Fr. Servais: In the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius of Loyola does not use the Old Testament images of revenge, as opposed to Paul (cfr. 2 Thessalonians 1: 5-9); nevertheless he invites us to contemplate how men, until the Incarnation, “descended into hell” (Spiritual Exercises n. 102; see. ds iv, 376) and to consider the example of the “countless others who ended up there for far fewer sins than I have I committed” (Spiritual Exercises, n. 52).It is in this spirit that St. Francis Xavier lived his pastoral work, convinced he had to try to save from the terrible fate of eternal damnation as many “infidels” as possible. The teaching, formalized in the Council of Trent, in the passage with regard to the judgment of the good and the evil, later radicalized by the Jansenists, was taken up in a much more restrained way in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (cfr. § 5 633, 1037). Can it be said that on this point, in recent decades, there has been a kind of “development of dogma” that the Catechism should definitely take into account?
Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI: There is no doubt that on this point we are faced with a profound evolution of dogma.
While the fathers and theologians of the Middle Ages could still be of the opinion that, essentially, the whole human race had become Catholic and that paganism existed now only on the margins, the discovery of the New World at the beginning of the modern era radically changed perspectives.
In the second half of the last century it has been fully affirmed the understanding that God cannot let go to perdition all the unbaptized and that even a purely natural happiness for them does not represent a real answer to the question of human existence.
If it is true that the great missionaries of the 16th century were still convinced that those who are not baptized are forever lost — and this explains their missionary commitment — in the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council that conviction was finally abandoned. From this came a deep double crisis.
On the one hand this seems to remove any motivation for a future missionary commitment. Why should one try to convince the people to accept the Christian faith when they can be saved even without it? But also for Christians an issue emerged: the obligatory nature of the faith and its way of life began to seem uncertain and problematic.
If there are those who can save themselves in other ways, it is not clear, in the final analysis, why the Christian himself is bound by the requirements of the Christian faith and its morals. If faith and salvation are no longer interdependent, faith itself become unmotivated. Lately several attempts have been formulated in order to reconcile the universal necessity of the Christian faith with the opportunity to save oneself without it.
I will mention here two: first, the well-known thesis of the anonymous Christians of Karl Rahner. He sustains that the basic, essential act at the basis of Christian existence, decisive for salvation, in the transcendental structure of our consciousness, consists in the opening to the entirely Other, toward unity with God.
The Christian faith would in this view cause to rise to consciousness what is structural in man as such. So when a man accepts himself in his essential being, he fulfills the essence of being a Christian without knowing what it is in a conceptual way. The Christian, therefore, coincides with the human and, in this sense, every man who accepts himself is a Christian even if he does not know it.
It is true that this theory is fascinating, but it reduces Christianity itself to a pure conscious presentation of what a human being is in himself and therefore overlooks the drama of change and renewal that is central to Christianity.
Even less acceptable is the solution proposed by the pluralistic theories of religion, for which all religions, each in their own way, would be ways of salvation and in this sense, in their effects must be considered equivalent.
The critique of religion of the kind exercised in the Old Testament, in the New Testament and in the early Church is essentially more realistic, more concrete and true in its examination of the various religions. Such a simplistic reception is not proportional to the magnitude of the issue.
Finally, let’s recall, above all Henri de Lubac, and with him, several other theologians who have emphasized the idea of vicarious substitution. For them, the ‘pro-existence’ [‘existence for’] of Christ is the expression of the fundamental figure of Christian existence and of the Church as such. It is true that in this way the problem is not fully resolved, but it seems to me that this, in fact, is the key insight that thus impacts the existence of the individual Christian [i.e. each particular Christian existence]. Christ, as the unique One, was and is for all, and Christians, who in Paul’s awesome imagery make up Christ’s body in this world, participate in this “being-for.” Christians, so to speak, are not so for themselves, but are, with Christ, for others. This does not mean having some sort of special ticket for entering into eternal happiness, but rather the vocation to build the whole, the all. What the human person needs in the order of salvation [in order to be saved] is a profound openness with regards to God, a profound expectation of and adherence to Him, and this correspondingly means that we, together with the Lord whom we have encountered, go towards others and seek to make visible to them the advent of God in Christ.
I think that in this present situation it becomes for us ever more clear what the Lord said to Abraham, that is, that 10 righteous would have been sufficient to save a city, but that it destroys itself if such a small number is not reached.
It is clear that we need to further reflect on the whole question.