How To Recognize Schismatics, Heretics, Apostates, Blasphemers

A heretic is someone who obstinately doubts or obstinately denies a formal dogma. And formal dogmas are the truths of divine revelation (Tradition and Scripture) taught infallibly by the Roman Catholic Magisterium under Papal Infallibility, or Conciliar Infallibility, or the ordinary and universal Magisterium. This doubt or denial often takes the form of adherence to an idea that contradicts or is entirely incompatible with said dogma.

“Canon 751: “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; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”

Canon 1364, n. 1: “an apostate from the faith, a heretic, or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication””

1. The indefectibility of the Church

Jesus: “And I say to you, that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” [Matthew 16:18]

“Under his [the Pope’s] protecting shield, this Apostolic Church of his has never turned away from the path of truth in any direction of error.” [Pope Saint Agatho, Letter accepted into the acts of the Sixth Ecumenical Council]

The Ordinary and universal Magisterium also teaches this dogma, that the Church is indefectible and therefore can never go astray.

ANYONE who claims that the Church has gone astray, or taught grave errors, or erred gravely in discipline, or been infiltrated at the level of Popes or Councils, or that a Pope is leading the Church or his flock astray, or that a Pope is teaching grave error, or that a Pope is enacting grave error in discipline, or that a Pope is a heretic, schismatic, or apostate, along with anyone whose ideas are not compatible with a Church that has never and will never go astray “in any direction of error” is a heretic.

Formal heresy is not the same as actual mortal sin. The latter requires full knowledge and full deliberation in a grave matter of sin. The former only requires that the Catholic Christian know that the Church teaches the truth dogmatically. And if a person does not know, and is subsequently informed of the dogma, they have a grave moral obligation to consider the matter, learn the dogma, and then adhere to it.

A person can commit formal heresy by omission, as in the attitude: “I’m not going to learn what the Church teaches on what I’m told is a dogma, as that might cause me embarrassment, humiliation, and loss.” This happens frequently in theological arguments. The person defends their position and refuses to even engage the argument that they are contradicting a dogma. They simply repeat their own thinking again and again, while ignoring Church teaching. Such an act is always culpable.

2. The indefectibility of the Pope

Each Pope has the gift of truth and a never-failing faith. The head of the Church is the Roman Pontiff, in whom the charism of infallibility of the Church itself is individually present. The gifts to him of truth, that is, of immunity from error and of a never-failing faith are given to his person, not only to his office.

It is dogma that the Pope has these two gifts. And since the prevenient grace of God can be resisted by no one, he cannot contradict these gifts by any teaching, by any decision of discipline, nor by committing apostasy, heresy, or schism — not even hidden in his heart and mind. He freely takes up his office, and he may freely lay it down. But while he is the Roman Pontiff, he can never lead the Church astray, teach grave error on faith or morals, or make gravely harmful decisions under the temporal authority of the Church. Neither can the Pope ever be a heretic, schismatic, or apostate, regardless of the circumstances or explanation.

The claim that the Pope can teach or commit heresy, and as a result lose his office as Pope, making the grave error not of the Roman Pontiff, is false and heretical. The gifts of truth and a never-failing faith would be useless and deserving of derision if the Pope could gravely contradict such gifts by ceasing to be Pope.

The gift of immunity from error is two-fold. The Pope cannot err at all when teaching infallibly under any of the three modes of infallibility or when issuing a decision of dogmatic fact. When he is not speaking or acting infallibly, the Pope is free from every type of grave error on doctrine and discipline. And since these gifts are given to the person of the Pope, not merely to his office, the immunity from grave error extends even to his theological opinions, whether written, spoken, or reserved to his heart and mind. Only substantially limited errors are possible.

WHOSOEVER says otherwise is a heretic and a schismatic. He is a heretic for contradicting the dogma of truth and a never-failing faith (Vatican I). He is a schismatic because anyone who believes the Pope has erred gravely or failed in faith certainly does not then submit his mind and heart to the Roman Pontiff as Teacher and Shepherd over his soul.

It is not enough to avoid schism to say that you acknowledge Pope Francis as the Pope, or that you love the Church and wish to defend Her (against Her own teachings, Her own Head, and the body of Bishops no less!). You must accept the teachings and decisions of Pope Francis and accept him personally as your Teacher and your Shepherd. ANYONE who takes the role of correcting the Roman Pontiff, opposing or resisting him, or attacking him with insults, malice, derision, or contempt is in a state of formal schism.

“Moreover, that every human creature is to be subject to the Roman pontiff, we declare, we state, we define, and we pronounce to be entirely from the necessity of salvation.” [Unam Sanctam, 1302; Fifth Lateran Council, 1512-1517]

MOST OF THE PAPAL ACCUSERS are already in a state of formal schism and formal heresy.

3. The indefectibility of the body of Bishops

Only as a body, and not as individual Church leaders, the Bishops have the gifts of truth and a never-failing faith. And this was taught by Christ himself:

{22:32} But I have prayed for you, so that your faith may not fail, and so that you, once converted, may confirm your brothers.”

The faith of Peter and his successors cannot fail because of the prayer of Jesus (which gives each Pope the necessary prevenient grace of God). But part of the purpose of this gift is so that the Pope can unfailingly lead the body of Bishops, and as a result, they too are confirmed in truth and in faith. Thus the body of Bishops can participate in the infallibility of the Magisterium by Conciliar Infallibility or the ordinary and universal Magisterium, and can participate in the infallibility of the temporal authority by issuing dogmatic facts; they are free from any grave errors when not teaching or acting infallibly; and they cannot, as a body, commit apostasy, heresy, or schism. But all this is true only in so far as the Bishops accept and follow the Roman Pontiff as their head. Individual Bishops can commit apostasy, heresy, or schism, and by doing so they lose the gift and role to act as successors to the Apostles.

What if someone were to claim, by telling a dramatic sensational fable (cf. 2 Tim 4:4), that the election of a Roman Pontiff was invalid? St. Robert Bellarmine teaches us that even if an election is invalid, when the elected putative Pope is accepted as Roman Pontiff by the body of Bishops, he then becomes validly elected and becomes the valid Roman Pontiff. For the Church is indefectible, and therefore She can never have a body of Bishops who go astray by accepting a false Pope, nor can She ever have a false Pope as her Head. False claimants to the papacy rise up from time to time, but they are never accepted by the body of Bishops due to the prevenient grace of the Holy Spirit.

IF ANYONE claims that the body of Bishops or most Bishops (or a percentage of Bishops greater than about a third) have gone astray in doctrine or discipline, or by committing apostasy, heresy, or schism, that person commits the sin of formal schism. For to avoid schism the faithful must not only submit to the Roman Pontiff, but also to the body of Bishop who are in communion with him.

In addition, ANYONE who puts himself above the Pope or above the body of Bishops (other than the Pope, obviously) is guilty of formal schism as no one has the role to judge the Roman Pontiff, and only the Roman Pontiff may judge the body of Bishops.

Apostasy and Blasphemy

Apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith. However, a Catholic Christian can commit apostasy while still claiming to be Christian. As an example, there was a news story years ago about a Catholic priest in Australia who was passing around a tract he wrote proposing that perhaps Jesus was merely a man, and not divine at all. Such a claim is both heresy, as it contradicts dogma, and schism, and apostasy, as the Christian faith would be false and erroneous, almost in its entirety, if Jesus were merely human.

Similarly, if ANYONE says that the Catholic Church, which is led by the Roman Pontiff and founded on the body of Bishops with him as their head, has become a “new Church” or has gone astray across multiple successive Popes, or that even a single one of her Ecumenical Councils is false or erroneous, or that the Church has been infiltrated at the highest levels by Satan or evil or an evil conspiracy or a secular conspiracy or the like, such a person is guilty of schism, heresy and apostasy. For the Church is the Christian Faith. There is no Christian faith without the Church. And if the Church or Her Popes or the body of Bishops led by the Pope in an Ecumenical Council (or in the ordinary and universal Magisterium) had ever gone astray, the whole of the faith would be untrustworthy and lost.

But in addition to those sins of apostasy, heresy, and schism, the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is committed by ANYONE who claims that the Church has been infiltrated at the level of Popes or a Council by Satan or evil or freemasons or any person/group who are non-Christians. For the Church is the body of Christ, with Christ as Her head and with the Holy Spirit as her soul and her sure guide. The Church is Christ and is enlivened by the Holy Spirit. The claim of infiltration by any type of evil is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit as well as apostasy, heresy, and schism.

The Schism and the great Apostasy

The conservative Catholic schism is close to full bloom. While denying there is a schism, they accuse the Pope of heresy, the reject Vatican II and the recent Popes, they accuse the Church of having been infiltrated by evil, and they utterly reject anything the Church says or does which contradicts their own minds. They are the figurative freemasons who are threatening to destroy the indefectible Church. They are the ones, not any Pope or Council, who are attempt to lead the Church into grave errors. They are spiritual communists, who think that authority in the Church should be overthrown (as political communists overthrew authorities in several nations) and who think that the majority opinion of conservatives should rule over the Church, the Pope, and the body of Bishops.

This schism is accompanied by many severe heresies, and the heresies were being spread well before Pope Francis was elected. Their sins of pride precede Francis, so the schism cannot be blamed on him. He simply brought it to light by offering the conservative leaders sound correction from proper authority in the Church.

Soon the conservative schismatics will depart from the Church, finally admitting that they have been schismatics and heretics for a long time. Then the schismatics will be scattered, as they will not have any Shepherd to guide them. As the end times begins, many will then fall away from Christianity altogether, being unable to endure suffering without the guidance of Popes and Councils. Some are already apostates, as described above.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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2 Responses to How To Recognize Schismatics, Heretics, Apostates, Blasphemers

  1. Rob says:

    What is the difference, in your opinion, between a “grave” and “substantially limited” error?

    • Ron Conte says:

      Grave errors harm the indefectibility of the Church, the path of salvation, or important questions of faith or morals. Substantially limited errors do not harm the faithful in their discipleship of Christ.

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