Pope Francis embraces Anonymous Christians


Everyone is just *shocked* that Pope Francis has said that non-Christians and Christians may end up in the same place in the grand scheme of things.

I heard the news and yawned and said “Oh, Karl Rahner is in the news…”

Karl Rahner was one of the greatest minds in the Roman Catholic Church. His theological tenets and work heavily influenced Vatican II, the last major reform of the RCC.

And it seems like the new Pope Francis has a bit of Rahner in him.

Reported on the Huffington Post, the Pope preached a sermon with this:

Using scripture from the Gospel of Mark, Francis explained how upset Jesus’ disciples were that someone outside their group was doing good, according to a report from Vatican Radio.

“They complain,” the Pope said in his homily, because they say, “If he is not one of us, he cannot do good. If he is not of our party, he cannot do good.” And Jesus corrects them: “Do not hinder him, he says, let him do good.” The disciples, Pope Francis explains, “were a little intolerant,” closed off by the idea of ​​possessing the truth, convinced that “those who do not have the truth, cannot do good.” “This was wrong . . . Jesus broadens the horizon.” Pope Francis said, “The root of this possibility of doing good – that we all have – is in creation”

Pope Francis went further in his sermon to say:

“The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can… “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!”.. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”

Karl Rahner was well known as a Christian Inclusivist in the above blue chart. He believed in a concept of “Anonymous Christians” meaning that people who have never heard the Christian Gospel might be saved through Christ.

  • Non-Christians could have “in [their] basic orientation and fundamental decision,” Rahner wrote, “accepted the salvific grace of God, through Christ, although [they] may never have heard of the Christian revelation.”
  • Then Vatican II affirmed Lumen Gentium, where it states: “Those also can attain to everlasting salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the gospel of Christ or his Church, yet sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, strive by their deeds to do his will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.”

For fans of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, you might recognize the theology from this section:

‘Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one?’ The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, ‘It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites — I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore, if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted.

I appreciate that Pope Francis has continued this traditional interpretation, even though it is a more narrow viewpoint of Inclusivism (called “Christian Inclusivism”) than I think is appropriate. From my article on the study of salvation theories:

  • Inclusivism: Most (or all) faiths worship in different ways through different avenues but all lead to God for faithful members of those faiths
    • The subform is “Christian Inclusivism” where all other religions are actually worshipping shadow versions of Christ and lead to the Christian God if they are faithful to the shadow Christ in their religion.

So I can see that people who are faithful followers of other religions would be offended by Francis basically saying they worship shadow versions of Christ, it could be that we all worship incomplete pictures of God and will only have the whole painting laid out for us someday in the future.

Just some musing on this theological statement is well established in the Roman Catholic Church and in some other church traditions as well. If you want more explanation on the span of salvation theologies, read my article “Exclusivism to Universalism.”


Print Friendly and PDF


  1. Jenny J says

    Anyone claiming to have a monopoly on truth is likely to be deluding themselves and others. Better to be inclusive and acknowledge that we don’t have the whole picture. Any philosophy that fosters good, wherever and whoever it comes from, is holier than a philosophy that excludes sincere efforts to do good in the light of that person’s culture and upbringing. Pope Francis, in including atheists along with believers, is signalling a wonderfully inclusive message from the Vatican. His message is not revolutionary in itself, but it is revolutionary because of who’s saying it.

  2. Joe Lyng says

    John 3:17,18 would eliminate the idea of anonymous Christians because it says: “He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Who is it they must believe in? It is in the (name) of the Son of God. And they that do not know the name of Jesus Christ are condemned. If they know His Name and are made a new creation by Him then they are saved! The word of God always triumphs over false doctrine! Whoever seeks God with all their heart will be found by Him. Look at the story of Cornelius. It took a vision to get him together with the gospel presenter Peter.

  3. says

    I disagree with Karl Rahner’s idea of the Anonymous Christians: one must know Christ to be a Christian (exclusivism). I agree with Rahner that where Christ is anonymous, postmortem life with God, because Christ died, is possible for theophiles (inclusivism). Different aspects of eternal life and of salvation. I disagree with Pluralism’s claim to truth denying truth – in theology, there is only one correct God-given answer, Christianity, but some other religions approximate better than others to the truth revealed, and have useful emphases.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *