Is it possible for God to save persons who have never heard the proclamation of the Gospel and who have never been baptized? I remember when, as a high school student, I read the impeccably orthodox CS Lewis answer this question in the affirmative, I was scandalized. Only Later did I come to realize that, here and elsewhere, Lewis was consistent with ancient and historical precedent in his thinking. For, as de Lubac shows, the fathers of the church also answered in the affirmative:
“[The Son can be] the salvation of those who are … outside the way.” … “The invisible presence of the Logos has spread everywhere. Through him, everything is under the influence of the redemptive economy, and the Son of God … has traced the sign of the cross on everything.” – St. Ireneaus
“The divine Sun of Justice shines on all and for all.” – Sts. Cyprian, Hilary, and Ambrose.
“Grace is diffused everywhere, and there is no soul that cannot feel its attraction.” – St. John Chrysostom
“Christ is so powerful that, although invisible because of his divinity, he is present to every person and extends over the whole universe.” – Origen
With Origen here, Sts. Jerome and Cyril of Alexandria “refuse to assert that any man is born without Christ.”
St. Augustine taught that “divine mercy was always at work among all peoples, and even the pagans have had their hidden saints and their prophets.”
This, then, poses a problem (217-222). Given all theses quotations from the church fathers why does the church still teach in her doctrine that she is necessary for salvation? In other words, given the consensus among catholic theologians today that God can and perhaps does save individual human persons who are outside of the reach of the church, in what sense, then, is the church (and her continual expansion) necessary? If so, in what sense?
De Lubac provides us with his solution, as always, relying on the Fathers, as follows:
1. The human race is one: members get their life from the body. (222-226)
2. While individual persons outside the cultural expansion of the church might somehow attain salvation, nevertheless other religions always fall short, and hence are ultimately not successful: while “the precise situation [of individual souls] in relation to the Kingdom is never known save to God alone, nevertheless the “objective systems” of other religions do show us that “there is something missing from every religious invention that is not a following of Christ.:” Budhist charity is not Christian charity, and Hindy mysticism is not the mysticism of St. John of the Cross.
3. Our (human persons) cooperation is necessary in (our) redemption (just like in creation). (226-227)
4. Like any other organism, to grow is of the very nature of the church. (227ff)
De Lubac concludes by discussing “the obligation to enter the Church and the responsibilities of the Christian.”