Many of you are likely aware that the first New World leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis (aka Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Cardinal and Archbishop of Buenos Aires), was just selected as Time magazine’s “Person of the Year.”
I think it’s a great choice, for as Time points out, “In his nine months in office, he has placed himself at the very center of the central conversations of our time: about wealth and poverty, fairness and justice… the role of women, the nature of marriage, the temptations of power.”
Of course, not all of his statements on these and other issues have been as progressive as many UUs might like. But I think it’s a fair comparison to say that Francis is about as different from his recent predecessors as Barack Obama is from his.
And like the President, Francis doesn’t have a truly free hand. As Time says, “The weight of history… is both the source and the limitation of papal power. …A pope sets his own course only if he can conform it to paths already chosen.” So only the decades will tell if any of the tonal and policy changes he is implementing will last much beyond his charismatic tenure.
But for all the pronouncements Francis has given thus far (and I’d suggest reading the two articles in the December 23rd issue for a sense of these), there was one that astonished me more than any other. Not because it’s more important, but because for me as a seminarian, it was even more unexpected. Quoting from page 45 of Time:
“He declares that God ‘has redeemed all of us… not just Catholics. Everyone, even atheists.’”
Wait a second. “Redeemed all of us?”
Now I don’t know how accurate this quote is, or in what context it was uttered. But taken on its face… did the Pope just claim that salvation is universal? I mean Universal… as in affirming the key doctrinal claim made by the Universalist side of our faith tradition?
If so, this is big. Because 208 years ago Hosea Ballou, the most noted Universalist preacher and theologian, published a famous Universalist manifesto entitled, “A Treatise on Atonement.” In it he contended that all persons are worthy of salvation… at a time when America (and elsewhere) was full of hell & damnation theologies, and when people took these to heart far more than many do today. And to transgress—that is, to be human—was a source of aching guilt and shame, and of mortal fears for the fate of one’s eternal soul. And theologically, a lot of folks, including many Catholics, still abide in that place.
But Ballou said, in essence, “No… God is love… Fear not.”
Sounds a lot like Jesus.
So if, following them, Francis’ assertion serves to supply mercy rather than cast judgment on anyone suffering such fears, it is a very good thing. It is also testimony to the spiritual wisdom we UUs have been granted by compassionate forebears.
I am grateful for this, and for the efforts Pope Francis has made. It will be interesting to see where (if anywhere) it leads….
-Peter Farriday, Intern Minister