I had to work through this issue for myself in becoming a Catholic 20 years ago, and I've been through it many times since. There are some good books on the issue, including a very nice, insightful little book by James (Jimmy) Akin, entitled The Salvation Controversy.
But the question has surfaced again recently, in light of Hans Urs von Balthasar's proto-Universalism, Ralph Martin's incisive response to the issue in Will Many Be Saved? and Fr. Robert Barron's response to that. Still more recently, there has been the flap over Catholic World Report's removal of Paul Deavel's review of Ralph Martin's book, and it's long-promised symposium, which (re-)published Deavel's review along with a number of responses to it.
Then, even more recently, there was this: Did I read that right? (New Sherwood, November 28, 2013):
At one point (par 165), Pope Francis writes:
“The centrality of the kerygma calls for stressing those elements which are most needed today: it has to express God’s saving love which precedes any moral and religious obligation on our part …”In other words, if I understand the context, the pope is saying that the evangelizer is not to appeal to moral or religious obligations, such the duty of every man to worship the one true God and obey His laws, because those obligations don’t exist for him until he encounters the Gospel. Do I misunderstand?
Astonishing.In Lutheran circles, the issue is dealt with in terms of the relation of "Law" to "Gospel" (or "Grace"), and as you might expect, not an eyebrow would be lifted by a statement like that above. On the other hand, in Lutheran worship services, one does not find the reading of the Decalogue preceding the Agnus Dei as one sometimes does in the Anglican liturgy. But there is in the Lutheran Book of Worship the Confession that we are (still) "in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves," a confession that Catholics in a state of grace might find a trifle odd.
My question, then, is whether Catholics would indeed find the above statement of Pope Francis "astonishing," as did the above writer. How do you think Catholics should understand such a statement.
[Hat tip to JM]