The Young St. Thomas on Tolerating Heretics

In keeping with the gradual amassing of integralist writings on this website, we are pleased to offer today a translation, courtesy of The Aquinas Institute for the Study of Sacred Doctrine, of a fine article in St. Thomas’s Scriptum super Sententiarum Petri Lombardi, Bk. 3, dist. 13, qu. 2, art. 3: “Whether heretics should be tolerated.” Readers familiar with his treatment of this question in the Summa (II-II, q. 10, a. 8, ad 1; q. 11, a. 3) will see many of the same points made, but here we have them fresh from the Master of the Sacred Page writing his doctoral dissertation.  – Peter Kwasniewski

Whether Heretics Should Be Tolerated [
(Scriptum super Sent. IV.13.2.3)

Objection 1.
It seems that heretics should be tolerated. For nothing should be attacked except what is against friendship. But a difference of opinions is not against the harmony of friendship, as the Philosopher implies in Ethics 9.  Therefore, they are not to be attacked.

Objection 2. Furthermore, what is necessary is not to be impeded. But heresy is necessary to the Church: it is necessary for heresies to exist, so that those who are tested may be made manifest (1 Cor 11:19). Therefore they are not to be attacked.

Objection 3. Furthermore, the Lord commanded that weeds be permitted to grow until harvest (cf. Mt 13:30). But the harvest is the end of the ages. Therefore since heretics are weeds, it seems that they must be permitted to grow until the end of the world.

Objection 4. Furthermore, no wise man should nod at what cannot ensue. But, as it says in a certain gloss on Isaiah 7, as long as the world stands, wise speech, secular speech, and heretical speech will dominate. Therefore the Church should not nod at the persecution of heretics.

Objection 5. Furthermore, no one believes without willing, as Augustine says. But heretics err in their faith. Therefore they are not to be forced.

Sed contra 1. But to the contrary, the Apostle commands that the old ferment be uprooted for it corrupts the whole mass (cf. 1 Cor 5:6-7). But heretics corrupt the Church the most. Therefore they are to be rooted out of the Church.

Sed contra 2. Furthermore, wolves are to be defended against by the office of pastors, as is clear from John 10:12. But heretics are wolves, as is clear in Acts 20:29.

Sed contra 3. Furthermore, spiritual life is better than physical. But murderers are rooted out because they take men’s physical lives. Therefore, much more should heretics be, who take men’s spiritual lives.

Response: I answer that heresy infects with vices; hence it says they lead much toward ungodliness, and their speech spreads like a cancer (2 Tim 2:16-17). And so the Church excludes them from the company of the faithful, and particularly those who corrupt others, so that the simple, who can be easily corrupted, are segregated from them not only in mind, but also physically. And this is why they are imprisoned and expelled by the Church. Now, if they did not corrupt others, they could also be concealed. But those who are firm in the faith can spend time with them physically so that they might convert them; nevertheless they cannot share in divine things, for they are excommunicated. But in secular judgment, they can licitly be killed, and despoiled of their goods, even if they do not corrupt others, for they are blaspheming against God, and they keep a false faith. And so they can be justly punished more than those who are guilty of the crime of offending majesty and those who forge false money.

Reply to Objection 1: The Philosopher is speaking only of speculative opinions. But consensus in the unity of the faith is the principle of communion in charity; and therefore dissent in the faith excludes the friendship of familiarity.

Reply to Objection 2: Heresy is said to be necessary not speaking per se, but incidentally, inasmuch as God draws something good out of any evil. For according to Augustine, the Church uses heretics to prove its own faith, namely when it attacks their false dogmas.

Reply to Objection 3: The Lord commanded that the weeds not be rooted out for this reason: lest perhaps the wheat should be uprooted at the same time with them. And so, this approach has a place among those about whom it is not clear whether or not they are heretics.

Reply to Objection 4: Although the Church cannot make it so that there are no heretics, nevertheless it can force this or that one individually; just as also we cannot avoid all venial sins, but we can strive to avoid individual ones.

Reply to Objection 5: The Church does not prosecute them so that they may be led to believe by violence, but so that they may not corrupt others, and lest so great a sin remain unpunished.