Pope St. Pius X on Ignorance and Salvation

Reading about the approved apparitions of Our Lady of Good Help in Champion, Wisconsin, I came upon these words of Our Lady to the visionary, Adele Brise: “Gather the children in this wild country and teach them what they should know for salvation.” This phrase — what they should know for salvation — reminded me of the words of Pope Saint Pius X, in an encyclical concerning religious instruction. Our Lady and St. Pius X both implicitly corrected one of the towering errors of our day.

The indifferentism that has been so prevalent in recent decades holds that ignorance absolves someone of the requirement to believe the true faith, even in its very rudiments. Taking the concept of “invincible ignorance” out of the context of moral theology — where it has a certain valid application in excusing someone from the guilt of actual sin — the indifferentist turns ignorance into a virtual sacrament.

Pope St. Pius X, the arch-anti-modernist Pope, took it for granted that faith in supernatural revelation is necessary for salvation, as we can see from his Acerbo Nimis, an encyclical that concerns “teaching Christian doctrine” — the very thing Our Lady commissioned Adele Brise to do. Here are a few excerpts, with my emphasis:

2. It is a common complaint, unfortunately too well founded, that there are large numbers of Christians in our own time who are entirely ignorant of those truths necessary for salvation. … And so Our Predecessor, Benedict XIV, had just cause to write: “We declare that a great number of those who are condemned to eternal punishment suffer that everlasting calamity because of ignorance of those mysteries of faith which must be known and believed in order to be numbered among the elect.

17. What We have said so far demonstrates the supreme importance of religious instruction. We ought, therefore, to do all that lies in our power to maintain the teaching of Christian doctrine with full vigor, and where such is neglected, to restore it; for in the words of Our Predecessor, Benedict XIV, “There is nothing more effective than catechetical instruction to spread the glory of God and to secure the salvation of souls.”

19. I. On every Sunday and holy day, with no exception, throughout the year, all parish priests and in general all those having the care of souls, shall instruct the boys and girls, for the space of an hour from the text of the Catechism on those things they must believe and do in order to attain salvation.

Far from being a path to salvation, ignorance of the true faith causes people to be “condemned to eternal punishment.” So say two popes. Remember that the next time someone tells you that “ignorant savages” are saved precisely because of their ignorance.