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.

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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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9 thoughts on “Heresy, Heretics and Imperfect Councils”

  1. Bravo again. Too many Catholics are ignorant of these Catholic principles which are an application of doctrine. Well said, clearly, succinctly.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks Br. Alexis this is most helpful. I take from your remarks that we are free to personally regard “Pope” Francis as a heretic and free to lobby for a council of Bishops to evaluate his heresies in light of the rules for judging such matters and remove “Pope” Francis if he is found to be a formal heretic who meets all the requirements for being so.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. “In conscience one has the right to make such a judgment (of manifest formal heresy) because it is a legitimate matter of conscience, and can be known with certitude. All the canons, and teachings against privately judging superiors and prelates do not refer to judgments of conscience, such as the judgment concerning the manifest heresy of one’s superior, when it can be known with certitude; but rather, they prohibit judgments that require jurisdiction; and explain that private individuals do not possess the requisite jurisdiction for rendering an official judgment, and therefore they may not presume to judge their superiors juridically, and depose them with force of law. However, the right of conscience to judge privately as a matter of conscience in such cases as that of manifest heresy pertains to divine law, since such judgments of conscience are sometimes necessary for salvation; and such a right is acknowledged in Canon Law: ‘Can. 748 § 1. All persons are bound to seek the truth in those things which regard God and his Church and by virtue of divine law are bound by the obligation and possess the right of embracing and observing the truth which they have come to know.’ Indeed, the Salza/ Siscoe objection that the making such a judgment is forbidded to the private individual who must wait for the public judgment of the Church, and that asserting this right it is an exercise of the Protestant principle of Private Judgment, is not only false, but it effectively nullifies the Rule of Faith which safeguards the conscience of the individual.”

    Kramer, Paul. To Deceive the Elect: The Catholic Doctrine on the Question of a Heretical Pope (Kindle Locations 736-747). Kindle Edition.

    https://www.ecclesiamilitans.com/2019/10/26/one-has-the-right-to-form-a-private-judgment/

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “The very act of submission to the pretended authority of an openly heretical enemy of the Catholic faith constitutes per se an objectively grave act not only of indiscreet obedience; but done in ignorance, constitutes an act of material schism as well. Thus, while the Recognize and Resist policy of Catholics towards the errant conciliar popes was morally justified from the time of the post-council up to the end of February 2013, when Pope Benedict went into what is increasingly seen to be a coerced retirement; it is no longer morally licit to adhere to it for so long as the heretical intruder (or another like him) remains in power, because it is morally wrong and schismatic to recognize and be subject to a manifestly formal heretic.”

    Kramer, Paul. To Deceive the Elect: The Catholic Doctrine on the Question of a Heretical Pope (Kindle Locations 706-711). Kindle Edition.

    https://www.ecclesiamilitans.com/2019/10/24/do-not-submit-to-pretended-authority/

    Like

  5. “The heretical absurdity of the opinion that anyone or any power on earth can judge the pope, even for heresy, is made manifest by the consideration that the pope, in virtue of his primacy and infallibility, possesses the supreme jurisdiction and the infallible power to judge all questions of faith and morals – even his own propositions. Hence, the proposition that a council can judge a pope’s doctrine and declare it heretical; and from that premise, that the council could then judge the pope personally guilty of the crime of heresy directly opposes the dogma of pope’s universal primacy of jurisdiction defined in Pastor Æternus.”

    Kramer, Paul. To Deceive the Elect: The Catholic Doctrine on the Question of a Heretical Pope (Kindle Locations 2954-2958). Kindle Edition.

    https://www.ecclesiamilitans.com/2020/01/22/a-council-cannot-judge-a-reigning-pope-for-heresy/

    Like

  6. Dear Tony,

    What Father Paul says here is wrong. Because as pope, the man who is pope, has no question of being a heretic. But the man who was elected validly as pope, who would fall into heresy, would no longer be pope, and thus can be judged. This is the teaching of both Bellarmine and Pope Innocent III.

    Father’s error is a classic example of the failure to make distinctions. Heresy never involves the ecclesiastical office, it always involves a person, considered apart from his office.

    Like

  7. Dear Br. Bugnolo,

    The last quote of Fr. Kramer I provided above is a criticism of those who say that a council can judge a pope WHILE he is still considered to be pope. It is a criticism of those who hold the Fourth Opinion presented by St. Robert Bellarmine, that is, that a pope does not lose office for heresy until he is judged by a council. The hypothesis that a pope, if it were possible for a pope to be a formal heretic, would lose office automatically by the very fact of public manifest formal heresy of the Fifth Opinion. This Fifth Opinion Fr. Kramer agrees with this only in so far it is hypothetically possible for a pope to be a public manifest formal heretic. Nevertheless, Fr. Kramer holds that a true pope can never be or become a public manifest formal heretic. I hope this clears things up.

    Liked by 2 people

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