Which God’s Will?

On permissive and positive will, the multiplicity of religions, salvation, and the mystery of evil.

Pope Francis accepts a gift from Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb, grand imam of Egypt's al-Azhar mosque and university, during a private audience at the Vatican Nov. 15, 2019. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

There has been some consternation recently over this sentence from a February 4th document “On Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together,” signed by Pope Francis and Sheikh Ahmad el-Taye:

The pluralism and the diversity of religions, colour, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings.

Much controversy and commentary followed, and Pope Francis clarified his meaning (more on that in a moment).

Some of the confusion about the statement was understandable. It is worth pointing out that such problems often arise whenever the question of “God’s will” comes up. Thinkers in the Middle Ages such as Aquinas and Bonaventure had better resources for dealing with the problem than we do because they understood the value of making proper distinctions. Modern people tend to think that making distinctions the way medieval thinkers did was just “language games.” It was not. They had their own problems, but our failure to be as precise as they were causes us problems that could be avoided.

Permissive and positive will

I want to consider this question of “God’s will” in more detail. There is one sense in which the statement, “the plurality and diversity of religions is God’s will” is merely trivially true; another in which it would be wholly unacceptable to Christian faith; and a third that is not merely trivially true, but providentially true.

Let’s begin with the sense in which when we say something is “God’s will,” we mean it is in accord with His “permissive will.” That is to say, God has permitted it. Now clearly we know that the multiplicity of religions must be in accord with God’s permissive will, because it has happened. But this is merely trivially true. We could also say (and orthodox theologians have said) that evil is in accord with God’s permissive will. God permits evil. If He didn’t, there wouldn’t be any. And since there is evil, it follows God must have permitted it. That God has permitted evil is not in question; it is an obvious fact. Why God would permit it is the question.

Pope Francis later clarified that when he said the multiplicity and diversity of religions was “willed by God,” he meant “God’s permissive will.” If he meant God’s permissive will, then his statement is absolutely unobjectionable. Since he says that is what he meant, I take him at his word, and there’s an end of it.

I take it that what has caused all the consternation is the tendency for people, when they hear statements about “God’s will,” to assume this means God’s positive will, because “will” in English can also have the connotation of “wishing” or “wanting.” So some people hear the statement that “the multiplicity and diversity of religions is God’s will” and interpret it to mean: “This is what God wanted. God ‘willed’ it in the sense that He chose to bring about this state of affairs because He judged it to be the best.” There might be some way of arguing for this claim that might be acceptable, but only in tandem with the third view I am going to describe below. But we would also have distinguish more clearly between God’s will and human will.

If I write a sentence on the board for my class, and I misspell a word, I should not say, “God willed for me to do that.” Clearly God permitted me to make the mistake (so He “willed” it in that sense), but it does not follow that He wanted me to make that mistake or that He caused me to do it.

We discern a similar problem when someone tells you about the death of a loved one, “It was God’s will.” If by that the person means, “God caused your husband’s death,” then this is likely to drive the person out of the Church. How could a good God do such a thing? It is hard enough to conceive of how God could have permitted it, but to say God caused it or wanted it is to turn God into a soulless murderer, and He isn’t. So we need to keep distinct God’s overarching causality and His providential will (on which more in a moment) from our will and our causality. About my mistakes and evil deeds, I should not say “It was God’s will.”

Multiplicity of religions

The more troubling addendum that people sometimes add to this idea about the multiplicity of religions is that God willed the multiplicity and diversity of religions because His will is that there should be (and are) many ways to salvation of which Christianity is just one among many. To be clear, this would not be in accord with the Christian faith.

It is simply not true that “every religion is the same.” This is a rank injustice to every religion, and the only person who could utter such a banality is someone who knew little or nothing about any of them. Nor does the Catholic Church hold that each person attains salvation by faithfully observing whatever religion (or no religion) he or she happens to hold, as long as they feel it is “best for them.” No serious religion could ever hold such an empty view, and no serious religion ever has. Every serious Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian believes that there are things that are worthy of serious adherents to the faith and things that are not. A devoted Muslim would surely maintain that a person cannot just say anything about the prophet and about Allah and about the life a Muslim is called to live and consider himself or herself a faithful Muslim. He might be willing to admit degrees of adherence and allow a certain amount of disagreement among men and women of good will, but you can’t say that you think Mohammed knew nothing and Allah is an illusion and call yourself a faithful Muslim, if the word is to have any meaning at all.

Zeus may exist and he may hold the scales of fate in his hand. But if he does, then Christians are wrong and Homer was right. What cannot be the case is that Zeus exists for a pagan Greek, but when that pagan Greek becomes Christian, Zeus no longer exists and God the Father starts existing. The laws of General Relativity existed before Einstein. It is not as though they only started existing when some human being thought them up in his mind. And those laws existed even when there were people — and there were plenty of them, including some very good scientists — who were sure that Einstein was wrong. As far as that goes, the laws of quantum thermodynamics exist even though Einstein thought they didn’t.

There is simply no getting around the fact that statements of faith in any serious religious tradition are statements about the world, not just about how I feel about the world. If you don’t think the religion you are part of has anything true to say about the world and about human life, then you shouldn’t pretend to be a part of it, because you aren’t really united to those who do think the religion has something true to say about the world and about human life and are willing to risk their entire lives on its truth.

What does the Catholic Church hold about salvation and the multiplicity of religions? You can read what the Church herself says in Lumen Gentium, 13-18 or in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 813-822. Now if you don’t want to accept those documents as authoritative, that’s fine. You don’t have to accept the teachings of the Council of Nicaea or Chalcedon either. It’s just that, if you don’t, you are not a “Catholic” in the sense that the Catholic Church understands that term.

There isn’t space here to go into that teaching in the detail it requires or deserves, but here is the heart of it. Does the Catholic Church teach the salvation of all comes through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross? Yes.

Does the Catholic Church teach that “outside the Church there is no salvation”? Yes, if by that is meant that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body (cf. CCC 846; LG 14). However, says the Church, “This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church” (CCC 847). And:

Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience — those too may achieve eternal salvation” (CCC 847; LG 16).

And yet, “Although in ways known to himself God can lead those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel, to that faith without which it is impossible to please him, the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men” (CCC 848).

So, can Catholics say (in accord with the teaching of the Church) that God willed the multiplicity of religions in the sense that it is His will that there be many ways to salvation? No. Can Catholics say (in accord with the teaching of their Church) that God wills the damnation of the people who are not in the Church? No. (That was the Calvinist mistake.) Can a Catholic say that everyone who is not explicitly connected with the Catholic Church will not achieve his or her salvation? Can’t say that either.

I am sorry, but the Church is just not interested in simple either-or propositions. It is one God who is also three. He is fully God and fully man. You do the good acts you do, but God makes them possible with His grace. Is the Church necessary? Yes. Can people outside the Church attain salvation through the Church (that is, through Christ) even if they don’t know Christ or the Church? According to the Church Herself, yes. You might wish it were simpler, but it just isn’t. God never promised a simple faith without complexity or mystery. In fact, He pretty much promised exactly the reverse.

The mystery of evil

Since we have touched upon the subject of mystery, let’s consider the third sense of what it might mean for something to be “in accord with God’s will.” God doesn’t will evil in the sense that He wants it or causes it. But He does permit it. It is “in accord with His will” in that sense. But why does He permit it? To be honest, I don’t know. But neither does anyone else.

Don’t get me wrong, we can begin to see the sense of it with various arguments from “fittingness” (conveniens), which are not demonstrations with “necessary reasons.” So, for example, it makes some sense when we realize that there could be no human free will and thus no real human love without the possibility of choosing what is not good. And it makes some sense when we realize, as Augustine did, that evil is not really a thing; it is a privation of a good that should be present. So choosing evil is a way of choosing non-being. It is a choice to be nothing. The only way to be totally evil would be to cease to exist. Everything that is, as Genesis tells us, is in some real way “good.” A baseball bat is good. It is not good if I use it to hit someone over the head. The same hardness that makes the bat “good” for hitting baseballs also makes it “bad” when I hit someone over the head with it. But none of these explanations is likely to be adequate when I am dealing with the evil of a murdered child.

What does the Church say? The Catechism states:

If God the Father almighty, the Creator of the ordered and good world, cares for all his creatures, why does evil exist? To this question, as pressing as it is unavoidable and as painful as it is mysterious, no quick answer will suffice. Only Christian faith as a whole constitutes the answer to this question: the goodness of creation, the drama of sin and the patient love of God who comes to meet man by his covenants, the redemptive Incarnation of his Son, his gift of the Spirit, his gathering of the Church, the power of the sacraments and his call to a blessed life to which free creatures are invited to consent in advance, but from which, by a terrible mystery, they can also turn away in advance. There is not a single aspect of the Christian message that is not in part an answer to the question of evil (CCC 309, emphasis in the original).

Why did some particular bad thing happen? One answer is: Some person did that bad thing. Another answer is: God permitted it. But a third, more important response is to say that God can transform even the bad that we do into good somehow. God’s providence—His will for our salvation—can overcome all obstacles.

Wouldn’t it have been better if humanity didn’t crucify the Son of God on a cross? In one sense, clearly yes. But that is not what happened. With this act, God showed that He could take even the evil we do and make something better out of it. Hence we know that God providentially can take whatever we do, whatever others do, whatever multiple forces of history are at work, and still bring about his divine salvific will.

Can we say with a certain confidence that certain select things seem to have been in accord with God’s will (at least in some broad, general sense)? Yes. The lives of saints. The ecumenical councils of the Church. The emergence of greater clarity about the Gospel. But even in those cases, the “will of God” was mixed up with the usual toxic fallout of sinful humanity. The light of the saints shined brightly, but usually only in and through great darkness. They were martyred; they fought against great evil, oftentimes they lost. They worked against great human obstacles, both individual and societal. They often had to fight against their own sinful dispositions. Ecumenical councils brought tremendous light, but were often made necessary by the battles against confusion and heresy. And they were often a confused jumble of human intentions.

What about “the multiplicity and diversity of religions”? Wouldn’t it be better if Europe had remained in union with the Catholic Church? In one sense, it seems obvious that it would have been better at least in one sense because the divisions in the Body of Christ are a great scandal and a tremendous sorrow. But God permitted it. So I don’t need to speculate. I don’t know how all this fits into God’s will. I only know that I have to be faithful to the calling God has given me now.

Do I think Protestants and Catholics both made mistakes in the past? Yes. But have I benefitted from the insights of Protestants and non-Catholics? Very much so. So, for example, I have been reading some of the amazing writings of the Jewish rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. I have often been left in awe of Heschel’s wisdom about God and about life, as I have often been in awe of the wisdom of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. There is something distinctly “Jewish” about their thought which is refreshing. One gets the sense that these insights come from a man deeply in touch with the one, true God. Would they have had the same insights or better ones if they had been Catholic? I have no idea. But I know there is something deeply insightful that has come from their particular intellectual and moral tradition.

So, what is God’s will now? He has made this clear, and so has the Church. Love God and neighbor. Obey the commandments. Be an instrument of God’s love and God’s grace. Make the best of the challenges we face now. Preach the Gospel, in words and with our lives. This is the only part of “God’s will” we can really know and is really relevant to us.

Some people will turn away. But that doesn’t mean we should be happy about that or feel self-righteous if they do. (“Thank you Lord that I am not like them.”) Perhaps they have not rejected God Himself, but merely the false image of God we have presented to them; perhaps what I have preached was simply an expression of my will and my ego, not really God’s will at all.

When people turn away, we “shake the dust off our feet” not as a curse on them, but as a way of shaking off whatever evil or resentment we might carry with us. In all cases, whether our efforts bear fruit or not, we merely plant the seeds; God gives the growth. And if we plant those seeds successfully, we should consider ourselves no more than faithful stewards. We do our part and then leave God to care for the whole. The rest is not our affair.

This is what it means to walk by faith and not by sight and to be a people of faith, hope, and love in a world in which God has told us our destination and given us our marching orders, but kept most of the details of the journey to Himself.

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About Dr. Randall B. Smith 44 Articles
Dr. Randall B. Smith is Professor of Theology at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, where he teaches courses on Moral Theology, History of Theology, Faith and Science, and Faith and Culture. His books include Reading the Sermons of Thomas Aquinas: A Beginner's Guide (Emmaus), Aquinas, Bonaventure, and the Scholastic Culture of Medieval Paris (Cambridge), and From Here to Eternity: Reflections on Death, Immortality, and the Resurrection of the Body (Emmaus), due out in October 2022. He is also co-author of Why Believe? Volume 2: Answers to Life's Questions (Augustine Institute). Prof. Smith is the author of numerous articles in academic journals, but he also publishes a regular bi-weekly column for "The Catholic Thing."


  1. Smith takes Pope Francis on his word that he meant “permissive will.” And yet, this was not the pope’s actual wording. What he said was that Bishop Schneider could say that the phrase referred to permissive will. Critics still called for a clarification as to whether it also referred to more. From the embedded article:

    “Schneider says the Pope explicitly told him that he could share their discussion on this point: ‘You can say that the phrase in question on the diversity of religions means the permissive will of God.’”

    The issue, it seems to me (not knowing the full discussion), has to do with the permissive will for a diversity of natural religions, and then whether these still remain possibly conflated with the divinely revealed Faith.

    Another ambiguity? In referring to the permissive will, is the phrase also more inclusive? Does the phrase also refer, still, to the additional positive will?
    A more clarifying clarification could have said what the phrase does not refer to. But who am I to judge?

    (Near the end of World War II, the New York Times urged President Truman to explain to the defiant Japanese both what the phrase “unconditional surrender” meant AND what it did not mean….)

    • Correction to last sentence: President Truman (not “President Roosevelt”) with the NYT first quoting minority leader Senator White of Maine, July 3, 1945; and separately suggesting consideration, on July 19, 1945.

    • Sorry but the natural meaning of Pope Francis’ clarification to Bishop Schneider is he meant God’s permissive will. Period! End of Discution. Peter has Spoken threw Francis the dispute is ended. As to the Pope’s “actual words” we technically don’t have them only the characterization of them as reported by Bishop Schneider. By which he has instructed him to say it refers to God’s permissive will.

      If we can’t take the Pope at his word when he clarifies something then why should he answer teh Dubia? You lot won’t believe him anyway.

      Am I the only one here who finds that tedious?

    • Aren’t different languages different in the way they view/express the world?
      I recall the multilingual couple who talked technical things in German, discussed business in English, argued in Italian, and made love in French.
      Pope Francis’ first language is Spanish and he may get some of his linguistic attitudes from that language.

    • Sean, perhaps Pope Francis is an egalitarian, and not an elitist master wordsmith who evangelizes to ordinary people. Ah yes, Judge not, that you be not judged. Remember that Jesus, states that we should “judge with right judgment” and not “by appearances” (John 7:14).

  2. The meaning of Francis’ statement is quite clear from the context. No need to ask for “clarification.” What’s needed is a correction.

  3. It is very unhelpful to suggest that to allow something is the same as to will it. The idea of ‘permissive will’ is a contradiction.

    • No, Richard. The contradiction is to say that the Lord’s Will does not permit evil, but evil trumps the Lord and the Lord cannot do anything about it – He is subject to evil, He is not Sovereign, id est, that the Lord does have Omnipotent or Omniscient Sovereignty over everything….. the Lord Wills and determines what evils and repercussions flow from what actions, when, where, how and why…Blessings, ask Our Lady, She will help you understand the mysteries!

      Maybe a quick read up on Aquinas or another might be helpful…

  4. Enjoyed. But perplexed by this writing style in these lines: Does the Catholic Church teach that “outside the Church there is no salvation”? Yes, if by that is meant that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body.

    Why not simply say, “Yes. Because [what the Holy Spirit] is Teaching is that salvation comes from Christ….”?? The ‘if’ is errant because the Holy Spirit in the Church cannot Teach anything else. “If” someone would misunderstand what the Holy Spirit in the Church is Teaching, then the ‘if’ can be applied to them, but not to the Holy Spirit leading the Church into all Truth…the ‘if’ is not linked to the Teaching Revelation but to one’s understanding of the Revelation, correct? Blessings of Jesus and Mary!!

  5. Maybe more colloquially put: the “if” must not be linked to the Teacher or Teaching, but to the student/disciple…; the problem is not with the Teacher or Teaching but with the student/disciple, yes? Blessings in JMJ

  6. An excellent argument on the issue. Yes there is salvation outside the Church in that Christ is always the source even when not recognized. Yes there is the permissive will of God evident in other religions and yes the Pontiff explained what he said in context of geniality with Muslims that his words can be interpreted as God’s permissive will. “You can say that the phrase in question on the diversity of religions means the permissive will of God” (Pope Francis the learned Jesuit who wrote the complex Amoris Laetitia complete with references to scholastic philosophy theology responding to Bishop Schneider). That is not the issue. The issue is the ambiguity stemming from this Pontiff regarding Christ’s message. I can mention Pachamama worship in and around Catholic churches, that we priests require ecological conversion, rather than engage in converting others to Christ [otherwise called by His Holiness trophyism]. But of course I won’t because that’s petty. What Bishop Schneider requested was an affirmation such as: It is God’s permissive will. And yes Roman Catholicism is the One True Church in which we are to be saved. And I would add it is not God’s permissive will that we should instead leave all the rest to God’s providential will rather than be surly and resentful. Rather we should be faithful courageous and to the point at hand. To distinguish the difference between error and truth. To proclaim Christ.

  7. The Pope not only gave Bishop Schneider an evasive answer, he declined to correct the statement, ordered it taught in pontifical universities, and applauded the founding of a committee to promote and disseminate it to the public. This article avoids these crucial points and gives the Pope a pass where he should be held to strict account. Bishop Schneider explains the state of play as of late August: https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/bishop-schneider-vatican-is-betraying-jesus-christ-as-the-only-savior-of-mankind.

  8. We can rightfully ask and even demand clarity in speech. We have a right to thought that is consistent with the Treasury of Faith, Dogma and practice which belongs to every Catholic, but what I hear from Pope Francis is a frequently uncertain and rude bugle. Catholics need better than that.

  9. We can rightfully ask and even demand clarity in speech. We have a right to thought that is consistent with the Treasury of Faith, Dogma and practice which belongs to every Catholic, but what I hear from Pope Francis is a frequently uncertain and rude bugle. Catholics need better than that.

  10. The author presents an excellent summation of the distinction between the three ways in which God “wills” various things. He is also quite correct that this is not a case of mere semantics, but an important aspect of understanding God’s relationship with the world.
    However, when, in one sentence, multiple things are grouped together as deriving from a common source (in this case, God’s Will) with no explicit distinctions added, the implication is they all have the same correlation to their source. So, in the plain sense of the sentence in question, all (religions, colour, sex, race and language) are implied to have an equivalency of relationship to the Divine will. At least two are accounted in Scripture to be the fruit of God’s positive will: differentiation of sex and language. Therefore, the clear implication — especially considering the purpose and context of the document in which the sentence appears and — it is hard to see how anyone could be expected to believe that it is meant to express God’s permissive will. That just seems like wishful, almost desperate, thinking.
    We should face the fact that, like so many of this Pope’s statements, it reflects at best a studied ambiguity deployed in the service of an ideological agenda that is at variance with the Tradition of the Catholic Faith as taught by the Holy Fathers and the Councils of the first thousand years. The Pachamama parade should have banished any doubt about that.

  11. The Author Replies:

    Ladies and Gentlemen, please note that the point was not to defend Pope Francis’s statement. You may think what you want about it and about the adequacy of his clarification. One would have thought that readers would have gotten the point that I was not exactly defending the pope’s “clarification” when I pointed out that saying the plurality of religions is due to God’s “permissive will” is “trivially true” (so much so that in an earlier version of the article, I added: “so much so it seems relatively meaningless to say it”) and that I pointed out that according to God’s “permissive will,” evil exists and Christ was crucified.

    The issue is not what the Pope did or did not say. I trust the Holy Spirit to deal with popes. Such things are simply above my pay grade and I can do nothing about what the Pope says or does not say. The issue is how we should think about God’s will and what we ourselves should do now. It is according to God’s “permissive will” that Francis is pope. In His providential will, God will deal with His Church. We must have faith in the Holy Spirit. In the meantime, we have our marching orders. We know God’s will for us, and we know how we make ourselves a positive part of God’s providential will: Love God and neighbor. Obey the commandments. Live the beatitudes. Pray. Go to mass. Take care of the widow and the orphan. Protect the unborn. Nowhere in the Scriptures or in the perennial tradition of the Church does it add as another essential commandment, “And be sure to grumble incessantly about the Pope.”

    • One of the pope’s essential duties is to guard the Deposit of Faith (with his life if necessary). The joint statement in question is an egregious failure to carry out this basic duty, and possibly a violation of the First Commandment. To recognize and state this sad fact is just witnessing to to this same Faith and to simple truth, not grumbling. It is not a minor or trivial issue, and it is not above your or my pay grade to address it, so please stop the hand waving.

    • [It is according to God’s “permissive will” that Francis is pope. In His providential will, God will deal with His Church. We must have faith in the Holy Spirit.]

      Do the laity and the other bishops have any role in correcting a pope? Perhaps according to Latin ecclesiology, no, but is Latin ecclesiology correct?

      [Nowhere in the Scriptures or in the perennial tradition of the Church does it add as another essential commandment, “And be sure to grumble incessantly about the Pope.”]

      Don’t grumble. Do something direct if one’s bishop or one’s patriarch is ambiguous or presents false teaching.

  12. The issue, as I see it today, is whether salvation outside explicit membership in the Church should be considered commonplace or rare. How can we know? Only God knows. From my point of view all we can really says is “It’s possible, for anything is possible with God, but God’s will is for everyone to enter his Church and so refusal to do so opposes his will.”

  13. On the matter of ‘God’s Will” Mr Olson presents a cogent and lucid articulation of which every catechized lay Catholic should already be aware of. Therefore it stupefies me to continue to read the incessant and endless forensic dissection of Pope Francis’ comments on God’s will and what DID HE really mean ! as opposed to what he said he meant (as confirmed by Bishop Schneider) particularly from so many uber Catholic theologians with initials after their name who should know better.This is no longer about what PF said but rather what some think PF really THINKS or BELIEVES in order to promote or support the escalating narrative that he is heretic. The disingenuous hand wringing of the self proclaimed light keepers of the faith (on this specific issue) is frankly intellectually dishonest and malicious. Anyway, Good article Carl.

    • Words have meaning:

      I think everyone agrees that Dr. Smith has presented an excellent and orthodox exposition on God’s permissive and active wills and related issues. The problem with the article (and some of the commentary here), however, is that it ignores the basic contradiction in the following sentence that the pope signed his name to: “The pluralism and the diversity of religions, colour, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings.” Dr. Smith and others accept that, in regard to the pluralism of religions, the pope told a bishop that he could report that the pope understands that God wills this, in his wisdom, through God’s permissive will. That would be fine (though probably deserving of a prominent footnote clarifying this in the document), except that the only reasonable reading and understanding of the full statement, then, would be that God also permissively wills the diversity of color, sex, race, and language. To address the most obvious problem, this is certainly erroneous in regard to sex, because obviously God actively willed this diversity (“male and female he created them”), not passively.

      Therefore, the pope apparently wants his bishops, and us laymen, to just accept that we are to understand the statement simultaneously in mutually contradictory ways. Dr. Smith and others here just want to accept this explanation, but, I’m sorry, no, I cannot accept this because I believe that words have (or should have) meaning. I think Catholic theologians and authors should also hold fast to this principle. Otherwise, we are falling into the error that Lewis Carroll satirized in Through the Looking Glass, in which he has Humpty Dumpty proclaim, “When I use a word…it means just what I choose it to mean-neither more nor less,” to which Alice inquires, “The question is…whether you can make words mean so many different things,” to which Humpty Dumpty replies, “The question is…which is to be master-that’s all.” Or, more ominously, George Orwell, in 1984, has the representative of the mind-crushing Big-Brother state declare, “Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them,” and elsewhere, “It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.” It should disturb every faithful Catholic, but especially theologians, that one of the pope’s closest advisors, Fr. Antonio Spadaro, tweeted the following Big-Brother-affirming statement: “Theology is not Mathematics. 2 + 2 in Theology can make 5.”

      Of course we laity have no juridical standing to reprimand or correct the pope when he signs his name to an egregiously erroneous statement, but, as thinking human beings, we have a duty to resist the destruction of words and to uphold the principle that words have meaning, and this dictates high precision when discussing important topics like God’s will in regard to the plurality of religions. Giving the pope a pass on this is not charitable; rather, it is a dereliction of one’s duty.

      • Yes, Pope Francis either forgot his scholastic theology or never learned it well or he is being misleading – his notion of permissive will is more like directly willing something for its own sake, rather than tolerating it for the sake of another end.

      • >The pluralism and the diversity of religions, colour, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings.”…….. That would be fine (though probably deserving of a prominent footnote clarifying this in the document), except that the only reasonable reading and understanding of the full statement, then, would be that God also permissively wills the diversity of color, sex, race, and language.”END QUOTE

        Given the divine simplicity there is only a notional or logical distinction between God’s permissive Will vs His active will. There is no real distinction or are you prepared to deny the divine simplicity(which FYI is an Infallible Dogma like EENS)?

        God by One Supreme Act of Will can and does Will all religions which includes the True Religion & the less true or outright false ones, The former which he actively wills while the later ones He passively wills.

        Why is this hard? You people have forgotten yer scholasticism.

        • It’s not hard to understand when you state it so well and clearly, JTS, unlike the pope’s words, which are ambiguous at best and, from a plain reading, convey a completely different meaning. May he cut and paste your explanation and put it in a footnote when he promulgates the document as he has promised to do…let us pray.

          • Except by yer own standards ambiguous words like ” the only reasonable reading and understanding of the full statement, then, would be that God also permissively wills the diversity of color, sex, race, and language.” implies God has two Wills or two acts of willing which denies the divine simplicity.

            If you are gonna ping on the Pope for ambiguity then you should police yerself first…..just saying. Carry one.

  14. Excellent article and excellent comments.
    Up to now and since the signing of the document last February, all critics that I read, concentrated on religions in  “The pluralism and the diversity of religions, colour, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings.”, and totally neglected the other points of the statement.  Given that true religion, of human beings, respect colour, sex, race, and language and when dealing with Islam, one should ask:
    colour and race — Islamic history of slavery of black people and the kidnapping, raping, and sale of white sex slaves — is it willed by God?
    sex — a man can marry up to four women, have sex with concubines, etc.. — is it willed by God?
    language — the Quran is descended on Mohammad in Arabic and Muslims must learn Arabic to read it  —  is it willed by God?  and my last point:
    Who would accept and sign such a dumb statement? 
    Only an ignorant person.

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