Comments on the Faith Statement of Samaritan Ministries
By Robert Fastiggi, Ph.D. Professor of Systematic Theology, Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit, MI (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Question: May a Catholic in good conscience sign the following faith statement?
“I believe in the triune God of the Bible. He is one God, Who is revealed in three distinct Persons–God, the Father; God, the Son; and God the Holy Spirit.
I believe Jesus Christ was God in the flesh–fully God and fully man. He was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins, was bodily resurrected on the third day, and now is seated in the heavens at the right hand of God, the Father.
I believe that all people are born with a sinful nature and can be saved from eternal death only by trusting in Christ’s atoning death and resurrection to save us from our sins and give us eternal life.”
Response: I believe a Catholic could in good conscience sign this faith statement if a number of qualifications are made or if the statement is interpreted according to its overall intent rather than taken literally.
The first two paragraphs (on the Trinity and on Jesus) do not pose any real problems from a Catholic faith perspective. The third paragraph, however, if taken literally, might pose some problems for Catholics. The statement reads:
“I believe that all people have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory and can be saved from eternal death only through faith in Jesus Christ, whose atoning death and resurrection secures for us eternal life.”
If the statement is understood as a basic affirmation of original sin and the necessity of faith in Jesus Christ and His saving work to be saved, then a Catholic could, in good conscience, sign the statement. The necessity of faith in Christ for salvation is taught in Mark 16:16, Lumen Gentium, 14 of Vatican II; and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 846.
There are, though, some parts of the third paragraph that, if taken literally, would pose problems for Catholics. First, there is the statement that “I believe all people are born with a sinful nature.” Catholics, of course, believe that Blessed Virgin Mary was not only born free from original sin but also conceived without original sin. Her human nature was not necessarily exempt from all the material effects of original sin such as suffering and death, and the Church has not ruled on the question whether she died before her Assumption. If she did die, though, it was not due to the guilt of original sin. This is because Catholics believe that the human nature of the Blessed Mother—by a special grace of God—was preserved from the guilt of original sin. Christ was indeed Mary’s Savior, but He saved her by preserving her from the stain of original sin not by purifying her from this stain after it was contracted.
The only way a Catholic could affirm that “all people are born with a sinful nature” would be to exclude Jesus and His Mother” from the “all.” Perhaps this could be done by remembering that Scripture sometimes speaks of “all” or “everyone” as a way of affirming a general truth without considering the exceptions to the “all.” For example, when Rom 3:23 says “all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God,” it does not intend to include Jesus or the good angels (who never sinned) in the “all” (and neither does it intend to include Mary). In a similar way, when 1 Cor 4:5 says that “everyone will receive praise from God,” it does not intend to include in the “everyone” those who are in hell and eternally separated from God (cf. Rev. 21:8).
The last part of the third paragraph might also present problems for Catholics if taken literally. When the statement says that people can be saved from eternal death “only by trusting in Christ’s atoning death and resurrection to save us from our sins and give us eternal life” we need to ask whether baptized infants can be included among the saved if salvation can be attained only by consciously “trusting in Christ’s atoning death.” Until they reach a certain age, children are not capable of making a personal act of faith in Christ (though they would have faith as an infused virtue via baptism). This part of the statement would also seem to exclude the possibility of salvation for “those who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church” (cf. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, 16, CCC, 847). The Catholic Church, though, affirms the possibility of salvation for Non-Christians who have invincible ignorance of Christ and His Church and who possess a type of “implicit baptism of desire” because of their desire to do God’s will as they know it.
Once again the only way a Catholic could, in good conscience, affirm this part of the third paragraph in this statement of faith would be by understanding what is said as a general affirmation of the necessity of faith in Christ for salvation. Taken in a general non-literal way, a Catholic could sign the statement of faith in good conscience.
The statement of faith is acceptable when understood in a general non-literal way. Catholics, of course, do not understand the “all” of Rom 3:23 as including Jesus, the good angels, and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Download this letter on the Statement of Faith here.