The heresy that non-Catholics can be saved by “invincible ignorance” wasn’t really a problem before the year 1800, since the teaching of Catholic Tradition that no one can be saved who is ignorant of the Gospel was quite clear and maintained by most. But thanks to the growing modernism in the 1850’s, combined with the liberals’ hijacking of Pope Pius IX’s weak statements, the heretical theory of salvation for the invincibly ignorant exploded and became the belief of many priests in the latter half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. This has culminated in our situation today, in which almost 100% of people who claim to be “Catholics” (and even “traditional Catholics”) believe that Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Protestants, etc. can be saved. We can thank the heretical idea of salvation for the “invincibly ignorant” for this, but there will be much more on this later in the document. Heresy and modernism were so widespread even at the time of the First Vatican Council in 1870, that St. Anthony Mary Claret, the only canonized saint at the Council, had a stroke because of the heresies that were being promoted. None of these heresies, of course, did God permit to be included in the decrees of Vatican I.
The fact is that all cultures are demonic and under the dominion of the Devil until they are evangelized. This is the incontrovertible teaching of Tradition and Scripture.
Fr. Francisco de Vitoria, O.P., a famous 16th century Dominican theologian, summed up the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church on this topic very well. Here is how he put it:
“When we postulate invincible ignorance on the subject of baptism or of the Christian faith, it does not follow that a person can be saved without baptism or the Christian faith. For the aborigines to whom no preaching of the faith or Christian religion has come will be damned for mortal sins or for idolatry, but not for the sin of unbelief. As St. Thomas says, however, if they do what in them lies [in their power], accompanied by a good life according to the law of nature, it is consistent with God’s providence that he will illuminate them regarding the name of Christ.”
All the people who die in cultures which have never been penetrated by the Gospel go to Hell for sins against the natural law and the other grave sins which they commit – which bad will and failure to cooperate with God’s grace is the reason He does not reveal the Gospel to them. The First Vatican Council defined infallibly, based on Romans 1, that the one true God can be known with certitude by the things which have been made, and by the natural light of human reason.
St. Paul, Romans 1:18-20: “For the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and injustice of those men that detain the truth of God in injustice: Because that which is known of God is manifest in them. For God hath manifested it to them. For the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; his eternal power also, and divinity: so that they are inexcusable.”
Everyone can know with certainty that there is a supreme spiritual being, Who is the One True God and the Creator of the world and all that it contains. Everyone knows that God is not something that they have carved out of wood or jade or stone. They know that God is not the tree that they worship or the river they worship or the rock or the snake or the sacred tree frog. They know that these things aren’t the Creator of the universe. Every such person knows that he is worshipping a creature rather than the Creator. They are, as St. Paul says in verse 20, without excuse. St. Augustine explains this well in reference to persons who died ignorant of the Faith and without baptism.
St. Augustine (+428): “… God foreknew that if they had lived and the gospel had been preached to them, they would have heard it without belief.”
And if somebody accepted the truth, if he were intellectually honest enough to say, “God, this piece of wood can’t be You, reveal Yourself to me,” then God would send an angel, if necessary, as He sent an angel to Cornelius in Acts chapter 10; and He would follow it up with a missionary who would bring the good news and the Sacrament of Baptism.
John 18:37: “For this was I born, and for this came I into the world, that I should give testimony to the truth: every one who is of the truth, heareth my voice.”
Pope Pius XI, Quas Primas (# 15), Dec. 11, 1925 : “Indeed this kingdom is presented in the Gospels as such, into which men prepare to enter by doing penance; moreover, they cannot enter it except through faith and baptism, which, although an external rite, yet signifies and effects an interior regeneration.”
St. Augustine (+426): “Consequently both those who have not heard the gospel and those who, having heard it, and having been changed for the better, did not receive perseverance… none of these are separated from that lump which is known to be damned, as all are going… into condemnation.”
St. Prosper of Aquitane (+450): “Certainly God’s manifold and indescribable goodness, as we have abundantly proved, always provided and does yet provide for the totality of mankind, so that none of those perishing can plead the excuse that he was excluded from the light of truth…”
Romans 8:29-30- “For whom He foreknew, he also predestinated to be made conformable to the image of his Son: that he might be the first-born amongst many brethren. And whom he predestinated, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.”
Acts 13:48- “And the Gentiles hearing it, were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were preordained to life everlasting, believed.”
As Catholics, of course, we don’t believe as the heretic John Calvin, who held a predestination according to which no matter what one does he is either predestined for heaven or hell. That is a wicked heresy. Rather, as Catholics we believe in the true understanding of predestination, which is expressed by Romans 8, Acts 13 and the fathers and saints quoted already. This true understanding of predestination simply means that God’s foreknowledge from all eternity makes sure that those who are of good will and are sincere will be brought to the Catholic Faith and come to know what they must – and that all those who are not brought to the Catholic Faith and don’t know what they must simply were not among the elect.
 De Indis et de Iure Belli Relectiones, ed. E. Nys, tr. J.P. Bates (The Classics of International Law), Washington, 1917, p. 142. Quoted by Francis A. Sullivan, Salvation Outside the Church?, Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1992, p. 70.
 Denzinger 1806.
 Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 3: 1997.
 Denzinger 2195; The Papal Encyclicals, Vol. 3 (1903-1939), p. 274.
 Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 3: 1946.
 Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 3: 2047.
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