Monday, June 21, 2010

Heresy was always false, but not necessarily always heresy

This article is a supplement to the article "A Dogma was always true, but not necessarily always a dogma"

Anybody who is acquainted with sound Catholic theology knows that Solemn Magisterial pronouncements, that is ex cathedra dogmatic definitions by the Holy Roman Pontiff, are the only teachings of the Church that are guaranteed to be without any error at all, being protect by God the Holy Ghost.

This means that if a statement or proposition is made by a regional Council, a Church Father or other Saint, even a Doctor of the Church,  the statement can be contradicted and MUST be if ever the pope, speaking ex cathedra, makes a statement that is to the contrary.  Why?  Because those other authorities are fallible, whereas the only one capable of speaking infallibly in the Church is the pope, and only when he specifically invokes it by promulgating his decree or teaching ex cathedra.

Any proposition to the contrary of such a definition is heresy, is the denial of a Divinely revealed dogma.  But in the course of Catholic history, there have a number of occasions where Fathers, Doctors and Saints have proposed or taught doctrines that were contrary to later definitions of the Solemn Magisterium.  When they did so, they were not heretics, since at that time, the Church had not yet made any decision on the matter, as Pope Leo X makes clear for us:

Pope Leo X, Grave Nimis, 1483 (Denz. 735): "[but these also we reprehend] who have dared to assert that those holding the contrary opinion, namely, that the glorious Virgin Mary was conceived with original sin are guilty of the crime of heresy and of mortal sin, since up to this time there has been no decision made by the Roman Church and the Apostolic See."

Obviously, after Ineffabilis Deus of Pope Pius IX, it was unlawful and heresy henceforth to assert or hold that the Most Holy Virgin Mary was conceived with original sin - but not before it.

There are, however, certain beliefs that have been understood to be heresy, from the very beginning of Christianity.  Such beliefs are those that are contrary to the basic Christian Creed,  the rudiments of faith,.  This rule of Faith is the "Catholic Faith, whole and undefiled" as it was later defined in the Council of Florence when the Athanasian Creed was dogmatized.

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa, III, Q. 71: The preparations that accompany Baptism, Article 1. Whether catechism should precede Baptism: "On the contrary, Rabanus says (De Instit. Cleric. i): "Before Baptism man should be prepared by catechism, in order that the catechumen may receive the rudiments of faith."

We can even go farther back and show from the writings of Tertullian (while he was still in the Catholic Church) that this rule of Faith is what is held as necessary and that contrary opinions were even then held known to be heresy:

Tertullian, The Prescription Against the Heretics, Chapter XIII, somewhere around AD 200: “…there is one only God, and that He is none other than the Creator of the world, who produced all things out of nothing through His own Word, first of all sent forth; that this Word is called His Son, and, under the name of God, was seen "in diverse manners" by the patriarchs, heard at all times in the prophets, at last brought down by the Spirit and Power of the Father into the Virgin Mary, was made flesh in her womb, and, being born of her, went forth as Jesus Christ; thenceforth He preached the new law and the new promise of the kingdom of heaven, worked miracles; having been crucified, He rose again the third day; (then) having ascended into the heavens, He sat at the right hand of the Father; sent instead of Himself the Power of the Holy Ghost to lead such as believe; will come with glory to take the saints to the enjoyment of everlasting life and of the heavenly promises, and to condemn the wicked to everlasting fire, after the resurrection of both these classes shall have happened, together with the restoration of their flesh. This rule, as it will be proved, was taught by Christ, and raises amongst ourselves no other questions than those which heresies introduce, and which make men heretics."

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