Reflections on the Salvation of the Invincibly Ignorant.

The issue of EENS is one that has both interested and perplexed me.  In speaking about “invincible ignorance” (almost, in passing) in Quanto Conficiamur Moerore and Singulari Quidem, it is clear that Pope Pius IX opened a theological “Pandora's Box” on the question of the invincibly ignorant attaining eternal life, something that the Sovereign Pontiff clearly intended not to do.  In any case, many now accord those few phrases the same status as the solemn definition of the Immaculate Conception given in Ineffabilis Deus.

After converting to Catholicism 10 years ago, I fought a long battle over the (at least apparent) contradictory and irreconcilable Magisterial texts written prior to, during and after Vatican II, eventually, losing my faith, not so much out of denial as out of disillusionment.  Eventually, I came to the conclusion and acceptance that the Magisterium has, indeed, contradicted itself, maybe not in the literal sense (depending on the “word gymnastics” that one is willing to do), but certainly in the Council's failure to explicitly affirm that which came before it.  (It must be admitted that the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as well as some Magisterial declarations which preceded it, and especially others which came after, such Dominus Iesus, "Responses to some questions regarding certain aspects of the doctrine on the church," etc., have gone a long way towards "clarifying" the ambiguities of the Second Vatican Council.)  I suppose that I would liken my journey to that of an alcoholic who, for many months, refused to admit that he had a drinking problem; however, after attending his many “AA” meetings, one day he finally stands up before “his peers” and admits his alcoholism.  For me, that journey has had many similar overtones – first denial, then rationalizations, then more rationalizations; then finally, acceptance.

If anyone doubts the irreconcilable contradictions (“word gymnastics” notwithstanding, but see below) in Magisterial teaching, compare Dignitatis Humanae with Quanta Cura.  If you are still not convinced, then get a copy of Exsurge Domine (be sure to note condemned error 33).  Now, if these three Magisterial documents are all truly “without error,” then the Magisterium is either talking with a “forked tongue,” or God really is a woman, because it is clear that He (or rather, She) cannot make-up His (or rather, Her) mind!  I do, however, favor neither of these alternatives.  (Indeed, I have since come to a conclusion on this -- once again, see below.)

There are different approaches which Catholics take to resolving these contradictions.  “Conservative Catholics,” of course, emphasis obedience, even to the point of being servile.  These Catholics brand any “private interpretation” of Magisterial texts as being schismatic and/or heretical, instead demanding complete and absolute submission to whatever the current Magisterium is telling them, even if such “teachings” are in stark contrast to the centuries of dogmatic and definitive teaching that came prior to the present.  “Let Vatican II be your focus,” they (and Pope John Paul II and now Pope Benedict XVI) say.

Like Traditionalists, “liberals” acknowledge the contradictions, but reduce the elements of truth from the Deposit of Faith to varying degrees, often differing over what can and cannot “change” with respect to Church teaching.  Some liberals believe that pretty much everything is “on the table,” including the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ, but most are feminists, homosexual activists, proponents of contraception, abortion, etc.  As far as I am concerned, these people are all heretics, and I do my very best to avoid them (and their parishes) as much as possible.

The One and Triune God being immutable, Traditionalists, such as me, believe that the Holy Spirit who guided the Magisterium of the 4th-century is the same Holy Spirit who guided the Magisterium of the 14th-century, and He is still guiding the present Successor of Peter (but who, of course, may or may not be “listening” to His advice.)  Of course, conservatives and liberals (at least those who do not deny Papal Primacy outright) make the same claim, but they often reach very different conclusions.

I certainly cannot accept the liberal position, because that would mean that the Magisterium has taught virtually nothing definitive over its 2,000 years of existence, except, perhaps, that there is a God.  The conservative position reduces me to some mindless “automaton” that is to be “spoon fed” like some ignorant peasant, forcing me, in the name of obedience, to accept propositions that I find absurd and to accept contradictions in Magisterial teaching that I find ridiculous.  The traditionalist position, while acknowledging that the Magisterium can contradict itself, allows infallibility for both the Ordinary and Supreme Magisterium, assigning the erroneous material to the authentic Magisterium (which means that it comes “authentically” from the Magisterium, but simply contains error.)

As general revelation (the Deposit of Faith) ceased with the death of the last Apostle, it is clear that the 260 or so Magisteriums have been working with pretty much the same information.  Granted, later Magisteriums have had an “advantage” over earlier ones, in that it is nearly always easier to find deficiencies in others' work than in one's own.  However, in deciding “who’s right” and “who’s wrong,” the principle laid down by St. Vincent of Lérins makes the most sense to me:

“Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all.  For that is truly and in the strictest sense ‘Catholic,’ which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally.  This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent.  We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors.”

Indeed, Vatican II affirms this principle (at least indirectly), stating, “the entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One cannot err in matters of belief” (Lumen Gentium, 12).  Hence, it is clear that Quanta Cura expresses the ordinary, universal (and hence, infallible) Magisterium, whereas Dignitatis Humanae, while expressing some Catholic truths, contains error and so is not part of the Church’s Ordinary Magisterium.  While Dignitatis Humanae deserves “religious assent,” Quanta Cura demands the higher “obedience of faith” and therefore supersedes Dignitatis Humanae.  The language of Quanta Cura, since it is representative of the Ordinary (hence, infallible) Magisterium of the Church stands all on its own; we do not need Vatican II to “interpret” Quanta Cura for us.   Quanta Cura can interpret itself, as can Mortalium Animos, Exsurge Domine, etc. The same is, of course, true of the Papal Bull Unam Sanctam.

Likewise, if you want to say that the Church of Christ “subsists in the Catholic Church” while in the same breath say that the Church of Christ is the Catholic Church, I am okay with that, as long as we are talking about one subsistence. Of course, that is not the direction that “the theologians” took things, saying, almost after the ink was drying on the Vatican II documents, that the Church of Christ can subsist “outside” the Catholic Church.  To its credit, this is something that the Magisterium has condemned.

In any case, it is de fide catholica that the Church of Christ is the Holy Roman Catholic & Apostolic Church. This is forever true, a revelation that comes directly from the immutable One and Triune God.  No Pope, either alone or in an ecumenical Church Council, could ever change or alter this fundamental fact.  It would be “easier” for them to change the Axioms of Arithmetic than to say that the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church are not “one thing.” The following syllogism proves this dogma:

Major Premise: There is but one universal Church of the faithful, outside which no one at all is saved.

Minor Premise: It is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff, who has primacy over the whole church.

Conclusion: None of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, but also Jews and heretics and schismatics, can have a share in life eternal; but that they will go into the eternal fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels, unless before death they are joined with Her.

What, then, to make of Vatican II’s teaching on the salvation of those “invincibly ignorant” non-Catholics, using the principle set forth by St. Vincent?

Before examining the question as to whether the invincibly ignorant can obtain salvation, I think that the point has to be made that “things that are impossible with men, are possible with God”  (Luke 18:27); that is, “with men this is impossible: but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).  Hence, His “grace is sufficient for thee; for power is made perfect in infirmity” (2 Corinthians 12:9) to be “the true light, which enlighteneth every man that cometh into this world” (John 1:9).  With respect to anyone’s salvation (including, our own), we must acknowledge the One and Triune God’s supreme sovereignty over all Creation, as Creator, Lord, Redeemer, Savior and Judge.

Given God’s absolute sovereignty over all that is “seen and unseen,” it stands to reason that He, who gives us the grace to stop sinning (Romans 5), could also, if He willed, give us the grace to overcome our ignorance, even if such ignorance was invincible.  To say otherwise is to deny God's supreme sovereignty, and it is also to say that those who sincerely seek Him (even if they are beyond “the reach of man”) may not be able to find Him!  Such is certainly not God's will, “Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

Saint Thomas clearly teaches this, stating,

“Everyone is bound to believe something explicitly . . . even if someone is brought up in the forest or among wild beasts.  For it pertains to Divine Providence to furnish everyone with what is necessary for salvation, provided that on his part there is no hindrance.  Thus, if someone so brought up followed the direction of natural reason in seeking good and avoiding evil, we must most certainly hold that God would either reveal to him through internal inspiration what had to be believed, or would send some preacher of the faith to him as He sent Peter to Cornelius (Acts 10:20).”  (Disputed Questions on the Truth, q.14, a.11)

Saint Thomas is saying that the One and Triune God “will supply the means,” which seems to cast doubt on the “invincibly ignorant” attaining salvation.  Granted, such a category of people must exist.  (We are, after all, finite and human!)  However, is it possible, as the Catechism says, for a person to be in an “invincibly ignorant” state and yet “seek God with a sincere heart” (847, CCC)?

By definition, one cannot choose to be invincibly ignorant just as one cannot choose to be baptized by desire.  Yet, if through no fault of one's own, a person were in such a state and yet seeking God sincerely, it stands to reason that the Holy Spirit could deliver that person from his/her “invincibly ignorant” state just as the Holy Spirit can impart sanctifying grace outside of sacramental Baptism, as God is not “bound by His Sacraments.”  Since He created the entire Cosmos and all the physical laws that govern the Universe, it also stands to reason that God is not “bound by the physical laws of the Universe which He, after all, created,” which means that He is capable of bringing Sacramental Baptism in Water to whomever sincerely desires it, if only in that person's infancy.  Since He is a Perfect Being, God is, however, bound by His Word; he will not lie, therefore, we know that such is His will that all individuals come to know His Son, Jesus Christ, as Saint Thomas teaches, because that is what He has revealed to us.  To say otherwise is to embrace Pelagianism.

Are there any non-culpable “invincibly ignorant” people sincerely seeking God?  Maybe not.  Maybe so.  If such a category of people does exist, then we must conclude that God will reveal Himself to them, because He has set the requirements for salvation ( “be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sin,” Acts 2:38) and not us.  But, since we ourselves are incapable of knowing if there truly are invincibly ignorant people (indeed, we must admit our invincible ignorance in this area), is not the “safer” course on the part of the Church just to assume that there are no invincibly ignorant people and evangelize accordingly?

I can certainly admit the possibility, but not certainty, of invincible ignorance.  It may be that such ignorance is very rare, perhaps nonexistent (at least among adults), or it may be much more common.  Clearly, the teaching set forth in Unam Sanctam Ecclesiam Catholicam, which states “that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff ” must be infallible (and hence, irreformable), as this teaching was explicitly reaffirmed by name  at the Fifth Lateran Council.  It is difficult to imagine that a person can hear the word “Pope” and refuse to submit anymore than a person can hear the Gospel and refuse to believe.

However, one absolute example of invincible ignorance can be easily demonstrated in the case of infant baptism.  As the Church has always taught, the validity of baptisms by non-Catholics is beyond dispute, provided that valid matter, form and intent are all present.  Hence, for an infant, a valid baptism is always a fruitful baptism.  However, all the Church Fathers (especially Saint Fulgentius, whom the Old Catholic Encyclopedia calls “the principal theologian of the sixth century”), taught that people baptized outside of the Catholic Church have a serious obligation to enter into full communion with the Church and submit to the Roman Pontiff.  Saint Fulgentius states,

“Anyone who has received the Sacrament of Baptism but remained away from the Catholic Church is never prepared to obtain eternal life.  Such a person, even if he is very generous with almsgiving and even pours out his blood for the name of Christ, because of the fact that in this life he has not held tightly to the unity of the Catholic Church, he will not have eternal salvation.  Hold most firmly and never doubt that any heretic or schismatic whatsoever, baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, if he will not have been gathered into the Catholic Church, no matter how many alms he may have given, even if he shed his blood for the name of Christ, can never be saved.” (To Peter on the Faith).

Of course, the Council of Florence would cite from this passage of Saint Fulgentius over 900 years after his death in Cantate Domino, so one can hardly accuse the Council Fathers of “inventing” some theological novelty.  And, to claim that the Florentine Fathers were simply ignorant, believing themselves to live in a world much smaller than the one that we now know is simply not defensible.  The calculations by Eratosthenes were widely known during this time (and were used by Christopher Columbus on his voyage to America), and it is clear from the writings of Augustine that he knew that there were “remote nations” who had not heard the Gospel.

Yet, a child who has a valid, but “non-Catholic,” Christian baptism is not capable of sin before the Age of Reason; therefore, he or she is every bit a member of the Catholic Church as is a child who is baptized by a Catholic priest.  And yet, it is heartbreaking to think that this “non-Catholic,” but Christian, child would find himself/herself in a state of mortal sin upon reaching the exact age of seven years, due to heresy or schism.  The same observation could, perhaps, be made about a child who is ten or eleven years of age; although, as such children age into adulthood (and, especially, with their access to the Internet), the notion of invincible ignorance becomes more and more difficult to defend.  It is a denial of human free will to say that such children, having reached the Age of Reason, are still totally incapable of apostasy, heresy, or schism.  If they are capable of the sin of unbelief, which is always the case for every human being beyond the Age of Reason, then they are capable of becoming apostates, heretics, or schismatics.

The 1949 Archbishop Richard J. Cushing letter presents us with many paradoxes.  In stating, “this desire need not always be explicit, as it is in catechumens; but when a person is involved in invincible ignorance God accepts also an implicit desire, so called because it is included in that good disposition of soul whereby a person wishes his will to be conformed to the will of God,” do such individuals, if they exist, still posses human free will? If they do, how could the Saint Benedict Center (or anyone else, for that matter) ever be "harming" these individuals by telling them the Truth, that is, that that they need to become full-fledged Catholics in order to be saved?  And, how could we ever know, to a moral certitude, that a person has genuine implicit faith as opposed to a culpable rejection of the Truth, especially, when both "groups" of individuals would tell us, explicitly, that they do not believe in the Catholic Faith?  How could we ever possibly distinguish one group from the other?

Saint Thomas, as always, was quite clear on this point, and the Angelic Doctor's teachings are representative of the Ordinary and Universal (hence, infallible) Magisterium of the Church:

"All ceremonies are professions of faith, in which the interior worship of God consists. Now man can make profession of his inward faith, by deeds as well as by words: and in either profession, if he make a false declaration, he sins mortally." (Summa Theologica, Ia IIae, q.103, a.4)

"For children baptized before coming to the use of reason, afterwards when they come to perfect age, might easily be persuaded by their parents to renounce what they had unknowingly embraced; and this would be detrimental to the faith." (Summa Theologica, IIa IIae, q.10, a.12)

Therefore, as Father Muller noted (in his The Catholic Dogma), a child baptized outside of the Church, whether by Islamic, Jewish, Protestant, Orthodox, etc., parents would likely sin mortally upon reaching the Age of Reason around that child's 7th birthday.

As I have explained in my other posts on implicit faith, how does one go about getting rid of his or her “implicit desire”?  The Magisterium of Pope Pius XII (perhaps due to his embarrassment over the Holocaust) appears to be teaching that some individuals have no choice but to be saved, a form of Calvinism.  It is difficult to conceive how a person with only “implicit desire” could ever be guilty of heresy, which, in Latin, means choice.  In addition, such a teaching makes the One and Triune God into an impotent cosmic boob, who is incapable of bringing the Gospel to whomever sincerely “wishes his will to be conformed to the will of God.”  Not only does the Archbishop Cushing letter fail to affirm the One and Triune God's sovereignty over His Creation, it marginalizes God's honesty, hence, His Perfection, also. Archbishop Cushing is, apparently, teaching that God can bring His grace but not His light to those who are sincerely seeking Him.  This form of theology is “divine hiddenness” in reverse and is just a capitulation to modern atheism.

So, how to reconcile Florence's clearly unambiguous and infallible teaching that there is no salvation outside of the Catholic Church with the recent Magisterial teaching that the “invincibly ignorant” may attain eternal life under some circumstances?  (One way to reconcile LG #16 and CCC #848 with Cantate Domino is to assert as de fide, per the latter, that the former, when referring to the group of “invincibly ignorant” persons attaining everlasting life is that LG #16/CCC #848 are describing a set of human beings of unknown and unknowable size; therefore, everyone, without exception, who attains Heaven, the Beatific Vision, will ultimately, if only at "death's door," do so as a Catholic, that is, as a full member -- via sacramental Baptism in Water or its desire, with explicit faith in the Blessed Trinity and Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in full submission, mind and will, to the Roman Pontiff -- of the Holy Roman Catholic & Apostolic Church.)  I believe the answer is to be found in the One and Triune God’s sovereignty over all of His Creation.

As finite creatures, we perceive time as the sequential succession of events, something that physicists liken to “an arrow.”  Even though Einstein showed that time is relative, he also demonstrated that time always “flows” in one direction.  No matter one’s “frame of reference,” events that occur tomorrow (or a hour or minute) from now will always be viewed as having occurred “later” than what is occurring at this particular instant.  People will always die before they are conceived, and will always grow older, not younger.

For the One and Triune God, who is infinite, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, eternal, immutable, all knowing and all powerful, there is no such thing as “time.”  God “sees” and “knows” all that ever was, ever is, or ever will be.  Everything that occurred in the past, is occurring in the present, or that will occur (or could occur) in the future is known to God.

It is only in God’s supreme sovereignty that the question of invincible ignorance can be understood.  Certainly, there are people “struggling with invincible ignorance” (Quanto Conficiamur Moerore, 7), but given the One and Triune God’s supreme sovereignty over all of Creation, it is equally clear that anyone who sincerely seeks God will find Him, eventually.  It is simply not possible for a person to remain in an “invincibly ignorant” state forever and yet fail to respond to “divine light and grace,” if such a person is truly and sincerely seeking to love God “with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind” (Matthew 22:37).  Given enough time, such people will always find their way into the Catholic Church, for the Church and Christ “are one.”

Observing God’s supreme sovereignty and man’s finiteness, Florence’s dogmatic teaching of “no salvation outside of the Catholic Church” and the modern teaching on “invincible ignorance” are thus at least somewhat harmonized, in spite of the fact that the latter is failing to affirm the former.  As with the case of the baptized, but “non-Catholic, child just turned seven, yet who dies at age eight, only God, through His One and only Son, Jesus Christ can look into that child’s soul to see if that person had the willingness to love God with all of his “heart, soul and mind.” For such a child, we can certainly hope that Purgatory and not Hell would be that person's destination where he/she could correct, abjure, and renounce his/her false beliefs, a hope (not always, of course, a "good hope") that we can have for most, if not all, human beings.

As “anyone whatsoever” (Lateran IV, Canon 1) can validly baptized, we cannot say, with any certainty, that anyone is destined for Hell.  As I have discussed before, to say that someone was never baptized is to try to “prove a negative,” which is impossible to do, even for a stillborn baby.  For even in such a situation where the two parents were absolutely determined that their stillborn baby not be baptized and took extreme measures to “gaurd” their infant's lifeless corpse, we can imagine the One and Triune God holding that baby's soul in his or her body, an Angel of the Lord coming to cause unconsciousness and temporary amnesia to all those present with the dead infant, having someone, perhaps an angel, baptize the baby, and then releasing the baby's soul into the afterlife without anyone knowing the difference. It would be a “minor miracle” to be sure, but any scenario that one could propose, some miraculous intervention, even a major one, can be imagined that would take care of the job.

For those who have been validly baptized in their infancy, their first step to everlasting life has already been taken.  It does not matter if they have been born to Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or Protestant parents, or even if they were born in pre-Columbian America to Inca, Aztec, or other Native American parents. As anyone whatsoever can validly baptize, it would be a minor miracle indeed for the Creator of the Universe to secure anyone's baptism, and once secured, we can easily imagine the Holy Spirit providing “salutary repentance” at the moment of that person's death, something, like Baptism in Infancy, would be impossible to disprove.

Most, if not virtually all, Catholic (sic) theologians in today's Church say that God can “in ways known only to Him, use extraordinary means to secure someone's salvation.”  However, as I have demonstrated, He does not have to do that; rather, He can use “extraordinary measures” (i.e., miracles, if necessary) to bring about the ordinary means of salvation which He has already established.  Never, ever, ever will there be a circumstance that “requires” the One and Triune God to “use extraordinary means only known to Him.”  In fact, God, being a Perfect Being, cannot lie, which means that we have no choice but to accept what He has already revealed to us as being the literal Truth.

In summary, the One and Triune God could bring about the Baptism of anyone in that person's infancy, and then offer that individual “salutary repentance” in the final moments of that individual's life.  Liberals do not like this, because it would involve “too many miracles,” and they want their theistic God confined and penned-up in the deistic playpen.  But what God can do for one, He could also do for many.

Is this what Vatican II was trying to say?  Perhaps, perhaps not.  The Council wrote more words than the previous 20 ecumenical Councils combined.  It seemed like there was “something for everyone” at Vatican II; liberals could read the documents the way they wanted to, conservatives could do the same.  So many words, so little said.  As I said in a previous post, the burden of proof is on those individuals who would assert that Vatican II taught error and/or heresy, and I have not met such a burden nor have I tried to do so.

In any case, I believe that the error of Vatican II and modern theology is the suggestion that “invincible ignorance” is some irrevocable state, from which the graces of the Holy Spirit cannot provide deliverance.  The theology of the “anonymous Christian” that says that anyone can remain in an “invincibly ignorant state forever (as Karl Rahner implied) is contrary to the teachings of Pope Pius IX and the Ordinary Magisterium of the Church, and is therefore, heretical.  Granted, Jews, Muslims, etc. have a lot of “cultural conditioning to overcome, but if someone in any false faith and/or religion is sincerely seeking God (and there are such people), eventually they will find Him, which means eventually becoming Catholic!  Now, whether that occurs within that person's lifetime or at “death's door” is another question, but the One and Triune God will reveal Himself to anyone who is sincerely seeking Him, but for many, such a revelation may occur only at the instant of death, but it will occur.

Unfortunately, Vatican II gave the invincibly ignorant possibility a “life of its own” in the name of false ecumenism and modernism.  When is the last time that you heard the Pope call on Catholics to pray the Rosary for the conversion of sinners to the One True Church and the One True Religion?  Certainly, one cannot charge the Council with heresy (it did not deny any teachings that came before it), but the Council did not clearly teach the sole necessity of Jesus Christ, His Sacraments or His Church as being the only means of salvation.

Given our own ignorance on the salvation of non-Catholics and even our own salvation, we should follow the most conservative route.  We should pray for everyone and evangelize all, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, and go from there.  Eventually, the Truth will be known when Christ comes again, but then, it will be too late to do anything about it!  Until then we are splitting “theological hairs,” which is where Vatican II went wrong.  Instead of affirming the eternal truths of the Catholic Faith, the Council instead chose to marginalize the Deposit of Faith that the Magisterium was sworn to protect.

Dignitatis Humanae versus Exsurge Domine -- a solution?

In Unam Sanctam, Pope Boniface states,
We are informed by the texts of the gospels that in this Church and in its power are two swords; namely, the spiritual and the temporal.  For when the Apostles say: 'Behold, here are two swords' [Lk 22:38] that is to say, in the Church, since the Apostles were speaking, the Lord did not reply that there were too many, but sufficient.  Certainly the one who denies that the temporal sword is in the power of Peter has not listened well to the word of the Lord commanding: 'Put up thy sword into thy scabbard' [Mt 26:52]. Both, therefore, are in the power of the Church, that is to say, the spiritual and the material sword, but the former is to be administered _for_ the Church but the latter by the Church; the former in the hands of the priest; the latter by the hands of kings and soldiers, but at the will and sufferance of the priest.
Just as it is forbidden to baptize non-Catholic children against the will and wishes of their parents (unless there is danger of death), as they will not even raise that child as a Catholic, so, too, non-Catholic societies cannot be expected to promote and defend the One True Faith & Church, at least without first converting to Roman Catholicism.  Since there are no more Catholic monarchies or even Catholic nations left in the World today, and as it is immoral for a non-Catholic society to suppress the True religion and/or to promote a false one (especially, by suppressing the True one), this leaves religious freedom as being the "default" position for the pagan and/or non-Catholic societies which now make-up the entire World.

Finally, if the "temporal sword" is, indeed, born by the Church, then the Church has every right to tell the "temporal authorities" not to bear it, and since such, as Pope Boniface taught us, is a matter of divine law and revelation, no ecumenical council could ever vacate that which the Triune God has revealed as being true.  So, clearly, the Declaration given by Vatican II in Dignitatis Humanae is, itself, reformable.

Finally, consider the "contentious" paragraph from Dignitatis Humanae:
This Vatican Council declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits
The council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself. This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.
It is in accordance with their dignity as persons-that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility-that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth However, men cannot discharge these obligations in a manner in keeping with their own nature unless they enjoy immunity from external coercion as well as psychological freedom. Therefore the right to religious freedom has its foundation not in the subjective disposition of the person, but in his very nature. In consequence, the right to this immunity continues to exist even in those who do not live up to their obligation of seeking the truth and adhering to it and the exercise of this right is not to be impeded, provided that just public order be observed. (Dignitatis humanae, 2)
It may appear to some (as it did to me for a long time!) that the above contradicts previous Church teachings, and on the surface, it does. However, note that part which I have highlighted in bold. Such would not apply to Catholic princes who governed Christian kingdoms during the middle ages, as they were were consecrated by the Church and so governed by divine right and not as a "human power." Not also the "within due limits" clause; as the "salvation of souls" is the "highest common good," a "just public order" would both demand and require the suppression of public heresy against the One True Faith and Church by the prince who was governing a Catholic Kingdom.

A Catholic prince putting an obstinate heretic to death was not "compelling" that individual by "external coercion" to "be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs"; rather, the death penalty for heretics in Catholic societies was the punishment (hence, a consequence) for having spread false beliefs among the Catholic faithful, which was a crime in Catholic kingdoms. Heretics were sometimes tortured to confess their acts and not as a "means of coercion" to embrace the One True Faith, "outside of which no one at all will be saved."

Note that Vatican II, in the very same document, also declared:
Religious freedom, in turn, which men demand as necessary to fulfill their duty to worship God, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society. Therefore it leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ. (Dignitatis humanae, 1)
Reflections on Paragraph 847 in the CCC

Here it is:
847 This affirmation is not aimed at those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ and his Church:

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.
Certainty for the eternal salvation of any particular non-Catholic would seem to rest upon multiple assumptions:

1) That such an individual could be "certain" that what he/she "does not know" was due to "through no fault of their own."

2) That such an individual was "seeking God with a sincere heart."

3) That such an individual was being "moved by grace" in such a way that the Holy Spirit was choosing not to reveal the mysteries of the Catholic Faith in such a way as to make that person culpable for his/her "lack of knowledge."

4) That such an individual was truly following "the dictates of their conscience."