Can Someone please explain Invincible Ignorance to me?

Desiring God! Atheists do not. The law written on our hearts leaves us with a longing for God and for worship of God. Atheists reject the idea of a God. They do not desire God. They are dead in their sins.

Not to jump in but… First of all I think invincible ignorance is generally misapplied in our modern world. People think most everyone is ignorant: atheists, Protestants, the Buddhist working at the 7-11 down the street since he is such a friendly man. The fact is that a person has to be genuinely doing all they can do to know and follow the truth. There must be something major keeping them from it. In the end, God alone is the Judge and may He be merciful to us all, sinners all.

You’re right on, original sin. If someone were invincibly ignorant - and generally the given example is indigenous peoples who have never heard the Gospel - then the belief is that they will be given at least the grace that is needed so they can be saved if they’ll respond to what God has revealed to them and what they can know. It’s a similar idea of Baptism by desire where the individual would immediately be Baptized if they could. With invincible ignorance, the issue is that if this person was presented with the whole truth they’d embrace it but something beyond their control is keeping them from it.

We have to balance God’s universal will to save with the fact that some people do not know of Christ or for some reason may be kept from Him and His Church. I think by and large the instances we can know that pertain to this in the modern world are very few. St. Prosper of Acquitaine furthered St. Augustine’s predestinational teaching to say that at least sufficient grace is given to all.

Now invincible ignorance does not apply to people indifferent towards God or the truth or to those doing knowing to know the truth. In addition if one were saved because of their invincible ignorance God would have to give them the grace to remove Original Sin and to be in a state of grace and to have some sort of internal faith in Christ even if they don’t know His name. We have to avoid - desperately avoid - becoming Pelagian and saying that somehow men of goodwill would simply follow the dictates of their conscience and be good enough to merit eternal life. No! Only be the grace of God in Jesus Christ, only by what Jesus does in us and for us, can we hope for salvation. Only in Him do we have the grace and means for eternal life. Somehow those same means would have to be given to these invincibly ignorant souls even while they are not explicit.

The idea of the “virtuous pagan” was believed throughout the history of the Church. St. Augustine in his City of God states how there are some outside of the visible Church that are really within her and some within the visible Church who are really not within her. God alone knows and can judge.

Pax Christi tecum.

Why in Romans 2 does it say they will be justified if they are doers of the Law, then in Romans 3 it says by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified?
I know it’s not a contradiction, but I could really use some help understanding this. Can you please elaborate some on Romans 3here?

  1. Now we know that **whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God;

  2. because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin**.

  3. But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,

  4. even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction;

  5. for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

  6. being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;

  7. whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed;

  8. for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

I do think it is extremely difficult to make an argument for an invincibly ignorant atheist for the very fact that as St. Paul says the invisible things of God are made known through His creation. God’s creation knows Him and I think atheists have to put forth concerted effort to maintain that God does not exist.

But again we have to remember that only God can judge a soul. We cannot. What we know is that we have to preach the Gospel to all, foremost in our lives and actions but also in words. We have pray - pray first and foremost! - and work for the salvation for all souls in this poor world.

Pax Christi tecum.

This is what it really comes down to. Imagine the child of two militant atheists, who is then molested by his Catholic (or Baptist) uncle. If that person rejects the notion of God and the Christian faith, can we really say it is all or mostly his fault?

All we can really do is judge a person by their fruits, and even in that case our judgement is not binding on us or on God.

The difference is between the ritual Law of Judaism, and the law of God written on each human heart.

If you can point to Catholic teaching that clearly says every self-described atheist (and agnostic?) goes to hell then I’ll concede your point. But otherwise you are claiming more than the Church teaches. I think, in particular, you are lumping all atheists into a single, simplistic caricature.

Ok, that makes sense now. :slight_smile:

Well, it depends. He may be invincibly ignorant if he continues to seek God and the truth yet this remains as keeping him from knowing the fullness of truth in Christ’s Church. Yet if he wallows in it and becomes indifferent to religion as a whole - with due responsibility to his uncle for sure - then he is culpable and not invincibly ignorant.

The problem with all these scenarios is the following:

  1. We’ll never know and only God can judge.
  2. We have to seek the conversion of all who do not have explicit faith in Jesus Christ and who are not full members of the Catholic Church.
  3. Usually invincible ignorance in our modern world has come to be a reason to not evangelize and to think every one is okay because they are doing their best, they are of good will. Not all are of good will. There are many, as there always have been, who don’t want to know what is God’s will and who prefer only what satisfies themselves.

Pax Christi tecum.

I agree.

  1. We have to seek the conversion of all who do not have explicit faith in Jesus Christ and who are not full members of the Catholic Church.

I strongly agree.

  1. Usually invincible ignorance in our modern world has come to be a reason to not evangelize and to think every one is okay because they are doing their best, they are of good will. Not all are of good will. There are many, as there always have been, who don’t want to know what is God’s will and who prefer only what satisfies themselves.

Quite true. We can never assert that ignorance is better than knowledge. We cannot, that is, take chances with other people’s salvation, to the extent that we can possibly bring them to the assurance of salvation found in the Catholic faith.

Christopher, thanks for posting this thread and many thanks to VociMike and Strugglingalong for your responses.

One other thing, check out what St. Thomas Aquinas says in the Summa Theologica:

"On the contrary, Nothing but sin deserves punishment. But ignorance deserves punishment, according to 1 Corinthians 14:38: “If any man know not, he shall not be known.” Therefore ignorance is a sin.

I answer that, Ignorance differs from nescience, in that nescience denotes mere absence of knowledge; wherefore whoever lacks knowledge about anything, can be said to be nescient about it: in which sense Dionysius puts nescience in the angels (Coel. Hier. vii). On the other hand, ignorance denotes privation of knowledge, i.e. lack of knowledge of those things that one has a natural aptitude to know. Some of these we are under an obligation to know, those, to wit, without the knowledge of which we are unable to accomplish a due act rightly. Wherefore all are bound in common to know the articles of faith, and the universal principles of right, and each individual is bound to know matters regarding his duty or state. Meanwhile there are other things which a man may have a natural aptitude to know, yet he is not bound to know them, such as the geometrical theorems, and contingent particulars, except in some individual case. Now it is evident that whoever neglects to have or do what he ought to have or do, commits a sin of omission. Wherefore through negligence, ignorance of what one is bound to know, is a sin; whereas it is not imputed as a sin to man, if he fails to know what he is unable to know. Consequently ignorance of such like things is called “invincible,” because it cannot be overcome by study. For this reason such like ignorance, not being voluntary, since it is not in our power to be rid of it, is not a sin: wherefore it is evident that no invincible ignorance is a sin. On the other hand, vincible ignorance is a sin, if it be about matters one is bound to know; but not, if it be about things one is not bound to know."

It’s Article 2 found here:

Notice what St. Thomas says: “Consequently ignorance of such like things is called “invincible,” because it cannot be overcome by study.” It’s not simply, “Oh I have a bad view of the Church because my dad was mean to me and he was Catholic.” It’s some barrier that, no matter what the person does, cannot be overcome - such as with the pagans before the time of Christ, the holy fathers of the Old Covenant before Christ, indigenous peoples living on an island yet discovered; those are some clear cut examples. How it applies to individual other cases only God knows.

Pax Christi tecum.

How can you deny Him and plead invisible ignorance? This makes no sense. We’re talking about atheism not agnosticsm. Perhaps this is where you are confused. You seem to be blurring the two together. Of course God is the final Judge and we leave it to His mercy. But Denying Him is not good for the soul. :eek: For a believer, that’s breaking the first commandment. The most serious offense against God!

Just a thought:

I’d say invincible ignorance is more about saying: “God alone is the Judge and if He wants He can save anybody by His grace” rather than about us making our own judgments on who is or is not invincibly ignorant. Regardless, we have to call all to Christ.

Pax Christi tecum.

Amen! :thumbsup:

I’m only blurring the two together because they often blur themselves together (see the differences between hard and weak atheism).

And the argument can be made that one who follows God’s law as written on their heart is not denying him. The scripture says doers of the law will be justified.

I’m not arguing that all atheists are saved, or most, or even very many. I’m simply trying to acknowledge that the Church holds out the possibility of salvation to those who actually seek to do God’s will, even if they claim not to see evidence of God. Not every atheist is Richard Dawkins.

Define atheism then? I’m trying to wrap my head around this. Forgive me if I come off combative. This is not my intent. :slight_smile:

But no man can be a doer of the law apart from Christ and the grace He gives. Apart from Him we can do nothing.

Pax Christi tecum.

Definitely correct.

Fair enough. Atheism runs the gamut from “There is absolutely no God!” to “I just don’t see the evidence for God”, and from “God is a vast, evil delusion and people who believe in God are the cause of all the world’s troubles!” to “I wish I could believe, but I just can’t. I wish I could have your peace, but I just can’t”.

Now, if somebody’s main source of the Gospel, for example, is fire-breathing fundamentalists who are quick to condemn everybody else to hell, that person may be quite right in rejecting that God, which is not the same as rejecting the one, true God. A person who rejects the God of Calvinism, who makes countless millions who have no hope of salvation, is not rejecting the one, true God, because Calvinism teaches a severe distortion of that one, true God. I happen to think both angry fundamentalism and spineless mainline Protestantism have helped to create countless atheists because they have misrepresented God and his message.

Again, scripture makes it quite clear, we will be judged not on whether we call out “Lord, Lord” but on whether we do what God says. And it is not impossible for an atheist to do what God says, according to the law written on his heart.

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