Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Ignorance of the Wrong, Development of an Idea, St. Bonaventure

THE FRANCISCAN SAINT BONAVENTURE, the Doctor Seraphicus, addressed the issue of ignorance and responsibility and sin. We will start with his treatment of it in his Commentary on Peter Lombard's Sentences.* In addressing the seeming conflicting authorities on the question, St. Bonaventure concludes that the ignorance of things that are essential for salvation (which, of course, includes the natural law**) may or may not be sinful.

Ignorance is a privation of knowledge, and "since privations are cognized through possessions" or habitus (privationes cognascantur per habitus), the cognition of ignorance depends upon the cognitition of its opposite, namely knowledge (cognitio ignorantiae pendet ex cognitione scientiae). Some of our knowledge does not relate to matters of salvation. The mechanical or liberal arts, for example, are not strictly speaking part of the moral life, and an engineer can got to heaven equally as can a painter. Knowledge of these practical sciences do not touch and concern "the 'being' of virtue," nec est virtus nec de esse virtutis. It follows that ignorance of these sorts of sciences, even if voluntary do not relate to moral fault.

But this is not so with respect to other matters. There are some things that all men must know, for all men are called to do good and to act rightly, and so knowledge that relates to this is required of all men:

Another is the cognition of (things) able to be believed and done, which is necessary for salvation in the adult; and this is the cognition of faith and prudence; and we are bound to have this cognition, because without it no one can live uprightly.

Alia est cognitio credibilium et operabilium, quae ad salutem necessaria est in adulto; et haec est cognitio fidei et prudentiae; et ad hanc cognitionem habendam tenemur, quia sine hac nullus potest recte vivere.
II Sent., d. 22, a. 2, q. 2, c.

Ignorance of this knowledge or privation may be said to exist in two ways according to St. Bonaventure, in one way excusing and in another way not excusing. Thus in some situations, the obligation continues despite the lack of knowledge or ignorance. In other situations, the obligation ceases with the lack of knowledge. If the obligation remains regardless of knowledge, then there is moral fault in such ignorance.
If with the obligation remaining, then there is a fault in this, because, when one is bound to something and does not fulfill it, he is faulted on this very account and is worthy of punishment. But if there is a privation in us, with the obligation not remaining, such as when one cannot know, the impotence also excuses from the obligation [ab obligatione]; in this manner5 the privation of this cognition is not a fault, such as in the mad [in furiosis].

St. Bonaventure by Domenico Morone (1503)

An alternative way of looking at this matter (which leads to the same conclusion) is by looking at whether the lack of knowledge (i.e., the ignorance) is "in us, but not from us" (in nobis, sed non a nobis) or whether it is "in us and from us" (in nobis et a nobis).

That ignorance which is "in us, but not from us" is not a moral fault (i.e., we are blameless for it). We are not the principle or source of that ignorance, and so we neither obtain merit or demerit from its presence. (It may be the result of punishment, however.)

But that ignorance which is "in us and from us" may be imputable to us as moral fault, although a three-fold distinction must be made:

Moreover this can be in a threefold manner: either when standing forth [existentes] on the way of truth we voluntarily recede from it and precipitate ourselves into the ditch of error, and this privation can be said (to be) the “erroneous ignorance”, which is in heretics; and/or when, being strong enough [valentes] to attain to the way of truth, we desire to walk in shadows, and this can be said (to be) “affected ignorance”; or because out of a certain niggardliness and negligence we do not care to learn the truth, and this is said (to be) “crass and supine ignorance”. — And any of these is a fault, though the first (is) a greater (fault) than the second, and the second (more) than the third.

Though all men, even the wisest, live in a state of ignorance (being that their knowledge is never complete), that ignorance is not counted as sin unless the matter or the man is under a duty to know, in which case that ignorance is imputable to him as sin:

[T]hat ‘to be ignorant’ is not said to be a fault except to the extent, by which one is bound to know what one is ignorant of. And for that reason, even if one is ignorant in every instant and is bound in every instant, yet because an affirmative precept does not oblige at all times [pro semper], but according to place and time [pro loco et tempore]; the one ignorant by being ignorant does not sin except in that instant and time, in which he is bound to know and/or learn what he is ignorant of; for that reason, even though he is always said “to be ignorant”, yet he is not always said “to sin”.
II Sent., d. 22, a. 2, q. 2, ad 5.†

All ignorance excuses sin, in some manner (ignorantia aliquo modo excusat peccatum). Ignorance lessens (though it might not entirely erase) both the voluntary nature of an act and the contempt against God related to that act. "For with all other (things being) equal , he who sins out of industry contemns more, than he who sins ignorantly." II Sent., d. 22, a. 2, q. 3, c. "[I]f [the ignorance] is so great, that it deprives entirely the reckoning of the voluntary and the reckoning of contempt, it excuses from the whole (sin)." Id.

In his discussion of the various authorities, St. Bonaventure treats the issue of ignorance of fact and ignorance of law:††
To that which is asked, “Which ignorance excuses and how much?”; it must be said, that there is ignorance of fact and ignorance of law. — Ignorance of fact can be in a twofold manner: either with due diligence employed, or not. If due diligence (has) been employed, it excuses from the whole (sin); if (it has) not been employed, it does not excuse from the whole (sin), but from as much as (it would have been).

But if the ignorance be of a law, this can be in a twofold manner: either it is vincible, or invincible. If vincible, then it is an ignorance, which is a fault. And this either is out of a true consent, such as (in) affected ignorance, and this excuses thus on one side, that it aggravates more on the other side; or it is out of negligence and idleness [ignavia], just as crass and supine ignorance (does), and thus, even if it excuses in some manner, yet it does not «excuse so much, that one will not burn in sempiternal fire», just as (St.) Augustine says, and Master (Peter) in the text.

But if the ignorance be invincible, this can be in a twofold manner: either this ignorance has been introduced into us through a preambulary fault, or apart from all fault. If apart from all fault, it either deprives a cognition of the law simply, as in infants and in the mad, who entirely lack the use of reason; and this excuses from the whole (sin) — wherefore (St.) Bernard (of Clairvaux) says, «that to infant and sleeping children nothing, which they do, is imputed». — Or it does not take away entirely the use of reason, but the full (use of reason); and then it does not excuse from the whole (sin), but from as much as (it would have been), just as is among those who are not fully mad, but have in some manner lucid intervals, and in children, who in some manner are capable of (knowing) the precept, though not fully. — But if the ignorance has been introduced through one’s own fault, just as it is the inebriated and the mad, each of whom has precipitated himself into this through his own fault; in this manner it does not excuse from the whole (sin), but from as much as (it would have been), because, just as the Philosopher says, «the inebriated will have a twofold malediction, namely a malediction for the preceding fault and a malediction for the subsequent fault».
II Sent., d. 22, a. 2, q. 3, ad 5.

A review of St. Bonaventure's teaching makes it clear that he has "abandon[ed] the earlier narrow views of the Franciscan to advance a milder doctrine," more in keeping with the early Dominicans.†††
*Commentaria in Qutuor Libros Sententiarum, available on the Internet in English/Latin at
**As we have noted before, obedience to the natural law is essential for salvation. In the words of Cardinal Archbishop Raymond Burke, "Obedience to the demands of the natural law is necessary for salvation." See Compliance with the Natural Law is Essential for Salvation.
***Hoc autem potest esse tripliciter: vel cum in via veritatis existentes voluntarie ab ea recedimus et in erroris foveam nos praecipitamus, et haec privatio potest dici ignorantia erronea, quae est in haereticis; vel cum, ad viam veritatis valentes pertingere, cupimus in tenebris ambulare, et haec potest dici ignorantia affectata; aut quia ex quadam pigritia et negligentia non curamus veritatem addiscere, et haec dicitur ignorantia crassa et supina. — Et quaelibet istarum est culpa, licet prima maior quam secunda, et secunda quam tertia.
†[I]gnorare non dicitur esse culpa nisi eatenus, qua quis tenetur scire quod ignorat. Et ideo, etsi in quolibet instanti ignoret et in quolibet teneatur, quia tamen praeceptum affirmativum non obligat pro1 semper, sed pro loco et tempore; ignorans ignorando non peccat nisi in illo instanti et tempore, in quo tenetur nosse vel addiscere quod ignorat; ideo, quamvis semper dicatur ignorare, non tamen semper dicitur peccare.
††Here, Bertke is just plain wrong when he says that the "expression ignorantia iuris is not found in this exposition." Bertke, 56.
†††See Ignorance of the Wrong--Development of an Idea, Part 1

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