The Catholic Church recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near since he gives life and breath and all things and wants all men to be saved. Thus, the Church considers all goodness and truth found in these religions as "a preparation for the Gospel and given by him who enlightens all men that they may at length have life"(843).The harmony of these statements has been so construed that one defender of Rome, Jimmy Akin of Catholic Answers, goes as far as saying even some atheists may even have a positive eternal fate: "It’s also possible for a person to die in God’s friendship even if the person didn’t consciously know God during life."
I point out this issue within Rome to segue into a similar situation that occurred between some of the early Protestant Reformers. Shortly before his death, Huldrych Zwingli wrote a document entitled, A Short and Clear Exposition of the Christian Faith to the Christian King., 1531. In the chapter entitled "Everlasting Life" Zwingli presents a rebuttal to the notion of soul sleep. In conclusion he stated,
I believe, then, that the souls of the faithful fly to heaven as soon as they leave the body, come into the presence of God, and rejoice forever. Here, most pious King, if you govern the state entrusted to you by God as David, Hezekiah, and Josiah did, you may hope to see first God Himself in His very substance, in His nature and with all His endowments and powers, and to enjoy all these, not sparingly but in full measure, not with the cloying effect that generally accompanies satiety, but with that agreeable completeness which involves no surfeiting, just as the rivers, that flow unceasingly into the sea and flow back through the depths of the earth, bring no loathing to mankind, but rather gain and joy, ever watering, gladdening and fostering new germs of life. The good which we shall enjoy is infinite and the infinite cannot be exhausted; therefore no one can become surfeited with it, for it is ever now and yet the same. Then you may hope to see the whole company and assemblage of all the saints, the wise, the faithful, brave, and good who have lived since the world began. Here you will see the two Adams, the redeemed and the redeemer, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Samuel, Phineas, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, and the Virgin Mother of God of whom he prophesied, David, Hezekiah, Josiah, the Baptist, Peter, Paul; here too, Hercules, Theseus, Socrates, Aristides, Antigonus, Numa, Camillus, the Catos and Scipios; here Louis the Pious, and your predecessors, the Louis, Philips, Pepins, and all your ancestors who have gone hence in faith. In short there has not been a good man and will not be a holy heart or faithful soul from the beginning of the world to the end thereof that you will not see in heaven with God. And what can be imagined more glad, what more delightful, what, finally, more honorable than such a sight? To what can all our souls more justly bend all their strength than to the attainment of such a life? And may meantime the dreaming Catabaptists deservedly sleep in the regions below a sleep from which they will never wake. Their error comes from the fact that they do not know that with the Hebrews the word for sleeping is used for the word for dying, as is more frequently the case with Paul than there is any need of demonstrating at present.Did you catch some of those who Zwingli says "fly to heaven as soon as they leave the body, come into the presence of God, and rejoice forever"? "Hercules, Theseus, Socrates, Aristides, Antigonus, Numa, Camillus, the Catos and Scipios..." Zwingli says, "there has not been a good man and will not be a holy heart or faithful soul from the beginning of the world to the end thereof that you will not see in heaven with God."
These words from Zwingli did not go unnoticed. Luther wrote about it towards the end of his life:
[A]fter Zwingli’s death a book came out which he is supposed to have written shortly before his death. It was entitled Exposition of the Christian Faith to the Christian King, etc., and was supposed to be better than all his previous books. That it had to be Zwingli’s was evident from his wild, confused language and from his previously held opinion [about the Lord’s Supper].
I have become very frightened about that book, not on my account but on his account. For, because he was able to write this after our agreement at Marburg, it is certain that in every respect he dealt with us with an insincere heart and tongue at Marburg. Therefore I had to despair (as I still must) of the salvation of his soul, if he died with such a disposition, regardless of the fact that his disciples and successors made him out to be a saint and martyr. O Lord God, this man a saint and martyr!
In this book he not only remains an enemy of the holy sacrament but also becomes a full-blown heathen. This is the marvelous improvement for which I had hoped. You can see what I mean: In somewhat different words he addresses the previously mentioned king thus: “There you will see in the same fellowship all holy, godly, wise, brave, honorable people, the redeemed and the Redeemer, Adam, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Samuel, Phinehas, Elijah, Elisha, also Isaiah and the Virgin Mother of God of whom he prophesied, David, Hezekiah, Josiah, the Baptist, Peter, and Paul; Hercules, Theseus, Socrates, Aristides, Antigonus, Numa, Camillus, the Catos and Scipios and all your ancestors who have departed in the faith,” etc.
This is written in his book which (as has been said) is supposed to be his most excellent and best book, produced just before his death. Tell me, any one of you who wants to be a Christian, what need is there of baptism, the sacrament, Christ, the gospel, or the prophets and Holy Scripture if such godless heathen, Socrates, Aristides, yes, the cruel Numa, who was the first to instigate every kind of idolatry at Rome by the devil’s revelation, as St. Augustine writes in the City of God, and Scipio the Epicurean, are saved and sanctified along with the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles in heaven, even though they knew nothing about God, Scripture, the gospel, Christ, baptism, the sacrament, or the Christian faith? What can such an author, preacher, and teacher believe about the Christian faith except that it is no better than any other faith and that everyone can be saved by his own faith, even an idolater and an Epicurean like Numa and Scipio? (LW 38:289-291).