Novak (novak) wrote,

Theological Notebook: A New Article From Sullivan on Salvation Questions

He keeps going, and going, and going.... I see that my revered dissertation subject, Francis A. Sullivan, S.J., kicks off this year's first issue of Theological Studies with an article entitled "The Development of the Doctrine about Infants Who Die Unbaptized." Not bad for a scholar soon to turn 89. I suspect that this is a spin-off of the research he did for his 1992 book Salvation Outside The Church? Tracing the History of the Catholic Response. I have found that reading that text of Sullivan's has paid off repeatedly in my teaching over the last few years, as it did just last week, when the topic was once again brought up by a student in my Catholicism class. The history of the Catholic consideration of the question is far more recent than I would have suspected (it really wasn't a question that was considered in any great depth until the discovery of the Americas), and it is useful to be able to point students to that specific text and research when the question comes up.

The potentially salvific value of other faiths is kind of a hot topic among students these days: the sort of detailed question they want to ask with regard to Christian/Catholic understanding of other religions. The automatic assumption with undergrads still tends toward the idea that Christianity dismisses every path but its own, which offends the sense of justice they have. The raw impulse is one toward peaceful tolerance, which is all to the good, of course, but it's ultimately inadequate in the form it usually comes in, which is far more intolerant, in the end, than the sort of exclusivism they fear. This sense of a need for justice in God's judgment (and it's an unrecognized and kind of funny side of modernity/postmodernity that the assumption is that it is God who is likely to be unjust, not themselves) is augmented by the naive relativism which most students have learned from their culture, with its uncritical belief that all philosophies, religions, and/or metaphysical paths must be equal, because, well, non-equality would be unfair. Why reality and truth should be particular and non-egalitarian in every respect in all other sciences except those having to do with philosophy or religion (and especially their ethical dimensions) – well, most have yet to even think of that question. They are utterly comfortable and adamant about the particularity of the physical sciences and related technologies, where physics does not seem in the least bit concerned that all answers and methods be equally true so that no one feels wrong, but in matters of meaning, the rules all suddenly change, with very few students ever seeming to note the inconsistency.

The Catholic position in Vatican II's Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions, still more-or-less riffing on what you see from Paul in his Letter to the Romans, or in the gist of his speech in Athens as recorded in The Acts of the Apostles, seems to me far more nuanced in balance between a dedication to truth and to love, than the subtle cultural violence of the Secularist Westerner who tries to mash all religions and philosophies into one equal path in the name of a so-called tolerance, which doesn't allow any other system of belief the dignity of being itself where it disagrees with others.
Tags: books, class-catholicism, ethical, francis a. sullivan s.j., interreligious, jesuits, paul, philosophical, second vatican council, secularism/modernity, students, theological notebook

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