Manualist Monday: Benedict XIV on communicatio in divinis with heretics

by Gerardus Maiella

After a rather extended hiatus, occasioned by some personal mortifications on our part and the subsequent onset of Lent, we return with a short piece, the posting of which has been far too long delayed. This is taken from the great treatise De synodo dioecesano of Prospero Lorenzo Lambertini, better known as Pope Benedict XIV—surely one of the most learned men to have graced the Chair of Peter, certainly as regards juridical and canonical subjects. The learnéd Pontiff here presents a brief but altogether luculent and forceful account of the Church’s traditional condemnation of communication in divinis with heretics, drawing from Scripture as well as the documents, decrees, and treatises of Councils, popes, and the theologians. (N.B. We have inserted hyperlinks and a few footnotes, in order to make immediately available to the curious and Latinate reader some further readings and sources to which Benedict makes reference.)

Benedictus XIV Pont. Opt. Maximus, De synodo dioecesano lib. VI, cap. 5, in Opera omnia (ed. Prati, 1844) vol. XI, p. 157ff.


Those things which were said in the preceding chapter, are confirmed by the example of the communion of Catholics with Heretics in divinis, and so also of the Matrimony of Catholics with Heretics.

I. The degree to which the Church has abominated the fellowship of Catholics with heretics, is clearly proved from the second epistle of the Apostle John, in which, in verses 10 and 11, he admonished his disciples in this wise: If any man come to you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into the house nor say to him, God speed you. For he that saith unto him, God speed you, communicateth with his wicked works. And moreover, from the epistle of the Apostle Paul to Titus, chap. 3, v. 10: A man that is a heretic, after the first and second admonition, avoid. Hence the same Apostle John, in order that he might precede others by his own example, refused to wash in the same bathhouse with Cerinthus the heretic, but said to his fellows: Let us flee more swiftly, lest the bathhouse, in which is Cerinthus the adversary of truth, should topple forthwith: as Irenaeus, Jerome, and Epiphanius testify. And St. Polycarp the bishop of Smyrna, instructed by the example of his Teacher, hostile and not daring to return the salutation to Marcion, who had greeted him, said: I know the firstborn of the devil. And so tenacious was the great Anthony in the discipline of this kind, that of him Athanasius writes, in De vita Antonii, num. 68, tom. 1, part. 2. Oper. pag. 847: Never did he communicate with the Meletian schismatics, considering from the beginning their proven malice and defection. Nor did he ever exchange words amicably with the Manichæans, or with any other heretics whatsoever, except for the sake of admonishing, in order that, their opinion being changed, they might hold to the godly Faith, regarding as he did their friendship and conversations to be harmful and pernicious to the soul; and he warned others likewise. Innumerable Canons of the Church have renewed this prohibition, but most of all do they press hard lest Catholics should communicate with heretics in sacred things, or lest they should frequent the gatherings of the same. Amongst the Apostolic Canons, the Forty-Fifth, known alternately as the Thirty-Seventh, sets down: Let the Bishop, Presbyter, and Deacon who should merely pray with heretics be deprived of communion: and the Sixty-Fifth, alternately the Sixty-Fourth or Fifty-Seventh: If any cleric or lay person should enter into a synagogue of the Jews, or of heretics, in order to pray, let him be put away, and separated. The Synod of Laodicea decreed something similar in can. 9 from the version of Dionysius Exiguus, tom. 1 of Collect. Harduinus col. 781: That Ecclesiastics are not permitted at the cemeteries of heretics, or to accede to those which by them are called martyr’s graves, for the sake of prayer or service: but ones of this sort, if they should be Faithful, are to be deprived of communion for a certain time. And the Fourth Council of Carthage, canon. 72. tom. 1. of Collect. Harduinus col. 983, which council Augustine praises in a sermon to the people of Mauretania Cæsariensis, says: One must neither pray nor sing psalms with heretics. Hence Cyril of Jerusalem, in catech. IV. n. 37. in fin. bids his catechumen to despise all the assemblies of the perfidious heretics: and the same is advised by the other Fathers, whom Christianus Lupus adduces in schol. et not. ad canon. Concil. tom. 5. edition. Venet. pag. 60 et seq.

II. And nevertheless, such is the miserable condition of our times, that in many provinces in which heresies either dominate, or are advancing, with impunity do Catholics come under the harsh necessity of having converse with heretics, and of engaging familiarly with them. But although, by the Canon approved by Martin V in the Council of Constance which has the incipit Ad evitanda[1] and indeed endured always in its vigor, notwithstanding subsequent contrary Constitutions of the Councils of Basil and the Lateran—although the discipline was somewhat relaxed as regarded converse and also communication in divinis with heretics who are tolerated and have not been denounced expressly as to be avoided, as Cabassut diffusely treats the matter in Iuris canonici theoria et praxis, lib. V, c. 11, num. 3 et seq.;—nevertheless, Catholics ought not to think that it is therefore acceptable for them to communicate in things sacred and divine with heretics, though these be not denounced: and indeed, Paul V, after a mature examination of the matter, defined that it was never permitted to Catholics of the Kingdom of England to enter into the churches of heretics, and to be present at the rites which they practice therein, as may be read in two decrees promulgated by the same Pontiff, namely, one in the year 1606, the other in 1607, both of which are referred by Cardinal de Lauræa, In III Sent., part. 2, tom. 3, disp. 11. art. 9. §4. num. 292. We are indeed not at all unaware, that there are Theologians, absolving Catholics of all fault who communicate in divinis with heretics and schismatics not denounced by name, and who even receive the Sacraments from the same, so long as these circumstances simultaneously concur: the first, namely, that a very grave and urgent cause drive Catholics to the aforesaid communication; secondly, that the heretics and schismatics, from whom they request the Sacraments, be validly ordained, in order that they might minister the sacred things according to the Catholic rite, without any admixture of a condemned rite; thirdly, that communication with these same in divinis be not an external protestation of false dogma, the sort which entry into the churches of the Protestants was when Paul V prohibited the Catholics of England from that—thus the edicts of the King had commanded all to approach the churches of the heretics, so that in this way, they would profess themselves to think with Protestants. Fourthly and finally, that the communication of Catholics in divinis with heretics cause scandal to no one. Now in the first place, the aforementioned opinion of the Theologians has its adversaries, nor is it admitted by all to be safe in practice: hence, that being admitted, since all the circumstances enumerated ought to be present together simultaneously in order that the society of Catholics with the heterodox in sacred things might be free of all fault (as Sylvius teaches, In IIIam, q. 64, a. 6, quæsit. 3, concl. 3; Cardinal de Lugo, De fide, disp. 22, sect. 1, n. 11; Thomas de Jesus, De conversione omnium gentium procuranda, lib. VIII, pars II, §4, p. 556ff; Cardinal Albizzi, De inconstantia in fide, cap. 18, n. 30ff; Cardinal Gotti, In IIamIIæ, q. 4, dub. 6, §3), thus it is nearly impossible that it come about in practice that Catholics would be able to be excused from scandal when mixing themselves up in sacred things with heretics or schismatics. For this reason, the Congregations of the holy City, namely the Holy Office, and the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, have always reputed communication of this sort of which we speak to be illicit, and, when We were then dwelling amongst the minors and putting forth zealous effort, set forth a learned instruction to be transmitted to Missionaries—for it was necessary—wherein reasons are weighed on account of which it can hardly ever happen that the communication of Catholics in divinis with heretics be harmless.[2]

III. Moreover, those Catholics communicate with heretics in divinis who do not hesitate to join themselves with the same by way of matrimony: and indeed, since matrimony is one of the Church’s seven Sacraments instituted by Christ the Lord, it is the same thing to contract a marriage with a heretic, as either to confect one and the same Sacrament one with a heretic (if the ones contracting are themselves the Ministers of this Sacrament, which is the more common opinion amongst the Scholastics), or at least to receive it, if, as others from the more recent Theologians affirm, its minister is the Priest alone. But that either is sacrilegious and illicit, no one doubts. For this reason, the Church, generally in the same laws in which she forbids Christians from entering into marriages with Infidels, equally deters Catholics from contracting marriages with heretics. The Council of Laodicea, in can. 10. tom. 1 Collect. Harduini col. 784, says: They ought not to conjoin their sons and daughters indiscriminately to heretics by the Ecclesiastic compact of marriage. The Council of Agde, in can. 67 related by Gratian in C. 28, q. 1, can. 16: They ought not to mix marriages with men who are heretics, or give their sons or daughters to them in marriage, but rather should they accept them, if they yet profess that they shall be Christians, and Catholics. The Council of Chalcedon, can. 14, forbids Lectors and Cantors, amongst the lower Clerics, to conjoin themselves to the Heretic or Pagan, or Jew, unless perchance the person to be married should promise to convert to the orthodox faith. But Boniface VIII reinforced these sanctions in cap. Decrevit,[3] where he set down that a woman who knowingly had married a heretic is to be deprived of the dowry. Therefore in these provinces in which marriages of this sort, not without contempt of sacred things, are everywhere celebrated, the Bishop, particularly in his Synod, ought to discourage Catholics from contracting these unto the ruin of their own souls: which We have declared to be done, in Our Constitution Matrimonia of 4 Nov 1741, §3, in the first tome of Our Bullarium.[4] The chief parts of the Episcopal office shall be, to denounce the very great dangers for Catholics which threaten both them and the children to be born of these marriages, which marriages, moreover, cannot be made respectable by the pretext of mere consuetude (they would more truly call it corruption), unless those dangers be removed—which yet is hardly able to come about, as Laymann rightly notes, Theologia moralis, lib. V, tract. 10, pars 4, cap. 14, n. 2; Pirhing, on Tit. de sponsal. et matr. sect. IV; Gobat, Theologia experimentalis, tract. 9, case 11, n. 216; Nicholas Serarius, De catholicorum cum hæreticis matrimonio quæstiones; Van Espen, Iuris ecclesiastici universi pars 2, tit. XIII, cap. 8, n. 9; and others throughout.

IV. Now, We have said that it is hardly able to happen, that those dangers, which are customarily bound up with the marriages of Catholics with heretics, can be removed from these marriages; but We have not pronounced it to be wholly impossible. For such circumstances are in very fact able to concur, which when they have been weighed by him who has the faculty of dispensing, open the way to the concession of a legitimate dispensation, by force of which, the matrimony between parties, one a heretic, and the other a Catholic, may be rendered licit, as we shall demonstrate elsewhere. For this reason, in those places and regions where marriages of this sort are sometimes thus permitted to be contracted, it is entirely expedient that the Bishop, in order to guard the decorum of the Church, should opportunely and prudently prescribe the rites to be observed in the celebration of marriages of this sort.

V. Some opine, and confidently teach, that marriages of this sort are to be blessed by a Priest. Thus thinks Theophylus Raynaud in his book titled Heteroclita Spiritualia, in Operum tom. 16, p. 182, n. 24ff. But Pontius judges the thing more rightly, De sacramento matrimonii tractatus, in the appendix De matrimonio Catholici cum hæretico, cap. 9, admonishing that a priestly blessing is not to be granted to marriages of this kind, nor ought Mass to be celebrated in the presence of a heretic, nor the marriage be contracted within the ambit of a Church; for none of these things is necessary in order for there to be a valid marriage. In the Ecclesiastic Collations of Paris, De matrimonio, tom. 3, lib. I, coll. 2, coll. 2, §5, there is found a rite, with which nuptials were celebrated between Henrietta, Princess of the Royal blood of the French, and Charles I, King of Great Britain, to whom Pope Urban VIII had for that end granted an Apostolic dispensation: which nuptials are described also in the History, or Commentary, whose title is Mercurius Gallicus, tom. 2, p. 359. And so they relate that the matrimony between the aforementioned Catholic Princess, and the Proxy of the heretic King, was contracted outside of a Church, at the threshold of the Metropolitan Church of Paris, before the grand Almoner Cardinal La Rochefoucauld, from whom there was yet no nuptial blessing given: from there, the Proxy of the British King led the new wife up to the entrance to the Choir: but there Mass was celebrated by the aforesaid Cardinal in solemn rite, the King and Queen of France present, and the new Queen of Great Britain, and the whole Royal Family: but the aforementioned Proxy of the English King, although he was himself a Catholic, yet since he stood in place of a Prince devoted to the Anglican sect, went for the meantime to the Palace of the Archbishop nearby, until the Mass was finished—which finally having been completed, he acceded to lead the Queen from the Church. Honoré Tournely, in his Prælectiones theologicæ de sacramento matrimonii, on p. 106 according to the Paris edition, recounts that it had been expressly forbidden by Clement VIII that a Blessing be given for such marriages; but that the Gallican Clergy, in 1670, offered their prayers for the most Christian King, that he might take care to curb the importunity of those who often attempted to compel parish priests to bless weddings of this sort; and he subjoined other things pertaining to this matter, ibid. p. 108.

[1] The text of this canon may found in the work of Cabassut mentioned below, ed. Lyons, 1678, pp. 530-531.

[2] Cf. Instr. S. C. de Prop. Fide Cum sæpe of 1729, for the missionaries of the East, in Collectanea Sacræ Congregationis de Propaganda Fide vol. I, n. 311, p. 99-101.

[3] Sexti Decretales lib. V, tit. II, cap. xiv: Corpus iuris canonici (ed. Friedberg) vol. II, coll. 1075.

[4] Opera omnia (ed. Prati 1840) vol. XV, p. 112.