Far from a human race that is presumed innocent or essentially saved, the Council Fathers see a world in which salvation is neither assured nor easy. It is a world in which, “very often,” rejection of Christ has been a reality, is still possible, and is a main reason for Christian missions. Indeed, the Council also warned about the severe judgment falling on Catholics who do not persist in charity and faithfulness.
The Council’s “optimism,” Martin rightly notes, is about the possibility of salvation outside of the Church, not the probability that everybody inside or outside it will be saved.
The Council doesn’t give odds on this question or tell us whether Hell is densely populated or not, nor does Martin attempt to do so. But he notes that the “very often” is attached to the negative possibility. In a chapter examining the scriptural references in LG 16 he demonstrates that this bad news is indeed biblical.
Editor’s note: It’s also due to the fact that since the end of Vatican II – priests, bishops – and even popes – have no longer been at all certain about the validity or applicability of the settled teachings of the Catholic Church – nor have they been unified and consistent in their efforts to pass along the full, complete and traditional Catholic faith to others. In fact, just the opposite has been true!