SALVATION OUTSIDE THE CHURCH?

Rev. Peter M. J. Stravinskas Our Sunday Visitor, 2002 170 pages, $10.95 To order: 800-348-2440 or http://www.osv.com

“I grew up in a ‘Catholic ghetto’ of the 1950s and ‘60s,” writes Father Peter Stravinskas. “I did not have a non-Catholic friend until seventh grade.” So begins his book about the classic — and controversial — phrase, Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus (outside the Church, no salvation").

Father Stravinskas is no longer a stranger to non-Catholics; today he is one of the finest apologists and ecumenists working and writing in the United States. His staunch Catholic upbringing, he suggests, prepared him for the difficult work of ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, since “confidence breeds openness.” It is a refreshing point of view, free from the mushy thinking that too often informs such endeavors.

Salvation Outside the Church? is meant for a learned but popular audience and is well suited for undergraduate work or an RCIA program. It opens with a theological analysis of the Church's teaching on salvation, provides an excellent overview of ecumenical history and then examines nine key Church documents, including the Second Vatican Council's Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio), Pope John Paul II's Encyclical on Commitment to Ecumenism (Ut Unim Sint) and the more recent document — widely criticized and wildly misunderstood — Dominus Iesus, which declares the “unicity and salvific universality of Jesus Christ and the Church.” There is also a chapter on anti-Semitism and the Christian Bible, in which Father Stravinskas mounts a point-by-point response to propositions about the New Testament put forth by the Jewish-French historian Jules Isaac.

Father Stravinskas writes with great conciseness and clarity, and he is not afraid to address difficult or controversial points — which he does with firmness and charity. He believes deeply in “the unicity of Jesus Christ; the uniqueness of the Catholic Church as the sacrament of salvation; and the importance of rejoicing in the truth wherever it is found and in whatever degree it is found,” and these beliefs result in a work of true ecumenism, dedicated to honest dialogue and truth-seeking.

For 2,000 years the Church has grappled with difficult and interrelated questions about the possibility of salvation for those outside her visible communion and those who have never heard the Gospel. Father Stravinkas shows that the Church, the “universal sacrament of salvation,” is not optional — but there are varying “degrees” of relationship one can have to the Church, even outside her visible boundaries. In the words of St. Augustine: “Many who appear to be without are within, while many who appear to be within are without.”

Recognizing that many Catholics embrace the false notion that all religions are equal and that Catholicism is just one option among many, Father Stravinskas includes the entire text of Dominus Iesus. He writes, “I cannot recall any other ecclesiastical text to raise such a brouhaha” since Humanae Vitae in 1968. All the fuss tended to ignore that the document said nothing that hadn't already stated by the Church and that the vast majority of the document represented material from Vatican II. It provided, once again, consistent evidence that the Catholic Church continues “affirming the same two basic doctrines … : the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and the necessity of the Church.”

As this helpful book shows, conviction leads to evangelization and confidence leads to true ecumenism — vital truths necessary for the hard work of proclaiming the Gospel.

Carl Olson, editor of Envoy magazine, writes from Heath, Ohio.