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"All Israel will be saved": Romans 11:26
In the late 1960s, when I was doing Bachelor of Education at the University of Melbourne, during one of the lectures, the lecturer (a nominal Lutheran of Hungarian background), asked: “What does the Catholic Church teach about salvation? Who can be saved?”
This question came as a result of his having stated unequivocally that “The Catholic Church teaches that outside the (Catholic) Church there is no salvation”.
Naturally, as a Catholic faithful to the Magisterium of the Church, I could not let it pass without a challenge.
In those days nuns still wore their habit, so you could tell a lay person from a “religious”, and often even to which religious Order they belonged. Now, it so happened that we had a nun in our class, dressed of course in a black and white habit, which I could not recognise. As I automatically deferred to her, I asked the sister if she would be prepared to answer the lecturer.
When she declined to do so, I said: “Although it is true that Pope Innocent III said in the 13th century that ‘Outside the Church there is no salvation’, this is not the whole story.
In fact, even anyone living in darkest Africa, who through no fault of his/her own, could not believe in Jesus, since he/she had not heard of him, such a person could still be saved provided he/she repented of serious sins.”
The Catholic Church teaches what Jesus taught, namely: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Note all nations, which of course includes the Jewish nation, Israel.
In Mark 16:15-16, Jesus goes further when he says: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptised will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned”.
So the operative requirement is belief in Jesus, not necessarily Baptism. So therefore, members of the Salvation Army can be saved as they believe in Jesus, but do not practise Baptism.
What of the Jewish people, who have not come to a belief in Jesus?
As we know from history, the Jewish people were not well disposed towards Christianity from the very beginning of the Church, as most expected a military Messiah who would free them from the Roman occupation of the Caesars and their minions.
Furthermore, Jews were taught for eons that God cannot have a son, despite Proverbs 30:4. Most importantly, and most regrettably, thanks to Christian antipathy and persecution over well nigh two millennia, most Jewish people found it extremely difficult to believe in Jesus as Messiah of Israel, and especially as Son of God.
Nevertheless, since Vatican II with its teaching in Nostra Aetate, and a most empathetic attitude by the Popes since good St John XXIII towards the Jewish people, a new era in good relations was born and continues to be fostered between the Catholic Church and Judaism, and by extension with many other Christian denominations.
Yet, ultimately, we must look to St Paul, formerly Saul, the one-time arch-persecutor of the very first Christians, and after his Damascus conversion experience (Acts 9:1—19), the great Apostle of the Gentiles.
It is after all St Paul who is so explicit that it is not by carrying out the 613 mitzvot (“precepts”) of the Torah (“the Law”) that a Jew is saved, but by belief in a person ... the person of Jesus as Mashiach (“Messiah”) of Israel and Son of God: the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, of the One true God of Israel.
Of course, belief in Jesus must be free of any compulsion: it is a pure gift of God through faith.
And how does St Paul see the ultimate salvation of his people, whom he loves intensely? In Romans 11:25-26 he makes it quite clear that once the “fullness of the Gentiles has entered [the Church] ... then after this the rest of Israel will be saved as well.” Halleluyah! Praise the Lord!
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 28 No 10 (November 2015), p. 8
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