Tuesday, June 2, 2009

On Material Heresy: Saints Augustine and Thomas; Popes Pius VI and Pius IX

There is an erroneous opinion that needs to be dealt with, namely that material heresy is only when a person believes a dogma, yet accidentally misstates it, uttering something heretical by mistake (slip of the tongue/pen). While the qualification of material heresy may well be employed in this type of situation, it certainly cannot be restricted to it.

Material heresy also signifies an intellectual belief in a proposition, which has either been condemned as heresy by the Catholic Church, or is contrary to a dogma of the Catholic Faith, but it lacks formality when the person has not actually been presented with the Church’s teaching on the matter, and has no will to oppose Holy Mother Church. It is the will to oppose the Church that makes a person a formal heretic, or at least the lack of diligence in determining the truth of the matter when it becomes clear that this is necessary. A person who either willfully opposes the Church, or is simply indifferent to what the Church really teaches is a formal heretic.

In the opinion of Sts. Augustine and Thomas Aquinas people are not guilty of any deliberate resistance or disobedience to the dogma, until they are presented with the truth and only then retain their heretical opinion. It could also be added that if they are offered the opportunity to examine the evidence that their belief is wrong, and they refuse to do so, then such a person then is recognized to be a formal heretic. Thus the matter required in formal heresy is the heretical belief itself and the form required is the resolution of will to hold a belief in opposition to the what the Church.


St. Augustine (Patrologia Latina 33, epistle 43, #160): “Those are by no means to be accounted heretics who do not defend their false and perverse opinions with pertinacious zeal, especially when their error is not the fruit of audacious presumption but has been communicated to them by seduced and lapsed parents, and when they are seeking the truth with cautious solicitude and ready to be corrected.”


St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Secunda Secundae Partis, Q. 2, Art. 6, Reply to Obj. 2: "Simple persons should not be put to the test about subtle questions of faith, unless they be suspected of having been corrupted by heretics, who are wont to corrupt the faith of simple people in such questions. If, however, it is found that they are free from obstinacy in their heterodox sentiments, and that it is due to their simplicity, it is no fault of theirs."

Does this mean that a person can believe (or fail to know and believe) absolutely anything at all and still be in the way of salvation? Absolutely not! Among the dogmas of the Faith, there are certain ones known as necessary or essential dogmas, that is, dogmas in which explicit belief is absolutely necessary for salvation.  This is called, in theological terminology, necessity of means.


Pope Benedict XIV, Cum Religiosi (On Catechesis), 1754, #1, 4: "We could not rejoice, however, when it was subsequently reported to Us that in the course of religious instruction preparatory to Confession and Holy Communion, it was very often found that these people were ignorant of the mysteries of the faith, even of those matters which must be known by necessity of means; consequently, they were ineligible to partake of the Sacraments. [...] school-masters and mistresses should teach Christian doctrine; that confessors should perform this part of their duty whenever anyone stands at their tribunal who does not know what he must by necessity of means know to be saved;"

The Trinity and the Incarnation have been declared as necessary dogmas; the Creed is also acknowledged to comprise necessary dogmas and as such, explicit knowledge and belief would be required for each article of faith contained therein, as defined by Pope Eugene IV at the Council of Florence. This definition consists of "the Catholic Faith, whole and undefiled".

A baptized person who professes to hold the Catholic Faith, yet who manifests and explicit lack of knowledge and belief in the necessary dogmas is not Catholic as he does not have the Catholic Faith, does not hold it whole and undefiled. As such he is on the road to Hell, having never received forgiveness for any sins, original or actual, which can only be forgiven to the sons and daughters of God, who are members of Christ's Body the Church, and who know, hold and believe this Faith.

Knowledge in such matters is absolutely necessary for salvation.  If one is ignorant of these things, it is either sinful in itself (due to negligence) or it is the punishment for other sins.  This is stated very clearly by St. Thomas:

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Secunda Secundae Partis, Q. 53, Art. 2, Reply to Obj. 2: "[I]gnorance has the nature of mortal sin, not of itself, but on account either of a preceding negligence, or of the consequent result, and for this reason it is reckoned one of the general causes of sin."

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Secunda Secundae Partis, Q. 10, Art. 1: "If, however, we take it by way of pure negation, as we find it in those who have heard nothing about the faith, it bears the character, not of sin, but of punishment, because such like ignorance of Divine things is a result of the sin of our first parent. If such like unbelievers are damned, it is on account of other sins, which cannot be taken away without faith, but not on account of their sin of unbelief."

But, if he had come to a heretical belief contrary to a dogma that does not pertain to the fundamental Creed, however, following the prescription of St. Augustine, we cannot say that the person is a heretic, properly so-called, but an erring Catholic.


Pope Pius IX, Quanto Conficiamur Moerore, #7: "[A] very grave error [is] entrapping some Catholics who believe that it is possible to arrive at eternal salvation although living in error and alienated from the true faith and Catholic unity. Such belief is certainly opposed to Catholic teaching."

Indeed.  It is outright heresy, in direct contradiction of Unam Sanctam, The Council of Florence, and many other dogmatic definitions.  But Pope Pius IX calls these men Catholics, not heretics.  Why?  Because the dogma they err about has never been defined as being necessary by a necessity of means, like the articles of the Athanasian Creed, and so if a Catholic had come to an incorrect belief without the will to oppose the Church, then he would still be Catholic, though erring materially by believing heresy.  He will be a heretic if he is made aware of his ignorance, and then fails to abjure and accept the truth.

Likewise, Pope Pius VI gives further authoritative proof of this principle:

Pope Pius VI, Charitas (On the Civil Oath in France), 1791: "After examining all the articles... We declared that the new Constitution of the Clergy is composed of principles derived from heresy. It is consequently heretical in many of its decrees and at variance with Catholic teaching. In other decrees it is sacrilegious and schismatic... We pointed all this out clearly, but We stated mildly that We had hitherto refrained from excommunicating the authors of the ill-omened Civil Constitution of the Clergy. It was Our duty, however, to emphasize that We would be obliged against Our will to declare schismatic all who did not reject the errors We had revealed (the customary procedure of this Holy See in these cases)."

It is abundantly clear in the above citation from Pope Pius VI that the authors of the Civil Constitution were given an excuse by the pope, in other words they had erred, but only materially.  Nevertheless, since these errors denied the pope his rights as pope, even though he did not call those who held to them heretics, he still declared them schismatic.

Likewise, a baptized Protestant, because his errors necessarily reject subjection to the Roman Pontiff would have also incurred the sin of schism upon reaching sufficient use of reason and free will, being out of communion with the office of the Pontiff and in the public profession of a religion that rejects the same.

St. Augustine: “But those who through ignorance are baptized there (with heretics), judging the sect to be the Church of Christ, sin less than these (who know it to be heretical); nevertheless they are wounded by the sacrilege of schism, and therefore sin not light, because others sin more gravely.”

St. Augustine's teaching is perfectly in line with and receives dogmatic support from the infallible Magisterium of Holy Church:

Pope Boniface VIII, Unam Sanctam, 1302, ex cathedra: "Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff."

This simply reiterates the responsibility all people have to find and profess the true religion. For the baptized non-Catholic, then, while it would not be sinning mortally to hold a material heresy contrary to a non-essential dogma, any material heresy held against an essential dogma would still be mortally sinful, in addition to the person's schism from the true religion. They are out of the way of salvation, and incapable of receiving remission of sins in their state of separation from the Catholic Church.

This person, to be again reconciled with God, must renounce heresy, believe the Catholic Church, and receive worthily the sacrament of penance; or if this cannot be had, he must have perfect contrition or charity with the desire to receive the sacrament of penance (Trent, Session 14, Chapter 4). It is therefore evident that, if these persons and others like them were to die in heresy, they would be lost forever.

Finally, the Church herself, while not requiring an abjuration from children under the age of fourteen (presumably because they are not considered to have yet attained the faculty to understand all the ins and outs of the heresy they were brought up in), nevertheless are still required to make a profession of faith, for the very reason that they are converts, entering the Catholic Church from outside Her.

Catholic Encyclopedia, Abjuration: "The abjuration demanded of converts in the present discipline of the Church is essentially the same as the above. A convert to the Church who has never been baptized is not obliged to abjure heresy. A convert, whose baptism is considered valid, or who, at most, on his reception into the Church is rebaptized conditionally, is required to make a profession of faith, which contains an abjuration of heresy. A salutary penance also is imposed (S. Cong. S. Off., Nov., 1875. See Appendix Conc. Plen. Balt., II, 277, 278; American edit. Roman Ritual, 1, 2, 3). No abjuration is required from converts under the age of fourteen (S. Cong. S. Off., Mar. 8, 1882, in Collectanea S. Cong. de Propag. Fid., n. 1680, ed. 1903)."

Note:  The above quotation inaccurately says "REbaptized conditionally".  This is technically incorrect.  If a person is presumed to not have been baptized, then he is not REbaptized, but baptized for the first time.  The reason it is a conditional baptism (not rebaptism) is because if he was POSSIBLY baptized already, then the intention is made clear that the ceremony be not regarded by God as an attempt to baptize anew a person already baptized (as this would be a sacrilege and a mortal sin).  It is therefore dependent on the condition that he has not ever been validly baptized, hence the name conditional baptism.

Pope Eugene IV, Council of Florence, ex cathedra: "Three of the sacraments, namely baptism, confirmation and orders, imprint indelibly on the soul a character, that is a kind of stamp which distinguishes it from the rest. Hence they are not repeated in the same person."

Please, if you have been raised in schism from the true Church of Jesus Christ, by adhering to the 20th century antipopes starting with Leo XIII, begin your abjuration process and convert to the Faith of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ.

Finally, it is also recommended to read "Heresy was always false, but not necessarily always heresy".



What Must You Do To Get to Heaven?

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