Thursday, August 18, 2011
Extra ecclesiam null salus
One might note here that all along, "the Church" in the maxim became synonymous with the Roman Church -- a fact made even more significant by the Sixteenth Century Reformations (different though they were).
All of this became less theory than reality when the discovery of the New World found very large groups of people completely isolated from the Gospel. What about those whose isolation left no opportunity even to imagine the great mystery of God's being (Trinity) or the Incarnation? Various opinions were offered -- from that of saving faith being simply the desire to draw near to God (Hebrews 11:6) to the extreme that God never had willed that all would be saved at all. By the time Pious IX came along in the mid-19th century, several hundred years worth of folks had been born and died without definitive answer to the question made material with the founding of the New World. He determined that the lack of saving faith and the lack of any opportunity for saving faith were two different situations. Those who observed the natural law and obeyed God within the confines of their ignorance, could be saved.
By the mid-20th century, Pius XII moved things on a bit by distinguishing between belonging to the Church in actual fact or in desire. This muddied as well as clarified since Pius XII did not make distinct the difference between non-Christians and non-Roman Catholic Christians -- a big one, indeed. So those who were Christians by faith (even baptism) but were separated from the Roman See were in the same boat as those who had never heard nor ever had the opportunity to hear the Gospel at all.
In Vatican II, Rome spoke again. God, in ways known only to Himself, can lead those inculpably ignorant of the Gospel to that faith without which it is impossible to please Him... Both Paul VI and John Paul II made clarification that all grace and salvation comes through the one and only mediator, Jesus Christ (whoever shall be saved will be saved through Jesus Christ alone).
Karl Rahner, not a name we use that often today, spoke of "anonymous" Christians who accept and live by the grace offered to them, as seemingly inadequate as some might find this grace, still it brings them in union with God. Such was not meant to undermine the mission purpose of the Church but many found fault with his theory.
We find that two ends find themselves inevitably unreconciled -- one that requires that those who would be saved must hear the Gospel and come to faith through its power and those who are preoccupied with the plight of those who had no opportunity to hear and therefore no opportunity to believe.
My point? Oh yes... that we ponder long and hard on the mysteries of God that will not be revealed until God discloses them in the day which is the final and eternal day. What we know now is that God is not mocked. That God wills that all would be saved and come to the knowledge of the Truth (Christ) and that not all will be saved. Those who will be saved are those whom God has elected and saved in Christ. Those who resist the grace of God are not on the road that leads to salvation. God does not speak empty threats But is He not responsible. The fault is their own. What belongs to us who have heard the Word of the Lord and by the power of the Spirit brought to faith and been received into God's kingdom through baptism? It is our responsibility to be His witnesses and to speak forth the Gospel and speak for God in making known Him who called us from darkness into His marvelous light (which is Christ). It would be best if we left it up to God to determine the answer to those questions which will not be answered this side of glory and to be content simply to rejoice in the grace He has so richly bestowed upon us in Christ that we should be called His children and to let this joy spill out in all that we say and do (witness and mercy).
Many thanks to Avery Cardinal Dulles for his instruction in the evolution of this thinking from Cyprian through Vatican II. If I have misrepresented him, the responsibility is mine alone. The conclusions are my very own and do not come from Cardinal Dulles...