It is not their conscious wisdom that saves them; it is their unconscious ignorance.
If there were full consciousness of the evil, perfect deliberation, perfect understanding of the consequences of acts, there would be no room for forgiveness. That is why there is no redemption for the fallen angels. They knew what they were doing. We do not. We are very ignorant—ignorant of ourselves and ignorant of others.
Ignorant of others! How little we know of their motives, their good faith, the circumstances surrounding their actions. When others visit violence upon us we too often forget how little we know about their hearts and say: “I cannot see that they have the slightest excuse; they knew very well what they were doing.” And yet in exactly the same circumstances, Jesus found an excuse: “They know not what they do.”
We know nothing about the inside of our neighbor’s heart and hence we refuse to forgive; He knew the heart inside and out and because He did know, He forgave. Take any scene of action, let five people look upon it, and you get five different stories of what happened. No one of them sees all sides. Our Lord does and that is why He forgives.
Why is it that we can find excuses for our anger against our neighbor, and yet we refuse to admit the same excuse when our neighbor is angry with us? We say others would forgive us if they understood us perfectly, and that the only reason they are angry with is is because “they do not understand.”
Why is not that ignorance reversible?
By forgiving others on the ground that they know not what they do, Our Lord will forgive us on the ground that He no longer remembers what we did.
—from Victory Over Vice by Venerable Fulton Sheen, Ch. 1 – The First Word: Anger