Opinion
Featured Image
 Shutterstock

(LifeSiteNews) — This is the fourth part of our series on membership of the Church. It examines who the members of the Church are, and who they are not. Part I can be read here; Part II can be read here; and Part III can be read here.

Introduction

In his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul warned that “there are some who trouble you, and wish to pervert the gospel of Christ.” (Gal 1:7)

In the face of these false preachers, he commanded his flock to remain faithful to the true gospel of Christ which he had transmitted to them:

[E]ven if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel to you other than that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema!  As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone preach a gospel to you other than that which you have received, let him be anathema! (Gal 1:8-9)

Yet today we see laity and clergy – often those purporting to hold the highest offices in the Church – openly preaching a gospel utterly distinct from that of Jesus Christ.

What are we to do in such a crisis? Can it be the case that they remain members of the Catholic Church, despite preaching a gospel other than which we have received from the Apostles?

This is the question that today’s paper, the fourth in our series on Membership of the Church seeks to answer.

Membership of the Church IV: Public profession of the Catholic faith

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 

The members of the Church 

Members of the Church are those who (i) have received the sacrament of baptism; (ii) publicly profess the Catholic faith and (iii) are subject to the lawful authority of the Church.

Public profession of the Catholic faith

By profession of the Catholic faith, we mean: “External profession of the true faith, which is had by submission to the teaching authority of the Church.”[1] Unity of faith consists in all Catholics accepting all the doctrines proposed for their belief by the Church’s teaching authority. This unity of faith is an essential property of the Catholic Church which can never be lost.

A heretic is someone who, after being baptized, obstinately denies or doubts one of the truths that must be believed by divine and Catholic faith.[2]

A heretic does not accept the rule of faith proposed by the magisterium of the Church, but instead adopts another rule in its place, whether that of the teachers of another religion, or his own erroneous judgement.

Heresy can be formal or material and public or occult. There are thus four kinds of heretics:

  • Formal public heretics – who openly and guiltily refuse submission to the rule of faith proposed by the magisterium
  • Material public heretics – who openly but innocently refuse submission to the rule of faith proposed by the magisterium
  • Formal occult heretics – who secretly (but guiltily) refuse submission to the rule of faith proposed by the magisterium
  • Material occult heretics – who secretly and innocently refuse submission to the rule of faith proposed by the magisterium.

Public heretics, whether formal or material, do not belong to the body of the Church.

This is because: “the unity of the profession of faith, which is dependent on the visible authority of the living magisterium, is the essential property by which Christ wanted His Church to be adorned forever… But notorious heretics are those who by their own admission do not follow the rule of the ecclesiastical magisterium. Therefore they have an obstacle that prevents them from being included in the Church, and even though they are signed with the baptismal character, they either have never been part of its visible body, or have ceased to be such from the time they publicly became heterodox after their baptism.”[3]

Membership of the Church IV: Public profession of the Catholic faith

FULL TEXT

The practice of the Church has always been the same, as is shown by the unanimous teaching of the Fathers, who were wont to hold as outside Catholic communion, and alien to the Church, whoever would recede in the least degree from any point of doctrine proposed by her authoritative Magisterium.

Pope Leo XIII, Satis Cognitum, No. 6

The members of the Church

Members of the Church are those who:

  1. Have received the sacrament of baptism
  2. Publicly profess the Catholic faith
  3. Are subject to the lawful authority of the Church.

The following are therefore not members of the Church:

  1. The non-baptized
  2. Public heretics
  3. Public schismatics or those subject to perfect excommunication.

In his encyclical letter Mystici Corporis Christi, Pope Pius XII summarized this doctrine as follows:

Actually, only those are to be included as members of the Church who have been baptized and profess the true faith, and who have not been so unfortunate as to separate themselves from the unity of the Body, or been excluded by legitimate authority for grave faults committed.[4]

The Catechism of the Council of Trent expressed the same doctrine in these terms:

Hence there are but three classes of persons excluded from the Church’s pale: infidels, heretics and schismatics, and excommunicated persons.

Infidels are outside the Church because they never belonged to, and never knew the Church, and were never made partakers of any of her Sacraments.

Heretics and schismatics are excluded from the Church, because they have separated from her and belong to her only as deserters belong to the army from which they have deserted. It is not, however, to be denied that they are still subject to the jurisdiction of the Church, inasmuch as they may be called before her tribunals, punished and anathematized.

Finally, excommunicated persons are not members of the Church, because they have been cut off by her sentence from the number of her children and belong not to her communion until they repent.[5]

In this paper we consider the second of these conditions, namely, the public profession of the Catholic faith.

Public profession of the Catholic faith

In the paper “Membership of the Church II: Authority” we established that submission to the teaching authority of the Catholic Church is a necessary condition of membership of the Church. The conclusions established there will be taken for granted in this paper. Here we will explore further the obligation to profess the faith taught by the magisterium of the Church.

By profession of the Catholic faith we mean:

External profession of the true faith, which is had by submission to the teaching authority of the Church.[6]

Monsignor Gerard Van Noort explains further:

The unity of faith which Christ decreed without qualification consists in this, that everyone accepts the doctrines presented for belief by the Church’s teaching office. In fact, our Lord requires nothing other than the acceptance by all of the preaching of the apostolic college, a body which is to continue forever; or, what amounts to the same thing, of the pronouncements of the Church’s teaching office, which He Himself set up as the rule of faith. And the essential unity of faith definitely requires that everyone hold each and every doctrine clearly and distinctly presented for belief by the Church’s teaching office; and that everyone hold these truths explicitly or at least implicitly, i.e., by acknowledging the authority of the Church which teaches them.[7]

He continues:

All Roman Catholics throughout the entire world, ordinary laymen and professional theologians alike, no matter what theological school they belong to, profess the doctrine proposed to them by the Roman Catholic bishops. Even though they may disagree on some minor questions which have not yet been clarified by the teaching Church, they all confess that they are ready to accept immediately whatever decision the Church will hand down on these questions.[8]

This unity of faith is an essential property of the Catholic Church, which can never be lost. Pope Leo XIII, in his encyclical letter Satis Cognitum, authoritatively expounded on this unity of faith:

Agreement and union of minds is the necessary foundation of this perfect concord amongst men, from which concurrence of wills and similarity of action are the natural results. Wherefore, in His divine wisdom, He ordained in His Church unity of faith; a virtue which is the first of those bonds which unite man to God, and whence we receive the name of the faithful – ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism’ (Eph 4: 5). That is, as there is one Lord and one baptism, so should all Christians, without exception, have but one faith. And so the Apostle St. Paul not merely begs, but entreats and implores Christians to be all of the same mind, and to avoid difference of opinions: ‘I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no schisms amongst you, and that you be perfect in the same mind and in the same judgment’ (I Cor 1:10). Such passages certainly need no interpreter; they speak clearly enough for themselves. Besides, all who profess Christianity allow that there can be but one faith. It is of the greatest importance and indeed of absolute necessity, as to which many are deceived, that the nature and character of this unity should be recognized. And, as We have already stated, this is not to be ascertained by conjecture, but by the certain knowledge of what was done; that is by seeking for and ascertaining what kind of unity in faith has been commanded by Jesus Christ.[9]

Heresy incompatible with the unity of faith

Joachim Salaverri S.J. gives the standard definition of a heretic:

A heretic is someone who, after being baptized, obstinately denies or doubts one of the truths that must be believed by divine and Catholic faith.[10]

The truths that are to be believed by “divine and Catholic faith” are those:

contained in the word of God as found in scripture and tradition, and which are proposed by the church as matters to be believed as divinely revealed, whether by her solemn judgment or in her ordinary and universal magisterium.[11]

Cardinal Louis Billot expands on the nature of heresy and its relationship to the teaching authority of the Church:

According to the origin of the term and the constant sense of all tradition, someone is properly called a heretic who after receiving Christianity in the sacrament of Baptism, does not accept the rule of what must be believed from the magisterium of the Church, but chooses from somewhere else a rule of belief about matters of faith and the doctrine of Christ: whether he follow other doctors and teachers of religion, or adheres to the principle of free examination and professes a complete independence of thought, or whether finally he disbelieve even one article out of those which are proposed by the Church as dogmas of Faith.[12]

We must draw some further important distinctions. First, a person may express a heretical proposition externally, despite holding the true doctrine, due to an imprecise use of language. This person is not a heretic, they are simply someone who has not mastered the use of the correct theological terminology.

Secondly, a person may internally assent to a heretical proposition because they mistakenly believe the proposition to be proposed by the Church’s teaching authority, or at least to be compatible with what that authority teaches. Their intellect is in error, while their will remains truly submissive to the magisterium of the Catholic Church. This person is not a heretic because the rule of faith to which they submit is that of magisterium; if they are correctly disposed, they will abandon their error as soon as it is made clear to them what the magisterium actually proposes for their belief.

Thirdly, a person may internally assent to a proposition contrary to divine and Catholic faith, while knowing that the Church teaches otherwise – that is, they willfully refuse submission to the teaching authority of the Church. This person is a heretic. This will be so, even if the heresy is merely internal – although the social effects of heresy may not apply until it is sufficiently public. In the meantime, they no longer possess the theological virtue of faith (and consequently neither hope nor charity) and if their heresy is public then they are no longer members of the Catholic Church.

As Rev. E. Sylvester Berry writes:

A doctrine contrary to revealed truth is usually stigmatized as heretical, but a person who professes a heretical doctrine is not necessarily a heretic. Heresy, from the Greek hairesis, signifies a choosing; therefore a heretic is one who chooses for himself in matters of faith, thereby rejecting the authority of the Church established by Christ to teach all men the truths of revelation. He rejects the authority of the Church by following his own judgment or by submitting to an authority other than that established by Christ.[13]

A heretic substitutes another rule of faith for that proposed by the magisterium of the Catholic Church e.g. his own judgment, the Bible interpreted by Protestant theologians, Orthodox bishops, and so on.

Forms of heresy

We are now ready to draw some more precise distinctions between the different kinds of heretics. We may distinguish between heresy which is formal and material, and heresy which is public and occult.

The following definitions are from Cardinal Billot:

  • Formal heretics: are those to whom the authority of the Church is sufficiently known
  • Material heretics: are those who labor under invincible ignorance about that same Church, and in good faith choose a different rule to guide them
  • Occult heretics: are first of all those who actually reject dogmas of faith proposed by the Church, but only internally, as well as those who manifest heresy with external signs, but not with a public profession
  • Public heretics: are those who by their own admission do not follow the rule of the ecclesiastical magisterium.[14]

Berry summarizes the various forms of heresy in this manner:

A person may reject the teaching authority of the Church knowingly and willingly, or he may do it through ignorance. In the first case he is a formal heretic, guilty of grievous sin: in the second case he is a material heretic, free from guilt. Both formal and material heresy may be manifest or occult.[15]

There are thus four kinds of heretics:

  • Formal public heretics – who openly and guiltily refuse submission to the rule of faith proposed by the magisterium
  • Material public heretics – who openly but innocently refuse submission to the rule of faith proposed by the magisterium
  • Formal occult heretics – who secretly (but guiltily) refuse submission to the rule of faith proposed by the magisterium
  • Material occult heretics – who secretly and innocently refuse submission to the rule of faith proposed by the magisterium.

Public heretics (formal and material)

It should already be clear from what has preceded that public heretics are not members of the Catholic Church.

Ott states simply:

Public heretics, even those who err in good faith (material heretics), do not belong to the body of the Church, that is, the legal commonwealth of the Church.[16]

And Van Noort explains in more detail:

Public heretics (and a fortiori, apostates) are not members of the Church. They are not members because they separate themselves from the unity of Catholic faith and from the external profession of that faith. Obviously, therefore, they lack one of the three factors – baptism, profession of the same faith, union with the hierarchy – pointed out by Pius XII as requisite for membership of the Church. The same pontiff has explicitly pointed out that, unlike other sins, heresy, schism and apostasy automatically sever a man from the Church. […]

By the term public heretics at this point we mean all who externally deny a truth (for example Mary’s Divine Maternity), or several truths of divine and Catholic faith, regardless of whether the one denying does so ignorantly and innocently (a merely material heretic), or willfully and guiltily (a formal heretic). It is certain that public, formal heretics, are severed from Church membership.[17]

It is held by Catholic theologians to be certain that public formal heretics are not members of the Catholic Church. Salaverri asserts:

That formal and manifest heretics are not members of the body of the Church can well be said to be the unanimous opinion among Catholics.[18]

Cardinal Billot affirms:

[W]e must say first what everyone agrees with: notorious heretics are excluded from the body of the Church.[19]

Some theologians have defended the proposition that public material heretics are members of the Church. However, the contrary opinion is the more common opinion of theologians, and for good reason:

[I]f public material heretics remained members of the Church, the visibility and unity of Christ’s Church would perish. If these purely material heretics were considered members of the Catholic Church in the strict sense of the term, how would one ever locate the ‘Catholic Church?’ How would the Church be one body? How would it profess one faith? Where would be its visibility? Where its unity? For these and other reasons we find it difficult to see any intrinsic probability to the opinion which would allow for public heretics, in good faith, remaining members of the Church.[20]

Once again, as we saw in the paper on the visibility of Church and in our treatment of secretly invalid baptisms in the paper on baptism, the question of membership is intrinsically connected to the visibility of the Church.

In those earlier papers we affirmed (i) that the Church on earth is perpetually visible and (ii) that this Church is defined as “the society of men who, by their profession of the same faith, and by their partaking of the same sacraments, make up, under the rule of apostolic pastors and their head, the kingdom of Christ on earth.”

Therefore, it must be considered that only those professing the true faith can reasonably be considered her members. Otherwise, we would be in the position of stating that those who publicly reject the rule of faith proposed by the magisterium nonetheless share in the “profession of the same faith” with those who do give their submission. In such a church there would be no unity of faith and consequently no visibility.

As Cardinal Billot remarked:

[T]he unity of the profession of faith, which is dependent on the visible authority of the living magisterium, is the essential property by which Christ wanted His Church to be adorned forever, it follows clearly that those cannot be part of the Church who profess differently from what its magisterium teaches. For then there would be a division in the profession of faith, and division is contradictory to unity. But notorious heretics are those who by their own admission do not follow the rule of the ecclesiastical magisterium. Therefore they have an obstacle that prevents them from being included in the Church, and even though they are signed with the baptismal character, they either have never been part of its visible body, or have ceased to be such from the time they publicly became heterodox after their baptism.[21]

Occult heretics

We have explained above that public heretics cannot be reasonably considered to be members of the visible Church. The case is quite different for those whose heresy has remained occult.

Van Noort explains:

When it comes to a question of occult heretics remaining members of the Church, theologians are in sharper disagreement and the intrinsic probability of their respective arguments seems better balanced than in the preceding case… The more common opinion is that such heretics remain members of the Church. Occult heresy does not take away their former public profession of the Catholic faith.[22]

Once again, we must emphasize the significance of the impact that the form of heresy has on the necessary visibility of the Church:

The question comes down to this: how satisfactorily can theologians on either side of this disputed point square their opinion with the necessary visibility of the Church? If true supernatural faith is required for membership in the Church, how can one be sure of the Church’s membership? The virtue of faith, like any other supernatural gift, is not discernible by empirical methods.[23]

In other words, if occult heretics are not members of the Church, we cannot reach moral certainty as to who is a member and who is not. Some who seem to be members, would not in fact be so. While a certain amount of ambiguity can be tolerated in individual cases, the members of the Church must be generally visible. Otherwise, a distinction would have to be drawn between the Church as perceived by the senses and the “real Church,” which would be invisible. As we saw in the first paper, such distinctions are inadmissible. Therefore, we must conclude that just as public material heretics are not members of the Church, so occult heretics – both formal and material – are members, though occult formal heretics do not possess the supernatural virtue of faith and, without repentance, will not be found in the Church Suffering or the Church Triumphant.

Conclusions 

The Catholic Church is a visible society founded for the salvation of all men. The sacrament of baptism is the necessary and sufficient condition for becoming a member. However, submission to the threefold authority of Christ exercised in the Church – that of sanctifying, teaching and governing – is necessary to remain a member. Consequently, all those who refuse submission to her teaching authority through the public profession of heresy cease to be members of the Church.

As Pope Pius XII taught:

And therefore, if a man refuse to hear the Church, let him be considered – so the Lord commands – as a heathen and a publican. It follows that those who are divided in faith or government cannot be living in the unity of such a Body, nor can they be living the life of its one Divine Spirit.[24]

 

References

References
1 Rev E. Sylvester Berry, The Church of Christ, (Mount St Mary’s Seminary, 1955), p126.
2 Joachim Salaverri S.J., Sacrae Theologiae Summa IB, (1956; translated by Kenneth Baker S.J., 2015)p422
3 Louis Cardinal Billot, De Ecclesia, Question 7: The Members of the Church, (extracts translated by Fr Julian Larrabee).
4 Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis Christi, No. 22, (1943).
5 Catechism of the Council of Trent, Part I, Article IX.
6 Rev E. Sylvester Berry, The Church of Christ: An Apologetic and Dogmatic Treatise, (Mount St Mary’s Seminary, 1955),,p126.
7 Van Noort, Dogmatic Theology Volume II: Christ’s Church, pp 127-28.
8 Mgr G. Van Noort, Dogmatic Theology Volume II: Christ’s Church, p184.
9 Pope Leo XIII, Satis Cognitum (1896), No. 6.
10 Joachim Salaverri S.J., Sacrae Theologiae Summa IB, (1956; translated by Kenneth Baker S.J., 2015)p422. NB. “An apostate is someone who, after being baptized, obstinately and totally abandons the Christian faith. The same divisions which follow concerning a heretic also apply completely to the apostate.”
11 Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution of the Catholic Faith, Session III, 24 April 1870.
12 Louis Cardinal Billot, De Ecclesia, Question 7: The Members of the Church, (extracts translated by Fr Julian Larrabee).
13, 15 Berry, p128.
14 Billot, De Ecclesia, Q. 7.
16 Ott, Fundamentals, p309-11.
17 Van Noort, Christ’s Church, p241.
18 Salaverri, p424.
19 Billot, De Ecclesia, Q. 7.
20, 22, 23 Van Noort, Christ’s Church, p242.
21 Billot, De Ecclesia, Q.7.
24 Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis Christi, (1943).

23 Comments

    Loading...