One of the key themes of the Bible can be summed up in the question, “What must I do to be saved?”  (cf. Acts 16:30, John 3:3-7, John 6, Mt 19:16-26) This is a pertinent question that echoes throughout the Gospels, the New Testament and even the Old Testament.  Jesus Christ, both the revealer and the revelation, answers the question, but many refuse Him in obstinate disbelief (cf. John 6:60-66).

Will Many Be SavedDr. Ralph Martin explores the reality of salvation and evangelization in his work, Will Many Be Saved? What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization. Since the Second Vatican Council, there is no question more pertinent.  This is because to answer the call of the New Evangelization, one must understand that the choices we make in this life have eternal consequences.

Responding to the belief many have promoted since Vatican II, Dr. Ralph Martin shows that Universalism (that all will be saved) and its handmaiden, Indifferentism (the belief that all religions lead to the same destination), are not compatible with the Catholic faith regardless of the large support they receive both within the Church and the secular culture.  He draws support for his argument from both the traditional teaching on the subject from fathers of the faith (e.g. St. Thomas Aquinas) as well as its Scriptural basis especially as found in St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans.

Dr. Martin does an excellent job examining and breaking apart Lumen Gentium paragraph 16 which is often used to promote the idea that the Church now teaches “all will be saved.”  He acknowledges the very real teaching of the Church on invincible ignorance, but points out that most people omit the last part of Lumen Gentium 16 which states:

“But often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator. Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, “Preach the Gospel to every creature”, the Church fosters the missions with care and attention.” (Lumen Gentium, 16)

Most especially, he examines the views of the influential theologians Karl Rahner and Hans von Balthazar who, through highly nuanced and ambiguous prose, support the idea that all men will be saved.  This specific critique is vital because these two theologians have had an immense impact on the Church especially in Western nations like America.  Though it is likely not the only critique available, it is the only one that I am aware of that does so in an approachable way and specifically for the purpose of revitalizing evangelization.

Though it seems harsh, it is fair to say that the New Evangelization has greatly faltered from the original intent of the Second Vatican Council.  Instead of going forth to evangelize the world, universalism and indifferentism have largely been adopted and led millions of Catholics to leave the faith, both clergy and laity alike.  Missions have dropped and with rare exceptions, the Church (at least in America) has been relegated to a personal choice — a choice viewed to have no effect on one’s ultimate salvation.

For the regular Catholic, even those who attend Mass weekly, there is no urgency to evangelize because, as the world teaches, all religions lead to the same destination.  Why should one seek to evangelize — and risk upsetting a good friend, a family member, or a co-worker — when that person’s soul is not really at risk?  Sure, they might be missing out on some temporal benefits, but, according to universalism, they’ll be in heaven regardless of their life here on earth.

Pope Benedict XVI acknowledges that the missionary zeal has been lost along with the acceptance of universal salvation.

“If it is true that the great missionaries of the 16th century were still convinced that those who are not baptized are forever lost – and this explains their missionary commitment – in the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council that conviction was finally abandoned.  From this came a deep double crisis. On the one hand this seems to remove any motivation for a future missionary commitment. Why should one try to convince the people to accept the Christian faith when they can be saved even without it? But also for Christians an issue emerged: the obligatory nature of the faith and its way of life began to seem uncertain and problematic. If there are those who can save themselves in other ways, it is not clear, in the final analysis, why the Christian himself is bound by the requirements of the Christian faith and its morals. If faith and salvation are no longer interdependent, faith itself becomes unmotivated.”1

Dr. Ralph Martin’s book is a clarion call to all the Church, especially clergy, to listen to Christ’s warning that “wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it”(Mt 7:13-14).  Will Many Be Saved? is well supported by plentiful research and, in my opinion, serves as a critical first step for those who want to understand the Church’s role in salvation.  Pastors and lay leaders (e.g. catechists) alike should read this book and impart to their flocks and students the lesson it conveys; that is, that we must work out our salvation in fear and trembling (cf. Phil 2:12), and urgently share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with all the world for the sake of each soul’s eternal salvation.