Did You Know……what a ‘Heresy’ is?
Last Week we looked at who the ‘Fathers of the Church’ were, and how they fought to keep their ‘family’ (members of the Church) together. It was not long before those fights took shape in something called ‘Heresies’. A ‘heresy’ is different from ‘apostasy’, which in turn is different from ‘schism’. Whereas heresy is the willful acceptance of incorrect doctrine, apostasy is the flat out renunciation of the Christian faith. Schism occurs when, in an attempt to preserve a particular orthodoxy, one breaks away from union with the Church and Papacy. Heresy got its name from the Greek word for ‘choice’ – hairesis – when that choice goes against the clear teaching of the Church, which, as we’ve seen, has been maintained unchanged since Jesus Christ and His Apostles. “Pick and Choose Catholicism” is nothing new; and yet it has always been condemned – and most vocally so by the early Fathers of the Church.
Heresies ran the whole gamut of ideas. Some were simply justification for immoral behavior, others were promises of magical powers. Since we humans tend to want to ‘know’ everything so as to have it within our control – many heresies were attempts to explain unexplainable mysteries – such as the Trinity or Incarnation. And of course there were always the heresies created by people who saw sin in the church and wanted to remake it in a better ‘image’. They sought a ‘newer, more pure’ church with a better chance at avoiding sin – forgetting that as long as their church was made up of humans – there would be sin!
As you can imagine, in the history of our Church there have been many, many heresies. Some of the first ones are seen in the New Testament itself. The ‘Docetic’ heresy claimed that Jesus only appeared to be human and to suffer and die, but in fact was nothing more than a spirit inside some kind of mechanical human body. It is believed that St. John speaks against this heresy when he exclaimed “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God” (1 John 4:2-3).
St. Paul and St. Jude appear to be fighting against a different heresy known as Gnosticism. This was an elitist hyper-spiritual heresy emphasizing secret revelations. In his letter to his protégé Timothy, St. Paul is believed to be arguing against this heresy when he closes with: “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid profane babbling and the absurdities of so-called knowledge. By professing it, some people have deviated from the faith.” 1 Timothy 6:20-21
To the Fathers of the Church it was essential to fight against these heresies because Doctrine was absolutely necessary for the continuation of the faith. To believe in a Jesus defined by each heresy was to believe in a Jesus who did not actually exist. For if men could redefine Jesus – then ultimately the reality of His teachings and life would do no more than reflect whatever man’s popular opinion of the time was. And if that occurred, then the faith was lost. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD.” Isaiah 55:8
And so.... did YOU know what a ‘heresy’ was? Next week we’ll look at some that have been accepted by many Christians today.
(Information obtained from “The Fathers of the Church” by Mike Aquilina)
Ashley and Susan
Two women asking the world to not just hope, but to Hope in Love.