Saving Some More

Unlike the rest of us mortals, the always indispensable Avery Cardinal Dulles grows more indispensable with each advancing year, and his article “Who Can Be Saved?” (February) will rank as perhaps his most important essay on this topic. I have no quarrel with his article. (In fact, I agree with every word of it.) But it was perhaps unfortunate that so important an overview had to be delivered on November 7, 2007, slightly more than three weeks before Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Spe Salvi was promulgated.

The papal magisterium has now explicitly aligned itself with Father Henri de Lubac’s insistence that salvation is social : “De Lubac was able to demonstrate that salvation has always been considered a ‘social’ reality.” Second, the pope uses that social perspective to criticize any bourgeois obsession with one’s own private salvation. For him, there can be no such thing as private salvation; on the contrary, such would violate the message and mission of Jesus: “How could the idea have developed that Jesus’s message is narrowly individualistic and aimed only at each person singly? How did we arrive at this interpretation of the ‘salvation of the soul’ as a flight from responsibility for the whole, and how did we come to conceive the Christian project as a selfish search for salvation which rejects the idea of serving others?”

According to Benedict, this warped view of salvation has also distorted our vision of the Last Judgment: “In the modern era, the idea of the Last Judgment has faded into the background: Christian faith has been individualized and primarily oriented towards the salvation of the believer’s own soul.” To replace that narrow eschatology, Benedict proposes that salvation comes not so much from what an individual may or may not have heard or believed about Christ in this life (which relies on too many contingencies) but occurs in encounter with Christ at death (which is universal): “Some recent theologians are of the opinion that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself, the Judge and Savior.” And who are those destined for such a purifying fire? The pope teaches: “For the great majority of people”we may suppose”there remains in the depths of their being an ultimate interior openness to truth, to love, to God.”

But if salvation seems so readily available independent of one’s exposure to the gospel, what about the eternal fire we call hell? Even a cursory glance at the headlines will make the reader feel immediate sympathy with the pope’s teaching here: “There can be people who have totally destroyed their desire for truth and readiness to love, people for whom everything has become a lie, people who have lived for hatred and have suppressed all love within themselves. This is a terrifying thought, but alarming profiles of this type can be seen in certain figures of our own history. In such people, everything would be beyond remedy and the destruction of good would be irrevocable: this is what we mean by the word Hell .” The key point here, of course, is that only those end up in hell who truly choose that lot for themselves by their own willful iniquity.

Fortunately, God’s reality exceeds the headlines, for we also have the example of the saints”whose sanctity, more often than not, escapes the notice of the world. And of them the Church can speak confidently about their near-immediate entrance into heaven: “On the other hand, there can be people who are utterly pure, completely permeated by God, and thus fully open to their neighbors”people for whom communion with God even now gives direction to their entire being and whose journey towards God only brings to fulfillment what they already are.”

But, for the rest of us, there is hope, a hope that is ultimately social precisely because we are social beings to our core. Far from undermining the missionary impulse, I believe this perspective can give an added motivation to evangelization: We proclaim the gospel because, by striving to save others, we are contributing to our own salvation.

Edward T. Oakes, S.J.
University of St. Mary of the Lake
Mundelein Seminary
Mundelein, Illinois

I appreciate Cardinal Dulles’ lucid article “Who Can Be Saved?” and I generally agree with his conclusions. I believe, however, that the article repeats a misinterpretation of the views of Thomas Aquinas and that the error may affect how we understand the development of doctrine on this question.


According to Dulles, Aquinas believed that, prior to the time of Christ, Gentiles could be saved by implicit faith, but that after the time of Christ explicit faith in the Trinity and the Incarnation was necessary for salvation. In such early works as De Veritate , Aquinas said that God would help the unevangelized living upright lives after the time of Christ to come to explicit faith, either by miraculously sending them a preacher (as he sent Peter to Cornelius) or else by some kind of inner illumination. But, Dulles says, by the time Aquinas wrote the Summa Theologiae , he dropped this idea, omitted all mention of miraculous instruction or inner illumination, and so reverted to “the Augustinian theory that those who had never heard the gospel would be eternally punished for original sin as well as their personal sins.”

In fact, Aquinas says something quite different. As a matter of first principles, Aquinas thinks that faith is necessary for salvation because salvation is the final end or goal of mankind, and a human being old enough to make moral choices can reach that end only if he knows that it exists and orders his actions to it. As Aquinas puts it: “The object of faith, properly and essentially, includes that through which man attains beatitude,” and, since such beatitude is attained through Christ, “all people in all times must in some way ( aliqualiter ) believe in the mystery of Christ’s incarnation, albeit in different ways according to the diversity of times and persons.” To order one’s actions to the final end, however, all that’s strictly necessary is so-called implicit faith. Hence, in De Veritate , Aquinas says, “Everyone of every age must explicitly believe that God exists and has providence over human affairs.”

As to whether those living after the time of Christ must have explicit faith in the Incarnation and the Trinity, Aquinas says in De Veritate that, “in the time of grace, everyone, both the learned and the simple, are required to have explicit faith in the Trinity and the Redeemer.” In context, however, it’s clear that Aquinas means everyone among the evangelized, whether learned or simple, not everyone simpliciter. This is clearer in the Summa Theologiae , for there Aquinas never speaks of everyone living after the time of Christ but says only that, “after the time of revealed grace, the simple as well as the learned must have explicit faith in the mysteries of Christ.” This makes perfect sense for Aquinas, for a man hearing the gospel must decide whether to accept or reject it. In the first case, he comes to explicit faith; in the second, he risks damnation. But the unevangelized, who never hear the gospel, never face such a choice and so never reject the gospel and so are never lost simply for lack of explicit faith.

In both De Veritate and Summa Theologiae , Aquinas goes on to discuss what is required of the unevangelized, but in neither work does he distinguish between those living before and those living after the time of Christ. In De Veritate , an example is given of a man growing up alone in the wilderness (no specification being made as to when he lives), and in the Summa Theologiae another example concerns Gentiles “to whom no revelation has been made” (not necessarily Gentiles living before the time of Christ). In both places, Aquinas says that such people can be saved: Aquinas does mention (contra Dulles) miraculous instruction (including Job, the Sibylline prophecies, and an incident from Roman history) and then says: “If there have been saved some to whom revelation was not made, these were not saved without faith in a Mediator. For, even if they did not have explicit faith, they still had implicit faith in divine providence and believed that God would save men in whatever way seemed good to him.” Hence, implicit faith suffices for anyone “to whom no revelation has been made.” There is thus no basis in the text or in the logic of the argument to limit this principle to those living before the time of Christ.

In the Summa , Aquinas also asks whether a person living in original sin (e.g., because he is unbaptized) can refrain from mortal sin. Without making any distinctions as to when the person lives, Aquinas says that God offers everyone who reaches the age of reason grace for the remission of original sin. He writes: “Once a human being begins to reason, he must deliberate about himself. If he directs himself toward the proper end, then by grace he receives the remission of original sin. If however he does not direct himself toward the proper end, to the extent that he is capable of discretion at that age, he will sin mortally by failing to do what was in his power to do.” Also: “It is at this time that a human being is obligated by the affirmative precept of God, Turn to me, and I will turn to you (Zech. 1:3).” Moreover, since a small child can receive this grace merely by making a morally right choice, it is clear that the ­implicit faith Aquinas requires of the unevangelized is really quite minimal.

Given the immense prestige Aquinas enjoyed during most of the centuries since his death, I venture to say that the Thomistic view of this matter was more pervasive than Cardinal Dulles allows. For instance, long before the Second Vatican Council, the theological manuals commonly held (often with citations to Aquinas) that God offers grace sufficient for salvation to all human beings.

If there was a change around the time of the council, I think it concerned not the possibility of salvation outside the visible Church (about this there was no serious dispute) but rather its likelihood . When we say that salvation outside the visible Church is possible, we might mean that such salvation is just barely possible so that only a few rare souls achieve it, or that it is entirely feasible so that people outside the visible Church are routinely saved. The change that occurred at the time of the council, I submit, was a shift from the former view to the latter.

When we speak, therefore, about who can be saved, we should be specific about what we mean by can . Avoiding the error that membership in the visible Church is necessary for salvation, we need to avoid the contrary error that membership in the visible Church counts for little or nothing.

Robert T. Miller
Villanova University School of Law
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


As a Catholic who after much study and heart-searching has felt obliged to revert to the seemingly bleak patristic and medieval Catholic position on the prospects for salvation of non-Christians, I appreciate Cardinal Avery Dulles’ caution and reserve in this matter. Nowadays, it is often asserted confidently that, since Vatican Council II”or even since Blessed Pius IX!”the Catholic Church definitely teaches that some people can reach eternal life even after living
and dying without any explicit faith in Jesus Christ. But, as His Eminence points out, the relevant conciliar texts actually “did not indicate” whether explicit faith is necessary at the moment of death; the most they do is “give the impression that implicit faith may suffice.”


Exactly. And since mere “impressions” emanating from magisterial documents do not require assent on the part of the faithful, those Catholics cannot justly be labeled dissenters who still uphold the consensus of the first 1,500 years of church history”to wit, that ever since Pentecost no one can be saved who dies without explicit Christian faith, regardless of whether his ignorance of gospel truth is vincible or invincible. (In the latter case, according to this classic teaching, he will be punished eternally, not for his inculpable lack of faith but for other unrepented sins that, in fact, will always be there, staining his soul at death.)

Indeed, two key postconciliar landmarks show that the Catholic Church is moving back toward her ancient rigor on this question. First, the seventh solemn Good Friday intercession in the Missal of Paul VI is arguably more conservative than its counterpart in the “Tridentine” rite. The Church here prays for those who do not believe in Christ, “so that, illumined by the light of the Holy Spirit, they too may be able to enter the way of salvation.”

Second, in a generally overlooked passage of the 2000 CDF Declaration Dominus Iesus , then Cardinal Ratzinger, together with Pope John Paul II, insists that we must “firmly hold” the distinction between “theological faith” and “belief [Latin credulitas ] in the other religions.” Since “the other religions” are identified as all that do not “accept . . . the truth revealed by the One and Triune God,” the clear meaning of this magisterial text is that no one who believes in a non-Christian religion”that is, who lacks an explicit faith in Christ”possesses the theological virtue of faith. And again, this virtue, as the Council of Trent confirmed infallibly, is in turn a sine qua non of salvation”“the foundation and root of all justification.”

These two modern expressions of the Church’s faith are clearly in harmony with the fifteenth-century Council of Florence, which declared that “no persons living outside the Catholic Church”not only pagans but also Jews, heretics, and schismatics”can come to share in eternal life, but will go into the eternal fire . . . unless they are aggregated to her before the end of their life.” I submit that this council did nothing more here than solemnly confirm a teaching of the universal and ordinary magisterium throughout the previous 1,500 years”infallible and irreformable by its very nature.

Can this terrifying doctrine be reconciled with Vatican II’s balancing recognition that nobody will be eternally lost who perseveres until death in seeking the truth and striving to obey the natural law according to his/her own conscience? I would suggest that a revival of St. Thomas’ early teaching (also mentioned by Dulles) will answer this need. Aquinas postulates “an inner illumination” by God of the most basic Christian truths (Trinity and Incarnation) to such good-willed persons who approach death while still unreached by Christian missionaries. On the basis of what we are now learning from recent clinical observations and innumerable personal testimonies of vivid “near-death” experiences”undergone by those who appeared to bystanders as totally unconscious or even lifeless at the time”it is becoming increasingly clear that the Almighty can easily make an act of explicit faith in Christ possible for such good-willed persons at the point of death, even when there is not the slightest empirically detectable sign of their conversion”or even consciousness.

Brian W. Harrison, O.S.
St. Louis, Missouri

I am concerned that, by not emphasizing the Catholic Church’s current teaching on invincible ignorance, Cardinal Dulles has overemphasized the possibility of salvation for those outside the visible Church. This, I fear, has done a great disservice not only to the missionary impetus of Catholics but also to the would-be evangelized.


His Eminence’s conclusions ne-cessitate invincible ignorance on the part of those outside the visible Church who would be saved, for only invincible ignorance can eliminate moral culpability for an erroneous judgment of conscience, including “ignorance of Christ and his Gospel” ( Catechism of the Catholic Church ). In addition to the teaching of Pope Pius IX on the matter, which the cardinal cites, this also follows from the teaching of Vatican II ( Gaudium et Spes ), as well as that of the late Pope John Paul II ( Veritatis Splendor ).

Given the ease with which all information, including the gospel, can be disseminated throughout the world today, several of the cardinal’s conclusions deserve clarification. For example, if Jews who “look forward in hope to the Messiah and try to ascertain whether God’s promise has been fulfilled” have heard the gospel at some point in their lives, then their decision to remain Jews despite having heard the gospel is a voluntary decision for which invincible ignorance of the gospel cannot be claimed. The same would hold for a member of another religion or an atheist. Airplanes, television, and other such features of the technological age have all made the preaching of the gospel through missionaries and media so widely available that it is almost impossible not to have heard it. One would have to be unintentionally isolated from all this to remain truly invincibly ignorant, and there are only a few areas of the world left that would provide such isolation.

The Internet has also made the entire text of Holy Scripture in almost every conceivable translation available to anyone with a phone line and a computer. How then can a truly diligent seeker claim invincible ignorance, unless, again, he is unintentionally isolated from the modern world? Everyone else who persists outside the Church is culpable, and we do them and those who would evangelize them a great disservice if we suggest anything to the contrary. Thus, while I do not wish to question the correctness of His Eminence’s conclusions, I would like to point out that the number of people to whom they could possibly apply is minuscule.

Jacob Wood
Rutherford, New Jersey

Cardinal Dulles appears to discard not only the baby but also the tub with the bathwater. I found myself lost in the concluding salvific carte blanche where the criteria for salvation oscillates between obedience to commandments, submission to Christ, assessing whether God fulfills his promises, and grace that requires both striving and ability. Dulles’ attempt at inclusivity merely points out the theological bankruptcy of any ecumenism devoid of its own theological grounding. Dulles can’t be taken seriously with, on one hand, a God who refuses to be mocked by those who reject the cross and then, on the other hand, a soteriology that widens the gate for everyone from members of the True Church to atheists.

Paul O. Bischoff
North Park Theological Seminary
Chicago, Illinois

One senses that the Philippian jailor in Acts 16 was very fortunate to have the Apostle Paul rather than Cardinal Dulles at his side when he asked, “What shall I do to be saved?” The cardinal, apparently, would answer: “Well, that depends. Are you an atheist, or are you an idolater? Are you searching or not searching? Are you servicing truth and justice? Are you a Jew? Well, how Messianic are you? And how strongly do you look for the Messiah? Are you a ‘Christian,’ and are you keeping the commandments? If so, how consistently?”


If this answer on the part of Dulles represents the Catholic Church’s teaching on this subject, it shows why there can never be true unity between Catholicism and Protestantism (Bible-believing Protestantism, anyway). What could be more fundamental than “salvation,” both in time and in eternity? If such a gulf exists between Catholicism and Protestantism on this issue, other points of contact will always be insignificant.

As for me and mine, I will stick with the Apostle Paul, who answers the question in this simple and straightforward manner: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.”

In attempting to be broad-minded and large-hearted, we must not replace the hope that comes from believing God’s truth in Christ with the false hope that comes from wishful thinking. To embrace a religious or philosophical system that excludes Christ is exclusive indeed and can never lead to salvation. To embrace one that is centered on Christ is not to be exclusive at all. Rather, it embraces “all things” (Rom. 11:36; 1 Cor. 3:21), because “all things” belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.

Steve Walker
Marengo, Illinois

Cardinal Dulles notes that Aquinas in his earlier writings focused on the possibility of miraculous instruction for unbelievers like the centurion Cornelius, but in the Summa Theologiae “he goes back to the Augustinian theory that those who had never heard the gospel would be eternally punished for original sin as well as their personal sins.” But the theologian Max Seckler in Instinkt und Glaubenswille finds a much more sanguine interpretation of Aquinas’ later thinking. He cites the Summa Theologiae , where Aquinas writes: “Cornelius was not an unbeliever . Otherwise his actions would not have been acceptable to God, whom no one is able to please without faith. But Cornelius had an implicit faith, at a time when the Gospel was not yet manifested . Thus Peter was sent to him in order to instruct him fully in the faith.” Seckler considers this an “astonishing solution” and similar to notions of the “anonymous Christian” in Rahner and others, since it almost seems to amount to a redefinition of “unbeliever.” Cornelius, in other words, was a believer even before the miraculous intervention by Peter. It seems that, even without the miraculous instruction, Cornelius could have been numbered among the saved.

Howard P. Kainz
Marquette University
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Avery Cardinal Dulles replies:

The letters on my article on salvation reflect the different points of view among which I was seeking to mediate.


Father Oakes raises some questions beyond the scope of my article. I would be delighted to see someone develop the intriguing suggestions of Cardinal de Lubac about the social character of salvation. If this means simply that we can, and are obliged to, help one another spiritually, and that salvation always requires affiliation with the Church, nothing could be more obvious to believers like myself. But more is involved here. De Lubac, I think, was concerned with retrieving the transformative effect of the gospel on human society within history, which I left untouched in my article. While I appreciate this dimension of salvation, I would not wish to see the overriding importance of the fate of the individual person at the final judgment trivialized in favor of some penultimate felicity.

In answer to Professor Miller, I readily agree that there are many passages in St. Thomas that have suggested to others ways in which the unevangelized might find their way to salvation; but I think I am correct in saying that, whenever the Angelic Doctor speaks of the faith required for salvation under the new law, he always requires explicit belief in the mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation.

Brian Harrison is a very acute reader of magisterial documents. He is correct, I believe, in saying that Vatican II does not reject the positions I have ascribed to Thomas Aquinas. His use of Dominus Iesus is ingenious. His supposition of a final illumination, although it lacks direct support from Scripture and tradition, in no way contradicts them and relieves his theory of the harshness that might otherwise be found in it. Harrison’s minority position is internally consistent and fully orthodox. Its principal weakness is its reliance on the dubious hypothesis of large-scale end-of-life conversions.

Jacob Wood examines the question of invincible ignorance and concludes that very few non-Christians can benefit from that defense today. He might take a more benign view if he were to allow that persons who know of the existence of Christianity may still be unable to see the grounds for regarding it as a revealed religion they are obliged to accept. I do not presume to be able to assess the innocence or guilt of particular persons for their lack of faith. I gladly leave that task to God, to whom all hearts are open.

The next two writers, Paul Bischoff and Steve Walker, impute to me the position that salvation is easily obtainable without the Church, the sacraments, and belief in the gospel. I said that, under certain conditions, salvation is possible for such nonbelievers but not that they can be assured of salvation where they are. I even quoted with approval the words of Paul to the jailer at Philippi, which Steve Walker cites to refute me. Paul on this occasion said exactly what he should have said. He knew by personal experience the transformative and salvific power of the gospel for those who believe. As an adult convert to the faith, I am able to discriminate between the status of earnest seekers and that of believers who are within the household of faith. But I am reluctant to believe that the vast multitudes of non-Christians, some of whom have heard nothing about Christ and the gospel, are doomed to everlasting perdition.

The final letter, that of Howard Kainz, takes us back to Thomas Aquinas, who holds that the centurion Cornelius, before being evangelized by Peter, was already a believer by virtue of implicit faith. Max Seckler would count him as an “anonymous Christian,” in Karl Rahner’s terminology. But it should be carefully noted that St. Thomas, as noted above, reckons such implicit faith as sufficient only because Cornelius lived “at a time when the gospel was not yet manifested.” Thus the passage does not give support from St. Thomas for the thesis that there can be “anonymous Christians” today.

Immigration and Caesar

Michael Scaperlanda would have preferred that those Catholic bishops who have put themselves on record as opposed to certain federal, state, and municipal immigration laws and ordinances had done so differently (“Immigration and the Bishops,” February). I prefer a restatement of the fundamental question before us: What are the duties of Christians toward those who enter our country illegally? Conversely, what are the Christian duties of illegal immigrants themselves?


After the federal government again assumes its proper immigration role, it would seem reasonable for Christians to support legislation that humanely allows illegal aliens (those who, aside from illegally entering the country, are not criminals) to apply for legal entry, legal residence, and, in time, U.S. citizenship. Such legislation, however, should stipulate that they must return to their countries of origin to apply and also go to the “back of the line.” Most illegal immigrants can safely be asked to return home without fear of physical danger. For those few who would face political persecution, arrangements can be made.

And those illegal immigrants who are Christians? They have a duty, under God, to respect the laws of any country in which they live”their own and ours”do they not? Yet how little we hear of Catholic (or other) bishops counseling their illegal-alien brethren to turn away from breaking our laws. We don’t hear homilies reminding these people that the whole world wants to get into the United States, and it isn’t a sign of love of one’s fellow man to take the places here of others who have conscientiously waited their turn. We don’t see proclamations being signed that declare solidarity with Americans who can’t get affordable medical treatment because illegal-immigrant overflow has overtaxed and closed the local county clinic or hospital. And we don’t hear a lot of pastors fighting for the rights of citizens whose jobs have been taken by cheap illegal labor. Let those who lead in the Church reconsider the meaning of justice.

A Christian (Catholic) understanding of immigration has to recognize the genuine realities of the entire situation. To support zealously a platform that basically advocates open borders and unquestioned, unlimited aid to anyone is simply an uninformed, naive position, be the supporter a Christian or not. Our country, our world, needs Catholic bishops (and laity) who can maturely operate under another of Christ’s charges”“Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s””instead of urging noncompliance with legitimate laws regulating who may enter and live in the United States. The immigration snarl will not be untangled unless loving Christians perform their duties to both God and their fellows.

Those who live in Christ can honestly be strong believers in firm immigration laws and secure borders without any religious hypocrisy. A person can love God and country.

Kirstin Merrihew
Santa Rosa, California


In thinking about Mr. Scaperlanda’s article on Oklahoma’s immigration policy as designated by its new law, HB 1804, and the response of two Catholic bishops to that law, one sees some interesting parallels with the role of the Red Cross in time of war.


Certainly, during a time of war those who offer aid to people in need do not normally make distinctions between the enemy and their own soldiers. They treat people in need of such treatment, according to their sworn Hippocratic Oath. Ailing people are people, regardless of their country of origin. But those same nurses and doctors do not normally try to help the enemy win the war. This would quickly do away with their own ability to provide people with help, as they would no longer have a base of operations.

It seems easy enough to apply this same line of thinking to the appropriate response of the Church to illegal immigrants. The Church doesn’t need to condone the breaking of laws by the illegal immigrant to offer that immigrant some help in time of need”something the Church can do as a recognized helping institution of society. As Scaperlanda suggested, it doesn’t need to offer a political opinion at all. It seems a wiser response to say that, if the Church finds a person or family who is hungry or thirsty or has need of some spiritual service, it will not distinguish between the illegal immigrant and the legal, and let it go at that. But if the Church tries to get political (by attempting to bully or intimidate the government through moral condescension), instead of merely pastoral (by meeting the needs of hurting people), and turns the government against the Church, it is taking the chance of starting an unnecessary power struggle, from which it could lose the right of continuing to offer the help to the needy that it’s currently providing.

At this point in history, the path of credibility for the Church in America is to model, quietly, its compassion, against which it will receive very little complaint and thereby gain its right to speak about those things that matter when the time is right. If it is seen as just another political voice in a world of political voices, the Church will lose respect as a unique institution that has achieved moral authority by its sacrificial benevolences.

Jack Hafer
Los Angeles, California


Professor Scaperlanda, you have a false sense of reality living in your cocoon of academia. How can you possibly be qualified to comment objectively on the issue of illegal immigration when your livelihood is immune to the economic strains caused by illegal immigration? You, like the bishops, are invulnerable to being fired or laid off. This cocoon in which you live leaves you oblivious to what the rest of us witness and experience”namely, how these illegals pay no federal or state income taxes and yet receive free education for their children, free medical care, and in some states the right to vote based on their registered driver’s licenses. We, the native population (and those here legally), are losing our jobs in technology, telecommunications, landscaping, and skilled trades (carpentry, plumbing, electricity) to these illegals, who are willing to work for wages at 50 percent below ours. Yet we are the ones who subsidize the free services they receive. Your comparison of these illegals to Jean Valjean is ludicrous, as if somehow they are heroic for illegally crossing our borders and milking our entitlement programs.


The illegal-immigration issue is the most important issue facing voters, and polls show that 70 percent want illegals deported. Legislation such as HB 1804 is here to stay, and such legislation will proliferate in other states despite the weepy pleas from academics and princes of the Church. Christ said, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,” but it is well documented that illegals do not render state and federal income taxes or, by broaching our borders, obey the laws of this land. Bishop Slattery was correct when he said that “we must restore the rule of law on our borders.” I invite you to come seek employment in the real world, Professor Scaperlanda, and thereby gain perspective on reality.

Michael Gray
Falls Church, Virginia

Michael A. Scaperlanda replies:

I hit a nerve, especially with Mr. Gray, who seemingly cannot see the human face of the illegal immigrant. A few illegal migrants might achieve the heroic virtue of the mature Jean Valjean. Nearly all of them, however, can identify with the tragic Jean Valjean, who, in his youth, risked everything for a piece of bread. To move forward with a civil debate on immigration reform, we cannot afford to dehumanize the undocumented. Instead, we must see them as fellow human beings caught in tragic circumstances. Only then can we begin to assess what justice and the rule of law require. For those interested in the human face of the undocumented, I recommend Daniel Groody’s thirty-three-minute nonpolitical documentary, Dying to Live: A Migrant’s Journey .


Two myths need dispelling. One commonly held myth is that illegal immigrants have cut in line ahead of others who are patiently waiting their turn to immigrate to the United States. In reality, no line exists for the vast majority of illegal entrants. The United States grants five thousand immigrant employment visas annually to low-skilled workers worldwide. Currently, we have more than ten million illegal immigrants residing in the United States. If they lined up today, and if we allotted all five thousand spots to Mexico and Central America, the one millionth would be eligible to receive a visa in the year 2208, and the ten millionth in 3008.

Another myth teaches that illegal migrants pay no taxes while “milking our entitlement programs.” The reality is more complicated than this simplistic assertion, but a full answer is beyond the scope of this short response. Just two quick notes: Illegal migrants who use false Social Security numbers pay federal, state, and FICA tax without receiving the benefit of tax refunds, Social Security, or Medicare. Immigrants”even legal immigrants”are ineligible for most federal entitlements.

Finally, I offer some clarification. First, I am not (and I don’t read the bishops as) advocating open borders. Twenty-two years ago, Father Hesburgh, then Notre Dame president and chair of the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy, testified before Congress that the country needed to “bring our illegal immigration under control.” The bishops agree and so do I. Second, I am not suggesting that the Church has no role in public-policy debates, only that it squanders its unique voice if it becomes just another player in the world of politics.


Some Points About Calvinism

Just read Father Neuhaus’ very interesting While We’re At It (February) on five-point Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention. I am in an SBC church, and my good friend and pastor is a member of the executive committee of the national convention. I think most SBC leaders nowadays do not approach Calvinism as an either/or proposition. They pick and choose.


My pastor, for example, calls himself a three-and-a-half-point Calvinist. He wholeheartedly believes in the T, U, and P parts of the TULIP acronym (total depravity, unconditional election, perseverance of the saints). He rejects L and is ambivalent about I (limited atonement and irresistible grace). He understands there is a logical conflict between God’s predestination, which seems to be clearly taught in, for example, Romans 8, and man’s free will, which also seems to be clearly taught. He is comfortable holding the two logically irreconcilable beliefs simultaneously and plans to ask God about them at the appropriate time, when we no longer see through a glass darkly.

Barry Arrington
Arvanda, Colorado

The resurgence of Calvinism in the SBC should come as no surprise, given the history of that denomination. Many Baptists in the South at the time the SBC was organized in the mid-nineteenth century were Calvinists, holding to Reformed confessions such as the Philadelphia Confession, which was a modification of the Second London Confession of 1689. Included among these were James P. Boyce, the founder and first president of Southern Theological Seminary, SBC’s first and flagship seminary, established in 1859. Like his contemporary in London, Charles H. Spurgeon (unarguably the most well-known Baptist preacher of all time), Boyce was a strong Calvinist, having been educated at Princeton Theological Seminary, a bastion of Old School Presbyterianism at the time. In fact, the first three presidents of Southern Theological Seminary were committed Calvinists. So too was P.H. Mell, president of the SBC for seventeen terms, more than any other man.


The current Southern Theological Seminary president, R. Albert Mohler, is also a Calvinist in the tradition of the seminary’s founders. A probable candidate for the next SBC presidency, he has worked to overcome a departure from classical Calvinism in the SBC begun by the seminary’s fourth president, E.Y. Mullins, who emphasized individual experience over doctrine (soul competency). Contrary to common assumptions that Reformed theology is inherently destructive of evangelical zeal, some of the most prominent evangelists in the past three centuries have been Calvinists, including George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, and D. Martyn-Lloyd Jones. In fact, one of the faster-growing Calvinistic denominations in the United States, the Presbyterian Church in America, has a strong emphasis on missions and church planting.

With respect to the future of the Evangelicals and Catholics Together project, most Calvinistic denominations today have at least deleted earlier references to the pope as the Antichrist from their confessional standards. Given that degree of ecumenical warming toward Rome by the confessional Calvinists over the past three hundred years, one might expect a virtual greening of relations between the two groups during the next three hundred, were it not for pesky little issues such as justification and ecclesiastical authority.

Gary Cosby
Signal Mountain, Tennessee

An Uncommon Word

I am one of the signatories of the “Christian Response to a Common Word Spoken Between Us” whose name was published in the New York Times of November 13, 2007 (“Islam and Christianity: Changing the Subject,” The Public Square, February). While I admit that the letter was rather effusive, reflecting Arabic style, I did not read it as “supine.”


I?am a Jewish follower of Yeshua HaMashiach and a scholar of Islamic history who teaches Middle Eastern studies at a major evangelical Christian university, and two particular passages resonated with me. The letter expresses two ideas that Jews like me would like to hear acknowledged by Christians and Muslims as often as possible: an acknowledgment of our shared pasts and our responsibility as citizens and believers for the acts committed by our country and people of our faith throughout history. Although accepting individual responsibility for things we have not done personally is ethically complex, acknowledging the sinfulness of humanity over the centuries is fundamental to improving human relations in humility as we face the future.

While great progress has been made in recent years, many Jews, Muslims, and Christians know remarkably little about one another’s beliefs. The fundamental importance of the Hebrew Scriptures to all three religions is not widely known or accepted at the popular level. Today Islamic anti-Semitism and anti-Christianism are fueling the attacks on Israel and the persecution of Christians in the Muslim world. In response, Christian apologists are claiming that Allah is the “moon god,” a pernicious idea that is making its way increasingly into mainstream evangelical culture. It is necessary to understand the historical development of all three religions, or important bridges between them will be sundered at the popular level, where hate finds a ready medium.

Among Muslims, the Marcion heresy that threatened the early Church has taken root among Salafis, who reject the historicity of Muslim origins and their connection to the religious texts and teachings of Judaism and Christianity. The teaching within the majority tradition of Islam that Jews and Christians are Peoples of the Book has been rejected by radical Muslims in favor of associating them with pagans and heretics, as taught by the minority Hanbali tradition. The doctrine of the “uncreated Qur’an” has made rejection of the Arabic, pre-Islamic past acceptable, preventing Muslims from engaging in “higher criticism” to understand better the teachings of Muhammad. As in the West in the early-modern period, fear of subjecting the Qur’an to historical examination prevents Muslims from seeing the continuities”and differences”between their scriptures and the Bible. These studies are still in their infancy, despite centuries of Islamic tradition based on grammatical and syntactical studies of the Qur’an and Western scholarship. The spread of Wahhabism, which teaches a literalist interpretation of the Qur’an, has led to renewed interest in Qur’anic studies worldwide and may lead to a deeper and fuller appreciation of the introduction of Jewish and Christian ideas into Arabia in the first through the seventh centuries.

While Christians today may forget that, at one time, Christianity was the “state church” in the Middle East, Muslims and Jews have not. Muslims and Israelis see the United States as a Christian country, one of a long line of regimes that has sought to impose and homogenize faith and culture in their region in the name of their religion. None of us today would want to become subjects of such regimes, as some critics of the letter speciously have suggested! America’s earlier support of Saddam Hussein, during which time he used chemical weapons against the Kurds and Iran, which led to genocidal policies against the Shi’ites and Kurds of Iraq, and which also resulted in economic sanctions affecting the common people rather than Saddam’s Baathist supporters, led undeniably to great suffering. Can we not acknowledge our sins in allowing Saddam to rule for so long, despite his crimes against humanity, before September 11?

Judith Mendelsohn Rood
Biola University
La Mirada, California

How Catholic Is Notre Dame?

Father Neuhaus’ discussion of Father Miscamble’s article in America (While We’re At It, February) respecting the attenuation of the Catholic identity of the University of Notre Dame is welcome, since the reputation of Notre Dame as a stronghold of Catholicism doubtless makes it difficult for many to believe that it is well along the secularization road already traveled by Georgetown and other major Catholic universities. One of Father Neuhaus’ observations, however, if misconstrued, could offer aid and comfort to the enemy, and there is an inadvertent error in his discussion that is not immaterial.


The central question is how Catholic the faculty must be for a university to be Catholic. Pope John Paul II in Ex Corde Ecclesiae held that Catholics must be a majority, as both Father Miscamble and Father Neuhaus note. What is particularly significant, however, is that Notre Dame itself has adopted this policy in the strongest possible terms. The policy language principally relied on by Father Miscamble comes not from Ex Corde Ecclesiae , as Father Neuhaus indicated, but rather from the university’s own Mission Statement.

That statement was adopted after prolonged consideration. In it, the university declares that “the Catholic identity of the University depends upon . . . the continuing presence of a predominant number of Catholic intellectuals” on the faculty. All agree that this means a solid majority, one made up of honest-to-goodness”not “check the box””Catholics. As Provost Burish has said, the aim is “to have a majority of faculty who are Catholic, who understand the nature of the religion, who can be living role models, who can talk with students about issues outside the classroom and can infuse values into what they do.”

As Father Miscamble reported, Notre Dame is on the verge of losing even an arithmetical Catholic majority. Indeed, since his article, the situation has deteriorated further. Since the 1970s, the Catholic proportion of the faculty has declined from 85 percent to 52.35 percent, down another notch from the 53 percent cited by Father Miscamble. Thus, notwithstanding the welcome recognition of the problem by the president, Father John Jenkins, there has been no pause in the downward spiral. The reason is that a majority of the faculty are opposed to paying any attention to whether an applicant is Catholic, as a 2003 Baylor University study disclosed. This is the price the university has paid in its quest for recognition by secular academe.

In sum, unless there is a radical turnabout in entrenched hiring policies, Notre Dame is on the verge of losing its historic claim to Catholic identity. Its Mission Statement tells us so. Indeed, the claim is already feeble if even the most conservative discount is applied for dissident and nominal Catholics.

There are those, to be sure, who disagree with the Mission Statement and the pope as to what makes a university Catholic. They maintain that it is sufficient to have a “critical number” of Catholics on the faculty. Not surprisingly, this number invariably turns out to be the number that is actually on hand. These dissenters might point for support to this sentence in Father Neuhaus’ comments: “More important than having a ‘predominant number’ of Catholics is having a predominant number of faculty, Catholic or not, who understand and are committed to that purpose,” i.e., that of being a Catholic university. I think, though, that Father Neuhaus’ meaning is clear from the next sentence, in which he contrasts the important contributions of non-Catholic scholars with that of their “box-checking Catholic colleagues.” One can say the same thing about many non-Catholics on the Notre Dame faculty today. But the pope has said, and Notre Dame has agreed, that a faculty dominated by non-Catholics, no matter their excellence, does not produce a Catholic university. I do not understand Father Neuhaus to disagree.

William H. Dempsey
Project Sycamore
Arlington, Virginia

Life Issues and the Negotiable

Father Neuhaus is rather generous in reviewing the USCCB’s “Faithful Citizenship” document (While We’re At It, February). I have a different perspective. With great sadness, I believe the bishops missed an opportunity to instruct the faithful.


Several times the document clearly states that abortion is “intrinsically evil,” which is sound doctrine. Then we read repeatedly that the “right to life implies and is linked to other human rights”: “All life issues are connected . . . basic needs such as food, shelter, health care, education, and meaningful work.” Racism, war crimes, the death penalty, immigration, hunger, etc.”“these are not optional concerns which can be dismissed,” and “a Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism.” Why link abortion and racism? How is the voter to decide? It’s my impression the bishops want to make sure that they do not drastically offend or direct anyone to vote for one or another candidate. The number of statements saying that all life issues are connected or linked, and the repeated emphasis on the poor, racism, food, health care, etc., seems to outweigh, if not be a counterweight to, the nonnegotiable. What is lacking is a clear statement to the effect that certain issues are negotiable, as Catholics may disagree about the best way to address poverty, health care, education, and the death penalty, for example.

Virgil F. Massmam
Saint Paul, Minnesota