Dr. VanDrunen recently made the unremarkable assertion:
For many years, the Roman Catholic Church taught that people could enjoy eternal life and escape everlasting damnation only by being received into its membership. In recent generations, that teaching has changed. Rome now embraces a very inclusive view that extends the hope of salvation to people of many different religions or even no religion at all, provided they sincerely follow the truth and goodness that they know in their own experience.This is one of those statements that is obviously true. The point of the statement is that there has been a massive paradigm shift in Rome's external relations. Mr. Tom Brown, of the Roman communion blog, "Called to Communion," was bothered by this statement. What bothered Tom Brown, though, was not the obvious paradigm shift, but Dr. VanDrunen's statement characterizing Rome's teaching as having "changed."
"Change" in "Teaching" = Sky is Falling
You see, one of the things that some recent "converts" to Rome like to imagine is that Rome gives them certainty. You can't very well have certainty if Rome changes its teachings from time to time. So, comments like VanDrunen's are very much a fly in the ointment.
Salvation Outside the Church is compatible with No Salvation Outside the Church?
Tom Brown has a long row to hoe in order to persuade the reader that Rome's teaching hasn't changed. Dr. VanDrunen naturally cited the Council of Florence (1438), and that council states the matter fairly explicitly (bold added by me):
It firmly believes, professes, and proclaims that those not living within the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics cannot become participants in eternal life, but will depart “into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels” [Matt. 25:41], unless before the end of life the same have been added to the flock; and that the unity of the ecclesiastical body is so strong that only to those remaining in it are the sacraments of the Church of benefit for salvation, and do fastings, almsgiving, and other functions of piety and exercises of Christian service produce eternal reward, and that no one, whatever almsgiving he has practiced, even if he has shed blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has remained in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.(Cantate Domino (1441))
Vatican II on the other hand wrote:
For they who without their own fault do not know of the Gospel of Christ and His Church, but yet seek God with sincere heart, and try, under the influence of grace, to carry out His will in practice, known to them through the dictate of conscience, can attain eternal salvation.(Lumen Gentium, II, 16)
It seems that the only ways this contradiction could be clearer is if Vatican II had explicitly said "Cantate Domino was wrong," yet Mr. Brown tries to argue that the two positions are consistent.
But Mr. Brown's argument amounts to just asserting that Vatican II is consistent with a thread of historical dogma going back to Justin Martyr. Whether or not this is the case, it hardly makes the positions of Florence and Vatican II any less contradictory. Indeed, had Florence itself taught both positions, Florence would have been internally inconsistent.
Mr. Brown needs to demonstrate how someone being saved while not living and remaining within the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church is consistent with Florence. His appeal to Pius IX (identified for him by VanDrunen) is not compelling. Pius IX states (the bold, added by me, is the part that Mr. Brown quotes, whilst the normal print is the context he does not include):
7. Here, too, our beloved sons and venerable brothers, it is again necessary to mention and censure a very grave error entrapping some Catholics who believe that it is possible to arrive at eternal salvation although living in error and alienated from the true faith and Catholic unity. Such belief is certainly opposed to Catholic teaching. There are, of course, those who are struggling with invincible ignorance about our most holy religion. Sincerely observing the natural law and its precepts inscribed by God on all hearts and ready to obey God, they live honest lives and are able to attain eternal life by the efficacious virtue of divine light and grace. Because God knows, searches and clearly understands the minds, hearts, thoughts, and nature of all, his supreme kindness and clemency do not permit anyone at all who is not guilty of deliberate sin to suffer eternal punishments.(Quanto Conficiamur Moerore, 7-8 (1863))
8. Also well known is the Catholic teaching that no one can be saved outside the Catholic Church. Eternal salvation cannot be obtained by those who oppose the authority and statements of the same Church and are stubbornly separated from the unity of the Church and also from the successor of Peter, the Roman Pontiff, to whom "the custody of the vineyard has been committed by the Savior." The words of Christ are clear enough: "If he refuses to listen even to the Church, let him be to you a Gentile and a tax collector;" "He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you, rejects me, and he who rejects me, rejects him who sent me;" "He who does not believe will be condemned;" "He who does not believe is already condemned;" "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters." The Apostle Paul says that such persons are "perverted and self-condemned;" the Prince of the Apostles calls them "false teachers . . . who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master. . . bringing upon themselves swift destruction."
Tom Brown describes the bold part of that statement as "Here Blessed Pope Pius IX simply and skillfully articulates these two Catholic beliefs ... ." Perhaps the statement is simple and skillful, but it does not resolve the conflict between Florence and Vatican II.
It is interesting to note how Pius IX suddenly finds Scripture to be perspicuous when it comes to the authority of the church and the result of rejecting that authority. Nevertheless, Pius IX has staked out a position different from that of Florence. Florence enunciates a position that being within the fold of the church is necessary. Pius IX suggests that rejecting church authority is lethal. However, Pius IX finds room for people who don't embrace unity with the church.
While Tom Brown's line of argument that argues that there is a long history of teachings that there can be salvation outside the church is not a meaningful answer to the problem of the conflict between Florence and Vatican II, he does pose an interesting comment:
As explained by St. Augustine and maintained through to the present by the Catholic Church, unbaptized martyrs who shed their blood for the sake of Christ are saved nonetheless, receiving the fruits of Baptism. Baptism of blood is an extraordinary method of fulfilling the soteriological prerequisite of being ‘inside the Church’ when Baptism is impossible.Mr. Brown, however, does not explain how this alleged teaching of Augustine is consistent with "no one, whatever almsgiving he has practiced, even if he has shed blood for the name of Christ, can be saved, unless he has remained in the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church." That reference to shedding blood for the name of Christ appears on its face to be a reference to undergoing martyrdom.
Does Mr. Brown resolve this further apparent conflict that he has introduced? No, he does not. Instead he jumps on to the issue of baptism of desire. Of course, baptism of desire (whether or not it conflicts with Florence - and it certainly appears to) is not what Vatican II is talking about. In Vatican II, the person does not know about the church.
Mr. Brown raises the point that Trent endorsed baptism by desire. He quotes Trent as saying (bold added by me):
This translation [from the state of birth to the state of Grace] however cannot, since promulgation of the Gospel, be effected except through the washing of regeneration or its desire, as it is written: Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.(See, Council of Trent, Session 6, Chapter 4)
False Accusation of Ambiguity
Mr. Brown argues as follows:
For VanDrunen, Catholic doctrine “has indeed changed,” and he believes this change refutes modern Catholic appeals to the “unchanging character” of the Catholic Church. The fallacy of his logic is in his amphibolous use of the term ‘change.’ By using the term ‘change’ ambiguously, VanDrunen leads the reader to the false conclusion that the Catholic Church has contradicted herself.Mr. Brown has not established that there is harmony between Florence and Vatican II. The former says that there is no salvation outside the church, the latter says there is. Moreover, Mr. Brown has not established that VanDrunen has used the term "change" in an ambiguous way. So, Mr. Brown has not harmonized the councils, nor has he shown any error in VanDrunen's account.
Mr. Brown sets forth a sort of development hypothesis on this point:
However, by distinguishing between change as organic development and change as contradicting what was previously held, the conclusion that the Catholic Church has contradicted herself no longer follows. In other words, if Catholic doctrine has changed by developing, this change does not lead to the conclusion that the Vatican II teaching (regarding the possibility of salvation for those not in full communion with the Church) contradicts what was previously held.The problem is that Vatican II does contradict Florence. It is not merely a problem that Rome's doctrine has changed (which it certainly has) but that it is has changed from "no salvation outside the church" to "salvation outside the church."
Mr. Brown continues:
This notion that Christian doctrines have developed should be no surprise. Major theological and religious doctrines have developed, such as the Trinity, the nature and canon of Sacred Scripture, or the two natures of Christ.The canon of Scripture is not a doctrine per se, though Rome has made acceptance of a particular erroneous canon a matter of faith. The canon changed because God inspired more books. There have been different periods of recognition of the canon, but that issue of canon recognition is not a doctrinal development.
The discussion of the Trinity and the two natures of Christ has greatly increased over the years, but the doctrines themselves have not changed. The Scriptures themselves teach the doctrines of the Trinity and the two natures of Christ.
Mr. Brown continues:
While Reformed believers implicitly accept the notion of doctrinal development in those instances, they reject modern developments out of hand. But this acceptance of primitive developments while rejecting modern developments is ad hoc. There is no principled reason to accept development of Trinitarian doctrine while simultaneously denying the possibility of development on extra Ecclesiam after centuries of careful study and reflection.Up front, Mr. Brown is wrong. We don't explicitly or implicitly accept the idea that there has been "doctrinal development" in the sense that we now hold to things that our forefathers in the faith didn't. We may use technical terms we didn't before (like the term "trinity") but the doctrines are the same.
Moreover, there's a severe non-analogy between the doctrine of the Trinity developing a technical vocabulary and Rome's position changing from "no salvation outside the church" to "some salvation outside the church." There's simply no reasonable comparison between the two.
We don't agree with Nicaea, for example, because Nicaea said it, just as we don't disagree with Ariminum because they said it. Instead, we agree with the former and not the latter because the former teaches what Scripture teaches. The Word of God is our ultimate standard, not the traditions of men.
A Strange Conclusion
Mr. Brown concludes with: "The authoritative teachings of the Catholic Church are not contradictory on this matter, but carefully elucidate Sacred Scripture and our understanding of God’s mercy and justice." Carefully elucidate? Scripture is briefly cited in a few of Mr. Brown's quotations, but hardly elucidated. What Scripture does the error of invincible ignorance "elucidate"? One couldn't know either from the documents themselves or from Mr. Brown's paper.
In short, Mr. Brown's conclusion, like most of the rest of his paper, should be rejected. Dr. VanDrunen was right to point out the paradigm shift between Florence and Vatican II, and Dr. VanDrunen is right to describe that as a "change" in teaching, even though Vatican II lacks the same authority as Florence (since there were no dogmatic definitions in Vatican II).
It is surprising, indeed, that Mr. Brown did not attempt to evade the problem of change by simply appealing to the fact that Vatican II does not claim to be an infallible document. Instead, Mr. Brown falsely charged Dr. VanDrunen with fallacy and ambiguity, when Dr. VanDrunen simply provided an accurate historical assessment.
UPDATE: It seems there is no intuitive way to find Dr. VanDrunen's original article. Here is a link that Steve Hays provided recently on Triablogue (link).