Moral Culpability of Idolaters?


Salvete, omnes!

My last post on the validity of images got me to thinking on the topic of this post…

In many passages, we read that idolaters are “without excuse” for their error.

First, let me say that I am speaking of idolatry proper, i.e., adoration of false gods, not any metaphorical extension of the term.

Yet, it would seem in examining the issue from the other (pagan) side of the equation, much of their idolatry derives more from ignorance of the Truth than from moral fault. One reason, for instance, given periodically during pagan ROme’s persecution of Christians, was their fear that the gods would punish them for failing to be adored. Many pagans also cited the apparently longstanding traditions of their forefathers as “evidence” of the supposed truth of their beliefs. The early Christian Apologists seem to some degree to acknowledge these claims as stemming from ignorance by giving well-reasoned answers to them. Shall we just chalk up an claim of ignorance in the pagan sources as mere cover for blatant disregard of what they knew to be right and True? Can we really say that every idolater, present and past, throughout every civilization is deliberately doing something that he knows is wrong and false? Is this what is to be understood by the phrase" without excuse" in the Scriptural passages?

This question may, once again, seem to be purely hypothetical/theoretical and little relevant to most of our lives today. However, for those of us who have an interest in the ancient world and even claim occupations related to it (as I do), this is relevant to how we view and how we even explain to those who may be under our tutelage, Christian or not. Furthermore, this discussion certainly has implications for other areas of life where this or that individual/group would claim ignorance of a truth. In these cases, we are forced to ask whether this ignorance is really sincere ignorance or whether it is actually being used as a cover for outright knowing disobedience to God. I would therefore appreicate it if you guys could help me better understand what “no excuse” means in the context of idolatry as it has been framed above.

Thanks in advance.


God knows when one is lying even to itself. For God there is no mystery, so if you or a group justify anything at all even idolatry and are being dishonest, God knows. You need God in order to gain perfection (freedom from sin) because he is the one who perfects you, but he will not make you perfect so that you can be in perfection (heaven) if you do not sincerely want that perfection (grace).

Salvation is not something that can be bargained or argued or earned for that matter, since all good comes from God so in reality God is the one that earns your own salvation. So it does not matter your rhetoric, excuses, lies or justifications, in the end God will give you what you deserve and not on your merit but on his merit since salvation is earned through the Cross of Christ that means that Christ is the one that merits your salvation because those were his actions and since Christ is God and God know everything, there are no arguments.

An idolater who tries to bargain by claiming falsely ignorance is doing the bargaining with men not God, because for God there is no excuse, since none exist, because like I wrote before He already knows the truth about everything, every single sub particle in the universe is part of his plan and knowledge, every thought, every emotion everything.

Do not worry about such things since God is the only one who truly knows and it does not matter what anyone thinks, wants or desires, just his Will. So what does it matter to you if it is sincere ignorance or not since your opinion has no weight in God’s plan?

There are somethings that we can barely comprehend and one of those things is his beatific plan, but for sure no one can say anything with certainty and no one can condemn anyone else much less a group, the same way no one can claim salvation with certainty and those who do are probably farther away than those who do not.
I hope this helps


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?

closed #4

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