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Salvation Outside the Church? Tracing the History of the Catholic Response.

Francis Sullivan brings to his work on the question of salvation outside the church the lucidity, balance, and insightfulness that marked his earlier work on the magisterium. This current work will be welcomed and well used by all those involved in the study of foundational theology, ecclesiology, and missiology.

Sullivan traces the history of the formulation "outside the church there is no salvation" from its earlier usage among the Fathers. It served to warn baptized Christians against separating themselves from the church. In the course of his historical exposition he gives particular attention to the more rigid interpretation offered by Augustine, the nuanced treatment by Thomas Aquinas, and the decidedly triumphal appropriation characteristic of Boniface VIII's Unam Sanctam and the decree of the Council of Florence. Decisive for the developing understanding of the axiom was the discovery, during the age of European exploration and colonization, of the huge numbers of people to whom the Gospel had never been preached. In the face of this phenomenon Catholic theologians attempted to hold in balance four elements: the saving mercy of God, the necessity of the church for salvation, the importance of fidelity to conscience, and the reality of inculpable ignorance. Vatican II represented a major advance in testifying to the ecclesial reality of non-Catholic churches (thus their adherents are not outside the church), to the presence of God in non-Christian religions and, indeed, in the lives of men and women of good will.

This work is especially interesting as a case study in the development of doctrine. Sullivan skillfully demonstrates how a foundational teaching such as the necessity of the church for salvation develops as the cultural and historical contexts in which it must be understood change. The process manifests the delicate balance of fidelity and vitality that should characterize ecclesial life. There are, however, two areas in which the text is lacking. The first is a chapter, important for the ecumenical discussion, on the scriptural foundation for the teaching. The second is the absence of any references to theologians such as Pieris or Pannikar who are struggling with this issue from within cultures shaped by the great non-Christian religions. Their voices need to be heard, as does that of Francis Sullivan.
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Author:McConville, William
Publication:International Bulletin of Missionary Research
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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