Faith


#1

This is probably not a new theological query, but I have been thinking about this lately.

  1. Christianity, and especially Catholicism, seems mutually exclusive of other religions. There are a lot of points of our dogma that, if true, imply that ours is the only valid religion - God as a Trinity, Jesus as God and Man on Earth, the virgin birth, the Resurrection, and especially the idea that only through faith in Christ can we achieve salvation. Fine.

  2. My question, though, is, if Christianity is the One True Religion, why has only a small percentage of humankind been given the benefit of exposure to the religion of Christ and the ability to Believe? There were obviously 10s or 100s of millions of people who lived before Christ who weren’t able to receive that message. Since the time of Christ, there have been 100s of millions of more people who - by fate of geography and culture - haven’t heard the message. Millions more may be aware of the message but have had no compelling reason to abandon the faith tradition with which they live. Still more may be aware of the message and perhaps even raised in the Faith but don’t accept Christianity because of lots of reasons - secular influences, life events and tragedies, cynical personalities, etc. People who were abused by priests might understandably want nothing more to do with Christianity and would fall into this category. And most True Believers didn’t choose Catholicism freely and openly but were instead born into the religion, grew up with it, and accepted it without much question or consideration; “saved” by an accident of being born into a Catholic family. Why is this? Am I making sense? Why didn’t Jesus want most of the billion people in India and the billion in China and the billion in the Middle East to know Him? Why did He choose me?


#2

Norbert,

I think that this is an excellent question, and you obviously are thinking about it seriously.

I’ve been trying to formulate a response that can do it justice, but I’m afraid that I won’t be able to, not really, since this question really touches on one of the most beautiful, frightening, and glorious aspects of our faith – it is the same question that Abram must have asked himself, in all the land of Ur, why has God revealed Himself to a solitary shepherd?

This shocking event, and the subsequent developments, has been called “the scandal of particularity”, because God broke into *history. *He chose a man, a tribe, a people, a nation, a kingdom, and now a Universal Church.

I think a great place to start thinking about these questions is by reading the documents of Vatican II, especially above all, Lumen Gentium, The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church.

Chapter II, entitled On the People of God, begins this way:

At all times and in every race God has given welcome to whosoever fears Him and does what is right. God, however, does not make men holy and save them merely as individuals, without bond or link between one another. Rather has it pleased Him to bring men together as one people, a people which acknowledges Him in truth and serves Him in holiness. He therefore chose the race of Israel as a people unto Himself. With it He set up a covenant. Step by step He taught and prepared this people, making known in its history both Himself and the decree of His will and making it holy unto Himself. All these things, however, were done by way of preparation and as a figure of that new and perfect covenant, which was to be ratified in Christ, and of that fuller revelation which was to be given through the Word of God Himself made flesh. "Behold the days shall come saith the Lord, and I will make a new covenant with the House of Israel, and with the house of Judah . . . I will give my law in their bowels, and I will write it in their heart, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people . . . For all of them shall know Me, from the least of them even to the greatest, saith the Lord. Christ instituted this new covenant, the new testament, that is to say, in His Blood, calling together a people made up of Jew and gentile, making them one, not according to the flesh but in the Spirit. This was to be the new People of God. For those who believe in Christ, who are reborn not from a perishable but from an imperishable seed through the word of the living God, not from the flesh but from water and the Holy Spirit, are finally established as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people . . . who in times past were not a people, but are now the people of God”.

If you read on in this Chapter, you might begin to see your question in a new light.

God Bless,
VC


#3

Along with Verbum Caro’s fine answer and the encyclical Lumen Gentium, you should look into the Catechism of the Catholic Church which addresses your issues.


#4

Good point, Della.

Norbert,

To continue on with Lumen Gentium, Chapter II,

  1. All men are called to belong to the new people of God. Wherefore this people, while remaining one and only one, is to be spread throughout the whole world and must exist in all ages, so that the decree of God’s will may be fulfilled. In the beginning God made human nature one and decreed that all His children, scattered as they were, would finally be gathered together as one.

The New Covenant extends God’s grace to all peoples – and the goal is a supernatural unity. But even under the Old Covenant, God was reaching out to the nations of the world. His Chosen people were to be priests to the gentiles – to mediate the presence of God and to inform them of God’s law, and to interceed on their behalf.

Lumen Gentium continues:

All men are called to be part of this catholic unity of the people of God which in promoting universal peace presages it. And there belong to or are related to it in various ways, the Catholic faithful, all who believe in Christ, and indeed the whole of mankind, for all men are called by the grace of God to salvation.

The document then addresses the different groups of people – who to a greater or lesser degree are related to the Church.

  1. This Sacred Council wishes to turn its attention firstly to the Catholic faithful. Basing itself upon Sacred Scripture and Tradition, it teaches that the Church, now sojourning on earth as an exile, is necessary for salvation. Christ, present to us in His Body, which is the Church, is the one Mediator and the unique way of salvation. In explicit terms He Himself affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the Church. Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved.

But, of course, those who don’t know (and are invincibly ignorant) are not lost on account of their lack of knowledge. This would apply to those who lived *before *the time of Chirst as well – you mentioned those people in your original query.

  1. Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God. . . .] 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.Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel. She knows that it is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life. But often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator. Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, “Preach the Gospel to every creature”, the Church fosters the missions with care and attention.

The last section I quoted, Paragraph 16, is very much worthy of further attention.

Lumen Gentium can be found here.


#5

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