One of the tenets, or rather presumptions, of Americanism is to "soften" the so-called "hard" teachings of the Church, so as to:
1. not bother the consciences of American Catholics, most of whom had compromised the Faith (and/or morals) in someway;
2. to make the Church appear more attractive (i.e., easy, lenient) to potential converts.
Of course, this view and methodology was condemned by Pope Leo XIII in his letter on Americanism. One of these ways of softening so-called hard teachings was to lessen the chances of someone to be guilty of mortal sin. But ignorance has never been considered an excuse. Since God's law is written in the hearts of ALL men, and since God is always spouting out His graces for men to know truth, they are without excuse : “Because that which is known of God is manifest in them. For God hath manifested it unto them.” (Rom.1:19-20); “For when the Gentiles, who have not the law, do by nature those things that are of the law; these having not the law are a law to themselves: Who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness to them, and their thoughts between themselves accusing, or also defending one another.” (Rom. 2:14-15)
Pope St. Gregory the Great declared:
You must know that sin can be committed in three ways. It is done either in ignorance, in weakness, or of set purpose.
Pope Saint Pius V:
It is error to believe that there is a natural justice whereby eternal life is promised for good works without any further qualification.
Pope Innocent II, in the Bull Testante Apostolo (1140),
made it clear that ignorance does not excuse when he declared against the teachings of Peter Abelard: That whatever is done through ignorance must not be considered as a sin, is hereby condemned as error [#10]... We who reside in the chair of Peter have condemned by the authority of the Sacred Canons of this teaching, along with its author, and We have imposed upon him a perpetual silence as a heretic. We also declare that all the followers and defenders of his error [that those who are truly ignorant of God and His laws are innocent of sin] be separated from the companionship of the faithful and bound by the chain of excommunication.
Pope Innocent XI (1676-89) declared:
It is an error to believe that a man is capable of absolution, however much he may labor in ignorance of the mysteries of the faith, even though through negligence, if he does not know the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity and the Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Pope Alexander VIII (1689-91) declared:
We hereby declare and condemn as rash and erroneous the proposition that a human act, not in conformity with rational nature and right reason, however serious, in a man who is either ignorant of God or who is not thinking of God during the act, be not an offense against God and not a mortal sin dissolving the friendship of God or a sin worthy of eternal punishment.
Perhaps Pope St. Pius X
explained the Church's constant and unchanging position best in that it is not merely conscious rejection of Christ's truth that sends one to hell, but even ignorance of the Faith: We pray and conjure you to reflect on the ruin of souls which is wrought by this single cause: ignorance of those most sublime truths, so far beyond the natural understanding of the multitude, which must nonetheless be known by all men alike in order that they may attain eternal salvation. Nor will it due to say, as an excuse, that faith is a gift....Man at his birth has within him the faculty of understanding, but he must necessarily bring it into action....If, as a result of ignorance, lack of faith is added to corruption, the situation scarcely admits of remedy, and the road to eternal ruin lies open.
THIS WE SOLEMNLY AFFIRM: the majority of those who are condemned to eternal punishment fall into this everlasting misfortune through ignorance of the mysteries of the faith which must necessarily be known and believed by all who belong to the Elect.
The Church’s constant teaching is quite clear: ignorance does not excuse; ignorance leads to sin and sin leads to damnation. Quoting from two of the greatest Doctors of the Church who recognized this important point, we learn that
Every sinner is inexcusable, be he a sinner by guilt of origin or by an additional guilt of his own will; whether he knows or not; whether he judges or not. For ignorance itself in those who do not want to know is without a doubt a sin, and in those who are unable to know, it is a penalty of sin. In neither case, then, is there just excuse; but in both cases there is just condemnation.
-- St. Augustine
All sins which are due to ignorance can be reduced to sloth, to which pertains the negligence of a man who declines to acquire spiritual goods because of the labor associated with them.. Since knowledge is further removed from morality than prudence... it follows that ignorance has the nature of mortal sin, not of itself, but on account either of a preceding negligence or the consequent result, and for this reason ignorance is reckoned one of the general causes of sin... All sin proceeds from some ignorance.
-- St. Thomas Aquinas
St. Augustine declared:
The saving grace of this religion, the only true religion, through which alone true salvation is truly promised, has never been refused to anyone who was worthy of it: and whoever did lack it was unworthy of it. Consequently, those who have not heard the Gospel, and those who, having heard it have not persevered; and those who, having heard it, have refused to come to Christ; that is, to believe in Him; ALL these have perished in death: they all go in a single lump to condemnation.
Pope Pelagius I:
I confess that the Lord will give over by a very just judgement of eternal and inextinguishable fire the wicked who either did not know by way of the Lord or, knowing it, left it when seized by various transgressions, in order that they may burn without end.
II Council of Lyons:
The souls of those who die in mortal sin or only with Original Sin go down into Hell, but there they receive different punishments.
Council of Sens:
That no sin is committed in ignorance is condemned as error.
St. John Chrysostom:
To excuse yourself on the grounds of ignorance is to excuse one sin by another.
St. Teresa of Avila:
No one is lost without knowing it, and no one is deceived without wanting to be.
St. Peter Chrysologus:
God does not heed the inclinations of fools, nor does He regard the faith of those who are ignorant of Christian truth.
“Let us amend and do better for those things in which we have sinned through ignorance lest, suddenly prevented by the day of death, we seek time for penance, and not be able to find it.”
-- Esther 13, From the Roman Missal. Blessing of the ashes on Ash Wednesday.
Other pamplets such as this (CEC-411) are available through:
Saint Louis the King - Catholic Education Center
277 Wanaque Avenue
Pompton Lakes, New Jersey 07442
“The evolved liberalism of the present moment has built up an elaborate system of seesaw theology which relieves Americans of any obligation to become Catholics. While assuring them in paragraph A that the Catholic Church still believes it is the only True One, our current liberal pats his American neighbors on the back in paragraph B with the more vigorous assurance that their getting into Heaven in no sense requires that they should also get out of bed and into a pew for Sunday morning Mass.
The Point March 1958