Reflecting on 21 Centuries of Faith

Catholic Name-Calling

muller-marxSocial Media has been all abuzz concerning the Extraordinary Synod on the Family and potential shenanigans among the Cardinals. Granted, it is obvious that certain delegations are taking full advantage of the open discussion and media sound bites. Unfortunately, without the full story, many in the blogosphere are throwing words around like heresy, schism, heretic, etc. Many times though, incorrectly. So, I thought that we could lay out some definitions to help us sort out the crazy from the correct.

At the core of our discussion is orthodoxy, which literally means, ‘right praise’. More specifically, we ant to consider those teachings and/or decisions that do not lead to right praise. Theses terms describe various forms of heterodoxy or unorthodoxy. Some kinds of heterodoxy are reserved for post-baptismal decisions; and, all may be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) in paragraphs 817-819, 839-848, and 2089. The Catholic Source Book names and defines the various kinds of unorthodoxy as,

1. An agnostic denies the knowability of God.

2. An apostate totally repudiates the Christian faith.

3. An atheist denies the existence of God.

4. A deist denies that God revealed any religion.

5. A heretic (Greek: one who chooses) is a baptized Christian who denies some of the truths taught by Jesus and proposed by the Church, adopting instead a personal creed.

6. An infidel (Latin: not faithful), formally referred to any non-Christian; now, if used at all, it refers to a professed atheist or agnostic.

7. A pagan (or “heathen”) referred to a person without faith; originally means a “non-convert,” not acknowledging the God of Judeo-Christian revelation, today it is used for an irreligious person. It is incorrect to use the term for people who practice a non-Christian religion.

8. A schismatic (Greek: skizein, to cut, split; a division) is a full believer in the Church who refuses submission to the authority of its vicarious, earthly head, the pope.

9. A theist believes in a supreme being who created and sustains all things, but does not necessarily accept the doctrine of the Trinity (the incarnation) or divine revelation.

Since the terms heresy and schism are being used daily, let’s make a further distinction: Heresy is an intellectual sin that stands against religious belief while schism is a volitional sin that offends the unity of Christian charity.[1]

Lastly, Fr. Klein defines the three prerequisites of formal heresy to include:

  1. Previous valid Baptism (Otherwise, the unorthodoxy would be paganism or a non-Christian religion.)
  2. Persistence of external profession of Christianity (Otherwise, the unorthodoxy would be apostasy.)
  3. Moral culpability: knowingly refusing a doctrinal imperative (Otherwise, the unorthodoxy would be material heresy.)

If you’re reading the blogs, now you know the correct terms. If you are a blogger, please remember the following two points for the sake of civility and truthfulness: 1. Use the correct term if you are going to engage in catholic name calling and 2. Attempt to rouse within yourself some manners and charity which are necessities in polite society. Why? Because of one of the scariest verses in Sacred Scripture – at least for myself,

I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”  (Matthew 12:36-37)


[1] (Klein 2000)

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