Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Formal vs. Material Heresy

It appears that Turretinfan has misunderstood the distinction between formal and material heresy. Either that, or he has misunderstood how the Catholic Church views Protestant errors today. Or, possibly, he misunderstands both.

I suspect that he misunderstands one or both of these issues because of things he has said recently on his blog.
Is the official position of Rome (as Dave asserts) that heretics condemned by Rome and subject to the death penalty at the hands of the state for their heresy can still properly be considered Christians? Can anyone claim that they have read any history of the Spanish Inquisition and conclude that Rome's position was that heretics were Christians that just seriously disagreed?
The error here is in supposing that the condition of Protestants today is the same as that of heretics 500 years ago. That this is the error he is making seems to be even more clear from the fact that he seems to want to apply the words of the following from the 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia to Protestants today:
Distinguishing between formal and material heretics, she applies to the former the canon, "Most firmly hold and in no way doubt that every heretic or schismatic is to have part with the Devil and his angels in the flames of eternal fire, unless before the end of his life he be incorporated with, and restored to the Catholic Church."
In the first place it is not possible for a Protestant to be a formal heretic (unless he is a Catholic who left the Church, and even then it would not apply to 100% of such people). Unfortunately, Turretinfan stopped quoting a little too soon, because the paragraph in the Catholic Encyclopedia article above continues:
No one is forced to enter the Church, but having once entered it through baptism, he is bound to keep the promises he freely made (ibid.)
So: since the average Protestant today was never formally a part of the Catholic Church, that which applies to formal heretics simply does not apply to him.

This is not to say that they are not in error on some things. They certainly are. But theirs can only be a material heresy, since they were never formally Catholics. Material heresy is a matter of error that is not culpably held: it is to hold to an error without knowing better, or without realizing that it is an error. And concerning this the same Catholic Encyclopedia article - and the same paragraph Turretinfan already quoted - continues thusly:
Towards material heretics her conduct is ruled by the saying of St. Augustine: "Those are by no means to be accounted heretics who do not defend their false and perverse opinions with pertinacious zeal (animositas), especially when their error is not the fruit of audacious presumption but has been communicated to them by seduced and lapsed parents, and when they are seeking the truth with cautious solicitude and ready to be corrected" (P. L., XXXIII, ep. xliii, 160). Pius IX, in a letter to the bishops of Italy (10 Aug., 1863), restates this Catholic doctrine: "It is known to Us and to You that they who are in invincible ignorance concerning our religion but observe the natural law . . . and are ready to obey God and lead an honest and righteous life, can, with the help of Divine light and grace, attain to eternal life . . . for God . . . will not allow any one to be eternally punished who is not wilfully guilty" (Denzinger, "Enchir.", n. 1529). X (ibid.; emphasis added).
So: the fact that one is a Protestant today does not imply ipso facto that one is a formal heretic. Consequently, as material heretics only, they simply are not subject to condemnation for their theological errors.

A further part of the usual canard about this is not merely that the Church thinks they "deserve" to go to hell (which is false), but also that the Church thinks it is a competent court for them as well. Once again, the same Catholic Encyclopedia article clears the matter up in the very next paragraph:
The fact of having received valid baptism places material heretics under the jurisdiction of the Church, and if they are in good faith, they belong to the soul of the Church. Their material severance, however, precludes them from the use of ecclesiastical rights, except the right of being judged according to ecclesiastical law if, by any chance, they are brought before an ecclesiastical court. They are not bound by ecclesiastical laws enacted for the spiritual well-being of its members, e.g. by the Six Commandments of the Church (ibid.; emphasis added).
So we see that because they are not a part of the Catholic Church, Protestants are not formally subject to the ecclesiastical laws and courts of the Catholic Church, although because of their baptism they are (to borrow from the words of Vatican II and the Catechism) in a certain "imperfect communion with the Church because they are baptized. This is in keeping with current canon law, which says:
By baptism one is incorporated into the Church of Christ and is constituted a person in it with the duties and rights which are proper to Christians in keeping with their condition, insofar as they are in ecclesiastical communion and unless a legitimately issued sanction stands in the way (Canon 96; emphasis added).
Protestants are not in ecclesiastical communion; consequently they are not subject to the duties that belong to Catholics, even though they are part of the Church of Christ.

Can this be any clearer? Goodness! So we are perfectly within our rights to refer to Protestants as our brothers in Christ, by virtue of their baptism.

Now the case would be different for those who - as Catholics back in the 16th century - abandoned the Catholic faith for Protestantism. As Catholics, their heresy would have been both formal and material, and so far as I can tell they would have been subject to the condemnations of Trent (as would, presumably, any modern Catholic who abandons the Church for Protestantism). More information on "anathemas" may be profitably discovered here.

Now Turretinfan would have us believe that he knows what Catholics believe. Unfortunately, this is the second occasion recently where he has resorted to ripping quotations from Catholic sources out of context - a context that would have amply demonstrated the error of his conclusions about what we believe (See here for the other example I have in mind). I certainly believe that Turretinfan is a very intelligent person, and I respect him both for that and for his typical sense of decorum and his sincerity, but if he continues to take bits and pieces out of Catholic documents, he is going to make more mistakes.

[Update, just a few minutes later...] It seems peculiar for Turretinfan and others to just flatly insist, despite Catholic protestations and doctrine to the contrary, that the Catholic Church condemns them. Why would one want to believe that others think badly of him, even when they deny it?? It seems very bizarre to me, even setting aside the silliness of them supposing that they know better than we do what Catholics believe (when they obviously don't). I don't get it.


Leo said...

Maybe he misunderstands it, and maybe not, it might just be a corruption of it, in order to find some beef with the Church to make something out of in offense to the Church; but we'll never know, but I might assume the latter if he is using an article that explains the facts, which he omits in his post, if indeed he read it, which he may have, considering that this is what he is using as ammo.

Material Heretic: One who holds a theological opinion opposed to Catholic truth in ignorance of the fact.

Formal or "Obstinate" heretic: One who obstinately or "pertinaceously" holds a theological or moral opinion opposed to Divine and Catholic truth.

The real distinction is whether or not they are "pertinaceous".

Canon 1325, 1917 Code of Canon Law: “After the reception of baptism, if anyone, retaining the name Christian, pertinaciously denies or doubts something to be believed from the truth of divine and Catholic faith, [such a one] is a heretic.”

Canon law code of 1917 made this quite clear, and is much more authoritative and official than the encyclopedia, maybe he might respect it more.

Those Protestants who are to be called obstinate or "formal" heretics are those who know the truths of the Divine and Catholic Faith, and yet continue to doubt to deny them.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hi Leo,

What does it mean for a Protestant to "know" the truths of the Catholic Faith, such that he could be reasonably called a formal heretic?



Leo said...

Hi, Reggie

Let's assume that a Protestant learns some truth of the Catholic faith, lets say for ex. the Eucharist, they know that this is what the Bible teaches and the Early Christians believed, but they choose to reject the doctrine; so they deny that article of faith to believe and live the way that they want to, they reject an article of faith which they know is true, but do so because of their own obstinate infidelity - then you have an obstinate heretic.

Remember, for a mortal sin there must be full knowledge - which formal heresy consists of - which the 1917 code did mention in the quotation there.



Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello Leo,

I'm having a hard time imagining a Protestant who knows that the Bible teaches the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist.

The reason I asked is that I have a hard time imagining that a man who is born and raised as a Protestant can nevertheless be a formal heretic. That isn't what you're saying, is it?

Leo said...

I'm having a hard time imagining a Protestant who knows that the Bible teaches the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist.

I'm speaking of one to whom the doctrine has been presented, to one who has been exposed to the truth of the doctrine, and yet rejects it, even after having seen it been demonstrated.

What I am saying is that Catholic dogma can be presented to the Protestant, proved, and demonstrated, say the protestant rejects it, then, he rejects it on account of his own obstinacy to remain in disbelief, it is his lack of openness to the truth, as the scripture says "they have not recieved the love of truth, and thus they are reprobate for that reason. It is his unwillingness to reject the truth, and his own rediness to believe only that which he wants to believe, picking and choosing, he decides before hand for himself what is true and what is not true, regardless of the objective truth.

Hopefully that helps.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hi Leo,

Thanks for the clarification. That does help explain what you mean. I appreciate it.

But it seems impossible to me to distinguish between a man who simply and truly doesn't understand what I say - whether because of my own failure to communicate clearly, or because of some weakness on his own part - and a man who refuses the grace to believe that has been offered. This is a matter of subjective apprehension that I am not competent to judge. And since we cannot know another's heart (nor even our own very well!), I would be extremely hesitant apart from objective evidence to say that a man is a formal heretic.

Consequently I would have to say that apart from rather clear evidence to the contrary, I would have to presumptively give Protestants the benefit of the doubt when he rejects what I say, even if I think that I have been totally clear. That doesn't mean that I would excuse everything that they do in attempting to contradict the Catholic Faith - far from it. But I'm not sure that stuff necessarily rises to the level of obstinate heresy.



Turretinfan said...


Compare this:
"So we are perfectly within our rights to refer to Protestants as our brothers in Christ, by virtue of their baptism."

With this:
"'No one is forced to enter the Church, but having once entered it through baptism, he is bound to keep the promises he freely made' (ibid.)
So: since the average Protestant today was never formally a part of the Catholic Church, that which applies to formal heretics simply does not apply to him."

From my perspective, do you see the contradiction?

(Sorry it took me so long to respond, but I just stumbled across this.)

Also, it's worth pointing out: just because you and I disagree (and we sometimes will) on what the RCC teaches, that does not mean that necessarily I am wrong because I am not a member of the RCC.

Surely, in the interest of discourse, you can grant me that.


Turretinfan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello Turretinfan,

I'm truly not being disingenuous: I do not see the contradiction.

If you were never a Catholic, you are not bound by Catholic baptismal promises, and consequently you cannot be a formal heretic simply by virtue of being a Protestant.

The important part of baptism - by which one becomes a Christian - is not the promises. It's the baptism. That's why even a non-Christian may (according to Catholics) validly baptize in extreme circumstances. If you are baptized as a Protestant, you are not subject to Catholic baptismal promises.

So - I don't see the contradiction. If I have misunderstood you, please clarify.



Turretinfan said...

Dear RdP,

I believe in your sincerity.

Is there a valid baptism that is not a Catholic baptism?

Cf. "because there is only one valid Baptism which is by definition Catholic, though they did not find that out until they died" (source).

Now, before you say so, I realize that God is bigger than the sacraments. That's not my question.

If all valid baptisms are Catholic baptisms, then heretics that are validly baptized are Catholics, whether they know it or not; alternatively, heretics that are invalidly baptized are neither Catholics nor Christians (properly speaking).

I speak as though I agreed with RCC dogma. Of course, I do not, but hopefully you can now better see where I am coming from.


Reginald de Piperno said...

I ought to say before I say anything else, with reference to your original comment here: certainly the mere fact that you are not a Catholic does not imply ipso facto that you always and everywhere misunderstand Catholic doctrine. If I gave you the impression that I thought otherwise, please indicate what I said that gave you that impression and I will consider whether I need to issue a clarification.

Furthermore, my "Point of Clarification" in the sidebar ought to make clear that I don't consider myself to be always right - at any rate, that is its intent.

Hence it is certainly possible that you may understand some points of Catholic doctrine better than I. I do not consider myself to have arrived - not by any means.

In view of what seems to me to be rather overwhelming evidence in this case, however, I have no reason to suppose that this is one of those instances :-)



Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello Turretinfan,

In reviewing your original comment I see that in my haste (I was on the way out the door when I quickly rattled out my initial reply) I overlooked a significant qualifier:

"From my perspective, do you see the contradiction?"

I apologize for this oversight.

Perhaps I can understand why you might reckon it to be a contradiction, if you have overlooked the force of a certain word I used in the snippet you quoted:

"So: since the average Protestant today was never formally a part of the Catholic Church, that which applies to formal heretics simply does not apply to him."

To formally be part of the Catholic Church requires more than Baptism. Materially it is sufficient at the very least for an "imperfect" communion with the Church, and it seems to me that this sort of thing is precisely the basis of the insistence by Vatican II (Lumen Gentium 15 and especially Unitatis Redintegratio 3) that:

"The children who are born into these Communities and who grow up believing in Christ cannot be accused of the sin involved in the separation, and the Catholic Church embraces upon them as brothers, with respect and affection. For men who believe in Christ and have been truly baptized are in communion with the Catholic Church even though this communion is imperfect. The differences that exist in varying degrees between them and the Catholic Church-whether in doctrine and sometimes in discipline, or concerning the structure of the Church-do indeed create many obstacles, sometimes serious ones, to full ecclesiastical communion. The ecumenical movement is striving to overcome these obstacles. But even in spite of them it remains true that all who have been justified by faith in Baptism are members of Christ's body, and have a right to be called Christian, and so are correctly accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church" (UR 3; emphasis added).

Vatican II hence explicitly recognizes (read all of UR 3 for more) that the situation of the descendants of schismatics is objectively different from that of the schismatics themselves. This is consistent with the quotation in the post from St. Augustine, so it's not a new development in the history of the Church. Whatever might be said about the schismatics, it simply cannot be said about you - presuming that you have never been Catholic. Formally you are not a Catholic. Materially you are in "imperfect communion" with the Catholic Church (by our reckoning). Formally you are my brother in Christ by virtue of your baptism.

Now of course you may still disagree. My powers of persuasion are surely not the best :-) But I would ask you, if you do still disagree, to consider how you would integrate your view of the matter with the material I have cited in the post and in my comments here. It's simply not possible to say, as far as I can see, that the average Protestant is a formal heretic - I mean in view of the things I have cited, and how I have addressed your concerns about the old anathemas. The practical conditions are simply not the same for the average Protestant. If you think otherwise, by all means feel free to interact with the material I've presented here.

Perhaps you will say that the Magisterium has contradicted itself in this regard. I of course would disagree with that, and on the basis of the considerations that I have offered here, I think that there are good reasons to believe that it has not done so.

Lastly, it is possible that I have still not understood what your perspective is, nor why you think I have contradicted myself. If that is the case I apologize.



Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello TF,

Perhaps the difficulty is with the wording of the Catholic Encyclopedia bit that you mention in your initial comment - where it might seem to suggest that literally any baptism formally makes one a Catholic.

On the basis of that, I suppose I could see how confusion could be generated. I do not think that this is a necessary interpretation of that snippet, but even if it was I think it's clear from the other materials I've cited that the Catholic Encyclopedia might have been mistaken on this point. It seems to me that on the basis of what is said on this page of the same encyclopedia, on conditional baptism, that even at that time a clear difference was understood to exist with respect to the status of baptized non-Catholics: clearly they were not presumed to be formally Catholics, or there would be nothing else required but to simply receive them into the Church "as-is". But that evidently was not how they were treated in 1917, so it seems unnecessary and inaccurate to say that the old Catholic Encyclopedia presents Protestants of 1917 as formally Catholic.

Now, if I still have missed your point, I give up :-)

Turretinfan said...


Take Arius.

Catholic? Well, he was not schismatic formally. He did not set up a sect, or encourage people to leave communion with the bishop of Rome.

But will say that such a herisarch was a Christian? I certainly would not, but perhaps my Protestant biases are interfering with my ability to put myself in Italian loafers.

So then I see several alternatives:

1) Catholic = Christian
This seems to me to be the historical view of the RCC (not necessarily including Vatican II). Etymologically, that makes sense, because the universal ("catholic") church seems to be incapable of anything but identity with Christianity.

2) Catholic is a sect of Christianity. That is to say the Category of "Christian" is a larger category than "Catholic" but includes all of Catholicism. This seems to be the view that you are presenting, though I could be mistaken.

3) Catholic overlaps with Christian. This is the typical Reformed view, and may be the modern Catholic view. This view is that the category "Christian" includes SOME of those with "Catholicism" but not all.

4) Catholicism is separate from Christian. This obviously is not the view of any Roman Catholics, although it is the view of some Protestants/Orthodox.

a) formally - With some of the Orthodox (and some Protestants) claiming that Roman Catholicism is formally outside of Christianity
b) materially - With some folks (mostly fundamentalist Protestants) claiming that Roman Catholicism is materially and formally outside of Christianity.


Also, I found Leo's comments regarding canon 1325 fairly persuasive.

That is to say, I know what the modern RCC teaches regarding Mary's conception and life (both allegedly sinless) (surely you do not think those concepts hard to grasp), and yet I strongly deny that, asserting instead that Mary was conceived in sin, lived a sinful life, and died a sinner who was justified (assuming she was justified) by faith in her Son.


Now, combining those thoughts, if you subscribe to view (1) above, it is hard to consistently call me either Catholic or Christian.

If you subscribe to (2) or (3) above, I suppose you could call me Christian, but not Catholic.

I suppose there is a fifth option I didn't mention, which is essentially between (1) and (2), namely that All Catholic = Christian and we simply don't know about those outside of Catholicism.

I don't think that's the historical view, and using terms like "separated brethren" in Vatican II does not seem to suggest mere agnosticism about the Reformation churches.


Finally, I do think that valid baptism alone is enough to make someone formally a Catholic, though it may not be enough to make someone a communicant Catholic.

Allow me to demonstrate this intuitively:

Do you view the pre-confirmation baptized children in your local parish to be Catholics or not? Do you treat them as part of the Catholic church? Does your local priest?


Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello Turretinfan,

Before we go any further, perhaps we need to clarify what we are discussing just a little bit more.

Is the question, then: Does the Magisterium of the Catholic Church teach this: that all who are validly baptized outside the Catholic Church are presumptively Christians?

That's what my post was about, with particular emphasis on the standing of Protestants today. I attempt to answer that question in the affirmative, both in the post and in these comments.

It seems that you disagree (and that was my understanding when I used comments of yours on your own blog as the springboard for this post). If that is the case, I would ask you to defend your position from the documents of Vatican II and the CCC, because anything else we say about the question would be off-topic.



Turretinfan said...

You asked what seems to be a meta-question: "Is the question, then: Does the Magisterium of the Catholic Church teach this: that all who are validly baptized outside the Catholic Church are presumptively Christians?"

The question is related:
- Is there such a thing as a valid baptism that is not a Catholic baptism?

I think you'll find that the historical answer was no: the sacraments (baptism included) of heretics (of the "knowing the Magesterium says so, and [obstinately] denying it" variety not the "he misunderstood the magesterium, and consequently believed something that's objectively incorrect" variety) are not valid sacraments.

Another words: historically, there was no such thing as a valid non-Catholic baptism. If it was a valid baptism, it was a Catholic baptism, even if there was some irregularity to it (such as a baptism of a dying newborn by its mother).

Does that clarify things?


Turretinfan said...

RdP: I think you'll find that the matter is somewhat more nuanced than New Advent might suggest:


The link provides "your side" of the issue, but as you can guess from the presentation made, there is another side, and things are not quite as clearly defined as New Advent would seem to present.

To take two further examples, the two embedded quotations don't actually say that the baptisms of heretics and pagans are valid, just that God can work through them.


Reginald de Piperno said...

[I deleted an earlier version of this comment of mine.]

Another words: historically, there was no such thing as a valid non-Catholic baptism.

Hmm...that seems to be inconsistent with what is reported in the section "Extraordinary Minister" here. Note especially:

The Fourth Council of the Lateran (cap. Firmiter) decrees: 'The Sacrament of Baptism . . . no matter by whom conferred is available to salvation,' St. Isidore of Seville (can. Romanus de cons., iv) declares: 'The Spirit of God administers the grace of baptism, although it be a pagan who does the baptizing,' Pope Nicholas I teaches the Bulgarians (Resp, 104) that baptism by a Jew or a pagan is valid."

The teaching of Vatican II and the CCC seem to be consistent with this report.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello Turretinfan,

The SSPX is not currently on particularly good terms with the Catholic Church. For an introduction see here. This being the case I would seriously recommend against relying exclusively upon their characterizations of Catholic doctrine.

The page you link to is intended to defend the ordination of their founder, but it mentions "baptism" once, and acknowledges that even a Jew may validly baptize (the question of his intent in doing so is something that is acknowledged in the CCC, but doesn't really alter the point, as I'll point out in a moment) - as the Catholic Encyclopedia link I gave also indicated.

It also quotes Leo XIII, possibly on the subject of baptism, where he says that the question of internal intent cannot be a matter of judgment for the Church, but that proper intent may be presumed on the basis of the use of "due matter and form".

"Due matter" for baptism is water, says St. Thomas here, and due form is "I baptize thee in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost", as he says here. So it seems that on the basis of what Leo and St. Thomas say, Protestant baptisms which meet those two conditions of using water and the proper words must be presumed to be valid.

Lastly, regardless of what the SSPX says, Vatican II says (as I have already pointed out) that we must presume (on the basis of their valid baptisms) that Protestants are our brothers in Christ - which is what I've been saying. An SSPX link doesn't seem to me to be exactly germane, since its subject is ordination, not baptism, and since it doesn't mention VII, and since it doesn't contradict VII on baptism.

Nuance is fine, and I'm perfectly willing to grant some degree of nuance on the question - but I'd prefer not to be diverted by the finer points when the broad general question is still open (as far as I can tell, since you haven't appealed to VII or the Catechism in defense of your disagreement with me about this topic).



Turretinfan said...

Dear RdP,

I don't think V2 is consistent with historical Catholicism (and the current CCC is generally consistent with V2 - in fact it quotes therefrom).

V2 does refer to "separated brethren" which would pretty much settle the matter as to post-V2 Catholicism, despite the near-universal practice of baptizing (often "conditionally") converts from non-Catholic churches.


Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello Turretinfan,

Obviously we disagree about the continuity of VII with the historical Catholic Church.

I prefer not divert the present conversation onto that track.

despite the near-universal practice of baptizing (often "conditionally") converts from non-Catholic churches.

You say this based upon what? Having been actually received into the Church, and having been involved in leading RCIA classses, and having been a witness at multiple occasions of the reception of non-Catholics into the Church, this declaration is entirely contrary to what I have both observed and experienced.

Conditional baptisms are reserved for cases when there is uncertainty as to whether due matter and form were in place at a man's baptism. I have never seen this occur; usually people are able to satisfactorily demonstrate (whether by documentation or some other means) that they were validly baptized. In any case the fact that conditional baptisms are sometimes performed has no particular bearing on the general presumption that Protestants are our brothers in Christ, and reflects only upon an individual's ability to demonstrate what he actually received on the occasion of his seeking reception into full communion with the Church. Why does that make a difference? Because at that time the Church has to be able to distinguish between those who have been baptized and those who haven't, so that those who haven't may receive what they lack (since baptism is essential for salvation and for full communion).

Regardless, I think I have also provided sufficient documentation in the post and these comments that VII's attitude towards Protestants is consistent with the Church's attitude through the ages towards non-formal heretics: see the quotation of St. Augustine concerning the children of heretics (that they are not to be considered heretics); the declaration of Pius IX, the declaration of the Fourth Lateran Council as to the validity of non-Catholic baptism; the declaration of Pope Nicholas I as to the same; the declaration of Leo XIII on the SSPX site you reference, in which he specifies that due matter and form are sufficient to create a presumption of valid intention; etc. See also the outcome of the Donatist controversy (it was the Donatists who rejected the sacraments of those who had recanted the faith during the persecution - not the Catholics).

Reginald de Piperno said...


I've added a post wherein I invite you to expand upon what you mean when you say "I don't think V2 is consistent with historical Catholicism."

I mention it here for your consideration. Thanks.