Pope Francis and the Salvation of Non-believers

Here is the news report:

“Pope Francis used the first Christmas address of his papacy on Wednesday to make a broad call for global peace and an end to violence in Syria and parts of Africa, urging atheists and followers of other religions to join together in this common cause.”

“I invite even nonbelievers to desire peace,” he said. “Let us all unite, either with prayer or with desire, but everyone, for peace.”

Since his election less than a year ago, Pope Francis has spoken repeatedly about atheists or “non-believers”. There are clear indications in his comments that he believes an atheist can be in a state of grace. If a non-believer were not in a state of grace, it would seem that he could not unite with believers in a sincere desire for true world peace. Persons who are not in a state of grace can cooperate with actual graces, but only partially and haltingly, until and unless they cooperate so fully as to enter the state of grace, at least by an implicit baptism of desire.

And if someone, anyone, is in a state of grace, and dies in that state, then he is certainly saved. All persons who die in a state of grace — which is the state of loving God and neighbor — will obtain eternal life in Heaven, perhaps after a short or long stay in Purgatory. So our holy Pontiff is indicating that non-believers can be saved. They can enter the state of grace by an implicit baptism of desire, and they retain that state if their rejection of belief in God is not an actual mortal sin. If they do commit any actual mortal sin, they can return to the state of grace by perfect contrition, even if that contrition is implicit.

In my view, the term “non-believer” includes atheists, agnostics, as well as persons who adhere to belief systems that do not include any discrete Divine being (e.g. Jainism). So “non-believer” is not synonymous with “atheist”.

Eventually, Pope Francis is going to advance beyond extemporaneous comments, to teach under the Magisterium concerning the salvation of non-Christian believers and non-believers. I’m certain he will teach that non-Christian believers and non-believers can be saved without converting. This teaching is entirely in accord with Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the past teachings of the Magisterium. But it is also in stringent discord with the current pseudo-dogmatic teachings of the conservative Catholic subculture. There will be an outcry and a rebellion from that segment of the Catholic population, and some of them (perhaps many) will choose to depart from the one true Church, partly for that reason.

If you wish to understand how non-Christians and non-believers can be saved, even if they know about Christianity and do not convert, see the detailed explanation in my book:

Forgiveness and Salvation for Everyone
available in print (paperback, 510 pp.) and in Kindle format.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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5 Responses to Pope Francis and the Salvation of Non-believers

  1. Cursillista says:

    I am confused by this thought process. Is not Baptism of Desire (of the Holy Spirit) rooted in Christ’s teaching from John 14? This teaching begins with Christ applying this grace to he that “Loveth Me”. Therefore if the atheist has no love of God ( or Christ) how can Baptism of Desire apply? The church fathers applied this alternative to Baptism by water in the case of those catecumins wishing entrance to the church but who died before reception of the Sacrament. They truly had a love of Christ and an eventual desire for baptism by water. The church fathers even went as far as saying that this did not replace true baptism when available. When Christ initiated this teaching of baptism of desire he required the recipient to “Loveth Me”, are we not ignoring this requirement by admitting the atheist and non-believer?

    • Ron Conte says:

      The Magisterium is the sole authoritative interpreter of Tradition and Scripture. The Church Fathers are not. The Magisterium has already taught that a baptism of desire can be implicit; it can occur without any desire for baptism per se. This type of baptism prevailed in OT times. Those who lived before Christ could be saved without explicitly desiring Baptism. And that type of implicit baptism still occurs today (as the Holy Office taught in response to the error of Feeneyism). See my book: Forgiveness and Salvation for Everyone.

  2. Cursillista says:

    Ok, if the teachings of the church fathers (St Ambrose) on baptism of desire is not Majesterial teaching then what of the Council of Trent In the fourth chapter of the sixth session, in speaking of the necessity of baptism, it says that men can not obtain original justice “except by the washing of regeneration or its desire”. The same doctrine is taught by Pope Innocent III.
    It is well accepted that an implicit desire is one that is implied or understood. How can an atheist have an implicit desire for baptist from a God in which he does not believe or even acknowledges the existence of.
    You mention Christ’s decent prior to the resurrection as proof of this baptism of desire of the non-believer or atheist. Christ descended into Hades and not Gehenna. . Hades, which is the Greek translation of the Hebrew sheol, is the biblical term for where righteous Israelites went who died before Christ. Gehenna, on the other hand, is the destination of the damned. A righteous Isrealite had a profound belief in God. And upon His descent Christ brought these righteous Isrealites the truth of the Gospel. He did not bring this truth to the non-believer, the atheist and the pagan in Gehenna.

    • Ron Conte says:

      You are confusing your own limited understanding and misunderstanding of Church teaching, with Church teaching itself. Your interpretation of the teachings of Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium is not the same as the teachings themselves. The Magisterium is the sole authoritative interpreter of Tradition, Scripture, and past magisterial teachings. So if Pope Francis does teach that non-Christian believers and non-believers can be saved without converting, then that is the correct understanding and interpretation.

      An atheist can have a an implicit desire for a baptism from God, even though he does not know that God exists, just as an Israelite in OT times could have an implicit desire for baptism, without knowing that baptism exists. Support for this interpretation is found in the teachings of Jesus. The Centurion was not a Jew; he, like other Romans, believed in pagan deities. Yet Jesus declared that he had greater faith than most Jews of that time. The Centurion loved his neighbor, and so he implicitly loved the one true God, even though he had no belief in one all-powerful creator God. Jesus also taught, in the parable of the Returning King (Mt 25), that many persons, whose love of their neighbor was expressed in good deeds, were implicitly loving Christ and so were saved.

      Of course, it goes both ways. A person can implicitly reject God by ignoring their neighbor in need, or by hating their neighbor.

      I don’t agree with your analysis of the Biblical terminology on the afterlife, nor with your assumption that only righteous Israelites went to the limbo of the Fathers. In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, Lazarus goes to the bosom of Abraham (interpreted by some as the limbo of the Fathers) because he suffered innocently (like Christ), not because he was a Jew.

      Pope John Paul II taught that a person can outwardly reject the Church, and yet still be a (non-formal) member of the Church implicitly (All Salvation Comes Through Christ).

      Pope Pius IX taught that they can be saved “who are struggling with invincible ignorance about our most holy religion. Sincerely observing the natural law and its precepts inscribed by God on all hearts and ready to obey God, they live honest lives and are able to attain eternal life by the efficacious virtue of divine light and grace. Because God knows, searches and clearly understands the minds, hearts, thoughts, and nature of all, his supreme kindness and clemency do not permit anyone at all who is not guilty of deliberate sin to suffer eternal punishments.”

      If a person lives a life of love of neighbor in cooperation with grace, then he can be saved. He can obtain an implicit baptism of desire by the love of neighbor, which always includes, at least implicitly, the love of God. He can return to the state of grace, if he commits an actual mortal sin, by implicit perfect contrition. Only those persons who die unrepentant from actual mortal sin are sent to Hell. Jesus taught this truth when He said that all sins are forgiven except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (final impenitence). There is only one path to Hell. Therefore, an atheist can be saved, as long as he does not commit and refuse to repent from any actual mortal sins of commission or omission.

  3. Francisco says:

    Also, pre-born babies and toddlers would be, in some sense, like “atheists”; yet they are in a state of grace for they are innocent of any mortal sin, so they go to Heaven (in my opinion, thru a way of upper level of Purgatory – like a Heavenly Kindergarten [better than any earthy one] to learn about Christ – there is no suffering there, just learning before they have access to the Beatific Vision).

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