Hypocrites and Heretics

I’d rather be a hypocrite than a heretic. A hypocrite is a person who knows the truth and believes the truth, but doesn’t live by it. People and complained about bad popes, and some of them were real stinkers, but they were hypocrites not heretics.

A hypocrite knows the truth but fails to live by it. A heretic changes the truth according to how he lives. Bad popes were hypocrites not heretics because the may have fornicated and murdered and stolen, but they never taught that fornication, murder and theft were good. That’s what a heretic would do.

A hypocrite may sleep with another man’s wife, but he knows it is wrong. A heretic sleeps with another man’s wife and says, “It is necessary for the church to be welcoming to those who have experienced difficulties and pain in keeping their marriage bond.” A hypocrite may experience same sex attraction and have sexual relations with another man, but he then goes to confession and realizes that what he is done is wrong. A heretic says, “The church needs to be more up to date in her understanding of human sexuality.” A hypocrite never gives money to the poor, hoards all his wealth, and plots to get as rich as he can, but when he looks in the mirror and in the bank account he has a twinge of guilt and knows he is a greedy man and a hypocrite. The heretic says, “God has blessed me! I must be wonderful.”

The hypocrite has a chance of repentance for he still knows that what he has done is wrong. The heretic condones his sin, calls evil good and good evil and prides himself on his brave and daring decision. The heretic challenges the church’s teaching. The hypocrite is challenged by the church’s teachings. The hypocrite follows the pope’s teachings even when he fails to follow the pope’s teachings whereas the heretic never follows the pope’s teaching while pretending that he does follow the pope’s teachings.

A politician who says he is a devout Catholic but is in favor of same sex marriage is a heretic, not a hypocrite. As such he is far more beyond reconciliation and redemption than the devout Catholic who upholds church teachings, but gets caught with his pants down. The hypocrite is some h0w more lovable than the heretic because, if he has any self awareness at all, he knows he is a hypocrite and has failed to observe the teachings in which he believes. The heretic is an odious, rebellious and proud character–full of his own ideas and ready to re-write the faith of our Fathers for his own benefit.

May I conclude this rant by saying I prefer the hypocrites to the heretics because I am one myself. I hold completely and fully to the teachings of Holy Mother Church. I have no other truth to teach but the truth of the Catholic Faith. I have no opinions. I have only the teaching of the Church. However, I fail to live up to those teachings so I am a hypocrite.

However, I am not a heretic, and on this humble claim I hope for some simple service to my Lord and his church and I hope, by the faith of the church which I will never renounce, that I may by God’s grace and the blood of the Savior to one day know my soul’s salvation


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  • http://pilgrimchronicle.wordpress.com/ Kevin

    Fr. Dwight, is it hypocrisy to profess all that the church teaches while acknowledging that we are sinful and fail to live the truth at times? I would have thought that a hypocrite is one who presents an appearance of being righteous and keeping God’s commands while not doing so, e.g. the Pharisee and tax collector.

  • Mary

    As with many words, it carries more than one meaning. Originally it meant an actor and was not even a negative word. So both uses are correct. Think false face or actors mask, as the greeks wore.


    “Hyp·o·crite noun \ˈhi-pə-ˌkrit\

    Definition of HYPOCRITE

    : a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion

    : a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings

    — hypocrite adjective

    …Origin of HYPOCRITE

    Middle English ypocrite, from Anglo-French, from Late Latin hypocrita, from Greek hypokritēs actor, hypocrite, from hypokrinesthai First Known Use: 13th century

  • Mary

    PS: I would rather be neither. True humility precludes hypocrisy, in my opinion. Problem is there are not many of the truly humble around. As soon as a person realises they are experiencing true humility, they get a sense of pride and the humility is then no longer true. Think that is part of the very nature of sin. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

    A heretic does not know they are heretics, they think they are correct. This is why the word heterodoxy (other teachings) is used, in charity, often rather than the word heretic. Intent matters and it is not generally the heterodoxic persons intent to do wrong. They are in error, but honest error. Though I think sometimes it is self convinced to make their beliefs match what they wish to do, often it is simply being misled, in an honest attempt to do right. Point is it is difficult to tell a heretic from an heterodoxic person.

  • http://jessicahof.wordpress.com Jessica Hoff

    That s a brilliant exposition Father – thank you.

  • http://PortaCaeli Patricius

    I think someone described hypocrisy as the tribute exacted by virtue from vice.

  • Michael Roger

    Well put. And there are some bold heretics in our upper ecclesial system, as much as there are also some bold hyocrites up there too.

  • Paul Rodden

    Working ecumenically, it’s becoming harder to accept my local Protestant friends as Christian, particularly now the ‘Emergent’ ones seem to be mimicking Catholicism. They’ve introduced ‘holding crosses’, ‘icons’ and ‘holy water’ as part of their religious expression, yet they’re not Sacramentals, but seem to be used more like lucky rabbit’s feet.

    In other words, it seems they are imbuing the objects themselves with significance – and that’s the very thing they accused us of until they became ‘enlightened’ by their emergent gurus. It seems they are ‘worshipping’ statues, whilst 10 minutes ago they were accusing us of worshipping statues!
    They tell me they find them ‘useful’ and ‘consoling’, as if Catholicism is just ‘bells and smells’, and it’s now ‘hip’ to like incense, as if worship is just whatever’s your ‘bag’ and makes you feel ‘spiritual’, like listening to Plainchant (which some of them do).

    They genuinely think they’re being ‘Catholic’ by calling the monks at our local Cistercian Monastery ‘cool’ and sitting through Divine Office. And, if they come to Mass, as part of their ‘ecumenical outreach’, they tell me how much ‘the service’ moved them. ‘Catholic’, to them, seems based in the appropriation of external behaviours and ‘things’ – the very misunderstanding they have of Catholicism – they’re now seeing as ‘useful’ when to a Catholic, worshipping statues is wrong. in other words, they were right that worshipping statues was wrong, but they were wrong in their accusation of it being a Catholic practice. But now, they have adopted ‘worshipping’ objects, and so think they’re Catholic! It’s as if they think they’re being ‘de rigeur’ and rebellious against their Evangelical patrimony – a sort of ‘Inverse Heretic’.

    What’s most frustrating, is that they mention all the above to me as if I’d be somehow impressed, that they were now more ‘ecumenical’, when they’ve utterly missed the point of everything Catholic, and not least, docility to Peter.

    Maybe it’s a problem only here, in England, but has any one else noticed this trend where you are, and how do you deal with it?

  • Mary

    They are still Christian, just not Catholic. They don’t have “The whole enchillada” but that doesn’t mean they don’t have the rice and beans. Catholic means they have they wholeness of the Church.

    They are missing most of the sacraments, but because they are not catholic, it does not mean they are not Christian. It is a step down the correct road that they can feel there is something missing and are trying to fill that hole. It is sad, that they have so much missing, but that does not mean they are not Christians. It does mean many are on the road to the Catholic church or they would not be even noticing the missing parts. Pray for them.

  • http://ConvertJournal.com George @ Convert Journal

    While imperfect, this is a really good framework to differentiate general intentions. Many people are probably a mix of both (even if it is 99.9% vs 0.1%).

    There is another element that should also be considered — catechesis. I have seen people take heterodox positions out of ignorance more than anything else. That is a far cry from those who fully understand yet reject.

  • Chris Gadlage

    Fr. Longenecker,
    First time reader. WOW! Incredible exposition. Thank you for the blunt truth. From one hypocrite to another, may the Lord bless you and keep you.
    Pastor Chris

  • Alex

    It depends. If the heretic is insincere and modifies his faith to fit his conduct, he is the worst. But I’d take a sincere heretic over a devout hypocrite (which is a contradiction in terms) any day. A humble sinner is best.

  • Paul Rodden

    Hello Mary.
    Thank you for replying.
    I know what you’re getting at, and I agree, so maybe I’ve been unclear as what I meant.
    If they adopted Sacramentals, Sacraments, etc., in other words, were becoming ‘Anglo-Catholic’ then, however close to Catholicism they were in their beliefs, they still wouldn’t have ‘the whole enchillada’, as you say. I have a lot of time for the Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals I know who are on this quest (who are very thin on the ground).

    My problem, rather, is that to outward appearance (and their own belief about the matter), these others I’m describing appear to be (and think they are) becoming more ‘Catholic’ where, in reality, they seem to be moving further away because they’re adding more false practices – the ones they’ve accused us of in the past – to their ‘repertoire’. It’s more like the New Age use of ‘healing crystals’, and they’d probably adopt those, too, if they were ‘useful’. Whatever works ‘for you’. A sort of ‘Spiritual Hedonism’. They accept me as a ‘fellow Christian’ because they would say Catholicism ‘works for me’, not because it’s true.

    It’s the whole utilitarian/consumer thing about it that I’m finding problematic, where crystals, rabbits’ feet, and Rosaries are put on par with each other because ‘they help me reach God’. Their principle is, ‘How could it be so wrong, when it feels so right?’. It’s pure Schopenhauer and New Age, rather than Christianity, isn’t it?

    In short, is it actually stepping outside heresy because it’s stepping outside Christianity altogether and becoming therapy? Isn’t this what secularism wants religion to be? An innocuous pastime for the weak-minded that helps them deal with the unpleasantness of life?

  • Lynn

    We see it here in the States, too, with the emergent church. It was an odd experience, visiting one of their services. I’m preferring to look at their adoption of sacramentals as a gateway drug. They know there is something pretty big missing from stripped-down evangelicalism, and adopting the symbols is their first taste of that something. Hopefully it will feel incomplete and they will look more deeply.

  • Paul Rodden

    Thanks, Lynn
    And your last comment’s particularly helpful. I’ll adjust my perspective and see it as a ‘gateway’ rather than the idolatry and sacrilege it is from our perspective.
    I imagine you find it hard for the same reasons and I suppose, in your sense, it’s ignorance, not hypocrisy, so strictly they are not culpable either.

  • Maiki

    Dunno — I think it really depends on your definition of hypocrisy used. I would prefer to be an honest heretic (i.e. someone who was wrong, but thought he was doing right in true goodwill), than a true hypocrite: someone who pretended to be sinless/holy when they are not, despite knowing what is right and failing. The latter denies the chance for redemption. The former has a chance that he will squeak by on primacy of conscience. Better, of course, if we must sin (and most of us will, sometimes), to acknowledge our sinfulness and ask forgiveness. No saint flaunts their errors as truth or flaunts holiness despite their errors.