Pope Francis has released his monthly prayer request, in the form of this video: RomeReports.com. The subtitles of the video are in English, as follows:
“Most of the planet’s inhabitants declare themselves believers. This should lead to dialogue among religions. We should not stop praying for it and collaborating with those who think differently.”
Buddhist: “I have confidence in the Buddha.”
Jew: “I believe in God.”
Catholic priest: “I believe in Jesus Christ.”
Muslim: “I believe in God, Allah.”
“Many think differently, feel differently, seeking God or meeting God in different ways. In this crowd, in this range of religions, there is only one certainty we have for all: we are all children of God.”
Buddhist: “I believe in love.”
Jew: “I believe in love.”
Catholic priest: “I believe in love.”
Muslim: “I believe in love.”
“I hope you will spread my prayer request this month: That sincere dialogue among men and women of different faiths may produce the fruits of peace and justice. I have confidence in your prayers.”
The above is the entire text of the video message of Pope Francis.
The assertion of Pope Francis that “We are all children of God” is controversial. There are a couple of different possible interpretations.
1. We are all children of God in the sense that we are all made in the image of God. That is a true statement. But the video is specific to that group of persons who believe in God; it is about dialogue between believers. So this interpretation is too broad.
2. We are all children of God in the sense that all who believe in God and who truly love God and neighbor are not only made in His image, but they also have become His adopted children. This interpretation fits the entire context of the message. First, the Pope speaks about that group of the planet’s inhabitants who “declare themselves believers” — a subset of those who are made in the image of God. Second, the video then shows each of four believers, representing four different religions, stating their faith, then also stating their love. So when Pope Francis says “we are all”, he refers to all believers who love. If you have faith and love, then you are a child of God.
What love is this? It is not stated in the video, but the references to faith in God and working together toward peace and justice necessarily imply the love of God and the love of neighbor as self. And this love is only possible by the state of grace, which makes us adopted children of God. Therefore, everyone who believes in God (faith) and who loves God and neighbor (love) is a child of God — including Catholics, non-Catholic Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and other believers. Thus, non-Christians who have some form of faith in God as well as love for God and neighbor are necessarily children of God.
Some foolish commentators (Rachel Lu, Mark Shea, others) have claimed that only formally baptized Christians are children of God. They either reject or greatly minimize the possibility of an implicit baptism of desire as a way to enter the state of grace and become a child of God, even in the case of non-Christian believers with explicit faith and love for God. Such a position is contrary to the teaching of Pope Francis.
If a human person believes in God, explicitly, and lives according to that faith by truly loving God and neighbor, then that person must have entered the state of grace in some way. For non-Christians, the usual way to enter the state of sanctifying grace is by a baptism of desire, which can be implicit. The strongest case for an implicit baptism of desire is found in those who explicitly believe in God and who love God and neighbor. For no one can truly love God and neighbor without the infused virtue of love (charity), which is found in all those persons and only those persons who are in the state of grace.
Therefore, non-Christian believers can be in the state of grace, by an implicit baptism of desire, and can possibly be saved, without necessarily converting to Christianity. However, the further away anyone is from the fullness of truth in the Catholic Christian faith, the more difficult it is to enter, remain in, or return to, the state of grace. So conversion to Christianity and to Catholicism offers great benefits and a more certain path of salvation.
It is the state of grace that makes us children of God, granting to us the initial and prevenient grace of justification, along with the three theological virtues: love, faith, hope. Since there is no other way for us fallen sinners to obtain these three virtues than by some form of baptism (water, desire, blood), everyone who truly loves God and neighbor has received some form of baptism and is in the state of grace.
However, if Christian falls away from the state of grace by actual mortal sin, he or she is still a Christian and is still, in some sense, a child of God — though one whose relationship with God has been harmed by grave sin. Actual mortal sin is entirely incompatible with the state of grace and with the love of God and neighbor. It’s one or the other.
As for atheists and agnostics, I will extend what Pope Francis says. Everyone who truly selflessly loves his neighbor must be in a state of grace, even if they do not explicitly believe in God. For the true love of neighbor always includes, at least implicitly, the love of God. And the true love of God and neighbor is always accompanied by the other two theological virtues: faith and hope.
Therefore, an atheist or agnostic can be in the state of grace, by an implicit baptism of desire, and can possibly be saved (with much difficulty) without necessarily converting to belief in God.
See my book: Forgiveness and Salvation for Everyone for more on salvation theology.
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