Why Racism is Material Heresy and Ought to be Formal Heresy : Outline 1

Cappadocians 1

[Many, upon reading this piece, have noted that there is no formal definition of “racism” or even “race” included. This is by design, though I see that it could be confusing. Defining “racism” as such is admittedly difficult and would alone constitute matter for an essay much longer than even what appears here; and even if that were accomplished, there would still remain much disagreement. Therefore, the approach of these outlines is to target and identify specific claims that most would acknowledge as “racist,” regardless of how fuzzy the edges of the set of ideas in question may be. For example, this outline deals only with claims of superiority or inferiority between races (as per Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, “myth of inferior peoples”). If one’s specific brand of racist ideology does not include nor imply a claim of superiority or inferiority, then clearly this post does not capture that specific ideology. (Though arguments of implication may often be successfully employed to demonstrate that superiority/inferiority is in fact being claimed, though not directly. For some historical definitions of “racism,” see HERE.)

Further, the concept “race” itself is not defined, but for much the same reasons. The argument of this particular outline proceeds on the assumption that if one believes and confesses superiority or inferiority among races also is assuming that there is such a thing as “race”; this does not logically imply that there is in fact such a thing as “race” (though I think the concept is legitimate and useful if handled correctly as a social construction and as colloquially employed). The reader will see below that, working with the understanding of one who claims superiority/inferiority, race would minimally (not maximally!) include common progeneration. So, rather than defining the term, given abundant disagreement, I assume only what would be minimally included by one who would employ the term to claim superiority/inferiority. (For a helpful discussion of “race,” see HERE.)

And last, the reader should note that there is no specific race or ethnicity targeted in what follows; any claim by anyone that any race can be superior or inferior to any other falls within the scope of criticism below.]


I have recently been involved in several debates surrounding racism in the Church, both current and historic. It seems that many can acknowledge that hateful actions due to racism are Biblically chargeable within the government of the church. Most were also able to acknowledge that racism is clearly contradictory to many passages of the Scripture, predominantly those presenting the doctrine of the imago dei. But almost no one was willing to say that racism is heretical. It seems that denying justification by faith alone warrants the full force of the Protestant church, but a racist system of belief and confession is not understood to strike at any fundamental or creedal doctrine. (In fact, someone even asked what de fide article “lynching” denied.) To be frank, I heartily disagree. Not only should the love crimes perpetrated from racist belief be addressed by the church with formal action, but the belief system and confession of racist ideology itself ought also to be chargeable as de fide heresy.

According to Augustine, “in Christ’s Church, those are heretics, who hold mischievous and erroneous opinions, and when rebuked that they may think soundly and rightly, offer a stubborn resistance, and, refusing to mend their pernicious and deadly doctrines, persist in defending them” (City of God, 18.51). Of course, we make a distinction between “material” heresy and “formal” heresy. One commits material heresy when he denies a fundamental doctrine of the faith but does so out of lack of understanding, without pertinacity. But if he is thoroughly corrected yet nevertheless refuses to repent, even after formal charges are brought by the church, he may be considered a formal heretic upon conviction.

It is my contention that the system of belief and confession of racist ideology is material heresy since it directly conflicts with fundamental doctrines of the faith. Essential doctrines. It is in fact de fide error. As Thomas Aquinas explains

[A] thing may be of the faith [de fide] in two ways, as stated above, in one way, directly and principally, e.g. the articles of faith; in another way, indirectly and secondarily, e.g. those matters, the denial of which leads to the corruption of some article of faith; and there may be heresy in either way, even as there can be faith. (Summa, II-II, q. 11, a. 2)

In the argument that follows, I intend to show that claiming a distinction of inferior or superior between races directly “leads to the corruption of some article of faith” and is thereby heresy. The present Outline will deal specifically with the superior/inferior claim, while the next Outline (in the next post) will deal specifically with Kinist heresy. The third Outline (Lord willing) will deal with the teleological heresy of racism. My hope is that through such arguments, the church at large will be willing to make formal heretics of material heretics, should there be no repentance on this issue.

For each outline I will assume an article from an ecumenical creed and then show how a specific kind of racist belief and confession fundamentally contradicts the assumed article. Throughout I will depend only on the Scripture, the Ecumenical Creeds, the logic and metaphysic employed in the Creeds, and quotes from the Fathers and Doctors of the church for clarification.

Outline 1

Creedal Assumption: “I believe in…one Lord Jesus Christ…Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man. (Nicene Creed)

(1) Jesus Christ bore the nature of a specific race.

As Christians, we confess that Christ “was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary” (Apostles Creed); that is, He was born of a real person, with a real family, lineage, and biological heritage. Accordingly, the Son of God was united with real human flesh, thereby also having a specific natural family, lineage, and biological heritage. Christ is indeed “man of the substance of his mother” (Athanasian Creed, 31).

This is according to the Scripture, wherein we read that “he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren” (Heb. 2:16-17). Further, Paul says of his own “kinsmen according to the flesh” that it is from them, “as concerning the flesh,” that “Christ came” (Rom. 9:3-5). And we read that Christ “was made of the seed of David according to the flesh” (Rom. 1:3).

(2) In bearing the nature of a specific race, Jesus Christ bore complete and full human nature (substance) as such.

That Christ bore complete and perfect human nature (substance) is integral to historic, orthodox soteriology. As Gregory of Nazianzus has famously written, “that which He has not assumed He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved. If only half Adam fell, then that which Christ assumes and saves may be half also; but if the whole of his nature fell, it must be united to the whole nature of Him that was begotten, and so be saved as a whole” (Gregory of Nazianzus, Epistle 101). If the Son of God only bore a portion of the human nature, then man can only be part saved. It was necessary that he bear not only the human body, but also the soul, mind, will, powers, and energies of the human nature. Whatever He did not assume, He did not redeem.

Therefore, we confess with the Formula of Chalcedon that Jesus Christ is “at once complete in Godhead and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man, consisting also of a reasonable soul and body; of one substance with the Father as regards his Godhead, and at the same time of one substance with us as regards his manhood”; and in agreement with the Athanasian Creed, “we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man. God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of the substance of His mother, born in the world. Perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting” (30-32).

Thus, by bearing the nature of an individual race “of the substance of his mother,” our Lord bore true, complete, and perfect nature as such.

(3) To say that races can differ by superiority or inferiority necessarily implies that they differ in nature (substance).

(3.a) To say that something is superior or inferior is to say it is greater or less.

The Semi-Arians, Eusebians, and homoiousians of the 4th Century were wont to say that, while He is true God, the Son is nevertheless inferior to the Father. Now to say that the Son is inferior is to say that He is in some way less than the Father, for to be neither inferior or superior is to be equal; and as Aquinas notes while retelling the orthodox apologetic against the Arians, “equality signifies the negation of greater or less” (Summa, I, q. 41, a. 1). Equality and inequality has to do with quantity. Aquinas writes,

Quantity is twofold. There is quantity of “bulk” or dimensive quantity, which is to be found only in corporeal things, and has, therefore, no place in God. There is also quantity of “virtue,” which is measured according to the perfection of some nature or form: to this sort of quantity we allude when we speak of something as being more, or less, hot; forasmuch as it is more or less, perfect in heat. Now this virtual quantity is measured firstly by its source–that is, by the perfection of that form or nature: such is the greatness of spiritual things, just as we speak of great heat on account of its intensity and perfection. And so Augustine says (De Trin. vi, 18) that “in things which are great, but not in bulk, to be greater is to be better,” for the more perfect a thing is the better it is. (Summa, I, q. 41, a. 1, ad 1)

To be superior is to have a greater quantity of “virtue” by greater quantity of perfections.

This was an important point for demonstrating the equality of the Father and the Son, for if each are true God, there can be no discrepancy in quantity as there is no discrepancy in perfections. Aquinas is even careful to point out that the “sending” of the Son in His temporal mission does not imply inferiority, because “mission implies inferiority in the one sent, when it means procession from the sender as principle, by command or counsel; forasmuch as the one commanding is the greater, and the counsellor is the wiser” (Summa, I, q. 43, a. 1, ad 1). Only if the sender is greater will the “inferiority” of the sent be implied.

We see this principle at work in our creeds as well: “And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three persons are co-eternal, and co-equal” (Athanasian Creed, 24-26).

There is equality when there is no greater or less.

(3.b) “Substance does not admit of greater or less,” therefore a class of persons (subsistences) is either greater or less by distinction of individuals or by distinction of nature (substance).

Historically, how do we know that “the whole three persons are co-eternal, and co-equal”? Because we know and confess that the Son and Spirit are “of one substance with the Father” (Nicene Creed). This was the end all argument of the Cappadocians in the 4th Century, and is the homoousian bedrock of our common trinitarian faith. The metaphysical principle employed is stated well by Aristotle:

Substance, it seems, does not admit of a more and a less. I do not mean that one substance is not more a substance than another (we have said that it is), but that any given substance is not called more, or less, that which it is. For example, if this substance is a man, it will not be more a man or less a man either than itself or than another man. For one man is not more a man than another, as one pale thing is more pale than another and one beautiful thing more beautiful than another. Again, a thing is called more, or less, such-and-such than itself; for example, the body that is pale is called more pale now than before, and the one that is hot is called more, or less, hot. Substance, however, is not spoken of thus. For a man is not called more a man now than before, nor is anything else that is a substance. Thus substance does not admit of a more and a less. (Categories, 3b32)

Now, Aristotle is not the genesis of this truth, though his work was appealed to subsequent to the crafting of our creeds. This principle is clearly presumed throughout the trinitarian work of the Fathers. It is, quite frankly, a Biblical doctrine, not just a philosophical doctrine.

The Scripture throughout speaks of greater or less individuals, according to their individual wisdom and progress in sanctification. And the Scripture also speaks of greater and less natures, e.g.,

What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas. (Ps. 8:4-8)

Man is “lower” than the angels, and the creature lower than man. Our Lord says, “Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?” (Matt. 6:26).

But nature (substance) itself does not admit of greater or less; that is, there are not birds that are more bird than other birds, or more bird now than later. Likewise, we say that the Father is not greater than the Son according to the nature (substance) of Godhead, for substance does not admit of greater or less. If they are of the same substance, they are by definition co-equal. But we also say that the incarnate Son of God is less than the Father, for He also bears a lesser nature—human nature.

[W]e believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and man. God of the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and man of the substance of His mother, born in the world. Perfect God and perfect man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father as touching His Godhead, and inferior to the Father as touching His manhood. (Athanasian Creed, 29-33)

(3.c) “Race” is minimally defined by progeneration of common nature (substance), not common person (subsistence), as per the principle “like begets like.”

The principle of “like begets like” was dexterously employed by Athanasius against the Arian heretics, and was refined and employed by many subsequent orthodox theologians, most notably Augustine. In short, the principle is that natural offspring share by propagation the identical nature/substance/essence of the bearer. Birds beget birds, men beget men, and God begets God. The trinitarian argument is that since the Son is the true and natural offspring of the Father, then the Son shares in the identical nature of the Father; the nature of the Father is true divinity, therefore the nature of His proper offspring is likewise true divinity. This was understood by the Jewish leaders of Jesus’s day, who sought to stone Him for calling God His father, “making himself equal with God” (Jn. 5:18). Nature begets like nature.

But this is not true of personhood. The Father is the father of the Son by propagation. But the Son is not Himself also Father by this propagation, else the persons would be confounded; as it is, “we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the persons, nor dividing the substance. For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit” and “there is one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; one Holy Spirit, not three Holy Spirits” (Athanasian Creed, 3-5, 24).

Athanasius writes against the Arians,

[I]f they inquire of parents concerning their son, let them consider whence is the child which is begotten. For, granting the parent had not a son before his begetting, still, after having him, he had him, not as external or as foreign, but as from himself, and proper to his essence and his exact image, so that the former is beheld in the latter, and the latter is contemplated in the former. (Discourse Against the Arians, 1.8.26)

Like begets like; nature begets nature. Though this principle is a universal truth, it nevertheless derives its ultimate reality from God Himself: “God does not make man His pattern; but rather we men, for that God is properly, and alone truly , Father of His Son, are also called fathers of our own children; for of Him ‘is every fatherhood in heaven and earth named Ephesians 3:15’” (Athanasius, Discourse Against the Arians, 1.7.23).

So, we confess that our Lord Jesus Christ is “the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made” (Nicene Creed). Since He is begotten of God, He is in fact God from God, just as He is Light from Light. He is true God because He is “the substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; and we must also confess, because like begets like, that he is true “man of the substance of His mother, born in the world” (Athanasian Creed, 30-31).

Now at a minimum, the concept of race is rooted in propagation of like nature and lineal descent, each individual of the class being united as common offspring. As such, what unites a race as race, and not just as an arbitrary collection of individuals, is identity of nature (substance), since the individual persons are united by lineal descent of common propagation. Persons do not beget identical persons such that the class is identified by communication of common personhood; rather, nature begets nature such that the class is identified by communication of common nature (substance). As Aquinas writes, “the end of natural generation, in that which is generated, is the essence of the species, which the definition signifies, this essence of the species is called the ‘nature'” (Summa, III, q. 2, a. 1).

Conclusion of (3): Thus, if something is superior or inferior, it must be greater or less; if it is greater or less, then it must either differ as individual subsistence or differ by nature (substance), for “substance does not admit of more or less”; race is minimally defined by common nature (substance), not by common personhood (subsistence); therefore, we must conclude that if races can differ by superiority or inferiority, then they must necessarily differ by nature (substance).

(4) Therefore, if race can differ by superiority or inferiority, thereby differing in nature (substance), then Christ did not bear the nature (substance) of all men, for he bore the human nature (substance) by bearing the nature of a specific race. This contradicts our Creedal Assumption: “I believe in…one Lord Jesus Christ…Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man” (Nicene Creed).


In short, it is impossible to simultaneously affirm that Christ bore the perfect and complete human nature (substance) of all men (“for us men and for our salvation”) and yet affirm that races can be superior or inferior; for there can be no inferiority or superiority without distinction of nature (substance). By the above demonstration, these are contradictory affirmations. To affirm the latter is to logically deny the former, and vice versa. One must either assume that by bearing the nature of one race, Christ bore the whole of human nature, or one must assume that races can differ in nature (substance), such that Christ did not bear the nature of all men. The only other alternative I can see is to abandon the metaphysical principles that undergird our ecumenical creeds and confessions, thereby abandoning the doctrinal formulations that they ground.

As such, the church at large ought to acknowledge that the claim to superiority or inferiority among races is not only a crime against love—in itself warranting discipline—but also a crime against the Gospel. Not only is racism de fide error, it is material heresy; it quite clearly “leads to the corruption” of essential articles of the faith.

Up Next:

Why Racism is Material Heresy : Responding to Questions/Objections to Outline 1

Why Racism is Material Heresy and Ought to be Formal Heresy : Outline 2, “Is Christ divided?”

18 thoughts on “Why Racism is Material Heresy and Ought to be Formal Heresy : Outline 1

  1. Blake February 8, 2018 / 6:57 am

    “In short, it is impossible to simultaneously affirm that Christ bore the perfect and complete human nature (substance) of all men (“for us men and for our salvation”) and yet affirm that races can be superior or inferior; for there can be no inferiority or superiority without distinction of nature (substance).”

    Does the same work for sex?


  2. Bob February 8, 2018 / 7:12 am

    In the PCA the General Assembly and Covenant Seminary are falling all over themselves to repent of “historical racism” and current racism of which we are mostly unaware of any specifics. Yet they never speak of any church discipline. Since there is no church discipline happening, I can only assume that the current racism of which they speak is imaginary and the repentence has a political motivation.


  3. cnumbers/cmark88 February 8, 2018 / 9:13 am

    Gonna read all of this, but just a quick note–I think in the begining of your article you mean “hate crimes” and not, “love crimes”, right?


    • Brad Mason February 8, 2018 / 10:02 am

      I meant it as “crimes against love.” Soynded right in my head, hahaha. I will clarify.


  4. tiwazmonk February 8, 2018 / 7:09 pm

    One major problem with your argument is that no physical thing can perfectly instantiate its nature. It is part of human nature to be bipedal, yet there are people with one or fewer (or even more than two) legs. They are still human and human nature is still bipedal. They are just imperfectly instantiating humanity. We all (hopefully) consider them to be in an inferior state. That is why people invent medical devices to help them be able to act as though they had the proper number of legs. The idea of prosthetic legs would be insane if it was perfectly natural for a human to be legless.

    Likewise there are certain heritable genetic traits that make one more qualified for certain jobs: steady hands for surgeons or musical ability for musicians. These traits tend to run in families. This in no way denies the imagio dei of people without these traits.

    As such, one can assert that people with certain phenotypes fail to instantiate humanity in different way than people with other phenotypes and that these differences can qualify or disqualify one from certain positions in society, without being heretical.

    This is exactly what non-malicious racism does. So, while it might be wrong from a scientific perspective, it isn’t heresy.


    • Brad Mason February 13, 2018 / 9:24 am

      Hello! Thank you for reading and responding. The human nature or substance that I speak of is as it is used in the Creeds. Bipedal is not part of what constitutes human nature. Thus, when one is born without a leg we do not say he is inhuman. Likewise, if all of such accidental properties were part of human nature (substance) as such, then the creeds are just plain wrong to say that Christ bore the human nature as such for he did not bear all possible accidental (in metaphysical sense) properties. Nature is not being used in the colloquial or scientific sense, but in the metaphysical sense as instantiated in the creeds.


      • tiwazmonk February 13, 2018 / 6:13 pm

        Thank you for your kind response.

        I was using nature in the Platonic/Aristotelian sense that the creeds used. Bipedalness is not an accidental quality and I tried to show how that doesn’t make legless people inhuman.

        However, I will concede the point for the sake of argument, because it makes your case weaker. It seems by your definition (and please correct me if I am wrong) that one group can claim total and objective superiority (being faster, smarter, stronger, better looking, and better at governing) than another group while still coherently claiming to be of the same substance. Since these are only accidental qualities there can be nothing dehumanizing about saying a populace or race, as a whole, is stupid, weak, ugly, and incapable of governing themselves. This allows for even more strident racism than my definition allowed.

        Thus racism, even if objectively wrong, isn’t heresy.


  5. AnAnonymousUser February 9, 2018 / 12:53 pm

    Do you believe that any claim in biological differences between groups is inherently a claim of intrinsic inferiority/superiority? I don’t think you were particularly specific in how you defined the concept, but I sincerely hope for your own sake you didn’t do so. It should be manifestly clear to anyone that people with down’s syndrome for example do not have the same level of innate potential that those without it do in the realm of cognitive ability, and that this is due to genetics. But recognizing that the ability of one in the cognitive realm is not all there is to humanity, and that doesn’t diminish their intrinsic worth is essential. A potential claim that races differ in innate ability on average for a given task or material outcome sought is not the same as a claim in intrinsic superiority/inferiority. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone actually make the claim that different races hold to different levels of intrinsic worth as human beings from any “racist” or “racialist” group, at least not ones that are of any noteworthy size.


  6. Danial June 30, 2018 / 4:56 pm

    Very good post. I will be dealing with a few of these issues as well..


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s