Saturday, May 07, 2005

Revisiting "extra ecclesiam nulla salus"

John Hick (pictured below), in The Metaphor of God Incarnate: Christology in a Pluralistic Age (Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), writes:
It was for more than a thousand years a firm Christian dogma that EXTRA ECCLESIAM NULLA SALUS, 'Outside the church there is no salvation.' Thus for example the Council of Florence (1438-45) declared that 'no one remaining outside the Catholic Church, not just pagans, but also Jews or heretics or schematics [sic], can become partakers of eternal life; but they will go to the 'everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels,' unless before the end of life they are joined to the Church' (Clarkson 1961, 78: Denzinger, 714). But very few Catholics would dream of affirming this today, and most who are asked about it only find it embarassing." (p. 6)
The last sentence would be true of the many Catholics whose ideas are informed primarily by the secular media or dissident Catholic periodicals like the National (anti-)Catholic Reporter. Those who undersand the relationship between the teachings of Vatican II and these traditional teachings realize there's nothing fundamentally "revisionist" about Vatican II documents. Doctrinal development does not mean change.

We've been through some of this before, but to review, the Church doesn't deny extra ecclesiam nulla salus, any more than it denies that there is any salvation outside of Jesus Christ. But as it acknowledges the possibility of those who are saved through J.C. without knowing anything about the historical Jesus, it likewise acknowledges the possibility of those who are saved through incorporation in Church as the Mystical Body of Christ without benefit of formal membership in the
Catholic Church.

[A tip of the hat to Edgar Foster for the Hick reference--gratia tibi]