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Pope Francis meets AS Roma soccer player Francesco Totti during the pope's weekly audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican May 22. (CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via Reuters)
By now you've heard about the Pope's astounding remark about the redemption of all men:

In the Holy Spirit, every individual and all people have become, through the Cross and Resurrection of Christ, children of God, partakers in the divine nature and heirs to eternal life. All are redeemed and called to share in glory in Jesus Christ, without any distinction of language, race, nation or culture. The Good News which Christ proclaimed and which the Church continues to proclaim, in accordance with the Lord's will, must be preached "to all creation" and "to the ends of the earth".

Oops, sorry—that was actually Pope John Paul II, back in 1981 in Manila. Let's see. Hold on a second. Try this:

God our Savior…desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, the testimony to which was borne at the proper time. … For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men.

Whoops! That's the Apostle Paul, writing a couple of thousand years ago to Timothy and Titus (1 Tim 2:3-6; Tit 2:11). My apologies. Here goes:

But, if Christian precepts prevail, the respective classes will not only be united in the bonds of friendship, but also in those of brotherly love. For they will understand and feel that all men are children of the same common Father, who is God; that all have alike the same last end, which is God Himself, who alone can make either men or angels absolutely and perfectly happy; that each and all are redeemed and made sons of God, by Jesus Christ, "the first-born among many brethren"; that the blessings of nature and the gifts of grace belong to the whole human race in common, and that from none except the unworthy is withheld the inheritance of the kingdom of Heaven. "If sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God, and co-heirs with Christ."

No, no, no. Wrong pope! That was Pope Leo XIII, back in 1891. How embarrassing that I cannot get my quotes right. I'm doing my best, I really am.

By his glorious Cross Christ has won salvation for all men. He redeemed them from the sin that held them in bondage. … Created in the image of the one God and equally endowed with rational souls, all men have the same nature and the same origin. Redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, all are called to participate in the same divine beatitude: all therefore enjoy an equal dignity.

You're onto me: that was the Catechism of the Catholic Church (pars 1741, 1934). Ummm. Try this one:

Since all men possess a rational soul and are created in God's likeness, since they have the same nature and origin, have been redeemed by Christ and enjoy the same divine calling and destiny, the basic equality of all must receive increasingly greater recognition.

Nope, that's Gaudiem et spes, from Vatican II (par 29).  Okay, okay, here is what Pope Francis really said, in part, yesterday:

“On the contrary, the Lord has created us in His image and likeness, and has given us this commandment in our heart: Do good and do not do evil. The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, what about the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us first class children of God! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all! And we all have a duty to do good. And this commandment for everyone to do good, I think, is a beautiful path towards peace. If we, with everyone doing his own part; if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of meeting: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good! We shall meet there.”

As you can see, he broke radical new ground. No, of course he didn't. But you might not know that by reading articles that state, "Pope Francis rocked some religious and atheist minds today when he declared that everyone was redeemed through Jesus, including atheists." If he indeed "rocked" the minds of some Catholics, it only suggests that they aren't paying attention to Scripture and Church teaching. Take it away, Fr. Dwight Longenecker:

Unfortunately for those who wish to paint Pope Francis as a lovable liberal, in fact, the Pope is simply affirming certain truths that any somewhat knowledgable Catholic will uphold. First, that Christ died to redeem the whole world. We can distinguish his redemptive work from the acceptance of salvation. He redeemed the whole world. However, many will reject that saving work. In affirming the universality of Christ’s redemptive work we are not universalists. To say that he redeemed the whole world is not to conclude that all will be saved.

Secondly, the Pope is also affirming that all humans are created in God’s image and are therefore created good. Yes, created good, but that goodness is wounded by original sin. Thirdly, he is affirming that all men and women are obliged to pursue what is beautiful, good and true. Natural virtue is possible–even obligatory, but natural virtue on its own is not sufficient for salvation. Grace is necessary to advance beyond natural virtue to bring the soul to salvation. The Pope does not say atheists being good on their own will be saved. He says they, like all men, are redeemed by Christ’s death and their good works are the starting place where we can meet with them–the implication being “meet with them in an encounter that leads eventually to faith in Christ.”

 
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Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight.
 
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