I think that most ordinary people find themselves twisted and wrestled to the mat in a pretzel of mental dead-lock when so called “experts” try to knit together and juxtapose multiple instances of indefinite religious concepts with the crude bale wire of absolute “definate” semantics (e.g. “ONLY” juxtaposed with the words “may” and “could”). It’s as if some theologians are trying to simultaneously be dogmatic with traditional clear crisp boundaries at the same time they want to permit the fuzziness of subjective uncertainty (that is reserved for God alone) by using a thick crayola. And here I think most want to see those thick lines as boundaries so wide that most people (within 2 sigmas of the population) can easily hide and camp out here. Thus these kinds of “answers” just let people feel comfortable living right on the edge of the frontier with a plausible hope (which may be nothing more than pandering) that they fall solidly within in bounds of those big fat boundary lines. We all need hope - but the stakes are eternal so we should error on the side of caution and tighten up the lines.
So, to me these sorts of explanations all sound schizophrenic, and I think dangerously so relative to the stakes of eternity. It just panders to the traditional secular human proclivity to embrace mediocrity “as good enough for Government work (and in a secular world that means for God too)”. How can the theology bemoan moral relativism while at the same time saying there are no absolutes or at least crisper boundaries in the interpretation of the catechism? I note here as an aside the irony that most world population densities tend to cluster in the same manner as I describe here - around the boundaries and edges near the natural shore lines. With a majority living so “close to the edge” both in their Christian beliefs and in their lives all it would take is a large global tidal surge of misfortune (or wrath) to take out a majority of the human species.
So I sometimes wonder if there is some hidden benevolence intentioned in this kind of lexical spaghetti complained about in the OP? I really sort of wonder is it purposely concocted to manufacture a condition of convenient “invincible ignorance” for the masses just so they “may” be saved. I always suspected that behind Luther was the same intended benevolent genius to give the common man the bible he could not even read and the single teaching “no Pope but by faith ALONE” (and the whispered part “… so ye shall be invincibly ignorant and thereby gain salvation the easy way”). :rolleyes: Teachers have a a moral responsibility to be ever on guard against the principal of unintentional consequences - even when having benevolent motives.
*Quite frankly I tend to agree with the OP. I don’t like the negation used here by CA to re-express the original church teaching since I think it obscures the more apparent “indefinite” texture in the catechism. Here we have the word “only” in the front matter. The lazy reader is going to gloss over the distant word “could” and the hidden assumption that the invincibly ignorant person is also NOT immune to the other more likely case of being in mortal sins (laws written on the heart) that he has likely committed and born all his life. :shrug: *
Sorry, if an invincibly ignorant cannibal who found my my Catholic missionary work distasteful decided to literally have me for lunch then I insist he at least get heart burn out of the exchange for landing me in hell for being an incompetent teacher and his going to heaven for being stupid and having poor taste.
Here I would like to inject an counter-example to make a point:
“Those who receive a dose of nuclear radiation from the war we are currently engaged in MAY die ONLY if you know its a fatal dose. Forget for the moment those already dead and buried who are immune from this rule and the fallout that is presently all around us and the others here all dieing of deadly diseases.”
I think the clearest way to express the concept at hand it is to put emphasis on the much higher UNCERTAINTY of survival (salvation) for those who do not know they need to wear a life preserver and shark repellent when swimming in deep and shark infested waters away from other help.
Too many people probably tend to equate the word “may” in the Catechism and the CA answer too generously or as if being giving permission to do a dubious thing or else in the most probable and positive expectation. But it is safer and I think more responsible to interpret it in the narrower indefinite sense (and probably much smaller) “possibility”. It is certainly possible to win the lotto at a 1 in 200 million chance - but chances are quite slim indeed that you will - but God is merciful and he knows I’d build him a new church if I did win.
I really think The Church should put more compelling verbiage around this teaching to prevent people sitting on the fence thinking about Catholicism from simultaneously embracing “invincible ignorance” as a faux touch-stone for the Christian virtue of meekness and humility and also as a fetish or relic for salvation.
I think a more compelling message that should get people off the fence and to be less wishy washy would be to say something like:
“Those who through ABSOLUTELY no fault of their own who in this modern day of mass communication and plentiful information about God, Jesus and The One True Catholic Church who are invincibly ignorant (in particular the mentally impaired, poorly educated or easily duped) and who serve God to the BEST of their ability according to the light that they have MAY possibly achieve salvation according to how God elects to measure and appoint His Mercy.”*
I say, ‘let’s get people off the fences and out from hiding behind “good enough for me then good enough for God” thinking…’