What Are We to
Think of Written Abjurations?
1. Laying the Groundwork:
+++ the Meaning & Purpose of Abjuration +++
Amongst the few people who call themselves Catholic nowadays and who might really be Catholic --- not believing someone can die in the practice of a false religion and go to Heaven, or follow the recent antipopes and think Vatican II was okay --- there is a widespread notion that you should abjure all heresy specifically (both yours and that of those you religiously associated with) and that the abjuration, to be effective, must be written down and signed. Otherwise, say they, you cannot hope to save your soul.
What are we to think of this claim?
We quickly lay the groundwork before answering this question:
• First, abjuration means you reject the heresy you once held. Heresy being that which is against what God through His Catholic Church teaches, it means you stop believing whatever opposes the Catholic Faith.
• Second, the man who is validly baptized is joined to God’s Catholic Church. However, heresy separates you from this Church. You must profess the Catholic Faith whole & entire in order to stay connected to the Catholic Church after your baptism.
• Third, and consequently, if a heretic wasn’t baptized properly then he doesn’t need to abjure before he becomes Catholic since he wasn’t a part of the Catholic Church to begin with. All he needs is to profess the Catholic Faith entirely when he becomes baptized.
• Fourth, heresy is a mortal sin against the Catholic Faith. To be exact, it is a deadly serious breaking of the First Commandment. And the solution to any mortal sin --- after a man is baptized and thus subject to Christ’s Catholic Body --- is the Sacrament of Penance.
• Fifth, heresy against common dogma --- dogma a man must know in order to be Catholic in the first place --- automatically excommunicates. Normally, only a bishop with jurisdiction can undo this censure of excommunication and readmit to the communion of the Church.
• Sixth, an abjurer’s readmission is hence an act of penance, the bishop being the only priest in his diocese with authority to pardon the censure against this grievous crime. To wit, the Sacrament of Penance is applied so as to restore the abjurer to the state of union & grace.
• Thus --- and seventh --- abjuration is a good confession of your heresy and a firm resolution to adhere to the Catholic Faith whole & entire. It involves the Sacrament of Penance and a Profession of Faith, which is what saves one’s soul in this case after eschewing your heresy.
2. What Written Abjuration Is,
+++ and What It Is Not, Stated Plainly +++
So what are we to think about the signing of written abjurations?
It cannot be the equivalent of the Sacrament of Baptism, which is one of two requirements, broadly speaking, that lets you save your soul in the One True Religion of Roman Catholicism. Indeed, it cannot be the equivalent of any sacrament, of which there are only seven. We know the form & matter of each of these Seven Holy Sacraments --- Baptism, Confirmation, Penance, Holy Eucharist, Holy Orders, Holy Matrimony & Extreme Unction --- and written abjuration is not a part of any one of them.
Nor can it be the direct equivalent of a Profession of Faith, which is the second of two requirements, broadly speaking, necessary to saving your soul. The Church does not require a signed document in every case of admission into Her membership for the first time, and, even when She might require it, the Church does not pretend that the signing of this document is what admits you or allows you to save your soul. Thus, how can a signed document be absolutely essential to readmission into the Catholic Church?
Rather, written abjuration is a practical means of testimony that you have renounced heresy that was just as public as the testimony that you now abjure it. It is roughly equivalent, in principal, to a baptismal certificate that legally proves in the future that you were validly baptized in water and hence subject to the spiritual authority of the Catholic Church. Nonetheless, and just like a baptismal certificate, it cannot be absolutely essential as a means to salvation: it is not the equivalent of a sacrament. And since the act of abjuration necessarily involves the bishop who has spiritual jurisdiction over you --- he being the priest who absolves you of the sin of heresy that you have confessed & denounced via this special application of the Sacrament of Penance, including the censure or excommunication that you incurred for your public display of heresy --- then this bishop will normally keep a legal record of your abjuration so that both he and his successors, or any priests in his diocese or another diocese who might oversee your soul, may know with moral certainty that you’ve done so.
Think about it.
What if your heresy was a sin of youth? And what if you live a very long life? And what if you have enemies trying to ruin your reputation, or people ignorant of your present good standing and scandalized by your now long ago heresy? What if the bishop who received your abjuration, or the Catholics who witnessed it, are long gone? Or what if you move to another diocese where someone has heard about your former scandal of heresy but not about your later conversion to Catholic orthodoxy?
My dear soul, this is why a written abjuration is so very practical. It is why the Church requires it in Her Canon Law under normal circumstances. It is hence an act of obedience to the Church’s dictates. Should you arrogantly and needlessly flaunt this regulation, then you are obviously still a rebel and not to be taken as honest or serious when you say you want to abjure your heresy!
Which is why, under normal circumstances, you would not be allowed to re-enter the Church’s membership if you got stupidly stubborn and refused to sign the written abjuration that the bishop gave you. You would remain outside the Church, unforgiven, still mired in the crime of your public heresy.
3. Why Written Abjurations
+++ Cannot Be Required Right Now +++
Ah, but right now things are different. We are not in normal circumstances today. We have no functioning Hierarchy for the time being… no pope, and no lawful bishops or priests. The Vatican II pseudo-council occurred, wherein Salvation Heresy was enshrined along with several other public errors, and all men who authoritatively approved that council --- meaning bishops who attended or who later consented to its false teachings, including the man who was apparently a pope up until that crucial moment --- lost their membership in the Catholic Church, and hence their offices, too, as soon as they did so, if not already lost by things they’d said and done even before Vatican II transpired.
Since then --- and until God works a mighty miracle --- the few remaining real Catholics are on their own.
Which leads us to ask:
So what is the baptized heretic who wants to abjure in order to enter (or re-enter) the Catholic Church to save his soul have to do at this point in time, without a functioning Hierarchy and normal situation?
And we rejoinder:
The same thing as before… humbly, truthfully & specifically abjure his heresy lest his soul be damned forever. He must get on his knees (figuratively, if not actually), pour out his heart in perfect contrition for this ugly crime, and explicitly accuse himself of the religious lies he has believed in defiance of God’s Church, as well as the known heresies of those he might have religiously associated with.
But the signing of a written abjuration… is that necessary unto salvation?
The answer ought to be obvious, but we will spell it out very clearly so that there are no doubts:
No, it is not.
We have no lawful bishop with jurisdiction to approve or compose our abjuration for us. We have no lawful bishop with jurisdiction to receive it from our hands once it has been signed. We have no lawful bishop with jurisdiction to keep it safe along with other vital records in case it becomes important later on to legally attest that we have formally abjured a heresy. In short, the requirement for a signed & written abjuration must be, because of our utterly unique circumstances, temporarily suspended. It serves little practical purpose at the present time. The men in the Church’s Hierarchy who originally wrote it into Canon Law cannot have logically expected it to be obeyed in our present situation, which is the era of the Great Apostasy. Its requirement, where applicable, is therefore a contingent necessity of precept, not an absolute necessity of means.
Again, think about it.
Who nowadays gets to decide what an appropriate abjuration is? And who collects these documents once they’re signed? Are we to send copies to every Catholic we know or can find out about? What if that amounts to hundreds --- even thousands or millions --- of Roman Catholics? Must we send a copy to every single Catholic in this situation? And what if somebody thinks our written abjuration is not good enough? What then? Who gets to say so, and how is anyone to know the correct opinion… if any? Moreover, what if someone doesn’t know how to write or read? Or can’t compose very well, or isn’t learned enough to have a theological understanding of all the different kinds of heresy there are today? Or what if there’s no paper, or nothing at all to write it on, or pens and other instruments of written communication nowhere to be found or too difficult to make?
In fact, let’s ponder a predicament that, however extreme, drives the point home logically:
What if you’re an illiterate yet Catholic hermit in the middle of the desert? And, let’s say, you fell into heresy. But, thankfully, you saw the light before your life ended. All you have is the ratty shirt on your back, and what little food you can scrounge or eat. You have no way to find another Catholic or even another human being, period, regardless of whether or not he’s Catholic. You’re literally all alone.
Is such a poor illiterate man condemned to Hell forever just because he can’t compose and sign a written abjuration of his heresy all alone in the middle of the desert? Or can he not in his private prayers to Heaven accuse himself explicitly of his crime of heresy, denounce it, and recite the Apostle’s Creed, rightly understood, along with perfect contrition in his heart for his horrible sin, so as to re-enter membership in the Roman Catholic Church and have hope again of saving his immortal soul?
4. The Correct Position to
+++ Take During the Great Apostasy +++
You don’t have to be a genius to draw the sensible conclusion. A written abjuration can’t ever be an absolute necessity for salvation in any case whatsoever, and a written abjuration can’t ever be applied practically across the board as an important requirement without a functioning Hierarchy around to oversee things. It is a tool that is vitally useful when a bishop with jurisdiction is involved; it is a needless fixation or even a rank obstacle to correct Catholicity when people mindlessly try to insist on its necessity for everyone nowadays.
We must have a functioning Hierarchy in order to make it work the way it’s supposed to work.
Bereft of a functioning Hierarchy, it’s a personal act of conscience or virtue at best. It cannot by itself save your soul, and it cannot be demanded of a penitent baptized heretic as if, without it, he could never abjure rightly or adequately, and so save his soul nowadays during the Great Apostasy.
This latter point is crucial. Because the person who first came up with this notion, that written abjurations are almost absolutely necessary for salvation --- and that they’re necessary during our times even without a functioning Hierarchy --- would probably logically admit the impossibility of the poor, illiterate, desert hermit signing a written abjuration and who we gave as an example a few paragraphs back. Notwithstanding, the person who came up with written abjurations as a requirement today would then illogically insist that such a hermit would still have to sign a written abjuration as soon as he could later on, even without a functioning Hierarchy, if ever that became possible. One big reason he cites is because he thinks no one today during the Great Apostasy can ‘prove’ his Catholicity without a signed abjuration in hand. And yet what about all of the Catholics who have not ever committed heresy? During these days of doubt & confusion, how are they to ‘prove’ their Catholicity without a signed document?
You can’t have it both ways. If the Great Apostasy is so confusing as to require former heretics to produce a signed document in order to ‘prove’ their present Catholicity, then it’s also so confusing as to require Catholics who were never heretics to produce a signed document in order to ‘prove’ their present Catholicity, too! In a world crowded with human beings, most people are not ever going to know that you were a former heretic. So what good does a signed abjuration do them in the first place? You are what you are in their sight now and what you once were is irrelevant unless you or someone else tells them about it. And most people are also not ever going to know you were never a heretic since your baptism. So what good is your spiritual constancy in their sight? How are they to know you’re not lying? Hence, this well-intentioned yet askew principal would be the same in either case --- rampant confusion requires signed documentation to ‘prove’ your present Catholicity.
Yet if they don’t know you’re not lying if you tell them to their faces that you’re Catholic, then how are they to know you’re not lying when you’ve signed a written document to the same effect? Can’t a liar just as easily deceive through his written signature as through his spoken word? And if the listing of heresies abjured is so very important, why can’t this be done just as effectively through the spoken word? What makes a written document so very ‘special’ or ‘magical’ all by itself, in and of itself?
5. The Purpose of Written
+++ Abjuration, Stated Plainly Again +++
And so you see, dear reader, the reason for a written & signed abjuration is as we said near the beginning of this article. To wit, it is a practical means of legal testimony so that future bishops & priests with jurisdiction over you --- and who were not personal witnesses of your abjuration --- can know, with moral certainty, that you have specifically abjured heresy if the former crime raises its head publicly in the future during their spiritual watch. This is how they can know what to do in that case and that you are truly Catholic. It’s why written & signed abjurations were made a requirement to start with, under normal circumstances. Under circumstances that are not normal, the requirement cannot apply. In this case it becomes impractical and causes more confusion than it might allay.
But, of course, there’s a very simple & sensible solution to all of this. Confusion does reign rampant today, that is true. Nevertheless, and as just said, confusion is made more rampant by people going around acting like the lack of a functioning Hierarchy doesn’t greatly change things for the time being! The plain fact is, people can always hide heresy whether or not they’ve signed specific abjurations. The plain fact is that you can never be totally certain --- apart from God’s omniscience --- about what a man hides in his heart, such as heresy. The plain fact is, no one apart from a bishop or priest with jurisdiction has power to put a purported Catholic on a witness stand (if only figuratively) and grill him with a series of detailed questions about his religious faith. The plain fact is that no one except a bishop with jurisdiction can require a particular signed abjuration from a person who wants to abjure his heresy in the fully canonical way, as is both fitting and obedient during normal times with a functioning Hierarchy.
The plain fact is also that a person who is not truly Catholic is usually obvious for any real Catholic to see. You don’t have to grill them extensively to know the truth. And where things might be a little harder --- say, encountering someone who’s influenced by the CMRI or SSPX but not religiously associating with them at the present moment for one reason or another --- a couple of quick questions will do the trick:
Do you think Benedict XVI is a true pope? And can someone die as a Hindu, unconverted to the Catholic Faith, and wind up in Heaven?
And where quick questions won’t do the trick, then time will tell. That is to say, sooner or later you’ll discover… by something the person says or does… what he really believes. As one of Shakespeare’s famous characters said about discovering the truth about the crime of murder, “Murder will out in the end.”
Meanwhile, God will not hold you responsible for what you could not humanly know under normal circumstances. If you prayed in good conscience with such a person, He won’t hold you guilty for this objective crime of religious association with the heretic until you could know for sure otherwise, that the person is not actually Catholic. Thus, if the person claims he is Catholic, talking & acting like he is so, and a few routine inquiries upon first meeting him doesn’t reveal anything obvious to the contrary, then you are justified in taking him at face value for the time being. Once evidence to the contrary surfaces, however, then you are morally obligated to be cautious, at the very least, and, if compelling enough, to charitably confront this person with the suspicious evidence. Based on what transpires after this, you can know where he stands and what you must do.
What I have said is based on dogmatic truth, canonic practice and simple good sense allied with over a decade of hard-won experience in the trenches of life as a Catholic during the Great Apostasy. If you’ve thought otherwise, my precious soul, then you are either a Catholic fundamentalist (CF) or else at risk of becoming a CF. You may read about this grave danger here. I beg you, my precious soul, not to walk this deadly route. It is schismatic. If truly Catholic, you break Catholic Charity by doing so and split yourself off from God’s Church, which is His Only Way to enter Heaven. Stubbornly persist in fundamentalism and you will end up mired in mortal sin when you die. May Jesus, Mary & Joseph prevent this!
Do not mistake me, my dear reader. I am not saying it’s innately wrong to compose or sign an abjuration on your own, without a jurisdictional bishop. I’m just saying it can’t ever be an absolute necessity unto salvation in normal circumstances --- let alone during our abnormal circumstances --- and that, in a normal situation, it is a practical tool necessary by precept… not by means. That is to say, you do it, under normal circumstances, because it’s practical, possible & commanded --- not because you cannot ever save your soul without it. If, however, it’s impractical or impossible (which it is during the Great Apostasy without an operational Hierarchy), then it cannot be a rule that either God or His Church expects Catholics to obey until such times are over.
End of story.
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