Thursday, August 18, 2011

Extra ecclesiam null salus

Origen and Cyprian (in the West) originated the maxim that outside the Church there is no salvation.  Perhaps this was directed mostly against heretics but they soon became applicable to the pagans as well.  Gregory of Nyssa and John Chrysostom represented the same line of thinking in the East.  Augustine contended that since faith comes by hearing, those who have not heard the Gospel are outside the Church and therefore denied salvation.  At the 4th Lateran Council this formula was affirmed and later at the Council of Florence.  Aquinas extended the requirement of "in the Church" to include not only faith in Christ but explicit faith in the Trinity and the Incarnation.  He did, however, at one point allow for the prospect of God to offer the person completely isolated from the possibility of hearing the Gospel the possibility to become a missionary through direct Divine inner illumination.

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...

12 comments:

Paul said...

There certainly is a spectrum of belief about salvation, heaven and hell etc. even under the "umbrella of orthodoxy". I hope and pray that all may be saved, while admitting the painful possibility of the rejcetion of God's grace and mercy in Christ Jesus. It truly remains a great mystery best left to the inscrutable counsels of the Most High. Thanks for tracing the development of expression in the mind of the church.

Irenaeus said...

God will save whomever He will save. He has told us that the way to salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ. This way is most certain. I maintain that, instead of spending time, energy and resources speculating on who may or may not utlimately be included in God's salvation, we spend the same on proclaiming the Good News of the forgiveness of our sins because of God's grace through Jesus to the world, thus reducing the number of "those who have never heard." This, I believe, is Jesus' mandate to His Church.

(Bye the way, this is not to suggest that I did not appreciate the article! Kudos and blessings, as always, Pastor Peters!).

Terry Maher said...

Actually, it's that those who are Christians by faith, even baptism, but are separated from the Roman See are in the same boat as those who are Christians by faith and baptism and joined to the Roman See. And boat literally, the barque of Peter.

The truth of the Catholic Faith (sic) sufficient for salvation can exist outside the visible Catholic Church (sic) so that those not visibly united with the Catholic Church are nonetheless saved by an invisible and imperfect union with it by their faith in that of its Truth they do not deny and are not extra eccelsia.

As to non-Christians, there is baptism by water, by blood, and by desire. By blood refers to catechumens martyred before they were baptised, by desire means those who do not or did not hear the Gospel from human lips but desired to follow and believe the true God by the best lights available to them and would have accepted the Gospel had they heard it from human lips, a situation known only and judged only by God.

Interesting but not surprising and in fact typical that in all this from Rahner, Dulles, Vatican II etc traditional basic Roman Catholic teaching you would get in grade school at one time never even comes up.

Irenaeus said...

And, just a P.S., here (with all of the respect I can muster at this juncture): I don't give a "tinker's damn" about what Rome says as far as who the faithful, true believers are or are not. In her arrogance the See of Rome has shown itself time and again to be, at LEAST, the on-going version of utter Pharisaicalism. The Head of the Church, Jesus Christ, determines His faithful; He sets the standard. Ours is to obey HIM. (Is that venting? Mea culpa! It's just that I am really quite over Rome's arrogance!)

Terry Maher said...

I don't either Ireaeus, and it's not my point that we should. The discussion was framed in RC terms (Rahner, Dulles etc) not consonant with traditional RC teaching and mistook Pius XII entirely who was consonant with traditional RC teaching. Point being, if the discussion is to be framed in RC terms (a big if, if you ask me) at least get them right.

Anonymous said...

C.F.W. Walther based his Lutheranism
on possessing pure doctrine. His
legacy is that LCMS is the one church
with pure doctrine. Ergo, there is
no true church outside the LCMS.

This is the type of attitude that
helps to give outsiders the impression that Missouri Synod has
a superiority complex. The truth is
we are Christians first and Lutherans
second.

Terry Maher said...

The first one to refute the idea that there is no true church outside the LCMS is Walther himself.

Anonymous said...

The late great Jaroslav Pelikan
said,"The Saxons left Germany in
1839 convinced that Lutheranism was
dead in their homeland and that only
by emigrating to America could they
keep pure doctrine alive. Walther's
form of Lutheran confessionalism
made doctrinal purity a sole
institutional possession to be
defended against error rather than
a treasure to be shared."

Terry Maher said...

A little hard to share your treasure when the king orders it thrown in with the Calvinists' idea of treasure in one church.

But Pelikan did dedicate his Jesus Through The Centuries to the monks of die Abtei, so I guess he fits right in here. Used to stop by and see Godfrey all the time.

Kelly Klages said...

TM can correct me if I'm mistaken, but I've been perusing Vol. 1 of Chemnitz's Examination of Trent, and he lambasts Andrada (in his interpretation of Trent) for suggesting that it would be cruel for people who have not had a chance to respond to the Gospel to receive condemnation for sin. A church entirely without the Word.

Terry Maher said...

Well Miss Kelly, my point here was neither pro nor con, but rather that the entire discussion was framed in RC terms but at some points the RC terms were not represented as they are. Particularly Pius XII.

Rome has never varied on extra ecclesia nulla salus. But Lutherans get derailed in understanding the Roman position -- which I took up only because that is what is offered -- since there's the question of what is "ecclesia", whereas Roman thought centres on what is "extra".

Or did you mean the Andrada who played Skylar on Baywatch?

christl242 said...

The late great Jaroslav Pelikan

I used to read Pelikan extensively years ago.

After discovering that he chatted it up with some of the most liberal, deconstructionist parties of the liturgical movement, of which St. John University and Abbey is a prominent example, I don't much read him anymore.

Christine