Ralph MARTIN. Will Many Be Saved? What Vatican II Actually Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2012. 316pp. $24.00 pb. ISBN-13: 978-0-8028-6887-9.
Reviewed by Eric W. HENDRY, Plano, TX 75026-0346

With the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, publishers have renewed interest in commentaries on the implementation of the Council’s sixteen documents. Martin, currently a consultor to the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, attempts to analyze several conciliar documents through the lens of salvation and evangelization. His recent text, which happens to carry the endorsement of several Cardinals, is a reworking of his S.T.D. dissertation.

Chapter one attempts to analyze what John XXIII had in mind, when he called not only for a Council but, more importantly, an aggiornamento. From Martin’s perspective, the Council was tasked to enable the church to communicate more effectively as it sought to improve its missionary efforts and its focus on individual and cultural evangelization. The author suggests that the subsequent decisions of both Paul VI and John Paul II to then issue encyclicals on evangelization, indicates that the post-conciliar church had lost its ultimate sense of purpose and direction; Martin believes that the Catholic Church entered a period of “doctrinal ignorance or confusion” as a result of well-received theologies which articulated the possibility of salvation outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church. He is convinced that an unintended yet inexcusable crisis quickly arose within institutional Catholicism.

In chapter two, the author presents his analysis of Lumen gentium 16, with brief references to similar conciliar statements in Ad gentes divinitus 7 and Gaudium et spes 22. Here, Martin is interpreting LG 16 from within its wider context (articles 13-17), with only limited analysis of the conciliar view toward world religions, yet boldly suggesting that the bulk of LG 16 is only properly understood within the traditional missionary framework implied in its very last sentence: “Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, ‘Preach the Gospel to every creature’ (Mark 16:16), the Church fosters the missions with care and attention.” Martin will contend that the Council went too far in accommodating those outside of the Catholic Church.

In chapter three, he traces the doctrinal development of Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus throughout Catholic Church tradition, and it’s eventual although rather uncontroversial abandonment by the nearly unanimous global body of Catholic bishops and periti assembled in the Council. His discussion of the developmental trajectory from the original preparatory schema De ecclesia to the approved wording of LG 16 is particularly interesting, as is his brief treatment of salvation optimism. His articulation as to what constitutes “truly culpable” and “inculpable ignorance,” however, reads somewhat awkwardly. Martin then steps backward in his fourth chapter, to discuss the footnoted biblical texts referenced to in LG 16 (Romans 1-3; Mark 16:14-16), and relies heavily upon the exegetical analysis and commentaries of other scholars. By placing his New Testament analysis after his first three chapters on the doctrine and developments leading up to LG 16, the author seems to be looking for biblical proof-texts to reassert the weight of the traditional argument for Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus.

In chapter five, Martin begins a seemingly pessimistic assessment of Karl Rahner’s contributions at the Council, and specifically his concept of the “anonymous Christian.” Chapter six then contains a tedious and similarly negative analysis of Hans Urs von Balthasar, and an exhaustive criticism of the former Jesuit’s lifelong fascination with the Greek concept of apokatastasis. In Martin’s critique of both Rahner and Balthasar, he relies heavily upon the previous criticism of several notable and not-so-notable scholars. Finally, it is only in the first sentence of Martin’s seventh and final chapter – a chapter containing his critical assessment of the pastoral strategy of John XXIII – that we find Martin’s motivation and purpose for writing: “This book has been concerned with addressing a certain ‘atmosphere of universalism’ in the Church that undermines motivation for evangelization.”

In this respect, I would suggest that the title of Martin’s book is somewhat inaccurate, as only seventeen pages actually address what Vatican II formally taught. Essentially, this text is a circuitous critique of a Christian universalism which, the author suggests, the Second Vatican Council inadvertently ushered into the heart of the Catholic Church. Martin argues that the wide embrace of such universalism has resulted in a continuing obfuscation of the very reason for Catholic missionary activity and, according to him, would necessitate the re-evangelization of individuals and entire cultures.


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