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Salvation Outside the Church: Tracing the History of the Catholic Response Paperback – September 3, 2002

4.3 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Sullivan traces the history of the teaching that "outside the Church there is no salvation" from Justin Martyr (second century) to the present. Sullivan is sensitive not only to the verbal formula but to its interpretation. The shift from a narrow and pessimistic view of the possibility of salvation, a view limiting salvation to some in communion with the church, to an open and optimistic view which stresses God's universal redemptive will has important ramifications for ecumenical Christian and interfaith dialog, as well as for Christology itself. Sullivan makes these issues clear. Recommended for academic libraries.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Rev. Francis A. Sullivan, S.J. taught ecclesiology at the Gregorian University in Rome for 35 years until 1993. Since then he has taught in the Theology Department at Boston College. His other books include 'Creative Fidelity', 'Charisms and Charismatic Renewal', 'The Church We Believe In' (Paulist Press), and 'From Apostles to Bishops' (Paulist Press).
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 230 pages
  • Publisher: Wipf & Stock Pub; Reprint edition (September 3, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1592440088
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592440085
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #863,412 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Kevin Davis VINE VOICE on September 5, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Fr. Sullivan is one of the best known and respected Catholic ecclesiologists in the English-speaking world. He taught for years at the Gregorian in Rome and Boston College. This book is, as far as I know, the only book-length survey of original research on the Catholic understanding of salvation outside the Church. Fr. Stravinskas' book on this subject was largely based on Sullivan's research.

This book is not a polemic nor an apologia of the Catholic view. It is simply a work of historical theology, wherein the scholar interprets the theology of an issue in its various contexts from the beginning to the present (in this case, from the early church to Pope John Paul II). However, I do think that, if interepreted in view of Cardinal Newman's (and the Catholic Church's) view on doctrinal development and proper interpretation, the book vindicates the Catholic dogma of no salvation outside the Church as understood by Vatican II. The main issue for those acquiring this book will be how Vatican II's document, Lumen Gentium, can be consistent with the statement at the Council of Florence (15th century) that Jews, Muslims, pagans, and heretics were damned (thus reaffirming Pope Boniface VIII's papal bull, Unam Sanctam, in 1302 that non-Catholics were damned). This restrictive view of salvation to only Catholics was not largely held by the fathers of the early Church. When the early Church fathers spoke of no salvation outside the church, they were only refering to heretics and schismatics -- those who had explicitly rejected the Catholic Church. Those ignorant of the orthodox, catholic faith could still be saved (and through Christ but without explicit knowledge of Christ as the instrumental means of their salvation). So why is the medieval view so restrictive?
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Format: Paperback
Some Catholics, if asked about the history of the Catholic Church's teaching on salvation outside the church, will simply say "Oh, that teaching was changed." However, this answer is not very theologically lucid. Doesn't the Catholic Church teach that popes and ecumenical councils can make infallible statements? How can these be changed?

This book by Francis Sullivan does an excellent job of addressing these questions. Sullivan understands the rules by which theologians determine which teachings by popes and councils are infallible, and which are not. (His book "Creative Fidelity" is the best introductory text on the question of infallibility.)

For example, the statement by the Council of Florence about salvation is not infallible. Why not? Because one of the conditions for infallibility is that the teaching be addressed to the universal church. This document was merely a statement that the Coptic delegate to Florence was required to sign; it wasn't addressed to the universal church.

"Salvation Outside the Church" gives a good history of the Catholic Church's views regarding salvation of non-Catholics since the 15th century. However, Sullivan does not explore the diversity of views on this matter among the early Church Fathers. William Most wrote a good article on this subject (search the web for the phrase "salvation of those who are or seem to be outside the church").

For the history of this doctrine during the past several centuries, Sullivan is excellent. For those who think that the Catholic teaching changed at Vatican II, this book will be very useful.
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This book rates a four based on my attentive reading of it. Francis Sullivan sets forth several citations used by those in disagreement with the Church's teaching regarding the optimistic view of salvation (as he himself describes it) of those not in full communion with Rome, and not even with explicit Christian faith.

He does a wonderful job of tracing the thought of several Fathers, mainly St. Augustine, and then camps out with St. Thomas Aquinas for a while. His basic thrust is that with the discovery of the New World (North America) that had not been evangelized, many theologians had to rethink the universal salvific will of God and what was required for salvation among those whom the Gospel had not reached.

He does an excellent job of tracing Jesuitical theology, starting with Trent and up to Vatican 2 on the subject, showing how the views progressed.

You may not agree with his take on it, but if you want to understand the thought behind the modern Church's attitude towards non-Christian religions, then this book is a good choice.

Personally, I wish he would have spent more time making seemingly contradictory teachings fit with eachother. That would be hard with his line of "new geographic knowledge" which is condemned in Vatican 1, where the view that Church dogmas must sometimes be given meaning according to the progress of science, different from what has always been taught, is denounced.
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Fr. Sullivan brings together numerous writers from various with religious backgrounds and bone fides. You can read the struggles the early Church figures (not all Fathers and not all Catholic) grappling with this concept and the extent of God's mercy and grace. I'm not sure this will change your mind or add anything to your thought as to whether or not there is Salvation Outside the Church because there are many different terms easily understood but interpreted through not only your lens but the lens of the people that lived in those times. If anything is hard to grasp is the context of the written articles and addressing what question. Fr. Sullivan recaps a lot of the writings as your read through the book so it is an easy read.
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