Circle of Prayer - Heresy
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A heresy is a crime which a person commits who, after having received the Christian faith and still keeping the name of Christian, either denies or doubts some truth which was revealed by God and is taught by the Church as revealed. Formal heresy, a mortal sin, occurs if the person knows his error is contrary to the Church's teachings, therefore those of Christ, yet continues to hold it. Material heresy occurs when a person does not realise that his belief is contrary to the Church's teachings and would be willing to submit to the authority of the Church on the matter, and is not considered a sin unless the person suspects he might be wrong and neglects to find out the truth.

Heresy differs from apostasy. The apostate a fide abandons wholly the faith of Christ either by embracing Judaism, Islamism, Paganism, or simply by falling into naturalism and complete neglect of religion; the heretic always retains faith in Christ. Heresy also differs from Schism, discussed separately.

Heresy occurs because man has been given free will. "The undoing of faith infused and fostered by God Himself is possible on account of the human element in it, namely man's free will. The will determines the act of faith freely because its moral dispositions move it to obey God, whilst the non-cogency of the motives of credibility allows it to withhold its consent and leaves room for doubt and even denial." (Catholic Encyclopaedia on Heresy)

"To find out how a man's free will is led to withdraw from the faith once professed, the best way is observation of historical cases. Pius X, scrutinizing the causes of Modernism, says: "The proximate cause is, without any doubt, an error of the mind. The remoter causes are two: curiosity and pride. Curiosity, unless wisely held in bounds, is of itself sufficient to account for all errors. . . . But far more effective in obscuring the mind and leading it into error is pride, which has, as it were, its home in Modernist doctrines.

Through pride the Modernists:

  • overestimate themselves
  • "We are not like other men"
  • they reject all submission to authority
  • they pose as reformers.
If from moral causes we pass to the intellectual, the first and most powerful is ignorance...They extol modern philosophy ... completely ignoring the philosophy of the Schools and thus depriving themselves of the means of clearing away the confusion of their ideas and of meeting sophisms. Their system, replete with so many errors, had its origin in the wedding of false philosophy with faith" (Encycl. "Pascendi", 8 September, 1907)". (Catholic Encyclopaedia on Heresy)

Heresy, in the sense of falling away from the Faith, became possible only after the Faith had been promulgated by Christ. Its advent is clearly foretold, by the Apostles:

" . . . and many false prophets shall rise and will lead many astray. . . . " (Matt. 24:11 Douay-Challenor)

"Then if anyone say to you: 'Behold here is the Christ', or 'There he is', do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Behold I have told it to you beforehand. If therefore they say to you: 'Behold he is in the desert, do not go forth: 'Behold he is in the inner chambers, do not believe it. For as the lightening  comes forth from the east and shines even to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. Wherever the body is, there will the eagles be gathered together (Matt. 24:23-28 Douay-Challenor)

Christ also indicated the marks by which to know the false prophets:

"Who is not with me is against me" (Luke 11:23 Douay-Challenor);

The Apostles acted upon their Master's directions. All the weight of their own Divine faith and mission is brought to bear upon innovators.

"As we have said, so now I say again: If any one", says St.Paul, "preach to you a gospel to you , other than that which you have received, let him be anathema!" (Gal. 1:9 Douay-Challenor).

To St. John the heretic is a seducer, an antichrist, a man who dissolves Christ:

"Beloved, do not believe every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they are of God, because many false prophets have gone forth into the world. By this is the spirit of God known; every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, is of God. And every spirit that severs Jesus, is not of God, but is of Antichrist, of whom you have heard that he is coming, and now is already in the world." (I John 4:1-3 Douay-Challenor)

"For many deceivers have gone forth into the world who do not confess Jesus as the Christ coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver  and the Antichrist (I John  7 Douay-Challenor);

"If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into the house or say to him, welcome. For he who says to him, welcome, is sharer in his evil works" (II John 10-11 Douay-Challenor).

St. Peter applies the term to Christian sects and true to his office and to his impetuous nature, assails them as with a two-edged sword:

"But there were false prophets among the people, just as among you there will be lying teachers who will bring in destructive sects. They even disown the Lord who bought them, thus bringing upon themselves swift destruction.  And many will follow their wanton conduct, and because of them the way of truth will be maligned. And out of greed they will with deceitful words use you for their gain. Their condemnation, passed of old, is not made void, and their destruction does not slumber. (II Peter 2:1-3 Douay-Challenor)

:These men are springs without water, and mists driven by storms, the blackness of darkness is reserved for them" (II Peter 2:17 Douay-Challenor)

In later Greek, philosophers' schools, as well as religious sects, are "heresies". St. Thomas (II-II:11:1) defines heresy: "a species of infidelity in men who, having professed the faith of Christ, corrupt its dogmas". "The right Christian faith consists in giving one's voluntary assent to Christ in all that truly belongs to His teaching.

St. Jude speaks in a similar strain throughout his whole epistle:

"For certain men have stealthily entered in, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men who turn the grace of God into wantonness and disown our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (Jude 4 Douay-Challenor)

St. Paul admonishes the disturbers of the unity of faith at Corinth that:

."...for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but powerful before God  to the demolishing of strongholds, the destroying of reasoning - yes every lofty thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every mind into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being prepared to take vengence on all disobedience when once your own submission is complete". (II Cor. 10:4-6 Douay-Challenor).

What Paul did at Corinth he enjoins to be done by every bishop in his own church. Thus Timothy is instructed to:

"I commit to thee this charge, my son Timothy, that according to the prophesies once made concerning thee, thou mayest fight the good fight by means of them, having faith and a good conscience. Some rejecting rejecting this have made shipwreak of the faith, among whom are Hymeneus and Alexander, whom I have delivered up to Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme."
(I Tim. 1:18-20 Douay-Challenor).

He exhorts the ancients of the Church at Ephesus to

"Take heed to yourselves, and to the whole flock in which the Holy Spirit has placed you as bishops, to rule the Church of God, which He has purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will get in among you, and will not spare the flock . . . Watch, therefore . . ." (Acts 20:28-31 Douay-Challenor).

"Beware of dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the mutilation.", he writes to the Philippians (3:2 Douay-Challenor),

the dogs being the same false teachers as the "ravening wolves". The Fathers show no more leniency to perverters of the faith. A Protestant writer thus sketches their teaching (Schaff-Herzog, s. v. Heresy):

"Polycarp regarded Marcion as the first-born of the Devil. Ignatius sees in heretics poisonous plants, or animals in human form. Justin and Tertullian condemn their errors as inspirations of the Evil One; Theophilus compares them to barren and rocky islands on which ships are wrecked; and Origen says, that as pirates place lights on cliffs to allure and destroy vessels in quest of refuge, so the Prince of this world lights the fires of false knowledge in order to destroy men.

Jerome calls the congregations of the heretics synagogues of Satan (Ep. 123), and says their communion is to be avoided like that of vipers and scorpions (Ep. 130).]

These primitive views on heresy have been faithfully transmitted and acted on by the Church in subsequent ages. There is no break in the tradition from St. Peter forwards. The Church's legislation on heresy and heretics is often reproached with cruelty and intolerance and a perfect example of this was the period of the Spanish Inquisition. However, we have to remember that the way of dealing with heresy was often not the way of Jesus, and here again the Church was plagued with the cruel inhumanity of man. Evil personified. Perhaps if the Church representatives had dealth with the matters of heresy the way Jesus dealth with untruths, through teaching, not through murder, we might not have had so many divisions.

But perhaps too many took the words of Christ too literally when He said:

"Do not think that I have come to send peace upon earth; I have come to bring a sword not not peace ....." (Matt. 10:34 Douay-Challenor).

The following is a list of some of the better-known heresies throughout history with a link to each to be able to read the 'truths' espoused by them:
Heresy of Wyclif

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