Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

What the pope said

Pope Francis Says Atheists Who Do Good Are Redeemed, Not Just Catholics ...

[...] “They [the disciples in Mark 9:38-40] complain,” the Pope said in his homily, because they say, “If he is not one of us, he cannot do good. If he is not of our party, he cannot do good.” And Jesus corrects them: “Do not hinder him, he says, let him do good.” The disciples, Pope Francis explains, “were a little intolerant,” closed off by the idea of ​​possessing the truth, convinced that “those who do not have the truth, cannot do good.” “This was wrong . . . Jesus broadens the horizon.” Pope Francis said, “The root of this possibility of doing good – that we all have – is in creation”

Pope Francis went further in his sermon to say:

"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 see two issues here ...

1) The pope seems to be saying that atheists and everyone else may be saved *if* they do good works. This brings up the whole grace vs good works thingy, on which I'm no expert but which I do find interesting.

2) Is the pope a universalist, as Rahner seemed to be with his idea of Anonymous Christians? And how does this fit in with Hans Urs von Balthasar's idea that no one may be in hell .... I bring this up because the two Jesuits did not agree on this issue - in Von Balthasar, Rahner, and The Commissar, Philip Endean SJ writes ....

Von Balthasar's attacks on Rahner are scattered over several works. Sometimes their expression is very technical, and complex personal factors also play a part. But von Balthasar expresses his concerns vividly and concisely in a bitterly satirical dialogue near the end of a polemical text which he published just after Vatican II: The Moment of Christian Witness. A 'well-disposed commissar', a figure symbolising the culture of modernity both in its easy secularism and its nightmare terrors, arraigns a Rahnerian Christian. In less than three full pages, Rahner's theology is made to look ridiculous. For Rahner, God always transcends objects in space and time: we know God only in and through them, as their permanently mysterious, elusive ground. But the commissar refuses to distinguish such talk from secularist atheism .....

In The Moment of Christian Witness, the issue appears as one about the kind of security we can expect religion to give us. The uncertainties and vagueness of what, in the 1960s, was called 'progressive' theology cannot sustain the faith of a martyr. The original German title refers to Cordula, an apocryphal young girl saint. When the martyring Hun attacked, she managed to hide. Then, however, she realised that it is only through death that we find life, and thus emerged from hiding, submitted herself to death, the Ernstfall. Thus she became a credible witness. Von Balthasar is inviting a Roman Catholicism infatuated with Vatican II to see itself as Cordula in hiding, and challenging it once again to embrace the call to martyrdom. Contemporary theology, he implies, is too impressed by the uncertainties which a historical critical method generates; respect for legitimate Christian diversity has keeled over into excessive tentativeness, even destructive scepticism, about Christian obligation. The so-called Conciliar renewal misses the whole point about laying down one's life. One might summarize his whole message as a plea to the Church to read John's Gospel straightforwardly, and take it seriously. We must ignore the evidence in the text of neuroses and persecution-complexes; we must stop feeling anxious about the gross disrespect for Judaism this strand of Christianity encourages. Just see it as witness to God's absolute, unconditional, and unquestionable presence among us, a God in creaturely form, a God you can die for .....

And here is a little from Karen Kilby's book, Karl Rahner: Theology and Philosophy (pp. 116-117), on the same subject .....

The most well known and also the most biting attack on what we might call the Christian adequacy of the theory of anonymous Christianity comes in Hans Urs von Balthasar's highly polemical The Moment of Christian Witness. The notion of anonymous Christianity, Balthasar suggests, leads to a loss of the distinctiveness of Christianity, and also a loss of commitment; "Karl Rahner frees us from a nightmare with his theory of the anonymous Christian, who is dispensed, at any rate, from the criterion of martyrdom." If one can be a Christian anonymously, why then bother with the costly business of actually professing Christianity? Rahner is making things too easy, dissolving Christianity, evacuating it of its content, so that what we will be left with, if we go down his route, is a church full of anonymous atheists.

Before taking up the question of how far this is a caricature, and how far it points to a real difference of view between the two theologians, it is worth saying something about the larger context within which Balthasar sets out the criticism. A consistent theme in his discussions of Rahner is the degree to which Rahner's thought is (as Balthasar sees it) formed and controlled by philosophical allegiances, and in particular by an appropriation of German idealism. Balthasar reviewed Spirit in the World in 1939, and he appears to be among those who think that this is of decisive importance for all that followed. Thus, for instance, Balthasar was able to describe Rahner as someone who had fundamentally taken the path of Kant, as opposed to his own following of Goethe. Or again, nearly 40 years after the publication of Spirit in the World, Balthasar's depiction of Rahner as "the best-known representative of the transcendental approach" still begins with the fact that he is a follower of Joseph Maréchal in his concern to reconcile Aquinas with German idealism -- i.e. it begins with a description of Rahner as essentially the Rahner of Spirit in the World. The criticisms of anonymous Christianity which we have just described in The Moment of Christian Witness are also implicitly linked to the notion that Rahner subscribes in some way to German idealism. The context of these criticisms, that is to say, is a larger discussion of Christian witness (martyrdom) on the one hand and "the System" (the system of German idealism) on the other ........

Anyway, I doubt the pope will want to nail down further what he meant by what he said in his homily, but it was an interesting thing for him to say :)


Anonymous Victor said...

(((Pope Francis Says Atheists Who Do Good Are Redeemed, Not Just Catholics ...)))

Hey go figure crystal but all of my weakest strongest spiritual reality cells agree with that statement. :)


7:37 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Victor,

For once a pope has said something I like - let me enjoy the moment ;)

7:44 PM  
Anonymous Lee said...

That article on Von Balthasar vs. Rahner is really interesting. (An analogue in Protestant theology might be the respective approaches of Karl Barth and Paul Tillich.)

11:06 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Lee,

Thanks for the comment :) Yes, Fr. Endean has written a couple of books and a number of articles on Rahner.

I must read more about Barth and Tillich!

12:23 PM  
Anonymous Richard said...

An intriguing post and discussion. I can't help thinking of the road to Emmaus. Christ walking along with us unrecognized, unnamed-- we knowing only what our heart is telling us, invite Him into our home. I wanted very much to be an anonymous Christian, but it can't be contained, people find out!

6:35 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Richard,

I've got to say, even being a Christian, I kind of cringe at the idea of anonymous Christians - it seems so arrogant (from a non-Christian pov).

7:45 PM  

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