The teaching of Vatican II on the question of salvation entails surprises. While the Council holds that there is no salvation outside the Church, it exerts itself with solicitude for those who may qualify as being “outside.” For Vatican II, to be “outside” is to have a claim on the Church’s maternal love, which is fulfilled when her children respond to the missionary mandate. The Council teaches that Catholics must be prepared to confess their faith in Christ even to the point of death (Lumen Gentium 42)—including what this faith holds about the Church—and also affirms that those without this explicit faith, and thus who would never be required to die for it, may notwithstanding be saved.
The Council teaches that the Church can engage in missionary activity with confidence that she has two allies: human nature—and thus nature’s God—and this same God’s supernatural grace. The dynamisms of human nature impel all men to seek their own fulfillment in the truth and in the good. With the help of God’s grace working objectively through cultures and religions and secretly in hearts, fidelity to these dynamisms becomes fidelity to God himself, Creator and Redeemer. At the same time, human nature has been profoundly wounded by sin, and this gives rise to negative influences that are at work in the world and within each person’s soul. The signs of the times are always a blend of positive indications of man’s striving for a life worthy of his dignity as image of God, and negative signs about man’s weakness and ultimately of his inability to attain this fully human life for himself. As a result, missionaries will encounter people in various states ranging from being so fully disposed to receive with joy the Good News of Jesus Christ that it could be said of them that they are not far from the Kingdom (Mk 12:34), to being so thoroughly blinded and hardened of heart due to slavery to sin that they respond to the proclamation of God’s love with violent rejection and the slaying of the missionary. Yet, even this latter situation is not a final word. Through his martyrs’ configuration to Christ, graces of eventual conversion are won for those whose initial response is rejection.