross as the way of salvation, the way to life, the way into the Kingdom of God etc. (eg. Mark 8:34-35) – all of which may have an equivalent meaning for those who use the phrase “get to heaven” – he certainly didn’t ever use that phrase to announce the Good News.

In the main, the phrase “to heaven” or “into heaven” (ie. words describing someone’s entry into heaven itself) is used in the Catechism to refer to either the Ascension of Jesus or the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

We do get another phrase which might be more helpful to Kate’s intention, and that is “in heaven”. Now, usually even this refers to the Father who is “in heaven”, and sometimes to elements of the created order which are “in heaven” (as opposed to “on earth” or “under the earth”). The one other significant usage is for the departed saints, who are said, repeatedly, to be “in heaven”. A clear example of this is the discussion in §956 and following, and the quotation from Benedict XII (from Benedictus Deus, 1336AD) where he insists upon the doctrine of that the souls of the departed faithful (when they have been perfectly purified) are “in heaven”.

So let me say once more: I am not denying that Jesus or the Blessed Virgin “went to heaven”, nor that the souls of the saints are “in heaven”. But I am asking whether in fact the Gospel we are called to announced is that Jesus was born, suffered, died and rose again in order to “get us to heaven”.

The one passage in St Paul that seems to many to speak of “going to heaven” is this one from 2 Corinthians 5:

1 For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3 if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. 4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. (ESV)

I stand with those exegetes who see this as a reference to the “resurrection body” which God has prepared for us and is keeping for us “in the heavens” to clothe us with on the Day of Resurrection. This is made clear in the new translation of the first Preface for the Dead in the new missal.

The old translation read:

Lord, for your faithful people life is changed, not ended.
When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death
we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven.

That seemed to me to be a denial of the resurrection of the body – this body dies, but our souls go to live in heaven. The new translation makes clear that this is not the idea at all:

Indeed for your faithful, Lord, life is changed, not ended,
and, when this earthly dwelling turns to dust [ie. when this mortal body decays]
an eternal dwelling [ie. an immortal body] is made ready for them in heaven.

Not that we will receive the new body when we “get to heaven when we die”, but that the new body which we will receive at the Day of Resurrection is even now being kept for us for that Day. (Benedict XII was quite clear that our souls will be in heaven before the resurrection, but only Our Lord and Our Lady – and perhaps Elijah and a couple of others – let’s not quibble – have bodies in heaven now).

There are two passages in the Catechism that help us to deal with the authentic meaning (what has become) the “traditional” language of “going to heaven”.

In §2795 we read:

The symbol of the heavens refers us back to the mystery of the covenant we are living when we pray to our Father. He is in heaven, his dwelling place; the Father’s house is our homeland. Sin has exiled us from the land of the covenant [cf. Gen 3], but conversion of heart enables us to return to the Father, to heaven [Jer 3:19-4:1a; Lk 15:18, 21]. In Christ, then, heaven and earth are reconciled [cf. Isa 45:8; Ps 85:12], for the Son alone “descended from heaven” and causes us to ascend there with him, by his Cross, Resurrection, and Ascension [Jn 3:13; 12:32; 14:2-3; 16:28; 20:17; Eph 4:9-10; Heb 1:3; 2:13].

Now that looks pretty close to the idea of “getting to heaven” that Kate is using. But I would say (and this isn’t a minor quibble), this passage is telling us that our “traditional” language of “getting to heaven” is in fact a metaphor for “returning to the Father” and “ascending to be with Christ”.

There is another simple line in the Catechism which says it so much more simply

§1025 To live in heaven is “to be with Christ.”

To “get to heaven” = “to be with Christ/the Father”. And there is plenty of New Testament material that speaks about the latter and in precisely those terms. In fact, this is the content of the meaning of “entering the Kingdom of God” also: to enter the Kingdom of God is to be with him as our King, to be restored by forgiveness as a member of his covenant people.

The use of language in which the Kingdom of God is announced as coming near (arriving) in the person of Jesus of Nazareth – opens up the way to the original language of Jesus and the scriptures:

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1, ESV)

There is, of course, a lot more study to be done into the true meaning of “Gospel” and the mission of the Church. One would want to spend several life-times, for instance, studying the use of this language in the early Fathers. I will end at this point, however, with a quotation from St Ambrose cited in the Catechism at §1025:

For life is to be with Christ; where Christ is, there is life, there is the kingdom [St. Ambrose, In Luc., 10, 121: PL 15, 1834A].

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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42 Responses to Is it the Church’s Mission to “get people to heaven”?

  1. Felix the Cassowary says:

    The good news is the word of God, which is why the Word of God gave it to us in person. God existing, trusting God, makes all the difference in the world. “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” “But above all pursue his kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” The Christian laws aren’t laws: God in his infinite knowledge (and as the creator!) knows what’s best for you, so just trust him.

    What’s the alternative? Nihilism. If there is no God, and you can’t see any plausible path to (physical) happiness, then there’s nothing. Nothing’s good without God, unless you have enough power (not necessarily a lot of power, just enough for you).

    (Also, the Lord died to sanctify death, as well as to pay the price for our sins. Death is not ungodly, because God died, so we can outlive our death. But this is only relevant once you believe in God anyway. As for saying the good news is that your sins are forgiven: well, which gentile cares? Death is the same for everyone, to them, sinner or saint alike.)

    I know it but I can’t explain it. Someone told me once that means I don’t know it. Maybe they’re right. But this is what I read in the Bible, with all my prejudices and presuppositions: This is the constant and unwavering message from beginning to end (except for the middle, which I haven’t finished yet ;).

    Seek first the kingdom of God and righteousness! Abortion is a vile evil. But how do you fight it? By making converts till, trusting God, no-one wants to do it, not by changing the law and counting it to yourself as righteousness.

    Poverty is a vile evil. But how do you fight it? By making converts till even the poorest person, trusting God, gives to the poor, not by changing the law and forcing people at gunpoint to “be good”, then counting it to yourself as righteousness.

    (Sorry, I’m a little crazy. Reading the Bible like I would a scientific article radically changed my understanding of what it said. Convert-zeal-osis perhaps?)

    • Schütz says:

      Okay… Let’s take a step back. We all have lots of ideas about what “the gospel” is, but we need to base our ideas on some substantial evidence. Whatever value/meaning we give to “the gospel”, it needs to make sense in its original context, the proclamation of Jesus to his fellow Jews in pre-70AD Israel. (Arguably, Paul was the first Christian writer to describe the message of/about Jesus as “the gospel” and any meaning we give to this term needs to make sense of the way he ised the word too.)

      So, can we make a straight forward statement such as “the gospel is the word of God”? There is a close relation, I do not deny, but it is far from a matter of direct equivalence. And of course, Jesus is “the Word made flesh” and when Paul proclaimed the Gospel he understood himself to be proclaiming Jesus, but that doesn’t mean that Jesus is “the Gospel”.

  2. David,

    You wrote, ‘I have asked before (and will keep asking) the question “What is the Gospel?” because I firmly believe that unless we grasp what the Gospel – the Good News – actually is, we will not be able to proclaim it. ‘

    Couldn’t agree with you more. Therefore I humbly offer this definition, which, while not perfect (i.e. complete), might go some way towards answering your question:

    The Gospel [the Good News] is the proclamation of the that the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, has taken upon Himself and borne the curse of the Law and has expiated and paid for all our sins by his suffering and death on the Cross. Through faith in him we enter into favour with God, our sins are forgiven and we are delivered from death and all the just punishments our sins deserved, and we are eternally saved.

    Bible references could be supplied if needed, or one might simply want to read Paul’s Letter to the Romans for the definitive, inspired exposition of the Gospel.

    What do you think?

    • Schütz says:

      Briefly – I am on the run – I believe you are misreading both Jesus and Paul. Was the Torah “bad news” in the way you mean it, such that liberation from it was “good news”? Would such a proclamation have made sense in the 1st Century – either to Jews or Gentiles?

  3. Hannah says:

    David at the risk of being done like a dinner, you ask too many questions.
    One..What is the Gospel?…” In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the Word was God” Jesus is the “Word” the “Evangelium” “the Beatitude” We evangelise “Jesus” and nothing else. Not rites, not regulations, not he said this or that. We evangelise “Jesus” His whole being and His whole life and words. Son of God.
    Secondly, “Heaven” perhaps could be a word we use for something we do not understand, for a place before sin. Human beings use human language and signs and symbols to express the unexpressible. We have no human ways of saying or seeing or understanding heaven so we use approximates.
    I read the first chapter of Romans last night and realised more that Jesus is the word, the Gosepl, all has been taught and spoken, but the choice remained not to listen and they didnt they disytorted their vision towards false gods.

    • Schütz says:

      Okay, Hannah, but you are doing it too. You are using words, such as “gospel” and “evangelise” – which are both technical words with specific meanings (or at least they once were) – like a Rorschach ink blot, meaning whatever you want to project on it. These words have (or at least once had) meanings. We need to find those meanings again.

      • Hannah says:

        No David not like the Rorschack ink blot meaning whatever I see in the shape. “Gospel” means “Jesus” “Evangelisation” means speaking about “Jesus” evangelisation is the continuation of the meaning of “Jesus”
        Personally I think we have become so “academic” that we have lost the word which is “Jesus” always “Jesus” that is what we speak about, and are about, and as long as we do that we can use the terms Messiah, Masiach, Christos, Kyros, but still it all means “Jesus” “Lord”

        • Schütz says:

          Hannah, you are right to say that Jesus is at the heart of the Gospel which we proclaim. But the Gospel is a proclamation of “good news”. So the question we must ask ourselves is: in what way – specifically – is Jesus “Good News”?

          I would want to reflect further: Jesus proclaimed the Gospel. Was he just proclaiming himself? No, he was proclaiming the Good News of the coming Kingdom of God. He himself was, of course, the one who was inaugurating this Kingdom by his words and deeds, not least in the paschal mystery of his death and resurrection.

          I would also want to challenge us to reflect on how is it “Good News” for the world today that Jesus is the “Messiah, Masiach, Christos, Kyrios, Lord”?

          • Hannah says:

            These are all excelent questions David. In the Gospel of Mark the author sets Jesus off on His ministry not with a genealogy but with the “bat Qol” (daughter of the Voice) “Repent the Kingdom of God is at hand” He didnt stand on a tree top and loud speak and say I am the One spoken about by Moses but His inference to being the new Prophet, (qol-voice-prophet) the new voice, would have been understood by the people of his time.
            David, the “Gospel” as we have been understanding it does mean “good news” the new news the something different which Jesus came to inaugurate, but more deeper is the understanding that the Gospel is the “Word” left behind when He left to return to His Home. He was the Word spoken in the beginning. He was the Word, spoken (qol=voice) when He was here and He left a “Word” Gospel, Himself when he left.
            How is this all “good News” for our day?
            The new evangelisation needed, to bring again integrity to the human person which times, technology with all its glitz and glamour has destroyed.
            What the “Word” left was “Peace, my Peace I give to you, or I leave with you” Technology, abandonment, sin, have all served not the “Word” but the “anti word”
            So we start slowly again regenerating human beings beginning with “Eve” We need to begin with “Eve” otherwise not much will change.

  4. Stephen K says:

    David, if I might concentrate on your very first point, namely, whether the Church’s mission is to get us to heaven: put baldly like that, it prompts for me the question “…and….?” In other words, what’s the point of getting to heaven? (Indeed, is heaven something we can “get to”?)

    I think we have to unpack this expression a little. First, I think Kate has some ground for saying what she said: in the Catholic Doctrinal Guide section at the back of my Catholic Action Edition of the Bible (Confraternity Text) (North Carolina, 1953), under “Gospels” I find “The gospel is, then, the good news that Christ came here on earth to redeem us from sin and to teach us the way to heaven”. It goes on to say that the good news is “Christ’s preaching and his death which liberates us from the slavery of sin.”

    Moreover, in common parlance, people hear often that we must do good so we get to heaven. The little catechism says we were made by God to know, love and serve him in this life so we can be forever with him in the next.

    The implication is that ‘getting to heaven’ is equivalent to ‘getting to God’, and that ‘heaven’ stands for paradise and beatitude and perfection, and we were made for all these things: God, paradise, beatitude and perfection.

    Now this idea of after-life beatitude is not confined to Christian theology, as we know: Islam and Buddhism and other religions have variations on the theme. But put this way, it means that the meaning of life is a teleological perfection of each of us as individuals. To say that the Church’s mission is to get us there is really to say that its mission is to help us achieve that perfection and beatitude. Then the question would become, how does it help us do this?

    I gather you think that the answer to that might be – if you accept the terms in which I have attempted to unpack the saying – is that the Church does that by proclaiming the Gospel. And so we have to understand what the Gospel-to-be-proclaimed is. Have I understood you correctly?

    Though I think the phrase ‘get to heaven’ too readily reduces spiritual motivation to a kind of eschatological self-interest and ought perhaps ought to be re-cast as a symbol for existential perfection, nevertheless, I understand why some would say that it represents the purpose of the Gospel (whatever we determine that is) because it might be contentious to argue the idea that the Gospel should be proclaimed for its own sake, without reference to any destiny. Does God care and want us to be perfected and re-united in the Divine, the Source and the Omega of all things? Isn’t the Incarnation and Redemptive death all about that?

    But there is another way of looking at this schema: the idea that getting to heaven – i.e. union with God – comes about by the embrace of the Gospel: if the Gospel is the good news of the liberation from sin, then my understanding is that then all things that perfect us, all creation in fact, become possible through the power and love of God. In other words, union with God is the fruit of the kingdom of heaven in and through our own lives. Full circle.

    I’ll pass the port bottle, see what you can do with these ideas.

    • Alex Caughey says:

      “The Kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ Indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”
      ~ Luke 17:20-21

      John 3 – Jesus Teaches Nicodemus

      1 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
      3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

      4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

      5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

      John 14 – Jesus Promises the Holy Spirit

      15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

      end of scripture quotations

      Faith otherwise, trust in God grows out of our relationship with God when listening to His Word speaking to us from within our very being, and following Him all the days of our life; thereby we enter into The Kingdom, Heaven by any other name.

      • Schütz says:

        Alex, thanks for the scripture quotations. I do believe that it is necessary that we start from this point, even if we do not end up there.

        We need to do a lot more study (each of us personally, I mean, and the Church as a whole) into what “the Kingdom of God” means. Note that in your first quotation from Luke 17, the translation “is within you” is doubtful, and perhaps a little too spiritualising. The text is better translated as “is among you” or “is in your midst” (the “you” is plural in this text, not singular).

        John certainly connects “the Kingdom of God” with the coming of the Spirit of God. If we look at the account of Pentecost in Acts against the background of Joel in the OT, we see that the outpouring of the Spirit was a sign of the inauguration of the Kingdom. This would be a profitable line for further study into the meaning of “the Kingdom of God”.

    • Schütz says:

      Stephen,

      David, if I might concentrate on your very first point, namely, whether the Church’s mission is to get us to heaven: put baldly like that, it prompts for me the question “…and….?” In other words, what’s the point of getting to heaven? (Indeed, is heaven something we can “get to”?)

      Yes, these are my questions too. If the Good News is that we “get to go to heaven”, how is this heard by people today? For a start, if someone believes in an afterlife today, the chances are that they think “getting to heaven” is their automatic privilege – so that in fact, we first need to proclaim the “bad news” that it ain’t necessarily so. But if they don’t believe in an afterlife, how does “you get to go to heaven” function as Good News? If we evangelise in this way, with this language, will we be heard?

      First, I think Kate has some ground for saying what she said: in the Catholic Doctrinal Guide section at the back of my Catholic Action Edition of the Bible (Confraternity Text) (North Carolina, 1953), under “Gospels” I find “The gospel is, then, the good news that Christ came here on earth to redeem us from sin and to teach us the way to heaven”. It goes on to say that the good news is “Christ’s preaching and his death which liberates us from the slavery of sin.”

      Yes, of course this is a very traditional way of defining “the Gospel” (at least it attempts a definition of “the Gospel” which is more than the current Catechism does). But one of my questions is: is this the meaning that “the Gospel” has always had? It isn’t the meaning of the Gospel which we find, for eg., in “the Gospels” themselves. What I am seeking is a definition of “the Gospel” which more explicitly incorporates the original meaning of the term, including, of course, the trajectory of the tradition as it was developed by the apostles, the Church fathers, and the Church since.

      The implication is that ‘getting to heaven’ is equivalent to ‘getting to God’, and that ‘heaven’ stands for paradise and beatitude and perfection, and we were made for all these things: God, paradise, beatitude and perfection. …To say that the Church’s mission is to get us there is really to say that its mission is to help us achieve that perfection and beatitude. Then the question would become, how does it help us do this?

      Yes, that is how I take it, and in fact, how the Catechism defines “heaven”. As such, it certainly does have a place in our proclamation of “the Gospel”. And your question naturally follows.

      I gather you think that the answer to that might be …that the Church does that by proclaiming the Gospel. And so we have to understand what the Gospel-to-be-proclaimed is. Have I understood you correctly?

      Yes, partly, but not quite. Jesus came to the people of his day proclaiming a “Good News” that was readily understood by them as such: he used the language of “the Kingdom of God”, a notion they readily understood, as they were awaiting the coming of this Kingdom with all it meant for the vindication and liberation of Israel. St Paul subtly altered that definition of “the Gospel” – principally because he was proclaiming the Good News to a new Gentile audience. His “gospel” was about how the Gentiles would come to be included in this Jewish hope for the Kingdom of God. St John, in the Apocalypse, also reworked “the Gospel” – at least how it was proclaimed – for his own new context in terms of the vindication and liberation of the Church. The Gospel is not simply a “tool” to “get people to heaven”: it is (at least) a proclamation that the one Creator God is doing something new – in the person of Jesus Christ – in our own time-space existence to bring about the climactic fulfillment of his promises to Israel, and thus for the whole world. One of those promises is most certainly the hope of “paradise, beatitude and perfection.” However we translate this into our own time and context, we need to do so in a way that it can be heard as the “Good News”.

      …it might be contentious to argue the idea that the Gospel should be proclaimed for its own sake, without reference to any destiny. Does God care and want us to be perfected and re-united in the Divine, the Source and the Omega of all things? Isn’t the Incarnation and Redemptive death all about that?

      Certainly the Gospel is not “proclaimed for its own sake”. The Gospel is, if nothing else, a proclamation that the “destiny” for which we are ardently hoping has been fulfilled in Christ. The old retort that “if Jesus is the answer, what is the question?” needs to be asked again. What “Good News” are people seeking today that “the Incarnation and Redemptive death” of Jesus addresses?

      But there is another way of looking at this schema: the idea that getting to heaven – i.e. union with God – comes about by the embrace of the Gospel: if the Gospel is the good news of the liberation from sin, then my understanding is that then all things that perfect us, all creation in fact, become possible through the power and love of God. In other words, union with God is the fruit of the kingdom of heaven in and through our own lives. Full circle.

      St Paul definitely believed that “embrace of the Gospel” was key to achieving the destiny that the Gospel itself proclaimed. If the Gospel proclaimed “liberation”, “believing the Gospel” actually “liberated” here and now, and therefore also “in the future”. The question then becomes: liberation from what? Sin? Yes, but also Death, the last enemy. Why not also from Oppression? Why not also from Sickness? Why not also from Injustice? What is the content of the “Good News of liberation”? Is it only “spiritual”? Does it have any reference to the political world in which we live? (remembering that the separation of religion and politics is only a modern construct?)

  5. Kate says:

    You arguments are all too subtle for me David, and I’m not sure I’ve really understood what you are getting at on my terminology of ‘getting to heaven’, but let me try and make a few points anyway!

    First, you state that we need to understand what the Gospel meant when Jesus announced it to contemporary audiences. Why? Jesus is divine, and knew he was speaking to all of us who would come. And Scripture repeatedly says the disciples didn’t in fact understand a lot until much later. Moreover the Catechism makes it clear (paras 94-95) that the Church’s understanding of the faith grows over time due to the work of the Holy Spirit. To restrict the meaning of Scripture to someones reconstruction of how it would have been interpreted in 70 AD or thereabouts is completely out of line with any proper principle of Scriptural interpretation in my view.

    Secondly, its surely pretty central to our understanding of Christianity that the way to heaven was closed by Adam’s sin, and reopened to us in possibility by the Cross. Are you suggesting something different?

    Thirdly, while neither Scripture and the Catechism may not use my exact formulation of words, it certainly does repeatedly state that the objective of all this is the salvation of souls, viz life in heaven.
    I find it difficult personally to see why this should be viewed as a selfish objective, but I know it is often portrayed as such by some. Yet how can to live in the pefect good, the embrace of God, be a bad thing? If one is concerned about it from that perspective, simply remember that in order to get to heaven we have to do the good, and once there, the saints in turn aid those on earth and in purgatory. We have to live, in other words, the Gospel…

    If what you are trying to say is that the mission is salvation now, in the form of living out the Gospel in this world, then I think you are on very dangerous ground indeed. It is true of course that what we do now is a necessary prerequisite to ‘getting to heaven’. The reality though is most of us fall in and out of salvation or living with Christ in the fullest sense through sin; we are by definition imperfect and so is this world. Through grace, and especially through those made available through the sacraments of the Church, God gives us (hopefully) chances to pick ourselves up and get back on track. Eventually, though, the moment will come when our choice in this life becomes definitive forever, and if the Church’s aim isn’t to get us in a position to make the choice of everalsting life with God in heaven, rather than have darkness overtake us, what is it? This life is short; eternity isn’t!

    • Schütz says:

      Your arguments are all too subtle for me David…

      Well, Kate, I’m not trying to play “snake in the Garden”. Some of these questions (they are not “arguments”) may appear “subtle”, but I would say they are important. We need to examine our mode of discourse to see if they are faithful to – that is, in line with – the scriptures and tradition of the Church. By saying simply that the mission of the Church is “getting people to heaven”, we may well be missing some extremely important features of the Gospel. This may go a long way toward explaining the difficulty that we are experiencing in our “modern age” in conveying the Gospel in the first place. I am challenging us to examine ourselves, to examine our faith, to examine our way of proclaiming the faith.

      First, you state that we need to understand what the Gospel meant when Jesus announced it to contemporary audiences. Why? Jesus is divine, and knew he was speaking to all of us who would come. And Scripture repeatedly says the disciples didn’t in fact understand a lot until much later. Moreover the Catechism makes it clear (paras 94-95) that the Church’s understanding of the faith grows over time due to the work of the Holy Spirit. To restrict the meaning of Scripture to someones reconstruction of how it would have been interpreted in 70 AD or thereabouts is completely out of line with any proper principle of Scriptural interpretation in my view.

      Kate, let me give you an example. You will be well aware of those Christians who interpret the Apocalypse to St John as predictions of modern day events such as the Russians and atom bombs and one world governments and bankcards and the like. In answer to such interpretations we say that if this was what the Apocalypse was all about it would have made no sense to John’s original readers, and they would not have found any encouragement in his writing. But we know that the Book of Revelation was included in the canon precisely because its message did speak to the ancient Church.

      To say “we don’t need to understand what Jesus’ proclamation meant to his contemporary audience – Jesus was really speaking to us in the 21st Century” is methodologically wrong, from both an historical and exegetical view point. Take something as simple as the parable of the Good Samaritan. To understand it, we need to understand something about ritual purity laws for temple officials, about the animosity between Samaritans and Jews, about the idea of “neighbour” in the Torah. Understanding how the first hearers would have heard the parable gives us a opening into understanding how it may then communicate to us. I take it as axiomatic that, divine though he was, Jesus came as a human being at a particular time and place in history, and that this historical particularity is part and parcel of the divine message he came to proclaim.

      I am not arguing that we must limit the meaning of “the Gospel” to what it meant for those who first heard it in Galilee. On the contrary, I recognise the way in which, within the New Testament Scriptures themselves, the “content” of “the Gospel” underwent development according to the context in which it was proclaimed (eg. by Paul in Romans and Galatians and by John in the Apocalypse). I would like to do a lot more study into the meaning of “the Gospel” in the early Church Fathers and in later medieval, post-Roman-Empire Christianity (I think the proclamation of the Gospel among the Celts and Franks and Germans would have seen a major development). We have to take the entire trajectory of the history of “the Gospel” into account. The reason for this, I maintain, is that like Paul, like John, like Justin Martyr, like St Patrick, like St Boniface, we have to speak “the Gospel” in a way that it can be heard as “Good News” by those to whom we speak it, so that it may be intelligible to them.

      Secondly, its surely pretty central to our understanding of Christianity that the way to heaven was closed by Adam’s sin, and reopened to us in possibility by the Cross. Are you suggesting something different?

      Well, that is certainly one way of telling “the Gospel”, and I am not denying it. In any way that “the Gospel” is told, it must take account of the three narrative phases of the controlling story of “Creation”, “Fall”, and “Restoration/Redemption/Renewal”. In this narrative, “the Gospel” refers to the announcement of the third, climactic phase in which God acts definitively to bring his work to climactic fulfillment. Now, according to N.T. Wright, ancient Jews saw this story as “Creation, Fall, ISRAEL”. That is, God’s restorative act in response to the Fall was the calling of Abraham, and the election of Israel with the land, the temple, the Davidic monarchy through the Torah given by Moses. But there was a problem here: Israel herself had proved unfaithful, the temple was destroyed and Israel went into exile. Israel in Jesus’ day was trying to “rework” the final restorative phase of the narrative, but still with Israel herself as the focal point, that is, fighting for the Land, the Temple, the Monarchy and, above all, the Torah. Wright suggests that the New Testament suggests a couple of additional “acts” in the same basic story Israel had been telling herself: 1. Creation; 2. Fall; 3. Israel; 4. Jesus; 5. Church. The third phase, the restoration/redemption/renewal phase, therefore was being expanded and redefined around Jesus and his new community, the Church. Something in that, I would say…

      Thirdly, while neither Scripture and the Catechism may not use my exact formulation of words, it certainly does repeatedly state that the objective of all this is the salvation of souls, viz life in heaven.

      Okay, so what I am suggesting is that – if neither Scripture nor the Catechism use your formulation of the Gospel – might there not might be some benefit in re-examining your formulation, at least in terms of what it really means? Is “life in heaven” the defining metaphor, especially when envisaged as an “afterlife state” in a spiritualised paradise? Is it not simply a way of saying “Life in full communion with God”? Does your image take sufficient account of the two pages in the Catechism that speak of the “new heavens and the new earth” that will follow the bodily resurrection? What does it mean to be “saved”? (Note that in the NT, the words translated “saved” and “healed” in our English bibles are often the same). I am just asking for a bit of reflection and examination. We have a rich menu in our tradition, in which “salvation” includes many ingredients – why chose only the lemon-meringue dessert?

      If what you are trying to say is that the mission is salvation now, in the form of living out the Gospel in this world, then I think you are on very dangerous ground indeed.

      No, I am not talking about this at all. I do believe that in some way or another, to hear and receive “the Good News” must mean that I experience “salvation” in some sense now, even if not completely and fully. There is plenty of support for this in the sayings even of Jesus himself. “Pie in the sky by and by when you die” is not “Good News”. The Gospel has a double reference for us: it does affect our lives here and now – and not just in terms of “what we do now” as “a prerequisite for getting to heaven” – but it also has a future reference: the coming Kingdom of God. I believe that everything the Church does in her sacraments and preaching also have this double reference. For instance, the “forgiveness of sins” was a sign for Israel that her exile had ended (cf. Isaiah 40). When Jesus came not only proclaiming but enacting the forgiveness of sins, this was a powerful eschatological sign: God was doing what he promised he would do one day in the future. But he actually did it in the here and now. The Resurrection itself is a future event to which we all look forward, but in Jesus (and in his Blessed Mother) we have seen it begin here and now in history. Thus, when I go to confession and receive forgiveness, I am receiving not just a personal gift, but the sign for all God’s people that his promise is being fulfilled. When I attend Mass, the Lord is coming to his Temple once again, and the future is being fulfilled for God’s people here and now. Etc.

      Eventually, though, the moment will come when our choice in this life becomes definitive forever, and if the Church’s aim isn’t to get us in a position to make the choice of everlasting life with God in heaven, rather than have darkness overtake us, what is it? This life is short; eternity isn’t!

      So, we ask is “the Church’s aim to get us in a position to make the definitive choice of everlasting life with God in heaven”?

      And here I think you are coming to something which, with only a bit of tweaking, is close to what the Gospel is. You have seen the shape of it, you are just looking at it – I would suggest (very humbly and with the deepest respect) – from the wrong angle – or perhaps better, with the wrong focus. In the scriptures, we have three examples of the proclamation of “the Gospel”, before, by and after Jesus.

      “John came preaching in the wilderness ‘Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand’.” (Matt 3:1-2, ESV). He was a herald to Israel that her King was coming to her, and that they should get ready for his coming. The way to get ready was to “repent”, to change their minds/hearts, so that when the Kingdom came, they would be ready to enter into it. It was not enough to be a “son of Abraham” to be included in this Kingdom. “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees” (Matt 3:10). A decision had to be made now, if you were going to be included in the Kingdom then.

      Jesus came “proclaiming the Gospel of God, and saying ‘The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel'”. (Mark 1:14-15, ESV). At first glance, this appears like John’s message – but was Jesus just “another herald” of the Kingdom? No – as the rest of the Gospel makes clear: in him, the Kingdom had appeared, the climactic act of God in the restoration of Israel (and through her the whole world) would take place in the very deeds, words and person of Jesus himself. From now on, loyalty to him (rather than, for eg. following the Torah) would determine who was a member of his family, who would enter with him into the Kingdom. This is without question the shape of his proclamation in the Gospels to the people of his day. As shocking as it might have been to the Pharisees and others, this sort of proclamation would have made sense to the people of his day (which is where this discussion began). I contend that it makes sense to us too.

      After Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus, Paul understood himself to be appointed as a herald sent out ahead (almost like John the Baptist to Israel) to announce coming the Kingdom of Jesus, to proclaim to the nations the universal Lordship of Jesus Christ, who was crucified but is now risen and lives forever. “For I am not ashamed of the Good News, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16). “See now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2). Accepting the Gospel – that is the announcement of the coming of the Kingdom – believing it (= faith in Christ) and repenting of sin was the way of preparing for the Kingdom’s coming, so that when it arrived – when the King himself arrived – you would be included in the restored, renewed, redeemed people and in the new age being inaugurated.

      This, I would hold, is still the Church’s task in evangelisation. In this sense, what you say is true: The Church’s mission is to call all nations to make the definitive choice of everlasting life with God in his Kingdom, which he has inaugurated in the life, death and resurrection (indeed of the very person) of his Son, Jesus. For all this richness, simply saying the Church’s job is to “get people to heaven” is a shorthand, but I would say one that misses many of the main ingredients in that message.

      • Kate says:

        First David in terms of terminology, I was using shorthand that is perfectly well attested to in the tradition as you and others have noted – St Rome of Lima which you cited from the Catechism is good enough for me! Of course she was just echoing the language of numerous other saints. Personally, I’m follower of St Benedict, and the portion of his Rule assigned at the moment is the Prologue, which is very direct indeed about the purpose of his spirituality being to get to heaven and avoid hell, the rest being tools to that end.

        Secondly, I’d note that as Catholics who reject ‘sola scriptura’ we do not merely have to paraphrase or quote Scripture; nor are we a ‘scripura and catechism’ church, but rather a Scripture and Tradition one! The Catechism is an aid to understanding, not a definitive statement of absolutely every possible point of doctrine.

        Nor is there any reason to avoid shorthand phrases when they are appropriate – in fact as theologians our task is sometimes to find ways of reminding people of quite dense concepts.

        In any case, the Catechism makes it quite clear that the mission of the Church is effecting salvation in many places (see para 851 for example). I’d also point you to the Compendium of the Catechism, no 67 on why God created men, viz “…to be raised up with him in heaven”. Not every word we use has to be exactly out of the Catechism or Scripture.

        I’d also suggest that in your ‘richer’ version of the churches mission is the danger of seeing the wood instead of the forest. In particular, repentance is a necessary first stage in the conversion process, preparing the way as St John the Baptist did, but only one stage in the process of sanctification. What happens here and now iscertainly important, but it remains primarily a means to an end, namely both individual sanctification and as a sign to help others long that path.

        Finally, in terms of exegesis, it is one thing to draw on our understanding of first century culture as an aid to understanding Scripture, it is quite another to restrict our understanding of what Scripture means to how a first century audience would have understood it. To do so implicitly rejects the concept of the divine authorship of Scripture. In principle for example there is not reason why some of the things described in the New Testament may not be prophesies of contemporary events. Many of the prophesies of the Old Testament for example were not realised for a couple of millenia after they were made, so why couldn’t this be true for the New? Indeed, many of the Fathers interpreted Scripture in precisely this way (without necessarily being restrictive in those applications of it to their own times). In short, I’d recommend some patristics, some St Thomas Aquinas and other traditional commentaries on Scripture to hone your approach to exegesis, rather than more protestantism in the form of N T Wright and others!

        • Schütz says:

          To read Scripture historically is not to reject the divine origin of Scripture, stiil less to restrict Scripture to the merely human, but rather to take the Incarnation seriously. The “timelessness” you seem to ascribe to Scripture has less in common with the true Christian understanding of revelation and more in common with gnosticism.

          Nor will it do to reject certain exegetes simply because they are protestant. I will wager you have never read an entire work of the likes of N.T. Wright or Ben Witherington ( for eg). Had you done so, you would have discovered that these evangelicals are often more orthodox than many Catholic exegetes

          You ought to keep in mind that Catholic “Scripture and Tradition” still holds the Scriptures to be the core of the tradition. I recommend Aidan Nichols “Shape of Catholic Theology” on this score.

          • Kate says:

            David – That many protestant exegetes are more orthodox than many contemporary catholic ones still does not actually make them catholic! My problem with Wright and others (who I have in fact read) is that while they offer useful insights, they do not operate from the perspective of the tradition, and inevitably go astray in methodology and content in places as a result.

            To get a truly catholic perspective on Scripture, we need a firm grounding in our own tradition first, which is why I strongly recommend some serious reading of St Thomas, the patristic collection on the Gosples, the Catena Aurea, and/or commentaries such as Lapide.

            I’d commend to you a careful reading of the Pope’s last Exhortation on Scripture. The historical context is the starting point, not the end point, and it is not gnosticism to assert that Scripture was written for us today, not just those living in the first century.

            As for the relationship between Scripture and Tradition, that remains the subject of considerable theological debate. Suffice it to note that ‘conservatives’ like Nichols take one view, traditionalists another.

            • Kate says:

              Let me add just these couple of points to put what I am saying into Catechismese.

              There are four senses of Scripture, not one. The literal is the starting point for the spiritual, not the end point (ccc115-119).

              And we must read Scripture in the light of the whole of it (ie OT and NT, not just as ‘first centruy readers’); in the light of and with the help of the Holy Spirit, living and incarnate (not just as first century readers); as the inspired Word of God (ie not just the product of human authors); under the guidance of the Magisterium (not the magisterium of protestant exegetes); within the living Tradition of the Church (which includes the Fathers, Saints and Theologians). – CCCC18-19.

            • Schütz says:

              I have just re-read the section in BXVI’s Exhortation on this matter. He is, of course, completely right to emphasise that Scripture cannot be reduced to “the historical-critical” readings. This would be to flatten Scripture out to one dimension. But a couple of observations:

              1) Benedict is, as we all know, very accomplished in 20th Century biblical scholarship. One needs to observe, however, that his knowledge in this area is limited mainly to the German scholarship. Much of this German work has been translated into English and has been highly influential in English historical-critical studies.
              2) The same cannot be said the other way around. Little of English historical-critical studies has been translated into German. The “Third Quest” has taken place mainly in English, rather than German, scholarship. Within the “Third Questers”, Wright takes a position in regard to Scripture that is much more holistic than the Germans – he is less inclined (in fact opposed) to judge the texts in regard to their origin with the historical Jesus (the Bultmannian “cut and paste” method) and more inclined to take the texts as they stand and to see them in their historical context, viz. the Judaism of the Second Temple period. Wright describes his own method as “critical realism”, and this sets him apart from other exegetes of the historical-critical method.
              3) Benedict’s exhortation is not a rejection of the historical-critical method. Rather, he is trying to restore the balance, by reintroducing the important 2nd, 3rd, and 4th senses of Scripture, and to hold up once again the value of Patristic exegesis. Ironically, one of those leading the way in this area is a Baptist, Tom Oden, who has been behind the publication of a modern “Catena Aurea”, the Ancient Christian Commentary series (highly recommended for any library – also available on CD Rom).
              4) Whatever may be said of the “spiritual senses of scripture” (2nd, 3rd and 4th senses), they depend on a correct understanding of the first sense of Scripture, namely the literal sense. It is here that exegesis must always start, and a wrong start in this spot will mean that your “spiritual sense” will also be skewed.

              Thus, I read Benedict as issuing a stern warning against the mistake of not just starting with the literal sense (note that he does not in fact reject the use of the historical methods in this regard) but of actually ending at this point without then going on to seek the spiritual sense of the text. He is warning us against a reading that flattens out Scripture into a one or two dimensional historical reading. He is certainly not rejecting the important task of seeking the true literal sense (which must include the historical sense) as our starting point.

              So, what I am saying to you is this: I do not reject, but embrace, the importance of seeking the spiritual senses of Scripture, but all this will be in vain if your starting point, the literal sense, is up the creek. Where you get the literal sense wrong, you will get the spiritual sense wrong. It is a simple matter of methodology.

            • Schütz says:

              May I also point out that you are creating a false dichotomy when you say “ie OT and NT, not just as ‘first centruy readers’”. First century Jews were, I would argue, far more versed in the Old Testament than you or I ever will be. It was precisely on the basis of the Old Testament that they formed their worldview. They lived the Old Testament, and saw their whole existence through its lense. The first century is the crucial historical meeting place of the Old and New Testament. The “New Testament” arose in this context.

            • Schütz says:

              My concern, Kate, is that you are not allowing the Scriptures to be the starting point, but are treating them as the end point, after we have learned what we are allowed to read there through the lense of lense of developed tradition. The historical tools available to us today are inestimably valuable, and were not available to St Thomas, Lapide et al. I am not saying these authorities do not have a place in our biblical interpretation, and I am certainly not saying that the Scriptures do not have a message for us today.

              I would like to think that I do have a “firm grounding” in the Catholic tradition, but I am asking – as I think Wright challenges us to ask – about our reading of Scripture. I have read and studied the Pope’s Exhortation, and see nothing there that conflicts with this. There are many Scripture scholars today whose “historical” reading of Scripture is questionable – Wright is not one of these, in fact, he sets himself firmly against many if not most of them (which is why he is so controversial, not only among traditional Evangelical scholars, but also for the likes of Borg and Crossan et al.). I would place Catholic exeget John P. Meier on the Wright side of things too, so to speak. There are numerous points in which I think Wright goes wrong, but these are usually in reference to his modern agendas (such as his interpretation of Paul’s Gospel in favour of the ordination of women or as meaning that Eucharistic theology should be adiaphora for Church unity). I find his historical work on the other hand overwhelmingly convincing. The task of the Catholic theologian is to judge any writer on their merits, not just overall, but also in particulars. A writer may be right or wrong on this or that aspect of the Church’s faith, but still have much to contribute on other matters.

              For my part, I take it as very interesting that one of the chief charges leveled against Wright (which he tries very hard in many places to dispell – and in these cases I have no agreement with him) is that he is “catholicising” the true Evangelical faith. One aspect in which he does this is by demonstrating the enormous place that the Church had in Jesus’ intentions for his mission. Another is that in which he demonstrates that Paul’s doctrine of “justification by faith” had nothing to do with an antinomian attitude to the good works. I remain convinced that his work on the meaning of “the gospel” in the Scriptures is spot on. This is because it makes such good sense historically – without any of the laissez faire attitude to the Canon so common in modern scripture scholarship. The so-called “Third Quest for the Historical Jesus” and “New Perspective on Paul” are, I believe, at least useful starting points for the clear reading of our own tradition.

            • Schütz says:

              I would also agree that a weakness in Wright’s work is a lack of knowledge of Patristic and Medieval scriptural exegesis. For that matter, he has a much better understanding of Calvinist exegesis (much of which he takes issue with) than Lutheran exegesis. He has defended himself in this regard – with some good sense – by saying that there is only so much one person can do in a life time. He acknowledges that these periods of exegetical tradition have not been his major study – his major study has been taken up with 1st Century history. You can’t fault him for this, I think. It remains for someone else to ask the question, “What does Wright’s exegesis look like in comparison with the Patristic/Medieval tradition?” This seems to me a most attractive topic for a doctoral dissertation, but I am rather daunted by the fact that in order to gain some measure by which to judge his exegesis of the Pauline idea of “justification”, I started to read Alister MacGrath’s history of the doctrine of Justification. I found myself somewhat defeated by the time I reached the 14th Century, at which point the doctrine had been dissected within an inch of its life (or probably a bit past it), such that seeing the clear line between the starting point (Scripture) and where it ended up just prior to the Reformation, became very difficult indeed. Luther’s new take on the doctrine, I would hold, finds a place in the trajectory which was

              a) fresh and new and highly relevant to his audience and therefore highly popular
              b) nevertheless more founded upon the reading of Scripture on this matter which he had inherited from the Scholastics than he was probably willing to admit
              c) in fact not well grounded on what we are today able to read as St Paul’s real point in developing the doctrine in the first place.

              The principle of double “similarity and dissimilarity” therefore comes to play in Luther’s doctrine. It was similar to the Scholastic reading of justification in shape, yet dissimilar in that it was filled with a new content. Is it possible, therefore, to get back behind Luther, behind the Scholastics, to St Paul himself, and freshly read what he had to say? Wright says yes, and proposes a way. Amazingly, what he comes up with is a reading which is more consonant with the Catholic faith on this matter than his Evangelical past would lead us to expect. This is in fact what excites me most about Wright’s work: far from undermining the Catholic faith, his historical work actually defends it. It might not, on the surface, look to be exactly the same thing – because he does not use the categories of the Medieval theologians (it has a different shape) – but it has the same content, and the same impulse and goal.

          • Kate says:

            Not sure if this will appear in the right place as com box won’t appear at the end of this thread for some reason!

            But in terms of starting from Tradition rather than Scripture, yes, in a way that is exactly what we have to do. Bishop Eliot in a WYD Catechesis in Sydney used the analogy of a family photograph album – the photos are there but without the context and names can be pretty meaningless. The Fathers and other good commentaries can help give us that context as the Church understands it and has always understood it.

            You seem to be advocating using Wright and modern exegetes to fill in the context; I’m suggesting it is better to use the Fathers for this purpose.

            I’m not at all convinced that the moderns are somehow better placed to do this – being closer in time to the events, and recipients of a living tradition in many cases directly passed down often makes the Fathers a much better starting point! And being saints, they have the virtue of the guidance of the Holy Spirit potentially to a greater extent than others!

            Nor do I think those first century hearers necessarily understood the Old Testament better than we can – in fact a lot of the point of Our Lord’s teaching was to challenge their understanding of Scripture! Indeed, the Church tells us that the Old Testament can only be correctly understood in the light of the New. We’ve had a lot more time to assimilate just what that means than those first hearers.

  6. joel in ga says:

    Why not look to Paul’s own summary of the Gospel in 1 Cor. 15? Christ died for our sins (and therefore we are forgiven), He was buried (showing His death was real), and He rose again the third day (and therefore, though we die, we shall live again–indeed we live in Him now in spite of death). Is there any aspect or implication of the Gospel that cannot be situated under one or more of these three points of Paul’s?

  7. Joshua says:

    David,

    Yes, I’m with Kate on this one – I can’t quite work out what exactly you are asking for one thing, and for another, as the Dominicans say, their Order’s charism (one could say, that of the whole Church) is “preaching and teaching [and doing all else also] *for the salvation of souls*” – a Jesuit would (quite rightly) add, “to the greater glory of God”.

    In other words, whatever the Church does ought be ultimately oriented (significant word, that) to bringing about the salvation of all, which, if I recall, is something the Divine Will is also keen on – and of course the triumph of God’s grace in hearts, that they triumph with Him, redounds to His glory. The Church is God’s instrument in this: I believe a certain recent Ecumenical Council referred to her as the “sacrament of salvation”, and this because she is Christ’s Bride and Body.

    David, is your query about this – I notice Pr Mark’s contribution above – something to do with that Lutheran dichotomy between “Law” and “Gospel” and your own thoughts reacting to that? (A dichotomy I’d never heard of until I came across Lutherans, and a dichotomy I still don’t get, let alone appreciate the suggested significance thereof.)

    • Schütz says:

      Dear Josh,

      Please see my rather extended reply to Kate above for the full details.

      The Lutheran “Law/Gospel” dichotomy is not actually the launching pad for this discussion, but in many ways, I think the traditional Protestant way of defining “the Gospel” (eg. this from the first site that appears when you google “what is the gospel”: “The gospel is the good news of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that provides full and free deliverance from the power and penalty of sin according to the grace of God alone through faith in Jesus Christ alone”) is a little like Kates’ “getting to heaven” language – okay, but in need of a little deeper understanding of the meaning of all those words.

      • Joshua says:

        I *think* I now understand you a bit better, but it does seem unnecessarily confusing. Forgive me for saying so, but I do hope you don’t frighten away your Anima students with such complicated contemplations!

        If I get your meaning, it is for us to live “in Christ”, now and unto the ages of ages, Amen… to do so we must become good Christians, true Christians, united to Him as branches of the Vine… and we know what happens to those branches that get cut off!

  8. Joshua says:

    Do you think a better definition would be “to convert all to Christianity/become Christians/disciples of Christ”, with all that entails about entering, here and now, into the fulness of life, that, please God, shall prove eternal?

    • Schütz says:

      No, that isn’t what I am getting at either. I think there is a difference between “converting all to Christianity” and “becoming disciples of Christ”. The former is an outcome of the latter, and the latter is the goal. The reason we should be seeking to make “disicples of all nations” is precisely because the Gospel is the announcement that the Kingdom of God has come in Christ and all people are called into this Kingdom. Being a disciple of Christ is the narrow door by which we enter into this Kingdom.

  9. Alex Caughey says:

    Our church is our family of faith, of like minded believers sharing with one another, supporting one another by strengthening our resolve to love one another in the face of our weaknesses and many doubts.

    Jesus’ walk along the shore of Lake Galilee calling fishermen to follow him illustrates that it is The Saviour who calls us into his life.

    The Saviour invites us to become his most loving friend, and he is ours when reminding us that his care, and protection is for all who accept his call to follow him by embracing his guidance in all matters.

    John 15:15-17 “No longer do I call you servants, because a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, because all that I have heard from the Father I have made known to you. It is not you who chose me, but it is I who chose you and appointed you that you might go and be fruitful and that your fruit might remain; so that whatever petition you present to the Father in my name He may give you. Thus I command you to love one another.”

    • Schütz says:

      Yes, Alex. N.T. Wright makes a big thing of Jesus’ redefinition of “family” and “nation” identity: those who do the will of his Father are his family. They give up all other family ties in preference for this more important family identity. As Jesus might have said, “You are not far from the Kingdom”!

  10. Joshua says:

    A comment placed on Kate’s original post would seem to show that a certain Benedict XVI agrees very strongly with her:

    ‘Esta é a finalidade, e não outra, a finalidade da Igreja, a salvação das almas, uma a uma.’

    ‘This, and nothing else, is the purpose of the Church: the salvation of souls, one by one.’

    (Address to the Bishops of Brazil, 11 May 2007)

    (The commenter says that he included the Portuguese original since the official Vatican English translation finishes, with less poetic force, ‘…the salvation of individual souls.’)

    • Schütz says:

      No argument there, Josh. But two questions: 1) what do we mean by the “salvation of souls”? 2) in what way is the “one by one” nature of conversion (which I know well) related to the corporate or communal call to repentance? John called all Israel to repentance, and they came one by one to be baptised by him. Repentance is personal, but not individual. The Gospel addresses us not as individuals, but as persons belonging to a community.

      • Joshua says:

        An interesting parallel to the process undergone and being undergone by “groups of Anglicans” – some thought, based on a maximalist reading of Anglicanorum cœtibus that whole dioceses or parishes at the least could have corporately received, their sacramental life proceeding much as normal, whereas the Church has mandated a careful catechetical preparation, a period of fasting from the (Anglican) Eucharist prior to individual reception (confession and confirmation), then Mass celebrated by a Catholic priest, whether in a special group or as part of a wider Catholic parish, unless and until their own former Anglican minister is ordained a Catholic priest, and can minister to them again on a full or part time basis. The necessity of individual reception into the Church meant that each and every one had to make a formal decision vis a vis their beliefs, using the Catechism of the Catholic Church as the standard of belief; also, if any marital irregularities were at issue, these had to be sorted out. It has meant the numbers received have been less than expected, and apparently has disillusioned some – but frankly from a Roman perspective it is hard to see how it could have been otherwise.

        The Anglicans seem to have ‘confused’ their case with that of an Eastern Church coming into full communion with Rome, as happened in the Ukraine and in other places at various times in past centuries, when it really was a case of whole dioceses coming into union, and the only noticeable change to faith and piety being the commemoration of the Pope in the diptychs recited at the Divine Liturgy. (Something similar happened in old Spain, when the entire nation of the Visigoths repudiated their Arian faith and embraced Catholicism – once they had embraced the Faith, all their bishops and clergy were recognized as Catholic clergy ipso facto, but for a few who were subsequently gotten rid of once their continuing Arian notions were discovered.) The Anglicans in question, being Anglo-Catholic and High Church, have very high notions, very Catholic ideas, of the sacraments and of the priesthood; which made it hard when it was made evident that Rome had big doubts about their Orders, despite that having been well-known ever since Leo XIII pronounced on the matter.

  11. Alex Caughey says:

    We do well to understand that The Saviour saves us, not an institution.

    Our our fellowship of the faithful (ecclesia, otherwise the church) supports us and encourages us to remain faithful to The Saviour, more especially when passing storms test our resolve, and our doubts surface to remind us that our many flaws, and weaknesses drive us to help our fellow pilgrim facing similar trials.

    Acts 2 – The Fellowship of the Believers

    42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

    • Schütz says:

      The Church – or at least what we now call the Church (Jesus spoke of his “family”, his “friends”) – was a part of Jesus’ intention for the final phase of the establishment of his Kingdom: Creation, fall, Israel, Jesus, Church. The description of this community in Acts 2 is a picture of the restoration of Israel.

  12. Christine says:

    Whatever value/meaning we give to “the gospel”, it needs to make sense in its original context, the proclamation of Jesus to his fellow Jews in pre-70AD Israel.

    Okay, but what about the descent of Christ to the righteous dead after the Resurrection? He preached the Good News to them too and they had already run the course of their earthly lives so it seems to me that his message was an eschatalogical one.

    A third-century Syrian Creed speaks of Jesus, “who was crucified under Pontius Pilate and departed in peace, in order to preach to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the saints concerning the end of the world and the resurrection of the dead.”

    This passage from the Catechism resonates with me although I acknowledge that it is not directly related to the point David is raising::

    326 The Scriptural expression “heaven and earth” means all that exists, creation in its entirety. It also indicates the bond, deep within creation, that both unites heaven and earth and distinguishes the one from the other: “the earth” is the world of men, while “heaven” or “the heavens” can designate both the firmament and God’s own “place” – “our Father in heaven” and consequently the “heaven” too which is eschatological glory. Finally, “heaven” refers to the saints and the “place” of the spiritual creatures, the angels, who surround God.

    • Schütz says:

      Good point, Christine. That “the Gospel” was proclaimed also to the dead is an indication of the cosmic and all encompassing embrace of this Gospel. For them, it would have been heard as quite a different message (same shape, different content) to the peasants listening to Jesus – namely liberation still, but in this case, liberation from Hades. Also, note that “repentance” would not have been a requirement for them to accept the Gospel. The Gospel was, for them, a “fait accompli”! I am quite happy to include them in “the original hearers” category!

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