People like to cite Rom 2:12-15 as “evidence” that unreached pagans may be saved via the “law” written in their own hearts. Those who take this view are popularly said to be expounding the doctrine of “invincible ignorance.” Even though that specific doctrine may be understood in a different ways, any understanding that says the unreached can be saved without hearing/understanding the Gospel cannot summon the patristic understanding of Romans 2 to its defense.
In order to understand Romans, there are two key concepts taught by the early church fathers that must be understood: “the Law” versus the “Law of Nature.” While a book-length commentary would be necessary to fully flesh these concepts out, permit us the following short synopsis.
The Law of Nature and the Context of Rom 2. The predicament that mankind faces is that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). The standard which men are measured against is called the “Law.” There is the Mosaic “Law” (simply called “Law” by the fathers) and the “Law of Nature” which is composed of universal morals/ethics revealed in nature that all men are liable to follow. Here is a short spattering of fathers on the topic of “the Law of Nature:”
Propose to yourself to distinguish what rules were from the law of nature, and what were added afterwards, or were such additional rules as were introduced and given in the wilderness to the Israelites…for our Saviour came for no other reason but that He might deliver those that were obnoxious thereto from the wrath which was reserved far them, that He might fulfil the Law and the Prophets, and that He might abrogate or change those secondary bonds which were superadded to the rest of the law (Apostolic Constitutions, Book I, Par 6; see also Apostolic Constitutions, Book VI, Par 12).
For the natural Law may agree with the Law of Moses in the spirit, if not the letter…being justified not according to the letter of the Law, which in any case is so difficult that nobody could ever do it correctly, but according to the Spirit [i.e.Rom 8:2] (Origen, Quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Romans, p. 67).
If men had been able to keep the natural Law which God the Creator planted in the breast of each one, there would have been no need of the Law which, written on stone tablets, enmeshed and entangled the weakness of human nature rather than freed and liberated it (St Ambrose, Letters to Laymen 83).
[S]o great was this condescension, that the written Law even required less than the law of nature. For the law of nature ordered one man to associate with one woman throughout. And this Christ shows in the words,
He which made them at the beginning, made them male and female (St John Chyrsostom on Rom 7:25).
The preceding does not cover what every father said about the topic, but it does show that clearly the fathers took it as a given that there were two Laws at work, as I posited.
The Ramifications of the “Law.” As alluded to by Origen, the problem with the Law is that it cannot be fulfilled. Hence, at the judgement, we are guilty as Lawbreakers. Ambrose and Chrysostom even say that the Mosaic Law was made because no one was able to fulfill the Law of Nature. Being that no one was able to fulfill any Law, Christ came to save the ungodly, as alluded to by the Apostolic Constitutions and Origen’s reference to the Spirit.
Some may say this is “not clear enough” from the passages. Hopefully, the following passages, though not quoting every father on the topic, are clearer:
…before the actual preaching of the gospel reaches the ends of all the earth — because there are some remote nations still (although it is said they are very few) to whom the preached gospel has not found its way — what must human nature do…but believe in God who made heaven and earth, by whom also it perceived by nature that it had been itself created, and lead a right life, and thus accomplish His will, uninstructed with any faith in the death and resurrection of Christ? Well, if this could have been done, or can still be done, then for my part I have to say what the apostle said in regard to the law:
Then Christ died in vain. Galatians 2:21 For if he said this about the law, which only the nation of the Jews received, how much more justly may it be said of the law of nature, which the whole human race has received,
If righteousness come by nature, then Christ died in vain. If, however, Christ did not die in vain, then human nature cannot by any means be justified and redeemed from God’s most righteous wrath— in a word, from punishment — except by faith and the sacrament of the blood of Christ (St Augustine, On Nature and Grace, Chapter 2).
For the good which
the law of nature
could not do, in that it was weak, being overcome by the lust which lies in the body, God gave strength to accomplish,
sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh; so that sin being condemned, to its destruction, so that it should never bear fruit in the flesh, the righteousness of the law of nature might be fulfilled (St Methodius of Olympus, From the Discourse on the Resurrection, Part III).
He had accused the Gentiles, he had accused the Jews; it came next in order to mention the righteousness which is by faith. For if the law of nature availed not, and the written Law was of no advantage, but both weighed down those that used them not aright, and made it plain that they were worthy of greater punishment, then after this the salvation which is by grace was necessary (St John Chrysostom on Rom 3:9-18).
The passage from Augustine makes clear that the Law of Nature is not an “out” for those who never heard the Gospel, but to the contrary, necessitates that the unreached need the Gospel to be saved. Methodius’ passage demonstrates that the way men are saved is through the work of Christ, as He fulfilled the Law of Nature (this is contrary to those who argue that those who somehow follow the Law of Nature are saved by their efforts.)
The last passage from Chrysostom makes clear that the discussion of the Laws serves the specific purpose of showing that both Jews and Gentiles are in need of grace because their respective Laws condemn them. This is because no one lives up to the Law with the exception of the Theotokos, even if (theoretically) perfect obedience from any of us is possible.
If it helps to understand how hard it is to be made righteous by any Law, simply try following your own conscience. If you cannot even do that, then you are a Lawbreaker by your own fallen standards, let alone God’s. This may be a news flash, but this is common to the human condition. No one follows their own conscience, let alone the Law of Nature.
What Do the Fathers Teach About Romans 2? Those who summon Romans 2 to their support for “invincible ignorance,” arguing that those who never have faith in Christ may be saved, are ignoring the Patristic interpretation of two of the key passages they cite.
Rom 2:12 states: “For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law.”
On that verse, Saint John Chrysostom writes in his commentary on Romans:
The Jew was even much burdened by the gift of the Law. For the Gentile is judged without law…For
without law (that is, without the condemnation arising from it), is he condemned solely from the reasonings of nature, but the Jew,
in the Law, that is, with nature and the Law too to accuse him.
Elsewhere, Chrysostom writes:
They shall perish without law? The law not accusing them, but their thoughts, and their conscience; for if they had not a law of conscience, it were not necessary that they should perish through having done amiss…If, then, he had not heard the law, nor conversed with the Jews, how could there be wrath, indignation and tribulation against him for working evil? The reason is, that he possessed a conscience inwardly admonishing him, and teaching him, and instructing him in all things (Homily 12 on the Statues, Par. 13-14).
Saint Augustine writes on the passage:
Now the apostle does not appear to me to have said this as if he meant that they would have to suffer something worse who in their sins are ignorant of the law than they who know it…But even the ignorance, which is not theirs who refuse to know, but theirs who are, as it were, simply ignorant, does not so far excuse any one as to exempt him from the punishment of eternal fire, though his failure to believe has been the result of his not having at all heard what he should believe; but probably only so far as to mitigate his punishment (On Grace and Free Will, Chapter 5).
Theodoret of Cyrus, who is not venerated as a saint, has a similar interpretation:
For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law, shall be judged by the law. God, says he, is the Maker of all, and therefore the Judge of all; and the Jews then will he take account of, and condemn, according to the Mosaic code, but those that have never received it, whom he means by the without law, and their sin, He will justly punish according to the knowledge of good and evil implanted in their nature.
The Gentiles are also under the judgement of the natural Law…mere avoidance of evil will not gain them any advantage with God unless they also believe in God…The Gentiles even if they keep the natural Law will perish if they do not accept the faith of Christ (Quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Romans, p. 65).
Another verse people like to misappropriate is Rom 2:15–“…the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them.” Likewise, the fathers do not read into this verse that anyone, by being “excused,” may actually be saved by the Law of Nature.
Augustine writes on the verse:
Should those be strangers to His grace of whom we are treating, and who (after the manner of which we have spoken with sufficient fullness already)
do by nature the things contained in the law, of what use will be their
excusing thoughts to them
in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men, unless it be perhaps to procure for them a milder punishment (On the Spirit and the Letter, Chap 48)?
For then our reasonings stand up, some accusing and some excusing. And at that tribunal a man needs no other accuser…Now let each man enter into his own conscience, and reckoning up his transgressions, let him call himself to a strict account, that we be not then condemned with the world.
Saint Cyril of Jerusalem writes:
Out of your own conscience shall you be judged, your thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing, in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men Romans 2:15-16 . The terrible countenance of the Judge will force you to speak the truth; or rather, even though thou speak not, it will convict you (Catechitcal Lecture 15, Par 25).
It is Christians to whom Paul is referring when he speaks of accusing and excusing on the day of judgement. Those who differ from the true Church, either because they think differently about Christ or because they disagree about the meaning of the Bible in the tradition of the Church will be accused by their own thoughts on the day of judgement (Quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Romans, p. 69).
In the preceding, or in any treatment of the topic by any early church father, what I cannot dig up is anyone who teaches anything supporting invincible ignorance. Instead, they all view the verses as warnings about God’s judgement.
Rom 2 is read as teaching that the Law of Nature, like the Mosaic Law, condemns those who never heard of the Law because all men break it (with the exception of Ambrosiaster, who sees its also condemning schismatics). The “unreached” are not given a pass for not hearing the Gospel. Rather, when their fate is commented upon by Augustine, their condemnation is said to be not as profound.
Conclusion. Those who cite any passage in Rom 2 as “opening the door” for God “maybe” (which by this they actually mean “probably” or “definitely”) saves those who “it would not be right to condemn because they never had the chance to hear the Gospel” simply:
- Are not being mindful that the fathers do not exegete Rom 2 in the same way.
- Nor cognizant that whenever the fathers address the topic of the unreached in such passages, they appear to take the view that they stand condemned under the “Law of Nature.”
Exegetically, those seeking to find an “out” for the unreached do not understand the whole context that undergirds the Law in Romans. By departing from the teaching of the fathers, in my honest opinion, they depart from the Gospel as best as I can understand it. In effect, they teach salvation by works, divorced from Christ, as a possibility.
Speaking categorically, God does not save those who hear the Gospel through faith and those who have not by whether they were real nice fellas according to the Law of Nature. No. All must be saved through faith and union with Christ. “No one can come to the Father except by me” (John 14:6). Exactly how faith and union with Christ are achieved in every circumstance is another discussion. Nevertheless, to depart from this is to depart from the faith delivered once and for all to the saints and maintained by the Church for centuries.
This teaching of invincible ignorance neither saves or condemns, but only commits a soul to God’s mercy. This doctrine can be misused to argue for universal salvation. This should only be a hypothetical doctrinal teaching because it lives only in the mind of God.
I understand, which is why in the first paragraph i did not say “it’s wrong,” but no father invokes the idea discussing Rom 2. Furthermore, we take God’s mercy for granted. None of us deny His mercy. Nevertheless, that does not mean the way we discuss Rom 2 and how the unreached are judged should be obfuscated in any way by theoretical possibilities.
Rom 2:12 states: “For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law.”
Jews and gentiles as well as “unreached pagans” have no hope of salvation outside the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus, and for Christians by faith in Jesus and doing God’s will.
It is clear that some Jews of the old testament are saved without faith in Jesus whom they never knew, for example Moses and Elijah who speak to Jesus at the Transfiguration.
It is therefore a good and holy thing to commit unreached pagans to God’s mercy, that to the extent that they followed their conscience and were contrite for their own sins God may show them mercy, and indeed grant them eternal life. As to the number of those unreached pagans who may be saved, prudence must be exercised, as even for Christ’s followers, as Jesus says in Matt 7:13-14 “13 ‘Enter by the narrow gate, since the road that leads to destruction is wide and spacious, and many take it;
14 but it is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
“As to the number of those unreached pagans who may be saved…” This is a theoretical idea that had zero adherents in the Patristic Era. So, though we have some reason to be true in some very odd exceptions (i.e. Trajan being prayed out of Hell by St Gregory the Great), what is normative is that the unreached are not saved and we speak of what’s normative and should not speak of the exceptions.
How in your view are the Jews of the old testament saved?
“I know my Redeemer lives” — Unreached Pagan named Job, approx 19th century BC.
My view is they had some sort of idea of who Jesus Christ was. Just like Trajan did before he died, and allegedly, was saved by St Gregory the Great’s prayers. This is why my article says that how this specifically works out is another topic. However, no one is saved by “ignorance,” harmed by additional knowledge of Christ, or saved by the Law of Nature. We must reject all three of these 🙂
Only Jesus saves. But God can reach each one of his creatures, and intellectual knowledge of Jesus or of his existence does not save. It is a matter of the heart.
Melchizedek was not a Jew, nor Noah, nor Abel, to name a few.
To us who have come to know Jesus, our mission is clear: Evangelise. The graces that God gives to those who turn to Jesus have no match and make attaining eternal life considerably easier, and the will of God is that all should turn to Jesus in his church.
While our focus and mission is clear, that in no way diminishes God’s mercy, him who wills that all be saved.
I am going to try to dig a little bit into crafting an article on the “exceptions.” I agree, GOd can implant knowledge into hearts in a way unknown to us. Here’s a quote
Some say that [Christ delivered from Hades] only those who believed,
such as fathers and prophets,
judges and together with them kings, local rulers
and some others from the Hebrew people,
not numerous and known to all.
But we shall reply to those who think so
that there is nothing undeserved,
nothing miraculous and nothing strange
in that Christ should save those who believed,
for He remains only the fair Judge,
and every one who believes in Him will not perish.
So they all ought to have been saved
and delivered from the bonds of Hades
by the descent of God and Master —
that same happened by His Disposition.
Whereas those who were saved only through [God’s] love of men
were, as I think, all those
who had the purest life
and did all kinds of good works,
living in modesty, temperance and virtue,
but the pure and divine faith
they did not conceive because they were not instructed in it
and remained altogether unlearnt.
They were those whom the Steward and Master of all
drew, captured in the divine nets
and persuaded to believe in Him,
illuminating them with the divine rays
and showing them the true light
John of Damascus, Concerning Those Who Died in Faith (PG 95, 257 AC).
There is some evidence in the Church Fathers that salvation is made available to all men, for example:
St Clement. Ca. A.D 80.
Letter to the Corinthians, (7,4).
Let us fix our gaze upon the blood of Christ and know how precious it is to the His Father, because it was poured out for our salvation and brought the grace of repentance to the whole world. Let us look back over the generations, and let us learn that in generation after generation the Master has given a place of repentance to all who have the will to turn to Him.
St Augustine of Hippo. A.D. 389.
Genesis Defended, (1,3,6)
That light, however, does not nourish the eyes of irrational birds, but the pure heart of those who believe in God and turn from the love of visible and temporal things to the fulfilling of His precepts. All men can do this if they will, because that light illuminates every man coming into this world.
St. Augustine elaborated on the above in “Corrections”, ca. A.D. 42.
Just because I said: “This light, however, does not nourish the eyes of irrational birds, but the pure heart of those who believe in God and turn from the love of visible and temporal things to the fulfilling of His precepts. All men can do this if they will”, the new Pelagian heretics are not to suppose that it was said in agreement with them. For it is quite true that all men can do this if they will; but the will is prepared by the Lord, and is strengthened so much by the gift of love that they are thereby enabled.”
I’m not sure those quotes really prove your point though. There are righteous Jews and Gentiles in the OT. Here is the link to the John of Damascus quote: http://orthodoxeurope.org/page/11/1/5.aspx#_ftn70
There are no doubt righteous pagans in all ages as there were righteous gentiles in the O.T.
But those righteous pagans had interactions with Israel.
Only because these are the ones recorded in the O.T.
We don’t presume upon unknown interactions though.
You can treat those mentioned in scripture as “exceptions” or as “examples”, there is a vast difference between the two approaches. The first is reductionist.
I respectfully disagree, chiefly because we are not quite sure what the “exceptions” are “examples” of. For example, we are well aware that we have not writing from St Gregory himself that he prayed Trajan out of hell. It’s a medieval legend. Due it being legendary, the Church has not canonized Trajan (knowing him to be in heaven), but rather has retained the story to some degree. So what are we to learn from it? We don’t exactly know. We can walk away from the alleged episode knowing that “prayer works.” However, we don’t walk away with knowing much else. How did it work? Was Trajan revealed CHrist in his heart before he died somehow? DId it really even happen to begin with?
This is why I dislike the topic so much. People grasp at air in a very assertive way to argue in favor of invincible ignorance, yet the Church has been very clear historically that salvation is through faith in Christ. We make no claims about anything else, so this is not reductionist, this is a restatement of fact.
Trajan is by no means the only example that can be given.
but he still does not prove invincible ignorance even if his example was not contestable
“Prove” is not the right word. What we have is evidence. And evidence counts.
I mean this with all love and respect, but I just think what is being posted here is conjecture that is not evidence for those not being imputed guilt due to their ignorance. It is clear that those who are saved, though seemingly never hearing of Christ in this life, are at the very least initially damned. This means, they were not invincibly ignorant by default, as the Church teaches they are in Hell. How some somehow appear to leave Hell for Paradise is something worth discussing, but before we get there, we need to affirm that the fathers did not teach invincible ignorance. It appears to be an innovation.
There is one discussion on the topic from St Clement of Alexandria that might swing towards invincible ignorance. I won’t get into detail until I can read him in more detail.
I agree no one is saved by their ignorance, but neither does their ignorance deprive of them Of God’s saving grace. It is true that one’s sins sufficiently damn, and sin is universal. But it also true that God’s provision of salvation is universally
real and not just Theoretical. The gospel is the norm in which that provision is carried out. But to say that we are not to speak of the exceptions when there are exceptions is quite odd. I agree that we are bound to the gospel but God is not especially when it is not available. How he works that has been postulated by different theories. I leave as a mystery.
Cool. Can you show me this from the fathers?
My reply drew solely from biblical precepts.
Well, we can get into Bible Battle as to why I believe only those who have faith in Christ are saved: “And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him” (Rom 10:14)? Hence, I cite the fathers because it shows there is a historical consensus behind what i am espousing. I am working on a patristic view of “exceptions.”
Maybe one day I will have an article on “exceptions.” Just don’t have enough writings from fathers though.
Craig, I never stated that someone can be saved without faith in Christ. I was addressing a different issue. You quote romans 10:14 out of context. Paul was not addressing gentiles who never heard but actually Jews who did hear. He answers the rhetorical question in vs.18,”but I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have…” He goes on to vs 21 quoting Moses and Isaiah.
It seems to be that there is not a unanimous consensus amongst the fathers on this. “Water and the spirit “ on his post point out that clement and Augustine affirmed the possible salvation of those who have never heard. There are also some (Origen, Gregory) who actually believed in universalism. I also read the article you posted about the church fathers understanding of the descent into hell. The article clearly shows that a good number of the eastern fathers believed that there was and still is a post Mortem opportunity for salvation for those who have not heard. I am not by any means defending these assertions just pointing out that it seems to me that the fathers were not unanimous on this particular issue.
“You quote romans 10:14 out of context.”
I must respectfully disagree with you. While the passage does not pertain specifically to the topic, it becomes incomprehensible if we don’t assume the same principle it is speaking of, namely, that faith is only possible through preaching. Ambrosisaster observes, commenting on the passage, “It is obvious that unless something is said, it can be neither be heard or believed.” This interpretation, quite frankly, is self-evident from the passage. Saint John of Damascus writes, “Faith comes by hearing, because when we hear the holy Scriptures we believe in the teaching of the Holy Spirit.” St John Chrysostom writes, “Yet the Prophet promised no such thing, but that it was by hearing that we were to believe. Hence he makes this good first, and says, so then faith comes by hearing.”
Why would you reject this? Have the fathers ever said otherwise?
““Water and the spirit “ on his post point out that clement and Augustine affirmed the possible salvation of those who have never heard.”
Honestly, I don’t think what that commenter quoted pertained to the topic whatsoever. I mean, re-read those quotes. The Augustine quote has nothing to even to with the topic. Neither does Saint Clement’s passage. Neither address the topic of the dead. This is grasping at air, like I said.
“There are also some (Origen, Gregory) who actually believed in universalism.”
Granted, but even they did not teach that people avoid condemnation via ignorance, which is the whole issue being addressed. Their view of the soul’s restoration has certain Platonist concepts which I believe are outside this discussion, because they would have still said that the fate of the unfaithful is damnation. They just did not think it lasted forever (which is questionable of course, but they had their reasons).
“I also read the article you posted about the church fathers understanding of the descent into hell. The article clearly shows that a good number of the eastern fathers believed that there was and still is a post Mortem opportunity for salvation for those who have not heard…”
Nothing I quoted said that. I welcome you to dig up quotes to the contrary, because as I said earlier, I am working on an article about the “exceptions.” However, we must be careful not to read into the exception a contradiction of the principle that those who do not hear nor have faith are judged as guilty. Whether or not those, in what Orthodoxy calls “the particular judgement” who are guilty can avail from prayers of the Church, is a separate issue. Of course they can. To what extent we do not precisely know, though it does seem we have some really surprising stories of people, like Trajan, who are saved through prayers. But, how did the prayers work? Again, we don’t know. One monk and another a Bishop told me, maybe God goes back in time and does something before they die. Who knows! Hence, we cannot possibly make a theology out of these exceptions, and regardless, as I alluded to before it does nothing to prove out the doctrine of invincible ignorance but it in fact disproves it. If these “ignorant” people were suffering the pains of Hell before prayers liberated them, then their ignorance was not inexcusable as all of the moderns are contending.
Craig, I am going to stay my ground on what Roman 10 is addressing which is those who have heard the gospel, which youself faintly concede. You quote three church fathers and ask me frankly a silly question, “why would reject this?”
Really Craig? I said in my post that one’s sins sufficiently condemn, that the gospel is the norm to carry out The universal plan of salvation, and we are bound to the gospel. Did you miss my point that badly?
I was addressing the issue of those who will depart this life without hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ. I need to clarify that even those who have heard and disbelieve are sufficiently condemned for their sins so the same for those who have not heard. No one is condemned on the ground of not believing in something they never heard, but on the ground of their sinfulness. The gospel is indeed the positive norm the Lord utililzes to reach the lost. The point I was making is that When one departs this life without hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ than he has an alternative means available in which he is faithful to a real universal provision of salvation. My reference to clement and Augustine that “word and spirit “ quote was not grasping for air, it had to with this point. He himself quotes “there is some evidence in the church fathers that salvation is made available to all men”. I would only diverge and say there is much evidence. Indeed, this is where there is near unanimous consent of the fathers. When it comes to the means on how the Lord accomplishes this the church father are quite Diverse. That is why I referred to universalist position of some fathers (which I utterly reject) and the descent into hell views. It is indeed relevant to the point I was making. The church fathers go to great lengths that no one is denied the availability of salvation even though some of them offer “bad solutions “.
You seem to take this absolutist position that there is absolutely no alternative available means other than the preaching of the gospel pf Jesus Christ in this life to those who won’t hear the gospel in this life. Yet you incoherently affirm exceptions. Are the exceptions in this life or the next? You mention a departed person prayed out of condemnation so that there final and fixed state with be in glory. I find it befuddling that you would affirm this but yet seem to resist the option above. I will be interested in your article on these exceptions. I do understand about being careful not to weaken God’s normative principle of the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. But let us not also weaken the absolute principle that God has provided a universal and real access to his saving grace for all men. That is paramount.
I may be off base here, but I do wonder if you still have a residual Calvinism at play here. Many calvinists would say that those who have not heard the gospel in this life is because they are not of the elect.
Finally, even the term “hearing” needs to be explored. But I don’t want go down that rabbit hole now because I have bloviated way to much.😀
“The point I was making is that When one departs this life without hearing the gospel of Jesus Christ than he has an alternative means available in which he is faithful to a real universal provision of salvation”
I have not found this taught in the fathers, by anyone, which is why I would be wary of so confidently and explicitly asserting something like that.
“My reference to clement and Augustine that “word and spirit “ quote was not grasping for air, it had to with this point.”
But those fathers did not say anything close to what you are saying above. In fact, they were not broaching the topic.
“[T]here is much evidence. Indeed, this is where there is near unanimous consent of the fathers.”
Can you please list it? This should be exceedingly easy if there is near consensus.
“…the descent into hell views”
The descent into Hell has nothing to do with invincible ignorance, though. The fact that they were in Hell shows that “not knowing” does not make someone somehow not guilty.
“You seem to take this absolutist position that there is absolutely no alternative available means other than the preaching of the gospel pf Jesus Christ in this life to those who won’t hear the gospel in this life”
You are projecting something, because I explicitly said there were “exceptions,” though they are not numerous (nor well explained), so we dont have any doctrinal insight other than “prayers work.” This has nothing to do with invincible ignorance.
Ultimately, I think you are ignoring the fathers on Rom 10:14, who reaffirm the normative principle that hearing the Gospel is how people are believed and saved. As a matter of principle myself, I think it is fair to speak in absolutes *when* something is normative and *not to* when something is an exception.
This should not even require explanation, but suffice it to say, if we are to say baptism forgives sins, this is an absolute statement. However, there are exceptions—wrong form and function, but also St Cyril of Jerusalem speaks of wrong intent. Just because there are these exceptions, that does not mean I cannot still speak of what is normative in an absolutist state. Furthermore, we know of people baptized by desire. The Protestants make the error to say because people are baptized by desire, therefore salvation is normatively not through baptism, and that baptism is neither necessary nor forgives sins.
This is the danger of how you are framing the issue. It is theologically backwards and would not work in the framing of any other issue. As to why you are inconsistent in how you frame these issues of doctrines, I honestly don’t know, but most people simply cannot affirm plainly what Augustine and other fathers did on this issue–because they think its “unfair.”
Let’s allow the faith given to us once and for all determine what’s fair, not our own preconceived notions.
Craig, due to technological limitations including my 1st grade level of computer skills 😀, I am unfortunately unable to response in similar detail fashion like yourself. Indeed, it takes me time to post. So I will keep short and sum my position.
First, I am driven my a deep conviction grounded on the scriptures and most patristics that there is a real universal availability to God saving grace. Second, the preaching of the gospel is the prescriptive normative means that he utilizes. I have repeatedly stated that. Third, in cases where one does not normally hear gospel of Jesus Christ then the Lord provides another means.
None of these points should be controversial for an EO, Rc, and many Protestants. A Calvinist would be the only group that I am aware that would contest this due due there rejection of the universal availability of salvation. This is why I am curious if there is a residual Calvinism at play here because I befuddled at the resistance coming from you. Indeed “water and spirit” who I understand to be EO is giving you pushback on this.
Also it is logically incoherent to say that something is absolute than say you affirm exceptions. If there are exceptions than it is normative but not absolute. At that point you are the one not logically consistent. Nevertheless , inspite of this logical incoherency ,I am empathetic with your concern not to reduce the seriousness of the Lord’s norms. Indeed, I was the one who pointed out that St. Paul in Rom 10 was plainly addressing those who indeed heard and he held them accountable for rejecting god prescriptive norm. I appreciated the analogy of baptism because it quite supportive of my approach.
Craig, there is no danger on my part. To speak of God’s universal outreach to all mankind, To speak of the cross which was for all man, to speak of a universal grace that is more than a match for our universal sinfulness is the very heart of the gospel. Your charge that I am speaking from a point of “unfairness” is absurd. I am not defending man here but defending the God of the Bible. Indeed the charge of unfairness sound quite similar to what I hear from Calvinist. As far “theological backwards” charge, has no merit. It seems to me that your exegesis of rom 10 is hermeneutical backwards.
P.S. The website http://Www.Jarom.net has litany of patristic fathers speaking on the issue of predestination. It here were you find them addressing the universal availability of salvation for all.
Neither is faith, he means, of ourselves. Because had He not come, had He not called us, how had we been able to believe? For how, says he, shall they believe, unless they hear? Romans 10:14 So that the work of faith itself is not our own.” (Chrysostom, Homily 4 on Ephesians)
“But who calls upon You without knowing You? For he that knows You not may call upon You as other than You are. Or perhaps we call on You that we may know You. But how shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? Or how shall they believe without a preacher? Romans 10:14 …Let me seek You, Lord, in calling on You, and call on You in believing in You; for You have been preached unto us. O Lord, my faith calls on You — that faith which You have imparted to me, which You have breathed into me through the incarnation of Your Son, through the ministry of Your preacher.”” (Book 1, Chap 1 of Augustine’s Confessions)
Just a couple more fathers on an application of Rom 10:14…just saying that I am not misapply and obvious principle of the passage as the fathers appear to take it for granted it and apply it accordingly.
Romans 10:14 is not all there is to it.
Paul says to the pagans in Acts 17:27-28 “27 And he did this so that they might seek the deity and, by feeling their way towards him, succeed in finding him; and indeed he is not far from any of us,
28 since it is in him that we live, and move, and exist,”
Paul says that even without direct revelation from God pagans have the moral law written on their hearts: Rom. 2:14–15 “14 So, when gentiles, not having the Law, still through their own innate sense behave as the Law commands, then, even though they have no Law, they are a law for themselves.
15 They can demonstrate the effect of the Law engraved on their hearts, to which their own conscience bears witness; since they are aware of various considerations, some of which accuse them, while others provide them with a defence”.
Paul says that pagans can know much about God from creation itself: Rom. 1:20 “20 ever since the creation of the world, the invisible existence of God and his everlasting power have been clearly seen by the mind’s understanding of created things. And so these people have no excuse …”
Isaiah encourages men to seek God who will be merciful if they turn to him: Is. 55:6-7 “6 Seek out Yahweh while he is still to be found, call to him while he is still near.
7 Let the wicked abandon his way and the evil one his thoughts. Let him turn back to Yahweh who will take pity on him, to our God, for he is rich in forgiveness;”.
Gen. 6:9 says:“Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God” . Noah didn’t know of Christ, but he did have faith based on the knowledge of God he possessed at the time.
People without explicit faith in Christ can have faith in God and can repent and do good works, all of which are essential elements of salvation.
1 Tim. 2:4 “4 he wants everyone to be saved and reach full knowledge of the truth.” God must then have provided the means for that will to be accomplished, which means salvation must be a possibility for everyone.
We are saved by grace through faith. As Hebrews 11 testifies, this saving faith doesn’t require explicit faith in Christ when there has been no revelation of Him. (“4 It was because of his faith that Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain, and for that he was acknowledged as upright when God himself made acknowledgement of his offerings. Though he is dead, he still speaks by faith.
5 It was because of his faith that Enoch was taken up and did not experience death: he was no more, because God took him; because before his assumption he was acknowledged to have pleased God.
6 Now it is impossible to please God without faith, since anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and rewards those who seek him.
7 It was through his faith that Noah, when he had been warned by God of something that had never been seen before, took care to build an ark to save his family. His faith was a judgement on the world, and he was able to claim the uprightness which comes from faith”).
Acts 10:45–47 demonstrates unambiguously God gave a revelation to Cornelius and gave him the Holy Spirit (that sanctifying grace necessary for salvation) before Cornelius knew Christ or received baptism.
(Acknowledgements to Joan Summers).
According to the article you are replying to, no father reads Rom 2 as teaching invincible ignorance.
As I say, there are many more verses in scripture. “Invincible ignorance” is also not the only way to look at the unreached pagans.
I affirm a general agreement (not completely) to the reply given to you by “water and spirit”.