Mark Shea on Adoption as Children of God

Shea’s claim

Over at, Mark Shea answers a reader’s question on adoption as children of God: Pope Francis calls Christians and Muslims brothers and sisters. Shea claims that Pope Francis only meant that Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters because we are all human persons, made in God’s image. Well, yes, we are brothers and sisters in that sense. But Shea also implies, by his agreement with the reader he quotes, that Muslims (and other non-Christians) are not children of God.

The reader asks: “We Gentiles who have come to Christ are adopted children of God. So only people who come to Christ are technically considered God’s children?”

Mark Shea answers: “Catholic teaching is that we become children of God and partakers in the divine nature the Holy Spirit poured out on us through baptism and faith in Jesus Christ.”

And when the reader summed up his view, that Christians and Muslims are brothers and sisters because we are all made in God’s image, but only Christians are children of God, and Muslims are not, Shea chimes in: “Yep. You got it.”

The problem is that this position — that only baptized Christians are children of God — is abject heresy.

Catholic Dogma

We fallen human persons are conceived with original sin. When we enter the state of grace by baptism with water, we become the adopted children of God. So baptized Christians are children of God because they have received the state of grace by the Sacrament of Baptism. These points are the teaching of the Church. So far, I think we all agree.

The problem is that Mark Shea has fallen into the doctrinal error of Rachel Lu, the error of thinking (and unfortunately teaching) that ONLY baptized Christians are the adopted children of God. The Council of Trent infallibly teaches otherwise:

Council of Trent: “By which words, a description of the Justification of the impious is indicated, — as being a translation, from that state wherein man is born a child of the first Adam, to the state of grace, and of the adoption of the sons of God, through the second Adam, Jesus Christ, our Savior. And this translation, since the promulgation of the Gospel, cannot be effected, without the laver of regeneration, or the desire thereof, as it is written: ‘unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.’ ” [Sixth Session, Decree on Justification, Chapter IV]

We are conceived and born children of Adam, because we inherit original sin. But when we enter the state of grace, we receive the adoption of the sons of God (i.e. adoption as children of God). And this adoption occurs whether we enter the state of grace by a formal baptism with water, such as Christians receive, or by a Baptism of desire, such as many non-Christians receive. Therefore, every human person who is in the state of grace is an adopted child of God. For the state of grace can only be entered by us fallen sinners through one of the three forms of Baptism: water, desire, blood.

Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, other believers, as well as agnostics and atheists are all children of God — if they have entered the state of grace by any form of baptism, even an implicit baptism of desire.

Now some persons, wishing to be contentious, might argue that we don’t know if any Muslims, or Jews, or other non-Christians have received a baptism of desire; it is only a theoretical possibility. Perhaps, they might argue, baptism of desire is rare. But this claim is easily refuted.

First, Pope Saint John Paul II teaches: “The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all.” [Redemptoris Missio 10]

The Magisterium teaches the universal salvific will of God. Salvation is in fact offered to all human persons. Not all persons accept that salvation. See my previous post on the infallible teaching of the Magisterium that some souls are sent to eternal punishment in Hell. But all are offered salvation, not merely in theory, but concretely. In other words, salvation is readily available to everyone, in one way or another. And this implies necessarily that the baptism of desire (and I would say also of blood) is widespread. It is not a rare exception.

That many Muslims and Jews have entered the state of grace by a baptism of desire is clear by their adoration of God, their faith in God, and their love of God and neighbor. In fact, the Magisterium has repeatedly praised Jews and Muslims for adoring God and for their faith. But no one can have true supernatural faith unless they at some point in time had received the state of grace, which includes the three theological virtues: love, faith, hope. Therefore, the Church does teach that many Muslims and Jews are children of God.

See also:
Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?
Are we all children of God?
Roman Catholic teaching on the Islamic Faith
Are Atheists Children of God?

Mark Shea errs gravely by claiming that non-Christians — persons who have not receive formal baptism with water — cannot be children of God. Perhaps he is ignorant of the teaching of the Council of Trent on adoption as sons of God by Baptism “or the desire thereof”. Perhaps he did not bother to see what the Church actually teaches in this subject, before going online to make a public claim as to what the Church teaches. This is the problem with many Catholic authors today. They teach without first having learned.

I should also point out a severe contradiction in Mark Shea’s views on salvation. He holds the heretical view that perhaps no human persons are ever sent to Hell. But then he claims that only baptized Christians are children of God. So then, how is every non-Christian, supposedly without exception, to be saved without being a child of God? That would be impossible. For all those human persons and only those human persons who die in a state of grace are given eternal life in Heaven. He teaches about salvation online, but he has not really thought through his positions.

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

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