I've come across a sentence in God is not Great by Christopher Hitchens and don't understand what older faith means here.

"Extra ecclesiam, nulla salus," as the older faith used to say. “Within the revolution anything,” as Fidel Castro was fond of remarking. “Outside the revolution—nothing.”

I don't understand why Hitchens has chosen to use the comparative form of the adjective here. It is the opening sentence of a passage and I didn't add the preceding one because it is both too long and has no mention of any other religion than Christanity.

Thank you.

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    Christianity has many varieties, and most of those have changed quite a bit over the centuries. – jamesqf Jul 5 '15 at 18:18
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    I suspect the implication is that communism too is a faith, a religion, and so also subject to Hitch's condemnation. It is the newer, and Catholicism is the older. – Brian Donovan Jul 5 '15 at 18:24
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    Extra ecclesiam nulla salus is especially associated with Catholicism, which I have seen referred to as the ‘older faith/church/religion/belief’ as opposed to Protestantism, the ‘younger’ one. Not sure without knowing anything more about the book or the author whether that’s what he’s intending here, but it’s at least a possibility. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 5 '15 at 18:27
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    When he wasn't drunk (and to a considerable extent, even when he was drunk, which seems to have been most of the time) Hitchens was pretty careful about his exact phrasing. My guess is he'd lean towards older because he strongly believed all faith organisations to be "old, primitive, outdated". So if he had to draw a chronological distinction, he'd rather talk about old, older than old, new. – FumbleFingers Jul 5 '15 at 18:59
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it belongs on another site in the Stack Exchange network (history, or religion). – Edwin Ashworth Jul 5 '15 at 22:14

In his use of the phrase “as the older faith used to say,” I believe that Hitchens is referencing not merely the Catholic Church, but the Catholic Church as it existed prior to the Second Vatican Council. At Vatican II, on November 21, 1964 Pope Paul VI promulgated the Lumen Gentium, as a result of which the traditional dogma of salvation significantly expanded to include Christian denominations other than Catholic, and even extended to non-Christians (e.g., Protestants, Evangelicals, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc., etc.), all of whom had been previously excluded under the older, pre-Vatican II interpretation of "Extra ecclesiam, nulla salus."

Hitchens cleverly contrasts that older faith with Communism (but avoids naming it), subtly making the ironic point that although it explicitly disavowed religion, many astute observers considered Communism a modern, secular (or, Godless) “faith,” one far younger than Catholic Christianity, or any other faith, for that matter. (Wikipedia, Second Vatican Council)

Hitchens cunningly uses the comparative form of the adjective “older” as misdirection, encouraging the reader to assume that by “older faith,” he intends only a comparison between Catholic Christianity and Communism.

Hitchens linguistic legerdemain is revealed however in the next three words, “used to say.” Those three words brought me up short. A moment later I realized that the author intended to convey two different meanings. The first, so readily apparent I was lulled into a false sense of certainty (older faith = Catholicism / less old faith = Communism). The second, occurring slowly, time-released, remaining covert and only implied (used to say = the meaning of Extra ecclesiam, nulla salus prior to Vatican II).

By using the comparative adjective “older” rather than “old,” Hitchens levels a critique not merely at Communism, but also at that other young faith -- the modern, post-Vatican II, Catholic Church.

  • Thank you very much for your time. That's really a comprehensive answer. I think, thanks to you I have nearly full insight to the topic. – A.K. Jul 6 '15 at 8:08
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    A.K. - you've asked several questions about Hitchens' writing and I’ve responded to at least one of them, however, having heard but never actually read him, I was unable to appreciate Hitchens’ talent. I now have that appreciation. In fact, I purchased God is not Great shortly after submitting this answer. The paragraph which is the subject of this OP, is brilliantly conceived and elegantly executed. – user98990 Jul 6 '15 at 20:00
  • You're right. All my questions are about god is not Great because I'm working on it. Actually, though having been reading and searching in for a long time, I must admit that I've signed up this this site for Hitchens. And you've given me some of the finest answers. Thank you very much :) – A.K. Jul 9 '15 at 4:18
  • You are, of course, welcome, A.K.. BTW, if you find my answer (which remains the only answer) to that earlier Hitchens question, satisfactory, why not officially select it? – user98990 Jul 9 '15 at 4:26
  • Do you mean the question "In any but the most vestigial and nostalgic way"? I always take care to thank everyone and select the best answers and rate all the answers but sometimes I just have so much work to do and unfortunately am forced to just read the answers and return to work. I've now selected your answer to that question as the best answer just like I've selected this one ;) – A.K. Jul 9 '15 at 5:15

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