The MOST Theological Collection: Grace, Predestination and the Salvific Will of God: New Answers to Old Questions

"Appendix II: The universal salvific will and subjective redemption"


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Now that we have discussed the central issues of our topic, it will be helpful to examine some of the ways in which God's universal salvific will works itself out in the subjective redemption of individual men. First, we will answer Objection 5 from Chapter 5, on the plight of the pagans. Then we will examine some of the ways which individual culpability for sin can be reduced.

I. If God really wants all men to be saved, what are we to say of the salvation of so many pagans?

535a. As we said in the reply to objection 4 of Chapter 5, we must not forget again that even if we had no reply, we would not be permitted to deny the sincerity or force of the salvific will. For that is revealed. Actually, we can see a large part of the solution to the problem.

First of all, we know that even to these pagans God sends down "a rich abundance of graces" as we saw from the words of Pius XII.1 And we can add the words of Pius XI on precisely the pagan situation:2 "May the most holy Queen of the Apostles, Mary, kindly smile on and favour our common undertakings, who, since all men were entrusted to her motherly soul, on Calvary, does not cherish and love less those who do not know they have been redeemed by Christ Jesus, than those who happily enjoy the benefits of the redemption." Pope Pius XII spoke similarly of the care of Mary for all men:3 "She does not cease to pour out over all the peoples of the earth and over all social classes, the abundance of her graces." Likewise, the words of the Gospel, cited above,4 apply also to pagans, namely, that all the hairs of their heads are numbered, and similar other statements.

But let us consider the problem in more detail. There are three categories of minimum requirements for salvation: (1) At least a minimum faith,5 (2) Some connection with the Church, (3) Observance of the moral law, insofar as one knows it. We shall see that the second requirement will be fulfilled if the first and third are.

536. The more difficult question is to know how the pagans can have the needed minimum of faith. Many good conjectures have been made which it would be long to review. However, we do have official teaching of two Popes which sheds much light on the matter. St. Pius V condemned the following error of Baius:6 "Merely negative lack of faith in men to whom Christ has not been preached is a sin." And, much more clearly in the words of Pius IX:7 ". . . God . . . in His supreme goodness and clemency, by no means allows anyone to be punished with eternal punishment who does not have the guilt of voluntary fault." Similarly, Vatican II tells us: "They who without their own fault do not know of the Gospel of Christ and His Church, but yet seek God with sincere heart, and try, under the influence of grace, to carry out His will in practice, known to them through the dictate of conscience, can attain eternal salvation."8 So, from official teaching, it is clear that if any pagan observes the moral law, so far as he knows it, God will certainly not permit that man to perish. Therefore, God certainly will provide the means of faith.

537. Membership in the Church: In his encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, Pope Pius XII wrote (MC 103: AAS 35.243) that no one can be saved unless he is joined to the Catholic Church at least by an implicit wish or desire. It is appropriate to speculate as to how this can take place.

Pope John Paul II, in his Encyclical on Missions #10 said: "Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all. . . . Many do not have an opportunity to come to know or accept the Gospel or to enter the Church. . . . For such people salvation in Christ is accessible by virtue of a grace which, while having a mysterious relationship to the Church, does not make them formally members of the Church." We emphasize the word formally, since it implies that some lesser kind of membership, we might call it substantial, can suffice.

We can try to fill in on what these documents imply even though they do not speak explicitly. St. Justin the Martyr, writing c. 145, writes in his Apology9 that some in the past who were thought to be atheists, were really Christians, since they followed the divine Logos, the Word. He adds10 that the Logos is in each person. Now a spirit is present where it causes an effect. St. Paul tells us what this effect is:11 "The gentiles who do have the law, do by nature the things of the law. They show the work of the law written on their hearts." And according to their response, they are saved, or not.

It is the Spirit of Christ (or of God, or the Holy Spirit-all are the same) who writes the law, that is, makes known to them interiorly what morality requires. Justin had said that Socrates was one who did this. So Socrates (1) read what the Spirit wrote on his heart and believed it. (2) He had confidence in it. (3) He obeyed, carrying out the "obedience of faith" of which St. Paul speaks.12 Now those three things are a definition of faith as St. Paul means it. So Socrates was justified by faith. We add: St. Paul also says13 that if one has and follows the Spirit of Christ, he belongs to Christ. But that phrase means to be a member of Christ, which means to be a member of the Church, His Mystical Body. So Socrates did have a substantial, not a formal membership.14

Origen15 went even further: "Since God wants grace to abound . . . He is present not to the [pagan] sacrifices, but to the one who comes to meet Him, and there He gives His Word.16" According to this text, God does not use pagan false worship as a means of salvation, but He can and gladly does use the good will found in those who in ignorance try to worship Him in such ways.

So we conclude that although those who are not baptized are at least not formal members of the Church, still they can still belong to Her in some lesser degree, by receiving the Spirit of Christ.

538. What if a person who is justified by faith in this way later commits a mortal sin? Of course, perfect contrition will clear it. But we may speculate that there is a different way of doing it. In Ezekiel 18.21 God says: "If a wicked man turns from all his sins . . . and keeps all my statutes and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live." No perfect contrition is addressed to God who is goodness itself; but the change of heart in the wicked man, of which Ezekiel speaks, is addressed to God's justice: the man sees what he has done is wrong, resolves to do it no more. But just as God is identified with love, so also He is identified with His other attributes, including justice. Hence we may speculate that this will explain what Ezekiel says, that a person might recover the state of grace in that way. Such is God's goodness, who wants all to reach eternal happiness, and gladly accepts whatever good will He finds.

The fact of God's love is certain; it is only the how that remains unclear. But it is not strictly necessary that we know the how: it is enough to know the fact.

539. It is helpful to note the following facts about the moral condition of pagans: They lack the ready external means of pardon that the Sacraments provide, but there is a certain compensation in that they have lesser difficulties in avoiding sin, in many ways:

1) Experimental anthropology has shown that pagans on the whole do know the moral law. However, there is partial ignorance, especially in the matter of fraternal charity, and in the matter of chastity. For they commonly feel bound to love their own tribe, people; nation etc., but they feel that far less is required of them towards outsiders. Again, in the matter of chastity, many do not know that purely internal violations against chastity, in thought and desire, are prohibited. As a result, if they indulge in these, they do not contract formal guilt. Similarly, many pagans do not know that solitary external sins are forbidden: again, they are free from a large danger of formal sin. Furthermore, in many primitive people, marriage takes place at an earlier age, so that many a danger is avoided. Besides, they often do not consider divorce or contraception wrong. So, they are free from some very great dangers of formal sin, and precisely in the area in which so very many mortal sins are committed by those who know the moral law on these points.

2) It is also clear from anthropology that in many peoples, the relation between religion and morality is only partly known. That is, they think that violations of the moral code in many matters do not offend any god whatsoever. For example, the ancient Greeks and Romans17 thought they were offending Jupiter and were liable to be punished by him, if they did not honour the gods or their parents, if they did not take care of guests etc. But in the greater part of the moral law, they did not think they were offending any god if they did something against the moral code. In fact, Jupiter himself "the greatest and the best" was thought to like to commit adultery, and, according to their mythology he did much of it! So they did not think the gods were offended by or punished offences against chastity, thefts, lies, and even murders.18 They thought vaguely that in some way these things were prohibited. They said they were against "mores" or "ta ethe"-but these words basically mean merely customs. Did the Greeks and Romans perceive anything more than this? Did they perceive at least obscurely that these things were an offence against some greater God? At least, there is no evidence to show that they did. But even if they had some vague perception, at least, their sin would be proportionately reduced in gravity.

540. But we must add that such a vague perception would hardly suffice for mortal sin.19 For moral theology today recognizes the need of evaluative cognition. That is, it is not sufficient that a man be able to answer in reply to a question that this act is evil; but it is required that in some way he be able to perceive the true value of the action. Hence civil laws commonly provide that young children, before a certain age, are incapable of validly signing a contract. A child might be able, for example, to say "Yes, I do know that if I sign this sheet of paper, you will give me a new bicycle, and I will give you an apartment building." But, because a young child is incapable of rightly rating the values involved, the law invalidates his signature. Hence also the decision of the Sacred Roman Rota invalidating a marriage of a certain man who lacked the ability of evaluative cognition.20

So we must ask: To what extent can the pagans, who see in many ethical violations no offence against any god whatsoever-to what extent can they contract formal moral guilt on such matters? It is difficult to judge, and best to leave the decision to the judgment of God. But at least we can say, in the light of these facts, that the case of the pagans proves nothing against the true force of the universal salvific will.

It is also useful to add the following observation of St. Thomas:21 ". . .  angels and men love God more and more principally than themselves by a natural love. Otherwise, if naturally they loved themselves more than God, it would follow that the natural love would be perverse; and then it [the natural love] would not be perfected by [supernatural] charity, but would be destroyed." But, grace perfects nature.

541. It is helpful to indulge in a bit of speculation on the providential distribution of places.

As a result of human frailty, it is inevitable that there be errors and heresies. For, even though the originators of such errors may have been in bad faith or culpable at least in some way, yet the later generations who are born into families holding that error, can easily be in good faith and completely inculpable. Similarly, many are born in pagan places, where there are no sacraments. God could obviate all these errors-but only by an immense multiplication of miracles. That would be contrary to Wisdom, for it would mean making the extraordinary ordinary. So, without such a multiplication, it is inevitable that many are born in places with few or no sacraments.

How does God distribute humans among the various types of places? Because God has not given us a full and explicit revelation of His plan in this regard, we must have recourse to speculation. But we can discover at least one way in which a most loving Father can wisely and lovingly provide for all His children. Perhaps God has a still better way than that we are about to suggest.

God is a most loving Father, a most powerful and wise Father. He can know what His children will do if He puts them in various types of places. He knows that, unless He were to multiply miracles to an immense extent, it is necessary to assign some to places with few or no sacraments. In other words, it is as if He viewed the whole world, throughout all centuries, as an immense checkerboard, containing places of various qualities. He wants to so assign His children to these positions as to save all who will not, of their own free will, block His generosity.

Perhaps He acts, in general, in this way:

1) He sees that there are some men who will persistently resist grace, no matter what the place in which He puts them. (We know from history that there are many who became very wicked even in the most favourable type of places, e.g., in some past centuries, even Popes and Bishops have been wicked-of course, we do not know if they were eternally lost). Probably God will place many of these in the less favourable places: in this way, the more favourable places will be left free for those who will not resist grace so persistently. Further, it is an act of mercy to assign a man to an unfavourable place if he would perish even in a more favourable place: for he is less culpable in the unfavourable place, since he has less opportunities.

2 ) God sees that others will not resist grace so persistently. There are chiefly two categories of these persons:

a) Some of these can be saved even in places with few or no sacraments. This does not happen because they are of themselves better, but because they, freely, will resist grace less. (It is clear that there are such men, since history shows that many pagans and Protestants have been and are very good men). Probably God will put many of these in places with few or no sacraments so as to leave the more favourable places open for those who would perish without them. (We should recall also the compensations which, as we saw above,22 are to be found in the less favourable places).

b) Some can be saved only in places in which they will have all the sacraments, since they resist grace so much. Probably therefore God will assign many if not all of these to places in which they can be members of the Church in the full sense.

It does not follow, of course that all who are members of the Church in the full sense are such: for probably the number of favourable places available is greater than the number needed.

542. As we said, we have proposed the above distribution on a conjectural basis. Yet, the conjecture does follow closely every revealed fact. St. Paul says to the Corinthians, in regard to the call to the Church:23 ". . .  think on your own call, brethren; that there are not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble. But the foolish things of the world has God chosen to put to shame the 'wise,' and the weak things of the world has God chosen to put to shame the strong. . . ." Similarly, we know from Scripture itself that the ancient Hebrews, the chosen people, were so hard of heart that God said to Ezechiel:24 "Not to a people with difficult speech and unknown language am I sending you, nor to many peoples whose words you cannot understand. If I were to send you to these, they would listen to you; but the house of Israel will not listen to you, since . . . the whole house of Israel is stubborn of brow and of obstinate heart." Again, the book of Jonah represents the Assyrians (the worst of people, to the Jewish mind) as quickly listening to the prophet-though the chosen people was normally recalcitrant to prophets.

Again, of the ten lepers healed in the Gospel, no one from the chosen people returned to give thanks, but only one Samaritan. Likewise, in the parable about the traveller who fell among robbers, all members of the chosen race who saw him passed by, and only a Samaritan had true charity towards his neighbour.

Furthermore, our entire conjecture comes down to this: God assigns places according to the needs of each one.

St. Thomas also seems to suppose that God acts according to such a principle. For he says that God became man, and did not become an angel, not because He loved human nature more, but because man was more needy:25 "God did not assume human nature because He loved man absolutely more; but because he [man] was more needy, just as a good father of a family gives something very precious to a sick slave which he does not give to a healthy son."

In a similar way, St. Paul, in explaining by a comparison the assignment of functions within the Church, says:26 ". . . those that we think the less honourable members of the body, we surround with more abundant honour, and our uncomely parts have a more abundant comeliness, whereas our comely parts have no need of it. But God has so tempered the body together as to give more abundant honour where it was lacking. . . ."

II. Reduction of culpability for sin.

543. Within the general framework explained in the course of this book, God in His marvelous Wisdom has found ways to make use of every possible opportunity to save souls. Many of these souls might seem to us beyond help. But His Wisdom knows how to say, in varying measures: "They know not what they do."

1) Somatic resonance.

The chemical makeup of a person's body can impede his ability to choose the good. To start with an extreme example, there are people called sociopaths, who seem almost unable to grasp any moral principles. Is there any hope for them? Definitely yes, in His marvelous plans to reduce responsibility in accord with variations in human conditions.

First of all, there is such a thing as somatic resonance-a term from modern psychology. Since man is a single substance composed of both material and spiritual principles, it follows that for a condition in a person's body, there should be a parallel condition, called a resonance, in the soul, and vice-versa. For example, a person in deep depression sometimes thinks he is losing or has lost his faith. But the bad chemistry of his disease can interfere with the biochemistry that should serve as the somatic resonance to his faith. This does not expel faith, but can keep it from functioning normally, so that the person thinks he has lost it or is losing it.27

There are numerous applications of this principle. For instance, different conditions in the brain can serve as the somatic resonance to different conditions. For instance, Louis Gottschalk, a neuro-psychiatrist at U of C at Irvine took hair samples of 193 rapists, murderers, armed robbers and other violent criminals, as well as from normal persons. Results showed that "on the average violent criminals have almost five times more manganese in their hair."28

Other test results have shown that men who had committed murder without clear premeditation had the lowest levels of the breakdown product of serotonin known as 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid, or 5-HIAA.29 Again, PET scans of persons with autism showed that normal persons have a cooler anterior singulate compared to the active anterior singulate of the withdrawn person. The brain portions involved seem to be exhibiting` somatic resonance to the mental conditions.30 And there are numerous other instances.31

These things do not deny free will. But they show that a person may be much inclined in an unfortunate direction by abnormal chemistry. God who so greatly wills all to be saved, surely makes full allowance for these things.

2) Culpable ignorance.

Furthermore, there are two marvelous spiral processes or patterns that show how God's mercy and justice can be identified in practice in these processes. The bad spiral appears when a soul sins much over a period of time. It grows less and less able to perceive spiritual truths. Suppose we think of a man who has never been drunk before, but tonight he becomes very drunk. The next morning he will have guilt feelings-for this was the first time. There will be a clash between his beliefs and his actions. Something will give in time. If he continues getting drunk, his beliefs will be pulled to match his actions, so that a confirmed drunk can hardly understand there is anything wrong with it. Further moral truths may be dimmed in this way.

Now we can see both mercy and justice here. The fact that the man is losing light is justice, he has earned that. But at the same time, what he does not understand at the time of acting can lower his culpability. He may lose even the ability to see some doctrinal truths. Yes, there is a responsibility taken on at the start of the decline, when and if the person sees himself declining, and consents to it. But at the later times of acting, responsibility may be diminished.

The good spiral takes place when a person leading an upright life gradually comes to a greater and greater knowledge of the good, and thus can progress even farther towards God.

3) Preconceived ideas or mental frameworks.

We should notice also the reduced responsibility that comes from the fact that people may have mental frameworks, sets of ideas already in their minds. It can be very difficult for a person to accept as true something that does not fit with their established mental framework.

For example, Galen, a second century Greek anatomist, wrote a description of all parts of the body without having fully dissected one. Centuries later, Fabricius, the anatomy professor of William Harvey, who discovered the circulation of the blood, in dissecting found some things contrary to Galen-he refused to believe his own eyes, and held instead to Galen.

Teilhard de Chardin, SJ, called variously a theologian or a paleontologist, not only believed in evolution of the human body, but also of intelligence and morality, so that just before the return of Christ at the end, he said most of our race would be joined in a unity like that of a totalitarian state, by love. Compare Luke 18:8: "When the Son of Man comes, do you think He will find faith on the earth"? Or Matthew 24:12: "Because sin will reach its peak, the love of most people will grow cold." Or 2 Timothy 3 which at the start of the chapter gives a dreadful list of what people will be like then. And there is more in Scripture, which did not penetrate at all into De Chardin.

Then there is Ignaz Semmelweis, MD, one of the discoverers of germs. He told other doctors to use antiseptic precautions. They decided that he was insane, and put him in a madhouse for the rest of his life.

Again, the Apostles had an firm idea that Jesus was going to restore the kingship to Israel-just before the ascension they asked when He would do that!32 That is why they did not understand His predictions of His death and resurrection-such things could not fit with their notion of what sort of Messiah He was. Similarly, the Old Testament predictions, as we shall see fully later, of the gentiles streaming to Jerusalem were easily understood to mean that all gentiles would become Jews-and not that they would be accepted by God as gentiles and become part of the people of God.33 As a result, Peter and others were painfully slow to understand the command of Matthew 28 to go and teach all nations. So Jewish Christians in Acts 10 were shocked that Peter would even speak to gentiles-though Jesus had ordered precisely that.

So we see that here too is much room for much reduced responsibility.

4) Scripture.

God's arrangements in Sacred Scripture are similarly marvelous. Scripture is a great gift to us, but in its very difficulty and obscurity we see the workings of God's wisdom in still another way. God wills some obscurity in Scripture, to mercifully be able to say: "They know not what they do." How much responsibility is dimmed in a given case, only He can judge.

We can notice the principle working out especially in the case of the parables. Early in His public life, if we follow the chronology of St. Mark, Jesus turned to teaching by means of parables. He said to His disciples, "To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables; so that they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand."

Now of course He did not deliberately blind them-if He had done that, He would not have wept over Jerusalem later. Rather, His words mean that parables are a divinely established means for dividing people into two groups. One group, by living vigorously according to what faith says, that the things of this world are worth little compared to eternity, will get a little light at first, and then more and more light. The other group will become more and more blind-we are speaking again of the two spirals, mentioned above, in two directions.

But it is not only parables that cause this effect: God wills that Scripture in general be difficult. If we make allowance for differences in language, culture, literary genre etc. in understanding, after all that there is still a lot of difficulty not accounted for. That part is willed by God. St. Augustine thought God wants it that way, to get us to work harder, and so get more. Pius XII agreed.34 So again, God has a means of mercifully allowing a person to become less responsible as he loses light.

Such lack of comprehension fits, as we said above, with the words of Our Lord Himself. "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do."


1 Chapter 5, n. 47.
2 Rerum Ecclesiae. AAS 18. 83 (emphasis mine).
3 Le testimonianze. AAS 46.664.
4 §48.
5 The minimum requirement is supernatural faith in God as a rewarder and punisher. However it seems that it is not necessary by necessity of means to believe that God rewards in the future life, for the Jews, who lived under a most special providence, seem to have had at least no clear notion of a future life and its rewards until about the middle of the second century BC. On the problem of how non-believers can have faith, R. Lombardi, SJ, The Salvation of the Unbeliever (tr. by D. M. White), Westminister, 1956; M. Eminyan, The Theology of Salvation, Boston, 1960; M. Séckler, "Das Heil der Nichtevangelisierten in Thomister Sicht" in: Theologische Quartalschrift 140 (1960) pp. 38-39; and Y. M. J. Congar, OP, "Au sujet du salut des non-Catholiques" in Revue des Sciences Religieuses 32 (1958) pp. 53-65. Some theologians think that faith is somehow contained in the response that a man makes, under the motion to grace, to the moral mandate in which God is actually perceived, as He gives a command in regard to the ultimate end which is, actually, supernatural. However, we must note that even if this explanation is valid it does not follow that the sin of a man who does not obey a mandate perceived only in this way is necessarily mortal. For mortal sin requires sufficient evaluative cognition, as we shall see below (§67). Such a dim perception of the relation to God probably would not provide enough evaluative cognition for mortal sin. This is particularly the case in the first moral decision of a child just emerging into the light of reason (and doing so gradually): civil law generally invalidates contracts signed by such children, for lack of evaluative cognition. They would hardly have enough evaluative cognition for mortal sin, though they could easily have enough for venial sin.

Cf. also the discussion (in §48) of the case of those who lack full membership in the Church.

6 DS 1968 (DB 1068).
7 DS 2865 (DB 1677).
8 On the Church II.16.
9 Apology 1.46
10 Apology 2.10
11 Rom 2:14-16
12 Rom 1:5
13 Rom 8:9
14 Cf. Vatican II, On the Church, VII, 49.
15 Homily on Numbers, 16.1
16 Origen seems to mean the Logos, in the sense given by Justin.
17 Cf. J. Cooper, "The Relation between Religion and Morality in Primitive Culture" in: Primitive Man 4 (1931) ppi 3348 (all of vol. 4 is on this general topic); and Charles Fay, "Natural Moral Law in the Light of Cultural Relativism and Evolutionism" in: Anthropological Quarterly 34 (1961) pp. 177-191.
18 Although Jupiter and the great gods of Greece and Rome were not thought to punish murder, yet the Eumenides (the Furies) were believed to do so.
19 It is interesting to compare the thought of St. Thomas, in his commentary on Romans (Cap. VII, Lect. II. 536): ". . . the Apostle here seems to speak of the old law [revealed law-not merely natural law, as the context shows] . . . for without the law, sin could be known inasmuch as it is against honestum, that is, against reason: but not inasmuch as it involves an oftense against God, since only by a law divinely given is it manifested to man that human sins displease God, since He prohibits them and commands that they be punished."
20 Cf. Sacrae Romanae Rotae decisiones, vol. 33, decisio 15; Nullitas Matrimonii coram Wynen, 25 Feb. 1941, Romae, Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, 1950, pp. 144-168: cited in: J. C. Ford, SJ, and Gerald Kelly, SJ, Contemporary Moral Theology, Newman, Westminster, 1958, I, p. 273. Cf. pp. 270-276. Cf. also J. Duhamel, SJ, and J. Hayden, OSB, "Theological and Psychiatric Aspects of Habitual Sin" in: The Catholic Theological Society of America: Proceedings of the Eleventh Annual Convention, 1956, pp. 135- 138.
21 ST I 60.5.c.
22 §§538-540. We note also that a pagan in the state of grace can follow the "law of the Spirit": cf. Rom 8:2 and §48 above.
23 1 Cor 1:26-27.
24 Ez 3:5-8.
25 ST I 20.4 ad 2.
26 1 Cor 12:23-24.
27 See c. 18, n. 140.
28 Discover, August, 1992, pp. 11-12. Cf. Science News, Aug. 20, 1983, pp. 122-125 for similar results.
29 Science News, Oct. 14, 1989, p. 250.
30 Science News, Apr. 16, 1994, pp. 248-249.
31 Cf. Discover, Oct., 1993, pp. 30-31; Science News Oct 9, 1971, p. 249; July 16, 1983 pp. 45-46; Oct. 14, 1989, p. 246; Scientific American, Feb. 1974, pp. 84-91; US News & World Report, Nov 8, 1993, pp. 76-79.
32 Acts 1:6.
33 Cf. Ephesians 3:3-6, where that fact is revealed for the first time by Paul.
34 (EB 563)