Who is Greatest among Christians?

Over at Canon Law Blog (In the Light of the Law), Dr. Ed Peters criticizes Cardinal Cupich of Chicago for saying “some of the greatest Christians I know are people who don’t actually have a faith system that they believe in”. Peters opines:

“I think it is confusing, in a world where words seem pretty much to mean whatever a speaker wants them to mean, for a prelate of the Catholic Church to refer to people “who don’t actually have a faith system that they believe in” as counting among the greatest Christians, of all things. Greatest people? Sure. Greatest humanitarians? Quite possible. But greatest Christians?”

“Those who have, therefore, no “faith system that they believe in”, and who thus cannot claim full communion with the Church, are to be respected, of course, but also prayed for—not held up as role models for Catholics qua Catholics.”

And we easily find examples to the contrary of what Peters is saying, and in support of the words of the Cardinal in the words of Jesus in the Gospels. So often today, arguments among Catholics ignore our mutual Lord and Savior, His actual words, and His direct explicit teaching in Scripture.

First, the Cardinal was not saying that he was greatest, nor was he arguing that specific persons are greatest. He was making a point that “some” of the greatest Christians (imitators of Christ) are actually non-Christians or even non-believers. They might not have a “faith system”, but they have love, faith, and hope.

Now let’s consider person who had no belief system, neither as disciples of Christ nor as Jews, and yet Jesus holds them up “as role models for Catholics” to imitate in their practice of Catholicism.

[Matthew 18]
{18:1} In that hour, the disciples drew near to Jesus, saying, “Whom do you consider to be greater in the kingdom of heaven?”
{18:2} And Jesus, calling to himself a little child, placed him in their midst.
{18:3} And he said: “Amen I say to you, unless you change and become like little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
{18:4} Therefore, whoever will have humbled himself like this little child, such a one is greater in the kingdom of heaven.

To which belief system was Jesus referring? None. Love, faith, and hope are not necessarily and inextricably tied to a belief system. Little children who die without baptism still go to Heaven, for in order to go to Heaven you must be child-like.

{19:14} Yet truly, Jesus said to them: “Allow the little children to come to me, and do not choose to prohibit them. For the kingdom of heaven is among such as these.”

And not only children, but also adults:

{8:8} And responding, the centurion said: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant shall be healed.
{8:9} For I, too, am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
{8:10} And, hearing this, Jesus wondered. And he said to those following him: “Amen I say to you, I have not found so great a faith in Israel.

The centurion was not a disciple, nor a Jew. Yet his faith was greater than in all of Israel. So, he was in the state of grace, having love, faith, and hope. And he was and still is an example for Catholics.

{15:22} And behold, a woman of Canaan, going out from those parts, cried out, saying to him: “Take pity on me, Lord, Son of David. My daughter is badly afflicted by a demon.”
{15:23} He did not say a word to her. And his disciples, drawing near, petitioned him, saying: “Dismiss her, for she is crying out after us.”
{15:24} And responding, he said, “I was not sent except to the sheep who have fallen away from the house of Israel.”
{15:25} But she approached and adored him, saying, “Lord, help me.”
{15:26} And responding, he said, “It is not good to take the bread of the children and cast it to the dogs.”
{15:27} But she said, “Yes, Lord, but the young dogs also eat from the crumbs that fall from the table of their masters.”
{15:28} Then Jesus, responding, said to her: “O woman, great is your faith. Let it be done for you just as you wish.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

This woman “of Canaan” was not a Jew or a disciple of Christ. Yet she had great faith, and she is perpetually an example for all Catholics.

{7:21} Not all who say to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven. But whoever does the will of my Father, who is in heaven, the same shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.

And that saying is again independent of belief system.

{25:37} Then the just will answer him, saying: ‘Lord, when have we see you hungry, and fed you; thirsty, and given you drink?
{25:38} And when have we seen you a stranger, and taken you in? Or naked, and covered you?
{25:39} Or when did we see you sick, or in prison, and visit to you?’
{25:40} And in response, the King shall say to them, ‘Amen I say to you, whenever you did this for one of these, the least of my brothers, you did it for me.’

The just did not realize that they were ministering to Christ by ministering to the needy, indicating that some of them were non-Christians. Yet they, too, are examples for us.

And now let’s consider what Pope Saint John Paul II says on the subject: “The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all.” (Redemptoris Missio 10)

{17:16} And he fell face down before his feet, giving thanks. And this one was a Samaritan.
{17:17} And in response, Jesus said: “Were not ten made clean? And so where are the nine?
{17:18} Was no one found who would return and give glory to God, except this foreigner?”

The Samaritan in this case, and again in the parable called the good Samaritan, is an example for Catholics today, even though these Samaritans were not disciples of Christ and were not faithful Jews. (They were essentially a break-away sect of Jews.)

So Peters’ position is not the teaching of Christ or His Church, but is merely a teaching of the conservative Catholic subculture. And that conservative teaching deprecates all the good found in non-Christian believers and non-believers, sometimes going so far as to claim that very few non-Christians go to Heaven (even little unbaptized children). The pride-filled narrow-minded Pharisees of old would admire the conservative Catholic subculture today.

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

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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2 Responses to Who is Greatest among Christians?

  1. Dora says:

    Referring to the CPDV bible: Could you give us a few side-by-side examples of a few classic bible quotes, showing your version, versus other translations?

    • Ron Conte says:

      I’ve lengthened the time that new posts (from now on) will be open for commenting. Sorry to bombard readers with lost of posts in some weeks. The CPDV is available here: http://www.sacredbible.org/catholic/

      It would take too long for me to do that. You can peruse the version yourself to see what it is like. Examples (without quotes) — the CPDV uses the word Hell in many verses; the NABRE (latest USCCB version) uses “Hell” zero times. The CPDV avoids inclusive language. The rendering of the text in English is fairly close to the Latin; it’s a fairly literal translation rather than a “dynamic” translation.

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