Monday, April 9, 2007

Will the blind and deaf go to Hell?

A reader writes,

"What do you say (regarding salvation and entry into heaven) to those who ask ... "What about the blind, deaf and dumb person who cannot accept Christ?"

When you get to the nuts and bolts of it, this question is essentially the same that is often posed when claim that knowledge and acceptance of Christ is necessary for salvation. Someone will inevitably ask, "What about people who live in hard-to-reach tribes who, through no fault of their own, have never been preached to about Christ and his Church? Do they go to Hell?"

While some Christian churches may answer yes, to this, it has never been the position of the Catholic Church. While the Church teaches that acceptance of Christ (including all of his teachings) and participation in the sacraments are essential for salvation, she recognizes that God is not bound by this law and can extend the hand of mercy to those who, through no fault of their own, are ignorant of Christ.

This concept is called invisible ignorance, and the Catechism references it in paragraphs 847 and 1260. Now, it is important to note here that the concept is that ignorance which is "invincible", meaning that even with sufficient effort, a person does not have the resources or mental capability (or physical capability) to arrive at the same conclusions that we have within the fullness of the faith as Catholics. There must be an inherent desire to know God and to follow the moral teachings which he has written on each of our hearts (CCC 1860). When God, through his grace and mercy, allows such a person into Heaven, despite his never having been baptized, the Church refers to that individual as having been "baptized by desire".

Note - this teaching does not excuse those who refuse to hear one word about Jesus or the Church. It is not our place to judge them, which means we cannot assume they are on the way to Hell, but it also means we cannot "judge" that they are on the way to Heaven. We can hope that God will work a miracle in their hearts before death, but we must accept our responsibility to continue evangelizing to those around us.

So ... as for the individual who is deaf, blind, and dumb (which means "mute" in the context of the reader's question), we can rest confidently that God, through his mercy, sees past this person's handicaps and hope that, should that person have a sincere desire to know God, he too can rejoice with us for eternity in Heaven.

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