The discussion in the last few posts have centered around some quotes by Pope John Paul II and three associated paragraphs from the catechism:
#841 The Church's relationship with the Muslims. "The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day."
#847 “Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience - those too may achieve eternal salvation.”
#1260 “"Since Christ died for all, and since all men are in fact called to one and the same destiny, which is divine, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being made partakers, in a way known to God, of the Paschal mystery." Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.”
Some Roman Catholics seem to maintain that it is possible for some people to be saved without explicit faith in Christ. It’s a “mystery” that is somehow through Christ, but without knowledge of Christ. Unfortunately for their argument, this idea goes against the basic truths of God's revelation.
In discussing these ideas and related to the RCC’s courting of Muslims, the assertion has been made by some RCs that monotheism is a sign of God’s grace working in a person’s life. As best as I can follow the argument, a monotheist has a better chance at salvation than, say, a polytheist. From the RC point of view, the fact that someone is a monotheist means they are seeking God, and since no one seeks God without his grace, anyone outwardly seeking a single god must be doing so by God's graces.
In my mind, this sounds like a Roman Catholic version of “many roads lead to heaven” with God drawing people by his grace primarily, but not necessarily, to Christ. Religious people, especially monotheists, are such because they are responding to God's universal drawing and "doing the will of God in accordance with their understanding of it". In defense of some of these ideas, some RC commenters have been relying heavily on two prooftexts: Acts 17:27 and Romans 10:2. I would like to address the Romans verse briefly, I hope I can find time eventually to address the Acts citation also.
Opening with the latest framing of Romans 10:2 by an RC commenter:
How is it possible that they had zeal for the true God? By grace,
I am still baffled at what this verse proves in the RC's mind. Looking at it in context:
"Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." Romans 10:1-4
Their zeal is not based on knowledge. They do not know Christ and they are not submitting to Him.
The Judaizers were monotheists and “zealous” also. Was their zealousness, condemned by Paul, by God’s grace?
“Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may be zealous for them. It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good,” Gal 4:17-18
“Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.” Gal 6:12
Paul was “zealous” in his persecution of the church prior to his conversion. Was his “zealousness for God” (by persecuting Christ) by grace?
“Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh. For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless… For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.” Phil 3:2-5, 18-19
“Then Paul said: "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison,” Acts 22:2-4
Considering what Paul said to Timothy about his life pre-Christ, his "zeal for God" as a Jew hardly sounds consistent with positive movement towards God:
"I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus." 1 Tim 1:12-14
Likewise, most of the Pharisees would have been considered “zealous for God” (as Paul was as a Pharisee) but it was without knowledge.
Here is what Jesus said to the Pharisees about their rejection of him:
“Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don't you believe me? He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God." John 8:42-47
Were the Pharisees children of the devil by grace? They certainly were outwardly “zealous for God”.
Now, I think the RC usage of "grace" here is a bit different than mine, but even using their broad definition, I think their prooftexts fail to show what they think they show. It has not been shown that anyone who is seeking "a god" is doing so by God's grace. If it were grace, then grace is doing some weird things. There also seems to be a misunderstanding on the RC's part around the difference of “knowing of God” and “knowing God”. Romans 1 addresses this:
“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” Romans 1: 20-25