HERESY, HERETICS AND IMPERFECT COUNCILS
by Br. Alexis Bugnolo
A good number of laymen who never studied theology, or studied it at B rated institutions are at it again on social media, over the question of whether a heretical pope is still the pope.
So let us make some distinctions, so as not to get lost in the fog of controversy.
Saint Robert Bellarmine classifies the true and Catholic position as the 5th opinion, namely that a formal heretic loses all office in the Church ipso facto, that is, by the very adhesion to heresy. This is the position of all the ancient Fathers. And it is the only Catholic position. It is enshrined in Canon 1364 of Pope John Paul II’s Code of Canon Law of 1983.
Remember, heresy is both a false proposition in of itself, an erroneous judgement in the mind and a deviant profession of the mouth.
- It is a false proposition, whether written down or comprehended in the mind. And example of this is: Jesus Christ is not God.
- It is an erroneous judgment of the mind as if when you were to think: I judge that Jesus Christ is not God.
- It is a deviant profession of the mouth, as if you were to write or say aloud: Jesus Christ is not God.
As a canonical crime, however, one deals only with the external profession. Thus no one can be judged by the Church to be a heretic without an external profession of heresy. The profession must be witnessed or recorded on paper or other medium.
If you know anything about Church History, however, you know that very few men have been condemned by name as heretics in the entire history of the Church. Why is this? Because the Church, which was founded to save souls, recognizes that every deviant profession might not come forth from a mind which adheres to error. It might come forth from a mind which is ignorant, or from a will which wants to offend others. So not every deviant profession represents formal heresy (of the kind which is a sin, though canon law presumes that such deviant profession is presumed to be imputable, until proven otherwise in a due process). Nor does every deviant profession represent pertinacity. Pertinacity is the quality of adhesion to the error such that even when shown that it contradicts revealed truth, the one holding the error remains steadfast in its profession.
Pertinacity is determined canonically after 3 reproofs before witnesses. In the great Councils of the Church even notorious public and certainly pertinacious heretics were asked 3 times to recant.
But if the Church has a process for deposing heretics from their offices, does not that mean that St. Robert Bellarmine was wrong when he said the 5th opinion was the true thesis?
Here we must remember that there is a distinction between what is true in itself and what is true inasmuch as the Church can know it. As soon as one commits the sin of heresy, even in secret, you lose the gift of faith and commit a mortal sin. You are separted from God. This is true whether any man ever knows of your sin or not, before the General Judgement on the Last Day.
However, in the Church, since some men have a better ability and some a worse ability to detect heresy, there has to be a public process for determining who is a formal pertinacious heretic, so as to officially deprive them from office. For otherwise, there would be chaos in the Church. Here the Church has recourse to the teaching of Jesus about fraternal correction, first in private, then with witnesses, and finally before the whole Church. This also confirms the principles of the cessation of power is not presumed. You cannot therefor presume a heretic has lost his office on the basis of your personal discernment. You are not infallible and you cannot know hearts.
In the case of notorious professions, which are made in public and spread on social media, every Catholic has the right to condemn the profession as heretical. You need not go to the person in private or correspond with him in private. His Bishop should and his superiors should. But not everyone has to. Because the common good requires that every public heretical profession be immediately confuted by a public orthodox profession.
At the same time, none of this denies that by the Catholic Faith each of us is capable of discerning heresy which is formal, even if in the person it may not be pertinacious. This ability is simply the application of comparing revealed truth with the perverse profession to manifest that it is perverse and deviant.
Likewise, since the salvation of souls is the greatest law, every Catholic has the right to separate himself from heretics, whether by avoiding them at all times or avoiding them in their Churches. So no one can be forced to receive the Sacraments from someone they know has made a deviant profession. And in this, the individual cannot be coerced, and the Church has never coerced them in such matters, because it has happened that heretics have been men who once occupied offices of power in the Church before.
Nor are you obliged to obey your superior in anything when his heretical spirit becomes manifest. Canon 41 gives you this right broadly. So the right to resist illegitimate commands is sufficient, in the law, to defend the rights of the faithful from a superior, who is heretical, before he is condemned as such by the Church and declared to have lost his office.
For this reason, IT IS THE GRAVE DUTY OF EVERY CATHOLIC to publicly denounce deviant professions, whether they be made by laymen, clergy or even those they think are the pope. Without the public denunciation, the faith is not guarded, the consciences of the faithful are not stirred to action, and souls are put in danger, because without the true Faith it is impossible for anyone to be saved — though admittedly God requires the faith that is willing to believe Him in everything (the perfect kind formally), more than the faith which knows every revealed truth and accepts all of them (the perfect kind formally and materially)
Therefore, there is an absolute necessity to call Synods and Councils to condemn the most notorious heretics and heresies. And if the man whom you think is the pope is one whom you consider a heretic, then you should not be silent, you should urge a council. And a council of Bishops, anywhere on the planet, has the Apostolic right and duty to hear the case, because if he is a heretic, he is no longer the pope, but it remains the duty of Bishops to discern and judge that fact.
Finally, if you take pleasure condemning others for heresy, because it suits your fancy, you probably do not have right discernment and you surely risk damnation for risking the mortal sin of falsely or rashly judging others, not to mention damaging or destroying their reputations. Likewise, if you know a man is a heretic and refuse to correct him, when he shows an ability to be corrected, you sin against charity. If he is harming souls and you remain silent, then you are complicit in that harm. And if you think you do not have to seek a canonical condemnation of a heretic, because you judge all in authority heretics, then you might be committing all those sins I just mentioned. This is what distinguishes Catholics from sedevacantists. We believe that the Church will never be overcome by any single or by every heresy together, because there will always be at lest one Bishop willing to condemn them. And to him we turn for their condemnation.
CREDITS: The Featured Image is of an ancient Greek Icon, depicting the Saints who defended the Creed of Nicaea, which is written in Greek on the scroll they are holding in hand.
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