Principles and Distinctions Bearing upon Unity

I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing and that there be no schisms among you; but that you be perfect in the same mind and in the same judgement.
St. Paul, 1 Cor. 1, 10


In seeking a true perspective on the question of who is, and who is not, a Catholic, the first importance must be placed upon considerations which shed light on the nature and constitution of Holy Church. For Holy Church is her members, correctly ordered. That is, united perfectly one with another in one Mystical Body, one True Vine, one perfect supernatural society, without spot or wrinkle, founded on One Rock, rooted firmly in One Faith, and bound tightly together in the unity of The Spirit and the bond of peace. Anyone not in this visible and perfect unity is not a Catholic.

Thus there are various elements for which we must seek when identifying the members of the true Church of Jesus Christ. All of her members are baptised - an outward sign of an inward grace. We must identify a perfect unity of faith among the members of Holy Church - i.e. "the faithful." And we must notice a common submission to one authority and an essential union with one another, which in general involves obedience to Church law, and in certain circumstances reveals itself through submission to specific judgements, of doctrine, discipline, or fact. This union of wills, referred to as the bond of charity, is also evident in the fact that Catholics are in peaceful communion with each other, sharing the same sacred rites.

The questions then, are: Is an individual baptised? Does he outwardly profess the true faith? Does he submit to Holy Church's laws and judgements (i.e. to Her authority) and keep peaceful communion with her other children? The following are some principles and distinctions bearing on the unity of Holy Church, with the hope that in their light it may be easier to make sound practical judgements about who are Her members.

  1. Holy Church is a supernatural society that is necessarily visible. Therefore her members are identifiable. In other words, membership in the Church is a public fact; it is externally verifiable. It remains true, however, that in some cases doubt may remain due to particular factors.
  2. All are obliged to form judgements about who are Catholics and who are not, at least among the clergy. Catholics may not receive sacraments from non-Catholics, outside the danger of death, because they may not cooperate in acts of public worship with non-Catholics. Consequently at least some judgements are obligatory.
  3. Judgements concerning who are the members of the Church are primarily concerned with a question of fact in law, not of sin. Canonists treat of these questions from the perspective of law, and are therefore interested in slightly different data from that which interests moralists. Moralists are concerned with what is sinful, which is a distinct, though related, question. When concerning ourselves with who are Catholics and who are not, we are interested in the question from the perspective of a canonist. That a person who departs from Holy Church sins in doing so is not our primary concern - it is the fact of the departure that we are interested to establish.
  4. Judgements concerning who are the members of the Church are capable of being made with "moral certainty." This is the most perfect certainty which can be established in matters involving the moral (or "practical") order - that is, matters in which men's wills are essential. Moral certainty is both sufficient and necessary to achieve as the foundation upon which morally safe actions can be based. The judgement as to whether someone is a Catholic or not is a human act, and is governed by moral laws. (Here we are discussing moral certainty in the strict sense, which is distinguished from the "moral certainty" which amounts to a very high probability, discussed by moralists in manuals.)
  5. Judgements are made by the intellect and are based upon known data. The data are therefore distinct from the judgement, and must not be confused with it. Of course a judgement, once made, can become data for a subsequent judgement, but that is a separate point.
  6. Judgements that are certain are formed on the basis of "clear" data. Therefore, if any element essential to the formation of a judgement is unclear, certainty cannot be achieved. Canonically, a crime can be notorious in law or notorious in fact. A crime that is notorious in law is one upon which a competent judge has passed judgement, or to which the guilty party has confessed in court. A crime which is notorious in fact is one which is publicly known and cannot be concealed (CIC 2197). In either case, the crime is clear. Obviously something which is notorious is at least potentially clear to all. But things may be clear to one or some which are not notorious, or even public, or indeed, known by any other person at all. Thus the fact that Karol Wojtyla is a heretic and not pope is clear to many, but to many others it is not clear.
  7. The purpose of a public judgement is to make clear what is otherwise possibly unclear. In other words, when a Roman Tribunal (for example) declares someone a heretic it does not make that person a heretic, but merely makes the fact clear to any to whom it was not previously clear - whether they be few or many. Thus, a man may judge that another is a heretic, and in accordance with divine law, he would be obliged to avoid same. But a third party may not, for whatever reasons, be able to see clearly that the "heretic" really is so. The third party is not obliged to avoid the heretic. However, once a public judgement is issued, all are obliged to treat the heretic as a heretic, because what was possibly unclear, at least to some, is now clear to all. What must be grasped is that a person is either a Catholic or they are not, and judgements, private or public, do not make any difference to this fact. They merely set up obligations with respect to the relationship a Catholic has with the man adjudged a heretic.
  8. Judgements made by individuals are sufficient and necessary for their own safety, but cannot become the basis upon which others are required to act. They are "sufficient" for moral safety when made diligently and in good faith, and are morally certain. Such judgements, and more particularly the reasons for them, may assist others to see a fact clearly which was hitherto unclear. However they lack the binding force of a public judgement, and consequently cannot set up an obligation that they be accepted on authority. In brief, they have no "authority" for anyone other than their author.
  9. A man baptised and raised in the Catholic Church remains a member until he visibly departs from her. A man may leave the Church either voluntarily or involuntarily. Involuntary departure may take place in one of two ways; if one were to strike the Roman Pontiff, one would automatically become an excommunicate vitandus (to be avoided), or if one were to be declared an excommunicate vitandus by Rome. Neither of these remains a possibility at present. Heresy, schism, or apostasy achieves voluntary departure from Holy Church. All three must be outwardly manifested to have the effect of severing one from membership in Holy Church.
  10. Crimes of heresy, schism and apostasy consist of an inward act outwardly manifested. The mere act of speaking heresy, for example, does not prove that the person responsible is a heretic. There must be in the external forum both the material and the formal elements, viz. the intellectual acceptance of false doctrine and the conscious adherence to it of the pertinacious will. This applies equally to schism. "…in the moral, as in the physical order, the species is not constituted by that which is accidental. Now, in the moral order, the essential is that which is intended, and that which results beside the intention, is, as it were, accidental…Accordingly schismatics properly so called are those who, wilfully and intentionally separate themselves from the unity of the Church…" (S. Th. II-II, Q. 39, Art. 1). Apostasy seems to differ somewhat, in that the very act of outwardly renouncing Christ entirely is at one and the same time the matter of apostasy and - for anyone raised in the faith of his baptism - clear evidence of a perverse will. What must be manifested before a sound judgement of heresy or schism can be made, therefore, is the intent to separate from the unity of faith or the unity of charity (government).
  11. Pertinacity is proved when it is clear that a person knows that he goes contrary to Holy Church. Canonists define pertinacity ("intent") as the knowing adherence to false doctrine or to a non-Catholic sect. Consequently there is no need to prove malice, per se. An example:- all Catholics know that the Anglican sect is not part of the Catholic Church. Thus anybody publicly joining it would be rightly judged a formal schismatic (and heretic).
  12. The failure by a Catholic to refuse communion with a non-Catholic is not necessarily a crime of schism. Schism is the rejection of the authority of the Roman Pontiff or the refusal to remain in communion with those who are subject to him (cf. CIC 1325:2). Hence, it is possible, and in fact lamentably common at present, for Catholics to remain "in communion with" non-Catholics, on the erroneous basis that they are fellow-Catholics. Clearly if the intent which constitutes pertinacity is lacking, then there is no basis for a judgement of schism.
  13. In the absence of an authoritative judgement, heresy is often easier to identify than schism. In the case of heresy, the matter is a doubt or denial of a doctrine that must be believed with divine and Catholic faith. And such doctrines have, by definition, been taught clearly by Holy Church. In other words, the doubt or denial of anything not clearly taught as revealed is not matter for heresy. Identifying a true heretic therefore becomes a relatively straightforward matter. "A man that is a heretic after the first or second admonition avoid." (Tit. 3, 10) In other words, once it is clear that a man knows that his beliefs differ from those of Holy Church, he is prudently judged to be a formal (i.e. a true) heretic. In the case of schism, various difficulties may present themselves. Even in times when the See of Rome is occupied, schism may not be able to be judged with moral certitude until a public judgement is issued - this can also apply to heresy, if the doctrinal contradiction is for some reason unclear. "First, this separation must involve rebellion against the pope in spiritual matters and insofar as he exercises his pontifical power. Hence it would not be enough to refuse obedience in some particular precept, such as regarding fasting or annual confession; for one is not rebellious against a prince for violating a single law, but only for shaking off the yoke and refusing submission to him." (De Lugo, Disputationes Scholasticae et Morales, De Virtute Fidei Divinae, Disp. XXV, Sect. III, nn.35-38). We see that even a rebellion against the pope himself may not clearly constitute schism. In the present circumstances Catholics face even greater difficulties - we have no authority which can make clear what is unclear.
  14. The papacy exists precisely to safeguard unity. "In order that the whole host of the faithful may remain in unity of faith and communion He placed St. Peter over the other Apostles and instituted in him both a perpetual principle of unity and a visible foundation." (Vatican Council - Denz. 1821.) Consequently, during any extended vacancy of the Holy See, which coincides with widespread heresy and schism, the unity of Holy Church is less apparent. Her essential unity remains - indeed must remain - but accidentally her unity is diminished. This is a fact that we witness at present, and a natural and inevitable consequence of Satan's masterstroke in bringing about the current vacancy.
  15. Charity covers a multitude of sins. St. Augustine ("On Baptism Against the Donatists" Bk 1), first quotes St. Paul, "Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing" to prove that it is necessary for supernatural life to remain in the unity of Holy Church ("in the bond of charity"). Then he speaks as follows: "And yet, if within the Church different men still held different opinions on the point, without meanwhile violating peace, then till some one clear and simple decree should have been passed by an universal Council, it would have been right for the charity which seeks for unity to throw a veil over the error of human infirmity, as it is written 'For charity covers a multitude of sins.' For, seeing that its absence causes the presence of all other things to be of no avail, we may well suppose that in its presence there is found pardon for the absence of some missing things." (Emphasis added.)

What should be obvious from these considerations is that stupidity and/or ignorance do not make one a non-Catholic. Drawing some conclusions from these considerations, then, allows us to develop a clear picture of the state of Holy Church at present. The following are some of the conclusions that seem clear to me.

  1. Karol Wojtyla is certainly a public heretic, and therefore a non-Catholic, and not pope. Both the matter and the form of heresy are clearly evident in the external forum. Pertinacity is clear from his treatment of orthodox opponents, and from the fact that he is highly trained in theology, which eliminates ignorance as an excuse. It is obligatory upon those who recognise this to avoid him.
  2. People who believe that Karol Wojtyla is pope are not for that reason necessarily non-Catholics. This is because it is possible for a Catholic to be mistaken about this in good faith. Holy Church has not passed a public judgement on the matter, and some theologians have taught that a public heretic could be pope until such time as a public judgement is passed. Hence at least one element of the data required to form a certain judgement that such people have departed from Holy Church may be unclear.
  3. The clergy who accept (at least) Karol Wojtyla's more obvious heresies are to be regarded as non-Catholics. This is the case because those who accept heresies such as religious liberty, ecumenism, universal salvation, are accepting the contrary of what Holy Church has clearly taught and practiced. It should be kept in view that our judgements may be mistaken, but that does not mean we ought not to make them. "There are two kinds of judgement, that of God and that of men. God judges the inner man; whereas man can only judge of the inner thoughts as they are reflected by outer actions, as is admitted in the third of these arguments. Now he who is a heretic in the judgement of God is truly and actually a heretic; for God judges no one as a heretic unless he has some wrong belief concerning the faith in his understanding. But when a man is a heretic in the judgement of men, he need not necessarily be actually a heretic; but because his deeds give an appearance of a wrong understanding of the faith he is, by legal presumption, considered to be a heretic." Malleus Maleficarum, James Sprenger & Heinrich Kramer, English ed. The Pushkin Press, London, 1951, p. 200 (Emphasis added). In other words, while it may be true that certain apparent heretics are in fact innocent before God, we cannot presume this innocence. "A man that is a heretic after the first or second admonition avoid." (Tit. 3, 10).


John Lane
June 27, 1999
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, and
Feast of Our Mother of Perpetual Succour.


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