Sunday 14 June 2015

How Many Paths to Salvation?

I read this post on Chiesa e Postconcilio, on 18th May 2015. After making a rough translation, I put it aside, thinking that perhaps Francesca Romana might translate it for publication on Rorate Caeli, but I don’t recall seeing it there. At the end of a few rather chaotic weeks on the domestic front, I have now taken some time to polish my translation to the point where I think it is fit to be seen.

It is a partial translation. I have omitted some paragraphs where indicated, and I think this helps to focus on the central message for the purposes of my post, which is that in the matter of who is to be saved, the Church has to do Her explicit, Christ-given duty, and leave the unknowns to God. I think Don Giorgio says it marvellously well, and I hope you agree.

Don Giorgio Ghio. How Many Paths to Salvation?

On hearing certain talks about non-Christian religions, one comes inevitably to ask oneself if the person speaking still believes in Christ as the unique Saviour of the world. Certainly, no one dares to deny it in an explicit and direct manner; the problem arises when one asks oneself by what ways Jesus saves men. According to a fundamental dogma of Catholic teaching, the way to reach salvation is faith in Him, which leads to Baptism; the Holy Gospel affirms this (cf Mt 28:19-20; Mk 16:15-16; Jn 3:3) and, in obedience to the divine Master, the Church has always taught thus, starting from the Apostles (cf Acts 2:38). Such a truth obviously presupposes the unavoidable obligation to announce to all men the salvation granted by God in His incarnate Son, dead and risen, with the consequent call to convert oneself to Him, abandoning false beliefs and changing one’s life. That which the Bride of Christ has always done in almost two millennia is certainly not proselytism, but a supreme expression of the same charity which the Bridegroom communicates to Her.

Nevertheless, right through from the middle of the last century to the present, on the basis of a vague but repeated mention in Vatican II (cf Lumen Gentium 16; Gaudium et Spes 22; Ad Gentes 7), people allow themselves to maintain that God would habitually save men even outside the visible confines of the Church; thus, not only has missionary activity ended up in a dramatic crisis, but a good part of the faithful have lost the sense, and the necessity, of their own membership of the mystical Body, of a worthy and frequent reception of the Sacraments and of an active faith, lived in the observance of the Commandments and in the practice of the evangelical virtues. This is indeed one of those cases in which a small crack provokes a collapse of gigantic proportions. In whatever manner it began, and leaving aside its catastrophic consequences, the idea that is now universally diffused and accepted, to the point of having become a species of new unquestionable dogma, has no foundation, either scriptural, or traditional, or magisterial.

In reality, what has been revealed to us is that “unless a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God” (Jn 3:5). Even supposing that this is only the ordinary way of salvation and that God, in order not to let innumerable souls be lost, has arranged purely hypothetical extraordinary ways, we know absolutely nothing about them. For the sake of intellectual and spiritual honesty we must recognise that, in divine Revelation, no trace can be found of these ways, while the command to evangelise the nations is affirmed in an absolutely unequivocal manner, in theory and in practice. If the risen Lord has not said a word about the eventual possibility of coming into contact with the paschal Mystery without an explicit faith in Him, and without fully belonging to the Church, but has peremptorily enjoined Her to preach and baptise to make these things possible, it has been precisely because this problem is not our business: how can one be saved who, through no fault of his own, does not know the Gospel … it is his own business; in any case, we have the duty of announcing it to him.

The person who then ventures to say that the other religions would be ordinary paths to salvation just as much as ours is, has evidently lost the very notion of Christian salvation, that which is revealed in the New Testament as a transcendent reality. A crass heresy such as this also sweeps away, at one single stroke, both the dogma of original sin and the necessity of the Redemption achieved by the Word incarnate with His death on the Cross.

Don Giorgio continues with an overview of the major world religions, concluding with a brief mention of religions such as animism and Voodoo. He then returns to the main theme of his essay:

Missionaries’ writings overflow with men transformed into birds or snakes, the walking dead, very powerful witch-doctors … reduced to powerlessness by the one holy name of Jesus. There will be only one reason, with all due deference to the desk-based theorists of inculturation and of interreligious dialogue to the bitter end: where Christ advances, the devil retreats. Now that the first is no longer preached, the second roams about, undisturbed, thanks to the theories of these “theologians” and “shepherds” who have taken the flock into exile. However, let him who wishes to be saved know that there is an infallible way, provided that he decides to enter upon it: it is the unique way, the way of all time. Seeing that we have known it for two thousand years, it would be truly foolish not to make it known also to him.