The True Nature of Heresy

© Copyright 2013, T. Stanfill Benns (All emphasis within quotes is the author’s unless indicated otherwise.)


How can Catholics commit the sin of heresy and how do theologians define heresy? Rev. Sixtus Cartechini, S. J. wrote a paper in 1951 entitled, “On the Value of Theological Notes and the Criteria for Discerning Them.” It was a work drafted for use by auditors of the Roman Congregations, so has value for us today. He first defines dogma as a truth proposed by the Church as revealed by God, de fide, de fide Catholica and de fide divina et Catholica. He gives as an example the dogma of the Immaculate Conception and the Athanasian Creed. He explains that a dogma can be proposed by solemn definition of pope or council or by the Ordinary Magisterium. If these dogmas are denied publicly one incurs excommunication for heresy automatically and forfeits membership in the Church.

One also can be automatically excommunicated for heresy against ecclesiastical faith and lose one’s Church membership by denying a doctrine of ecclesiastical faith. This is a truth not directly revealed by God but closely connected with Divine revelation and infallibly proposed by the magisterium for belief. These definitions will be seen to differ from those offered below, an indication that the Church is of one mind on this subject. The heresies Traditionalists hold concerning jurisdiction and the primacy of the Roman Pontiff are primarily heresies against Divine and Catholic faith. But there are many other heresies they hold against infallible teaching as well. Some of these will be touched on below, as well as in other articles.

Rev. Mueller Catechism

Here is Rev. Michael Muller’s definition of heresy from his work: The Catholic Dogma: ― Extra Ecclesiam Nullus Omnino Salvatur, (1888).

“Now, to show plainly and understand well his grave errors, we must state clearly the point in question. This point is: ― Out of the Roman Catholic Church there is no salvation.” Heretics are out of the Roman Catholic Church; therefore, if they die as heretics, they are lost forever.

“Here the question arises, ― Who is a heretic?

“The word “heretic” is derived from the Greek, and means to choose or adhere to a certain thing. Hence a baptized person, professing Christianity, and choosing for himself what to believe and what not to believe as he pleases, in obstinate opposition to any particular truth which he knows is taught by the Catholic Church as a truth revealed by God, is a heretic.

“To make a person guilty of the sin of heresy, three things are required:
1. He must be baptized and profess Christianity. This distinguishes him from a Jew and idolater;

2. He must refuse to believe a truth revealed by God, and taught by the Church as so revealed;
3. He must obstinately adhere to error, preferring his own private judgment in matters of faith and morals to the infallible teaching of the Catholic Church. Hence it follows that the following persons are guilty of the sin of heresy:

“1. All those baptized persons who profess Christianity and obstinately reject a truth revealed by God and taught by the Church as so revealed;

2. Those who embrace an opinion contrary to faith, maintain it obstinately, and refuse to submit to the authority of the Catholic Church;

3. Those who willfully doubt the truth of an article of faith, for, by such a wilful doubt, they actually question God’s knowledge and truth, and to do this is to be guilty of heresy;

4. Those who know the Catholic Church to be the only true Church, but do not embrace her faith;

5. Those who could know the Church, if they would candidly search, but who, through indifference and other culpable motives, neglect to do so;

6. Those Anglicans who know the true Church, but do not become Roman Catholics, thinking that they approach very near the Catholic Church, because their prayers and ceremonies are like many pray- ers and ceremonies of the Catholic Church, and because their creed is the Apostles’ Creed. These are heretics in principle, for ― the real character of rank heresy, says St. Thomas Aquinas, ― consists in want of submission to the divine teaching authority in the Head of the Church.

“Heresy, therefore, is a corruption of the true faith. This corruption, says St. Thomas Aquinas, takes place either by altering the truths which constitute the principal articles of faith, or by denying obstinately those which result therefrom. But, as the error of a geometrician does not affect the principles of geometry, so is the error of a person which does not affect the fundamental truths of faith, no real heresy.

“Should a person have embraced an opinion which is contrary to faith, without knowing that it is opposed to faith, he is, in this case, no heretic, if he is disposed to renounce his error as soon as he comes to know the truth. But it is false to say that only those truths are of faith which have been defined by the Church, and that therefore he only is a heretic who denies a defined truth,” (end of Rev. Muller’s quote).

Revs. McHugh and Callan

Here we see that rather than emphasizing the need for water Baptism as the Feeneyites do, Rev. Mueller instead emphasizes corruption of the faith as the cause of man’s loss of eternal salvation. He also notes that those who do not search and especially those who fail to recognize the Roman Pontiff and submit to him are guilty of “rank” heresy. To better understand heresy in all its particulars, see St. Thomas Aquinas’ teachings on this subject here: /articles Revs. McHugh and Callan, in their “Moral Theology, A Complete Course,” comment further on what St. Thomas teaches. In brief, they point out that:

  1. Heresy is defined as “an error manifestly opposed to faith and assented to obstinately by one who had sincerely embraced the faith of Christ, (meaning only catechumens and the baptized, who after baptism have retained the name of Christian – Can. 1325 §2),” (#826, 827)
  2. Heresy is particularly opposed to divine and Catholic faith (#826b). Divine and Catholic faith is belief in a revealed truth that has been proposed as such by the Church either solemnly or ordinarily, including dogmas contained in the Creeds and definitions of the Popes and Councils, (#755b).
  3. By “opposed to faith” means any judgment which, according to the logical rules of opposition between propositions, is irreconcilable with the truth of a formula of dogma or a censure for heresy. Example: The Council of Trent teaches that, “all sins committed after Baptism can be forgiven in the Sacrament of Penance.” It would be heretical, therefore, to hold that no sins committed after Baptism can be pardoned in the Sacrament of Penance, or that some sins cannot be absolved, #826c).
  4. One who declares in public addresses or articles that he agrees with Modernism, or who joins openly an heretical sect…is a public heretic, (#828c).
  5. Heresy is not formal unless one pertinaciously rejects the truth, knowing his error and consenting to it. But for formal heresy it is not required that that a person give his consent out of malice, or that he continue in obstinate rejection for a long time, or that he refuses to heed admonitions given him. Pertinacity here means true consent to recognized error, and this can…be given in an instant and does not presuppose an admonition disregarded,” (#829b).
  6. Circumstances that aggravate the sin include: its external and manifest nature, manifestation to a large number of people joined with apostasy and adhesion to an heretical sect, denying several articles or defined truths at the same time, (#832b&c).
  7. Faith…must be firm assent, excluding doubt, (#840). Real, voluntary but especially positive doubt, deliberately entertained with full knowledge, also constitutes heresy, (#s841-45).

Now Revs. McHugh and Callan explain in their Preface that the teachings in their work are “based on the principles, teachings and method of St. Thomas Aquinas, while supplementing that great Doctor of the Church from the best modern authorities.” There are many instances when heresy appears to be so but is not truly heresy, but this is for the hierarchy, not the laity to judge finally and officially. (The laity can recognize and condemn only notorious and manifest heresy.) Heresy is such a great danger that the Church has ruled even the appearance of it must be considered an indication it exists until the contrary is proven, (Can. 2200).  It is important that Catholics realize the Church applies Can. 2200 §2 even to material heretics, who must first be declared free of error by the Church before the censures for heresy can be said to no longer apply. The proofs of this statement can be accessed at: /articles/a-catholics-course-of-study/canon-law/trad-pseudo-clerics-only-simulating-mass-and-sacraments-pdf/heresy-in-canon-law/what-constiutes-material-heresy-and-schism/

Traditionalist errors regarding heresy

Traditionalists also have done much to muddy the waters concerning the meaning and application of pertinacity in matters of heresy. This unnecessary confusion can be dispelled by reading /articles/a-catholics-course-of-study/canon-law/trad-pseudo-clerics-only-simulating-mass-and-sacraments-pdf/heresy-in-canon-law/pertinacity-and-heresy/ ; also the arguments under the heading: “Objections against the second part of the thesis, VI” and the following heading, “Imputability and pertinacity,” at /articles/bombshell-basis-for-the-material-pope-theory-why-traditionalists-never-left-the-novus-ordo-church/

Despite the absolute guarantee of infallibility Christ made to Peter, Traditionalists still insist on discussing the possibility that a true pope could publicly teach heresy and thereby lose his office. This is in direct defiance to the Vatican Council’s ruling, calling the primacy into doubt once again. One cannot question Christ’s guarantee of Peter’s faith and remain a Catholic. To dispel the errors of this dispute still raging among Traditionalists, please read: /articles/a-catholics-course-of-study/traditionalist-heresies-and-errors/heresies-concerning-papal-authority/why-a-legitimate-roman-pontiff-could-never-become-a-heretic-but-could-only-appear-to-become-one/

As we saw in the article on the validity of John 23rd’s election, being able to truly assay our current situation in light of Church teaching depends on a comprehensive understanding of the Church’s own definition of heresy and how it applies to Her members. For decades Traditionalists have soft-pedaled the meaning and consequences of heresy because it directly affects all those they rely upon to supply them with mass and sacraments. They are contemptuous of Canon Law because it lists the many ipso facto censures that apply in their case. On a daily basis Traditionalist “clergy” violate these canons and multiply their canonical penalties, just by performing ecclesiastical functions. And still they continue to operate their chapels or ride circuit. There is no fear of offending God, or deluding the faithful; no horror of the many souls lost forever as a result of disseminating error. The money rolls in, the accolades and honors pile up and the years rush past. In the end death comes for all, even these hirelings, but still they continue their grotesque charade to the very end.

All the points made by Revs. McHugh and Callan apply to Traditionalists today concerning their wholesale rejection of numerous truths of Divine and Catholic faith, defined by the Vatican Council concerning the papacy. These include denial of the binding nature of the ordinary magisterium, the obvious meaning of the qualifications for infallible statements, the primacy of the Roman Pontiff, the necessity of the papacy and the supremacy of jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff, among several others. All of these truths are grounded in Holy Scripture; definitions of what Christ actually meant and intended when He established the papacy. This is the reason why the Church can be defined only by the papacy, and not the papacy by the Church, as Henry Cardinal Manning teaches. We end this article with the following on heresy from Cardinal Manning: “And therefore it is that everyone who has in him the gift of piety has also an instinctive hatred of heresy. The instinct which detests and recoils from heresy is part of the gift of piety, because piety loves the revealed truth of Jesus Christ. We are thought to be intolerant and bigoted, because we will keep no peace with heresy. But how can any man love Jesus Christ, and not love every jot and tittle of His truth? And if we love His truth, that which contradicts it must be hateful, for it contradicts Himself,” (The Internal Mission of the Holy Ghost, p. 236).

After reading these articles on Roncalli and heresy, it should be clear that Roncalli was guilty of this crime, a fact his actions as “pope” unquestionably prove. No Traditionalists owe him respect or obedience; in fact Pope Paul IV says it is perfectly legitimate “to depart with impunity at any time from obedience and allegiance to said promoted and elevated persons and to shun them as sorcerers, heathens, publicans, and heresiarchs…” Yet this Pope also reminds those reading his Bull that they do owe those Roman Pontiffs canonically elected true respect and obedience, despite the actions of the one posing as usurper. The reason that the papacy is so little esteemed by Traditionalists today is because those who were not sedevacantists at least became perpetually suspicious of the antipopes, and critical of their actions. They belie here by their suspicions and criticisms the fact that they didn’t really consider them true popes, for no one can judge a true pope. Sedevacantists lost all respect for the popes, questioning what they taught and even casting aspersions on past pontiffs, when they were obligated to accept and obey their teachings.

In short, all respect and reverence for the papal office was destroyed as a result of the destruction of the Church by the Vatican 2 usurpers. What is necessary today, in order to rightly understand our obligation today to uphold all past papal teaching is that we learn once again to love and reverence Christ’s Vicars on earth and accept their teachings as coming directly from Him. This is the subject of our next consideration.

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