Ok, I know that this is not a supremely important question, but they make for fun arguments with Jesuits, and lately I’ve had some fun back and forths about the topic. I was going to frame this post as a Summa style question, but then I realized that I don’t quite know what I think. So that should leave things open for discussion. I’ll try to keep my arguments short and concise.
I. The incarnation and death of Jesus saved the entire universe.
a. Hebrews 10:12 – “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” It would seem that Christ offered only one sacrifice for all time, and so he cannot die and rise again on another planet.
b. Colossians 1:15-20 – “He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the Church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
This one’s the kicker for me. I have trouble getting around it. The implication seems to be that all things were created – which of course includes the entire universe with all other alien life that ever existed, exists, or may come to exist – through Jesus and for Jesus. Not for and through God, but for and through Jesus. He is before all things, he holds together all things. In other words, he stands as the head of the cosmos, as its beginning and end, its past and future. For Teilhard, this was a profound vision, and he viewed this passage as one of the most important in the New Testament. Nor can there be other Jesuses, since Paul is clear that it was “by the blood of his cross,” that peace was made. It is unlikely that if Jesus was incarnated on another planet he would be killed there by a cross as well. Unless the Romans get around. He would be killed in some other way. But Paul is clear that by the blood of his cross, this Jesus saved all things, whether in heaven or on earth.
c. If I ever went to another planet and met an alien race who had never heard of Jesus, I would have trouble not preaching to them. Jesus said to proclaim the good news to all creation (Mark 16:15), and even if this seems to refer only to this creation, I’m not sure why. In Daniel 3, the three young men in the furnace tell the sun and moon to bless the Lord. They are proclaiming to all creation. If I met an alien race, I don’t see how I could just say, “Well, we’ve been saved and redeemed, but you all have to wait around since our salvation didn’t include you as well.” Why shouldn’t it? Their culture may seem as foreign to Jewish Middle Eastern culture as the Jewish story 2000 years ago seems to 21st century America. (Notice, I’m presuming fallenness in alien races. Unlike C.S. Lewis in Perelandra, I simply cannot imagine an unfallen race making choices in time, since I take the story of the fall in Genesis 3 to be a myth about finite nature as corrupted without the help of God. But I could be wrong here. I guess there could be an alien race that lived an angel kind of temporality, having time to make one choice before being granted the beatific vision. But I don’t know much about angels, and I don’t like to muddy things up by including them in the conversation.)
d. Anticipating an objection that Christ’s death only saved humans, since as the Cappadocians argued, only what is assumed is redeemed, I would respond that Christ’s death saved all of creation through the human race. Romans 8:18-25 makes that clear, since all creation groans and awaits its own liberation through us. But what about other free non-human races? Well, let’s embark on an experiment here. Let’s say that dolphins evolved to the status of rationality and love, i.e., personhood. They would be non-human persons. Did Christ’s death save them? Or does he now have to become a dolphin person to die for them? Hebrews and Colossians seem at least to speak a definite “no” to this. So why can his death not include other alien races too, if it can include dolphin persons? Maybe what Jesus assumed that is important is not the human form, but the rational free spiritual form, and this is what he redeemed, thereby including all personal races, alien or human. I see no way out of this one. If dolphin-persons come to exist, and they fall, and Christ cannot come again for them, then his incarnation must include them somehow.
II. The incarnation and death of Jesus saved only the human race and by extension this world’s creation.
a. The Cappadocians are clear that only what is assumed is redeemed. Christ only assumed the human form, so only humans are saved. All creation is saved according to Romans 8 only because humans stand in Genesis 1 at the pinnacle of creation, and so our free salvation affects the whole created world. But this does not extend beyond this planet.
b. We are only now seeing the light of stars that died out 10’s of billions of years ago. How could Christ’s death 2000 years ago have saved alien life forms that existed billions of years ago? That’s a tough one. They never had a chance to hear the gospel.
c. It is far too anthropocentric to imagine that the salvation of the human race is also the salvation of the whole universe. They have their own problems. Can there really be potentially millions of people out there who never have a chance to hear the good news?
d. Both C.S. Lewis and Thomas Aquinas imply that other incarnations would be necessary if other rational life forms exist.
e. Hebrews only needs to mean that Christ died once and for all as a human. He can die again as another species.
f. If dolphin-persons fall, I’m not sure what happens to them. Either Christ’s death saves them, since they are part of this creation, and Paul is clear that Christ is at the head of all creation. In which case, what has to matter about the incarnation is not that Christ became human but that he became a rational, free, person.
1. But then, if that is what matters about the incarnation, why not extend this salvation to all alien races? Can Christ become “a life-giving spirit” (1 Corinthians 15:45) for all races, or just for those who share in the race of the First Adam?
I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.