Q&A: Evangelization? Look to the good.

emethQuestion

How does the Catholic doctrine of salvation shape the way Catholics evangelize?

Answer

The ‘practical’ part of this question I am not qualified to answer. I have not fully come into the Catholic Church, and my journey was not really the result of the evangelization, but of the Holy Spirit leading my wife and I through study. I can note official Catholic teaching with regards to specific groups:

Catholics – The New Evangelization

Since Catholics have a process view of salvation, Catholics are one of the ‘targets’ of evangelization. Salvation is never complete in this world and there needs to be a continual calling to repentance and a closer relationship with Jesus Christ. Catholics need to be evangelized and then go out and evangelize others – the big push to do this, started by Pope Benedict XVI, is called The New Evangelization.

Other Christian Groups – Separated Brothers and Sisters

Catholics believe that other Christians are imperfectly connected to Christ’s visible Church, the Catholic Church. Faithful non-Catholic Christians that do not know that Christ founded and made necessary the Catholic Church are saved by Jesus Christ via this connection. (CCC 838, 846) Therefore, the Catholic Church does not especially evangelize individual Protestants, though there are lay organizations with this purpose. Rather, the Catholic Church focuses on ecumenical initiatives to work for the institutional unity of all Christians. They are especially keen to develop good relationships with different denominations.

The Jews – Elder Brothers

The Vatican just released a statement that covers this topic called ‘ The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.’ (Romans 11:29) This document is not a dogmatic statement, so it shares what Catholic leadership thinks but not what Catholics must believe about the topic. There is only one way to salvation, through Jesus Christ. However, God has made certain promises to the Jews and He keeps His promises. Resolving these is a divine mystery. (§5, paragraph 37) It cautions against institutional attempts to convert the Jews while recommending that individual Christians continue to witness to the necessity of faith in Jesus Christ. (§6, paragraph 41)

Non-Christians – Seekers of Goodness

Catholic doctrine tends to see other religions as preparation for the Gospel, even to the point where God has included other religions in his plan of salvation. They note that other religions teach things like good moral principles and even truthful spiritual ideas (like the existence of God.) This allows Catholic evangelists to build on the good things that non-Christians already know and do. A practical version of this policy is famously associated with Pope Gregory’s 7th century mission to England. Pope Gregory recommended reusing pagan sites of worship for the True God and even adapting pagan sacrificial rites into Christian festivals. (You can read the full letter here.)

Nevertheless, the Catholic Church teaches that the goal of what is positive or planned by God in other religions is to point to Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life. A Biblical parallel would be Paul’s use of the altar of the unknown God in Athens; this was included in God’s plan of salvation so Paul could teach the Athenians about Jesus. (cf. Acts 17:23) It is in the Catholic faith in which we find the ‘fullness of the truth.’ All non Christians need to be evangelized, to hear the Gospel, and come to faith in Jesus Christ.

Invincible Ignorance

C.S. Lewis had a controversial scene in The Last Battle where a Calormene soldier named Emeth ends up in Aslan’s Land. (Narnia is a fantasy series: the Calormenes are villains; Aslan represents Jesus; Aslan’s Land represents Heaven.) When Emeth asks why, Aslan tells him simply that when he thought he was serving the god Tash, he was really serving Aslan. This is where people get very worried about ‘universalism.’ But remember, C.S. Lewis only placed one Calormene soldier (of the many thousands) in Aslan’s Land. And this Calormen soldier was saved by Aslan, not by his own merit.

This approximates a Catholic view of ‘invincible ignorance.’ The reality is that some people are not able to hear or understand the Gospel – this is called ‘invincible ignorance.’ Amongst these people, the Holy Spirit works through other means. Paul tells us that creation gives all humankind proof of God (Romans 1:20) and that God’s law is written on the hearts of even those who have not heard the law. (Romans 2:13-15) So the invincibly ignorant who follow this law on their heart and believe in a God may be saved by Jesus Christ, in the same way that Emeth was saved by Aslan. (cf. Romans 2:13-15) Having said that, this is not the normal way that Jesus Christ saves. All nations (and people) need to hear the Gospel so that knowledge can replace shadows. Those who have heard the Gospel are without excuse; they must repent and believe in Jesus Christ.

For more information see: Catholic Answers

Why am I doing this? Click here.

N.B. I am only a new Catholic. Though I have an undergrad in theology and am working on a Masters, I will not be a flawless source of information. But friends and family have many questions since my wife and I began becoming Catholics, and this is an attempt to answer those questions.

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