Love All, Pray For All, and Hope For All, Because Grace Is Available To All

Love All, Pray For All, and Hope For All, Because Grace Is Available To All May 10, 2016

Silouan the Athonite By не указано [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
St. Silouan the Athonite
By не указано [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
“Love cannot bear that. We must pray for all,” St. Silouan of Mount Athos once told a hermit who asked him why he was known to pray for those presumed to be damned.[1]  Instead of thinking everyone deserved to be damned so that we should not be concerned if anyone should perish in hell, St. Silouan believed that the Christian response was the response of love, the response of Christ. Love does what it can for the salvation of all. Because Christ died for all (cf. 2 Cor. 5:15), we should desire that all should be saved. While it might seem highly unlikely, we must pray for and hope for the salvation of all, for that is the hope of love. It is because God is love that Christ came to the world to save sinners; he came, not just for a few, but for all, and so we are to pray for all:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way.  This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1Tim. 2:1-4 RSV).

Whether or not the hope will find itself fulfilled in the eschaton, such hope is not in vain. God continues to do what he can for the salvation of all. While we know the Gospel and the normative means by which we are to be incorporated into the new and everlasting covenant is through baptism, God is not limited to the norms he established for us; he has his own ways to share the grace of baptism, salvation, to those who need it and who, through no fault of their own, never received it, as Lumen Gentium declared:

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. 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.[2]

For those who do not and cannot comprehend the Gospel, God is capable of bringing salvation to them, for he is able to and will provide the “helps” necessary for their salvation.  He provides the grace necessary for salvation to those who are open to it. For those whose wills are open, God can work in and with them and give them the grace necessary for salvation, even if they have not come in contact with the Gospel, or if they do not properly understand it. The Holy Spirit blows where he wills (cf. Jn. 3:8), meaning, despite the lack of proper Christian witness, there is no one outside of the loving providence of God.

No one.

We might not know how God’s providence will work itself out with those who have not received baptism (such as those who die as infants), but we can hope and believe God’s grace reaches them and can give them the grace of the sacrament of baptism even if they do not receive the sacrament itself. As Peter Lombard indicated, when talking about baptism, there is the thing which is received from the sacrament, which is grace. Some receive the sacrament without the grace (invalid baptism), while others receive the thing (the grace) without the performance of the sacrament, even if the norm for the spread of the Gospel is to have the grace received through the sacrament itself: “Here it is said that some receive the sacrament and the thing, others the sacrament and not the thing, others the thing and not the sacrament.”[3] And, as Lombard further pointed out, we can hope for those who do not receive baptism to have the grace of baptism so long as they do not outright, in full knowledge and awareness reject the grace of baptism:

But the Lord’s words are to be understood of those who can be baptized but contemptuously fail to do so. Or they are to be understood in this sense: Unless a man is reborn of water and the Holy Spirit, that is, by the regeneration that is done by water and the Holy Spirit, he shall not be saved. However, that regeneration is not brought about only through baptism, but also through penance and blood.[4]

History, of course, verifies this. The grace of justification is available to all, even to those who lived before the coming of Christ, that is, to those who obviously did not receive baptism. Some, we are told, received grace in the performance of circumcision, which itself signified baptism and so participated with the grace of baptism, but others, such as women or those who lived in lands without circumcision, other forms of sacrifice or faith was enough to impart such grace, as St. Gregory the Great explained:

For every man that is not absolved by the water of regeneration, is tied and bound by the guilt of the original bond.  But that which the water of Baptism avails for with us, this either faith alone did of old in behalf of infants, or, for those of riper years, the virtue of sacrifice, or, for all that came of the stock of Abraham, the mystery of circumcision. [5]

Here, we find that the faith of parents can and did help and impart grace even to infants who died apart from baptism or circumcision or any other acts of faith. Again, what is important is that such grace is given to those who have not yet actively repudiated it, and who have no other means for it in their lives. Infants born to believers who die before baptism, we can see, would be given such grace according to the dictates of St. Gregory the Great, and this is as we can and should expect, because their lack of baptism was not in and through a fault of their own. God has all kinds of ways for his desire for the salvation of all to be effective, and so in each time and place, according to the circumstances involved, he will provide the means of justification. A form of the sacramental grace will be found available to all. Hugh of Saint Victor, for example, saw the Christian faith and its sacramental graces was found in and throughout all time,  because there was a universal need for such grace:

For from the time when man, having fallen from the state of first incorruption, began to ail in body through mortality and in soul through iniquity, God at once prepared a remedy in His sacraments for restoring man. These indeed, as reason and cause demanded, He furnished at different times and places for man’s cure: some before the law, others under the law, others under grace, diverse, indeed, in species yet having the one effect and producing the one health. If anyone, therefore, seeks the time of the institution of the sacraments, let him know that as long as there is sickness, there is time for remedy.[6]

Reason and cause indicates that God, who is love and desires the salvation of all, will provide himself the means by which his desire can be fulfilled. It is not that he will force such salvation upon the unwilling (which is why we do not know what will happen in the eschatological judgment), but rather, all shall have the opportunity, and to deny that opportunity because of accident of place or time is against the whole logic of the incarnation itself. As long as there is someone who needs grace, there will be a means for it to be applied; whether or not it will be, we do not know, but we have reason to hope it might. In our loving imitation of God, it must be what we ourselves desire for all.  If some shall be shown to desire it, we know God not only has the means, but the will to give it; for this reason St. Ambrose famously explained why he believed in the salvation of the emperor Valentinian:

Mosaic in Sant'Ambrogio church via Wikimedia Commons
Mosaic in Sant’Ambrogio church via Wikimedia Commons

But I hear that you grieve because he did not receive the sacrament of baptism. Tell me: what else is in your power other than the desire, the request? But he even had this desire for a long time, that, when he should come into Italy, he would be initiated, and recently he signified a desire to be baptized by me, and for this reason above all others he thought I ought to be summoned. Has he not, then, the grace that he desired; has he not the grace that he requested? And because he asked, he received, and therefore it is said: ‘By whatsoever death the just man shall be overtaken, his soul shall be at rest.’[7]

Thus, baptism of desire has been affirmed, because as Peter Lombard explained, God will supply what is lacking due to a lack of performance of the sacraments for those who have proper faith, hope and love:

For if someone who has faith and charity wishes to be baptized, and cannot because necessity prevents him, (AUGUSTINE: ) “ the benignity of the Almighty will supply what was lacking from the sacrament.” [8]

The key is to understand the great love God has for humanity. He will always provide what is lacking to us for those who are willing and do not reject it. Grace perfects nature. While there are normative means by which we are to come to grace in our lives, i.e., baptism and the other sacraments, we must not use such norms to impose limits on God and how he will provide what is lacking for the salvation of those who have not received the sacraments themselves. They can receive the thing without the sacrament, according to the mysterious ways of God. This is the mystery by which we must live with, never going beyond it. We must never make demands on God. We cannot force salvation on all, even as we cannot tell him that he can only save people in the way we view as normative. We can hope for the salvation of all, because it is the hope of love. We know God will work with and save those who are willing to be saved. He will supply the grace of baptism to those who are lacking it due to historical accidents out of their control. That is what we can place our hope in: the bountiful love of God. If we receive the reward of salvation and then find others also receive the reward of salvation who we thought would not, let us not be like the workers of the vineyard complaining to God about their salvation (cf. Matt. 20:1-16), but rather, let us rejoice with the angels in heaven for all who come to God and are saved. For this should be our hope, that God will be all in all, with all things lovingly restored in perfect harmony with each other by the grace of God. Anything less and the name Christian will not be properly ours.

 


 

[1] Quoted from Kallistos Ware, The Inner Kingdom: Volume 1 of the Collected Works (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2000),194.

[2] Lumen Gentium. Vatican Translation. ¶16.

[3] Peter Lombard, The Sentences. Book 4: On the Doctrine of Signs. trans. Giulio Silano (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 2010), 18 [ bk. iv., dist. iv, c.1].

[4] Peter Lombard, The Sentences. Book 4: On the Doctrine of Signs, 23 [ bk. iv., dist. iv, c.4].

[5] St. Gregory the Great, Morals on the Book of Job. Volume I. trans. John Henry Parker, J.G.F. and J. Rivington (London: Oxford, 1844), 179 [bk iv c3].

Peter Lombard follows this – see Peter Lombard, The Sentences. Book 4: On the Doctrine of Signs, 7 [ bk. iv., dist. i, c. 8].

[6] Hugh of Saint Victor, On the Sacraments of the Christian Faith. trans. Roy J. Defarrari (Cambridge: The Medieval Academy of America, 1951), 150.

[7] St. Ambrose, “On the Death of Valentinian” in Funeral Orations by Saint Gregory Nazianzen St. Ambrose. trans. Leo P. McCauley S.J., John J. Sullivan C.S. Sp., Martin R.P. McGuire and Roy J. Deferrari (New York: Fathers of the Church, Inc., 1953), 287-8.

[8] Peter Lombard, The Sentences. Book 4: On the Doctrine of Signs,  24 [ bk. iv., dist. iv, c.4].  Here, Lombard is quoting Augustine, De baptismo contra Donatistas, bk 4 c24 n31.

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