Monday, June 13, 2005

James V. Schall on Lumen Gentium and universalism

The June 2005 issue of Crisis magazine carries an unusually cryptic piece entitled "Salvation," by James V. Schall, in his usual column, Sense and Nonsense. In it is the following paragraph, which begins with a quote from the Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium:
Further, "Eternal salvation is open to those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church but seek God with a sincere heart, and under the inspiration of grace try in their lives to do his will, made known to them by the dictates of their conscience." Grace is seen working outside the visible confines of the Church, but not apart from the Spirit's being sent into the world. Like the court, the Church here insists that the person holding these positions must be sincere and in a position of unavoidable ignorance about the truth of revelation.
And then he adds:
Suicide bombers usually meet this criterion.
Amazing! Simply amazing! What a breath of absolutely fresh, clean air! Clarity! Finally!

He continues:
Finally, Divine Providence does not "deny aids necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet reached an explicit belief in God, but strive to lead a good life, under the influence of God's grace." By such criteria, one wonders who, other than a few unrepentant believers, are not saved? If the vast majority will be saved with these beliefs, why disturb them?
Schall concludes:
One wonders whether there are more erroneous consciences than we are led to believe, or whether the objective order is not more demanding than we suspect.
Indeed. While I would be the first to defend the integrity of the truth contained in Lumen Gentium, such passages as those above, taken in isolation, can certainly suggest such a romantically ebullient soteriology as to seem surpassingly naive. The greatness of Christianity is it's ability to understand both the aspirations and aberrations of human nature. Without a full picture of both the doctrine of creation (which speaks to our human greatness, created in the image of God Himself and destined for eternal communion in the life of the Holy Trinity) and the doctrine of original sin (which speaks to our wretchedness, our condition of terminal alienation and misery stemming from our inwardly twisted disposition -- in curvatus in se -- captured superlatively well in Peter Jackson's image of Tolkien's Gollum), we can't hope for a view of reality that avoids hopelessly naive romanticism, that speaks to the heart of our aspirations, but at the cost of ignoring our aberrations, or that avoids a hopelessly bleak pessimism, that speaks to the heart of our aberrations, but at the cost of despair.

A tip of the hat to Fr. Schall for reminding that the scale may need some balancing again, forty years after Lumen Gentium.