Heresies in the Catholic Church (The Overview Series)

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Commonly refers to a doctrinal belief held in opposition to the recognized standards of an established system of thought. Theologically it means an opinion at variance with the authorized teachings of any church, notably the Christian, and especially when this promotes separation from the main body of faithful believers.

In the Roman Catholic Church, heresy has a very specific meaning. Anyone who, after receiving baptism, while remaining nominally a Christian, pertinaciously denies or doubts any of the truths that must be believed with divine and Catholic faith is considered a heretic. Accordingly four elements must be verified to constitute formal heresy; previous valid baptism, which need not have been in the Catholic Church; external profession of still being a Christian, otherwise a person becomes an apostate; outright denial or positive doubt regarding a truth that the Catholic Church has actually proposed as revealed by God; and the disbelief must be morally culpable, where a nominal Christian refuses to accept what he knows is a doctrinal imperative.

It is widely affirmed that laws permitting the private ownership of land and capital are immoral; that the soil of all goods which are productive should be communal and that any system leaving their control to individuals or families is wrong and therefore to be attacked and destroyed. That doctrine, already very strong among us and increasing in strength and the number of its adherents, we do not call a heresy. We think of it only as a political or economic system, and when we speak of Communism our vocabulary does not suggest anything theological.

But this is only because we have forgotten what the word theological means. Communism is as much a heresy as Manichaeism. It is the taking away from the moral scheme by which we have lived of a particular part, the denial of that part and the attempt to replace it by an innovation. The Communist retains much of the Christian scheme- human equality, the right to live, and so forth-he denies a part of it only.

The same is true of the attack on the indissolubility of marriage.


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No one calls the mass of modern practice and affirmation upon divorce a heresy, but a heresy it clearly is because its determining characteristic is the denial of the Christian doctrine of marriage and the substitution therefore of another doctrine, to wit, that marriage is but a contract and a terminable contract. Equally, is it a heresy, a "change by exception," to affirm that nothing can be known upon divine things, that all is mere opinion and that therefore things made certain by the evidence of the senses and by experiment should be our only guides in arranging human affairs.

Those who think thus may and commonly do retain much of Christian morals, but because they deny certitude from Authority, which doctrine is a part of Christian epistemology, they are heretical. It is not heresy to say that reality can be reached by experiment, by sensual perception and by deduction. It is heresy to say that reality can be attained from no other source.

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We are living today under a regime of heresy with only this to distinguish it from the older periods of heresy, that the heretical spirit has become generalized and appears in various forms. It will be seen that I have, in the following pages, talked of "the modern attack" because some name must be given to a thing before one can discuss it at all, but the tide which threatens to overwhelm us is so diffuse that each must give it his own name; it has no common name as yet.

Perhaps that will come, but not until the conflict between that modern anti-Christian spirit and the permanent tradition of the Faith becomes acute through persecution and the triumph or defeat thereof. It will then perhaps be called anti-Christ.

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The word is derived from the Greek verb Haireo, which first meant "I grasp" or "I seize," and then came to mean "I take away. I propose in what follows to deal with the main attacks upon the Catholic Church which have marked her long history. In the case of all but. I shall conclude by discussing the chances of the present struggle for the survival; of the Church in that very civilization which she created and which is now generally abandoning her.

The Great Heresies | EWTN

There is, as everybody knows, an institution proclaiming itself today the sole authoritative and divinely appointed teacher of essential morals and essential doctrine. This institution calls itself the Catholic Church. It is further an admitted historical truth, which no one denies, that such an institution putting forth such a claim has been present among mankind for many centuries.

Many through antagonism or lack of knowledge deny the identity of the Catholic Church today with the original. Christian society. No one, however hostile or uninstructed, will deny its presence during at least thirteen or fourteen hundred years. It is further historically true though not universally admitted that the claim of this body to be a divinely appointed voice for the statement of true doctrine on the matters essential to man his nature, his ordeal in this world, his doom or salvation, his immortality, etc.

From the day of Pentecost some time between A. And the organism by which that body of doctrine has been affirmed has been from the outset a body of men bound by a certain tradition through which they claimed to have the authority in question.

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Hence we must distinguish between two conceptions totally different, which are nevertheless often confused. One is the historical fact that the claim to Divine authority and Infallible doctrine was and is still made; the other the credibility of that claim. Whether the claim be true or false has nothing whatever to do with its historical origin and continuity; it may have arisen as an illusion or an imposture; it may have been continued in ignorance; but that does not affect its historical existence. The claim has been made and continues to be made, and those who make it are in unbroken continuity with those who made it in the beginning.

They form, collectively, the organism which called itself and still calls itself "The Church. Now against this authoritative organism, its claim, character and doctrines, there have been throughout the whole period of its existence continued assaults. There have been denials of its claim. There have been denials of this or that section of its doctrines.

There has been the attempted replacing of these by other doctrines. Even attempted destruction of the organism, the Church, has repeatedly taken place. I propose to select five main attacks of this kind from the whole of the very great-the almost unlimited-number of efforts, major and minor, to bring down the edifice of unity and authority. My reason for choosing so small a number as five, and concentrating upon each as a separate phenomenon, is not only the necessity for a framework and for limits, but also the fact that in these five the main forms of attack are exemplified.

These five are, their in historical order, 1. The Arian; 2. The Mohammedan; 3. The Albigensian; 4. The Protestant; 5. One to which no specific name has as yet been attached, but we shall call for the sake of convenience "the Modern.

Distinctions

I say that each of these five main campaigns, the full success of any one of which would have involved the destruction of the Catholic Church, its authority and doctrine among men, presents a type. The Arian attack proposed a change of fundamental doctrine, such that, had the change prevailed, the whole nature of the religion would have been transformed. It would not only have been transformed, it would have failed; and with its failure would have followed the break-down of that civilization which the Catholic Church was to build up.

The Arian heresy filling the fourth, and active throughout the fifth, century , proposed to go to the very root of the Church's authority by attacking the full Divinity of her Founder. But it did much more, because its underlying motive was a rationalizing of the mystery upon which the church bases herself: the Mystery of the Incarnation. Arianism was essentially a revolt against the difficulties attaching to mysteries as a whole though expressing itself as an attack on the chief mystery only. Arianism was a typical example on the largest scale of that reaction against the supernatural which, when it is fully developed, withdraws from religion all that by which religion lives.

The Mohammedan attack was of a different kind. It came geographically from just outside the area of Christendom; it appeared, almost from the outset, as a foreign enemy; yet it was not, strictly speaking, a new religion attacking the old, it was essentially a heresy; but from the circumstances of its birth it was a heresy alien rather than intimate.

It threatened to kill the Christian Church by invasion rather than to undermine it from within. The Albigensian attack was but the chief of a great number, all of which drew their source from the Manichean conception of a duality in the Universe; the conception that that good and evil are ever struggling as equals, and that Omnipotent Power is neither single nor beneficient. Closely intertwined with this idea and inseparable from it was the conception that matter is evil and that all pleasure, especially of the body, is evil.

This form of attack, of which I say the Albigensian was the most notorious and came nearest to success, was rather an attack upon morals than upon doctrine; it had the character of a cancer fastening upon the body of the Church from within, producing a new life of its own, antagonistic to the life of the Church and destructive of it-just as a malignant growth in the human body lives a life of its own, other than, and destructive of, the organism in which it has parasitically arisen. The Protestant attack differed from the rest especially in this characteristic, that its attack did not consist in the promulgation of a new doctrine or of a new authority, that it made no concerted attempt at creating a counter-Church, but had for its principle the denial of unity.

Thus, one Protestant may affirm, as do the English Puseyites, the truth of all the doctrines underlying the Mass-the Real Presence, the Sacrifice, the sacerdotal power of consecration, etc. Such affirmations of disunion, such denial of the claim to unity as being part of the Divine order, produced indeed a common Protestant temperament through certain historical associations; but there is no one doctrine nor set of doctrines which can be affirmed as being the kernel of Protestantism.


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Its essential remains the rejection of unity through authority. Lastly there is that contemporary attack on the Catholic Church which is still in progress and to which no name has been finally attached, save the vague term "modern. And yet it is a pity to have to reject it, for it admirably describes by implication the quarrel between the present attackers of Catholic authority and doctrine, and the tone of mind of a believer. Antiquity began by giving the name "alogos" to those who belittled or denied, though calling themselves Christians, the Divinity of Christ.

They were said to do so from lack of "wit," in the sense of "fullness of comprehension," "largeness of apprehension. One might also have chosen the term "Positivism," seeing that the modern movement relies upon the distinction between things positively proved by experiment and things accepted upon other grounds; but the term "Positivism" has already a special connotation and to use it would have been confusing.

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