16. Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God.(18*) In the first place we must recall the people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh.(125) On account of their fathers this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues.(126) But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Muslims, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all people life and breath and all things,(127) and as Saviour wills that all be saved.(128) Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.(19*) Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel.(20*) She knows that it is given by Him who enlightens all men and women so that they may finally have life. But often people, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator.(129) Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, “Preach the Gospel to every creature”,(130) the Church fosters the missions with care and attention.
125 Cf. Rom. 9:4-5
126 Cf. Rom. 11:28-29.
127 Cf. Acts 17:25-28.
128 Cf. 1 Tim. 2:4.
129 Cf Rom. 1:21, 25.
130 Mk. 16:16.
(18) Cfr. S. Thomas, Summa Theol. III, q. 8, a. 3, ad 1.
(19) Cfr. Epist. S.S.C.S. Officii ad Archiep. Boston.: Denz. 3869-72.
(20) Cfr. Eusebius Caes., Praeparatio Evangelica, 1, 1: PG 2128 AB.
This paragraph speaks in gentle and respectful terms of those who do not know Christ.
First are the Jews, “the people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh.” God made a covenant with Abraham, and He has not and will not break that covenant. Any form of anti-Semitism is immoral, an offense against God and of Jesus, in particular, since He was born a Jew, lived as a Jew, and died a Jew. The relationship between the Church and the Jewish people has not always been cordial and has sometimes turned to violence and discrimination, especially on the part of Catholics toward Jews. On the other hand, there have been times in history when the Catholics, in particular the Holy See, has stood as protector of the Jews. There is not reason to sugarcoat historical sins, and no reason to create sins out of thin air that never happened. What is necessary today is to continue on the road of dialogue and mutual respect that was initiated, especially, by the Second Vatican Council and by the policies and practices of recent popes.
The Council Fathers refer to Muslims by name, as a people who are strong in their faith in one God and devoted to their father, Abraham. The violence and terrorism inflicted on innocent people by those who read the words of Mohammed as demanding conversion by force and no mercy toward those who do not embrace Islam should not be tolerated or met with naive policies of appeasement and false tolerance. When words fail, it is not unjust to turn to force to protect the innocent and to preserve ancient cultures under attack. At the same time, it is necessary to acknowledge the truth that the vast majority of Muslims have no desire to inflict violence on others, but hope with all others only to live in peace. Tensions in the Middle East rooted in centuries-old conflicts will only be eased when all sides agree that God does not ordain the lifting up of one people by the subjugation of another.
The Council Fathers insist, as well, that God is not far even from those who do not yet know Him, but who seek Him in “shadows and images.” God made all people and gives them life. He desire that all be saved. Indeed, the law of God is written in the hearts of everyone (Rom 2:15), and if any person follow the law of God written in the heart, he or she may be saved. God abandons no one, least of all those who, through no fault of their own, have never heard of Christ, or even reject who they think Christ is as a result of the poor witness of those who claim His name. How essential, then, for those who claim Christ to live lives worthy of the gospel, that those who seek God might see in His adopted children a true witness to His love and mercy.
But, there are those who, not knowing God and not seeking God, given themselves to worship of creation rather than the Creator, who reject the law of God written in their hearts, call evil good and good evil and desire only to live for themselves. God will judge these, too, according to their response to the light given them.
Finally, there are those who live in a world where God seems absent. Surrounded by violence and corruption on all sides, unjustly forced into lives of desperate poverty and humiliation, they can hardly see God and His grace moving in this world. Those who know and love God, then, must reach out to these sometimes despairing souls with the joy of the truth of God’s love for them and for all. Where God is difficult to find, we must be His presence.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.