Heresies That Prevent a Culture of Life
By Brian Murphy
Perhaps for many, the word “Heresy” conjures up images of the first phony trial of Joan of Arc (who was later redeemed posthumously at a second trial) or images of some of the corrupt, cruel and unjust rulings of the Inquisition. Some may conclude that heresy is outdated or anachronistic. However, throughout the history of the Church, heresy has really been an important subject for Saints and Church authorities alike. That is because heresy is so damaging. One may say that suicide voluntarily destroys the body while apostasy voluntarily destroys the soul. In a like manner, on a much larger scale, war destroys bodies and heresy destroys souls. The point of this simplified comparison is simply to show that heresy is on par with war as a spiritual evil to be overcome. The Church has always considered heresy to be a dangerous pervasive enemy capable of subverting the souls of the entire Church community. In our time, it behooves us to resurrect the word heresy. I see three major heresies from the world that have invaded and reached full bloom inside the Catholic Church.
heresy is the Primacy of Conscience Heresy. This heresy says that every
individual has the right, if not the complete obligation, to nullify, or change
the moral law according to his conscience and to apply that change not only to
his own life but to the public arena. The truth is that man is forbidden by God
to nullify or change the moral law.
heresy is the Contraception Heresy. It says that contraception is
necessary, good and that it leads to greater personal freedom and more financial
stability in one’s life. The truth is that it does just the opposite. The
Contraception Heresy derives its energy from the Primacy of Conscience Heresy.
Even though God says that contraception is evil, in our culture man uses the
Primacy of Conscience Heresy to over-step his limit on freedom and declare that
contraception is good. Rebellious men become duped into thinking that
contraception is good. This flawed reasoning is based on his superficial
perception of various criteria: 1) The difficulty of remaining chaste 3) False
notions of what is needed to maintain a stable marital relationship. 2) The
burdensome nature of life 3) A false understanding of what makes good economics
3) False notions of the need for population control.
heresy is the Right-To-Murder Heresy. It derives its energy from the
first and second heresies above. It teaches that one has the right to kill
unborn children as well as the infirm and those deemed useless or too expensive
for society to maintain. It’s baffling that such a heresy even exists, given
the obvious horrible insult that it inflicts on humanity – millions of murders.
“Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same.” CCC 2089. In essence, a heresy is the denial of a dogma. So, to understand heresy, one must first explain the meaning of dogmas.
A dogma is a truth of divine and Catholic faith. Divine faith is directly and principally, either implicitly or explicitly contained in Sacred Scripture or Sacred Tradition. Catholic faith is the teaching which is formally, directly and principally proposed by the Magisterium as definitive and binding on all faithful. Stated another way, dogmas are directly supported by divine revelation and by the teaching authority of the Magisterium. (See the Catechism of the Catholic Church #88-95, and the Codex of Canon Law #747 to 755). Dogmas are the more substantial elements of our religion. Dogmas are infallible. Dogmas may be elements of faith or elements of the moral law. The lists below are not complete but offer some examples of dogmas:
1. The tenets of the Apostle’s creed (e.g. Jesus rose from the dead; Jesus is divine.)
2. The Immaculate Conception of Mary
By contrast, a few examples of beliefs that are important but are not dogmas are:
Consequently, open rebellion against legal immigration because of bigoted fear of aliens is sinful but is not heresy. The Primacy of Conscience Heresy directly contradicts a dogma. The dogma that it contradicts is a very important one - neither, man, woman nor the Magisterium may nullify, or change the moral law. This dogma is defined and taught in several places. For example, the natural law is “immutable and eternal.” CCC 1956. The Ten Commandments are “fundamentally immutable and they oblige always and everywhere.” CCC 2072. Even though the Ten Commandments are an image of the future and must be fulfilled through the new covenant of the Holy Spirit, they cannot be changed. The words of Christ sum up the Church’s mission and man’s role: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations… teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:18). The mission of the Church is to teach what Christ commanded. If she did otherwise, she would be unfaithful to Christ. The Church cannot change what Christ commanded. Neither can an individual, if he/she wishes to remain righteous and faithful to Christ. Doctrine can develop and evolve to become more clearly expressed, but it cannot be created or altered in its fundamental meaning. Culture can change, requiring new ways to express the truth, but the truth does not change.
“This is the reason why "the Church affirms that underlying so many changes there are some things which do not change and are ultimately founded upon Christ, who is the same yesterday and today and for ever". Veritatis Splendor #53.
The Church can formulate applications of moral principals to new circumstances but is forbidden to create new moral principals or nullify or change existing ones. The Church cannot and will not change a moral principal.
Primacy of Conscience Heresy
In order for a teaching or belief to be a heresy (heretical), it must simply and directly contradict a dogma. The Primacy of Conscience Heresy is a heresy because it simply and directly opposes the dogma that man is not permitted to nullify, formulate or change the moral law. The term “Primacy of Conscience” does not mean judgment of conscience, (which is permitted). It does not mean obedience to conscience or to choose according to one’s conscience, which is necessary for a healthy Christian life. It does not simply refer to the importance of conscience. The Church supports the importance of conscience, exhorts man to follow his conscience and even declares that man should not be prevented by external factors from obeying his conscience. (CCC Article 6 of Part III Life In Christ.) However, the Primacy of Conscience Heresy goes much further. To understand its full implication, it is necessary to look at the meaning of the word “primacy” in our culture and our time. The word “primacy,” according to Webster’s Dictionary means the state of being first in order, rank or importance. It means chief. So, the meaning of Primacy of Conscience goes much further than just freeing one’s conscience to act in accord with the demands of human dignity. Primacy of Conscience is a heresy because it purports to place one’s conscience first in rank. It is placed first before the Word of God, the Magisterium, the long-standing teaching of the Church and the witness or advice of others. With this doctrine, conscience ranks first before the moral law with the inevitable intent to nullify or alter the moral law. That makes Primacy of Conscience heretical.
Pope John Paul II writes about this elevation of conscience to first rank in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor:
“Certain currents of modern thought have gone so far as to exalt freedom to such an extent that it becomes an absolute, which would then be the source of values. This is the direction taken by doctrines which have lost the sense of the transcendent or which are explicitly atheist. The individual conscience is accorded the status of a supreme tribunal of moral judgment which hands down categorical and infallible decisions about good and evil. To the affirmation that one has a duty to follow one's conscience is unduly added the affirmation that one's moral judgment is true merely by the fact that it has its origin in the conscience. But in this way the inescapable claims of truth disappear, yielding their place to a criterion of sincerity, authenticity and "being at peace with oneself", so much so that some have come to adopt a radically subjectivistic conception of moral judgment…” Veritatis Splendor #32
“…In the Book of Genesis we read: "The Lord God commanded the man, saying, 'You may eat freely of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die' " (Gen 2:16-17).
With this imagery, Revelation teaches that the power to decide what is good and what is evil does not belong to man, but to God alone. The man is certainly free, inasmuch as he can understand and accept God's commands. And he possesses an extremely far-reaching freedom, since he can eat "of every tree of the garden." But his freedom is not unlimited: it must halt before the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil", for it is called to accept the moral law given by God. In fact, human freedom finds its authentic and complete fulfillment precisely in the acceptance of that law. God, who alone is good, knows perfectly what is good for man, and by virtue of his very love proposes this good to man in the commandments.”
“God's law does not reduce, much less do away with human freedom; rather, it protects and promotes that freedom. In contrast, however, some present-day cultural tendencies have given rise to several currents of thought in ethics which centre upon an alleged conflict between freedom and law. These doctrines would grant to individuals or social groups the right to determine what is good or evil. Human freedom would thus be able to "create values" and would enjoy a primacy over truth, to the point that truth itself would be considered a creation of freedom. Freedom would thus lay claim to a moral autonomy which would actually amount to an absolute sovereignty.” Veritatis Splendor #35.
Pope John Paul II did not declare the heresy of Primacy of Conscience but he clearly laid the ground work for others to do so. The need to make this declaration is driven by events in our culture and our time. Primacy of Conscience is being used to thwart the moral law on a grand scale. It feeds two other heresies – the Contraception Heresy and the Right-To-Murder Heresy which are destroying humanity on a scale that is unprecedented in human history.
Examples of the Primacy of Conscience Heresy
The Contraception Heresy simply and directly contradicts a dogma. The dogma is that “it is necessary that each and every marriage act remain ordered per se to the procreation of human life.” CCC 2366. Direct sterilization or contraception is evil. CCC 2370. This dogma is infallible. Many Catholics are confused into thinking that this doctrine is not infallible because it was never pronounced “Ex Cathedra.” “Ex Cathedra” means from the chair of Peter and is a modality in which the Pope, on his own, may make a formal pronouncement of doctrine that is infallible. The doctrine of the “Immaculate Conception” was made by Pope Pius IX in this manner. However, most dogmas have not been pronounced “Ex Cathedra” yet all remain infallible because they have been proclaimed on numerous occasions by the Magisterium. This is the more conventional route for the faithful to receive the gift of infallible truth.
One does not have to look far to uncover the contraception heresy. It is practiced by a majority of baptized Catholics throughout the U.S.A., Canada, Europe and many other countries.
The Right-To-Murder Heresy
The Right-To-Murder Heresy simply and directly contradicts a dogma. The dogma that it contradicts is one of the Ten Commandments – “Thou shalt not kill.” The heresy has its greatest influence over those who support, promote or carry out abortions. The dogma has been expounded upon by the Church many times and in many ways. “Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed as either an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law.” CCC 2271 The Right-To-Murder Heresy uses the Primacy of Conscience Heresy to change this moral law. The heresy then proceeds with vigor in the public arena to promote the “right” to abortion, or euthanasia and to obstinately resist every effort to restrict the wide scale murder of human beings through abortion and euthanasia.
In our culture and our time, three heresies can be named – the Primacy of Conscience Heresy, the Contraception Heresy and the Right-To-Murder Heresy. All three contradict in a simple and direct manner, established dogmas of the Catholic Church. All three impede the development of a culture of life. They promote a culture of death. Examples abound in speech and in actions in the public square around the world where these three heresies are promoted by baptized Catholics very publicly and in a very obstinate manner. Finally, to quote the Catholic Encyclopedia, “Heresy, being a deadly poison generated within the organism of the Church, must be ejected if she is to live and perform her task of continuing Christ's work of salvation.”
I would like to thank Fr. Matthew Habiger, PhD, OSB whose doctorate is in moral theology, and Abbot Charles Wright, OSB, for suggestions that were incorporated into this article.
Coto de Caza, CA
November 11, 2008
Contact the Chairman, Brian Murphy with questions or comments.