The Father William Most Collection
Does God Care?
[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]
Does He make any arrangement for the teeming millions in the Far East? In America before Columbus? For babies who just happen to die without baptism? or even for miscarriages?
St. Paul is very insistent in saying: He does care. In 1 Timothy 2.4: "God wills all men to be saved." And in Romans 3.29: "Is He the God of the Jews only? No, He is also God of the gentiles?" That is: if He had made salvation depend on keeping the law of Moses He would seem to care about only Jews. But He must also have made some provision for those who never heard of that law - or of anything else, being mere babies?
For adults, St. Paul would reply that God provides that they can be saved through faith. And He makes clear what faith is. It includes belief in what God says, confidence in His promises, and especially also: obedience when He commands. This is easily clear in the example St. Paul is fond of using: that of Abraham. When Abraham was age 75, retirement age, God told him to leave his land and his people and go to the place He would point out - that was Canaan, a land of cities and of nomads, but all of them pagans. Abraham did not stop to ask questions, he simply went ahead, he believed what God said, had confidence in Him, and obeyed with the 'obedience of faith' of which Paul spoke in Romans1.5, that is, the obedience that faith is.
A combination of St. Paul and St. Justin Martyr can help us. St. Paul in 1 Cor 7 speaks about persons who were married while both were pagan, but one turns Christian. In general he says if they can make it go peacefully let it stand. But if not: "How do you know O wife if you will save your husband? ...the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife.… Otherwise your children would be unclean, but actually, they are holy."
First we need to clarify two words: We have to know that "save" has three meanings in Scripture--rescue from temporal dangers -- enter the Church -- or enter heaven. [the notion of being saved permanently is Scriptural nonsense. Our standard authority, G. Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, does not even mention infallible salvation- there is no basis, it is simply nonsense.]
Next we must know that the verb to make holy (hagiazo) and the related adjective hagios do not express high moral perfection. (So many translations have Paul addressing his converts as "Saints", but he has no notion of saying they had high moral perfection--Hardly the Corinthians who caused him so much trouble.) Rather holy means coming under the covenant., cultically right. Hence: the unbelieving partner is brought under the covenant by the Christian, and the children likewise are not unclean but hagioi. In speaking of this, Paul does not hint at all that the children and the unbelieving mate are baptized. Yet they come under the covenant and so are not eternally lost, but are saved.
This fits with the general belief of theologians that those who died before Christ, were saved by circumcision, if boys, but if girls, they would be saved in some other way if they belonged to the People of God. (Circumcision gave them entry).
Now it is evident, if the children of a mixed marriage such as St. Paul described were saved by coming under the covenant, by coming from one Christian parent, then unbaptized babies today should be able to be saved, to reach the vision of God. If at least one parent has been baptized.
But what if neither parent were Christian? Could such a baby be saved? Here we add the help of St. Justin Martyr, who in his first Apology, written 145-59, said in #46 that some in the past who had been considered atheists were really Christians, since they followed the Logos, the Divine Word. He gives as an example, Socrates--who, incidentally, was far from being homosexual. Plato quotes Socrates many times saying that one who seeks the truth should have as little as possible to do with the things of the body!
But we still need to ask how that could work out that some like Socrates could be Christian by following the Logos, of which they had not even heard. Justin in his second Apology #10 added that the Logos is within each person.
Now of course that is not a spatial presence- spirits do not take up or use space. But we say a spirit is present wherever it produces an effect. So what effect did the Logos cause in the soul of Socrates? We turn back to St. Paul. In Romans 2.15 he said that the Spirit writes the law in the hearts of each person. That is, the Spirit interiorly makes known to each one how he should live.
Modern anthropology confirms that this is really the case. It shows that primitives have a remarkably good knowledge of the moral law. How well they follow it is another question. But they do know it surprisingly well.
To return to Socrates: The Spirit wrote on the heart of Socrate what he needed to do. Socrates read this message, he believed it, he had confidence in it, and he really obeyed it. But these things: belief, confidence, and obedience were and are the elements of Pauline faith as we saw at the outset. So Socrates did have Pauline faith, and since Paul says that God provides faith as the way to justification for all, Socrates was justified by faith. But still further, having faith like Abraham, Socrates being justified by faith came under the covenant. As such, without knowing the fact, he was following the Divine Logos. As St. Justin said, for this reason we say Socrates was Christian.
As Christian, of course he could be saved. Still further, we teach that one must be a member of the Church: no salvation outside the Church. So in a substantial way, without formally entering, Socrates was a member of the Church. John Paul II in his Encyclical on Missions 10 said that many are taken care of by a "mysterious grace" which does not make them "formally" members of the Church. But yet in some lesser way, without registering at a parish, they must be members.
This clearly held for Socrates. We add that in Romans 8.9 Paul says that if one does not have and follow the Spirit, he does not belong to Christ. But in St. Paul's terms, to belong to Christ means to be a member of Christ, which means to be a member of the Church. Not formally, as John Paul II said, but yet really, for they can really be saved.
We saw already that an unbaptized baby coming from at least one Christian parent could be as Paul says hagios, could come under the covenant, and thus be saved. But now we see something remarkable: a baby from Socrates would also come under the covenant, since Socrates did come under it. Of course the same would hold for countless babies coming from at least one parent who was under the covenant as we have described and explained.
We need to move on to a further group: babies who died having no parent under the covenant (as was Socrates). We cannot in such cases reason as we just did above. Is there no hope for them? Even here we must recall the words of the CCC, that Jesus loves little one, and the goodness of God is infinite: so we have hope.
We know the great love God has for rebalancing the objective moral order--the death of His Son made that possible for all sins and all persons. and because of the infinity of the Incarnate Word, the claim to all grace and forgiveness, that is, the price of redemption, is infinite.
Now we ask: Does God show a similar concern for the objective physical order? There are important indications in Scripture that He does. In the little parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Abraham does not tell the rich man in hell that he sinned gravely against charity and justice. That was true. But yet what Abraham pointed to was the objective physical order: You, rich man, had good things, in your lifetime, and Lazarus had the opposite. So now it is time to reverse things.
We find more of this in the Sermon on the Plain. It has only 4 beatitudes, but it adds 4 woes: Woe to you rich, and similar things. Scripture is appealing to the objective physical order. We find similar lines in the Epistle of James, speaking again to the rich.
So we may ask: Would God, when He sees the soul of an unbaptized infant, especially one cruelly killed by abortion, will He say to Himself?: I intended that this baby should have a normal lifespan. Assuredly I did not intend he should die so cruelly. Now is the time to reverse things, as it was in the case of the rich man and Lazarus. As St. Thomas points out well, God's hands are not tied by the Sacraments. He can and does give grace, even abundantly, outside the Sacraments. If He did not act that way, teeming millions, babies and adults would be shut out.
Now there are two ways of speaking about the whole divine economy--the interior aspect and the exterior. The interior way of speaking considers all things that determine the spiritual state and ultimate eternal fate of each soul. In it the Father has accepted the Infinite price of Redemption. He has really bound Himself to offer grace abundantly, even superabundantly as Romans 5.15-20 tells us. He can, therefore, offer all sorts of grace superabundantly even before the external means, the Church has been set up in the external order.. So in OT times He could and did offer grace without limit except the rejection by the human soul.
But in the exterior order Scripture speaks very differently. Before Christ, the land of Zabulon sat in darkness - as if no grace at all were offered then. The triumphant song of the Easter Vigil Exultet follow on this pattern of thought.
St. Augustine, in spite of his dour reasonings about the massa damnata, still wrote, in the City of God 18.47: "Nor do I think the Jews would dare to argue that no one pertained to God except the Israelites, from the time that Israel came to be.... they cannot deny that there were certain men even in other nations who pertained to the true Israelites, the citizens of the fatherland above, not by earthly but by heavenly association."
Origen goes so far as to say, speaking of pagan sacrifices (On Numbers 16.1), "Since God wants grace to abound, He sees fit to be present.... He is present not to the [pagan] sacrifices, but to the one who comes to meet Him, and to these He gives His Word." In other words, pagan sacrifices and ritual are not a means of salvation. By no means. But yet God can distinguish between these misguided external things and the interior of those who follow them, thinking that they should do so to please Him. Centuries earlier. St. Irenaeus who had learned from St. Polycarp, disciple of the beloved Disciple wrote (4.14.1): "In the beginning ,God formed Adam, not because He stood in need of man, but that He might have someone to receive His benefits." And the great St. Teresa of Avila, who knew the Heart of God from so much personal experience, wrote: (Conceptions of Love of God 6): "God would never want to do other than give if He found souls to whom He could give."
Really, God is ready to give even the highest graces. In line with thought of St. Teresa, St. Irenaeus and of Origen, we say we think God may given even the highest graces to some of the ascetics of the Far East, who give up everything. It is for a false belief, yet as Origen said, God may come to meet them. We happen to have a very special case that seems like this, that of Plotinus, the real father of Neoplatonism. Porphyry, his anti-Christian pupil, in his life of Plotinus says that Plotinus claimed to have had ecstatic union with God 4 times in 6 years. His last words when dying were "I was waiting for you [his physician] before that which is divine in me departs to unite itself with the Divine in the universe. Unlike Porphyry he said nothing against Christianity but attacked Gnosticism. Plotinus even took in orphaned children, was ascetic, gentle and affectionate.. He lived a life of mortification, and so God probably was happy to give that high grace to Plotinus, since He found there someone to receive. Plotinus also wrote, Enneads 1.6.8: "Let us flee to the beloved fatherland. The fatherland is from whence we came and the Father is there. ...feet are not necessary for that... nor the conveyance of horses. Plotinus also wrote (Enneads 4.1: 516 b-c) that God is, "beyond being". He did not mean a sort of nirvana. Rather that the word being when applied to God and when applied to creatures has something in common, but much more that is different. Is it not likely then that God who so greatly wants to give would gave even infused contemplation to a person who separates himself from all things of this world, as do some of the holy men of the Far East? Such a God as that we know far more than these ascetics, would he not rejoice, as St. Teresa said, to find someone to receive?
Of course all this does not suggest negligence in baptizing infants. Quite the opposite. Their Father wills that they receive it.