Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Dogma was always true, but not necessarily always a dogma

Please also read this:
Heresy was always false, but not necessarily always heresy

Lately, having had contact with many new people who are interested in the Catholic Faith, I have also been presented with new attacks on the Faith, which certainly call for an answer. There is nothing more insidious than when the Catholic Faith is attacked by those who would claim to love it and hol
d it more dearly than anything else, for who would suspect them of being wolves?

The deadly error I'm speaking of is this "Even though a dogma may have been defined in such and such a year, to believe contrary to it was ALWAYS heresy!"

If the ramifications of this statement have not yet hit you, then it means that you are not considering all the instances in Church history when a pope or bishop had held to a belief that would later be condemned by the solemn Magisterium. There are two famous instances that I will mention shortly, but first I want to point out where I believe some have erred. I believe that this error stems from a misunderstanding of a teaching of Pope Pius IX:

Pope Pius IX, Vatican Council, Session 4, Chapter 4, #6, ex cathedra: "For the Holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by his revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by his assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the apostles."

Some have taken this teaching to mean that all the dogmas that have been defined as Divinely revealed over the course of the history of the Church have always been proposed as Divinely revealed, and that to believe in the contrary was always heresy. This is simply not what the pope has said though.

What his teaching means is that whenever the Church proposes something as Divinely revealed, it is because the doctrine is already contained either explicitly or implicitly in the Deposit of Faith, Scripture and Tradition. Or to put it another way:

Pope Pius IX, Vatican Council, Session 3, Chapter 3, #8, ex cathedra: "Wherefore, by divine and Catholic faith all those things are to be believed which are contained in the word of God as found in Scripture and tradition, and which are proposed by the Church, as matters to be believed as divinely revealed, whether by her solemn judgment or in her ordinary and universal magisterium."

In other words, it is not held as a dogma of divine and Catholic Faith unless the Church has proposed so by the Solemn Magisterium or in the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium. Now let us consider this in reference to two historical cases:

First St. Cyprian's public belief in and practice of what later became a heresy:

We know since the Councils of Florence and Trent that it is a Divinely revealed dogma that heretics have always been able to baptize validly, if they used the correct matter, form and intention. But does that mean that it was always heresy to disbelieve this? No it does not mean that - there WAS a time when a person could lawfully believe that heretics could not baptize anyone at all, even though that proposition later was condemned under pain of anathema.

It is well documented that St. Cyprian believed that heretics' baptizing of people was invalid, and he was even admonished by Pope St. Stephen on the matter, but St. Cyprian refused to assent to the pope's admonition, and the pope left it alone. That's right Pope SAINT Stephen left the matter alone. Why? Because it was not yet defined by the solemn Magisterium that the baptism performed by heretics could be valid under the correct conditions and Pope St. Stephen evidently was not the man to declare this as a dogma.

People who hold the error mentioned above, however (that all dogmas were always dogmas), must necessarily reject St. Cyprian as a heretic, striking his name from the list of Church Fathers, and Pope St. Stephen as a favourer and supporter of heretics. But isn't it funny how centuries roll along, and NOBODY in authority in the Church has ever thought to do this? Surely if the error above were correct, someone like Pope St. Agatho, or Pope St. Gregory the Great would have thought to declare against these men? Or maybe they didn't know the dogma that heretics are able to baptize validly? If not, then they might have been heretics themselves, according to another pernicious error that seems to accompany the one mentioned above, which is that unless a person knows EVERY SINGLE DOGMA of the Catholic Faith, he is automatically headed for hell.

The other example from history is Pope John XXII, who in the middle ages taught a doctrine that would later be condemned by his successor, Benedict XII. But if he was a heretic, why was he never declared an antipope? Because it was not heresy to hold contrary to the doctrine that would be declared by Pope Benedict until AFTER the Church, by his decree, had proposed it as Divinely revealed. Does that mean that Pope John was right, or that the doctrine was not contained at least implicitly in the Deposit of Faith? NO! Benedict XII did not make up a NEW doctrine that was alien to the Church, but rather he clarified a point of revelation that had not yet received attention from the solemn Magisterium, since it only became a matter for controversy after the confusion that followed Pope John's erroneous public teachings on the matter (in which he specifically stated he was NOT intending to make a dogmatic definition, but was only proposing his personal theological opinion).

In short, a dogma of the Catholic Faith was always TRUE, but it was not always proposed by the Church as a Divinely revealed dogma. As St. Augustine said, "Roma locuta est, causa finita est" or "Rome has spoken, the case is closed". Until Rome closed the case, it was not a dogma. People who fall into the contrary error must reject saints, popes and Church Fathers in order to be consistent with their position, which shows that their error is schismatic and leads to hell.

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