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Stacy Jones wrote:

Hi, guys —

I hope you can help clarify something from the Catechism of the Catholic Church that confuses me.

The way the Catechism is worded makes it sound like Muslims in particular can be saved merely by living good lives and believing in the God of Abraham.

I have a problem with this because Muslims very deliberately reject Jesus as Lord and deny His Passion, which is our salvation. I don't see how their good works and belief in one God are somehow heavier in importance than the Lordship of Jesus.

I do believe that salvation is a mystery and that we are judged by the light that we have but the wording of the Church's Catechism makes it sound like there is a special provision for Muslims and Jews as if there is something salvific about their religions.

  • Can you help me understand this?

I am not Catholic. I was raised in a Protestant church but have long since rejected a lot of Protestant theology as unbiblical and I am seeking the historic, Apostolic Church. I have deep and extensive experience with Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox believers and have become convinced that the Orthodox Church has remained truest to the historic faith however superficial cultural issues such as the liturgical languages are a stumbling block to me. I don't feel like I can really worship or participate when I don't understand:

  • Greek
  • Coptic, or
  • Assyrian.

Though it probably isn't one of the usual hang-ups that people have, it's one of those things that bothers me about Catholic teaching. It's the only thing about Catholicism that I have a problem with that is actually part of the Church's official teaching.

Thank you very much.

Stacy

  { Can you explain the Catholic Church's teaching on Islam and how do I deal with cultural issues? }

John replied:

Stacy,

The Church teaches that God can save in ways known only to Himself, those whom He knows would have accepted Christ, had they fully understood the Gospel. Obviously that means being exposed to it for starters so this isn't just about Muslims. It's includes anyone who through no fault of their own aren't Catholics.

The Church does not say that Muslims will be saved simply by being good Muslims. It recognizes that they worship the God of Abraham but remember that is very nuanced. The God of Abraham is Elohim . . . while we also know Him to be the God of Isaac and Jacob, the Muslims don't.

They believe the blessings of Abraham came through Ishmael.

So all the Church is doing is recognizing that there is some very limit Catholic truth found in Islam and we praise them for it. Again, we are looking for a point of common ground from where to start a dialogue, just as we would with our Protestant bothers, with whom we share significantly more Catholic truth.

John

Mike replied:

Hi, Stacy —

You said:
I have deep and extensive experience with Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox believers and have become convinced that the Orthodox Church has remained truest to the historic faith . . .

We would have to disagree on this point of history. This posting should represent our view well:

You said:
. . . however superficial cultural issues such as the liturgical languages are a stumbling block to me. I don't feel like I can really worship or participate when I don't understand:

  • Greek
  • Coptic, or
  • Assyrian.

It's one of those things that bothers me about Catholic teaching though it probably isn't one of the usual hang-ups that people have. It causes me a lot of trouble because it's the only thing about Catholicism that I have a problem with that is actually part of the Church's official teaching.

The language the Church celebrates Her liturgy in is not part of Her doctrine or deposit of faith.
The liturgical language of the Church has varied from generation to generation from:

  • Aramaic
  • Greek
  • Latin
  • English, and
  • numerous other languages worldwide

For a long period of time Catholics in the United States worshipped at a liturgy they never understood — Latin. What was, and is, important, is what happens at the liturgy, not the language the Mass is celebrated in.

In faith, we believe the Sacrifice of Calvary is made present in time as in Eternity.
Ponder on this and ask the Lord to guide you.

Finally, although the majority of Catholics are in the Roman, or Latin Rite, there are probably 20 to 22 other Catholic Rites in the Church as well. These brothers in the faith are Eastern Rite Catholics who generally live in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.

I hope this helps,

Mike

Richard replied:

Hi, Stacy —

The Catechism's words about Muslims are a quote from the Second Vatican Council's document on the Church, Lumen Gentium, paragraph 16. If we look at the whole paragraph, it shows the Church's teaching in a clearer way.

The point of paragraph 16 is to speak of how the Church relates to those who do not accept the Gospel. That is, it wants to set the Church within the overall framework of God's will to save humanity. Accordingly, it speaks of God's plan of salvation. It says that this plan encompasses everyone: first of all, the Jews; then others who acknowledge the Creator (for example, Muslims) and those who seek God in shadows and images (other religions).

It's not claiming that God's plan will be fruitful for all of these people but His Will to save reaches out to all of them. The document is following long established Catholic teaching that nobody goes to Hell unless they commit sin, and certainly many people hold false religions innocently, because they were raised in them and they are ignorant of the Divine Revelation that comes through Christianity.

The document goes on to say that God grants help to souls who innocently have not yet reached knowledge of God; the good in their lives is a preparation for the Gospel. And yet, on the other hand, some men fall away from the truth: they are deceived by the Evil One and exchange the truth for a lie so the Church fosters the missions to preach the Gospel to every creature.

You can see all of paragraph 16 on this web page with the whole of Lumen Gentium:

I'll go ahead and quote it:

16. Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God. In the first place we must recall the people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh. On account of their fathers this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues. But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Muslims, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things, and as Saviour wills that all men be saved. Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel. She knows that it is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life. But often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator. Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, "Preach the Gospel to every creature", the Church fosters the missions with care and attention.

I hope this helps to show the bigger picture.

By the way, if you are attracted to the Orthodox tradition, you might like to look at the Eastern Catholic churches, which maintain Orthodox worship, theology, and prayer, but are fully in communion with the Pope and with Roman-rite Catholics. Eastern Catholics are not found everywhere in this country, but if they happen to have a presence near you, that could be something to check out. A directory is on-line.

Like Orthodox Churches, Eastern Catholic Churches sometimes serve a largely immigrant community, so part of their liturgy may be in a foreign language. Sometimes parishes will offer one liturgy in English and one in the language of the old country.

On the other hand, as a former Protestant, you may be aware of the newly established structure for Anglicans and Episcopalians who have entered the Catholic Church. Some Catholics who have come from various Protestant backgrounds have found them suitable communities in which to worship, so you might wish to get to know them. A list of parishes and communities can be found here.

Hope this is useful to you —

God bless!

— Richard Chonak

John later replied to the second part of Stacey's e-mail:

Stacey,

Forgive the length of the thoughts I'm about to share but I hope you will find them helpful.

I'm a revert to Catholicism. I left as a youth . . . I wandered . . . and basically became a non-believer.

I found Christ because an Evangelical shared the Gospel with me as he understood it.

Later, after further study, I left the pulpit to return to the Church. During that journey I looked at Eastern Orthodoxy to get a third point of view. I found that in essence, we believe pretty much the same thing . . . but disagree about the extent of the jurisdiction of the Pope.

Mike is correct that we have Eastern Catholics, which express their faith in almost identical fashion to the Eastern Orthodox, but they have returned to full unity with Roman Catholic Church.

Our Eastern Christian brothers, be they Catholic or Orthodox, have much to contribute. They start by asking entirely different questions than we do. Hence, their answers, and expression of faith is different, but entirely equal. They share the same seven sacraments and all essential doctrines even if they express them differently.

The Eastern mind set is Semitic. It accepts paradox and doesn't try to come up with rational explanations for every little aspect of what we believe. They prefer to ponder and enter into the great mysteries of our faith, rather than have an almost equation-type approach to the faith as we often do in the West.

Both East and West are like two lungs that need to breathe together in sync.

  • The West has always emphasized reason. That's not always a bad thing. After all if you ask a rational question, we ought to have some kind of answer but in the process we have to be careful not make our faith sound like Algebra.
  • Conversely in East, they need to worry about not being so mystical that they get sloppy about what we believe.

So we need both and we need both together.

As I studied Orthodoxy for a short time, I came to the conclusion that historically it shares rightfully the claim to be Apostolic and therefore a Church . . . not just denomination or Ecclesial Community, like our Protestant brothers.

The only thing that separates us is a case of mass stupidity by prideful men on both sides about 1,000 years ago. The Catholics are as culpable as the Orthodox for the Schism.

When I was a Protestant Minister, one my closest colleagues on the local Ministerial Association was the local Greek Orthodox priest. He helped me with my studies as I searched for the truth.
He never once suggested that I convert to Orthodoxy and he was supportive in my decision to become a Roman Catholic.

He did recommend the Orthodox Study Bible. I rely on it often, to this day, when I struggle to break apart what we believe. I obviously don't agree with all the study notes, rejecting those that seek to justify they're status in Schism, but during my journey, it played a huge role in my return to the Catholic Church.

I would also like to address your concerns about the style and language of worship of the Eastern Church. In the East, they were occupied and oppressed by the Muslims for over 1,000 years so the Church also became a source of national identity. It became a way of preserving the culture and, in some cases, even the language. When these Christians came to America, they retained the use of their language in their Liturgy for much the same reason but many of them offered services in English and other languages.

In the West for centuries, we adopted Latin for our liturgies because it was a common language in the West. In fact, medical books and law books were written in Latin for just that reason.

The idea was that a Catholic from Poland traveling to England could attend Mass and worship in the same language he had been exposed to in Poland. Later, Latin no-longer was the common tongue in the West and eventually the Church dropped it as the universal language for the Liturgy, choosing to go the way of the East and using the vernacular.

That said, worship can't be reduced to:

  • prayer
  • listening to and reading the Scriptures
  • singing songs, and
  • hearing a sermon.

Worship is Sacrifice. It is the one acceptable Sacrifice of Jesus Christ made present at each and every Mass or Divine Liturgy as they call it in the East. When we are at Mass, we are present mystically and simultaneously at Calvary, at the Resurrection, and in Heaven, where Christ Himself perpetually offers Himself. He and we are not repeating the Sacrifice at Calvary but are entering into that once and for all event: the Sacrifice at Calvary.

God stands outside of time and makes what is in our past, present to us. We also enter into the glorious Heavenly Liturgy which will we someday be a part of in a physical reality.

So while worship should edify us, that's not what it's ultimately about. As long as we are aware that we are in the presence of God and participating in the Sacrifice of Jesus, offering ourselves with Him to the Father, whether we can understand the words being spoken, or not, is irrelevant.

Again, forgive me for the length of this reply but I thought these thoughts might give you a bit more insight into Catholic thinking.

John

Stacey replied:

HI guys,

Thanks again for your helpful answers and taking the time.

I appreciate it.

I am grateful for the help on my journey.

Stacey

John replied:

Stacey —

Don't hesitate in the least to contact us in the future with whatever questions you have.

My God bless you and may His Word be a lamp that lightens your path.

Under His Mercy,

John

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