Pope Francis meets with members of the Jain religion

News report: In meeting with Jains, Pope Francis keeps on leading by addition. The report claims:

“Jainism is an ancient religion based primarily in India, known for its emphasis on asceticism and self-discipline. Ghandi was an admirer, and the Jains have a global following estimated at somewhere between four and six million.”

Jainism is similar to Buddhism in that neither believes in a Creator God. However, Jainism believes that some souls have achieved perfection. The ultimate goal of Jainism is not Heaven, but a freedom from the cycle of repeated reincarnations given to those who have not yet achieved this perfection. These perfect souls are venerated, but are not gods. This state of perfection is considered to be a type of never-ending bliss, and so it is comparable, to a limited extent, to Heaven.

Without the concept of a God who is offended by sin, explicit perfect contrition is not possible. The individual does not think that his wrongdoing has offended his Divine Creator, as he thinks that no such being exists. However, implicit perfect contrition is still possible by the love of one’s neighbor.

Jains believe in concern for the welfare of every living soul (people, animals, and plants). They believe in respect and compassion for all human persons. And they practice restraint in the use of possessions and in the use of sexuality. Their version of monks and nuns practice celibacy. Lay Jains practice chastity and avoid sexual excess in marriage. They reject violence, lying, and stealing.

So although Jainism does not have a formal concept of sin, they do have an understanding of morality based on what we Catholics call natural law. The fact that Jainism and other belief systems have a strict moral code, one that is not so different in many ways from the Catholic Christian understanding of morality in Divine Revelation, is proof that natural law exists and that it can be a source of guidance, not merely in theory, but also in practice.

Can a Jain be saved without converting to Christianity? Yes, if his rejection of Christianity is out of invincible ignorance and is therefore not an actual mortal sin, and if he enters the state of grace by an implicit baptism of desire, and if he repents with implicit perfect contrition from any actual mortal sins he does commit.

A Jain can be in the state of grace, by an implicit baptism of desire. The close conformity to the Jain moral code and Catholic teaching on morality is a witness to the state of grace in many Jains. So Pope Francis is right to meet with Jains and to encourage them to continue living a moral life.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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