Heretics and Schismatics
1. A heretic is one who rejects the Catholic rule of faith, which is the teaching of the Magisterium.
2. A formal heretic is one whose rejection of the Catholic rule of faith is culpable.
3. A material heretic is one whose rejection of the Catholic rule of faith is not culpable as he is invincibly ignorant of the duty to believe what the Church teaches.
4. Thus defined, all heretics, whether material or formal, are outside the Church.
5. Someone who accepts the Catholic rule of Faith but errs as to what it actually teaches and therefore holds a heretical doctrine because he does not realise it conflicts with Catholic doctrine is not even materially a heretic and is certainly not outside the Church.1
The same principles apply to schismatics…
1. A schismatic is one who rejects the Catholic rule of unity, which is submission to the pope.
2. A formal schismatic is one whose refusal to be subject to the pope is culpable.
3. A material schismatic is one whose refusal to submit to the pope is not culpable as he is invincibly ignorant of the duty to submit to the pope.
4. Thus defined, all schismatics, whether material or formal, are outside the Church.
5. Someone who rejects a true pope because he wrongly believes him to be illegitimate, or accepts a false pope, because he wrongly believes him to be legitimate, but accepts the Catholic rule of unity, which is submission to the pope (erring merely in identifying who the pope is), is not even a material schismatic and is certainly not outside the Church.
Presumptions in the external forum
Rejection of the Catholic rule of faith or of unity is always presumed (in the external forum) to be voluntary. This is because the Church’s unity of faith and authority must be externally visible.
Error as to whether a particular doctrine is taught by the Magisterium or whether a particular claimant is truly the pope is not normally presumed to be voluntary, particularly in times of crisis and confusion. This is because such errors are not absolutely incompatible with the visible unity of faith and authority.
Numerous historical episodes can be cited when popes, saints and the Church as a whole continued to recognise as members of the Church individuals who erred in identifying orthodox doctrine or in identifying legitimate pastors.
It is certainly a grave duty to exercise proportionate diligence in conforming one’s beliefs to objectively sound doctrine and in according one’s submission to objectively true pastors. But failure to achieve this, even when gravely sinful, is not considered pertinacious unless it entails clearly voluntary rejection of the Magisterium itself or of the Holy See itself. Nor does it imply a want of that submission to the Roman Pontiff which the Church teaches (Dz. 469) is necessary for salvation: “A treasure is bequeathed to me, but I do not know whether it is in the chest A, or in the casket B. Am I any less the possessor of this treasure?” (Didier apud Catholic Encyclopædia, vol. XIII, art. “Schism”, p. 541) “Disobedience, no matter how pertinacious, does not constitute schism unless it be a rebellion against the office of the pope.” (Cajetan’s comentary on Saint Thomas’s article on schism, quoted by Cardinal Billot, De Ecclesia, Thesis XI) “Schismatics properly so called are those who wilfully and intentionally separate themselves from the unity of the Church…” (Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiæ, II-II, Q. 39, A.1)
Someone who claims to submit to the teaching of the Magisterium and to the authority of the Holy See should not be called a heretic or schismatic, even in good faith, unless he is clearly conscious that his position is not Catholic and his claims of submission to the Catholic Church are therefore manifestly fraudulent.
This clearly does apply to the Vatican II claimants to the papacy and to many of those who accept their new doctrines and rites, but it is very doubtful whether it applies to any significant proportion of those identified as “traditional Catholics”.
(1) Some less accurate writers use the term “material heretic” to refer to a Catholic who has not rejected the rule of faith but has simply erred as to one of its objects. Cardinal Billot strongly condemns this usage as generative of the greatest confusion as such a person is most certainly a member of the Church and should not be equated with those who err in blameless ignorance of the duty to believe what the Catholic Church teaches. These latter are not members of the Church.
© Copyright John S. Daly