Augustine on heretics who separate from the Universal Church

Quapropter securus judicat orbis terrarum bonos non esse, qui se dividunt ab orbe terrarum, in quacumque parte orbis terrarum.
Augustine, Contra Epistulam Parmeniani, Book III, chap. 3

Literal translation:
Because of which the surety of the whole world judges to be not good, [those] who divide themselves from the whole world, into whatever part of the whole world.

The point here is that when a group separates itself from the whole Church, they are necessarily in the wrong. But here “the whole world” is not literally the universal Church. The term “orbis terrarum” is repeated many times in the Bible, in various forms, always referring to the whole world, not to the whole Church. In fact, it sometimes refers to the whole world as opposed to the Church. This would have been well known to Saint Augustine. So he could only have meant the whole world as an analogy; it is never a term for the universal Church (except here, as analogy).

In the analogy, when a small group separates itself from the whole rest of society, and goes out from that society into any part of the world (i.e. into any kind of separatist error), then that society will judge that this group and its separation to be not good. This would be particularly effective as an argument in Roman society, which held itself to be better than other societies, who were conquered and required to adopt the Roman way. The proof that the separatists are wrong would be found in the universal judgment of the society from which they separate. And while, in sinful secular society, this may or may not be true; it would have been accepted in the Roman world as an effective argument.

Applied by analogy to the Church, it means:

Therefore, the surety of the whole Church judges to be not good, those who divide themselves from the whole Church, into whatever [separated] part of the whole Church.

So schismatics think themselves to be part of the whole Church, but the whole Church judges with surety that it is not good to divide yourselves from the whole Church. And this is happening today with traditionalists, who reject the authority of any Pope or Council teaching or judging contrary to the decisions of their separatist movement. They reject the Novus Ordo Mass and concelebration. The refuse to receive Communion in the hand. They reject the authority of any Bishop who criticizes them or interferes with their separatist society in the least, and they refuse the authority of Popes and Councils over their subculture. They think they are the holiest part of the whole Church, but instead it is securely judged that it is not good for them to divide themselves from the rest of the Church.

Succinctly, it is never the correct path to reject most of the Church and instead claim that one small part is the true religion. And this is so because even during the future great apostasy, only at most a third of the Bishops, at most a third of the body of the faithful, can ever possibly fall away, even in that most dark of time (and always less than a third in any lesser time).

“And his tail drew down a third part of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth.” (Rev 12:4).

The argument of the traditionalists that now is the time of the great apostasy, and therefore the Pope and the vast majority of the body of Bishops and the vast majority of the faithful have gone astray is false, contrary to Scripture, heretical and manifestly schismatic. The Church, the Pope, every Ecumenical Council, and the body of Bishops dispersed in the world are each and all indefectible. (I said the body of Bishops, not each individual Bishop.)

By separating themselves from the recent Popes, recent Councils, almost all Bishops, almost all the faithful, and by assuming that they are right and the whole rest of the Church is wrong, even when that judgment of the whole rest of the Church is universal (e.g. the acceptance of Vatican II and of Pope Francis’ teaching and authority), they are proven to be schismatics, by definition. Neither the head of the Apostolic College, nor the Apostolic College with its head, can never be gravely wrong because the indefectible Church is one, holy, universal and apostolic.

This article was prompted by an erroneous translation with an error in the Latin at Rorate Caeli:
Their Latin: Securus iudicat orbem terrarum
Their translation: The judgment of the universal Church is sure

In the above Latin, orbem is accusative, making it the object, not the subject of the sentence. So it seemed like surety was judging the whole world. But the correct Latin is orbis terrarum (of the whole world), making the subject “the surety of the whole world”. Nothing in the Latin refers to the Church. Orbis terrarum is never the universal Church. It simply does not say that, and the many examples of its use in the Latin Vulgate to mean the whole world or the whole of human society, never to mean the whole Church, would have made it very unlikely that Augustine would call the universal Church by the term used for the world.

{4:5} Et duxit illum diabolus in montem excelsum, et ostendit illi omnia regna orbis terrae in momento temporis,
{4:5} And the devil led him onto a high mountain, and he showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time,

The devil tempted Christ by offering to Him all the kingdoms of the world (or whole world), clearly meaning the secular world as a bribe to not establish the Church. So orbis terrarum is not a term by Augustine for the whole Church.

In addition, the Church (especially when smaller in Her early days) divided Herself from the rest of the world and yet was right to do so. The world is not secure in judging the Church to be wrong for being a smaller group that is separated from the rest. So the statement (see the whole sentence above) only works by analogy.

Ronald L Conte Jr

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