Synderesis


-by Hans Memling (around 1433–1494), The Last Judgment, triptych, from about 1466 to about 1473, oil on board,length: 2355 cm, height: 223.5 cm, width: 72.5 cm, National Museum in Gdańsk, Poland, please click on the image for greater detail


-by Fr. Christopher Pietraszko, Ignitum, Fr. Christopher serves in the Diocese of London, Ontario.

Invincible ignorance cannot apply to all things as a possibility because of the principle of Synderesis. Synderesis is a scholastic term that states definitively and deductively that man has an innate moral knowledge, not of all things, but at the most basic level to avoid evil and to pursue the good. This as a result excludes indifference towards the good and what opposes it as evil in both natural and divine ways.

This is one of the reasons why Pope St. Paul VI said that those who do not evangelize, cannot be saved. Indifference towards the proclamation of the Gospel is indifference towards the good. Indifferentism, to St. Maximillian Kolbe was the “sin of [his] time.” But it hasn’t been corrected, and simply gotten worse since.

Understanding this through the lens of a relationship can help; as is the case when we neglect another. Parents can legally lose the right to parent their children, and even go to jail for neglect. It is a big deal. Their children are good and are owed justice, love, nurturing, and a safe environment that isn’t toxic, in order to grow. How much more is this true for the Divine-Good of the faith. To be indifferent towards the divine-good, is to be indifferent to our own end, and the ultimate good of others. Most importantly it’s indifference to the One who is owed more than anyone else.

Synderesis gives us no excuse towards a disposition of being closed toward the Divine Good. Thus, Romans teaches “there is no excuse.” There is a lot left unnuanced, but I suppose my main point is that we cannot presume innocent ignorance in man’s fallen state, and while it is a possibility, the fallen state we inherit through original sin makes it difficult to cooperate with our innate nature to pursue the Divine Good and avoid evil.

If you are pulled over for driving incorrectly and claim, “I didn’t know” you are guilty for your ignorance because you were responsible to know the law of the road prior to driving upon it. Likewise, if it be in man that his disposition is to seek the highest good, and avoid all evil, and he dies in a state not truly open to the Highest Good, then this is where Vatican II along with the entire history of the Church would say there can be no hope for salvation. Why? I suppose one reason would simply be that Salvation is you finding healing in your relationship with God, becoming fully alive as a result of being united to Him. But to not even be united to the most primordial disposition within yourself in integrity, is to will one’s own destruction. This is a radical possibility, whereas invincible ignorance about God I would think, today, as when the Letter to the Roman’s was written is less radical of a possibility.

None of this is to elate ourselves in being in the know – since to know is not sufficient for salvation, but rather to know and to love the Divine Good. And many who even know this, may not be saved, since the knowledge was not that of faith, but something that died. Faith is not the adherence to mere content, but the assent of the whole person to God in the context of a relationship. This is what salvation is: a repaired relationship with the Divine Good.

This is what as Christians we would will for others, since to love is to will the good for the other for their own sake.”

Love,
Matthew

Leave a Reply