Heresy: Plain and Not So Simple III

This is the third article on the Heresy theme. Previous articles can be found here and here.

In my discussions / arguments with 'Modern' Catholics and Sedevacantists I have noticed another reaffirmation that Virtue is the pinnacle between two vices - or - in this case error.  In the extreme cases on the Modern side there are affirmations that those who aren't in the Church are, and on the Sedevacantist side there are affirmations that those who are in the Church aren't.

I believe that the truth of the matter is to be found in reviewing the teaching of the Church on this matter without falling prey to the Confirmation Bias.  Hence, my intention is to pull a number of elements together from the previous articles as well as add the fruits of some of my recent reading.

Caveat: The focus of this article will be on Catholics who fall into heresy as opposed to Protestants (Heretics) and Orthodox (Schismatics).

First, what is heresy?

There are number of definitions available from reputable Catholic sources.  The first of which I cite below:
Heresy is an error in judgement in consequence of which a baptized person obstinately denies or doubts a truth revealed by God and proposed by the Church for belief. (Canon 1325 1917)
Source: Moral Theology Fr. Heribert Jone
In the new code of Canon Law we find:
Can. 751 Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith;...
Now the old Code illumines the new, in other words there are 3 main elements to the Church's understanding of the Sin of Heresy as manifested in Canon Law.

  • Error in judgement of a baptized person
    • An error in judgement is in the internal sphere of influence.  As such a person can be a heretic and you won't know it.  This creates a problem as to how to know if a person has committed the sin of heresy.
  • Truth revealed by God and proposed by the Church for belief
    • This means de Fide statements, not just infallible declarations on issues of error etc. 
  • Obstinate denial or doubt
    • Undertaken despite the knowledge that the Church proposes it as divinely revealed. Again there is a question of knowledge, an internal sphere of influence.  
So the first challenge is how does one assess something that is in the internal sphere of influence?  One can't, the interior dispositions of the soul must some how be manifested in the visible realm.  This is why secret heretics (heretics who have not manifested their heresy externally) are still considered members of the Church
... because the loss of membership of the Church, just as much as its acquisition, on account of the visibility of the Church, can only result from external legally ascertainable facts. (Ott, 1954 pg 311)
So in order to even take the first step in assessing the whether a person denies a truth of the faith, it is necessary for it to be spoken or written.  Then, and only then, is the error in judgement discernible.

The next step is that the object of the denial must be proposed by the Church to be accepted with divine faith. In classic terminology, this means that they must deny a de Fide statement of the Church. I have produced a list of de Fide statements for reference at this link.

This brings to light that there are a number of theological grades of certainty. Doctrines that are listed as de Fide fall within the first two categories.

  1. The highest degree of certainty appertains to the immediately revealed truths. The belief due to them is based on the authority of God Revealing (fides divina), and if the Church, through its teaching, vouches for the fact that a truth is contained in Revelation, one's certainty is then also based on the authority of the Infallible Teaching Authority of the Church (fides catholica). If Truths are defined by a solemn judgment of faith (definition) of the Pope or of a General Council, they are "de fide definita."
  2. Catholic truths or Church doctrines, on which the infallible Teaching Authority of the Church has finally decided, are to be accepted with a faith which is based on the sole authority of the Church (fides ecclesiastica). These truths are as infallibly certain as dogmas proper.
  3. A Teaching proximate to Faith (sententia fidei proxima) is a doctrine, which is regarded by theologians generally as a truth of Revelation. but which has not yet been finally promulgated as such by the Church.
  4. A Teaching pertaining to the Faith, i.e., theologically certain (sententia ad fidem pertinens, i.e., theologice certa) is a doctrine, on which the Teaching Authority of the Church has not yet finally pronounced, but whose truth is guaranteed by its intrinsic connection with the doctrine of revelation (theological conclusions).
  5. Common Teaching (sententia communis) is doctrine, which in itself belongs to the field of the free opinions, but which is accepted by theologians generally.
  6. Theological opinions of lesser grades of certainty are called probable, more probable, well-founded (sententia probabilis, probabilior, bene fundata). Those which are regarded as being in agreement with the consciousness of Faith of the Church are called pious opinions (sententia pia). The least degree of certainty is possessed by the tolerated opinion (opinio tolerata). which is only weakly founded, but which is tolerated by the Church.

A key point at this step is that the person suspected of the sin of heresy, needs to explicit deny a truth of the faith that is within the de fide classification. For example if a Catholic were to declare: "I don't believe what the Church teaches concerning that the Blessed Virgin Mary was assumed body and soul into Heaven.", this constitutes an objective denial of a dogma of the faith.

As noted in the Catholic Encyclopedia article, this is 'heresy pure and simple'.

However, in the cases where such an explicit, obstinate, denial of an article of the faith is lacking it is necessary to make a judgement inferred from the external manifestation of the persons orthodoxy.

This is where a number of people err.

In order to determine if a statement is heretical, an inference must be made linking the statement to a dogma of the faith and furthermore ascertaining that the statement is in opposition to said dogma of the faith.

This is where, in the juridical sense, lay people are not competent to make a judgement.  Lay people cannot judget a priest, religious, bishop, archbishop, cardinal or pope. The inferior does not judge the superior.  Lay people can only bring the case before the superior of the person.

This is also where people may err even in discerning an statement as heretical due to a lack of knowledge as well as cognitive / perceptual biases such as the confirmation bias (more on this later).

So how is the person to know that his judgement which is not objectively against a truth of the faith, is in contravention?  By a judgement of the Church communicated by an admonition.

Ultimately, based on this, there are only two ways in which you can ascertain whether a person has lapsed into heresy:

  1. They make it explicitly known in a manner that demonstrates obstinacy.
  2. The Church makes it known by an official judgement & admonition.
In making an official judgement the Church has a hierarchy or degrees in the censures that it may apply. These correspond to the degree of the truth denied.
  1. Heretical :A proposition goes directly and immediately against a revealed or defined dogma, or dogma de fide; 
  2. Erroneous: A proposition that contradicts only a certain (certatheological conclusion or truth clearly deduced from two premises, one an article of faith, the other naturally certain. 
  3. Proximate to Heresy: A proposition whose opposition to a revealed and defined dogma is not certain, or more appropriately the truth contradicted, though commonly accepted as revealed, has yet never been the object of a definition (proxima fidei). 
  4. Proximate to Error: Is simply a proposition which is in opposition to sound common opinion (communis), and this either for paltry reasons or no reasons at all. 
  5. Suspect of Heresy or Error: Propositions that may be correct in themselves, but owing to various circumstances of time, place, and persons, are prudently taken to mean something which is either heretical or erroneous
  6. Ambiguous, Captious, Evil Sounding and Offsenive to Pious Ears: A proposition is ambiguous when it is worded so as to present two or more senses, one of which is objectionable; captious when acceptable words are made to express objectionable thoughts; evil-sounding when improper words are used to express otherwise acceptable truths; offensive when verbal expression is such as rightly to shock the Catholic sense and delicacy of faith.
  7. Derisive of religion, defacing the beauty of the Church, Subversive of the hierarchy, and the list goes on ...: This list, though incomplete, summarizes the third group of censures; they are directed against such propositions as would imperil religion in general, the Church's sanctity, unity of government and hierarchy, civil societymorals in general, or the virtue of religion, Christian meekness, and humility in particular.
Furthermore, heresy is divided into four degrees, each of which has its own theological censure:
  1. Heresy: Pertinacious adhesion to a doctrine contradictory to a point of faith clearly defined by the Church 
  2. Approaching heresy: An opinion opposed to a doctrine that is not expressly 'defined' or clearly proposed as an article of faith by the ordinary/authorized teaching of the Church.
  3. Erroneous in theology: A proposition that does not directly contradict a received dogma, but may logically lead to such a contradiction.
  4. Suspected of heresy: An opinion whose contradiction of an article of faith is not able to be definitively proven, but can be reached with a certain degree of probability.
Now for some examples.

Example 1: 

The new religion, does not believe that the church is One, where does that leave them according to your catechism lesson?  

There are a number of issues inherent in this statement.

The first issue is that he is criticising the Catechism of the Council of Trent. There are varying levels of Catechism in the Church.  That of St. Pius X was meant for the lay people for basic instruction. That of Trent was meant for the Priests in the instruction of the lay people, so it goes into a higher degree of detail.  Nonetheless, the theology underpinning both of these Catechisms is solidly Catholic without a hint and the modernism that was to come.

The second it is an application of a condemnation to a generalized group of people.  He has jumped to a conclusion without even going through the bare minimum of the process listed above.  He is ready to condemn a large group of people, to the point where he appears to believe that the dogma of the indefectability of the Church is not really all that important.

Example 2a:
A listing of the so-called  'heresy and errors' of the Second Vatican Council was posted on a forum. It provides an excellent example of confirmation bias.

"The Council further declares that the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person... This right to religious freedom is to be recognised in the constitutional law whereby society is governed. Thus it is to become a civil right."2 (Declaration on Religious Liberty Dignitatis Humanae, paragraph 2)...Almost the only label that Pope Pius IX does not attach to this doctrine is in fact that of "heresy", but he clearly thought the "insanity" he spoke of to be heretical for he says that it contradicts Divine Revelation. Moreover, this notion of religious liberty had already been expressly qualified as heretical by Pope Pius VII in his brief Post Tam Diuturnas, so there is no doubt about the matter.
Theological Censure: HERETICAL.
My issue with this, beyond the statements noted earlier, is that here Mr. Daly explains that the only label (censure) that Pope Pius IX did not apply was 'heresy', yet he proceeds to do just such a thing.  As evident by the words 'he clearly thought', Mr. Daly has taken liberty to express something that the Pope did not.

Example 2b:
From the same listing we have the following:

"Finally, He brought His revelation to completion when He accomplished on the Cross the work of redemption by which He achieved salvation and true freedom for men." (Declaration on Religious Liberty Dignitatis Humanae, paragraph 11)
This contradicts the traditional and definite Catholic teaching that many truths proposed by the Church as Divinely revealed were not revealed by Our Lord until after His Resurrection. ...Theological censure: HERETICAL.

Here we have a perfect sample of the confirmation bias at work.  First, I checked the quotation within DH and it is correct.  However, Mr. Daly has done something that I've encountered in a number of Protestants.  He has ignored the context of the statement.

I will attempt to reproduce the context excluded by Mr. Daly in his attempts to find heretical (pure and simple) statements in the documents of the Second Vatican Council:

11. God calls men to serve Him in spirit and in truth, hence they are bound in conscience but they stand under no compulsion. ...
 In the end, when He completed on the cross the work of redemption whereby He achieved salvation and true freedom for men, He brought His revelation to completion. For He bore witness to the truth,(19) but He refused to impose the truth by force on those who spoke against it. Not by force of blows does His rule assert its claims. It is established by witnessing to the truth and by hearing the truth, and it extends its dominion by the love whereby Christ, lifted up on the cross, draws all men to Himself.

Taught by the word and example of Christ, the Apostles followed the same way. From the very origins of the Church the disciples of Christ strove to convert men to faith in Christ as the Lord; not, however, by the use of coercion or of devices unworthy of the Gospel, but by the power, above all, of the word of God.
Dignitatis Humanae 

What is the truth that was being revealed by Christ?  Well, the 'Apostles followed the same way ...', that no one can be forced to join the Church. They must join of their own free will.

Granted that the verbose manner of writing employed by the Council Fathers (on purpose) is very annoying, it does not however give one license to pick and choose sections stripped of their context in order to accuse the Church.

So What is a Catholic To Do?
First don't be too quick to judge.  As the saying " take the beam out of thy own eye first, and so thou shalt have clear sight to rid thy brother’s of the speck".  

When confronted by a statement that is explicitly heretical (see list), then you have an obligation to admonish the person with Church Teaching - in Charity.  If they are obstinate, then you need to refer it to a person in authority over that person.

In the case where you believe a statement is heretical, don't fall into the sin of rash judgement as demonstrated in the examples above. Make certain of what the person believes, and then refer it to someone in authority over that person.

Heresy is serious business, and the Church is full of people who give the appearance of being in heresy.

However, that does not give every one license to make judgments about things that are not clear. Unfortunately, this reaction to something perceived as heretical may be just a product of the perceiver's ignorance or biases.

Tread Lightly as you pass amongst souls disturbed by this crisis in the Church. The example you give may haunt you for eternity.


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