St. Edmund Campion Catechism Group - Series 2 Lesson 17b

Do we all worship the same God?

Slides: Do we all worship the same God?
Penny Catechism: Q8 What must I do to save my soul?
Catechism of the Council of Trent (The Roman Catechism): The First Commandement
Catechsim of St. Pius X: See Creed Article 9, Question 29 Salvation outside the body of the Church
Bible: Jn 8:56
Fathers: St. Augustine, City of God, Bk4 Chp8
Magisterium: False Religions: Vat II Nostra Aetate
Catholic Encyclopedia: God
Aquinas 101: The Attributes of God
Edward Feser: Christians, Muslims and the reference for God
Summa Theologica: 1aQ12a12 God known by reason1aQ13a10 Possible names for God2a2aeQ94 Idolatry
Companion to the Summa: Chp 3 Unspeakable modern gods

What's in a name?

  1. Definition of Name: That sign whose first notes lead to a knowledge of something else. 

  2. Types of Name
  • univocal: the name denotes the essence of the thing,  e.g. “The Baby”;
  • equivocal: the name could be applied with equal reason to something different, e.g. calling the baby “Daniel” which could also be the name of my dog;
  • analogical: the name denotes some property, operation or characteristic of the thing, e.g. calling the baby “Cherub” or “Stinker” or some other thing that implies a property, operation or characteristic. 

Possible types of name for God

  • not univocal: no living man can know the essence of God, so the name "God" can never mean His essence.
  • not equivocal: an equivocal name does not signify the thing unequivocally!
  • only analogical: we can only know God by his properties, operations and by revelation; what we mean by the name "God" is therefore analogical: "God" can only denote something we can deduce of Him by our observations of nature or by His revelation (cf 1aQ13a10)

      e.g. Existence, First Cause, Almighty, Creator, The Trinity, etc.

Exclusive properties and operations of God known by reason

  • Supreme Being, Actus Purus, Ipse Esse Subsistens
  • Absolutely: Perfect, Infinite, Simple, Unique, True, Good, Beautiful, Unchanging, Eternal, Immense 
  • Omnipotent, Omnipresent, Omniscient
  • Creator, Sustainer, First Mover
  • etc.

Characteristics of God known by Revelation

  • God is Triune
  • Jesus Christ is God
  • The God of Abraham is the true God
  • etc.

Framing the question

The question here is not "whether false religions can save?" [they can’t of themselves], but "whether the true God is worshipped in any false religion?"

Worshipping the true God - case 1 

Priniciple: If I worship “God” as the Being with the properties, operations and characteristics that only the true God possesses, then I worship the true God. 

(NB. If I worship "God" with supernatural faith, then I will always worship the true God regardless of what I know about Him.)

Worshipping the true God - case 2

If I worship “God” as a Being which has the necessary properties and operations of the true God as far I know them, but I am in ignorance or error about certain revealed truths of God, then I still worship the true God. 

  • e.g. The Patriarchs worshipped the true God and knew nothing explicit of the Trinity or nothing precise about the Messiah (although Our Lord did say: "Abraham your father rejoiced that he might see my day: he saw it, and was glad." (Jn 8:56)).
  • e.g. Arius, who denied the divinity of Christ, nevertheless worshipped the true God.
  • e.g. the Jews today worship the "God of Abraham" - the true God - and yet deny the Trinity and the Divinity of Christ.
  • e.g. Muslims who worship “Allah” as the "Creator, Sustainer and First Mover" without adhering to anything contradictory to the metaphysically necessary attributes of God, worship the true God, even though they are gravely mistaken in their rejection of the Trinity and Divinity of Jesus Christ.

This may sound surprising, even heretical, but remember the principle: if the analogical name invokes a metaphysically necessary attribute of the true God without refusing others, then the name refers to the true God.

Furthermore, from the fact that (a) souls can be saved without having received God's revelation (see Catechism of St. Pius X Art.9. Q29), and that (b) one must worship the true God with supernatural Faith, Hope and Charity to be saved, it follows that it is possible to worship the true God with supernatural Faith, Hope and Charity and be ignorant of (or mistaken about) revealed truths such as the Trinity, Incarnation etc..

Article 9, 29 Q. But if a man through no fault of his own is outside the Church, can he be saved?

A. If he is outside the Church through no fault of his, that is, if he is in good faith, and if he has received Baptism, or at least has the implicit desire of Baptism; and if, moreover, he sincerely seeks the truth and does God's will as best he can such a man is indeed separated from the body of the Church, but is united to the soul of the Church and consequently is on the way of salvation.

Worshipping false gods – case 1

Properties, operations and characteristics incompatible with the true God

  • God is one of several gods
  • God is the universe
  • God is a creature
  • God is finite
  • God is caused
  • God is unreasonable or evil

If I worship “God” as a Being which has any properties, operations and characteristics necessarily (i.e. metaphysically) incompatible with those of the true God, then I worship a false god.

  • e.g. the Hindu who recognises 33 million gods.
  • e.g. the Pantheist who sees divinity in all creatures.
  • e.g. the Satanist who worships the Devil.
  • e.g. the Manichean who believes in the two principles of everything: good and evil.
  • e.g. the pagan who worships material idols or limited gods.

Worshipping false gods – case 2 (unlikely)

If I worship “God” as the Being who did something specific that is incompatible with the operations of God, then I worship a false god.

  • e.g. A Muslim who makes “he who inspired Mohammed” the specific object of worship.

Answering the question

Principle: If one worships “God” as the Being with the properties, operations and characteristics that only the true God possesses, then one worships the true God. 

Answer: As there are false religions in which a Being which has properties, operations and characteristics necessarily (i.e. metaphysically) incompatible with those of the true God, then we do not all worship the same God.

Notes on false religions, ignorance, truth & salvation

  1. The following distinction is important to remember: (a) Worshipping the true God in the true religion (Catholic Religion) and (b) Worshipping the true God in a false religion.
  2. A false religion, even in which the true God is worshipped, will never lead a soul to heaven of itself. A soul practicing a false religion in invincible ignorance and with a good heart may attain heaven, but not because of the false religion.
  3. One is never saved "by ignorance", at most "with ignorance". Every false religion mixes truths and errors, some more some less. Such a mixture cannot save; only truth can save. Therefore, any false religion cannot save.
  4. Only the grace of God can save; the grace of God never impels someone to adhere to error, only to truth; nay, one should say that the grace of God removes from error (though not always from all errors at once).
  5. Moreover, salvation requires an act of Faith (and Hope and Charity), i.e. supernatural adhesion to a revealed truth. God will provide to everyone (reaching the age of reason) the occasion for such an act of Faith. The salvation of a soul depends on how it cooperates with that offer of the grace of Faith: if it accepts it or if it refuses it.
  6. The error of the modernists is to suppose that if a soul worships the true God, then it will be saved. They forget that a soul is only saved by worshiping the true God with supernatural Faith, Hope and Charity in the Church. This fact is conspicuously absent from Pope Paul VI's Declaration, Nostra Aetate.