"Heresy resides in all of us…"

“Heresy resides in all of us, in one way or another, and increasingly I am coming to realize that the corny old song “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me…” is speaking a truth. Pope Benedict XVI has said, “God does not force us to believe in Him, but draws us to himself through the truth and goodness of his incarnate Son.” This is for all of us; its truth belies all of the divisions we create, and negates all of our excuses; it calls to stabilization all of our excesses and the righting of all of our intentions, through discernment. If we want to change the world, we begin here, allowing ourselves to be drawn to Jesus Christ, sitting at the Master’s feet and taking his instructions to heart.

Perhaps if all of us turned off the TV, shut down the internet, silenced the iPods and spent 15-30 minutes a day taking instruction in his presence or beneath his Cross, our humility would be such that we could never cry out “heretic” without first proclaiming it for ourselves.”

– Elizabeth Scalia, with today’s must-read.


  1. joan chakonas says:

    Amen to that. As for me me me: I have zero interest in popular culture and I work at a major media company. I can personally attest to the extremely positive effects of “turn(ing) off the TV, shut(ting) down the internet, silenced the iPods and spent 15-30 minutes a day taking instruction in his presence”. However, I recommend putting mpgs of Fulton Sheen lectures on the IPOD and EWTN programming on the TV and getting your news from newspapers like The Wanderer and blogs like this. Everything else is pure garbage. Corporal life alone is ten thousand percent better.

  2. Deacon Norb says:

    Before we get too far down this track, can we all sit back and remind ourselves what the term “heresy” really means?

    –First, you have to be in a public forum where you have the opportunity to influence others by your teaching.

    –Secondly, the teachings that you proclaim have to defy/challenge/claim to be false a DOGMA of Catholicism or a DOCTRINE of wider Christianity.

    –DOGMA includes those eternal truths that make us unique among the wider religious communities (perpetual virginity of Lady Mary of Nazareth; the special place in the history of human salvation of the Bishop of Rome [by whatever name any given culture calls that position]).

    –DOCTRINE includes those eternal truths that we share with the wider Christian Community (anything in the Apostles or Nicene Creed).

    Once you are challenged by credible religious authority about your error, you must refuse to recant. That is; you refuse to admit that what you are teaching is an error and insist that you are correct — and that the Church is wrong.

    Then — and only then — can you be clearly identified as a HERETIC, and that public identification requires a formal declaration from the Vatican.

    SO — if you challenge the Teaching Magisterium of our Church, you have to expect a strong reaction of some sort; BUT you will not be formally identified as a HERETIC unless your teaching directly challenges DOGMA or DOCTRINE.

  3. Somewhere between screaming “HERETIC” with reckless abandon, and remaining silent is probably where most of us should be. Sometimes we’re afraid to call a spade a spade (I think of those commercials with the adults who are afraid to tell their kids not to use pot because they did when they were in high school)….we need to flat out point out heresy when we see it. However, we have to do so with charity, knowing that what we are doing isn’t a condemnation, but trying to bring a brother or sister into right relationship with Christ.

    Let’s never feel afraid to call out heresy when we see it….but let us never do so with malice, anger, or pride.

  4. Deacon Norb

    Thank you very much for that. In Anchoress’s blog that Deacon Greg linked, I tried to say similar but my knowledge on the subject is poor. You might want to repost that under Anchoress’s blog so that it’s clear for all.

    The term “heretic” has been used incorrectly.

  5. brother jeff says:

    Heresy does not reside in all of us. The effects of original sin do.

  6. brother jeff says:

    Deacon Norb, you do not need to be in a public forum and no ‘Vatican declaration’ is required. Heresy is simply any obstinate, post-baptismal denial of any doctrine which must be accepted in the catholic faith.

  7. You can accuse me of many things, but heretic is not one of them. I do not believe that “heresy” resides in all of us. It is quite ridiculous to take that position. Sin resides in all of us, but not heresy.

  8. Fiergenholt says:

    Let’s also add some historical and personal context to this.

    –Your long-time multi-generational Lutheran (or even Episcopal/Anglican) friends down the street are NOT heretics. The one thing Deacon Norb left out is that in order to be a heretic, you have to be a baptized Catholic first.

    –Theologians and historians continue to argue whether Martin Luther was a genuine heretic or more an apostate. Luther really did not want to change any of the eternal truths of traditional Christianity. His immediate followers, like Melancthon, probably fit the definition of a heretic better than he did.

    –Among those same theologians and historians there is even less concern about King Henry VIII. Apostate, yes. Sinner, yes. Heretic, not really. Archbishops Cramner or Parker would fit that definition better but even there it is unconvincing.

    –Your former friend who is an “ex-Catholic/anti-Catholic” evangelical fundamentalist would fit the definition. Attacking our devotion to the Blessed Virgin or calling the Pope the “anti-Christ” seems to be a common practice of those folks.

  9. Deacon Norb says:

    Brother Jeff #5 and #6:

    According to the narrow vision of Canon Law, you are probably correct. My reply was based more upon actual experience. It simply is not prudent for a charge of heresy to be imposed by anything less than the highest levels of our church and, under no circumstances, should laity be empowered to make that formal charge.

    Many years ago, several professors at a major Roman Catholic University here in the Midwest were publicly accused by another professor of promoting heresy. The public relations disaster that followed drew in all sorts of side-bars: local Catholic pastors made statements to the local media condemning the heresy; major celebrity “talking-heads” on network television got involved; the entire wider community was in an uproar. The “Great Heresy Scare” as it was known took several years to unwind. The really unfortunate thing about all of this is that there was no heresy at all and the local ordinary, who sponsored the formal investigation, essentially said so in his final report.

    As a result, however, several very effective professors — on both sides of that very bitter debate — resigned from the university in disgust.

    Now jump ahead a bunch of years: John-Paul II’s encyclical “Fides et Ratio” made all that controversy moot. The analysis of that entire series of events has been the subject of several “academic papers” at professional conferences and even the subject of a doctoral dissertation.

  10. brother jeff says:

    A heretic automatically excommunicates himself or herself from the Church. There is no need for, and rarely is, a charge of heresy. Im not sure what the point of this discussion is, but heresy is real just as other sins are real

  11. Fiergenholt says:

    According to ancient Scandinavian legend, reinforced by Roman Catholic author, J.R.R Tolkein, trolls must vanish at the light of the sun or they are annihilated by being turned into stone.

  12. Deacon Norb and Brother Jeff: You nailed it! Not everybody is a heretic. We are all sinners, we may even be in mortal sin but that is very different from heresy. I am a little surprised at the blog (Elizabeth Scalia’s). It seems to be a great deal of gymnastics to end with a lot of self doubt and the predictable “do not judge”.

  13. I’m surprised at how Anchoress’s blog too. I still don’t think every disagreement withChurch teaching is a heresy. Otherwise we are all heretics.

  14. Deacon Greg Kandra says:

    I’m reminded of something the exasperated editor of a Catholic newspaper once said to me: “I wish I could market a litmus test to determine whether or not someone was sufficiently Catholic,” he sighed. “I’d make a mint.”

    That’s where the Church finds herself these days. Anyone who deviates even slightly from official teaching is branded a heretic by people who don’t know any better. It’s all fueled by fear and distrust — and it’s outrageous.

  15. Brother Jeff says:

    Deacon Greg, who is branding you and/or loads of other people ‘heretics’? I haven’t seen it.

    A slight deviation is far different from an obstinate denial or doubt. The Catechism is very clear on that.

    I think the Church is suffering far more from the poor catechesis of the last 40 years, along with atrocious cultural influences, than any anti-heresy campaign. I can’t remember, in fact, any priest ever using the word from the pulpit.

  16. When a Church goes to the trouble of defining heresy, defining beliefs which all the faithful must believe, spending years to deliver a cathecism, setting up standards for those in Catholic Universities to have formal approval of the local bishop, etc, obviously the teaching of that Church must be important. Most human beings, but especially Americans hate to have anyone tell them that something is final and cannot be disputed or challenged. To state one is Catholic would then seem to also demand that we accept what that Church teaches. Our faith is not and should not be viewed as some political party. That is what makes such a farce of statements like Nancy Pelosi’s about abortion and why the Pope went out of his way to pull her aside at a visit to the Vatican to make sure she was aware of her grave error. The entire matter of being a Catholic, being personally opposed to a grave evil, but voting to keep it legal and even to fund the grave evil is such a joke.

    My objection to articles like this is that it seems to suggest that it is somehow wrong to point out that the holocaust of 54 million babies far exceeds what was done to the Jews by the Nazi by a factor of 8 times and it continues every day. As Mother Thresa and Pope John Paul II said, that we live in a culture of death that has to stop if America is to have any moral standing. If the support of this holocaust is not heresy, then it would be hard to ever call anything else heresy ever again. If the Bishops would unite with the Pope and make a definitive statement on the support of abortion in any manner puts the person outside the Catholic Church and apart from God, I suspect we would begin to see a movement to end abortion and also the other perversions being made legal. By hanging around with the likes of Ted Kennedy, Pelosi, and many other Catholics who support abortion, the Catholic Church is losing its way and separating themselves from Christ.

    I wonder if we took this article and put it in the context of an article written in German during the time of the holocaust how it would be viewed today. for example, the post starts out at Anchoress with this statement…

    “it is extremely distressing to me that so many Catholics are willing to make a decision about our fellows, stick a label on them and figure they know all about them and can ever-dismiss them as “that sort” of Catholic, or not as good a Catholic or the wrong sort of Catholic than you know…”better” Catholics.”

    Evil demands a label. Take a look at how critical the world is today of the Catholic Church during WWII and how much it probably deserves it. John the Baptist was a lay person. He screamed out at Kings and Queens and Christ said “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.” I would imagine some would have prefered John to speak with greater kindness about evil. I wish all our Bishops and Cardinals were a little bit more like John the Baptist. We are seeing 4,000 babies a day butchered in the wombs of women and we are seeing marriage itself redefined by the horror of those whose choice of behavior is sodomy.

    I am in my 80′s and do not believe what I see today. No, we do not need to be nice to evil. That to me is almost worse than silence. How any Catholic could thnk of supporting the Democratic Party of abortion and gay special rights is beyond understanding and I am a former Democrat. You cannot be against something on a personal level and vote to keep it legal. Sorry, does not work and this should be in every Catholic blog today over and over until the holocaust ends. 50 years from now, it is my hope and prayer that future Americans will be asking how anyone could have supported those evils.

  17. And Deacon, on your ““I wish I could market a litmus test to determine whether or not someone was sufficiently Catholic,” he sighed. “I’d make a mint.” friend. I would have answered it already exists. You can speak to someone for a short time on several key issues and know if they follow the Catholic teaching or not. If they do not, and defend their action rather than simply saying it is a failure on their part and a sin, you know they are not Catholic as defined by the Church. You can start by the questions:

    Do you go to Mass every Sunday and every other day of obligation?

    Do you support in any way or utilize birth control and abortion?

    Do you routinely go to the sacrament of reconcilliation?

    There are more, but if you get a bad answer to these, you have a pretty certain problem with yourself or the one to whom your speaking. And yes, it leaves a lot of those who claim the Catholic faith out of the loop and in serious trouble. It is the first question I ask of my kids, my grandkids, and my great grandkids. I never ask if they are happy; I ask if they are holy…

  18. Brother Jeff says:

    Greta I agree with so much of what you say in these posts and really admire that question you ask of your younger relatives. I wish I had had a similar wise person making me think in that way.

    I would only offer that the first situation you describe in which a person is not going to Mass is not necessarily a sign of heresy. Could be, but not always. There are more than a few Catholics who believe “but do not belong.” Missing mass is more of a sin than heresy I think. Same for three. I recently ran into a Catholic friend who outright declared that she did “not believe in Confession,” and in that situation, I think you are veering well into heresy territory, if you have not already built a house there. But even in that situation, it could be a fear that is motivating the rejection (e.g., guilt over an abortion, deeply internalized fear of what one has done), not a rational, calm rejection of a sacrament as false.

    Just my two cents.

  19. Brother Jeff says:

    That question you ask is actually very good.

    As William F. Buckley once observed, happiness is a by-product of living a good life; it is not something to be sought in itself. it is not something that can ever be “caught.” Lot of wisdom there.

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