According to the Catholic Church, can one be a heretic and still obtain salvation? Are there different kinds of heresy that merit different answers?

1 Answer 1


Heresy is distinguished as follows:

  • Material heresy
    • occult (hidden)
      e.g., privately thinking there are 4 Divine Persons
    • public
      e.g., preaching that there are 4 Divine Persons
  • Formal heresy
    pertinacious adherence to heresy even after corrected by an ecclesiastical superior or tried for the crime of heresy in a canonical trial*
    e.g., continuing to preach that there are 4 Divine Persons even after having been censured (cf. the theological censures/notes at the end of this answer) or excommunicated
    *cf. ch. 9 "Proving the Crime of Heresy", pp. 229ff. (PDF pp. 242ff.), of True or False Pope

If one is invincibly ignorant that he holds a material heresy, he can possibly be saved; however, formal heretics cannot be saved, especially if their heresy is against the four truths absolutely necessary to believe for salvation—viz., that

  1. "he [God] is", i.e., that God exists (Heb. 11:6)
  2. God "is a rewarder to them that seek him." (Heb. 11:6)
  3. the Second Person of the Trinity took on a human nature (Incarnation)
  4. God is Three Divine Persons in one God (Trinity)

Note: There is unanimous consent among Catholic theologians that truths #1 and #2 are absolutely necessary to be explicitly believed in order to be saved, but not all theologians (St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Alphonsus Liguori, et al. excepted) think that explicit belief in truths #3 and #4 is necessary; cf. True or False Pope p. 113 // PDF p. 128.

  • Where'd #2 come from, I understand the need for the other 3, I never thought their necessity to salvation before the OP started this line of questioning, but where did "God is a rewarder to them that seek them" come from and what's the antithesis of that belief? (I can ask that as another question if it's more than just a citation)
    – Peter Turner
    Feb 28, 2021 at 0:36
  • @PeterTurner That's a direct quote of Heb. 11:6: "But without faith it is impossible to please God. For he that cometh to God, must believe that he is, and is a rewarder to them that seek him."
    – Geremia
    Feb 28, 2021 at 3:20
  • Yeah, but how did it get in this particular enumeration of truths necessary for salvation? I would think belief in the Eucharist is necessary for salvation too, but it's not on this list.
    – Peter Turner
    Feb 28, 2021 at 3:30
  • @PeterTurner St. Thomas addresses why the Eucharist "is not necessary for salvation in the same way as Baptism is" in Summa Theologica III q. 73 a. 3.
    – Geremia
    Feb 28, 2021 at 3:48

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