What Constitutes Material Heresy and Schism

© Copyright 2009, revised 2023; T. Stanfill Benns (All emphasis within quotes is the author’s unless indicated otherwise.)

While many returning from Traditionalism shrink from the thought that they may have committed at least material heresy or schism, one absolutely cannot, on the one hand, refer to Traditionalist pseudo-clergy as heretical and schismatic (which they most certainly are) while on the other hand excusing their followers from any wrongdoing. The matter of heresy and schism under Can. 2314 is to be decided exclusively by the Roman Pontiff. Lay persons can and must be able to recognize heresy and schism defined by the Roman Pontiffs in order to avoid it (Can. 1325), but they cannot declare anyone free of guilt from them, and needless to say, they cannot absolve returnees sacramentally. In his Vacantis Apostolicae Sedis, Pope Pius XII infallibly declared that no one may usurp the power of the Roman Pontiff during an interregnum and if they even attempt to do so, such acts are invalid. The lifting of censures from heresy and schism, also the infamy of law attached to them, is one of those powers.

The reason those returning to the Church from Traditionalism must serve a probationary period is because Canon Law requires it, and such a probationary period today serves as a substitute for the lifting of any censure one might have incurred. Many will claim that the fraud and deceit of Traditionalists excuses them (Can.104), or that the ignorance of the censures excuses, but this would need to be determined by legitimate ecclesiastical authority. Baptized Catholics who should have known what the Church taught regarding the necessity of the papacy cannot PRESUME themselves innocent owing to ignorance, invincible or otherwise.

For certainly in reading Traditionalist essays and arguments they were aware that there were differences of opinion and that praying at home was an option, therefore they were bound to investigate the reason for this. Any Catholic worthy of the name knows that Catholics must obey the pope, and Traditionalists did not recognize a pope nor try to re-establish the papacy. Even Protestants know that the difference between the two faiths is belief in and obedience to the papacy. In matters of eternal salvation, as repeatedly stated in articles on this site, also regarding Sacramental validity, one must always take the safer course.  Obedience to the Roman Pontiff is necessary to salvation (Pope Boniface VIII, Unam Sanctam), and Pope Pius XII also infallibly taught in  Vacantis Apostolicae Sedis that during an interregnum, no one may dispense from or change papal or Canon Law. We are yet bound by them, then, if we wish to be saved, and that includes those laws governing heresy and schism. All these topics will be discussed in detail below.

What constitutes material heresy and schism

Traditionalist clergy have invalidly absolved themselves and their followers today from any formal heresy or schism; and they pretend that they can escape being excluded from membership in the Church by counting themselves only material heretics or schismatics. They even have advanced the theory that schism is not the equivalent of heresy, as though it does not place them outside the Church alongside heresy and apostasy. Commenting on the Code of Canon Law where schismatics are concerned, H. A. Ayrhinac wrote, after referring to the bull “Cum ex Apostolatus Officio,” 1559: “Schism is formally assimilated now to heresy and apostasy in every respect.” Rev. Adolphe Tanquerey, whose works were used as seminary texts internationally for decades, holds the same position. “Apostates, heretics and schismatics incur, on the ordinary conditions of full guilt, knowledge, etc., an excommunication specially reserved to the Holy See…”

Tanquerey then points out that, “All theologians teach that publicly known heretics, that those who belong to a heterodox sect through public profession, or those who refuse the infallible teaching of the authority of the Church, are excluded from the body of the Church, even if their heresy is only material heresy,” (“Manual of Dogmatic Theology,” Vol. II). As Msgr. Joseph C. Fenton notes in his “The Teaching of the Theological Manuals,” The American Ecclesiastical Review, April 1963: “If the theses taught by Tanquerey were opposed to those of ‘the most authentic Catholic tradition of all ages,’ then thousands of priests, educated during the first part of the twentieth century were being led into error by the men whom Our Lord had constituted as the guardians of His revealed message.” Traditionalists cannot claim they have not had access to the truth, although they might be able to claim that they did not properly understand it. They cannot claim that at the very least, they did not know that for the Catholic Church to exist, there must be a Roman Pontiff and hierarchy in communion with him. Therefore, unlike the case in other censures, full guilt and knowledge must be presumed until the contrary is proven to valid and licit bishops, (Can. 2200).

In another article Msgr. Fenton wrote: “[Cardinal] Franzelin popularized the process of distinguishing between material and formal heresy in treating of conditions for membership in the Church. He thereby did a definite disservice to the cause of theology,” (“The Status of St. Robert Bellarmine’s Teaching About the Membership of occult heretics in the Catholic Church,” AER, March 1950). As discussed at length in this site article,“Are Traditionalists Members of the Mystical Body?” Msgr. Fenton has made it clear that since Pope Pius XII defined Church membership and membership by desire in “Mystici Corporis” and “Suprema Haec Sacra,” there can be no speculation concerning Church membership. Note, however, that even before this time, Rev. Tanquerey was teaching that material heretics and schismatics were not members of the Mystical Body. It was the liberal theologians pushing for ecumenical concessions who supported this false idea of material heresy, even in Pope Pius XII’s day. Yet despite their stated position to believe all that the Church taught until the death of Pius XII, Traditionalists apparently do not even understand who are truly members of the Church of Christ on earth. Forget the fact that what has been presented on this board proves that they do not possess supplied jurisdiction — nor the extraordinary mission they profess — to validly confer Penance and Extreme Unction or licitly confer any of the other sacraments. Regrettably, it is even worse than that.

All these Traditionalist clerics have been administering sacraments to those outside the Church, implicitly demonstrating that despite all the Church teaches on this subject, these people are still members because THEY, as “valid and licit priests and bishops,” can determine such things. Canon 2317 bars clerics from preaching or teaching even though they have only taught doctrines not condemned as heretical. But refusing to believe material heresy excludes one from the Church is not just a denial of Church teaching but a heresy in and of  itself, since it impugns the Church’s authority to administer discipline. It is a persistent and stubborn refusal to believe that the Church has the authority to ipso facto declare that these people who long to be Catholics are not actually members of the Church. So the very act of presuming oneself Catholic and receiving the sacraments is sacrilege for both clerics and people, at the very least, and ignoring the excommunication of the Church by receiving invalid and illicit sacraments and persisting in attendance at non-Catholic services would call for grave measures in normal times. This has been explained in the article “Disciplinary Decrees Are Infallible,” particularly in Pope Pius IX’s constitution, “Quartus Supra.”

Traditionalists fail to understand heresy, and this piece is presented as an attempt to remedy this situation. Those reading this article may also wish to review “Pertinacity and Heresy” under the Canon Law heading on this board.

Invincible ignorance

Of all the theologians writing on invincible ignorance, the Scottish Bishop George Hay provides one of the best descriptions of this unfortunate state available. Hay is commended by Henry Cardinal Manning as “one of the most energetic and learned…Vicars Apostolic of Scotland in the last century,” (from Manning’s Miscellanies, 1870, “The Bishop of Rome.”). To quote him at length is not necessary. He states quite clearly in his The Sincere Christian that no one — not Turks, heathens or Jews; not sincere Protestants living where there are no Catholics and especially not non- Catholics living amongst Catholics can plead invincible ignorance and expect to be saved. The reason is simple: God died for all men although all did not take advantage of the graces He made available to them, (Council of Trent, Sess. 6, Ch. 3). No one who is truly invincibly ignorant will be condemned for his ignorance per se, but the question is more complicated than just this one consideration.

“Although this invincible ignorance will certainly save a man from sin, in wanting that of which he is invincibly ignorant, yet it is plainly impossible and childish to suppose that this invincible ignorance in one point will make up for the want of all the other conditions required.” Even validly baptized, sincere Protestant adults having no acquaintance with Catholics cannot retain their baptismal innocence without Confession, and therefore cannot be saved unless they manage to make a Perfect Act of Contrition or its equivalent before death, Hay explains. Their children dying before the age of reason, however, can gain heaven. Most especially those Protestants living among Catholics have no excuse for invincible ignorance. Bp. Hay comments: “For invincible ignorance to exist, three things are necessarily required:

1) “That a person have a real and sincere desire of knowing the truth. For if he be cold and indifferent about an affair of so great concern as his eternal salvation; if he be careless whether he be in the right way or not; if being enslaved to this present life, he takes no care about the next, it is manifest that an ignorance arising from this disposition is a voluntary ignorance and therefore highly culpable in the sight of God…

2) “For one to be in invincible ignorance it is required that he be sincerely resolved to embrace the truth wherever he may find it and whatever it may cost him. For if he be not fully resolved to follow the will of God, wherever it shall appear to him, in all things necessary to salvation; if on the contrary, he be so disposed that he would rather neglect his duty and hazard his soul than correct an ill custom, or disoblige his friends, or expose himself to some temporal loss or disadvantage…Such a disposition must be highly displeasing to God and an ignorance arising from it can never excuse him before his Creator…(all emphasis in bold throughout this work is the author’s unless stated otherwise).

3) “He must sincerely use his best endeavors to know his duty, and particularly that he recommend that matter earnestly to Almighty God, and pray for light and direction. For whatever desire he may pretend of knowing the truth, if he do not use the proper means for finding it, it is manifest that his ignorance is not invincible but voluntary; for ignorance is only invincible when one has a sincere desire to know the truth with a full resolution to embrace it, but either has no possible means of knowing it or, after using his best endeavors to know it, yet cannot find it.” (Nor does a formal doubt excuse, for all are expected to resolve such doubts.) “A person brought up in a false faith, which the Scripture calls sects of perdition, doctrines of devils, perverse things, lies and hypocrisy; and who has heard of the true Church of Christ, which condemns all these sects, and sees the divisions and dissensions which they constantly have among themselves, has always before his eyes the most cogent reasons to doubt of the way he is in.”

Bp. Hay goes on to remind his readers that many are called and few are chosen, and that broad is the path to destruction and narrow is the way to salvation. When asked if he is saying that none who are in heresy and invincible ignorance can be saved, he answers, “God forbid that we should say so! All the above reasons only prove that if they live and die in that state they will not be saved…No man knows or can know what may have passed between God and the soul in his last minutes.” Many attempt to appeal to the various exceptions cited in Canon Law to justify their ignorance in matters of faith. But Canon Law does not generally excuse one from observing the law for reasons of ignorance, the general rule being “Ignorance of the law is no excuse Affected ignorance is never accepted as an excuse from observing the law where faith is concerned. Ignorance of certain facts can in some cases lessen imputability but must be proven. And for this situation Canons 2200 §2 and 2315 apply to allow the offender six months to prove his innocence once the error is realized. How invincible ignorance results in material heresy is further explained below.

Invincible ignorance and material heresy

We must examine #3 of Bp. Hay’s reasons above and carefully consider the last sentence of this point:

“A person brought up in a false faith, which the Scripture calls sects of perdition, doctrines of devils, perverse things, lies and hypocrisy; and who has heard of the true Church of Christ, which condemns all these sects, and sees the divisions and dissensions which they constantly have among themselves, has always before his eyes the most cogent reasons to doubt of the way he is in.” How many Traditionalists today were raised in just such an atmosphere, whether in the Novus Ordo church or in various Traditionalist factions? Should this very reason not give them pause and cause them to carefully investigate the foundations of their Traditionalist sect?

Rev. Ignatius Szal, in his Canon Law dissertation, “The Communication of Catholics With Schismatics” (1948) rightly states that those raised in heresy or schism who convert to the true faith, even if no obstinacy was involved on their part, must be absolved from the censure for schism if they convert after reaching the age of 14. This has been confirmed by several decisions handed down by the Holy See and the Sacred Congregations. It is based on the rule expressed in Can. 2200§2, (1917 Code) that they are bound by the censure of excommunication for schism or heresy given the external violation of the law. The age 14 is probably used because this is determined to be the age of discretion by the Church in regard to other matters. This is probably because by the time one has spent 13 years in a non-Catholic sect, the balance of one’s spiritual formation is no longer Catholic. Basically all Catholics 13 and younger when Pope Pius XII died were certainly raised in a false religion and have become material heretics, especially if they later became Traditionalists. For both the V2 anti-Church established by Roncalli and Montini as well as Traditionalism itself are non-Catholic sects by the Church’s own definition, and even Traditionalists admit this!

Basically what Rev. Szal says is repeated by Rev. Pierre Gury in his Compendium of Moral Theology under the heading of material heresy: “Material heresy is free from all fault because a material heretic, as is supposed, errs through invincible ignorance…He must be considered only a material heretic who (1) is prepared to submit to the Church’s judgment as soon as he knows it; (2) who, being born among heretics knows nothing of the true faith and has never doubted his own religion; (3) who, although doubting, has endeavored to learn the truth so far as he was able but has not yet reached it,” and this is the state of many Traditionalists. This definition of material heresy is further supported by a very crucial and neglected teaching of the Vatican Council: “Wherefore, not at all equal is the condition of those who, through the heavenly gift of faith, have adhered to the Catholic truth; and of those who, led by human opinions, follow a false religion. For those who have accepted the Faith, under the teaching power of the Church, can never have a just cause of changing or doubting that faith,” (DZ 1794).

The denial of this teaching is condemned in the following Vatican Council Canon, (DZ 1815): “If anyone shall have said that the condition of the faithful and of those who have not yet come to the true faith is equal, so that Catholics can have a just cause of doubting the faith which they have accepted under the teaching power of the Church, by withholding assent until they have completed the scientific demonstration of the credibility and truth of their faith: let him be anathema.” (This is repeated in the 1949 letter “Suprema Haec Sacra.”) The Vatican Council also teaches: “If anyone shall have said that no true mysteries properly so-called are contained in Divine revelation, but that all the dogmas of faith can be understood and proved from natural principles, through reason properly cultivated, let him be anathema.”

Earlier, Innocent XI had condemned the Jansenist proposition that: “an assent of Faith, at once supernatural and helpful to salvation, may coexist with a merely probable knowledge of revelation, and even with a fear that perhaps God has not really spoken,” (DZ 1171). Pope St. Pius X later condemned the same error, teaching that the assent of Faith cannot rest ultimately on “an aggregation of probabilities,” (DZ 2025). What has happened since Vatican 2 is precisely what the true Vatican Council condemned. All Trad leaders have tried to prove and understand the dogmas of faith from natural principles and an aggregation of probabilities. All have tried to use their ability of reason to lead others to believe that Mass and Sacraments without jurisdiction are acceptable to God; also that a Church without a true pope can really exist, and can obtain the same unity that Christ assigned only to His Church on the condition that She possessed true apostolicity.

From the time of their childhood, nearly all Traditionalists today have followed the very (Gallican/Modernist) “human opinions” of Novus Ordo or Traditional priests, bishops and lay leaders. These leaders have very seldom if ever stressed the absolute necessity of Divine faith because they could not afford to do so; all of them today operate outside those Divine laws. As adults, very few of those who are Traditionalists today accepted their faith under the teaching power of the Church, after reaching the age of 14. At best Traditionalists have entertained only a “probable knowledge of revelation,” possibly even fearing that “perhaps God has not really spoken.” To be material heretics they must know “nothing” of the true faith, as Rev. Gury states above, and must never have doubted Traditionalism. And yet we know that Traditionalists do know much about the true faith, even if they do not properly understand it, and HAVE doubted the tenets of at least some of their Traditionalist beliefs, since they keep moving from sect to sect. Yet they do not possess FULL knowledge of all the nuances of teachings of faith and this has been further confounded by those who teach error. Nor do they INTEND to hold tenets contrary to faith; in fact they think they are perpetuating it.

So if they are trying to resolve doubts but have failed to gain certainty in matters necessary to faith, they could “change or doubt’ what faith they think they possess only if they could obtain certainty from truly Catholic sources. They then would need to demonstrate that the former way in which they understood their faith was erroneous, an insult to God, and explain that they exchanged it for belief in Divine truths they had not previously known or understood. And only if, while they did so, they fully believed in the One True Church with what faith they possessed, seeking only to better understand it and remove any errors in faith previously held, (DZ 1796, 1797). Especially because they became so confused about their faith they now need to exercise due diligence and do all in their power to search out the truth. This Pope Pius XII teaches below.

Material or formal heresy?

The primary basis for all that Traditionalists believe, after sorting out the welter of theological opinions tossed around by Traditional “experts,” amounts only to “an aggregation of probabilities,” if that. Only much of what they claim as probabilities are not even probable enough to produce certitude; they cannot offer five or six opinions from approved theologians to justify their beliefs. To truly qualify as a Catholic in good faith, Bp. Hay says, one “must sincerely use his best endeavors to know his duty, and particularly that he recommend that matter earnestly to Almighty God, and pray for light and direction. For whatever desire he may pretend of knowing the truth, if he does not use the proper means for finding it, it is manifest that his ignorance is not invincible but voluntary; for ignorance is only invincible when one has a sincere desire to know the truth with a full resolution to embrace it, but either has no possible means of knowing it or, after using his best endeavors to know it, yet cannot find it.” If Traditionalists have not made this effort, they cannot claim inculpability where matters of Divine faith are concerned. One who has made such an effort would be described as Rev. Gury described such individuals: “who, although doubting, he was able but has not yet reached it.”

The “teaching power of the Church” mentioned by the Council refers to proper jurisdiction, since it is part and parcel of it. This can only mean under the supervision and direction of valid and licit hierarchy, including a true Pope. We know that the hierarchy exists, but we are deprived of their teaching and direction at this particular time. And it is not enough to simply study those things that the Popes, Cardinals and bishops have written in the past, for the magisterium was constituted by Christ as a perpetual, living entity; also because “Faith cometh by hearing.” Common error cannot apply, because common ignorance, not common error, is what prevailed prior to the reign of John 23. Today, any trace of common error has been dispelled, anyway.

So most Traditionalists today, then, never accepted the faith as adults under the teaching power of the Church. As a result, they do have a just cause for questioning and doubting what is proposed to them as the faith, especially by those who are not their lawful pastors. While such doubts may exist, they must endeavor to do all in their power to arrive at the truth if they are to be held blameless in virtue of their invincible ignorance. It is assumed that they possess membership in the Church by way of desire, having lost it and having no true access to the hierarchy. Can a Profession of Faith alone remove material heresy, as one theologian has proposed? It can remove the sin, in these circumstances, but not the censure. Certainly it demonstrates the good faith of the one making the Profession. But there is much more to this question than those holding this opinion would have us believe.

To say that a Profession of Faith will temporarily suffice for absolution, one must first assume that all heresy and schism committed WAS certainly material, when Can. 2200§2 requires that proof be submitted to the proper authorities to substantiate this fact. This would ordinarily mean submission of the case to an ecclesiastical court, or to the bishop, when we have neither. The presentation of the case would involve explaining why one man’s arguments were accepted and another’s rejected; why certain facts were not investigated, and how and why certain prejudices were entertained. Actual proofs of studies conducted would need to be provided. So some might not be judged material heretics at all, but this is for the proper Church authorities to decide, not other material heretics, who are not even members of the Church.

There is no substitute for the absolution from censure that must accompany the Profession of Faith, (Can. 2250, §1-3). And all those who have not received such absolution cannot posit legal ecclesiastical acts according to Can. 2315, nor can laity receive the Sacraments, (Can. 2241), although today we can cite impossibility of receiving absolution as a cessation of this law. Under Can. 2314§2, Rev. Woywod, quoting the canonist Cerato, states that those raised in non-Catholic sects “cannot be said to have stubbornly denied the Catholic Faith, and thus do not incur the penalties of Can. 2314.” Still, they cannot be counted as members of the Church. And where a good number of Traditionalists are concerned, there are very sound reasons to believe that the Church would consider them formal heretics.

While material heresy might apply to those born after the advent of the false Vatican 2 council, it cannot be said to apply in general fashion to those who became members of the Church under Pope Pius XII. Based on decisions issued by the Holy Office, Revs. Woywod-Smith continue: “Nevertheless, in the external forum they are not free [from the penalties of Can. 2314] for, according to Can. 2200, when there is an external violation of Church law, malice is presumed in the external forum until its absence is proved. The Holy See insists that converts from heretical or schismatic sects be not received into the Church until they have first abjured the heresy or schism and been absolved from the censure, (Instruction of the Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda, July 20, 1859). Children converted before the age of puberty need no absolution from the excommunication (cfr. Can. 2230) and, instead of abjuration, need only make the profession of faith, (Holy Office, March 8, 1882).” All Trads did when they left the Novus Ordo  — as children or teens, to become Traditionalists — was to exchange one non-Catholic sect for another.

Pope St. Pius X said, in his condemnation of Modernism, that the closer to the truth something is the worse it is as far as the faith is concerned, and this is certainly true of Traditionalism. So most assume we know enough to qualify as material heretics, but not enough to incur formal heresy, it would seem. But this is not true across the board for everyone. Older Traditionalists who reached adulthood and completed their (Catholic) education before Pope Pius XII’s death would not be able to automatically claim material heresy or schism, since they grew up under the teaching authority of the Church.

In fact, according to decisions handed down by the Holy Office and the Sacred Congregations concerning the validity of marriage, it is not even certain how blameless those would be who were educated for even a time in the true faith during Pope Pius XII’s reign, or were raised by those not actively practicing their faith. Lax or lapsed Catholics are to be considered differently in the law than those baptized, yet never raised as Catholics, since they presumably were taught at least some truths of faith. The proper authorities, when they return, would need to examine these cases more closely.

We can be certain that some of those who were raised in non-Catholic sects were considered only material heretics and schismatics owing to the practice of the Church pre-1959 to absolve them in the external forum following conversion. The problem is today that no valid or licit member of the hierarchy exists to decide whether one IS a material or formal heretic, so all must be considered to have acted with malice aforethought. But as is reflected in marriage decisions issuing from the Sacred Congregations and the Holy Office, others do not automatically extend the exemption from incurring censure to baptized Catholics raised in Catholic homes by lapsed Catholics. While these Catholics easily could have fallen into material heresy owing to the confusion of the times, it is hard to understand why they remained involved with (various) non-Catholic Trad sects. This is especially true considering that there were those among the departees in the 1960s and 1970s who simply left the NO disaster and studiously avoided these sects. No one is judging these Traditionalists or assuming their guilt; only the proper bishop or a true pope can judge such cases. But it is clear that even so, they must be absolved for at least material heresy/schism and abjure their errors; also do their best to become members of the Church once again at least by desire. This is why the Church recommends in Her canons that those wishing to qualify for absolution perform three years of penance (see the article on the probationary period, Current articles page under Beginners).

Proofs from the Holy See

We read this from Pope Pius IX, in Quartus Supra (1873): “But the neo-schismatics say that it was not a case of doctrine but of discipline, so the name and prerogatives of Catholics cannot be denied to those who object. Our Constitution Reversurus, published on July 12, 1867, answers this objection. We do not doubt that you know well how vain and worthless this evasion is. For the Catholic Church has always regarded as schismatic those who obstinately oppose the lawful prelates of the Church and in particular, the chief shepherd of all. Schismatics avoid carrying out their orders and even deny their very rank. Since the Armenian faction of Constantinople is like this, they are schismatics even if they had not yet been condemned as such by Apostolic authority. For the Church consists of the people in union with the priest, and the flock following its shepherd. Consequently the bishop is in the Church and the Church in the bishop, and whoever is not with the bishop is not in the Church. Furthermore, as Our predecessor Pius VI warned in his Apostolic letter condemning the civil constitution of the clergy in France, discipline is often so closely related to doctrine and has such a great influence on its preservation and its purity, that the sacred councils have not hesitated to cut off from the Church by their anathema those who have infringed its discipline.

But the neo-schismatics have gone further, since ‘every schism fabricates a heresy for itself to justify its withdrawal from the Church.’ Indeed, they have even accused this Apostolic See as well, as if We had exceeded the limits of Our power in commanding that certain points of discipline were to be observed…Nor can the Eastern Churches preserve communion and unity of faith with Us without being subject to the Apostolic power in matters of discipline.”

Pope Pius IX then quotes St. Cyprian on the dangers of schism: “The enemy snatches human beings out of the very Church and while they think they have already drawn near to the light and escaped from the night of the world, he brings darkness over them once more in ways which they are unaware. Thus, although they do not observe Christ’s Gospels and His law, they call themselves Christians and judge that they possess the light while they walk in darkness, attracted and deceived by the adversary. For he transfigures himself like an angel of light, as the Apostle says, (2 Cor. 11:14) and disguises his ministers as ministers of justice who present night as day, ruin as salvation, hopelessness in the guise of hope, faithlessness under the pretext of faith, the antichrist with the title of ‘Christ.’ Thus while telling lies which resemble truths, they make vain the truth by their subtlety.”

And Pope Leo XIII states: Heresies and schisms have no other origin than that obedience is refused to the priest of God, and that men lose sight of the fact that there is one judge in the place of Christ in this world” (Epist. xii. ad Cornelium, n. 5). No one, therefore, unless in communion with Peter can share in his authority, since it is absurd to imagine that he who is outside can command in the Church. Wherefore Optatus of Milevis blamed the Donatists for this reason: “Against which ages (of hell) we read that Peter received the saving keys, that is to say, our prince, to whom it was said by Christ: ‘To thee will I give the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and the gates of hell shall not conquer them.’ Whence is it therefore that you strive to obtain for yourselves the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven—you who fight against the chair of Peter?” (Satis Cognitum, June 20, 1896).

Even those baptized in the Catholic Church and raised by non-Catholics, regardless of whether they received Catholic instruction or not, were determined by Pope Pius XII in 1949 to be held to the canonical form of marriage, formally abrogating the previous law, Can. 1099. The previous law did not bind baptized non-Catholics to observe the canonical form. This new law was used to dissolve marriages only in favor of those who desired to marry true Catholics, (Canon Law Digest, Vol. III, several cases falling under Can. 1099). Now this change of law indicates that Pope Pius XII believed that those baptized in the Church who knew of such baptism or later discovered it, had certain obligations to abide by Church law and observe the canonical form of marriage. This being the case, it seems that the very fact of certainly valid Baptism itself imposes obligations on the faithful to comply with Church law, if they know or believe themselves to be Catholic. Readmission or admission to the Church would need to happen in such cases before the parties could remarry, however, since all would be above the age of 14.

Pope Pius XII wrote on this topic: “According to the principles of Catholic doctrine, conversion must be the result…of an interior adherence of the soul to the truths taught by the Catholic Church. It is for this reason that the Catholic Church does not admit to Her communion adult persons who apply either for the first time or for readmission, except on condition that they be fully aware of the meaning and consequences of the step which they wish to take,” (Can. 2314, Canon Law Digest, Vol. III, AAS 38-391).

Theologians on material heresy and schism

A schismatic is defined by Rev. Szal as: One who, having received baptism and still retaining the name of Christian nevertheless refuses obedience to the Supreme Pontiff,” (while yet recognizing him as the head of the Church) “or refuses to communicate with those members of the Church subject to him.” In the strict sense, Szal noted, the following elements also are essential for schism to exist: “One must withdraw directly (expressly) or indirectly (by one’s actions) from obedience to the Roman Pontiff and separate oneself from ecclesiastical communion with the rest of the faithful; one’s withdrawal must be made with obstinacy and rebellion; in relation to those things by which the unity of the Church is constituted; yet despite this formal disobedience the schismatic must recognize the Roman Pontiff as the true pastor of the Church.”

According to the opinions of seven notable theologians, when withdrawing from a doubtful pope no schism is involved. Vermeersch-Cruesen, Reiffenstuel, Schmalzgrueber, Ferraris, Vechiotti and Szal state: “There is no schism involved…if one refuses obedience [to a pope] inasmuch as one suspects the person of the Pope or the validity of his election…” (The Communication of Catholics with Schismatics, Rev.Ignatius J. Szal, A.B., J.C.L.). These theologians agree that one need only suspect that the man claiming to be Pope is irregular in some way or invalidly elected. The opinion of these men also constitutes the juridical certainty in way of evidence required by Dom Charles Augustine under Can. 430. Rev. Augustine states that such declaration, wherever excommunication is involved, requires “juridical certainty obtained by means described in law.” These means are pre-emptory admonition, official summons, or a juridical document, (such as Cum ex Apostolatus Officio).

“Any baptized person who, while retaining the name of Christian, obstinately denies or doubts any of the truths proposed for belief by the divine and Catholic faith, is a heretic; if he abandons the Christian faith entirely, he is called an apostate; if, finally, he refuses to be subject to the Supreme Pontiff, or to have communication with the members of the church subject to the Pope, he is a schismatic,” (Can. 1325). This definition was not always so complete — it gradually developed over the centuries following the issuance of Pope Paul IV’s Cum ex Apostolatus Officio. Rev. Szal tells us: “The early Bullae, enumerating those who were excommunicated, made no specific mention of schismatics…The earliest Bulla to contain an enacted excommunication against schismatics was that of Paul IV in 1559…The status of the schismatic before the year 1559 was at most one of doubtful excommunication.”

And this is why of those living during the time of the Western Schism were not generally considered even material schismatics; schism wasn’t yet defined. Despite the fact that no one KNEW who the true pope was, all rendered obedience to the one they believed to be true. And in reality there was a true pope all along who supplied for any irregularities, so there was no break in unity. This is the common opinion of theologians and historians. Finally, the Vatican Council forever made it impossible for schism to exist without heresy, and Rev. Szal admits that “pure schism is rare.” Pope Pius IX states this in his Constitution Quartus Supra, quoting St. Jerome: “Every schism fabricates a heresy for itself to justify its withdrawal from the Church.”

The consequences of apostasy and heresy are far greater than that for many other crimes, and this is confirmed in Homiletic and Pastoral Review, (Volume 34, Number 7, page 743-4, April 1934) in an answer to an enquirer. The question was asked about receiving a baptized non-Catholic into the Church. The usual procedure was followed with absolution from the excommunication for heresy. However, in the accompanying confession the woman confesses to having had an abortion, which is also an excommunicable offense. Let us read part of the answer: “Practically there is no difficulty about censure for the sin of abortion or any other offense which the Code of Canon Law punishes with a censure, because ignorance excuses from censures (See Canon 2229, paragraph 1), and it is reasonable to assume that ordinarily the convert was ignorant of the regulations of the Church. One may object and ask why then must we insist on absolving from censure because of heresy when the convert knows nothing more about that censure than he knows of other censures. There is a difference between a public profession of faith contrary to the teaching of the Church and sins committed in one’s private life. The one is a public affair; the other is a matter of conscience only. In public violations of the rules of the Church the public authority cannot but judge that the violation was done with full knowledge, and the burden of proof that it was done in good faith rests with the one who appears to be guilty. In many instances he may not be able to prove good faith, and he will be considered guilty.”

And adherence to a non-Catholic sect (Can. 2314 no. 3), also communicatio in sacris, (Can. 1258) is a PUBLIC ACT. Therefore it is difficult to see has this could possible be excused.

Saint Augustine says: Baptism is the privilege of the true Church, and so the benefits which flow from Baptism are necessarily fruits which belong only to the true Church. Children baptized in other communions cease to be members of the Church only when, after reaching the age of reason, they make formal profession of heresy, as, for example, by receiving communion in a non-Catholic church. The Church, however requires the age of 14 be obtained to incur a censure for a crime, although one below that age certainly can commit sin. Since all of the effects of heresy flow from the crime, then a person under 14 incurs none of them, by law. Elsewhere Rev. Ignatius Szal applies this teaching to the reception of baptized non-Catholics 14 years and above (and this would apply to those baptized in all manner of Traditionalist sects!) who must be absolved of heresy before they can attend Mass and receive the Sacraments.

The very commission of any act which signifies heresy; e.g., the statement of some doctrine contrary or contradictory to a revealed and defined dogma, gives sufficient ground for juridical presumption of heretical depravity. There may be excusing circumstances which excuse from grave re¬sponsibility in the external forum, and the burden of proof is on the person whose action has given rise to the imputation of heresy. In the absence of proof, ALL such excuses are presumed not to exist. (The Delict of Heresy, p. 35.)

Canon 2248 states that, “Any censure once contracted cannot be removed except by legitimate absolution.” Revs. Woywod-Smith comment: “Only a superior who has power to attach a censure to his precept can absolve under such a condition, unless the law gives the confessor faculty to absolve under that condition.” Canon E. J. Mahoney comments in his Questions and Answers: The Sacraments that, “The rule, very familiar to us in reconciling non-Catholics, requires a general confession from the newly reconciled person, the reasons being that every post-baptismal sin must be absolved by direct absolution.” Now here Mahoney notes that this is not required from schismatic Orthodox because their confessions in the Orthodox church are presumed to be valid, either through jurisdiction supplied owing to common error or because the Church has never withdrawn Her jurisdiction in the first place. (Mahoney says in his work that no general confession is required from the Orthodox received back into the Church, nor does the Church re-confirm the infants that Orthodox priests have confirmed.)

Canon Mahoney further writes: “The liberal view [is that] baptized non-Catholics in good faith are members of the body of the Church precisely because they are not excommunicated…The view diametrically opposed to this is [that] the excommunication of heretics applies to material as well as formal heretics…If a choice had to be made between theses two views…, there is no question that the second fits in best with Catholic discipline, and, in particular, with our practice in reconciling converts…The solution which I think is the correct one consists in perceiving a distinction which the Code itself supplies. The Sacraments are to be denied both to material and formal heretics but for different reasons; to formal heretics because they merit punishment, the censure of Can. 2314 §1; to material heretics because they are excluded by Can. 731 §2, which is a necessary deduction from the concept of the Church: [basically, the Church is a society of men professing the same Christian faith, participating in the same worship, receiving the same Sacraments, from lawful pastors in communion with the Pope, etc…] Those who reject the rule of faith proposed by the Church are not members of the Church, and may not lawfully share in the privileges of members, as, for example, the reception of the Sacraments.”

Mahoney then cites Billot, who explains that formal heresy and schism cannot be excluded as a possibility in these cases. “…In reconciling converts…it is difficult in the first place to say with certainty that a given convert has not incurred the censure. It is not amongst those which crass ignorance excuses, and it is not unlikely that, during a given period previous to his submission, there was sufficient knowledge for incurring a censure. Therefore absolution from censure is given at least ad cautelam… Moreover, the important distinction between the internal and the external forum must always be remembered. The external government of the Church regards the external actions of people…It is open to the authority of the external government of the Church to regard the members of heretical sects as excommunicated, even though, in the internal forum of conscience, they may be guiltless of any act meriting punishment. We say it is “open to them” to do so, but whether they do, as matter of fact, must depend on their own avowal, explicit or implicit. Even though there is no express direction from the competent authority that all converts are reckoned to be excommunicated, the absolution from censure, should, in my opinion, always be given…It is at least a liturgical law…In the “Ordo Administrandi,” [England] …rubric two takes it for granted that absolution from censure will be given to all who have reached the age of puberty. Nothing is said about omitting the absolution in cases where it is said not to have been incurred…Lastly, and the most important point of all…the license of the Ordinary is always necessary before reconciling a convert with the Church.”

Mahoney’s words are only strengthened by the commentary of Revs. Woywod-Smith on Can. 731: “All canonists and moralists agree that those who are heretics or schismatics and know they are wrong cannot be given the Sacraments of the Church unless they renounce their errors and are reconciled with the Church. Numerous decrees of the Holy Office put this point beyond controversy.” As Mahoney observes above, “Those who reject the rule of faith proposed by the Church are not members of the Church, and may not lawfully share in the privileges of members…” These privileges include that of voting, such as is mentioned under Can. 167 §5. This Canon has for its source Pope Paul IV’s Cum ex Apostolatus Officio, which deprives heretics and schismatics of any right to vote in ecclesiastical elections.

We read also from The Jurist, volume 132, page 405: “Irregularity Arising from Sect Affiliation”: “Question: A young man in my parish joined the Methodist Church at the age of 15. He was baptized in it in infancy. At 16, through association with Catholic young men in high school, he became a convert to the Church. Does he labor under any irregularity from which a dispensation should be obtained? (signed, Pedagogous)

“Answer: Since the young man joined the Methodist Church after he had attained the age of puberty, he does not escape the penalties which the Code visits upon his act. Clearly it may be assumed that he has been absolved from the excommunication in accordance with the provisions of Canon 2314§2, since it is apparent from the state¬ment of the case that he is a good Catholic and proposes to study for the priesthood. It is very likely, however, that he has not been dispensed from the vindictive penalty of infamy of law (infamia juris).

1. Only the Holy See can dispense from this penalty.

2. One who labors under it is irregular ex defectu, not ex delicto. Of course, even considered as an irregularity ex defectu, its presence is prevented, in the internal forum, by the good faith of the party affected: that is, good faith prevents the incurring of the vindictive penalty of infamy of law, and in the absence of the latter, there is an irregularity ex defectu. In the external forum, however, the dispensation should be duly sought from the Sacred Congregation of tie Sacraments.

“The young man also is subject to the impediment arising ex delicto from this heresy in accordance with canon 985, 1°. In the internal forum, good faith would excuse him; in the external forum, however, a dispensation should be sought from this irregularity also from the Sacred Congregation of the Sacraments. (I Cf. can. 2314, § 1, 3°. Si sectae acatholicae nomen dederint vel publice adhaeserint, ipso facto infames sunt et, firma praescripto can. 188, n. 4, clerici, monitione incassum praemissa, degradentur. Can. 2295. Infamia iuris desinit sola dispensatione a Sede Apostolica concessa).”

“All the above heresies are so-called silent heresies. No declaration of their individual existence is ever made by an ecclesiastical authority — except in the general way that all heresies have been condemned by the continual magisterium at some time, in one place or the other — and there is a record of this. To insist that one 14 and older cannot be held guilty of censures is to deny the Church’s right to establish and enforce censures. This teaching of the Jansenist heretics is condemned by Pope Pius VI:

“ ‘Likewise, the proposition which teaches that is necessary, according to the natural and divine laws, for either excommunication or for suspension, that sentences called ipso facto have no other force than that of a serous threat without any actual effect, — false, rash, pernicious, injurious to the power of the Church, erroneous.’

“ ‘Likewise, the proposition which says “useless and vain is the formula introduced some centuries ago of general absolution from excommunications into which the faithful might have fallen, — false, rash, injurious to the practice of the Church,’” (“Auctorem Fidei,” August 28, 1794).

Here we might also add the following condemnations by Pope Pius IX: (From The Vatican Council): “The pastors and faithful…are bound by the duty of hierarchical subordination and true obedience, not only in things which pertain to faith and morals but also in those which pertain to the discipline and government of the Church…If anyone says that the Roman Pontiff has only the office of inspection or direction, but not the full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the universal Church, not only in things which pertain to faith and morals but also in those which pertain to the discipline and government of the Church…let him be anathema,” (DZ 1827, 1831).

And from Quae in patriarchatu: “In fact, Venerable Brothers and beloved Sons, it is a question of recognizing the power (of this See), even over your churches, not merely in what pertains to faith, but also in what concerns discipline. He who would deny this is a heretic; he who recognizes this and obstinately refuses to obey is worthy of anathema.”


Traditionalists, whether invincibly ignorant or not, basically set up their own church. They gave their movement and its sects various names other than Catholic, while insisting that they were the true Catholic “remnant.” They engaged in activities presided over by those who are not lawful pastors, just as the clerics of the Old Catholics and Orthodox are not lawful pastors. They enrolled themselves in these sects in various ways, whether by active participation or being listed as a member of a specific church. Their services were public, not private, since these churches and their services were listed in phone books and advertised in various publications. They repeatedly separated themselves “with obstinacy and rebellion; in relation to those things by which the unity of the Church is constituted,” while claiming that they recognized the need and the supremacy of “the Roman Pontiff as the true pastor of the Church.” Some, at least, were not fully culpable perhaps, but neither were they entirely guiltless, either. By proceeding jurisdictionally and sacramentally without a true pope or any positive action to investigate acquiring one, they implicitly denied the necessity and perpetuity of the papacy. Because suspicion of schism and heresy both fall under Can. 2200 as Rev. Szal explains, material schismatics must also be absolved of their schism.

There is nothing new under the sun. In various ages, there always have been schismatic sects something like Traditionalists existing outside the Church. The manner in which various authors writing on the Waldenses and other heretical sects describe them is certainly familiar. They tell of elitist groups who think they are more Catholic than others and who separate themselves from the Church because they aspire to be less worldly. The new group usually claims to be restoring the Church’s initial purity of doctrine and/or discipline but some innovation generally can be found to disprove this. Almost always they either earn or choose a name for themselves and yet they insist on retaining the name Catholic. Yet this name does not and cannot officially belong to them.

As Pope Pius IX said: “In fact it is as contrary to the divine constitution of the Church as it is to perpetual and constant Tradition for anyone to attempt to prove the catholicity of his faith and truly call himself a Catholic when he fails in obedience to the Apostolic See…A man who has been declared schismatic by the Roman Pontiff must cease absolutely to claim the name of Catholic as long as he fails to recognize and does not expressly revere that Pontiff’s power in its fullness,” (Quartus Supra).

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