Having recently had an essay published in an anthology of articles in which I kept rather unusual company (Catholics and Catholicism in Contemporary Australia), I am pleased to annouce the publication of another essay by your host in rather more sanguine company.
For some years now, a group of us have been preparing an answer to Ray Galea’s book “Nothing in my hand I bring“, and it has finally reached publication stage. You can read about it and order it here: Answering the Anti-Catholic Challenge, edited by Robert Haddad. I did the final essay, responding to Galea’s “appendix” on “The New Catholicism”.
In short, his argument is with the activity of the Catholic Church in the area of interfaith dialogue. He especially focuses upon the statement by the Second Vatican Council in Lumen Gentium 16 that:
Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.
I struggled with precisely this teaching in the last days before I committed myself to the path of seeking full communion with the Catholic Church. My Lutheran mentors advised me that I could not in conscience join the Catholic Church because it was, not to put too fine a point on it, a syncretistic and universalistic religion which acknowledged other paths to salvation than grace alone, faith alone, and Christ alone. The definitive turning point for me was the publication, in August 2000, of Dominus Iesus, a document which should put paid to any lingering doubts that the Catholic Church views the Christian religion as just one path among many of salvation.
Even when one looks at the statement in LG 16, one sees the very important phrase “moved by grace”. There is no doubt in my mind that the grace spoken of is the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, which reaches out to all human beings, even those who “through no fault of their own do not” explicitly “know the Gospel of Christ or His Church”. God’s grace in Christ is universal (contra strict Calivinism), and meant for all people. Catholics believe firmly that all human beings are in some relationship with God (hence the reference to conscience as the point of contact apart from the positive revelation of God in Scripture and Tradition) and equally reject the teaching of the Protestants that the fall of Adam so corrupted the souls of men that every effort of theirs to seek God will of necessity lead them away from rather than toward God. God is always reaching out to every human being, and he acknowledges their response, even if it is without explicit knowledge of “the Gospel of Christ or His Church”.
Of course, for those who do have such explicit knowledge, the situation is entirely different. The proclamation of the Gospel is always an experience of “krisis” in the human soul. The appropriate response is always faith in Christ – the rejection of Christ is a rejection of the grace that God extends to the human person.
Yet the path of salvation is not always smooth, nor is it necessarily always completed in this life. God looks at the heart of men, and judges each according to his grace. We therefore do not stand in judgement on any whose response to the Gospel appears to us to be negative. We cannot prejudge what is taking place in their hearts and how the Gospel has impacted. We also allow that in many cases, the fault lies with us, in the way we have presented or explained the Gospel, which can at times place greater stumbling blocks in their way.
Anyway, for my full treatment, buy the book. I haven’t seen all the other essays in this book and am looking forward to reading it when it arrives.