One of the marks that Catholic teaching is trustworthy is that it is in many respect so reasonable, much more reasonable than certain brands of protestantism. One point in particular is the notion of invincible ignorance – the idea that if one does not (and could not) know better, one is not guilty of sins committed in ignorance. Supposing a person has done all that is reasonably expected to know the truth, as his or her circumstances permit or require, one is not to be blamed for any ignorance that remains, or any evil deed that he/she did based on that ignorance. This seems an especially reasonable position, and clearly we use it all the time in daily life.
It is my understanding that in Catholic thought, the principle of invincible ignorance is the basis for the teaching that non-Catholics (and even non-Christians) can be saved. True, there is no salvation apart from Christ, but God is not limited to work only and always through the hierarchical, visible Church. To those who have never had the Gospel preached in its fullness, nor had an opportunity to receive the Sacraments, such people may be saved insofar as they accept whatever “Revelation of God” (which is Who Christ is) that they did receive. For a lot of people (pagans), this will take the form of the Natural Law written on every human heart – if they have accepted this reveleation (of Christ), and lived that acceptance (however confusedly it was available to them) God will judge them, in his mercy, accordingly. Such inchoate “faith” is know to God alone, and he alone judges justly.
This seems much more human and reasonable than those protestants who insist that only those who explicitly accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior will have their sins forgiven and saved by God. All others who fail to explicitly accept Christ (through ignorance or malice) are not saved, but damned.
The Catholic Church can and does say consistently that she has the fulness of the Gospel, but non-Catholic Christians can and do know Christ, can and do find salvation, and even non-Christians can be saved. My problem, though, is that this seems to have the practical effect of people looking at the denomination they (or others) belong to as a matter of personal taste. If they are Catholic (especially if they were raise such) and they know other genuinely good Christians who really do have a strong relationship with the Lord, many such people will say that being Catholic suites them, and they would not be comfortable in a Lutheran or Baptist church. Effectively, they are Catholic for aesthetic reasons.
Moreover, the fact that salvation is possible in other denominations makes it hard to make the case for why someone should become Catholic. Why should Joe Methodist accept the Sacrament of Reconciliation when even the Catholic Church seems to say that mortal sins (of Methodists, at least) can be forgiven without it. I believe that the Catholic Church is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church Christ founded (on Peter) against which hell would not prevail, and there can be lots of historical arguments marshaled to show that truth. But a lot of Catholics are somewhat skeptical about historical arguments, and are not so moved by Truth to actually research the arguments. Pretty much any Christian church is ‘true enough’ for God’s work. And, according to the Church’s own teaching, it doesn’t seem to matter – ultimately. Non-Catholics can be saved, too.
Has anyone confronted this problem? If so, what real, practical response would be appropriate? Am I missing something?