Heaven open to all, Francis says

Cats, dogs and Protestants will be found in heaven, Pope Francis said in his weekly general audience at the Vatican on 26 Nov 2014.

Pope Francis’ remarks appear to contradict Pope Benedict XVI’s teaching on the souls of animals while his remarks about universal salvation appear to go beyond recent propositions put forward by Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar.

In his sermon to the audience at the Vatican Francis stated: “The holy scripture teaches us that the fulfillment of this wonderful design also affects everything around us.”

The “new creation” that lies ahead “is not an annihilation of the universe and all that surrounds us. Rather it brings everything to its fullness of being, truth and beauty.”

Milan’s Corriere della Sera interpreted the remarks to mean Francis’ statement “broadens the hope of salvation and eschatological beatitude to animals and the whole of creation.”

In 2008 Homily given on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Pope Benedict XVI said “For other creatures, who are not called to eternity, death just means the end of existence on Earth.”

The question of the place of animals in heaven is unsettled within the Christian tradition. Oxford theologian Andrew Linzey notes there is “an ambiguous tradition” about animals in Christianity. Thinkers as diverse as Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Fenelon, and Kant and have held that animals do not have rational, hence immortal souls. Descartes defended a distinction between humans and animals based on the belief that language is a necessary condition for mind and as such animals were soulless machines 

Others theologians, philosophers and writers as diverse as Goethe, St John of the Cross, C.S. Lewis, Bishop Butler, and John Wesley believed that animals will find a place in heaven. Billy Graham is purported to have said: “I think God will have prepared everything for our perfect happiness’ in heaven. If it takes my dog being there, I believe he’ll be there.”

The question of animal souls arose during debates of the House of Bishops at the 77th General Convention in Indianapolis in 2012. Speaking to the media the Bishop of North Dakota Michael Smith said these were “theological issues not many of us have thought through,”

“But if a little girl needs Fluffy the cat to see the beatific vision, then Fluffy will be in heaven,” Bishop Smith said.

Other Vatican watchers interpreted his remarks as support for Hans Urs von Balthasar’s argument of universal salvation through Christ – that we hope all shall be saved. However, von Balthasar argued that mankind remained under judgment.

Francis closed his remarks on heaven and the beautific vision by first refering to it as the church’s “destination”, in remarks that echoed his May 2013 comments that good athiests would go to heaven. But his unqualified statements that all would be saved, appear to broaden the parameters of who will see God. 

Francis said: “The Conciliar Constitution Gaudium et Spes, faced with these questions that forever resonate in the hearts of men and women, states: ‘We do not know the time for the consummation of the earth and of humanity, nor do we know how all things will be transformed. As deformed by sin, the shape of this world will pass away; but we are taught that God is preparing a new dwelling place and a new earth where justice will abide, and whose blessedness will answer and surpass all the longings for peace which spring up in the human heart” (n. 39)’. “

“This is the Church’s destination: it is, as the Bible says, the ‘new Jerusalem’, ‘Paradise’. More than a place, it is a ‘state’ of soul in which our deepest hopes are fulfilled in a superabundant way and our being, as creatures and as children of God, reach their full maturity. We will finally be clothed in the joy, peace and love of God, in a complete way, without any limit, and we will come face to face with Him! (cf. 1 Cor 13:12). “

“It is beautiful to think of this, to think of Heaven. All of us will be up there together, all of us! [Tutti noi ci troveremo lassù, tutti.] It is beautiful, it gives strength to the soul.”

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