Let’s start with the actual words spoken by Pope Francis, in his much quoted, and often warped, sermon on Mark 9:38-40 and the work of Jesus Christ in redeeming all of creation, including the people in it.
The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. “But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.” Yes, he can. He must. Not can: must! Because he has this commandment within him. …
The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! “Father, the atheists?” Even the atheists. Everyone! And this Blood makes us children of God of the first class! We are created children in the likeness of God and the Blood of Christ has redeemed us all!
OK, here is what that turned into once it reached the cyber-pages of The Huffington Post, with this dramatic headline:
Atheists Who Do Good Are Redeemed By Jesus As Well As Catholics, Pope Francis Says
Pope Francis has delivered a homily in which he states atheists who do good are redeemed through Jesus.
Speaking at the Wednesday morning Mass in his Rome residence, he told the story of a Catholic who asked a priest if even atheists were saved by Christ.
In the unprepared speech, he emphasized the importance of “doing good” as a principle which unites all humanity.
OK, what we have here is two crucial doctrinal concepts that have been jammed into a journalistic blender.
First of all, the pope is talking about “redemption” and he notes, of course, that Jesus Christ died and was raised and, as the Orthodox like to say, has thus “trampled down death by death.”
So all of creation has been redeemed. The issue whether everyone in that creation manages, through grace, to accept the reality of this redemption. At that point, the key term is not “redemption,” but “salvation.” And who is saved, through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ? Those who have embraced that redemption.
For another take on this, consider the following — the blunt take offered by the famous/infamous theologian Stephen Colbert at the end of his classic showdown with scholar Philip Zimbardo, author of “The Lucifer Effect”. By all means, click right here for the full video. Meanwhile, here’s the key exchange: