Rorate Caeli

De Mattei on the Pope's pronouncements and video: It's not only heresy that offends the Catholic Faith

Not Only Heresy Offends The Catholic Faith

Roberto de Mattei
Corrispondenza Romana
January 13, 2016

In a long interview published on December 30th in the German weekly Die Zeit, Cardinal Ludwig Müller, Prefect for the Congregation of the Faith, raised a question of crucial relevance today. When the interviewer asked the Prefect what he thought of those Catholics who attack the Pope defining him “a heretic”, he replied: “Not only because of my office, but from personal conviction, I must disagree. A heretic in the theological definition, is a Catholic who denies obstinately a revealed truth proposed by the Church that they are obliged to believe. It’s another thing when those who are officially charged to teach the faith express themselves in a somewhat inappropriate, misleading or vague way. The teachings of the Pope and bishops are not above the Word of God, but serve it. (…) Moreover, papal pronouncements have a different binding nature – ranging from a definitive decision pronounced ex-cathedra to a homily which is used rather for spiritual analysis.”

Today there is a tendency to fall into a simplistic dichotomy between heresy and orthodoxy. Cardinal Muller’s words remind us that between black (open heresy) and white (complete orthodoxy) there is a grey area which theologians have explored with precision.

There are doctrinal propositions, even if they are not explicitly heretical, that are condemned by the Church with theological qualifications proportional to their gravity and in their contrast to Catholic doctrine. Opposition to the truth in fact, presents diverse levels, according to whether it is direct or indirect, immediate or remote, open or hidden, and so on. The “theological censures” (not to be confused with ecclesiastical censures or punishments) express, as Father Sisto Cartechini explains in his classical study, the negative judgment of the Church on an expression, an opinion or an entire theological doctrine (Dall’opinione al domma. Valore delle note teologiche (From Opinion to Dogma. The Value of Theological Notes) “La Civiltà Cattolica” Edition, Rome, 1953). This judgment can be private, if given by one or more theologians independently, or public and official, if promulgated by the ecclesiastical authority.

Cardinal Pietro Parente and Monsignor Antonio’s Dogmatic Theological Dictionary sums up the doctrine thus: “The censure formulas are many, with a gradation which goes from the minimum to the maximum. Three categories can be grouped: the First Category: regards the doctrinal content a proposition can be censured as: a) heretical, if it openly opposes a truth of faith defined as such by the Church; according to the greater or lesser opposition the proposition can be said to be near heresy, that it smacks of heresy; b) erroneous in the faith, if it is opposed to a grave theological conclusion which derives from a revealed truth and a principle of reason; if it is opposed to a simple common sentence among Theologians, the proposition is censured as temerarious. The Second Category: regards the defective form for which the proposition is judged equivocal, dubious, insidious, suspect, evil-sounding etc., even if not contradicting any truth of faith from a doctrinal point of view. The Third Category: regards the effects that can be produced in particular circumstances in time or place, even if not erroneous in content and form. In such a case, the proposition is censured as perverse, corrupt, scandalous, dangerous, seductive for the simple ” (Dictionary of Dogmatic Theology, Studium, Rome, 1943, pp. 45-46). In all of these cases Catholic truth lacks doctrinal integrity or is expressed in a deficient and improper manner.

This precision in qualifying errors was developed mainly between the XVII and XVIII centuries, when the Church found Herself faced with the first heresy which fought to remain internal: Jansenism. The Jansenist strategy, just like the modernists’ later on, was that of continuing to self-proclaim their complete orthodoxy, despite repeated condemnations. In order to avoid an accusation of heresy, they engineered themselves into finding ambiguous and equivocal formulas of faith and morals, which did not frontally oppose the Catholic faith and allowed them to remain in the Church. With the same accuracy and determination the orthodox theologians individualized Jansenism’s errors, branding them according to their specific characteristics.

Pope Clement XI in the Bull Unigenitus Dei Filius of September 8th 1713, censured 101 propositions in the book Réflexions morales by the Jansenist theologian Pasquier Quesnel, as, among other things: false, captious, evil-sounding, offensive to pious ears, scandalous, pernicious, rash, injurious to the Church and her practice, insulting to the Church […]suspected of heresy, and smacking of heresy itself, and, besides, favoring heretics, heresies and also schisms, erroneous and close to heresy” (Denz.-H, n. 2502).

In his turn, Pius VI in the Bull Auctorem fidei of August 28th, condemned eighty-five propositions, extracts from the Acts of the Jansenist Synod of Pistoia (1786). Some of these propositions from the Synod are expressly qualified as heretical, but others are defined, according to the cases: schismatic, suspected of heresy, inducing heresy, favouring heretics, false, erroneous, pernicious, scandalous, temerarious, injurious to the common practice of the Church (Denz.H, nn. 2600-2700). Each one of these terms has a different significance. Thus the proposition in which the Synod professes: “to be persuaded that the Bishop has received from Jesus Christ all the rights necessary for the good government of the Church” independently of the Pope and Councils (n.6), is “erroneous” and induces schism and subversion to the ecclesiastical hierarchal regime”; the one in which limbo is rejected (n. 26), is considered “false, temerarious, offensive to Catholic schools; the proposition that prohibits placing relics or flowers on the altars (n.32) is said to be: temerarious, injurious to the pious and recognized customs of the Church”; the one, that hopes for a return to the archaic rudiments of the liturgy, “ with the restoring of greater simplicity to the rites, expressing it in vulgar language, and uttering it loudly” (n.33). is defined as “temerarious, offensive to pious ears, insulting to the Church, favoring the slander of heretics against the Church Herself.”

An analysis of the final Relatio of the 2015 Synod of Bishops, conducted according to the principles of Catholic theology and morals, can do nothing other than find grave disconformities in that document. Many of its propositions could be defined as evil-sounding, erroneous, temerarious and so on, even if no-one can say that it is formally heretical.

More recently, on January 6th 2016, a video-message from Pope Francis diffused all over the world’s social networks, was dedicated to inter-religious dialogue, where Catholics, Buddhists, Jews and Muslims seem to be placed on the same level, as “children of (a) God” whom everyone encounters in their own religion, in the name of some common profession of faith and love. Francis’ words, combined with those of the protagonists in the video and above all with the images, are the vehicle of a syncretistic message which contradicts, at least indirectly, the teaching as regards the redeeming uniqueness and universality of Jesus Christ and the Church, reaffirmed in the encyclical Mortalium Animos by Pius XI (1928) and the Declaration Dominus Iesus by the then Prefect for the Congregation of the Faith, Joseph Ratzinger (August 6th 2000).

As ordinary baptized Catholics wishing to apply the theological censures of the Church to this video, we should have to define it as: inducing heresy as far as the content is concerned; equivocal and insidious as far as the form is concerned; scandalous as far as its effects on souls are concerned. The public and official judgment is up to the ecclesiastical authorities and nobody better than the present Prefect for the Congregation of the Faith, has the qualification to speak in this regard.

Many distressed Catholics are calling on him to do just that.

[Translation: Contributor Francesca Romana]