Thursday, June 16, 2011

Material v Formal Heresy

Continued from: (and I make a new posting for 2 reasons, 1) the response is getting a bit long and 2) John’s focus has NOT been on what the main point of the earlier posting was about.

John wrote:
Thank you for your response. I do believe I understand the distinction between material and formal heresy. The matter of heresy is holding to a false belief, while the form of heresy is denial of an authority. You can have the matter of heresy (be a modalist) without the form (only because no one has properly explained the Trinity). In that light, from a Roman perspective I would think I would be a formal heretic.

Well, I don’t believe you’ve quite got the concept here.  Matter v. form is a bit different from material v. formal.  The matter and form are things usually applied to a Sacrament... the matter being that which is used for the Sacrament - the form being the words used.  A material heretic is one who may espouse an heretical position unknowingly - while a formal heretic knows what he professes is contrary to the church (and that would be to the church he claims adherence to, e.g., a Catholic knowingly denying defined dogma - in some fundamentalist communities the acceptance of Infant Baptism or Baptism without full immersion would be considered heretical see:

I like the following explanation of matter v. form and a comparison to material v. formal - the terms ARE similar, but not the same:
Every material object exists by virtue of the union of two elements - the stuff it is made of (matter) and the shape the stuff is made in (form). Thus a wine-glass is made out of glass - its matter; but that alone is not sufficient to make it a vessel suitable for drinking wine from; it also needs its form - the shape of a wine-glass.

Scholastic philosophy has taken the distinction of the two constituent elements of natural objects, and applied it, by extension or analogy, to other entities. Its best known theological application is to sin. Each sin is said to consist of its matter (the physical act) and its form (the disordered act of the will). And this application is very useful because it facilitates recognition of the cases in which the matter of the sin is not accompanied by its form. Thus a man who shoots his neighbour has performed the physical act proper to the sin of murder. But if he had blamelessly mistaken his neighbour for a wild animal, his intention was not disorderly. The matter of the sin was present, but not its form. We have come to say that such a man has sinned materially, but not formally. But what that really means is that he is not guilty of sin at all, for in the absence of the formal element, no entity can exist. A material sin is not really, or fully, a sin, any more than a pane of glass is a drinking vessel until it is molded to the shape of one.
In short, while you COULD be a material heretic (the pane of glass) you could not be a FORMAL heretic (the drinking vessal) without be "molded to the shape" of a FORMAL CATHOLIC prior to your FORMAL denial of Catholicism.  That being said, I do believe you're on iffy ground since you're obviously not wholly ignorant of Catholic teaching.  Whether or not your ignorance of particulars could be judged as invincible ignorance would be solely God's judgment of you, not mine.
(Minor edits made on 6/20/2011 to the above explanation and comment.)

From the CE:

The impelling motives are many: intellectual pride or exaggerated reliance on one's own insight; the illusions of religious zeal; the allurements of political or ecclesiastical power; the ties of material interests and personal status; and perhaps others more dishonourable. Heresy thus willed is imputable to the subject and carries with it a varying degree of guilt; it is called formal, because to the material error it adds the informative element of "freely willed".

By the way, as I think I mentioned, I looked at a ton of stuff, not just the current catechism. However, the current catcehism is the one on the Vatican's webpage, so I figured it would be most authoritative and most suited to this purpose.

Again, NO catechism is “official” Catholic teaching.  EVERY catechism is the contemporary explanation OF Church teaching.  A catechism may CITE official Catholic teaching, so it may CONTAIN what you’re looking for, but as a whole - it should be considered a TOOL to learn about Catholic teaching - but look to the footnotes of what is being explained if you want to get to the bottom of “official” statements.

If I had known I could quote from sedevacantist sources, BTW, I would have done so with relish.

Irrelevant to the point at hand.  Even sedevacantists get many things right, but I should have been more careful to cite from a site more in communion with the Catholic Church.  Mea culpa.

For instance, the site you quoted from (and which kept coming up in my searches) has this to say on whether ignorance excuses:

"In other words, Protestants, Nestorians, etc., must be presumed responsible for their external acts in violation of the law of the Church, until and unless the contrary is proven. Consequently, when they formally joined their sect, or publicly lived in accordance with its tenets and its practices, they are presumed to have incurred this juridical infamy, along with the general excommunication for heresy." (The Delict of Heresy, p. 54.)

First off - the primary audience here would be one who LEFT the Catholic Faith and “joined” the heretical sect.  

Anyway, yes, my entire focus is on that last line, because the last line is the part that is dishonest.

Then, as I said - you missed the point of all that led up to that last line (which is one of the reasons I've started this new posting).

Of course there are different denominations. We all already knew that. I don't consider a plurality of denominations to be necessarily a bad thing, so long as they are united by common love. The diversity of opinion amongst Protestants really is not any broader than among Roman Catholics, in my humble experience.

As I pointed out earlier in this response, some fundamentalists consider other Christians to be heretical due to the fact that they either baptize infants or don’t baptize by full immersion.  Yes, many Protestants peacefully co-exist, but many do not.  As for “Roman Catholics” - those who would reject the Bishop of Rome are not “Roman Catholics.”

While disagreement on particulars may damage charity, it doesn't have to damage charity, especially for something so plainly trivial as whether your branch of the Ordinary Baptist Church of God reformed in 1879 or 1917. I doubt I'd even be able to recognize the difference in creeds between those two sub-denominations. Heck, I didn't even know there were that many flavors of Baptist, and where I live Baptist churches are as common as gas stations.

I don’t know about those two particular sects of Baptist - but I do know there are quite a variety of Baptists - and some utterly reject others who call themselves “Baptist.”  Since I was not formerly a Baptist, and cathmom5 was - I’ll let her speak for some of those distinctions.

The main point of contention that I have found in Baptist circles is over how God works in choosing us and us choosing him - which I am told is an issue also with no final determination from RC authorities on the exact mechanics.

Again, I’ll let cathmom5 point out some more distinctions between Baptists (some of which have already been pointed out) where they would fight and even condemn each other.

I'm not sure how you define "schism", or if the catechism's definition has any meaningful application to Protestantism. Some Christians meet in buildings with different signs and that operate under different organizational structures - that doesn't make me consider them "outsiders".

A schism is a separation where a parallel church has been set up with an authority which differs from the one schismed from.  ALL of Protestantism holds to a different authority than Catholicism.  ALL of Protestantism represents differing parallel churches (some perpendicular!) to the One, True Church which Jesus Christ founded and explicitly expressed His desire and that of the Father that we be ONE just as He and the Father are One.  All Protestantism is in heretical schism, but that does not make all Protestants formal heretics. 

Anyway, thank you again for (y)our response and for being very patient with me.

In Christ,

And I thank you for giving me the opportunity to respond to you.  I pray that God guides you on your journey to all truth.


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