December 05, 2002

Been pondering Amy's claim that the teaching on religious freedom changed and on the debate going on over at Catholic Convert questioning the continuity on "no salvation outside the church". Perhaps the continuity or non-continuity is not ultimately important. Certainly to non-Christians, the bible has many contradictions. They see the God of the OT as wrathful and stern, while the NT as merciful and loving. And even if we limit ourselves to Jesus' words alone, there are paradoxical messages concerning the issue of salvation. It certainly isn't surprising that the Church would reflect that over the ages. Jesus's purpose was surely to "afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted" by forcing us not to either be too comfortable with our own salvation nor with losing heart. This is the delicate balance that every Christian faces.

Jesus appealed to us with both a carrot and a stick. The Church, thinking with the heart of Christ, attempts everything she can to help us reach salvation and will emphasize one or the other to the extent that she feels it will be effective. To that end, she tailors her message, much as the Gospel writers did with their respective audiences.

See this interesting article on the subject:
During World War II a certain nun had a reputation for being very honest. Her convent in occupied German territory had secretly offered asylum to a number of Jews. If found out, it would mean death for both the Jews and all the sisters. When asked by a German officer, outside the convent, whether there were any Jews inside, she answered that there were not, and the officer left. I have not met anyone willing to say that she erred in her action, though what she said was not literally true. Some have argued it was true in the sense that she had no certain knowledge of all the ancestry of each person, or their inmost beliefs, but she did know that, to the government that the officer represented, a Jew was a person who deserved to be torn from his home and family, worked as a slave, and then killed, so she could honestly say there were no persons like that there. So she made an inerrant statement that was not true in the common literal sense.

It should not be thought that the sister in question sinned venially or acted against the moral teaching of the Church in making such a judgment. Paragraph 2488 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

“The right to the communication of the truth is not unconditional. Everyone must conform his life to the Gospel precept of fraternal love. This requires us in concrete situations to judge whether or not it is appropriate to reveal the truth to someone who asks for it.”

And is followed by:

“Charity and respect for the truth should dictate the response to every request for information or communication. The good and safety of others, respect for privacy, and the common good are sufficient reasons for being silent about what ought not be known or for making use of a discreet language. The duty to avoid scandal often commands strict discretion. No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who does not have the right to know it.”

The truth is eternal, but error may be time and circumstance dependent. So to say that someone was protected from error when they said something, does not necessarily guarantee that it was true in the sense that most people might interpret it at that time.

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