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We want to follow up on this theme regarding Protestantism, which seems to have really struck a nerve. A couple of necessary distinctions first, because the Catholic mind makes distinctions because distinctions must be made to arrive at correct understanding so right judgments can be formed — and then, of course, choices.
First, Protestantism is a heresy, and no amount of politically correct pandering will ever alter that. It is a heresy, plain and simple. And because it is a heresy, it is a lie.
The Church, in canon 751 of the Code of Canon Law, defines heresy as "the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and catholic faith." But as the Catechism points out, there are formal heretics and material heretics, and the difference between the two boils down to the individual's subjective disposition of his opinion.
A formal heretic is one who is aware that his belief is at odds with Catholic teaching and yet freely and willingly continues to cling to the belief pertinaciously, meaning stubbornly. In other words, they have a bad motive and cling to a position purely out of pride, a position they know or suspect is wrong but are simply unwilling to admit it. This is a man of bad will.
But a material heretic is a person who denies a truth that must be held by divine and Catholic faith, but who holds the heretical belief because of either invincible ignorance or because of an error held in good faith. "Good faith" here means he thinks he is right and not in error, but on the contrary, is in possession of the truth.
So a given person, an individual Protestant, can hold a heretical view, but depending on his intention or level of ignorance, not necessarily be a heretic himself, not in the formal sense, anyway. It all comes down to whether the person is completely and totally convinced, without a shred of doubt in his mind that his belief is correct, or if he harbors some lingering doubt, however small, that he is either wrong or not completely sure, and yet forsakes truth or the exploration for it because of pride or the cost he might have to pay for so doing.
The first case does not incur sin. The second case absolutely does because it is a sin against the Holy Spirit, as in it rejects truth. So, those necessary distinctions made, the belief system known as Protestantism, which incorporates over 40,000 competing denominations, that system is heretical. It denies the truth and authority of the Catholic Church.
Some Protestants are formal heretics, and others are not, meaning some operate out of bad will, meaning they either have doubts about their own beliefs vis-à-vis Catholicism, while others operate out of goodwill, yet are still mistaken.
For example, a Protestant minister who entertains even the slightest doubt, the tiniest sliver of doubt about his beliefs as they relate to Catholicism, yet refuses to explore those doubts and remains obstinate because he doesn't, for example, want to lose his livelihood, that is immoral and sinful because he is not operating in good faith, goodwill.
If, for example, he knows what the Church teaches about the Eucharist, the Real Presence of Our Lord, and even wonders that he might be wrong and the Church correct, and, in the process, simply skips over John chapter 6 or St. Paul's admonitions about faithful reception, that dude is in deep doo-doo when he dies, because not only did his sin remain in him, but he extended it to his congregations, denying them the truth in the process.
On the other hand, a person raised in some heretical denomination, who simply has never encountered the Church's teachings but is willing to give them a listen and stack his own beliefs up against them if or when that happens, that person is not in sin, at least regarding heresy. He may be in all sorts of other sin and be damned for that, but heresy will not come up at his judgment, which, at the end of the day, would be little comfort.
Here's the problem with heresy among Protestants: For those with bad will, it will damn them. For those of goodwill, they are still in error, and while they may not face judgment for incorrectly believing, through invincible ignorance, that they are correct, they don't substantively have a way out of mortal sin, normatively speaking.
Yes, they might not be damned for the sin of heresy, but it sure seems highly unlikely that they have never committed any other mortal sin in the course of their lives. If they have — likely — and they die in that state, they cannot be saved.
Any person must die in a state of sanctifying grace, or that person is damned and, without access to the sacraments of the Church, it is highly unlikely that any given person can be extricated from a state of mortal sin. Might it be somehow possible here or there or under some kind of unknown divine operation reserved to the mind of God? Well, yes. But is a person really willing to bet their eternal lives on that?
Our Blessed Lord Himself personally instituted the Church and the sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and confession so that sinners may be restored to and/or strengthened in their lives and return to or come to a state of sanctifying grace. That is what He Himself set up as the norm, and this is why the Catholic Church is necessary for salvation, no ands, ifs or buts about it.
Protestantism is a heresy because it denies all that — in fact, has developed an entire theology, albeit a phony theology about all that. Protestant theology exists ultimately to deny Catholicism, directly and indirectly. And every bit of that heresy's theology is built upon that foundation, that the Catholic Church is not necessary for salvation. It absolutely is.
It's time for Catholics to start saying what needs to be said to our baptized-yet-separated brethren. Those of bad will — what can you say? But there are many of goodwill who will listen if you say what needs to be said. And this seems the appropriate place to repeat the words of Fr. John Hardon when it comes to Catholics speaking the truth to everyone, but Protestants in particular: "Anyone who is not about the business of evangelization might never entertain a serious hope of the beatific vision."
Repeat for emphasis: "Anyone who is not about the business of evangelization might never entertain a serious hope of the beatific vision."
In short, if you are not trying to bring people to the fullness of the Faith, the Church established by the Son of God, the Catholic Church, you can forget about Heaven.