Still a bit confused.
Our author begins in Chapter 13 by calling all men who have “ignorance” of God “vain” by “nature” (φυσει/phusei). This would very strongly seem to suggest that they “cannot help” the way they are. (Some might read here for “vain” a translation of “irreverent” which could more easily lay the fault at their feet. Still, how could they be acting irreverently in “ignorance”? Ignorance (agnosia) implies a(n unwillful?) “not-knowing”, “not-perceiving” or “not-recognizing”. One might argue that this ignorance is willful, though one might also counter that “ignorance”, truly and properly, cannot be so. “Willful ignorance” is actually “knowledge with willful denial based on argumentation made invalid by this knowledge”. I suppose, however, one could argue that “ignorance” is being used as a kind of shorthand for what I just described.
The arguments the author uses are indeed most convincing and it does rather baffle the mind how those who worshipped nature (as are first described) could reasonably do so. Still, no matter why they may have been foolish in their behavior, are they really to be held morally responsible for this foolishness? To perhaps be a bit more stark/vulgar in my expression, “These people are just stupid, so let’s punish them for being stupid.” This makes little sense to me.
Perhaps we may say that the more educated/refined/philosophical mind such as that of the author should, indeed, be able to contemplate that God is Creator of the whole of nature, but even the entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia (New Advent site) seems to imply that the men being described here were likely “uncultured”.
Indeed, here, the question is never answered as to why men could not make the leap from the creation to the Creator. Is this, then, to be attributed to willful ignorance? Did they truly not want to make that leap? If so, why not? Because of their sin? Or because, as later pagans would argue, they held their “tradition” as speaking to the supposed authority of their beliefs?
The author at first honors men’s intention in seeking after God, saying that their fault is small, though he still (morally?) faults them, though they “perhaps” err (make an uninteded mistake?) (Wisdom 13:6). (The uncertainty with which the author makes this assertion is of itself interesting in an inspired text.) Indeed, if this is a “mistake”, why are they even being blamed at all? (At least to me,) a “mistake” implies unintentionality.
Again, I point out that, in one breath, the author soothes, in the next (13:8 ff.), he condemns. But, what, precisely, does he soothe and what, precisely, does he condemn? What fault does he consider “little” (ολιγη/olige) or “less” (Vulg. “minor”) and which does he (apparently) consider greater? He would seem to be blaming men for oversight rather than for willful sin (13:9).
The remainder of Chapter 13 and much of Chapter 14 goes on to expound on the foolishness of those who would set up things created by man’s art as gods. Surely, we would agree that this is, as it is described, folly and it is hard to wrap the mind around how such folly could even take place. Still, is this willful ignorance or to be attributed to man’s (unwillful) ignorance?
Finally, a punishment is promised for these acts. So, fools are punished for being foolish?
Perhaps this “blame” or “fault” is actually being attributed to the lack of wisdom in man compared to that in God Who is All-Wise? Men often get puffed up in thinking they are so wise, but God is the Source of Wisdom. Thus, men’s foolishness, though stemming from inculpable ignorance, is, yet, in some sense, found to be blameworthy or faulty(?).
Let us now look at a text which seems to be Paul’s analysis of the above passages (Romans 1:18-23). Paul begins by speaking of the revelation of Christ to the world. From there, he speaks of God’s wrath being revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of those who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness. Perhaps his first thought is here of the Jews who sought to suppress the Truth of Christ? He may, then, be thinking of those who suppress the Truth of One God for idols. Who, more precisely, though, are these latter “suppressers of the truth”? Were they only the “original” idolaters, i.e., those who began the idolatrous “trend”, as it were? Or are they any pagan anywhere? Are they only the pagan religious authorities? It would seem to me that Paul may here be speaking of those first idolaters who, for whatever reason, blatantly refused to acknowledge God as God and set up idols which, then, led to ignorance among generations that would follow. (Thus, men became “futile”or “vain” in their thinking, etc.) We may, indeed, even have an allusion to the comparison of man’s foolishness with God’s Wisdom in v. 22. The futility or vanity of mind here treated is apparently seen by Paul as a punishment (the punishment spoken of in our Wisdom passage?) for the (original and intentional?) forsaking of the One True God. While this indeed gives us much more insight into the Wisdom passages, it still leaves many of the questions unanswered which I above posed, primarily: Are all idolaters, past and present, in all the ages, in all the cultures, to be held in and of themselves morally culpable for their intentional and willful denial of the Truth? Are any “excuses” from any of them at any time to be written off as merely a cover for what they knew to be wrong?
Does God punish the ignorant as if they were willfully culpable? I always thought Catholic theology spoke against such a view, that each (particularly heathen and/or non-Christians if they are ignorant of the complete Truth) would be punished according to his own moral standards (that is, the moral standards he understands). Or, am I completely missing the mark on this one?
Can anyone direct me to some good commentary on the Wisdom passages?