by Michael Davies

a. Pertinacity

Pertinacity, setting up one's own mind against the known mind of the Church, is required to make the heresy formal. For as long as one remains willing to submit to the Church's decision he remains a Catholic Christian at heart, and his wrong belief is simply a transient error. Pertinacious denial of a doctrine not expressly defined, or which has not been clearly proposed as an article of faith in the ordinary authorized teaching of the Church, can nonetheless incur a censure. An opinion opposed to such teaching is styled sententia hæresi proxima, that is an opinion approaching heresy. Similar, but less grave censures, can be imposed depending upon the authority of the doctrine denied. A man born and brought up in an heretical sect may live and die without ever having a doubt as to the truth of his heretical beliefs. Where heresy is adhered to from involuntary causes, such as inculpable ignorance of the true creed, erroneous judgement, imperfect apprehension and comprehension of dogmas, it is not an act of the will, and the heresy is only material and does not incur the guilt of sin. Those suspected of heresy are subject to penalties only, if after a warning, they fail to remove the cause of suspicion (qui monitus causam suspicionis non removeat). It is thus evident that no one can be considered a formal heretic unless his denial of de fide doctrine has been brought to his attention. Under the Old Code of Canon Law, those who were subjected to penalties for refusing to heed the warning they had received could not even then be considered heretics, and become liable to the penalties for heresy, until they had persisted in their refusal for a period of six months.

Luther became a formal heretic not by expressing opinions incompatible with the Catholic faith, but by adhering to them when their heretical nature had been brought to his attention by a theologian of the eminence of Cardinal Cajetan. An interesting contrast with the pertinacity of Luther is provided by the case of Pope John XXII. This pope expressed publicly the opinion that there is no particular judgement after death. He taught that the souls of the blessed do not enjoy the beatific vision immediately, and that the souls of the wicked are not at once eternally damned, but that all await the final Judgement of God on the Last Day. Not surprisingly, this opinion was condemned as heretical and provoked strong opposition. The Pope appointed a commission of theologians to examine the question and they condemned his opinion. He retracted it on the day before he died, 3 December 1334. Pope John XXII did not, therefore, come into the category of being a formal heretic, and no one has ever suggested that he lost the papacy. It should be added here that belief in the particular judgement is not a teaching which must be believed de fide divina et catholica as it has not yet been promulgated as such. Thus, had John XXII been living today and had refused to retract, he would still have escaped the censure of formal heresy, although in the fourteenth century when categories of belief were not always as precisely defined, this might not have been the case.

© 1997 Michael Davies.

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Last modified 27th October, 1997, by David Joyce.