invincible ignorance

I’ve read the “dictionary definition” of the concept of invincible ignorance from the website, but I want to know what it means in a practical sense to Catholics.

Consider the following scenario:

Suppose you moved to the United States from the Middle East and you converted to Catholicism. Due to international issues, you can’t communicate with your parents back home. Which of the following two scenarios would you prefer?
a)Your parents live the most moral lives. They never hear about Jesus before they die.
b)Your parents live the most moral lives. A Catholic evangelist talks to them about Jesus for the first time and they begin to truly believe that He is the savior of the world and to desire to do His will. Unfortunately, before the evangelist could mention anything about the Catholic Church or baptism, a bomb wipes out the neighborhood including the evangelist and your parents.

The idea of invincible ignorance could still apply in the second situation. It’s not like we must hear about Jesus and immediately decide to become Christian, especially if we are not made aware of (or offered) the means to do so (Christian Baptism).

The closer we are to Jesus at the time of our death, the better. I’ll take Door #2 any day.

(and, actually, by having a desire to do Our Lord’s will, this could be regarded as Baptism of Desire, in which the full merits of water Baptism are imparted to someone who desires it but is unable to attain it before death due to circumstances beyond his control.)

No one can “unpack” these types of scenarios. The CCC speaks of “culpable unbelief” (CCC, #678) as well as “those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of the Gospel” (CCC, #848). In any case, “the Church still has the obligation and also the sacred right to evangelize all men.” (CCC, #838). Leave the judgments to Him who “showed the divine penetration he had into the secret thoughts of human hearts.” (CCC, #473)

This is how I view the process:
1)person born--------→2)person learns for the first time about Jesus --------→3)person accepts Jesus--------→4)person learns for the first time that Jesus commands baptism-----→5)person desires to be baptized--------→6)person is baptized

Let me just clarify something. Assuming that a person lives the most moral life, invincible ignorance allows for salvation when a person dies between points 1 and 2 and technically, if the person truly accepts Jesus and desires his will, he could receive the baptism of desire if he died between points 3 and 4?

Putting aside infant Baptism, I see no reason why #3 and #4 must be separate events. The Ethiopian eunuch (full account, Acts 8:26-40) appears to have been taught (by Philip) about Jesus and Baptism at the same time - he says, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” His desire came immediately after hearing Philip’s teaching. Had there been no water available, and they had been beset by brigands and killed, we could assume the eunuch had desired Baptism.

But suppose Philip (for some strange reason) been more restrained in his teaching and held back on the concept of Baptism. The eunuch declared, “I believe in Jesus and will do everything he wants me to do.” Then the brigands come and kill them all. This is at least an implicit desire for Baptism. We cannot know for sure how he would have reacted if Philip had explained it - maybe he would have said, “that’s stupid” and rejected it. But GOD knows how he would have reacted.

Let me just clarify something. Assuming that a person lives the most moral life, invincible ignorance allows for salvation when a person dies between points 1 and 2

No, invincible ignorance has nothing to do with such things.

Invincible ignorance is the Catholic teaching that we cannot be held accountable for a sin (either of commission or omission) that we did not have any reasonable opportunity to know was a sin (ie, we cannot sin accidentally, without consent). That is a VERY broad idea, which happens to ALSO apply (in a tiny fraction of the situations) to people who are held innocent from sin of disbelief because they did not properly know correct belief (such as righteous pagans).

Suppose you’re on a game-show, and you ask a contestant to define “invincible ignorance.” If they start out, “The teaching that people who have not had the opportunity to know the Gospel…” then BZZZZ you hit the buzzer and they are disqualified. That is one very narrow and trivial application of the concept. It is not at all, in any way, shape, or form, what the doctrine actually means. The doctrine is usually applies to Catholics.

I would most certainly hope for scenario B.

First, the scenario in A is one of invincible ignorance, but that only allows us to HOPE that God, being merciful and loving, MIGHT save them. We do not know.

Second, the scenario in B has nothing to do with invincible ignorance, but more to do with baptism by desire. If they truly desired to be baptised and would had they had the time, then they are so baptised and would be saved.

But even if we could ignore that, there’s another point to be made: it is better for them to know than not to know about God. God gave us free will specifically because it is better for us to freely choose Him than to not have a choice. Likewise, knowing God and approaching God at any time is better than not knowing God, even if it is in a scenario where the person may die soon (before baptism even). There is never a time when it is better to withhold information about God from people.

I gotta say, these hypotheticals are of zero benefit in teaching a Christian how to live his life and what God expects of him.

And no Catholic would start talking about Jesus without also talking about his Church, his body here on earth, his sacrament of salvation.


God alone knows what is in the heart and mind of an person. There is no scenario anyone could devise that God could not see through and know what is really going on.

You are right. Hypotheticals are of zero benefit.

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