Saturday, October 9, 2010

St Augustine and Material Heresy

Being wrong is one thing; being wrong because you don’t know any better is another thing entirely. So St Augustine writes:

If, Honoratus, a heretic, and a man trusting heretics seemed to me one and the same, I should judge it my duty to remain silent both in tongue and pen in this matter. But now, whereas there is a very great difference between these two: forasmuch as he, in my opinion, is an heretic, who, for the sake of some temporal advantage, and chiefly for the sake of his own glory and pre-eminence, either gives birth to, or follows, false and new opinions; but he, who trusts men of this kind, is a man deceived by a certain imagination of truth and piety. [De utilitate credendi 1]

I suppose I could add another option (besides just being mistaken) to the non-pejorative possibilities for those who disagree with us: being deceived. And St Augustine shows here that different types of errors warrant different sorts of responses. Generally speaking (for those of us who do not happen to be Doctors of the Church…) the first sort of response ought to be in the range of humility.

But I digress. The point that I wished to make with this post is that there is nothing novel in the Catholic Church’s insistence that the sons and daughters of actual heretics (that is, those who have been formally condemned by the Church as such) are not guilty of formal heresy when they follow in their parents’ footsteps. They err, certainly, if they believe the same heretical things, but they are just not in the same boat with the leaders.

Elsewhere we have seen that St Augustine said basically the same thing.

But though the doctrine which men hold be false and perverse, if they do not maintain it with passionate obstinacy, especially when they have not devised it by the rashness of their own presumption, but have accepted it from parents who had been misguided and had fallen into error, and if they are with anxiety seeking the truth, and are prepared to be set right when they have found it, such men are not to be counted heretics. [Letter 43]

So we see that Augustine agrees with the Catholic Church. We should not be surprised to learn that this is the case; after all, he was Catholic. He doesn’t use the words “material heresy,” but the idea is clearly present, as is the distinction between that and formal heresy. There’s nothing “progressive” or “liberal” about the Church saying today that Protestants are our brothers in Christ by virtue of their baptism, nor in denying that they are subject to the anathemas of Trent. It’s simple justice.

9 comments:

David said...

"There’s nothing “progressive” or “liberal” about the Church saying today that Protestants are our brothers in Christ by virtue of their baptism, nor in denying that they are subject to the anathemas of Trent."

RdP, I entirely disagree.

You have omitted a saying of St. Augustine, given by Fr. Müller in "The Catholic Dogma".

St. Augustine: “But those who through ignorance are baptized there (with heretics), judging the sect to be the Church of Christ, sin less than these (who know it to be heretical); nevertheless they are wounded by the sacrilege of schism, and therefore sin not light, because others sin more gravely.”

So yes, they are material heretics and formal schismatics.

More on this here:

http://willingcatholicmartyr.blogspot.com/2009/06/on-material-heresy-saint-augustine.html

Furthermore, though all are made Catholic by Baptism, not only are not all justified thereby, but not all even retain their membership in the Church beyond the initial instant of their Baptism. More on this here:

http://willingcatholicmartyr.blogspot.com/2011/04/questions-from-reader.html

Needless to say, I do not believe the organization under the 20th century papal claimants to be the Catholic Church.

I will await, with patient interest, to see whether you publish and respond to this comment.

David.

Reginald de Piperno said...

I will await, with patient interest, to see whether you publish and respond to this comment.

Hello David,

Comments are “on” by default here, so if you ever have a comment fail to appear it’s a Blogger issue. I of course reserve the right to delete them as needed. I suppose in four years I have probably deleted some comments, but if I have done so it is only rarely. I have never “banned” a commenter.

My rule of thumb for commenters is that as long as they remain courteous and what they say is on topic they are allowed to say what they wish.

One of my major rules for responding to commenters is that I am not going to make major investments of my time trying to convince everyone that I am right or that he is wrong. I don’t consider myself a persuader, and I don’t consider that I have an obligation to correct everyone else’s mistakes. For a humorous take on why this is my position, see this comic.

That’s not to say that I routinely ignore commenters. :-)

St Augustine considered the Donatists to be his brothers in Christ. See here. Yet they were formal heretics. How could he do this? By reference to their baptism, as the linked article shows.

Needless to say, I do not believe the organization under the 20th century papal claimants to be the Catholic Church.

Well, we disagree. I am sorry that you are mistaken.

RdP

Reginald de Piperno said...

Similarly to St Augustine, In the 16th century St Peter Canisius referred to Protestants as “separated brethren,” and apparently the Church stopped referring to them as heretics in official texts in the 1850s. See here.

RdP

David said...

Hello RdP.

I was not aware that comments post automatically; there was no implication intended.

"St Augustine considered the Donatists to be his brothers in Christ... Yet they were formal heretics."

The link you provided concluded thus:
"[...] Augustine’s words are helpful in that they show that baptism (even in the context of schism) creates a permanent bond of fraternity."


Yes, having valid received valid baptism, they did indeed enter the fellowship of the children of God, which they could not lose, except by schism, heresy or apostasy.

St. Augustine's phraseology is not sufficient to overrule subsequent definitions of faith, which I have collected and presented elsewhere (and the consequences that flow therefrom).

Also, to be precise, Donatists were not heretics. They were schismatics.

So was St. Augustine wrong on a technical matter as yet untreated in a dogmatic definition (and would not be for centuries)? Yes. Did it affect his view of whether or not they could be saved? Of course not. And had he been privy to the subsequent definitions of Faith, he would certainly not have spoken as he did, calling them brothers, without the qualification that they had "seceded from the family", so to speak. And again, he did make the necessary qualification that these men could not be saved in their present state.

"St Peter Canisius referred to Protestants as “separated brethren,”"

The term itself means nothing much without a context. It is quite theologically correct, and in context, ascribe to this term the following meaning: "those who have separated themselves from having been our (Catholics) brethren".

"...apparently the Church stopped referring to them as heretics in official texts in the 1850s

This is telling. Yes indeed, the Church has, of old, referred to Protestants as heretics, because they are. There is no difference today; there were children raised ignorant of the Faith by "lapsed parents" as much in the time of the Arians and Nestorians as there were in the time of Luther and Calvin and as there are today.

But the problem with your statement is at least twofold:

1) The account presented in the link you gave is hearsay, which is not admissible as evidence in a court of law (so why would it be in history?). Thus I applaud your apt use of the word "apparently".

2) Even if Daniel-Rops is correct, it does not logically follow that this is tantamount to a positive affirmation that Protestants are not heretics or separated from the fellowship of the sons and daughters of God.

Only a public statement of "I pope Pius IX will hereafter not call Protestants heretics or children of the devil, because that would be wrong", or some such, would qualify as a positive affirmation.

"...you are mistaken.

Of course we disagree. I have not yet seen any reasonable evidence to accept your statement above as true - and I have read many arguments from both sides.

Please note that I also recognize that many sedevacantist arguments are pure hogwash. It just happens that a few of them are right.

Am I trying to persuade you? Not really. Only the grace of God can do that. All I can do is resort to reasonable argument in professing my Faith.

David.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Yes, having valid received valid baptism, they did indeed enter the fellowship of the children of God, which they could not lose, except by schism, heresy or apostasy.

People who are born into Protestantism cannot be guilty of formal schism and/or formal heresy, just by definition. They cannot be guilty of breaking membership vows they never made, so it just can’t be said that they have apostatized or are in formal schism. The same goes for their theological errors, since they’re not subject to Catholic authority. As Vatican II says about them in Unitatis Redintegratio:

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. [§3, bold added]

It’s clear that the Church teaches—as is just—that children are not accountable for their fathers’ sins. So to say that Protestants today who were never formal members of the Catholic Church are in the same boat as Luther, Calvin & Co. is unjust and contradicts the Church.

St. Augustine's phraseology is not sufficient to overrule subsequent definitions of faith, which I have collected and presented elsewhere (and the consequences that flow therefrom).

It is not for you or any private person to determine the authentic interpretation of what the Magisterium has defined. That is reserved for the Magisterium. And the Magisterium has stated both that born Protestants are not guilty of formal heresy (they “cannot be accused of the sin involved in the separation”) and that they are our brothers in Christ. So prior Magisterial definitions must be understood in this light.

2) Even if Daniel-Rops is correct, it does not logically follow that this is tantamount to a positive affirmation that Protestants are not heretics or separated from the fellowship of the sons and daughters of God.

I agree that Protestants hold heretical views. But there is an obvious logic behind the change in policy: to wit, Protestants of the 19th century and today aren’t in the same boat with Calvin and Luther and friends, because “they cannot be accused of the sin involved in the separation.” So to say that they are heretics in the same way as Calvin and Luther is wrong. Calvin and Luther left the Church; they were formal heretics. Charles Hodge in the 19th century was never Catholic, and so he isn’t a formal heretic, notwithstanding the fact that he held heretical views.

This is the distinction between material and formal heresy, and really I don’t see what is controversial about it. Aside from the most excellent theologians, I seriously doubt that there are very many Catholics who don’t hold to some sort of material heresy or other. May God have mercy on us all. The difference of course comes to light when our errors are corrected: do we assent to the true Faith, or do we obstinately reject it? Until or unless that moment of truth comes, the charitable presumption is that Catholics genuinely intend, to the best of their ability, to believe all that the Church teaches. They may not in fact do so due to circumstances beyond their control: for example, they may not have received adequate catechesis, or they might not be blessed with sufficient intellectual gifts adequately to understand what they ought to believe. Whatever the case may be for them, these circumstances are not their fault, and it would be wrong to suggest that they are formal heretics when they don’t even know what the facts are.

And the same is true for those who were born Protestant. So unless you deny the the distinction between formal and material heresy, or the legitimacy of invincible ignorance, I am mystified as to what is controversial here. :-)

RdP

Reginald de Piperno said...

I confess to being more than a bit confused as to why you would comment here, David, if your intent isn’t to try and persuade me of your sedevacantist position. My view pretty clearly depends upon what the Magisterium has been saying for a long time now, but you reject the validity of those Magisterial statements. Consequently agreement is surely going to be impossible between us about this, it seems to me. I am by no means going to break communion with the Bishop of Rome, and I fully intend for what I write here to be consistent with what that Magisterium has taught, so my appeals in cases like this must necessarily reflect that fact. Unfortunately that seems unlikely to have any force with you, so I am curious as to what the terms of engagement are here. (Not that I consider this to be a hostile conversation thus far, but I like the turn of phrase!) :-)

RdP

David Mary said...

I have not been back to visit in a while, so please do not take my delay in replying as rudeness or lack of substance.

My purpose in commenting here is to publicly profess the Catholic Faith. Nothing more, nothing less.

St. Thomas Aquinas makes a distinction between ignorance as sin and ignorance as punishment. While the mitigation of culpability may be present to varying degrees in the latter case, this reduced guilt still does not SUPPLY for what is necessary for salvation, i.e. membership in the Catholic Church, as defined by Pope Boniface VIII and others.

As Augustine says, they are "wounded by the sacrilege of schism", out of the Church and still in sin, which is not ever remitted out of her. Whether it already has been proposed to them or not that the Catholic Church is the true Church of Christ, they are still out of her and on the road to Hell.

Reginald de Piperno said...

My purpose in commenting here is to publicly profess the Catholic Faith.

And yet you are not in communion with the Pope. David, you have no standing to decide for yourself whether there is a pope or not, and for you to call the every one of them for the last century or more an anti-pope makes it pretty clear to me that whatever it is you’re professing, it is not the Catholic Faith.

David Mary said...

That is your opinion, but I reject anyone who claims to be pope and yet upholds a council in which it is claimed that Catholics and Mohammedans have the same merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day. Such a man is not Catholic.