Secularists and believers alike seem confused by the recent words of Pope Francis when he affirmed that all people, even atheists, are redeemed:
"The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!"Despite what one might conclude after reading the flurry of frenzied headlines that followed, the Holy Father was saying nothing new; the fact that Jesus Christ redeemed the world is age-old, standard Christian teaching. Consider the prayers we traditionally use for the Stations of the Cross:
We adore you, O Christ, and we bless You, because by Your holy cross, You have redeemed the world.Yes, the whole world -- which includes all atheists, all sinners, all people, even all things -- was redeemed by the Blood of Christ that was shed for us on Calvary. Jesus paid the ransom (the word "redemption" literally means the "buying back" of a thing), and His atoning sacrifice opened the gates of Heaven, which had been previously closed to humanity due to Adam's sin.
"For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all…." 1 Timothy 2:5-6
The Cross redeemed all. Bam!
But (and it's a big but)… not everyone will choose to accept the redeeming love of God and its invitation to salvation. While God didn't need our cooperation or permission to redeem us, without our cooperation and permission He will not save us. God is a gentleman, and He will not bring us into union with Him unless we desire that union. Redemption has come to all of us, thanks to Christ's atoning work on the Cross approximately 2,000 years ago, but salvation is an individual choice that we each must make, a gift that we can accept or reject even up to our dying breath.
So when Pope Francis said that everyone is redeemed, even atheists, he was correct! It's a basic Christian tenet taught by Scripture, Tradition, and every pope before him -- but one that implies nothing about any individual's salvation. I wish that more journalists (and more Christians) were well-versed in the basics of the Faith, but the buzz and controversy gives us an opportunity to teach and clarify these truths for the world.
For an even better explanation, check out Brandon Vogt's article on StrangeNotions.com: