Catechisms are not infallible documents. They are normative teaching - a mixture of infallible and non-infallible theology. There may be theological tendencies of the age that can influence a catechism. For example Limbo of Infants was a common teaching in most catechisms around the whole world for many years but in the 20th century many theologians turned against this teaching (We think unwisely- see Limbo)
Some catechisms have even contain heresies like the nicknamed "Catechism of St. Pius X" . It said in question under section "The Ninth Article of the Creed-
The Church in Particular"
#29 Q. But if a man through no fault of his own is outside the Church, can he be saved?
A. If he is outside the Church through no fault of his, that is, if he is in good faith, and if he has received Baptism, or at least has the implicit desire of Baptism; and if, moreover, he sincerely seeks the truth and does God's will as best he can such a man is indeed separated from the body of the Church, but is united to the soul of the Church and consequently is on the way of salvation.
See the division of belonging to the Church's body or soul.This division is repeated in section "Those Outside the Communion of Saints" #10,#22, that people can belong to the "soul" of the Church but without being part of the body and be Catholic, i.e. without Sacramental Baptism. (also see BoD/BoB) This theory was condemned by Leo XIII in the encyclical "Satis Cognitum".
Pope Leo XIII, Satis Cognitum (# 3), June 29, 1896: “For this reason the Church is so often called in Holy Writ a body, and even the body of Christ… From this it follows that those who arbitrarily conjure up and picture to themselves a hidden and invisible Church are in grievous and pernicious error... It is assuredly impossible that the Church of Jesus Christ can be the one or the other, as that man should be a body alone or a soul alone. The connection and union of both elements is as absolutely necessary to the true Church as the intimate union of the soul and body is to human nature. The Church is not something dead: it is the body of Christ endowed with supernatural life.”
Pope Pius XI, Mortalium Animos (# 10), Jan. 6, 1928: “For since the mystical body of Christ, in the same manner as His physical body, is one, compacted and fitly joined together, it were foolish and out of place to say that the mystical body is made up of members which are disunited and scattered abroad: whosoever therefore is not united with the body is no member of it, neither is he in communion with Christ its head.”
This heresy continues even up to today by many defending Baptism of Desire. They will quote #29 the Catechism of St. Pius X as if it is an infallible document.
Support for the fact that catechisms are not infallible, even one printed for the entire Church universal, is well explained in the introduction to the Catechism of the Council of Trent by Fathers John A. McHugh, O.P. and Charles J. Callan, O.P. They wrote the introduction for a common English translation of the Catechism of the Council of Trent. Their introduction contains the following interesting quote from Dr. John Hagan, Rector of the Irish College in Rome, about the Catechism’s authority.
Catechism of the Council of Trent- Fifteenth printing, TAN Books, Introduction XXXVI:
“Official documents have occasionally been issued by Popes to explain certain points of Catholic teaching to individuals, or to local Christian communities; whereas the Roman Catechism comprises practically the whole body of Christian doctrine, and is addressed to the whole Church. Its teaching is not infallible; but it holds a place between approved catechisms and what is de fide.”
JPII in his introduction to the CCC Catechism tot the Church, we find the Apostolic Constitution-Fidei Depositum- said it was a "sure norm":
FIDEI DEPOSITUM JPII, part IV--THE DOCTRINAL VALUE OF THE TEXT #3:
"The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which I approved 25 June last and the publication of which I today order by virtue of my Apostolic Authority, is a statement of the Church's faith and of Catholic doctrine, attested to or illumined by Sacred Scripture, Apostolic Tradition and the Church's Magisterium. I declare it to be a valid and legitimate instrument for ecclesial communion and a sure norm for teaching the faith."
Norm means in general. So the Catechism is a "good norm" but there could be some debate and changes on certain points. Changes have already occurred, which wouldn't be the case if it were infallible. [some changes here]
(BTW APOSTOLIC CONSTITUTION FIDEI DEPOSITUM is a separate document from the Catechism, even though found before the CCC introduction. Some we have spoken with have mistakenly thought the whole Catechism was an APOSTOLIC CONSTITUTION -- a papal document)
In his book Introduction to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Cardinal Ratzinger writes on the authority of the Catechism :
"This brings us to the question already mentioned before, regarding the authority of the Catechism. In order to find the answer, let us first consider a bit more closely its juridical character. We could express it in this way: analogously to the new Code of Canon Law, the Catechism is de facto a collegial work; canonically, it falls under the special jurisdiction of the Pope, inasmuch as it was authorized for the whole Christian world by the Holy Father in virtue of the supreme teaching authority invested in him. . . .
This does not mean that the catechism is a sort of super-dogma, as its opponents would like to insinuate in order to cast suspicion on its as a danger to the liberty of theology. What significance the Catechism really holds for the common exercise of teaching in the Church may be learned by reading the Apostolic Constitution Fidei depositum, with which the Pope promulgated it on October 11, 1992--exactly thirty years after the opening of the Second Vatican Council: "I acknowledge it [the Catechism] as a valid and legitimate tool in the service of ecclesiastical communion, as a sure norm for instruction in the faith."
The individual doctrine which the Catechism presents receive no other weight than that which they already possess. The weight of the Catechism itself lies in the whole. Since it transmits what the Church teaches, whoever rejects it as a whole separates himself beyond question from the faith and teaching of the Church" [pp. 25-27].So, the Catechism contains teachings of the Church without elevating them to a doctrinal status nor above what they already have. Ergo, one needs to seek out other documents and tradition to establish the doctrinal weight of any particular teaching in the Catechism. Since the Catechism treats many things that have not been taught infallibly, there is due liberty to debate such propositions..
The .problem with its teaching on "No Salvation Outside the Church", is it isn't echoing the infallible teaching in its fullness, but that it presents it in a tentative and incorrect manner.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church on "Outside the Church there is no salvation", paragraph #846 begins http://www.vatican.va/archive/catechism/p123a9p3.htm#I:
"How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body"
Here we encounter bad theology/philosophy. (We are not told plainly it is a dogma of the Church, but is referred to as an "affirmation") We are told that the "affirmation" cannot easily be understood; it must be explained to us. This is typical Modernist speak. Definitions are to be pronounced, not interpreted and in that meaning the Church first made its pronouncement:
Vatican Council I, Canons #4-On faith and reason-#3:
"If anyone says that it is possible that at some time, given the advancement of knowledge, a sense may be assigned to the dogmas propounded by the church which is different from that which the church has understood and understands: let him be anathema".
What could be more clear than the words used by Pope Boniface VIII in his Bull Unam Sanctam in 1302:
"We declare, say, define and pronounce that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff."
Some have tried to say that Unam Sanctam is not infallible because it was not written to the whole Church, so lets us briefly show a reason for why it is has always been accepted as infallible. Pius XII confirms this in his encyclical MYSTICI CORPORIS CHRISTI:
#40. "That Christ and His Vicar constitute one only Head is the solemn teaching of Our predecessor of immortal memory Boniface VIII in the Apostolic Letter Unam Sanctam;  and his successors have never ceased to repeat the same.
They, therefore, walk in the path of dangerous error who believe that they can accept Christ as the Head of the Church, while not adhering loyally to His Vicar on earth. They have taken away the visible head, broken the visible bonds of unity and left the Mystical Body of the Redeemer so obscured and so maimed, that those who are seeking the haven of eternal salvation can neither see it nor find it."
The Document itself, Unam Sanctam, doesn't need to be an infallible pronouncement to the whole Church because as Pius XII clearly says:
"and his successors have never ceased to repeat the same."
To add more weight to Pope PiusXII the Fifth Lateran Council states:
Pope Leo X, Fifth Lateran Council 1512-17, session # 11:
This kind of repetition, puts it into the Infallible-Universal-Ordinary-Magesterium--believed always and everywhere. So yes it is an infallible statement but not because of the document it was written in.
Back to the Catechism, we are told it is just an "affirmation" by Church Fathers; we are not informed that it is a dogma of the Church, defined infallibly by three Popes, one in Council. (see summary)
The exclusive negative formula of the dogma is restated in the form of an inclusive affirmative statement, by the Catechism. What does this do to the meaning of the dogma? Pope Innocent III had declared ex cathedra-infallible:
"There is but one universal Church of the faithful, outside of which no one at all is saved." (Lateran Council IV, 1215)
In the philosophical science called Logic, this proposition is known as a UNIVERSAL NEGATIVE; it permits no exceptions at all!
On the other hand, by rewording it into a positive "all salvation comes from Christ ... through the Church ..." the door is opened to every exception imaginable, and that includes Rahner's "universal salvation." Let us demonstrate our point:
Universal (Positive) Affirmative: "All men have rational souls" This proposition does not rule out the possibility of creatures, other than men, also having rational souls.
Universal Negative: "Outside of men, there are no rational souls"
This proposition permits no exceptions; only men have rational souls. (Note: Angels are intellectual spirits, not rational souls, which give life to material bodies.)
Here, its authors change the meaning of a key dogma of the Church. Do you see how the positive statement opens up the possibility of exceptions?
With the positive statement, the Catechism introduces exceptions based on a distinction between "knowing" or "not knowing" about the Church. Agreed a person is not guilty of the sin of infidelity, i.e. the sin of NOT jointing the Church, if that person does not know that the Catholic Church exists, but ignorance does not bestow Sanctifying Grace, also because all are conceived as sinners (Original Sin) and they have no other means to acquire Sanctifying Grace outside the Body of Christ:
““With Faith urging us we are forced to believe and to hold the one, holy, Catholic Church and that, apostolic, and we firmly believe and simply confess this Church outside of which there is no salvation nor remission of sin…"(Pope Boniface VIII, the Bull Unam Sanctam, 1302.)
Pius XII implies the same here:
Pope Pius XII MYSTICI CORPORIS CHRISTI--"On the Mystical Body of Christ," 1943, #57:
"Finally, while by His grace [the Holy Spirit] He provides for the continual growth of the Church, He yet refuses to dwell through sanctifying grace in those members that are wholly severed from the Body."
They are lost to hell for their own actual mortal sin/s not forgiven, not for the sin of not joining the Church, which isn't a sin for them, since they didn't know about it. People can also be sent to hell for only Original Sin but to a punishment of a different kind (see Limbo):
The denial that just original sin can condemn a person to the loss of the Beatific Vision, i.e. Heaven,has become a common misunderstanding. The result of the confusion is the denial of the existence of Limbo. The controversy of Limbo was never whether it existed or not but what kind of condition the souls there experienced; did they suffer pain or not?
Although the first quote, of Pope Innocent III, below is not infallible it is backed up by two subsequent infallible statements from the councils of Lyons and Florence (also sometimes called council of Basil):
INNOCENT III,From the letter "Ex parte tua" to Andrew, the Archbishop of Lyons, Jan. 12, 1206:
(Denz.410) "We say that a distinction must be made, that sin is twofold: namely, original and actual: original, which is contracted without consent; and actual which is committed with consent. Original, therefore, which is committed without consent, is remitted without consent through the power of the sacrament; but actual, which is contracted with consent, is not mitigated in the slightest without consent. . . . The punishment of original sin is deprivation of the vision of God, but the punishment of actual sin is the torments of everlasting hell. . . ."
Pope Gregory X, Council of Lyons II, 1274 ex cathedra (Denz. 464):
“We define also that… the souls of those who depart this life in actual mortal sin, or in original sin alone, go straightaway to hell, but to undergo punishments of different kinds.”
Pope Eugene IV, Council of Florence, “Letentur coeli,” Sess. 6, July 6, 1439, ex cathedra (Denz. 693): “We define also that… the souls of those who depart this life in actual mortal sin, or in original sin alone, go straightaway to hell, but to undergo punishments of different kinds.”
Pope Eugene IV, Council of Florence, Session 11, Feb. 4, 1442, ex cathedra (Denz. 712): “Regarding children, indeed, because of danger of death, which can often take place, when no help can be brought to them by another remedy than through the sacrament of baptism, through which they are snatched from the domination of the Devil [original sin] and adopted among the sons of God, it advises that holy baptism ought not be deferred for forty or eighty days, or any time according to the observance of certain people…”
Excusing non members of the Church from punishment of any kind because of ignorance has a destructive effect on the de fide requirements for salvation, and a logical consequence of the denial of Original Sin, like the heretic Pelagius in the 4th century. This heresy was laid to rest by St. Pope Zozimus, Saints Augustine and Jerome, and the Papal approved Councils of Carthage (418) and Orange (529), but was resurrected in a modern form. (see:Limbo and St. Zozimus's Tractoria)
The Catechism #846 quotes from Vatican II:
" ... Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it." (Lumen Gentium 14)
Then makes the exception in #847 "This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church," and then goes on to quotes Lumen Gentium 16:
"Those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience those too may achieve eternal salvation."
The council didn't say that "no salvation outside the Church"(the affirmation) was "not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church." The council says, that those who are not members of the Church can be saved if they do certain things, like follow the graces sent to them. It never says the dogma of "no salvation outside the Church" is only aimed at members. But the Catechism implies by saying the affirmation of "no salvation outside the Church" is not aimed at those outside the Church, that 'there is salvation outside the Church.'
We understand the confusion of many people. It is similar to the time of the Immaculate Conception controversy. One camp, the Dominicans, were against it and the other, Franciscans, were for it. The Dominican opinion seemed to be the most popular at one time. But it was slowly worn away by the argument of Don Scotus (who, BTW, was wrong on almost every other point in his theology but he came up with the best argument for the Immaculate Conception- LOL ironic huh?)
St. Catherine of Sienna, on the other hand, said the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to her and said the Dominicans were right:"There is much room for error in private revelations, even when they are given to Saints....St. Catherine of Sienna seems to have claimed Our Lady appeared to her and denied the Immaculate Conception." (link: EWTN) even a great saint can be fooled.
The above statements of the Catechism are written in such a way that the average layman would think there is salvation outside the Church. If you were on Noah's Ark and I said "well if you jump off your a gonner-- you'll die!" This is true. But does that mean that those who have failed to get on the Ark before the flood and it shut its doors won't die too? No. It is only half the truth or as some say a truism. By only telling half -- knowing that staying on the Ark ( in the Church) is necessary to be saved, it doesn't follow that those who have not gotten on the Ark (not joined) will be saved by their ignorance:
TRADITI HUMILITATI:ON HIS PROGRAM FOR THE PONTIFICATE;ENCYCLICAL OF POPE PIUS VIII
MAY 24, 1829, #4:
"Jerome used to say it this way: he who eats the lamb outside this house will perish as did those during the flood who were not with Noah in the ark. Indeed, no other name than the name of Jesus is given to men, by which they may be saved. He who believes shall be saved; he who does not believe shall be condemned."
The Ark has always been used as an image of the Church by the Church Fathers.
A Closer Look at Vatican II
Let us look at the full paragraph of Vatican II quoted by the Catechism:
Vatican II; Lumen Gentium 16:
“Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God.(18*) In the first place we must recall the people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh.(125) On account of their fathers this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues.(126); But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohamedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things,(127) and as Saviour wills that all men be saved.(128) Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.(19*) Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel.(20*) She knows that it is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life. But often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator.(129) Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, "Preach the Gospel to every creature",(130) the Church fosters the missions with care and attention.”
Draw your attention to the above quote:
"Whatever truth is found among them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel." Notice it says a preparation for the Gospel.
So, a person of good will involved in invincible ignorance can indeed be saved, but not where he is. The Council continues:
[it is to such persons that the Church] "...to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all such men... painstakingly fosters her missionary work."
So the Council is saying that these people outside the Church receive graces (Actual Grace aka Helping Grace)to follow these inspirations to the Church. They need to hear the Gospel that is why the Church works so hard at evangelization and procure their salvation!
"...we have to admit...that the testimony of the Fathers, with regard to the possibility of salvation for someone outside the Church, is very weak. Certainly even the ancient Church knew that the grace of God can be found also outside the Church and even before Faith. But the view that such divine grace can lead man to his final salvation without leading him first into the visible Church, is something, at any rate, which met with very little approval in the ancient Church.
For, with reference to the optimistic views on the salvation of catechumens as found in many of the Fathers, it must be noted that such a candidate for baptism was regarded in some sense or other as already 'Christianus', and also that certain Fathers, such as Gregory Nazianzen and Gregory of Nyssa deny altogether the justifying power of love or of the desire for baptism.
Hence it will be impossible to speak of a consensus dogmaticus in the early Church regarding the possibility of salvation for the non-baptized, and especially for someone who is not even a catechumen. In fact, even St. Augustine, in his last (anti-pelagian) period, no longer maintained the possibility of a baptism by desire. "(Rahner, Karl, Theological Investigations, Volume II, Man in the Church, Translated by Karl H. Kruger, pp.40,41, 57 Or. 40, 23 (PG 36, 3890), 58 'Sermo contra dilationem Baptismi' (PG 46, 424), 59 Cf. Fr. Hoffmann, Der Kirchenbegriff des hl. Augustinus (Munich 1933), pp.221 sqq., 381 sqq., 464 sqq., New York, The Seabury Press, 1975.)
Is Vatican II saying in the quotes above that there is salvation outside the Church? No, because that would be a heresy. This teaching in Vatican II must be understood in continuity of all the Church teachings something like this:
' yes, all of human history is part of God's plan, which may allow people to fall into sin and infidelity even though sin is not God's active Will he allows it and it is part of His world plan of salvation. God will save those outside the Church by their response to Actual Graces which He sends them, which leads them to the Sacrament of Baptism and membership in the Catholic Church.'
Vatican II states:
"Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation (Actual Grace) to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace (Actual Grace) strive to live a good life.""
In other words:
' Those of good will by doing the best they can, with God's Providence, and by their response to the Actual Graces He sends, will be lead to join his Church.'
So even though someone is not a Catholic we should treat all of them with respect and love because they are made in the image of God and God loves them and ALL have the potential by God Providence of entering the Church before they die, either by inspiration or receiving an Angel (Acts 10:4) or a teacher to them.(Acts 8: 26) so they may receive the Sacrament of Baptism, thus entering the Church'
Remember Sanctifying Grace is not possible for those outside the Church:
"Pope Pius XII MYSTICI CORPORIS CHRISTI--"On the Mystical Body of Christ," 1943; #57:"Finally, while by His grace He provides for the continual growth of the Church, He [ the Holy Spirit] yet refuses to dwell through sanctifying grace in those members that are wholly severed from the Body."
And only the Baptized are members of the Church:
Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, 1943; # 22:
“Actually only those are to be numbered among the members of the Church who have received the laver of regeneration ( i.e. Sacrament of Baptism) and profess the true faith.”
And the Council of Trent agrees that only the Baptized are members:
Pope Julius III, Council of Trent, on the Sacraments of Baptism and Penance, Sess. 14, Chap.II:"The Church exercises judgment on no one who has not previously entered it by the gate of baptism. For what have I to do with those who are without (1 Cor. 5:12), says the Apostle. It is otherwise with those of the household of the faith, whom Christ the Lord by the laver of baptism has once made ‘members of his own body’ "
The Catechism, under a topic heading, The Necessity of Baptism, teaches the following:
#1257-"The Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation.59 He also commands his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them.60 Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament.61 The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are "reborn of water and the Spirit."God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments."
The Catechism is honest enough by saying:"The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude." This is a fact. Our Lord himself affirms that Baptism is necessary for salvation(John 3:3-5). He also commands his disciples to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and to baptize them (Mark 16:15,16.). Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and for those who have not heard it--both.
"God has bound salvation to the sacrament of Baptism, but he himself is not bound by his sacraments." This mysterious line has no footnote or explanation it comes out of nowhere.
This sentence is a novelty, never before taught by the Church. Was it us who said Baptism was necessary or Jesus?
This sentence contradicts the Council of Trent's session #7, on Baptism, Canon V: "If anyone saith that Baptism is optional, that is, not necessary unto salvation, let him be anathema."
Secondly, it infers that Christ deceived us when He said, "Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." By this clear, unequivocal statement, Our Lord not only bound salvation to the Sacrament of Baptism, but He also bound Himself to the same Sacrament. Does he deceive us?(also see:Watering Down Water-- John 3:5)
Those who seek exceptions are determined to make salvation easily available to all men, but it comes at the cost of nullifying the necessity of the Church. They ignore the Providence of God. He has proven willingness to provide a teacher and the Sacrament for every man of good-will who needs it, as demonstrated in the cases of Cornelius the Centurion an Angel (Acts 10:4), the Eunuch of Candace a teacher to them.(Acts 8: 26), and Saul of Tarsus-- all related in the Acts of the Apostles.
#1258 "The Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death ... This Baptism of blood, like the desire for Baptism, brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament."
#1259 "For catechumens who die before their Baptism, their explicit desire to receive it ... assures them the salvation that they were not able to receive through the sacrament."
Here we have the closely related "Baptism of Desire" and "Baptism of Blood" theories, favored by Liberals because they provide the opening needed to deny the dogma Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus. Both are questionable. (see BoD/BoB) Because the innermost thoughts and attitudes of men are known only to God, His response in each case must also be known only to Him. This has to be the reason why the Church despite the catechism's gratuitous "firm conviction" has never seen fit to define either theory as a matter of faith. It is a theological opinion not an infallible teaching. It is not accepted by the majority of Church Fathers or the Council of Florence:
Pope Eugene IV, Council of Florence, the Bull Cantate Domino, 1441 (Denz. 714):
"No one, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, no one, even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ, can be saved, unless he remain within the bosom and the unity of the Catholic Church.”
[the word "remain" could also have been translated "abide" which is closer to the real meaning]
So there is good reasons to remain skeptical about these theories.
God has not informed us of His response in these matters. Therefore, we must believe and act only according to what we do know, with certainty. He has taught us dogmatically through His Church the necessity of Baptism:
The Council of Trent;SESSION THE SEVENTH,Canons on Baptism:
CANON II.-If any one saith, that true and natural water is not of necessity for baptism, and, on that account, wrests, to some sort of metaphor, those words of our Lord Jesus Christ; Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost; let him be anathema.
CANON V.-If any one saith, that baptism is free, that is, not necessary unto salvation; let him be anathema.
Any theorizing beyond certain teachings, is wrong, for we are then probing into the unrevealed realm of God's Providence and Mercy, much like the predestination controversy. That being said we are sure, absolutely sure, that membership in the Catholic Church is necessary for salvation.
Fr. William Jurgens a conservative who supports "Baptism of Desire," agrees with Rahner that explicit membership by baptism was the unanimous agreement of the Fathers and seems a little confused as to why the excuse for ignorance was missing, but he honestly states:
“If there were not a constant tradition in the Fathers that the Gospel message of ‘Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost he cannot enter into the kingdom of God’ is to be taken absolutely, it would be easy to say that Our Savior simply did not see fit to mention the obvious exceptions of invincible ignorance and physical impossibility. But the tradition in fact is there; and it is likely enough to be found so constant as to constitute revelation.”---- Fr. William Jurgens (A major researcher of the Father's of the Church)-- "The Faith of the Early Fathers", Vol. 3, pp. 14-15 footnote 31.
So two theologians one an arch-liberal and the other "orthodox" conservative Catholic seem to agree the sacrament of Baptism and Church membership was considered absolute by the Church Fathers.
Another thing is that the Church has always required orthodox faith for membership and salvation:
Pope Paul VI, Second Vatican Council, AD GENTES---ON THE MISSION ACTIVITY OF THE CHURCH, # 7:
"Therefore though God in ways known to Himself can lead those inculpably ignorant of the Gospel to find that faith without which it is impossible to please Him (Heb. 11:6), yet a necessity lies upon the Church (1 Cor. 9:16), and at the same time a sacred duty, to preach the Gospel. And hence missionary activity today as always retains its power and necessity."
So Vatican II, says that without Faith it is impossible to please him. Does this sound like what we usually hear about the invincibly ignorant? Is it any kind of Faith like New Agers use the word, or a concrete creed? According to scripture and tradition it is a concrete creed of all that Jesus taught.
The Athanasian Creed states:
Pope Leo XII, Ubi Primum #14. May 5, 1824:
“It is impossible for the most true God, who is Truth itself, the best, the wisest Provider, and the Rewarder of good men, to approve all sects who profess false teachings which are often inconsistent with one another and contradictory, and to confer eternal rewards on their members… by divine faith we hold one Lord, one faith, one baptism… This is why we profess that there is no salvation outside the Church.”
Pope Gregory XVI, Mirari Vos #13. Aug. 15, 1832:
“With the admonition of the apostle, that ‘there is one God, one faith, one baptism’ (Eph. 4:5), may those fear who contrive the notion that the safe harbor of salvation is open to persons of any religion whatever. They should consider the testimony of Christ Himself that ‘those who are not with Christ are against Him,’ (Lk. 11:23) and that they disperse unhappily who do not gather with Him. Therefore, ‘without a doubt, they will perish forever, unless they hold the Catholic faith whole and inviolate (Athanasian Creed)."
Pope Gregory XVI, Summo Iugiter Studio, 1832:
#5."You know how zealously Our predecessors taught that very article of faith which these dare to deny, namely the necessity of the Catholic faith and of unity for salvation. The words of that celebrated disciple of the apostles, martyred St. Ignatius, in his letter to the Philadelphians are relevant to this matter: "Be not deceived, my brother; if anyone follows a schismatic, he will not attain the inheritance of the kingdom of God." Moreover, St. Augustine and the other African bishops who met in the Council of Cirta in the year 412 explained the same thing at greater length: "Whoever has separated himself from the Catholic Church, no matter how laudably he lives, will not have eternal life, but has earned the anger of God because of this one crime: that he abandoned his union with Christ."
Let us give the last word to this same pope and encyclical of happy memory. He shows that there was already a movement to destroy the belief in the dogma "no salvation outside the Church" that he felt compelled by passion to defend this dogma:
Pope Gregory XVI, Summo Iugiter Studio, May 27, 1832,#2, on no salvation outside the Church:
“Finally some of these misguided people attempt to persuade themselves and others that men are not saved only in the Catholic religion, but that even heretics may attain eternal life… You know how zealously Our predecessors taught that article of faith which these dare to deny, namely the necessity of the Catholic faith and of unity for salvation…
Omitting other appropriate passages which are almost numberless in the writings of the Fathers, We shall praise St. Gregory the Great who expressly testifies that THIS IS INDEED THE TEACHING OF THE
Finally the same dogma is also expressly mentioned in the profession of faith proposed by the Apostolic See, not only that which all Latin churches use, but also that which… other Eastern Catholics use. We did not mention these selected testimonies because We thought you were ignorant of that article of faith and in need of Our instruction. Far be it from Us to have such an absurd and insulting suspicion about you.But We are so concerned about this serious and well known dogma, which has been attacked with such remarkable audacity, that We could not restrain Our pen from reinforcing this truth with many testimonies.”