Invincible Ignorance


#1

Many misunderstand the principle of invincible ignorance. It’s critics, both non-Catholics, and traditionalist Catholics, think that it is a recipe for universalism. In fact, invincible ignorance is a biblical principle that has been preserved by the Catholic Church down to this day. The following is an excerpt from a book I am writing with a friend, which details some of the biblical proof. As the Bible is readily available for public consumption, I have no qualms in presenting this section. The book also includes all the patristic proof that invincible ignorance has been preserved in the Catholic Church continuously down to this day, but due to possible copyright restrictions, I will not post the patristic proofs here (the book is being edited at this time):

The very notion of invincible ignorance has been in existence from the most ancient times. It is, first of all, very explicit from the pages of the Bible. In the Old Testament, there is a definite distinction made between acts committed in ignorance as opposed to those which are done in full knowledge. For instance:

If he touches human uncleanness, of whatever sort the uncleanness may be with which one becomes unclean, and it is hidden from him, when he comes to know it he shall be guilty. Or if any one utters with his lips a rash oath to do evil or to do good, any sort of rash oath that men swear, if it is hidden from him, when he comes to know it he shall in any of these be guilty. (Lev 5:3,4)

The fourth chapter of Leviticus is a record of the provisions made for sins done “unwittingly,” by priest, congregation, or ruler. Again, in Numbers, we have this distinction:

You shall have one law for him who does anything unwittingly, for him who is native among the people of Israel, and for the stranger who sojourns among them. But the person who does anything with a high hand, whether he is native or a sojourner, reviles the Lord, and that person shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the Lord, and has broken his commandment, that person shall be utterly cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him. (Num 15:29-31)

This passage expressively captures the very essence of the principle of invincible ignorance.

In the New Testament, Jesus himself tells the Pharisees, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains” (Jn 9:39-41; see n.129 supra). And again, speaking to His Apostles, “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin … If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father” (Jn 15:22, 24). St. Peter declares, “And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouths of all the prophets, that his Christ should suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent, therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that the times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord”(Ac 3:17). Not knowing Christ is itself a sin worthy of condemnation, but here Peter excuses his audience because of their ignorance. But now that Christ has come, they should confess all their sins in the presence of the Lord. St James exhorts, “Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin” (Jm 4:17). St. Paul also says in his speech to the Athenians, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent” (Ac 17:30). Again, Paul definitely assigns the guilt of unbelief only to those who have heard and then rejected:

For a man believes with his heart and so is justified, and he confesses with his lips and so is saved … But how are men to call upon him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? … So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ. But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have; for ‘Their voice has gone out to all th earth, and their words to the ends of the world’ … Again, I ask, did Israel not understand?” (Rom 10:10-21)

Here, Paul even implies that understanding is a key element to culpability, not just the fact of hearing.

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#2

(continued)

Invincible ignorance does not apply to:

  1. People who choose to remain ignorant out of moral laxness, especially if an opportunity is afforded to them to learn and know the Truth;

  2. People who are ignorant out of malice, even if this ignorance is otherwise invincible. For instance, one may have never heard of the Catholic Truth. That by itself falls under the purview of invincible ignorance. However, if one refuses to learn about the Truth out of malice towards the Catholic faith, the ignorance is no longer invincible.

  3. People whose beliefs contradict the natural law of God. Thus, even without literary knowledge of such truths, murderers, adulterers, child molesters, etc. cannot be included in the mitigation of invincible ignorance. Likewise, adherents to religions that practice human sacrifice or promote violence are not afforded this mitigation.

Simply hearing about the Truth and rejecting it is not enough to be regarded culpable. One must first have a conviction that the Truth is in fact the Truth, and THEN reject it, in order for one to be culpable of mortal sin. That is why the Catholic Church is much tougher on first generation schismatics and heretics than later generations. The first generation(s) have grown up in the Truth of the Church, and afterwards rejected it. Of course, this is not cut and dried. Someone who has grown up in the Catholic Church, but has never once regarded it as true, may fall under the purview of invincible ignorance. But this is not likely. Those who are born in a certain faith are more likely at some point in their childhood to have obtained a child-like faith that counts as a true recognition that the faith one has received is the Truth, a faith that exists several years past the age of reason. Thus, falling away from it thereafter would be regarded as a culpable mortal sin.

Some may wonder: “How reasonable is it that one who has been convicted of the Truth later falls away from it? If one falls away from the Truth, perhaps one was never convicted in the first place. Thus, would not everyone who falls away always fall under the mitigation of invincible ignorance?” People would be surprised at how many people who are convicted of the Truth can indeed fall away. I know of people who were strong Christians/Catholics, but grew to hate God because of some terrible circumstance in their life. I know of, and have known strong Catholics who “convert” to another faith for the sake of their spouse. I know of, and have heard of strong Catholics who fall away because they want a divorce. I know of, and have known strong Christians and Catholics who become lukewarm or completely apostatize because of the cares of the world. Such people have known the Faith to be true, and afterwards rejected it. For such as these, invincible ignorance is not a factor.

Invincible ignorance is not a recipe for universalism. Far from it. The teaching evinces the mercy of God while preserving His justice.

The best explanation of invincible ignorance can be found in the NewAdvent article (Old Catholic Encyclopedia) on “Ignorance.”

[font=Arial]God bless[/font]


#3

In fact, invincible ignorance is a biblical principle that has been preserved by the Catholic Church down to this day.

The earliest use of the concept seems to have been by Pope Pius IX in Quanto Conficiamur (1863), although discussion of the concept can be found as far back as Origen.


#4

[quote=GAssisi]The book also includes all the patristic proof that invincible ignorance has been preserved in the Catholic Church continuously down to this day
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Oh dear, I am almost dying of mirth …

:rotfl: :rotfl: :rotfl:


#5

Thank you for the supporting info, Father. Just one minor correction. Indeed, Pio Nono was the first to use the specific term. However, he used it in an official public document much earlier than 1863. That’s all I’ll say, or my co-writer will have my hide. Hehe!

God bless.


#6

[quote=Fr Ambrose]Oh dear, I am almost dying of mirth …

:rotfl: :rotfl: :rotfl:
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Is this an insult?:confused:


#7

Dear Mickey,

Thanks for standing up for me. I’m not sure if Fr A was being sarcastic. Perhaps the clear testimony of Scripture is not sufficient for him. Or maybe he is genuinely happy to know that there is patristic support for the principle of invincible ignorance. Either way, I will cave in and provide just one of the multitude of patristic quotes included in the book I mentioned. The following is by St. Gregory of Nyssa from Against Eunomius:

“It is certainly a terrible thing to be held in unconsciousness by hidden guile, as the result of some fallacious argument: yet where it is involuntary the misfortune is excusable: but to be brought to make trial of evil as the result of a kind of forethought and zealous desire, not in ignorance of what will befall, surpasses every extreme of misery.”

[font=Arial]God bless[/font]


#8

[quote=GAssisi]Dear Mickey,

Thanks for standing up for me. I’m not sure if Fr A was being sarcastic. Perhaps the clear testimony of Scripture is not sufficient for him. Or maybe he is genuinely happy to know that there is patristic support for the principle of invincible ignorance. Either way, I will cave in and provide just one of the multitude of patristic quotes included in the book I mentioned. The following is by St. Gregory of Nyssa from Against Eunomius:

“It is certainly a terrible thing to be held in unconsciousness by hidden guile, as the result of some fallacious argument: yet where it is involuntary the misfortune is excusable: but to be brought to make trial of evil as the result of a kind of forethought and zealous desire, not in ignorance of what will befall, surpasses every extreme of misery.”

[font=Arial]God bless[/font]
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Hey GA,

I love the writings of St Gregory of Nyssa–such a wealth of information! Let us all know when your book is available. I’d love to read it.

God Bless you


#9

[quote=Mickey]Is this an insult?:confused:
[/quote]

It may have been.

GAssisi wrote:

“invincible ignorance has been preserved in the Catholic Church continuously down to this day”

So yes, it does seem insulting. I see that GAssisi lists himself in his profile not as a Catholic but as “Christian” so he may be one of those Protestants with an axe to grind. Just like a Protestant to say that the Catholic Church is steeped in invincible ignorance. :frowning:


#10

[quote=Mickey]Is this an insult?:confused:
[/quote]

Well I hope not because when I saw it I choked and splayed my tea all over my screen - 'twas a misslipped statement as me mum would say, which upon first reading did make me laugh (once I stopped choking and wiped off the screen).


#11

[quote=Fr Ambrose]It may have been.

GAssisi wrote:

“invincible ignorance has been preserved in the Catholic Church continuously down to this day”

So yes, it does seem insulting. I see that GAssisi lists himself in his profile not as a Catholic but as “Christian” so he may be one of those Protestants with an axe to grind. Just like a Protestant to say that the Catholic Church is steeped in invincible ignorance. :frowning:
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Perhaps **GAssisi **meant to say “Knowledge of the principle of Invincible Ignorance…”.That is, that the Church has known about this idea all along.


#12

[quote=Fr Ambrose]Oh dear, I am almost dying of mirth …

:rotfl: :rotfl: :rotfl:
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This is mockery. Mockery is unchristian and uncharitable.

Irenicist


#13

[quote=Fr Ambrose]I see that GAssisi lists himself in his profile not as a Catholic but as “Christian” so he may be one of those Protestants with an axe to grind.
[/quote]

This is an ad hominem attack. GAssisi has never identified himself as a Protestant, and his personal convictions or religious affiliation are not pertinent to the matter at hand.

[quote=Fr Ambrose]Just like a Protestant to say that the Catholic Church is steeped in invincible ignorance. :frowning:
[/quote]

This is a misrepresentation, even if intended humorously. GAssisi wrote no such thing.

Irenicist


#14

[quote=Irenicist]This is mockery. Mockery is unchristian and uncharitable.

[/quote]

Oh dear! and I see that Sophia had an even stronger reaction than mine and spluttered her tea all over the monitor in her mirth.

I think that Sophia and I would draw a distinction between mockery and spontaneous mirth?


#15

[quote=Irenicist]This is an ad hominem attack. GAssisi has never identified himself as a Protestant, and his personal convictions or religious affiliation are not pertinent to the matter at hand.
[/quote]

Our experience of life may not be equal, but I have found that people who identify themselves as “Christian” in such things as profiles and statistical queries are invariably Protestant.

This is a misrepresentation, even if intended humorously. GAssisi wrote no such thing.

I’ve read the sentence a dozen times and it does say such a thing. It may have been a slip. It may have been expressed ineptly. But that is what was said.


#16

[quote=Irenicist]This is mockery. Mockery is unchristian and uncharitable.

Irenicist
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Ah but a sense of humor is required – the Great St. Teresa said “spare us from long faced saints”.


#17

[quote=HagiaSophia]Ah but a sense of humor is required – the Great St. Teresa said “spare us from long faced saints”.
[/quote]

I don’t know of any saints who found mockery of others humorous.
Irenicist


#18

[quote=Fr Ambrose]Our experience of life may not be equal, but I have found that people who identify themselves as “Christian” in such things as profiles and statistical queries are invariably Protestant.
[/quote]

Even if such a generalization were true, it would still, in this case, be an ad hominem attack. You can dodge the point all you want, but avoiding the substance of an argument by raising a smoke screen of irrelevant personal specualtion about the disputant is harldy an appeal to dispationate (not to mention courteous) reason.

[quote=Fr Ambrose] I’ve read the sentence a dozen times and it does say such a thing. It may have been a slip. It may have been expressed ineptly. But that is what was said.
[/quote]

Here is what you wrote:

“Just like a Protestant to say that the Catholic Church is steeped in invincible ignorance.”

Here is what** GAssisi **wrote:

“The book also includes all the patristic proof that invincible ignorance has been preserved in the Catholic Church continuously down to this day…”

Even if one were to deliberately misread his choice of words as referring to the reality rather than the concept of “invicible ignorance”, only constructive misrepresentation could equate “has been preserved in” with “is steeped in”. And even if you legitimately insist on your a literal metaphor of “soaking in liquid” (“steeped in”) it would logically and gramatically read “invincible ignorance is steepd in the Catholic Church”, not the other way round. But this would not have quite served your intended purpose in mockery. So you twisted his words by inverting subject and object so as to make the words say plainly what they did not, and you then mocked the author (and the Catholic Church) in the process.

Quod est demonstrandum.

Irenicist


#19

[quote=Fr Ambrose]Oh dear! and I see that Sophia had an even stronger reaction than mine and spluttered her tea all over the monitor in her mirth.

I think that Sophia and I would draw a distinction between mockery and spontaneous mirth?
[/quote]

There is a word for mirth at the expense of others. There lies the distinction in this case.

Irenicist


#20

[quote=Irenicist]There is a word for mirth at the expense of others. There lies the distinction in this case.

Irenicist
[/quote]

Oh come on,it was funny and besides Gas was digging himself a hole he could’nt get out of.

Just follow his posting history before he started this thread and it just makes it more funny.


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