As the first full-length study of this topic since Vatican II, the book discusses crucial foundational issues - the understanding of 'atheist' in Catholic theology; the developing views on both unbelief, and the salvation of non-Christians, in the decades preceding the Council - before tackling the conciliar teaching itself. Considerable attention is then given to the classic solution of imputing an 'implicit' faith to righteous atheists, best known from Karl Rahner's theory of 'anonymous Christians' (though the basic idea was advocated by many other major figures, including Ratzinger, Schillebeeckx, de Lubac, Balthasar, and Kung). After discussing Rahner's specific proposals in detail, this kind of approach is however shown to be untenable. In its place, a new way of understanding Vatican II's optimism for atheists is developed in detail, in light of scripture, tradition, and magisterium. This draws principally on Christ's descent into Hell, a renewed understanding of invincible ignorance, and a literal interpretation of Matthew 25.
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