Friday, October 08, 2010


One of the reasons for being a little annoyed with the unfounded accusastion of Msgr Basil Loftus that I had called him a heretic is that I am not quite sure what a heretic is today.
Archbishop Amigo of Southwark for most of the first half of the twentieth century decide to suspend a handful of curates for Modernism, then tried to do the same with a Parish Priest and was told he couldn't do that without a lengthy process of admonitions, detailed preparation of a case and formal trial. His sense of justice led him to decide if he couldn't get rid of the Parish Priest it was unjust to act against the curates, so the matter was dropped, and he had to be content with merely suggesting they had "heretical tendencies". In all probability they were moved to Gravesend, sorry if you live there, which seemed to be the "penal" parish at the time.

Even before the Second Vatican Council and under the 1915 Code of Canon Law, even in the light of Pascendi etc heresy was difficult to prove, one could easily be removed from a teaching role but not from a parish. The Law of the Church was there to protect against the malice of a superior.

In theory heresy is any formal denial of any defined Truth, but there seem to have been fashions, hence Talleyrand already known for his atheism was consecrated Bishop of Autun  in pre-revolutionary France. In most congregations there are deniers of the Real Presence, those who don't believe in Confession. In any group of clergy there a priests with very odd views but the Church rarely singles them out as heretics. Very occassionally does a theologian receive a formal condemnation. Sometimes a bishop or religious superior might prohibit a subject priest or religious to publish or teach. It is normally failure to comply with this, as an act of obedience, that might result in censure or even dismissal from the clerical or religious state.

For the most part the Church is and was content to live with heresy, one role of the priest is to condemn tendencies that lead to weakening communion because it is schism, the breaking of communion that is the real cause for concern.

Heresy is treated by the Church for the most part as ignorance. Ignorance is best dealt with by catechesis and gentle reproval or fraternal correction rather than by a judicial penalty of some type. Sometimes it is invincible ignorance, unless it is damaging the innocent, the tendency of the Church is to live with it. Our presumption is that Truth is more attractive than error and that Truth will eventually triumph.

It does concern me that individuals are described as "heretics", normally by the theoligically naive, they might have heretical views or they might over emphasise certain areas of teaching or neglect others but the Christian presumption is that they are men and women of good will and good faith. The Church is primarilly concerned with Charity and with the salvation, not the condemnation, of souls.

In the traditional Rite of Baptism parents are asked what they ask of the Church, they answer, "Faith", the presumption is that "Faith" is supernatural gift, the presumption is that it is an orthodox faith that is received, and just as one grows in faith one also grows in orthodoxy, coming to a deeper and deeper understanding of rvealed truths.

Pope Benedict's admonition to our bishops, "to recognise dissent for what it is" is useful. Those who dissent are those who pull away from mainstream faith, not only damaging the faith of others but undermining the Church's unity and mission. Dissent marks those angry, arrogant often elderly men (and women) who set up themselves as the sensus fidelium against that of the Church. One suspects that there are deep seated problems with the ecclessial dimension of the fourth commandment. Whether they are on the right or the left, invariably their concern is not so much with Truth or the mission of the Church but with structures and authority, with Churchiness.

Modern dissenters seem to have a propensity to destroy and undermine faith rather than build it up, to spread confusion and relativism rather than to search for Truth.


Dominic Mary said...

My impression, for what it is worth, was that a specific teaching might accurately be described as 'a heresy', or 'heretical;, because it can be clearly identified . . . but that it is extraordinarily difficult to define an individual as an heretic, because it is even more difficult to get inside their head to be certain of how they understand things.
In other words, the exact words that they speak, when written down, may be demonstrably heretical, but that does not of itself prove that they are heretics.
In that case, one can say that someone has propounded an heretical doctrine; but one obviously cannot safely say that they are an heretic . . . and I'm quite sure, in any event, that I've never read anything you've written, Father, which says that someone is an heretic.

Michael Petek said...

Canonical cases can be so, so, drawn out and lengthy, can't they.

If only the Church would learn how the civil authorities do judicial proceedings and try to emulate them.

I was sued in March of last year, and the District Judge dismissed the claim in December only because of an adjournment in October.

David said...

For the most part the Church is and was content to live with heresy.

I'd say that the history of the Church shows otherwise - that the purity of the faith has been an on-going concern since Our Lord bagan teaching in Galilee. There is little in St Paul, or in the Fathers, that would give support to your statement that the Church is content to live with heresy! It because the Church is primarily concerned with the salvation of souls that is sees heresy as such a danger.

St Thomas Aquinas said that,

To reject but one article of faith taught by the Church is enough to destroy faith, as one mortal sin is enough to destroy charity; for the virtue of faith does not consist in merely adhering to the Holy Scriptures, and in revering them as the word of God; it consists principally in submitting our intellect and will to the divine authority of the true Church charged by Jesus Christ to expound them…He, therefore, who despises and rejects this authority cannot have true faith. If he admits some supernatural truths, they are but simple opinions, as he makes them [the truths] depend on his private judgement. (De Fide, q.v., art 3)

...and there can be no justification without faith as the Council of Trent said.

I'd seriously ask you to reconsider your position on this, Father.

Adulio said...

Surely its pure and simple: any person who has received a Catholic baptism and then goes onto deny the one of the tenets of the faith or morals, is guilty of heresy? I think one of rather telling of our time, that since the close of the Second Vatican council, we have become more accommodating to heresy and look for every way to explain it away under the guise of a false "charity".

Fr Ray Blake said...

No David,
Where shall we start, St Augustine tolerated those who honoured the sun before entering his church to worship the Lord. Constantine, many suggest seemed to have mixed Christianity with sun worship too.
The toleration of pagan practices in the middle ages, of witchcraft of astrology seems to have been a mark of pre-Reformation Catholicism. The cults of the dead in southern Italy and South America are tolerated though hardly consumate with orthodoxy. The Church has always preferred people in the Church were they could be formed rather than outside where it had no contact with them.

Anonymous said...

My firstr appointment was to Gravesend! 'nuff said.....
except for fact that St John Fisher placed Gravesend under an interdict because people did not turn out to greet him when he ws being taken to the Tower! I was informed that the interdict has never been lifted!

David said...

Father, you are conflating tolerance of prior heresy in order to lead souls into the Church with tolerating heresy within the Church.

St Augustine tolerated those who honoured the sun before entering his church to worship the Lord.

Do you think St Augustine would have tolerated such Sun worship from those people once they had become Catechumens?

Constantine, many suggest seemed to have mixed Christianity with sun worship too.

Possibly, but, again, such Sun worship was never sanctioned by the Church.

The toleration of pagan practices in the middle ages, of witchcraft of astrology seems to have been a mark of pre-Reformation Catholicism.

The treatment of 'proven' witches demonstrates that there was no toleration of witchcraft then.

I'm afraid these are some extraordinary statements that you are making, Father.

Gregory the Eremite said...

The Code of Canon Law puts it this way (c751)

"Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith"

The key does not necessarily lie in the original error; it lies in the obstinate refusal of the truth.

B flat said...

Schism is the great crime against the Church as the Ark of Salavation. Our sensitivity to it was dulled by centuries of repetition, and is now nurtured by the "Ecumenical Movement.

Heresy, individually held, separates from the Church and from Christ, Who is the Truth which sets us free. How can the Church tolerate the teaching of heresy, although she may bear patiently with many imperfect forms of devotion. Can a sincere Christian tolerate that his faith be distorted or mistaken? Humility and patient love are needed in all members of the Church, and acceptance by all of orthodox teaching by the competent authority.

Regarding the story of bishop Amigo; I heard exactly the same said of bishop Cowderoy of Southwark, in the immediate aftermath of Humanae Vitae, when several priests were intemperately opposing the encyclical from the pulpit and so were suspended by him. When he suspended a Parish Priest and was told he couldn't do that, he lifted all suspensions for the reason you quote, and the Hierarchy of England and Wales very quickly decided on a concerted policy, which worked. Bp Cowderoy became a hero of decency and justice for me because of that story. I remember the BBC reports of the individual defiance of priests. Was this story about the bishop just a myth? There must be priests alive who know; could someone confirm, please.

David said...

I think we need to further distinguish between the Church's toleration of a degree of superstition in seeking to win souls for Christ who would otherwise be mired in paganism and the Church's toleration (or, rather, lack thereof) for heresy taught by her pastors. Tolerating salt being thrown over one's shoulder is very different to tolerating the denial of Our Lord's divinity!

Of course, there have been times in the Church's history when heresy seemed to be on the ascendant amongst the bishops of the Church, such as the Arian crisis, but such crises obviously do not betoken toleration of heresy amongst bishops by the Magisterium.

Sue Sims said...

Is this partly to do with the distinction between 'formal' and 'material' heresy? Or am I confused?

Geoff Callister said...

Fr Ray,
An excellent analysis, if I may say.
It's all too easy for us to see things in over-simplified, black and white terms. I reckon it's down largely to the influence of US, 2 dimensional, 'goodies vs baddies' films, and points essentially to a purely 'human', over-judgmental response. The important thing, surely, is that we see the big picture - beyond whether or not someone is or isn't a heretic: that's simply a product of our arrogant 'blame culture'.
I think you were spot on where you say: "Heresy is treated by the Church for the most part as ignorance. Ignorance is best dealt with by catechesis": and that, surely, is the answer - yet again - better catechesis, especially of the on-going, adult variety. I'm also convinced that poor catechesis, along with arrogance, is the root problem behind so much liberal dissent in the Church.

RJ said...

Acts 4:32 tells us that the believers were "one in mind and heart". The Church is a communion of mind and heart. What worries me about dissenters/liberals is their attitude, which strikes me as being one of contempt (towards the Holy Father, towards anything that comes from "Rome", towards "the official Church" or towards "official" teaching), and this militates against communion. Whether you can identify that specifically as heresy or not, it is a tendency which points in that direction. And even if that's deemed to be exagerrated, such attitudes can't be called 'charity', the lack of which is being levelled as an accusation against those of us who object to these attitudes and their expression. In fact it is our desire for perfect communion, which is charity, that makes us object.

RJ said...

I think Sue has an important point. As far as I understand it, material heresy would be where someone holds an erroneous view without realising that it is against the faith of the Church (as taught by those who have a right to teach it - magisterium), while a formal heretic is well aware that his or her view is contrary to it. There is a good article at:
I think the distinctions are significant. If we didn't make the distinction, we would be permanently scandalised.

Zephyrinus said...

Dear Fr Blake. Excellent article. I pledge total support to you, financial and moral, when we all go to the barricades when you are being sued. I live near Gravesend, Kent. No comment.

nickbris said...

There is quite lot of nonsense about heresy in Wikipedia. I think it is just a matter of whether one agrees or disagrees with somebody who happens to be talking.

We could probably make a good case against the "Brokeback Coalition".If the Clegg part of it are not Heretics I don't know what or who is.

Anagnostis said...

Heretics are nearly always:

Stuck in their groove.

Have you ever noticed that the more genuinely orthodox people are, the more they tend to deepen and develop as they grow older - whereas your heretics seem to freeze up, spiritually and intellectually, at the point of formulation? Think of a celebrated German, eternally mounted on his barricade, circa 1968; or certain home-grown religious sisters (you know who I mean).

Chesterton speaks somewhere of the "dull heresies sprawling, the wild Truth reeling, but erect". I can take Chesterton or leave him, but sometimes he really hits the mark.

I'd also observe that an absence of ascesis is usually a giveaway. Without genuine ascesis, Christianity degenerates into either ideology or sentiment. St Seraphim of Sarov, the most kindly and charitable of souls, had this to say to a prospective mother-in-law, looking for advice about her daughter's match:

"Does he keep the fasts? If not, he's not a Christian, whatever he calls himself".

shane said...

I suspect the good reverend means the 1917 Code of Canon Law.

Volpius Leonius said...

Well at least that goes a long way to explaining why heresy is now so rampant within the Church.

Without Faith you cannot be a Catholic at all, it comes before everything else it is the foundation of everything, even baptism is not possible without first faith.

It is one thing to tolerate the lack of true faith among those who are visibly separated from the Church and claim no allegiance to her, it is quite another to tolerate it within the Church herself and allow heretics to prey upon Christ's flock.

Have you learned nothing from the child abuse within the Church?

The great scandal of the child abuse was not the abuse itself though that was the most terrible aspect, it was that the Bishops and Priests did not exercise their authority to discipline the perpetrators and protect the children, they tolerated it, just like they tolerate heresy and every other evil.

Christ did not come to teach us to tolerate evil He came to show us how to conquer it.

And if a person does not have faith, the Catholic Faith they cannot be a Catholic, the Faith is who Catholics are. To say otherwise is to make this whole thing we call the Catholic Church a meaningless sham.

Volpius Leonius said...

"Those therefore who after the manner of wicked heretics dare to set aside Ecclesiastical Traditions, and to invent any kind of novelty, or to reject any of those things entrusted to the Church, or who wrongfully and outrageously devise the destruction of any of those Traditions enshrined in the Catholic Church, are to be punished thus:


Second Council of Nicaea 787 A.D.

Bob said...

So the Inquisition was really just concerned about schism? That is just one example that leaves me shaking my head at this thesis. Anyone who has read anything of the Church Fathers knows how much of their time was taken up with vigorously denouncing heresies and heretics. St Augustine may not have wanted to trouble the superstitions of the ignorant but he had no problem launching attacks against for example Pelagius, who was still officially in communion with the Church. I think there is some major confusion here. Schism is easy to prove, usually so easy to prove that no proof is needed as the schismatic tends to vaunt his separation. Proving formal heresy in a canonical trial is far less easy and can be a very drawn out process. In that sense only can the Church be said to 'tolerate' heresy. Ontologically unity in faith comes before a purely external conformity. Remember that there is still an automatic excommunication for heresy in Canon Law and that excommunication applies before any canonical trial. Without a trial no doubt it is hard to be certain or prove in the external forum that anyone has suffered that excommunication but it hardly evinces any great tolerance for heresy on the part of the Church. As theologians said in the past for such an excommunication to apply the heresy did not even need to be public but merely externalised. And of course, for I don't know how long theologians have agreed that a public heretic, aside from any excommunication he may or may not have acquired, no longer belongs to the body of the Church, any appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, and some such as Bellarmine even held that for private heretics.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Of course heresy, lies, the corruption of the faith and lives of the innocent is something that the Church has always been concerned about but it has also recognised that not every bishop and priest whose orthodoxy is below par can be deposed nor even obstinate blaspheming heretic can be put to the flames. Historically there have just been too many.

More often the Church has been more concerned to educate the clergy and catechise the faithful, to encourage them to demand Truth and holiness from their Pastors.
If that isn't happening then God tends to send Saints as he did in Rome in the 16th cent.

Volpius Leonius said...

Every obstinate blaspheming public heretic can however be canonically excommunicated at least then the faithful would be warned if nothing else and it would be made clear that Faith, that is what a person believes, is the foundation that makes a person Catholic, and without which a person cannot be a Catholic, cannot be a full member of the Church and cannot receive the sacraments.

Catholicism is a belief system, if you don't have the beliefs you are not part of the system, this is so fundamental that is really should be obvious, but today this simple truth is obscured due to the evil siblings false ecumenism and false tolerance.

False tolerance of course is not just a Catholic problem it is a plague on the whole of Western society, it is the reason every sin imaginable and every social evil now runs rampant unhindered and even encouraged in our broken society.

misericordia said...

I am confused about the authority an Ordinary has over the priests in his diocese.
We hear of priests who would like to offer the Traditional Latin Mass in their parishes, but are afraid to do so in case they incur the wrath of the Bishop, who might take sanctions against them.
What are these sanctions, and why, then, cannot these be used against priests whose heterodoxy is misleading their flock?

gemoftheocean said...

Bline ignorance is one thing amongst the laity. IT's possible they don't know any better. But heresy is criminal amonst the clery. Shouldn't seminaries root out the heretical? Perhaps the seminary training needs to be looked at? Perhaps bishops who act on the recommendation of seminary faculties to ordain people ought to look at the orthodoxy of those teaching in the seminary?

Sharon said...

If catechising the Faithful is so important why was the teaching of authentic Catholicism in our so called Catholic schools permitted to collapse? The average school which has the name Catholic in its title has hollowed out the authentic Faith and inserted faux New Age spirituality in its place and the bishops have sit back and let it happen.

tubbs said...

I think that some of your critics are just itching to fire up the barbeques.

I also think that, if you just ignore them, they'll start incinerating each other. Fanatics are like that.

Mike Cliffson said...

oh snakespit!
I'm losticated.

Could we have imprimaturs and nihil obstats back all over?

Practical point: when a catholicschool headteacher says my objeactions, interalia, to calling Jesus Christ "a teacher who emerged from the people and whose simple language anabled his followers to spread his teachings after he had gone" is just my opinion, I should say just what?
At a school meeting they did shut up after quoting, I fear it may even have been correctly, the then bish of Xtown, when I said I don't follow Xtown, I follow ROME.

I've got kids to bring up and clouds of whatever within the church DON'T HELP.

Fr Ray Blake said...

I don't know about the US but here its clergy in their 60s/70s that are the problem, seminarians and younger clergy generally are orthodox.

"Every obstinate blaspheming public heretic can however be canonically excommunicated"

The Church is the servant of the Truth, Justice is part of Truth, so the Church is always very cautious when proceeding against heresy.

santoeusebio said...

Sound as if the response to heresy is rather like the Church's earlier take on paedophilia. We can live with it and the worst that can happen is to be moved to another parish.

Nicolas Bellord

Anagnostis said...

Catholicism is a belief system

Well, there you are then - that's your problem: merely one ideology among all the others (except you'd insist it's the one that happens to be true).

It's possible - perfectly and demonstrably possible - to be 100% ideologically "correct" on every point of doctrine and yet still to present something that's a grotesque and empty parody of the Truth. Orthodoxy is not "right-ideology." The "Only-begotten Son and Word of God" is not a "belief system".

I offered my opinion earlier that in the absence of ascesis, Christianity quickly degenerates into ideology or sentiment (or, to put it another way perhaps, into "conservatism" or "liberalism"). Orthodoxy is neither of these things - it's holy, with the Holiness of God i.e. "not like anything else". It's "hypostatic" - always and essentially "Personal".

When, after the reading of the Gospel in the Byzantine rite, the people sing "Doxa soi, Kyrie, doxa soi!", they're not chanting "Doctrine to You, Lord, doctrine to you!". This is not to deny that "right doctrine" in its fullness and integrity is essential, but to insist that the value and comprehensibility of "right doctrine" is absolutely a function of "right glory" - of rendering, in every aspect of one's life, "glory and gratitude" (doxa kai eucharistia, in the absence of which the doctrine degenerates into parody and delusion (c.f. Romans 1:18-25).

We are commanded in the first instance not to be right, but to be righteous. In the absence of righteousness we're never "right", no matter how "correct" we strive to be. Righteousness requires the assimilation of a Person, the crucified, raised and glorified Christ - not the mastery of a "correct" apparatus. To paraphrase Fr Stephen Freeman, Christ came not to make wrong men right, but to make dead men live.

As the fabric of a "system" merely, right-doctrine is simply valueless. It aquires life and coherence only within the context of purification through the keeping of the commandments, and the daily struggle for repentance.

Paradoxically, Christianity-as-ideology (of the left or the right - it doesn't matter)is perhaps the most toxic and pernicious heresy of all: the neutron bomb that appears to leave everything standing, while emptying it of everything but corruption and dead men's bones. It's no coincidence that the more ideological one's "orthodoxy", the more tends to repine for the stake and the faggot.

Anagnostis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sadie Vacantist said...

@santoeusebio (Nicolas Bellord)

Half right there. What in reality was happening was that abusing priests were recycled after having been through treatment centres and/or were in regular contact with a various assortment of shrinks, psychologists and purveyors of all manner of quackery.

There is a link, as you imply, between the faulty (some might say heretical) ecclesiology of the post-conciliar era and the Church's patronage of these new 'sciences'. Of course the Murphy-O'Connors and Laws of this World are never going to make that connection and never will. Vincent Nichols' recent remarks on the subject inspire little confidence that he has an understanding of the issue.

If, on the on the other, Nichols had drawn a parallel between Greenspan's "irrational exuberance" and the entire Second Vatican Council project he might have been on to something but of course he didn't.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Quite right, Moretben, glad someone picked up that one!

Did you want both comments published?

RJ said...

It was unfortunate to describe the faith as a "belief system". I don't think that would actually be an adequate expression for Catholics of what being a Catholic entails.

Volpius Leonius said...

It is possible to be to be to cautious father, and such false prudence is a vice not a virtue.

A vice that does just as much harm as imprudence, more so even because is is often a hidden vice that masquerades as a virtue and so is left unchallenged and in turn leads to all other evils going unchallenged also.

Such is the state of affairs among our leaders today, because of false prudence they do not defend the Church or the Pope of the Faith or God but remain always silent more afraid of drawing negative attention than they are eager to do what is good.

This is not Christ's way, Christ is bold and Christians also are called to imitate this heroic boldness of Christ.

And it is Christ Himself who told us how to deal with those who will not obey Him and His Church, He did not say to tolerate them within the Church regardless He commanded we do the opposite, to treat them as heathens and publicans(Matt 18:17), that is to shun them, as is confirmed and stated even more clearly by St. Paul in Titus 3:10. This way set down by Christ and the Apostles is how the Church dealt with obstinate heretics for hundreds of years, and during that time faith increased, it always does when leaders of the Chruch follow Christ's way rather than their own.

Who are we to be more tolerant than Christ? When we try and act thus me merely fall into failing to act justly, and a lack of justice results in the increase of every evil.

Volpius Leonius said...

"It was unfortunate to describe the faith as a "belief system". I don't think that would actually be an adequate expression for Catholics of what being a Catholic entails."

I was not meant to be so.

RJ said...

Don't get me wrong, Volpius. I wouldn't want to disparage systematic theology. I believe that our faith, though mysterious, is coherent (the Truth, that is God, cannot be incoherent) so its expression can be expected to be coherent. That allows for systematic theology (is that what you meant by a belief system?), which is not presumptuous intellectualizing if done in the right spirit, but is fully consonant with right worship. Volpius, I also believe that there are some beliefs and expressions of belief which are incompatible with our faith. It is not possible to be endlessly accommodating.

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