By Will Deatherage, Executive Director
So Jesus said to them,Jn 6:29-35
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven;
my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.
For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven
and gives life to the world.”
So they said to him,
“Sir, give us this bread always.”
Jesus said to them,
“I am the bread of life;
whoever comes to me will never hunger,
and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”
Are the ancient Israelites in Heaven? The Church teaches that there is no salvation outside of its doors, but the precise definition of what constitutes membership in the Church has not always been clear. Consider how St. Augustine believed in the existence of the Church before Christ’s birth. According to St. Paul, obedience to Old Testament Laws, despite their provisional nature, was just as important for Israelites as obedience to Christ’s New Laws was for the early Christians. Because of this, many theologians speculate that the Jews before Christ could be considered members of the Church.
In ancient times God spoke to usHymn from Stanbrook Abbey
Through prophets, and in varied ways,
But now he speaks through Christ his Son,
His radiance through eternal days.
What about the pagans? Perhaps surprisingly, Church Fathers like Justin Martyr believed in paths to salvation for pagan philosophers like Socrates because of an often-neglected aspect of Christ’s character: Logos, or universal wisdom. The Church teaches that Christ’s existence did not begin at His birth; He has always existed as the eternal wisdom that attracts and guides people of all faiths and cultures to God the Father. Thus, just as the Ancient Jews were governed by God’s revealed provisional laws, their pagan counterparts were governed by God’s natural ones. But if the Church Fathers were open to the admittance of self-identifying pagans and Jews (who were, according to the Fathers, actually Christians) into Heaven, how could future popes teach that “Jews, heretics, and schismatics […] will go to the ‘eternal fire prepared for the devil and its angels,’ unless before the end of their life they are joined to [the Church]”?
Brothers and sisters:Eph 4:17, 20-24
I declare and testify in the Lord
that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do,
in the futility of their minds;
that is not how you learned Christ,
assuming that you have heard of him and were taught in him,
as truth is in Jesus,
that you should put away the old self of your former way of life,
corrupted through deceitful desires,
and be renewed in the spirit of your minds,
and put on the new self,
created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.
Should children be judged the same as adults? I consider Christ’s birth as a pivotal point in the maturation of the human race. Those who were graced with Christ’s incarnation could have chosen to remain childish and reject God’s saving Word, or they could have chosen to maturely accept Him and His Church. This is why St. Paul emphasizes how when the Gospel is introduced to a foreign society, all citizens are obligated to accept it. Once Christianity became the basis for law and order across Europe, it was generally accepted that a rejection of the Gospel signified a rejection of all that was good, both spiritually and temporally. Renouncing Christianity not only meant renouncing your personal faith but rebelling against your culture and family. It could be compared to an American renouncing their citizenship while threatening its leaders. In other words, rejecting Christianity in a Christian empire meant rejecting all of Christian ethics, from “love your neighbor” to “thou shalt not murder.” The Church Councils were right to declare “no salvation outside the Church,” for the Church of Christendom, unlike the Church of the Fathers, was a well-organized institution that believed it had successfully preached the Gospel to the ends of the Earth. The Kingdom of Heaven had been established on Earth, the rejection of the Earthly Kingdom signified rejection of its heavenly counterpart.
R. (24b) The Lord gave them bread from heaven.PS 78:3-4
What we have heard and know,
and what our fathers have declared to us,
we will declare to the generation to come
the glorious deeds of the LORD and his strength
and the wonders that he wrought.
People are no longer born into a culture of Christendom, which has very important implications on their salvation. Once again, we live in a world of Gentilic dominance; the Church’s relationship to culture is more similar to what it was 2000 years ago than what it was 200 years ago. This means that, once again, we must adjust our understanding of what it truly means to accept or reject the Church. A majority of Western civilization is constantly presented with a distortion of our Faith by the media, and the formerly well-organized monolithic Christian religion has been shattered into dozens of sects and denominations, further obscuring the Gospel. To assign a modern person the same expectations of accepting the Church as someone who grew up in a Catholic culture is foolish and unjust. Yes, there is still no salvation outside the Church, but we must always humbly acknowledge that God ultimately has final say over who is welcomed into Her doors; and the definition of who exactly is considered worthy of entrance has and will continue to change based on historical circumstance.
One might think that this debate over who is considered “inside the Church” has solely speculative relevance. This is not the case. The way we understand this topic has vast implications on how we evangelize. Shortly after the height of Christendom, the age of exploration in the Americas resulted in numerous destructive acts that were committed in the name of “no salvation outside the Church.” While I refuse to pass judgment over colonialists, whose understanding of the human person was far different from ours, I think we can still learn from their actions. Today, we know that non-Christians are not savages, sub-humans, or warmongers. They are not wholly “other” because they are united to us by a common sense of reason that compels all men to pursue knowledge and, therefore, Christ. We must take advantage of this common language, since bashing an atheist over the head with a Bible will do as much good as doing the same to a Roman soldier. We must recall that the most brilliant Church Fathers invoked Christ as Logos, universal wisdom who inspires people of all religions, to build His kingdom.
 “What we now call the Christian religion existed amongst the ancients, and was from the beginning of the human race, until Christ Himself came in the flesh; from which time the already existing true religion began to be styled Christian” (Retract., I, xiii, 3)
 See Romans 7.
 “Those who have lived in accordance with the Logos are Christians, even though they were called godless, such as, among the Greeks, Socrates and Heraclitus.” (1 Apol. XLVI, 1-4).
 From the Council of Florence