I am still pondering Aelianus’s response to my last post on ‘formal and material heresy’, which was that if Charles doesn’t think there is a reliable way of knowing what God has revealed, even he must be a heretic. I suggested that Charles might not be a heretic, since he believed that the creeds and the bible were such a reliable guide. In fact, this doesn’t seem adequate, given St Thomas’s characterisation of faith, as a disposition to inhere to the first truth as manifested in the scriptures according to the infallible teaching of the Church. If one denies there is an infallible church, then one does not have faith. That certainly seems to follow. The same applies if one formally doubts that there is such a church (as opposed to simply feeling inclined to doubt it).

But what if one thinks that there must be such an infallible, living Church, but does not know what or where it is: can one have faith in these circumstances? Yes, providing one knows some revealed truths. This is the normal situation of those who are brought up in other Christian denominations and who become aware, as Newman puts it,  of the impossibility of having faith in the word of their church.

Such a person has the habit of faith, if he has been validly baptised and has not sinned against the light. Whilst he still imagined, for example  as a child, that the teachers within his church enjoyed a divine mandate, and that his church was an infallible guide to divine truth, then presumably he received actual graces that enabled him to make acts of supernatural faith when they taught him Catholic truths {see the post ‘Was St Thomas a Feeneyite? (part II)} When he becomes aware that they have no such mandate, then he does not by that fact lose the habit of faith.

But the question is, does he go on to say that there is no such infallible guide on earth? If so, then he does lose the faith, even if he continues to profess, for example, the divinity of Christ. If he does not go on to say this, but rather says to himself, ‘God must have given us some way of knowing’, then he retains the habit of faith.

Can he still exercise it? Yes, if he believes that the Church of Christ was acting infallibly at some point in the past, for example at the Council of Nicaea or Chalcedon, or when she canonised the gospel of St John. For in that case he can still ‘cling to the teaching of the Church as to an infallible rule’, even though he is uncertain where that teaching is now.

I think that Charles’ state of mind in the extract quoted in the last post, and no doubt Newman’s own state of mind at a certain period, was that he knew in his heart that his own church was not an infallible guide, that he felt sure that there must be some such guide, and that he couldn’t yet bring himself to suppose that it was the Roman Church.

All this raises the question: how many non-Catholics suppose that there own church is an infallible guide? And of those who don’t, how many suppose that any such guide exists?