Skip to comments.Full Text of Pope's Letter to Atheist Italian Journalist Eugenio Scalfari
Posted on 09/12/2013 8:42:42 PM PDT by marshmallow
I would cordially like to reply to the letter you addressed to me from the pages of "La Repubblica" on July 7th, which included a series of personal reflections that then continued to enrich the pages of the daily newspaper on August 7th.
First of all, thank you for the attention with which you have read the Encyclical "Lumen fidei". In fact it was the intention of my beloved predecessor, Benedict XVI, who conceived it and mostly wrote it, and which, with gratitude, I have inherited, to not only confirm the faith in Jesus Christ, for those who already believe, but also to spark a sincere and rigorous dialogue with those who, like you, define themselves as "for many years being a non-believer who is interested and fascinated by the preaching of Jesus of Nazareth".
Therefore, without a doubt it would seem to be positive, not only for each one of us, but also for the society in which we live, to stop and speak about a matter as important as faith and which refers to the teachings and the figure of Jesus.
In particular, I think there are two circumstances which today cause this dialogue to be precious and necessary. This is one of the principal aims of the Second Vatican Council, convened at the behest of John XXIII as well as by the Apostolic Ministry of the Popes who, each with their own sensibility and help have since then continued in the course traced by the Council.
The first circumstance - that refers to the initial pages of the Encyclical - derives from the fact that, down in the centuries of modern life, we have seen a paradox: Christian faith, whose novelty and importance in the life of mankind since the beginning has been expressed through the symbol of light, has often been branded as the darkness of superstition which is opposed to the light of reason. Therefore a lack of communication has arisen between the Church and the culture inspired by Christianity on one hand and the modern culture of Enlightenment on the other. The time has come and the Second Vatican has inaugurated the season, for an open dialogue without preconceptions that opens the door to a serious and fruitful meeting.
The second circumstance, for those who attempt to be faithful to the gift of following Jesus in the light of faith, derives from the fact that this dialogue is not a secondary accessory in the existence of those who believe, but is rather an intimate and indispensabile expression. Speaking of which, allow me to quote a very important statement, in my opinion, of the Encyclical: as the truth witnessed by faith is found in love - it is stressed - "it seems clear that faith is not unyielding, but increases in the coexistence which respects the other. The believer is not arrogant; on the contrary, the truth makes him humble, in the knowledge that rather than making us rigid, it embraces us and possesses us. Rather than make us rigid, the security of faith makes it possible to speak with everyone" (n.34). This is the spirit of the words I am writing to you.
For me, faith began by meeting with Jesus. A personal meeting that touched my heart and gave a direction and a new meaning to my existence. At the same time, however, a meeting that was made possible by the community of faith in which I lived and thanks to which I found access to the intelligence of the Sacred Scriptures, to the new life that comes from Jesus like gushing water through the Sacraments, to fraternity with everyone and to the service to the poor, which is the real image of the Lord. Believe me, without the Church I would never have been able to meet Jesus, in spite of the knowledge that the immense gift of faith is kept in the fragile clay vases of our humanity.
Now, thanks to this personal experience of faith experienced in Church, I feel comfortable in listening to your questions and together with you, will try to find a way to perhaps walk along a path together.
Please forgive me if I do not follow the arguments proposed by you step by step in your editorial of July 7th. It would seem more fruitful to me - or more congenial - to go right to the heart of your considerations. I will not even go into the manners of explanation followed by the Encyclical, in which you find the lack of a section specifically dedicated to the historial experience of Jesus of Nazareth.
To start, I will only observe that such an analysis is not secondary. In fact, following the logic of the Encyclical, this means paying attention to the meaning of what Jesus said and did and after all, of what Jesus has been and is for us. The Letters of Paul and the Gospel according to John, to which particular reference is made in the Encyclical, are in fact created on the solid foundation of the Messianic Ministry of Jesus of Nazareth which culminated in the pentecost of death and resurrection.
Therefore, I would say that we must face Jesus in the concrete roughness of his story, as above all told to us by the most ancient of the Gospels, the one according to Mark. We then find that the "scandal" which the word and practices of Jesus provoke around him derive from his extraordinary "authority": a word that has been certified since the Gospel according to Mark, but that is not easy to translate well into Italian. The Greek word is "exousia", which literally means "comes from being" what one is. It is not something exterior or forced, but rather something that emanates from the inside and imposes itself. Actually Jesus, amazes and innovates starting from, he himself says this, his relationship with God, called familiarly Abbà, who gives him this "authority" so that he uses it in favor of men.
So Jesus preaches "like someone who has authority", he heals, calls his disciples to follow him, forgives... things that, in the Old Testament, belong to God and only God. The question that most frequently is repeated in the Gospel according to Mark: "Who is he who...?", and which regards the identity of Jesus, arises from the recognition of an authority that differs from that of the world, an authority that aims not at exercising power over others, but rather serving them, giving them freedom and the fullness of life. And this is done to the point of staking his own life, up to experiencing misunderstanding, betrayal, refusal, until he is condemned to die, left abandoned on the cross. But Jesus remained faithful to God, up to his death.
And it is then - as the Roman centuriun exclaims, in the Gospel according to Mark - that Jesus is paradoxically revealed as the Son of God. Son of a God that is love and that wants, with all of himself that man, every man, discovers himself and also lives like his real son. For Christian faith this is certified by the fact that Jesus rose from the dead: not to be triumphant over those who refused him, but to certify that the love of God is stronger than death, the forgiveness of God is stronger than any sin and that it is worthwhile to give one's life, to the end, to witness this great gift.
Christian faith believes in this: that Jesus is the Son of God who came to give his life to open the way to love for everyone. Therefore there is a reason, dear Dr. Scalfari, when you see the incarnation of the Son of God as the pivot of Christian faith. Tertullian wrote "caro cardo salutis", the flesh (of Christ) is the pivot of salvation. Because the incarnation, that is the fact that the Son of God has come into our flesh and has shared joy and pain, victories and defeat of our existence, up to the cry of the cross, living each event with love and in the faith of Abbà, shows the incredible love that God has for every man, the priceless value that he acknowledges. For this reason, each of us is called to accept the view and the choice of love made by Jesus, become a part of his way of being, thinking and acting. This is faith, with all the expressions that have been dutifully described in the Encyclical.
* * *
In your editorial of July 7th, you also asked me how to understand the originality of Christian Faith as it is actually based on the incarnation of the Son of God, with respect to other religions that instead pivot on the absolute transcendency of God.
I would say that the originality lies in the fact that faith allows us to participate, in Jesus, in the relationship that He has with God who is Abbà and, because of this, in the relationship that He has with all other men, including enemies, in the sign of love. In other words, the children of Jesus, as Christian faith presents us, are not revealed to mark an insuperabile separation between Jesus and all the others: but to tell us that, in Him, we are all called to be the children of the only Father and brothers with each other. The uniqueness of Jesus is for communication not for exclusion.
Of course a consequence of this is also - and this is not a minor thing - that distinction between the religious spere which is confirmed by "Give to God what belongs to God and give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar", distinctly confirmed by Jesus and upon which, the history of the Western world was built. In fact, the Church is called to sow the yeast and salt of the Gospel, and that is the love and mercy of God which reaches all men, indicating the definitive destination of our destiny in the hereafter, while civil and political society has the difficult duty of expressing and embodying a life that is evermore human in justice, in solidarity, in law and in peace. For those who experience the Christian faith, this does not mean escaping from the world or looking for any kind of supremacy, but being at the service of mankind, of all mankind and all men, starting from the periphery of history and keeping the sense of hope alive, striving for goodness in spite of everything and always looking beyond.
At the end of your first article, you also ask me what to say to our Jewish brothers about the promise God made to them: Has this been forgotten? And this - believe me - is a question that radically involves us as Christians because, with the help of God, starting from the Second Vatican Council, we have discovered that the Jewish people are still, for us, the holy root from which Jesus originated. I too, in the friendship I have cultivated in all of these long years with our Jewish brothers, in Argentina, many times while praying have asked God, especially when I remember the terrible experience of the Shoah. What I can say, with the Apostle Paul, is that God has never stopped believing in the alliance made with Israel and that, through the terribile trials of these past centuries, the Jews have kept their faith in God. And for this, we will never be grateful enough to them, as the Church, but also as humanity at large. Persevering in their faith in God and in the alliance, they remind everyone, even us as Christians that we are always awaiting, the return of the Lord and that therefore we must remain open to Him and never take refuge in what we have already achieved.
As for the three questions you asked me in the article of August 7th. It would seem to me that in the first two, what you are most interested in is understanding the Church's attitude towards those who do not share faith in Jesus. First of all, you ask if the God of the Christians forgives those who do not believe and do not seek faith. Given that - and this is fundamental - God's mercy has no limits if he who asks for mercy does so in contrition and with a sincere heart, the issue for those who do not believe in God is in obeying their own conscience. In fact, listening and obeying it, means deciding about what is perceived to be good or to be evil. The goodness or the wickedness of our behavior depends on this decision.
Second of all, you ask if the thought, according to which no absolute exists and therefore there is no absolute truth, but only a series of relative and subjective truths is a mistake or a sin. To start, I would not speak about, not even for those who believe, an "absolute" truth, in the sense that absolute is something detached, something lacking any relationship. Now, the truth is a relationship! This is so true that each of us sees the truth and expresses it, starting from oneself: from one's history and culture, from the situation in which one lives, etc. This does not mean that the truth is variable and subjective. It means that it is given to us only as a way and a life. Was it not Jesus himself who said: "I am the way, the truth, the life"? In other words, the truth is one with love, it requires humbleness and the willingness to be sought, listened to and expressed. Therefore we must understand the terms well and perhaps, in order to avoid the oversemplification of absolute contraposition, reformulate the question. I think that today this is absolutely necessary in order to have a serene and constructive dialogue which I hoped for from the beginning.
In the last question you ask if, with the disappearance of man on earth, the thoughts able to think about God will also disappear. Of course, the greatness of mankind lies in being able to think about God. That is in being able to experience a conscious and responsible relationship with Him. But the relationship lies between two realities. God - this is my thought and this is my experience, but how many, yesterday and today, share it! - is not an idea, even if very sublime, the result of the thoughts of mankind. God is a reality with a capital "R". Jesus reveals this to us - and he experiences the relationship with Him - as a Father of infinite goodness and mercy. God therefore does not depend on our thoughts. On the other hand, even when the end of life for man on earth should come - and for Christian faith, in any case the world as we know it now is destined to end, man will not finish existing and, in a way that we do not know, nor will the universe created with him. The Scriptures speak of "new skies and a new land" and confirm that, in the end, at the time and place that it is beyond our knowledge, but which we patiently and desirously await, God will be " everything in everyone".
Dear Dr. Scalfari, here I end these reflections of mine, prompted by what you wanted to tell and ask me. Please accept this as a tentative and temporary reply, but sincere and hopeful, together with the invitation that I made to walk a part of the path together. Believe me, in spite of its slowness, the infidelity, the mistakes and the sins that may have and may still be committed by those who compose the Church, it has no other sense and aim if not to live and witness Jesus: He has been sent by Abbà "to bring good news to the poor... to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour" (Luke 4: 18-19).
With brotherly love,
(Translated from Italian by Sara Cecere)
[Source: La Repubblica]
“What I can say, with the Apostle Paul, is that God has never stopped believing in the alliance made with Israel and that, through the terribile trials of these past centuries, the Jews have kept their faith in God. And for this, we will never be grateful enough to them, as the Church, but also as humanity at large. Persevering in their faith in God and in the alliance, they remind everyone, even us as Christians that we are always awaiting, the return of the Lord and that therefore we must remain open to Him and never take refuge in what we have already achieved.”
Yet, the scripture says “He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him”(Joh 5:23). How then can he say that non-Christian Jews have kept their faith in God, when they have rejected the Son and therefore the Father that sent Him?
“Given that - and this is fundamental - God’s mercy has no limits if he who asks for mercy does so in contrition and with a sincere heart, the issue for those who do not believe in God is in obeying their own conscience. In fact, listening and obeying it, means deciding about what is perceived to be good or to be evil. The goodness or the wickedness of our behavior depends on this decision.”
I’m not seeing how people are claiming that he was misquoted on this. He switches to speaking of non-believers, and then says that the infidel must listen and obey his conscience, “deciding about what is PERCEIVED to be good or to be evil. The goodness or the wickedness of our behavior depends on this decision.”
In my opinion, this entire letter says nothing, and is mostly useless. This particular section strikes me as confused and meaningless on purpose, suggesting on the one hand that there is salvation outside of Jesus Christ, while on the other hand remaining as ambiguous as possible.
This is truly beautiful. Dr. Luther would in most, if not all respects, concur.
When dealing with the infinite, it is perhaps unwise to place finite limitations.
The final decision on who enters the Kingdom Of Heaven is reserved for one and only one.
That right to judge who is worthy of the Kingdom Of Heaven was earned on on a Cross on a hill in Jerusalem some 2000 years ago and I, for one, am not presumptuous enough or worthy enough to presuppose his judgments or manner in which they will be decided.
“when they have rejected the Son and therefore the Father that sent Him?”
Most modern Jews never rejected Christ. They have never had Jesus Christ preached to them. Most Jews know little or nothing about Him and what they do know is often riddled with myths, misconceptions, and utter lies.
“In my opinion, this entire letter says nothing, and is mostly useless.”
Strange, I was just thinking the same thing - but about the posts of anti-Catholics here at FR.
“Most modern Jews never rejected Christ.”
All modern Jews, except maybe for one on a deserted Island somewhere, has heard of Christ and has not converted. The scripture makes no exceptions for ignorance (even for the one on the island), prejudice or any other form of foolishness. Nor does it require that one specifically reject Christ to be damned. The scripture merely teaches that those who do not believe in Christ, are condemned already.
“Strange, I was just thinking the same thing - but about the posts of anti-Catholics here at FR.”
There is nothing more meaningless than a religion that preaches that you don’t have to convert to it. If only the RCC did not masquerade as a Christian church! Their irrelevance is made even more ugly, because it attacks the one true religion of Christ.
If a person is never formally introduced to Christ, through no fault of his own, yet serves goodness and truth, to the best of his ability, then he may be saved. The possibility exists.
If such a person is saved, it would be by the grace of God, mediated through Christ and His Church.
Conversely, any person who understands that entrance into Christ's Church through baptism is normative for salvation, is obligated to enter into His Church.
“If a person... serves goodness and truth... If such a person is saved, it would be by the grace of God”
To make this more plain, you are saying that if one “serves goodness and truth,” presumably by doing good works, he can receive the grace of God. However, the scripture says Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt (Rom 4:4). And again, by grace ye are saved (Eph 2:5). To say that grace is the reward of works is insidious and wrong.
“mediated through Christ and His Church.”
This would be impossible, since: 1) They do not believe in Christ. 2) By definition they have nothing to do with the church. In order to be mediated by Christ, one must believe in Christ. One cannot believe in Christ by not believing. Nor can anyone have faith in Christ who have never heard of Christ.
“If a person is never formally introduced to Christ, through no fault of his own,”
All those who do not believe in Christ are, through fault of their own, condemned by their sins. As the scripture says, all men are guilty before God, regardless of how much light they have received (Rom 3:19). As all men have received, to a certain extent, the law of God imprinted on their hearts, as well as the light of nature revealing the existence of God, therefore they are summarily rendered without excuse, (Rom 1:20, 2:14) and as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law (Rom 2:12). And again, for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God(Rom 3:9-11). Your sentiments deny these scriptures and undermine the Gospel, which therefore, actually, puts you yourself outside of Christianity. For those born before the coming of Christ, salvation is of the Jews, (John 4:22), and therefore all those who were outside of Gods covenant people are damned; however, now that Christ has come, salvation is again limited to Gods peculiar people whom God has predestinated before the world began.
How can they claim ignorance when they themselves affirm that their lies are evil, that their adulteries are wrong, that their homosexual abominations and other crimes are filthy, that they have fallen short, even though they take pleasure in them? What does it matter to God if they justify and excuse themselves? Isnt that the nature of all mankind, to justify ourselves and think of ourselves as Holy? What does He care if they sear their conscience to their sins? Is God obligated to save everyone or reason with everyone personally? Is God obligated to appear to every individual, or to save those people who He has not made a covenant with? And how can they have any good works at all, when whatsoever is not of faith is sin (Rom 14:23)? And again, all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away (Isaiah 64:6)? If you say that there is a righteous infidel out there in the world, you deny the Holy Scriptures which says that there is “no one good, save one, that is, God.”
God is not obligated to save everyone. He is obligated only to His own promise, and by nothing else. He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth (Rom 9:18). Who are you to challenge God on why He damned all the people in the new world, or people on remote islands? Do you think that God is not the God of providence, who ordained that they should be born in those lands where they would die without ever hearing the hope of the Gospel? But if men are not guilty of anything until they hear the Gospel, or absolutely reject it, isnt God then obligated to appear to everyone in the same flashy manner as He did to Paul on the road to Damascus? After all, cant it be argued that everyone deserves the same EQUAL chance for salvation? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?(Rom 9:20-21).
On the contrary, if God chooses to save any one, it is mercy that He does so. And if God does not save that person, it is in judgment that He does so. If God is obligated to have mercy on all people, then mercy is, in fact, justice, and judgment is injustice. To say otherwise is to deny original sin and the effect it has had on human beings. It is to deny what the scripture so plainly says, that all have fallen short of the glory of God, that all are under the punishment of sin (Jews and Gentiles alike), and that all are dead in sins until quickened by the Holy Spirit, by whom men believe in Christ.
Beautifully said. Thank you
“All modern Jews...has heard of Christ and has not converted.”
They have heard of Him, but have never been preached to. There’s a huge difference. They hear things about Jesus, but they have not heard the gospel of Jesus. There’s a difference.