“Hi Steve ,I have been reading your blog for years now. I just created my blog today and wanted to ask you a question which is off topic, you mentioned before in your article about mother teresa that you wouldnt give much allowance to pope benedict xvi,raymond brown and karl rahner if they are saved unlike mother teresa , does that mean that it is nearly impossible for a RC clergy who is consistent with RC theology to be saved?, what about Eastern Orthodox priests?, also are all evangelicals who converted to Romanism and Eastern Orthodoxy lost ? Do you think there are elect RC priests even if they dont believe and embrace solafide?, I am from the Phillippines and just wanted to be clear about this since most people I talk to are Catholics.”
I don’t have precise answers to all these questions. I operate with a few basic principles:
1. To whom much is given, much is required.
2. There’s such a thing as saving faith. That has a certain doctrinal content.
To some extent saving faith person-variable.
3. There’s such a thing as damnable error.
4. No one is saved through invincible ignorance. Ignorance is not equivalent to saving faith.
5. There are degrees of culpability. Willful ignorance. Willful disbelief.
6. You don’t have to be a theologian to be saved.
7. In the course of church history, the elect are often found in situations where their theological and ecclesiastical options are pretty limited. God understands that. God put them there.
8. It’s best to play it safe. Leave yourself a margin of error. Make your best effort to know the truth.
How these principles cash out in any particular case is hard for us to say.
1. Most popes and priests are cradle Catholics. They grew up in Catholic countries or Catholic communities.
Social conditioning is not a very good reason to believe something. It’s a default belief. Are they Catholics by accident? What if they grew up in Mormon or Muslim or Marxist or Hindu or Buddhist countries or communities? Would they be devout Mormons, Muslims, Marxists, Hindus, or Buddhist instead?
Depending on your natural aptitude and opportunities, you have some responsibility to examine the competition. To believe what you do because the geographical lottery caused you to be born in a Catholic country or community isn’t much of a reason to be Catholic (or Protestant, for that matter).
It’s culpable for people with the means and opportunity to never question their social conditioning.
2. The situation with Eastern Orthodoxy is somewhat different. Protestant theology developed in conscious reaction to medieval Catholic theology. And modern Catholic theology has developed, in part, in conscious reaction to Protestant theology.
To some extent, modern Catholicism is a clear-eyed rejection of Protestant theology—although, ironically, modern Catholicism has been influenced by liberal Lutheran Bible criticism.
By contrast, Orthodoxy for the most part came of age before the Protestant Reformation. Its formative years antedate the Reformation. It’s undergone less internal development and reaction.
I don’t want to overstate that situation. Subsequent to the Reformation, Orthodoxy has had occasion to disown Protestant theology—and it’s done so.
On the other hand, the Greek Orthodox read the NT in the original, so, in that respect, they’re more culpable than Latin Fathers and Scholastic theologians who didn’t know any better.
3. As for evangelical converts, some of them converted because they were ignorant of the best that evangelical theology has to offer.
That’s not necessarily a mitigating circumstance because, in some cases, the converts are willfully ignorant of the best that evangelical theology has to offer.
Some of them were asking good questions. They got bad answers to good questions. In that case, I’d cut them some slack.
On the other hand, the deeper they delve into Catholicism, the more they should realize that Catholicism is giving them the wrong answers. It’s no solution. No alternative.
Catholicism is a cop-out for seekers who get tired of looking for answers. They subcontract their religious duties to a second party.
The same psychology can be at work with evangelical converts to Orthodoxy.
In addition, some converts are attracted to the aesthetic dimension of Orthodoxy. That attraction isn’t necessarily a bad thing, although they tend to compare the best of Orthodox aesthetics to the worst of Evangelical aesthetics, which isn’t fair to either tradition.
And, of course, we shouldn’t confuse beauty with truth. Many films and novels and paintings are very beautiful and, at the same time, false to reality.
Islamic architecture is very beautiful, in service to the false prophet of a false God.
I’d add that unless your a Puritan, nothing prevents Protestant worshipers from worshiping in a building in the style of Romanesque architecture or Gothic architecture or Byzantine architecture or listening to Vivaldi choruses or Russian Orthodox choruses.