St. Antoninus: In the Event of the Most Grave Confusion(s): “The People Are Not Oblidged to Know…”
And St. Thomas Aquinas on whether one must avoid (ipso facto or otherwise) excommunicated persons before sentence has been passed
St. Antoninus, commenting on the Great Western Schism
“The question was much discussed and much was written in defence of one side or the other. For as long as the schism lasted each obedience had in its favour men who were very learned in scripture and Canon Law, and even very pious people, including some who – what is much more – were illustrious by the gift of miracles.
“Nonetheless the question could never be settled without leaving the minds of many still in doubt. Doubtless we must believe that, just as there are not several Catholic Churches, but only one, so there is only one Vicar of Christ who is its pastor. But if it should occur that, by a schism, several popes are elected at the same time, it does not seem necessary for salvation to believe that this or that one in particular is the true pope, but just in general whichever of them was canonically elected.
“The people are not obliged to know who was canonically elected, just as they are not obliged to know canon law; in this matter they may follow the judgment of their superiors and prelates.” —- St. Antoninus, pars 3, tit. 22, cap. 2
Doubtless we can extrapolate lessons from history to some of the great confusions in our own day.
St. Thomas Aquinas on whether one must avoid (ipso facto or otherwise) excommunicated persons before sentence has been passed
“It seems that those excommunicates should not be avoided concerning whose excommunication wise men hold conflicting opinions. Because according to the laws a bishop cannot remove a benefice which he has granted to a cleric without some fault on the cleric’s part. But the communion of the faithful is as much due to any of the faithful as a benefice is due to a cleric to whom a bishop has granted it.
“So neither is the communion of the faithful to be withdrawn from anyone without fault. And when it is doubtful whether a cause is present, the mind of a good man ought to be more prompt to interpret the facts in the milder direction. Hence, when it is doubted whether some persons are excommunicated, one ought rather to take the position that they are not excommunicated, in which case there is no need to avoid them.
“But on the other hand, should someone die as a result of having been struck in war and it is unknown who struck him, on account of this doubt anyone who took part in the war is considered irregular by the laws. So analogously [“a simili”] it seems that when there is a doubt as to whether some persons are excommunicated, for greater safety they ought to be avoided.
“I reply that doubt as to whether certain persons are excommunicated either precedes the sentence of the judges or else follows it. If it comes before, for instance when it has not yet been declared by the consensus of the judges that certain persons are excommunicated, they are not to be avoided until the matter has been closed by definitive judgment. For in this case it is true that we ought to follow the milder interpretation.
Hence Deuteronomy 17:8 says: If thou perceive that there be among you a hard and doubtful matter in judgment…and thou see that the words of the judges within thy gates do vary…thou shalt come to the priests and to the judge…and thou shalt ask of them…and thou shalt do whatsoever they shall say.” — Quodlibet IV, Art XIV
Trent and Vatican II each affirm that in any case Catholics are expected to know the whole Faith. The Credo of the People of God.
— John XXIII, Benedict XVI and Francis
— St. Augustine warns against schism