Thursday, July 2, 2009

Cardinal Arinze on Implicit Faith

Here is an excerpt of an interview with Cardinal Arinze, during a group discussion of religious leaders from around the world, held at the Thanksgiving World Assembly in Dallas, Texas, March 1999. Cardinal Arinze addresses various questions; I have quoted the relevant portion below.

"Tyson: It seems to me that one of the barriers to interreligious dialogue, at least on the Christian side, is the kind of exclusivistic claim that, in fact, if you don't believe in Jesus Christ, you will not be in the right with God.

Arinze: "Nostra Aetate" (a document from the Second Vatican Council) says that God's grant of salvation includes not only Christians, but Jews, Muslims, Hindus and people of good will. That is, a person can be saved, can attain salvation, but on the condition that the person is open to God's action.

Robert Ashley, news director at a Dallas radio station: So was Jesus wrong when He said He was the way, the truth and the life?

Arinze: He was right. He IS the way, the truth and the life. If you believe that, you will become a Christian (audience laughter). Only God knows to what extent a person is sincere, what opportunities the person has, and how the person used those opportunities. Only God can assess all that, and He never appointed any of us part of that advisory council (more laughter).

If a person were to push what you said a little further and say, if you're not a Christian, you're not going to heaven, we'd regard that person as a fundamentalist … and theologically wrong. It is quite another matter to say that one religion is as good as another. That is, it doesn't matter to what religion you belong. Religion is not put together that way: You change the rules and change the goalposts if you can't score. No, no, no. (But we do) believe that every religion has elements that are true and noble and good. How will it work out? I can't tell you. But we know that Christ, who says, "I am the way, the truth and the light," died on the Cross for everyone.

I met in Pakistan a Muslim. People would go to him. He had a wonderful concept of the Koran. We were like two twins that had known one another from birth. And I was in admiration of this man's wisdom. I think that man will go to heaven. But I am not the one who opens the door (audience laughter).

There was a Buddhist in Kyoto, in Japan. This man, a good man, was open, listening, humble. I was amazed. I listened to his words of wisdom, and I said to myself, "The grace of God is working in this man." I noticed that the more they were devoted to their religion and I to my religion, the more we met one another even though I didn't know their language. There is a language of the heart. So if you meet a person, if both of you are devoted to God, both of you will be nearer to one another than two professors of two religions who don't practice what they preach but can elucubrate from morning till evening.

Ashley: So you can still get to heaven without accepting Jesus?

Arinze: Expressly, yes. (He laughs with audience.)"

Cardinal Arinze recognizes that it is possible to find goodness in other religions, and that members of these religions can be saved even without expressly accepting Christ, even though he admits he does not know how this happens. This is consistent with Vatican II and Dominus Iesus, both of which said that non-christians could be saved, in a manner known only to God.

However, it is clear that Cardinal Arinze recognizes that the point of the documents was not to say "they can be saved, because in a manner known to God he will bring them to explicit faith in Christ," rather, in a manner known to God, even non-christians can be saved, without coming to explicit faith in Christ.


  1. There is something a little odd about Cardinal Arinze's comment about the Buddhist in Kyoto. He says that the more each of two persons are devoted to God, the more understanding they are of each other. Problem is, Buddhists don't really believe in God, or their concept is wholly foreign to us. So, actually, the more devoted the Buddhist is to his "God", the less common ground Christians will have with him.

  2. Cardinal Arinze is not saying that two people in different religions who are both devoted to God will be close to one another on account of the differences in their religions, but rather because of what is common, the very devotion itself, which is common to both people, regardless of their particular conception of God. This is why he says, ". . . the more we met one another even though I didn't know their language. There is a language of the heart."