Thursday, August 20, 2009

Pope Pius IX and Invincible Ignorance

There is, sadly, a common error, which asserts that Pope Pius IX taught that persons may be saved while invincibly ignorant of the one true Faith of the one true God.

What did Pope Pius IX teach concerning invincible ignorance? Did he teach that a person, who is invincibly ignorant of the true religion, may be saved by this invincible ignorance, as some modern day heretics imagine?

Definitely not. To assert that he taught this is to ignore the many defenses he made of the dogma that there is no salvation outside of the Catholic Church, as well as ignoring the objective sense of the teachings, so often misapplied by heretics, which speak on the topic of invincible ignorance.

Let us begin by understanding what is generally meant by the term "invincible ignorance".

St. Thomas Aquinas, Prima Secunda Partis, Q. 76, Art. 2: "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."


The above quotation from St. Thomas will provide the necessary ground work for understanding what Pope Pius IX taught concerning invincible ignorance.  From his teaching, it would follow that those who are unable to know the Gospel have not committed a sin by their ignorance (though they would still be in original sin and would be stained by the guilt of all their actual sins), and this is exactly what Pope Pius IX taught, as we will see.

It is a very well known among true Catholics that explicit knowledge and belief in certain dogmas are necessary for salvation, as attested by Pope Benedict XIV:

Pope Benedict XIV, Cum religiosi, 1754 (Many Ignorant of Mysteries of Faith): "We could not rejoice, however, when it was subsequently reported to Us that in the course of religious instruction preparatory to Confession and Holy Communion, it was very often found that these people were ignorant of the mysteries of the faith, even of those matters which must be known by necessity of means; consequently, they were ineligible to partake of the Sacraments."


Scripture itself also proposes the same for our belief:

Hebrews 11:6: "But without faith it is impossible to please God. For he that cometh to God, must believe that he is, and is a rewarder to them that seek him."

Is that all that we must believe in? Though? That "He Is, and is a Rewarder to them that seek Him."? What does Scripture say?

Romans 10:17: "Faith then cometh by hearing; and hearing by the word of Christ."

Therefore one must hear the Gospel in order to have the Faith that saves, the divine and Catholic Faith, else one is not a child of God, nor pleasing to Him.

Pope Pius IX, Vatican Council, Session 3, Chapter 3, #8-9, ex cathedra: "Wherefore, by divine and Catholic faith all those things are to be believed which are contained in the word of God as found in Scripture and tradition, and which are proposed by the Church as matters to be believed as divinely revealed, whether by her solemn judgment or in her ordinary and universal magisterium.  Since, then, without faith it is impossible to please God and reach the fellowship of his sons and daughters, it follows that no one can ever achieve justification without it, neither can anyone attain eternal life unless he or she perseveres in it to the end."

The Mysteries the Trinity and the Incarnation are examples of such dogmas that must be believed by necessity of means, defined by Pope Eugene IV in the dogmatic Athanasian Creed.

Now let us examine the texts in which Pope Pius IX is falsely accused of teaching that souls may be saved, despite dying in invincible ignorance:

Pope Pius IX, Singulari Quadem, December 9, 1854: "For it must be held by faith that outside the Apostolic Roman Church, no one can be saved; that this is the only ark of salvation; that he who shall not have entered therein will perish in the flood; but, on the other hand, it is necessary to hold for certain that they who labor in ignorance of the true religion, if this ignorance is invincible, are not stained by any guilt in this matter in the eyes of God."

So first of all, if a person has not ENTERED into the Faith, the ONLY ark of salvation, then he shall perish. He goes on to teach that ignorance itself will not excuse a person from the guilt of infidelity to the true religion (which includes subjecting oneself to a publicly heretical antipope, or being raised in a Protestant sect), but invincible ignorance alone. Notice also that the teaching of Pope Pius IX does NOT state that such persons will be exonerated from the guilt of original sin or any other sins against morality. Pope Pius IX never taught that persons who die in the state of invincible ignorance of the true Faith could be saved, but that their just and eternal punishment would not include punishment for the sin of infidelity. This is perfectly in line with God's justice.

As for people who began as Catholics and subjected themselves to a heretical religious superior, these are also objectively members of a false religion, and here again, it must be held that only invincible ignorance will remove guilt in this matter in the eyes of God. However, it is not for us to speculate as to who is invincibly ignorant and who is not, as Pius IX goes on to relate in the continuation of the above quotation:

Pope Pius IX, Singulari Quadem, December 9, 1854: "Now, in truth, who would arrogate so much to himself as to mark the limits of such an ignorance, because of the nature and variety of peoples, regions, innate dispositions, and of so many other things? For, in truth, when released from these corporeal chains 'we shall see God as He is' (1 John 3.2), we shall understand perfectly by how close and beautiful a bond divine mercy and justice are united; but as long as we are on earth, weighed down by this mortal mass which blunts the soul, let us hold most firmly that, in accordance with Catholic teaching, there is "one God, one faith, one baptism" (Eph. 4.5); it is unlawful to proceed further in inquiry."

Another quotation used by heretics in support of their perverse doctrine is the following:

Pope Pius IX, Singulari Quidem, 1856, #7:
"This hope of salvation is placed in the Catholic Church which, in preserving the true worship, is the solid home of this faith and the temple of God. Outside of the Church, nobody can hope for life or salvation unless he is excused through ignorance beyond his control."

At first glance this one sentence may appear to teach that a person may be saved outside of the Catholic Church. But we already know Pope Pius IX censures this proposition as a very grave error. So what is he really saying? He says that nobody can HOPE for life or salvation, not that nobody can ATTAIN it. He is speaking of those who, again, are ignorant INVINCIBLY, that is beyond their control - people who have no way whatsoever in their power to learn of the true Faith of Jesus Christ. Such people, following the Law of God written on their conscience, may indeed hope for life and salvation, since they have not rejected that Faith, of which they are unable to be aware. This hope is made possible by the mercy of God, at whose pleasure such a person may be profitably enlightened with the Gospel.

A person who is CULPABLY ignorant on the other hand, does not have this excuse, and is guilty before the Lord of the sin of negligence. The only hope of life and salvation for these people is a vain hope, since they have failed in their important obligation to learn and profess the one true religion of the one true God, or worse yet, they have willfully rejected it. Such a person cannot hope for life or salvation, until they profitably correct their culpability and embrace the true religion.

If it seems like a stretch to understand the words of Pope Pius IX in this manner, consider what he has stated in the paragraph immediately preceding this one:

Pope Pius IX, Singulari Quidem, 1856, #6: "The Church has always condemned and continues to condemn the conduct of those who abuse their reason; those who do not fear to foolishly and criminally prefer reason to the authority of what God Himself says; those who boldly exalt themselves; those who, blinded by their pride and their vanity, lose the light of truth and proudly spurn the faith of which it is written: "Whoever does not believe will be condemned." Full of confidence in themselves, they deny that we must believe in God for Himself and accept what He taught us about Himself."

So he is stating that those who have rejected the Church have no hope for salvation, but those who may be of good will yet have hope, specifically the hope that their invincible ignorance may be overcome and they will be brought into the true Faith.

The next quote offered by modern heretics begins thus:

Pope Pius IX, Quanto Conficiamur Moerore, 1863, #7: "Here, too, our beloved sons and venerable brothers, it is again necessary to mention and censure a very grave error entrapping some Catholics who believe that it is possible to arrive at eternal salvation although living in error and alienated from the true faith and Catholic unity. Such belief is certainly opposed to Catholic teaching."

Okay, first he states that it is an error to believe in salvation outside of the Church. No problem here. He goes on:

"There are, of course, those who are struggling with invincible ignorance about our most holy religion. Sincerely observing the natural law and its precepts inscribed by God on all hearts and ready to obey God, they live honest lives and are able to attain eternal life by the efficacious virtue of divine light and grace. Because God knows, searches and clearly understands the minds, hearts, thoughts, and nature of all, his supreme kindness and clemency do not permit anyone at all who is not guilty of deliberate sin to suffer eternal punishments."

Wonderful! What does the objective sense of this text state? Does it state that a person WHO DIES in that state will be saved, or even may be saved? No. It simply states that God will not suffer such a person to be eternally punished. What does this mean, in the context of his encyclical and of Catholic dogma? The obvious answer, the ONLY answer, is that God will get that person, who stained only with original sin and has never willingly consented to actual sin, though they had the opportunity to do so, baptized, bringing him into His faith so that he may merit eternal life. The words of Pius IX are justly understood in this light, since there is no contradiction here with the Catholic dogma.

A great example in history of a person who followed the natural law written on his heart is Blessed Caius of Korea. The man was obviously given great grace by God, until such a time as his conscience was illuminated by the light of the Gospel, in short, to use the words of Pope Pius IX in the previous paragraph, he was "able to attain eternal life by the efficacious virtue of divine light and grace." And it was even Pope Pius IX himself who beatified him.

Now, about Pius IX, his words are simply not heretical as they stand, and in fact have a very important meaning. One would have to change his words to make them heretical, but this is not necessary at all for them to have a Catholic understanding. Furthermore, Pius IX was indeed vociferous in preaching the salvation dogma:

Pope Pius IX, Qui Pluribus, 1846: "For this mother and teacher of all the churches has always preserved entire and unharmed the faith entrusted to it by Christ the Lord. Furthermore, it has taught it to the faithful, showing all men truth and the path of salvation. Since all priesthood originates in this church, the entire substance of the Christian religion resides there also. The leadership of the Apostolic See has always been active, and therefore because of its preeminent authority, the whole Church must agree with it. The faithful who live in every place constitute the whole Church. Whoever does not gather with this Church scatters."

Pope Pius IX, Nostis et Nobiscum, 1849: "In particular, ensure that the faithful are deeply and thoroughly convinced of the truth of the doctrine that the Catholic faith is necessary for attaining salvation"

Pope Pius IX, Amantissimus, 1862: "In addition, he decreed that the Church will endure as long as the world, embrace all peoples and nations of the whole world, and that whoever accepts his divine religion and grace and perseveres to the end will attain the glory of eternal salvation."

Pope Pius IX is accused of ambiguity, despite the fact that the meaning of his words can be drawn from the context of the very same encyclicals in which he spoke them. Here is the relevant context for his words in each of the three documents, where he speaks of invincible ignorance:

Pope Pius IX, Singulari Quadem, December 9, 1854: "For it must be held by faith that outside the Apostolic Roman Church, no one can be saved; that this is the only ark of salvation; that he who shall not have entered therein will perish in the flood"

Pope Pius IX, Singulari Quidem, 1856: "There is only one true, holy, Catholic church, which is the Apostolic Roman Church. There is only one See founded in Peter by the word of the Lord, outside of which we cannot find either true faith or eternal salvation. He who does not have the Church for a mother cannot have God for a father, and whoever abandons the See of Peter on which the Church is established trusts falsely that he is in the Church."

Pope Pius IX, Quanto Conficiamur Moerore, 1863, #7: "Here, too, our beloved sons and venerable brothers, it is again necessary to mention and censure a very grave error entrapping some Catholics who believe that it is possible to arrive at eternal salvation although living in error and alienated from the true faith and Catholic unity. Such belief is certainly opposed to Catholic teaching."

Pope Pius IX, Quanto Conficiamur Moerore, 1863, #19: "Let us pray that the errant be flooded with the light of his divine grace, may turn back from the path of error into the way of truth and justice and, experiencing the worthy fruit of repentance, may possess perpetual love and fear of his holy name."

If that is not enough to prove that it is a false allegation that he was deliberately inculcating heresy, consider also that he ordered a syllabus of condemned propositions to be released on the same day as his encyclical Quanta Cura, which also condemned the errors of the time. This syllabus clearly upholds the only lawful belief that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that each person be a member of the body of Christ, the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Roman Church, and condemns any belief in salvation outside of Her, whether invincibly ignorant or otherwise.

Pope Pius IX, Syllabus of Errors, 1864:

Condemned Proposition #15: "Every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true." -- Allocution "Maxima Quidem," June 9, 1862; Damnatio "Multiplices inter," June 10, 1851.

Condemned Proposition #16: "Man may, in the observance of any religion whatever, find the way of eternal salvation, and arrive at eternal salvation." -- Encyclical "Qui Pluribus," Nov. 9, 1846.

Condemned Proposition #17: "Good hope at least is to be entertained of the eternal salvation of all those who are not at all in the true Church of Christ." -- Encyclical "Quanto Conficiamur," Aug. 10, 1863, etc.

Against religious indifferentism so zealously advocated in our days, and made as it were a state creed, he said: “It is assuredly not unknown to you, venerable brethren, that in our times many of the enemies of the Catholic faith especially direct their efforts toward placing every monstrous opinion on the same level with the doctrine of Christ, or of confounding it therewith, and so they try more and more to propagate that impious system of the indifference of religions. But quite recently, we shudder to say it, men have appeared who have thrown such reproaches upon our name and apostolic dignity, that they do not hesitate to slander us, as if we shared in their folly and favored the aforesaid most wicked system. From the measures, in no wise incompatible with the sanctity of the Catholic religion, which, in certain affairs relating to the civil government of the Pontifical States, we thought fit in kindness to adopt, as tending to the public advantage and prosperity, and from the amnesty graciously bestowed upon some of the subjects of the same States at the beginning of our pontificate, it appears that these men have desired to infer that we think so benevolently concerning every class of mankind, as to suppose that not only the sons of the Church, but that the rest also, however alienated from Catholic unity they may remain, are alike in the way of salvation, and may arrive at everlasting life.

“We are at a loss from horror to find words to express our detestation of this new and atrocious injustice that is done us. We do indeed love all mankind with the inmost affection of our heart, yet not otherwise than in the love of God, and of our Lord Jesus Christ, who came to seek and to save that which had perished, who died for all, who wills all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth; who therefore sent his disciples into the whole world to preach the gospel to every creature, proclaiming that they who should believe and be baptized should be saved, but they who should believe not should be condemned; who therefore will be saved let them come to the pillar and ground of faith, which is the Church; let them come to the true Church of Christ, which in its bishops and in the Roman Pontiff, the chief head of all, has the succession of apostolical authority, never at any time interrupted; which has never counted aught of greater moment than to preach and by all means to keep and defend the doctrine proclaimed by the apostles, by Christ’s command; which, from the apostles’ time downward, has increased in the midst of difficulties of every kind; and being illustrious throughout the whole world by the splendor of miracles, multiplied by the blood of martyrs, exalted by the virtues of confessors and virgins, strengthened by the most wise testimonies of the fathers, hath flourished and doth flourish in all the regions of the earth, and shines refulgent in the perfect unity of the faith, of sacraments, and of holy discipline.”  - John Gilmary Shea, LL.D., The Life of Pope Pius IX and the Great Events in the History of the Church During His Pontificate, New York: Thomas Kelly, 1878, pp. 98-103.



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