“But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohammedans, 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. ” (LG 16)
The part that I placed in bold is stating that those who are ignorant of Christ and his Church can attain salvation, provided that 1) it is not through their own fault, and 2) that they sincerely seek God and try to do his will as it is known to them. It is clear from this that such people place God as their last end, and this implies that perfect submission of the mind to God that I spoke of in my last post. Hence such people love God, and are in the state of justification.
Those who argue against this sense of this passage generally claim that the council is saying that such people can attain eternal salvation because if they seek God sincerely, God will bring them to an explicit knowledge of Christ and His Church.
This can clearly be seen to be false by looking at the official footnote that is given in this text. Lumen Gentium references the letter of the Holy Office to the Archbishop of Boston that we already looked at. Nevertheless, let me quote the sections it references, to see what the point being made is.
“In His infinite mercy God has willed that the effects, necessary for one to be saved, of those helps to salvation which are directed toward man's final end, not by intrinsic necessity, but only by divine institution, can also be obtained in certain circumstances when those helps are used only in desire and longing. This we see clearly stated in the Sacred Council of Trent, both in reference to the Sacrament of Regeneration and in reference to the Sacrament of Penance.
The same in its own degree must be asserted of the Church, in as far as she is the general help to salvation. Therefore, that one may obtain eternal salvation, it is not always required that he be incorporated into the Church actually as a member, but it is necessary that at least he be united to her by desire and longing.
However, 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.”
So, there is a group of people, who do not know of Christ or his Church. Lumen Gentium says that they can attain eternal salvation by sincerely seeking God and doing His will as it is known to them through their conscience. The explanation for this is given by citing that part of the letter of the Holy Office which says that someone involved in invincible ignorance can be joined to the Church by an implicit desire.
Hence, it follows that what Lumen Gentium is asserting is that these people who do not have a knowledge of Christ, already belong to the Church by their implicit desire for the Church, which “is included in that good disposition of soul whereby a person wishes his will to be conformed to the will of God,” i.e., in their sincerely seeking God, and doing is will insofar as they know it.
(Unitatis redintegratio) “Moreover, some and even very many of the significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church: the written word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, and visible elements too. All of these, which come from Christ and lead back to Christ, belong by right to the one Church of Christ.”
Here it is explicitly stated that the life of grace and Faith, Hope, and Charity can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Church. Thus, whoever has such is implicitly a Catholic, regardless of his state of knowledge.
A brief comment: some people respond to arguments like these by quoting many different passages from the council that very strongly emphasize the necessity of the Church for salvation. For example, see this document: http://www.marycoredemptrix.com/CenterReview/3_2005_Vatican2.pdf Such people have a fundamental misunderstanding of the very nature of what is being said. Nothing that I have said here goes against the truth that the Church is the means necessary for salvation, without which nobody can enter the kingdom of heaven. As is stated in the letter which LG 16 references, God allows a desire, even an implicit one, for these means to suffice in place of actually obtaining the means. Hence such a person is really part of the Church.