The most common objection to the doctrine of EENS I have heard is that the doctrine is unfair and seems to be harsh on those people who have no contact with the Church, either, because they live in remote and inaccessible places, such as in the middle of the rainforest, on desert islands or in the Arctic wastes or, because they are born and brought up in countries completely surrounded by people who practice another religion such as those who live in China or India.
However, I remember that before Vatican II, when the doctrine of EENS was the doctrine of the Church, there were Catholic missions all over the world, probably in every country, because the missionary priests and nuns sincerely believed that there was no salvation outside the Church and they took Our Lord’s commandment to go to all nations to baptise and preach the Gospel, seriously.
Every classroom in my Catholic primary school in England in the fifties had a chart pinned to the wall representing a flight of stairs with thirty steps which terminated in the Gates of Heaven. Each pupil was given a small cut-out paper doll representing an Indian, African, Chinese, Polynesian, etc. child. In those politically incorrect days, they were known as ‘the Black Babies’. Each pupil’s paper doll was pinned to the chart and, with every penny the child brought to school, the paper doll moved up a step, until after thirty steps the doll reached the Gates of Heaven when the pupil was given a small certificate stating that they had contributed half a crown to the missions for the salvation of a child and could choose a baptismal name for the child.
“You send five bob to some nuns in Africa and they christen a baby and name her after you. I’ve got six black Cordelias already. Isn’t it lovely.”
From ‘Brideshead Revisited’ by Evelyn Waugh. Link to an interesting essay about the book.
Missionaries frequently visited the schools and the church to give talks about, and to raise funds for, their missionary activities. However, with the adoption of the heresies of salvation by desire or invincible ignorance, these missionary activities have virtually ceased or have been transmuted into social work rather than that of salvation. How many souls have been lost to God because of the adoption of these heresies by the Church? The result of the abandonment of the doctrine of EENS has been infinitely more cruel in that so many people have been deprived of the opportunity of salvation and the merits of Christ’s death that baptism applies to the individual soul.
Christ taught that Baptism is necessary for salvation “Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Ghost, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.” The Athanasian Creed, accepted as Infallible by the Church, begins with the warning: “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith. Which Faith, except everyone do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.” Were ignorance capable of saving one, it would be the cruelest thing to do as Christ commanded, and go forth to all nations, baptising and teaching them all things He taught us. It would be far kinder to leave them in their ignorance, which is so much easier to keep than our Catholic Faith with all its rules…
What is forgotten here is that Baptism does not just forgive sins. It directly applies the merits of Christ’s death to the individual soul; it makes of the baptised person a “new creature” (no longer a member of fallen humanity, which of its nature cannot enter into heaven, he becomes a member of redeemed humanity, which can); it places an indelible mark on the soul; it grafts him into the Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ; and it infuses knowledge of the Truth in a sub- or superintellectual manner—and all of these are necessary to enter into Heaven. An individual who is in the state of justification but has not received these other effects, is like one of the just of the Old Testament. Their sins were forgiven them; but they could not ascend to Heaven precisely because they were sons of Adam. They had to be united to Christ, because “no one ascends to the Father except through me.” This union was accomplished for them by Christ when He “descended into hell,” as we say in the Apostle’s Creed. For those of us in the New Law, that can only happen through Baptism. Of course, it is far easier for us than for the Old Law people, who had no sacramental graces.
From the Feenyite FAQ by Charles Coulombe. Link
Another point is that in this world post the internet, it is exceedingly difficult to justify the argument of invincible ignorance. All the Gospels , Epistles, Catechisms, the dogmas of the faith , papal ex-cathedra bulls and encyclicals, out of print Catholic books etc. are available to anyone who sincerely seeks the Truth. I now have access to a wealth of materials which support the catechism I learnt as a child and which would have been unavailable or difficult to find pre the internet.