Do you agree with Aquinas?


Summa Theologica Question 11: Heresy
Article 3. Whether heretics ought to be tolerated?

Objection 1. It seems that heretics ought to be tolerated. For the Apostle says (2 Timothy 2:24-25): “The servant of the Lord must not wrangle . . . with modesty admonishing them that resist the truth, if peradventure God may give them repentance to know the truth, and they may recover themselves from the snares of the devil.” Now if heretics are not tolerated but put to death, they lose the opportunity of repentance. Therefore it seems contrary to the Apostle’s command.

Objection 2. Further, whatever is necessary in the Church should be tolerated. Now heresies are necessary in the Church, since the Apostle says (1 Corinthians 11:19): “There must be . . . heresies, that they . . . who are reproved, may be manifest among you.” Therefore it seems that heretics should be tolerated.

Objection 3. Further, the Master commanded his servants (Matthew 13:30) to suffer the cockle “to grow until the harvest,” i.e. the end of the world, as a gloss explains it. Now holy men explain that the cockle denotes heretics. Therefore heretics should be tolerated.

On the contrary, The Apostle says (Titus 3:10-11): “A man that is a heretic, after the first and second admonition, avoid: knowing that he, that is such an one, is subverted.”

I answer that, With regard to heretics two points must be observed: one, on their own side; the other, on the side of the Church. On their own side there is the sin, whereby they deserve not only to be separated from the Church by excommunication, but also to be severed from the world by death. For it is a much graver matter to corrupt the faith which quickens the soul, than to forge money, which supports temporal life. Wherefore if forgers of money and other evil-doers are forthwith condemned to death by the secular authority, much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated but even put to death.

On the part of the Church, however, there is mercy which looks to the conversion of the wanderer, wherefore she condemns not at once, but “after the first and second admonition,” as the Apostle directs: after that, if he is yet stubborn, the Church no longer hoping for his conversion, looks to the salvation of others, by excommunicating him and separating him from the Church, and furthermore delivers him to the secular tribunal to be exterminated thereby from the world by death. For Jerome commenting on Galatians 5:9, “A little leaven,” says: “Cut off the decayed flesh, expel the mangy sheep from the fold, lest the whole house, the whole paste, the whole body, the whole flock, burn, perish, rot, die. Arius was but one spark in Alexandria, but as that spark was not at once put out, the whole earth was laid waste by its flame.”

Reply to Objection 1. This very modesty demands that the heretic should be admonished a first and second time: and if he be unwilling to retract, he must be reckoned as already “subverted,” as we may gather from the words of the Apostle quoted above.

Reply to Objection 2. The profit that ensues from heresy is beside the intention of heretics, for it consists in the constancy of the faithful being put to the test, and “makes us shake off our sluggishness, and search the Scriptures more carefully,” as Augustine states (De Gen. cont. Manich. i, 1). What they really intend is the corruption of the faith, which is to inflict very great harm indeed. Consequently we should consider what they directly intend, and expel them, rather than what is beside their intention, and so, tolerate them.

Reply to Objection 3. According to Decret. (xxiv, qu. iii, can. Notandum), "to be excommunicated is not to be uprooted." A man is excommunicated, as the Apostle says (1 Corinthians 5:5) that his “spirit may be saved in the day of Our Lord.” Yet if heretics be altogether uprooted by death, this is not contrary to Our Lord’s command, which is to be understood as referring to the case when the cockle cannot be plucked up without plucking up the wheat, as we explained above (10, 8, ad 1), when treating of unbelievers in general.

I agree, and disagree.

First, As I understand it, Aquinas is talking about someone who is *preaching *heresy, not some nut in his parents’ basement :wink: The preaching heretic is very much a danger to souls, and we ought to protect souls.

I think Aquinas was thinking more about the balance of danger rather than the actual application.

Second, if there is a way to prevent the danger to souls, then that way ought to be used rather than death.

Do you agree with this from Jesus?

“Whoever causes one of these little ones* who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

I agree with St. Thomas Aquinas. But, as St. Francis said, it is only applicable to leaders of heresy or “arch-heretics”, and they should only executed after the two admonitions of the Church and if it is necessary.

Obviously, his main argument in respect of death penalty for them is the analogy with forgery.

Now, I no longer see forgery as a problem to be solved by death penalty. So, analogy is no longer relevant.

Thank God for the separation of church and state.

First, I don’t think heretics should ordinarily be killed. Second, I do agree with St. Thomas, and I think he can be defended from the charge that he thought heretics should be killed as a rule, but I don’t think I know a complete way to defend him on this point just yet.

It seems to me that we must deal with several items in the Summa II-II:

#1. Question 11 Article 3 seems to say that heretics should not be tolerated: “they deserve not only to be separated from the Church by excommunication, but also to be severed from the world by death.” And: “much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated but even put to death.” And: “the Church…delivers [them] to the secular tribunal to be exterminated thereby from the world by death.”

#2. Question 10 Article 11 seems to say that heretics may sometimes be tolerated: “the Church, at times, has tolerated the rites even of heretics and pagans, when unbelievers were very numerous.” And: “[Their] rites…[may] be tolerated…in order to avoid an evil, e.g. the scandal or disturbance that might ensue, or some hindrance to the salvation of those who if they were unmolested might gradually be converted to the faith.”

#3. Question 10 Article 8 seems to say that pagans and Jews should ordinarily be tolerated: “[T]he heathens and the Jews…are by no means to be compelled to the faith, in order that they may believe, because to believe depends on the [free] will.” And: “Christ’s faithful…wage war with unbelievers, not indeed for the purpose of forcing them to believe, because even if they were to conquer them, and take them prisoners, they should still leave them free to believe, if they will.”

I think there are statements in each of those sections that seem, at first sight, to be in tension with one another. E.g. heretics should not be tolerated, but the Church tolerates them when they are very numerous “for example.” <-- That seems contradictory, at first glance, at least to me.

By reconciling the tensions that I think are there on the surface, and perhaps with other considerations, I think St. Thomas could be defended and it could be shown that he did not think heretics should ordinarily be killed, but only in exceptional circumstances that would be agreed to by the modern Church. (Or maybe St. Thomas simply got this wrong, which I suppose is also possible.)

A partial help re: #1, but not a complete help, comes from a distinction St. Thomas makes between what heretics deserve and what the Church actually does to them: “With regard to heretics two points must be observed… On their own side there is the sin, whereby they deserve…death…as soon as they are convicted of heresy… On the part of the Church, however, there is mercy which looks to the conversion of the wanderer, wherefore she condemns not at once, but after the first and second admonition.”

A summary of that would seem to be that, even though St. Thomas thinks there is a sense in which heretics deserve immediate death, yet the Church does not give them that, but gives them two chances to repent.

Still, that seems to make the Church complicit, in St. Thomas’ view, in killing at least heretics who don’t repent. So that’s not a complete defense. (BTW the reason I want a complete defense is not because I think St. Thomas is infallible, but because I think it is unlikely that he got this wrong, and I think it is more likely that we are misunderstanding him.)

Another thing that I think helps us understand #1 is in Question 11 Article 3 Response 3, one of the parts you bolded. Now, this is obviously in the section that defends the perspective that heretics should Not be tolerated. In answer to an objection, he refers to Question 10 Article 8 Response 1 for further explanation on why executing heretics is not contrary to the parable of the wheat and the weeds. But when you look at that section, it is only talking about Some cases: “when a man’s crime is so publicly known, and so hateful to all, that he has no defenders, or none such as might cause a schism, the severity of discipline should not slacken.”

In my opinion, that is a very limiting factor, and helps me reconcile some of the tension I see between #1 and #2. If St. Thomas in Question 11 Article 3 is defending the execution of the same kinds of heretics discussed in Question 10 Article 8, and there is evidence for that, then it seems that he is not referring to all heretics, because Question 10 Article 8 is not referring to all heretics (at least I don’t think it is), but only to ones who have no defenders, whose crime is hateful to all, and who are feared to cause a schism.

If that interpretation is correct, that is more defensible to me from the modern Church’s perspective. The modern Church does not forbid using the death penalty in all cases. If a heretic commits certain crimes, the Church allows them to be excommunicated. And a schism in that time involved more crimes than just heresy – whole sections of the Church split off, taking property with them that did not belong to them, including churches, cathedrals, and monasteries. I think it is right for the Church to use the secular arm to prevent such things from occurring, and if the instigators were executed after two or three warnings, I can sympathize even though I think it is better to simply put them in jail.

I hope that helps. Please ask me for clarifications or show me where I’ve gone wrong, because I don’t think either myself or St. Thomas are infallible.

No I don’t agree with Aquinas. I don’t agree with Aquinas about people who practice a different faith or a Cathoic who doesn’t practice the faith. For starters, infant baptism doesn’t allow people to choose to be or not to be Catholic in the first place. Why be surprised when they don’t buy into another person’s insistence that they have no choice by virtue of that baptism. And if someone isn’t Catholic at all, they can’t be subject to the Church’s rules and laws. It really doesn’t matter how much another person wants them to be subject.

Yup! And it was a very scary time when there wasn’t. I don’t want that crud repeated

I think a heretic needs more clarification here; A heretic is not an unbeliever. A heretic is one who is learned and understanding of the faith in the capacity of a deacon, priest, Bishop, monk or a practicing theologian, etc…

Such persons who teach or introduce a different gospel are given time to be heard, to be counseled and canon (measure) the supposed heretic’s new gospel or teaching against what Christ and the Apostles already revealed and handed down to the Church.

This is generally the course taken by the Church before pronouncing a verdict of heretic, heresy or excommunication. A sentence of Death is never pronounced upon the Church’s own fallen members.

In St. Thomas time period, most secular rulers were Catholic Kings who financed such offices of teaching within his/her kingdom. If the Church? after much scrutiny pronounced a sentence of excommunication to an unrepentative heretic. The secular powers treated their heretics as traitors to the Throne or treason which carried a death sentence in the majority of secular kingdoms.

Viewing the actual Church history, St. Thomas’s view does not contradict Church teaching and supports the secular laws of his day to pronounce a death penalty to traitors to the crown and treason to his/her country.

The Church never condemns or pronounces an unbeliever as a heretic or an apostate.

That is why Protestants by no fault of their own are never considered heretics. Only the founding protestant religious leaders who were once Catholic (priest) members are given the excommunication and label of heretic.

On a another note, history reveals that each heresy which tried to infect the Apostolic revealed Sacred Biblical Traditions and teachings are given the name of their founding father such as Lutheran for example.

I don’t agree with burning heretics at the stake. I see Popes today shaking hands with Protestant clergy.

Most traitors (excommunicated heretics) to the secular crown were tortured, quartered, head chopped off and spiked, or drowned and body parts put on public display. Burning at the stake is considered more sane and moral to the former popular standards of torture and exposure.

Another note to mention here about guilty heretics, once excommunicated from the Church. The Church released herself from protecting the secular King’s citizen. Once the Church excommunicated the heretic, the secular powers had the power to release or exercise capital punishment to it’s heretical citizen.

This short summary follows the secular laws and practices of St. Thomas Aquinas day. After the Church pronounces an excommunication on one of her own members teaching the flock another gospel. Never an unbeliever.

Not to be taken literally to say that we must bring out these punishments to others. Please don’t take out of context.

Mark 9:42 "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, { Greek b to stumble b; also verses 43, 45, 47 } it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.

43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, { Greek: b Gehenna b; also verse 47 } to the unquenchable fire.

Do you agree that you should cut your arm off or rip your eye out?

I dio not agree with aquinias , executing heretics is unnessecary .

St. Thomas Aquinas was concerned about leaders of heresy. These people remain nominally Christian but they preach heretical doctrine, thereby killing other souls along with their own. They also know that they are refusing to believe something that is a doctrinal imperative. This excludes pretty much all non-Catholics. St. Thomas is not focusing on those who simply doubt or deny a matter of the faith and don’t preach this heresy to others, or those who are material heretics (such as some Protestants).

If someone is baptized as an infant, it is a grace, not a burden. The Catholic Church teaches by divine authority and is protected from error by the Holy Ghost, if someone denies her teachings they are choosing falsehood over truth.

Honestly it upsets me that any Catholics think this way; just as it upsets me that Muslim converts to Christianity are murdered.

Indeed we can thank God.

I believe that Jesus founded a Church on peace, including those who are outspoken in their rejection of the faith. Power has been taken out of the hands of those who at one time would be content with murder. I love Pope Francis now, but look at how some people still feel forced to agree with killing someone over “arch-heresy”.

It hurts my brain, and my heart.

Still not okay imo.

St. Thomas is not advocating for the execution of apostates as the Muslims do, or the execution of non-Catholics. He is concerned with heretics that kill others souls along with their own. If a murderer is killed for killing someone’s body, then it is also legitimate to execute a murderer of souls since this is even more grievous because it sends people to Hell while corporal murder does not.

But if I’m a Muslim Apostate and I begin preaching that Jesus is God in Iran, Iraq, SA, Afghanistan, etc, etc, etc. I die.

It’s the same thing.

An apostate is not considered a heretic because they don’t call themselves Christian. They may preach heresy, but they aren’t heretics in the strict sense. St. Thomas was speaking of heretics, not apostates. Here’s a further explanation in the Modern Catholic Dictionary for heresy.

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