Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Heresy and the Church

Awhile back both Chris Tilling and Alan Knox gave a go at defining "heresy". Tilling focuses more on heresy as a lived out endeavor whereas Knox focuses mainly on heresy in relation to Scripture. I think both of these are true - but I think both lack an element: the Church.

When the first great heresy arose, there wasn't a Biblical canon. How did the early Church combat it? By the Church's authority. Out of the 318 Bishops that showed up, all but 2 voted against Arius, and the decision was signed by the Papal Legates sent by Pope Sylvester.

Also, heresy is not just a simple belief (as Tilling pointed out) - but is rather the continuation in a belief after having been corrected. The Catholic Church differentiates between material and formal heresy. Material heresy is simply done out of ignorance (and isn't even a sin), whereas formal heresy is when one knowingly goes against the teachings of the Church.

I think this is completely in line with Scripture, as well. For Paul, the Church is the pillar of Truth (1 Timothy 3:15). Notice when Paul mentions heresy (αιρεσεις) in 1 Corinthians 11:19 - it's within the setting of the liturgy. It's not simply a wrong belief, it's going against the Church. In Galatians 5:20 - Paul states that heresy is an offense which will keep you from inheriting the kingdom of God.

I suppose my point is - if you use Scripture as the sole rule of doctrine, how exactly do you say anything is heresy absolutely? You can say, "Well, this sounds like heresy to me and mine." But you certainly can't say so for all of Christendom (not Chrisendom, which is chock full of heresy anyway) with any kind of authority. The Angelic Doctor is as erudite as ever:

The subject-matter of both faith and heresy is, therefore, the deposit of the faith, that is, the sum total of truths revealed in Scripture and Tradition as proposed to our belief by the Church. The believer accepts the whole deposit as proposed by the Church; the heretic accepts only such parts of it as commend themselves to his own approval. (S.Th. II-II:11:1)

Personally, I'd like to see this word get a little more mileage. We're all a little too PC these days. Let the H bombs fly!


James F. McGrath said...

I thought I'd point out a recent post of mine that relates to heresy.

Let the H-bombs fly indeed...feel free to lauch a few in my direction if you are so inclined! :)

tim ricchuiti said...

Wouldn't the implication then be that there was no heresy before the First Ecumenical Council? Also, how does something like that work practically today? Are there Catholics being put on notice by their priest for heresy? (By the way, I'm not trying to be facetious, I'm actually curious).

Josh McManaway said...

Hey Tim,

There certainly were heresies, but something of a different color until Arianism. Whereas Docetism, Cerinthianism, etc, had existed in the 1st and 2nd Centuries, these were really mostly outside of the Church. Arianism was the first major heresy that appealed to those inside the Church en masse.

A priest most definitely could tell someone they are a heretic (though it would probably be material heresy, which isn't a sin). However - there are Catholic theologians who have been censored by the Vatican for writing and not recanting views deemed heretical.

And the way it works today is essentially the way it worked back then. If a priest in a diocese is teaching something that is not in accordance with the Church's teaching, his bishop should reprimand him. If he doesn't repent, he will be dealt with by the Vatican.

Tim Ricchuiti said...

Well, thank you for the comment as well. I've posted another thought, and I'm really enjoying the dialogue. Thanks!

Tim Ricchuiti said...

Excellent point.