“There is no salvation outside of the Church.” This statement is famous, delivered in the third century by Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, and is not always correctly interpreted. Many Christians in the past have made the mistake of identifying the kingdom of God with the ecclesial institution to which they belonged. They flaunted arrogant certainties, cultivated prejudices against other religions and called the others impure and far. In the most abhorrent cases they also resorted to force to coerce others to conversion and baptism.
Israel understood that the Lord tied his heart to persons and took care of his people, yet she imagined him also ready to punish “the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation” (Ex 34:7). He contemplated the work of his hands, but he had not yet seen his face of Emmanuel—God with us—and, above all, had not yet discovered his heart.