The Dimond Brothers and Favouring Heretics - a Letter
Dear Mr M—,
Here are a few comments on your e-mail.
1. I have never written an article called The Question of Assistance at the Mass of a Priest Who Professes Communion with John Paul II as Pope. You must be confusing me with someone else.
2. Your quotation from the IVth Lateran Council contains a potentially misleading mistranslation. You quote: “Moreover, we determine to subject to excommunication believers who receive, defend or support heretics.” However the Council says:
Credentes vero, praeterea receptores, defensores et fautores haereticorum excomunicationi decernimus subiacere, firmiter statuentes ut, postquam quis talium fuerit excommunicatione notatus si satisfacere contempserit infra annum, extunc ipso iure sit factus infamis, nec ad publica officia seu consilia, nec ad eligendos aliquos ad huiusmodi nec ad testimonium admittatur...
Now “decernimus...[X]...subiacere” does not mean “we determine to subject [X] to excommunication” but “we determine that [X] is subject to excommunication. (See below for two other corrections of your translation.)
It is therefore clear that the excommunication in question is ferendae sententiae – to be imposed by authority in each case and not automatic. This is made even clearer in what follows which specifically refers not simply to excommunication but to the public sentencing to excommunication: “postquam quis talium fuerit excommunicatione notatus”.
3. In this connection you ask the question, “Do you think it could be possible that the above prohibition would only to apply to declared heretics?”
If I understand your question as asking whether the heretics who must not be believed, received, defended or abetted would only be declared heretics I think the answer at the time of the Council (1215) was No. It would have related to declared heretics and to all other manifest heretics, but not (of course) to persons whose heretical status was a matter of disagreement among the learned (see Saint Thomas, Quodlibet IV, Art XIV, Whether one must avoid excommunicated persons concerning whom experts disagree as to whether they are in fact excommunicated? )
4. However, you must understand that this extract from the IVth Lateran Council is taken from a disciplinary constitution, not a doctrinal one, and as such is subject to change. And in fact it has been changed in several respects over the centuries. As you see, the Council distinguishes four categories : (i) “credentes haereticorum”, (ii) “receptores haereticorum”, (iii) “defensores haereticorum” and (iv) fautores haereticorum”, i.e. those who believe or receive heretics as such, those who defend heretics as such and those who favour or abet [I don’t much like your translation when it gives “support” for favere and it is quite wrong in not realising that “credentes” is a distinct category] heretics as such. The present law (as of 1917) concerning the members of these categories is quite well summarized in an article by the learned Brazilian Prof. Arnaldo Vidigal Xavier da Silveira entitled Essay on Heresy: How Behaviour, Gestures, Attitudes and Omissions Can Betray a Heretic which I translated into English some thirty years ago. It is easy to locate on the Web.
5. Returning to your question about whether the excommunication for receiving, defending or abetting heretics concerns only declared heretics, an important change in the Church’s law occurred in 1418 by virtue of the decree Ad Evitanda Scandala of the Council of Constance and Pope Martin V. Of this constitution Pope Benedict XIV writes that it “has always remained in full force”. Here is the text.
To avoid scandals and many dangers and relieve timorous consciences by the tenor of these presents we mercifully grant to all Christ’s faithful that no one henceforth shall be bound to abstain from communion with anyone in the administration or reception of the sacraments or in any other religious or non-religious acts whatsoever, nor to avoid anyone nor to observe any ecclesiastical interdict, on pretext of any ecclesiastical sentence or censure globally promulgated whether by the law or by an individual; unless the sentence or censure in question has been specifically and expressly published or denounced by the judge on or against a definite person, college, university, church, community or place. Notwithstanding any apostolic or other constitutions to the contrary, save the case of someone of whom it shall be known so notoriously that he has incurred the sentence passed by the canon for laying sacrilegious hands upon a cleric that the fact cannot be concealed by any tergiversation nor excused by any legal defence. For we will abstinence from communion with such a one, in accordance with the canonical sanctions, even though he be not denounced. (Fontes, I, 45.)
As you can see, by virtue of this constitution, all ecclesiastical prohibition of communion or other religious or non-religious acts, with un-sentenced excommunicates (and that includes un-sentenced heretics), ceases to exist.
However, some of the acts previously counted as believing, receiving, defending or abetting heretics are now prohibited and penalized in other terms, as you can see from da Silveira’s article. Believers are usually now simply counted as heretics if they are pertinacious ; those who defend and abet heretics as such would probably be guilty of propagating heresy and thus suspect of heresy under Canon 2316. But receivers would not as such seem to be outlaws today unless their act of receiving directly promoted heresy.
6. In any event it is crucial to understand that the act of favouring or abetting heresy (given as “supporting” in your not very reliable translation) refers to favouring or abetting them quâ heretics. Giving alms to a beggar who happens to be heretic is not prohibited by any law.
I mention this because, as I am sure you are aware, there is a pair of lightweight pseudo-scholars in the U.S. who have invented the extravagant notion that it is in our days permissible to attend the Mass of un-condemned heretics as long as you do not give anything to the collection. They claim that giving to the collection would fall under the condemnation of the Lateran Council to which you refer. This not only looks like self-serving pharisaical nonsense, but it is self-serving pharisaical nonsense. Money given to a church collection is generally used for the maintenance of the place of worship and the temporal support of the clergy who serve it. It does not abet the clergy as heretics (if they are heretics).
More importantly, the clergy concerned are generally not heretics at all. The blustering self-important twins who think them to be heretics are radically incompetent to recognize heretics — otherwise they would have realised long since that that is what they are themselves.
7. So, in summary, let me suppose the hypothesis which I take to be implicit background to your enquiry: a sedevacantist Catholic goes to a valid Mass of a priest of the SSPX or similar and while there he drops his penny in the collection plate.
The act of giving to the collection is not an illegal act by any law because: (a) the priest is probably not a heretic, (b) he is even less likely to be a manifest heretic, (c) even if he is a heretic, he is not thought to be one by the donor, (d) even if he had been a manifest heretic, contributing to his temporal support never was condemned by Lateran IV, (e) even if it had been so condemned, any such condemnation ceased to exist by virtue of Ad Evitanda Scandala in 1418. Moreover, it is self-evident that the Church does not permit the greater while forbidding the lesser and it is manifestly a lesser fault (if it is one at all) to give temporal support to a given miscreant than to participate in sacramental communion with him. Those who permit communicatio in sacris but refuse communicatio in pecuniis presumably consider money more sacred than the Blessed Sacrament.
Mr —, there are few sights more unlovely than that of men hunting for pretexts to take scandal and condemn their neighbour and invoking the Christian religion as their grounds for doing so. I do hope you will not go down that path.