Pope Francis a Universalist? Perhaps.…

4577728-3x2-700x467In the midst of oth­er world­wide the­o­log­i­cal furores, and local stuff with hereti­cal bish­ops and the like, it seems that even Pope Francis is tak­ing his share of the lime­light. According to the Huff this week Pope Francis strong­ly implied a uni­ver­sal­ist posi­tion with his state­ment:
“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!”
The Huff has report­ed on it here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/23/atheists-like-what-they-see-in-pope-francis-new-openness_n_3329548.html and the Irish here: http://www.irishcentral.com/news/Atheists-big-fans-of–Pope-Francis-openness-and-good-works-among-those-in-need-209048751.html

Now that does sound very uni­ver­sal­ist, with all peo­ple being redeemed by the cross, not just the Catholics, and it appears that Francis’ han­dlers think so too. A cou­ple of days lat­er they issued a cor­rec­tion to Francis’ homi­ly, clear­ly stat­ing that all who are apos­tate from the Catholic church are con­demned:
“Although they are oth­er­wise good, moral peo­ple they are still doomed to burn in a lake of fire for hav­ing the temer­i­ty to have been born out­side of Catholicism or hav­ing cho­sen to remain so.”
http://www.irishcentral.com/story/ent/manhattan_diary/vatican-corrects-infallible-pope-atheists-will-still-burn-in-hell-208987111.html

This has raised some eye­brows around the world, with the “moral athe­ists” obvi­ous­ly being rather unhap­py about it, as too are many Protestants who thought that there might have been some form of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion on the table. However, to me it sounds like a whole bunch of seman­tics over three words: ‘redeemed’, ‘sal­va­tion’ and ‘infal­li­ble’.

Firstly, when Francis talks about ‘redeemed’ does he mere­ly mean that Christ’s sac­ri­fice on the cross was suf­fi­cient for all human­i­ty, but will only be effec­tive for those who believe (whether you take an elec­tion or free will argu­ment)? I would sug­gest that this is prob­a­bly the eas­i­est ortho­dox read­ing of Francis’ state­ment, but it does end up slight­ly seman­ti­cal­ly skewed. All of human­i­ty redeemed, but not all of human­i­ty jus­ti­fied… its hard to see how those two can be sep­a­rat­ed. Indeed, this seems to be the place that his han­dlers have end­ed up when they issue the cor­rec­tion.

Secondly, along with the redemp­tion ques­tion, and tight­ly linked, is the issue of what does Francis think it means to have ‘sal­va­tion.’ Is it for him sim­ply a posi­tion of being able to do good works? Or is it to stand jus­ti­fied before the throne in Christ? Without fur­ther hom­i­lies or state­ments to rely on its a bit hard to tell at the moment, but from this homi­ly it does seem to trend towards the abil­i­ty to do good works. Now I don’t want to be heard say­ing that doing good works is out­side of the realm of any­one who is not in Christ, and I want to affirm that it does come back to the view of the image of God in human­i­ty. But to equate good works with jus­ti­fi­ca­tion and sal­va­tion is stretch­ing it.…. a lot.

Finally, infal­li­bil­i­ty. The doc­trine has been swirling around for quite a few years now, with var­i­ous Popes tak­ing dif­fer­ing stances on it. Pope John XXIII is record­ed as say­ing: “I am only infal­li­ble if I speak infal­li­bly but I shall nev­er do that, so I am not infal­li­ble.” But it seems that the prin­ci­pal place for the Pope to be infal­li­ble is when they are ex cathe­dra. Is a homi­ly ex cathe­dra? Perhaps, but Francis’ han­dlers cer­tain­ly don’t think so.

It will be inter­est­ing to see how this one plays out, and I won­der whether Francis has been read­ing Rob Bell?

Chris

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