Heresies and Heretics
Heresy is the denial of a particular dogma or dogmas of the Faith. Heresy separates one from unity with the Church because it destroys the integrity of the whole deposit of faith revealed to us by Jesus Christ, Our Lord and preserved, in tact, undiluted and proclaimed without compromise by the Magisterium of the Church for all men, in every place and throughout time. There are two other major sins against the Faith, these are, schism and apostasy. Schism separates an individual from unity with the Church by that person's rejection of the Church's legitimate authority which ultimately rests in the Apostolic See of Rome. Apostasy separates a person from unity with the Church because the individual apostate rejects the revelation of Jesus Christ either partially or completely.
It is important to make a distinguish between those individual's who deliberately and maliciously deny the Faith or the authority of the Church, and those individuals who deny an article(s) of the faith or are disobedient to legitimate authority out of ignorance. The person who sins against the faith deliberately is called a formal heretic, schismatic or apostate. Examples of formal heretics are: Arius,Luther,Calvin,Knox,The Albigentians, Huss, Wycliff, Jansen, the Huguenots, Louise, Tyrrell, Kung, Schillebecks, Ranner, Raymond Brown, Richard McBrien, et al.. Examples of formal schismatics are: Patriarch Michael Cerularius and the Eastern Orthodox Churches that followed him, The Russian Orthodox Church, The Old Catholics, King Henry VIII, and Archbishop Marcel Lefevre. Examples of formal apostates are; Julian the Apostate, Louise, Tyrrell, Thomas Merton, and any bishop, priest, nun or theologically educated lay Roman Catholic who has knowingly and deliberately renounced the Catholic faith and embraced a false religion, or who has rejected God completely.
Material heretics, are those who, having been born into a false "christian" religion, hold false ideas about God through ignorance of the truth due to individual circumstances. These would be people like, Lutherans, Baptists, Evangelicals and other Protestant sects. Muslims, Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses are not only heretics but also fall under the category of cults since they have rejected the central concept of Christianity which is the dogma of The Blessed Trinity, and that Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity who took to Himself a perfect human nature.
Material schismatics are those who are born into Christian religions that hold to essentially the same deposit of faith and who possess the sacraments through valid apostolic succession but who are, nonetheless, separated from the legitimate authority of Christ on earth which rests in the Papacy. They remain separate as long as they refuse to recognize the universal jurisdiction of the Pope over the whole Church. Examples are: The Eastern Orthodox Churches, Coptics, and Old Catholics.
Material apostasy is not possible since apostasy by its very nature demands a deliberate rejection of the One, True Faith by an individual. The children of such a person could not be apostates since they were never a part of the Church to begin with and, therefore, could not apostasize from it.
The first five centuries of the Church found it embroiled in many different heresies. Most of these heresies dealt with Christ and Who He is. The constant teaching of the Church from the Apostles and all the great Fathers was that Jesus was both God and man. However, from the very beginning there was controversy regarding this revealed truth from Christ. If He truly were God then how could he take upon Himself a corrupt human nature? If He were truly human how could he remain without the stain of sin? If He were God how could he suffer? If he were human how could He repair the infinite offense of man's sins against God? These and a thousand other questions arose during these five centuries. Thus the Fathers of the Church turned to philosophy in order to defend the orthodox position.
Other heresies during this time dealt with the nature of God Himself. Questions such as the following were asked and had to be answered. Are there two Gods; a God of Light and a God of Darkness that were equal in power? Is God only one person with three "faces"? Is God omnipotent or just an architech of things that already eternally existed, as Plato surmised?
This four part article will describe the different heretics and heresies that have plagued the Catholic Church since her beginning and will give an explanation of what the Church really teaches about these different subjects.
The Father of Heretics
S imon Magus, is called "the Father of Heretics" because he was the first individual to accept the Christian Faith and then promoted heretical ideas in opposition to the teachings of the Apostles.
Simon was a Samaritan and a sorcerer. He was revered among many people because of his sorcery and falsely deceived them into thinking that he was a messenger from God. He was converted to Christianity at the preaching of St. Philip, the deacon, and was baptized. When the Apostles, Sts. Peter and John came to Samaria they laid their hands upon those who had been baptized that they might receive the Holy Spirit. Great signs and wonders accompanied the sacraments especially Comfirmation in those days in order to bolster the early Church. When Simon witnessed miracles that came with the power of the Holy Spirit he became envious of this power and wanted it for himself. Going to the two Apostles he offered them money hoping that they would make him a bishop that he too could have their same power. But St. Peter said to him; "May your money perish with you, because you thought that you could buy the gift of God with money. You have no share or lot in this matter, for your heart is not upright before God. Repent of this wickedness of yours and pray to the Lord that, if possible, your intention may be forgiven. I see that you are filled with bitter gall and are in the bonds of iniquity." (Acts 8:20-24)
But even though Simon asked for forgiveness and prayers from St. Peter he went west to Rome and began to deceive many people. During the reign of Claudius Caesar he gathered followers to himself in Rome with his false teachings and sorcery. It is reported by St. Justin Martyr and by St. Eusebius that many Romans began to rever Simon as a god and in fact made a statue of him. His deception did not last long. By this time St. Peter had come to Rome and many of the Romans began to convert to the Catholic Church. Simon Magus began to believe in his own divinity and proclaimed that he could ascend into the heavens as Jesus had done. It is reported that with the help of demons Simon began to ascend into the sky but St. Peter made the Sign of the Cross which caused the demons to release Simon who fell to his death.
The Simonians denied free will, believed in the transmigration of souls (reincarnation), taught that angels created the world, and denied the humanity of Christ claiming instead that he only appeared human.
From Simon Magus we have the term, simony which is the sin of attempting to buy ecclesiastical office or to attempt to sell anything sacred. A "Simoniac" is one who has committed the sin of simony.
G nosticism grew out of an attempt by pagans to synthesize Christianity with pagan mythology. Gnosticism comes from the Greek word Gnosis which means knowledge. The general premise of Gnosticism was that the full revelation of Jesus Christ was given only to a few select persons who were commanded to pass on the esoteric knowledge only to those who have proven themselves worthy to receive it.
There have been many different sects of Gnostics throughout the history of the Church and one can see the underlying influence of Gnosticism in many of the heresies of today. Of the two great heretical movements of the first five centuries of the Church; Gnosticism and Arianism, Gnosticism had the greatest impact within the first 3 centuries. The following will be a brief discussion of the various Gnostic heretics and the sects they were responsible for establishing.
C arpocrates is considered the father of Gnosticism. He was a Philosopher from the School at Alexandria. His sect flourished from about A.D. 117-138. His followers were called the Carpocratians and they held to the following heretical teachings: Everyone has two souls, one soul animates the physical body and the other is connected to the divine essence; they believed in reincarnation; the world was created by angels; denied the divinity of Christ; and they believed that sexual ecstasy was a means of union with God, thereby, giving license to every manner of sexual immorality.
Valentine, the Egyptian
(d. A.D. 106)
V alentine was a priest who left the Catholic Church out of anger because he was not appointed as a bishop as he had expected. He spead his errors throughout Asia Minor, Egypt and Italy. Among the heresies condemned by the Church at that time were the following: Mary was not the Mother of God; justification is by faith alone; the material universe was co-eternal with God; there is no free-will; and there is no the resurrection of the body.
Marcion the Archheretic
B orn about A.D. 110 Marcion was the son of a bishop. He subsequently became an auxillary bishop under his father. After some conflict ( the nature of which history is silent) he was excommunicated from the Church by his own father. He appealed for reconciliation but was refused. He went to Rome and fell into the company of a Gnostic heretic named Cerdo. Adopting Cerdo's heretical beliefs Marcion developed the most comprehensive form of "christian" Gnosticism known.
The Marcionites believed in two gods, one greater than the other; both opposed to each other. Marcion taught that the god described in the Old Testament was a cruel and evil god. This evil god created the physical universe. That is why there is suffering and evil on earth. The good and more powerful god created all that is spirit and all that is good. The good god sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to earth. Jesus was divine, according to Marcion, but only appeared human. He did not take upon himself real flesh and blood because these came from the evil god. Marcion rejected the Old Testament as a deception of the evil god. The Marcionites prohibited marriage, the eating of flesh meats and the drinking of wine.
It is written that Marcion finally repented of his heresy and begged to be reconciled to the Church. His professed penitence was accepted with the provision that he renounce all of his heresies (which he did) and that he should lead back to the Church all those whom he had led astray. Unfortunately, he died before he could carry out his penance.
Montanus was a pagan priest from the territory of Phrygia in Asia Minor. He converted to the Catholic Faith around the year A.D. 150 but was swayed by enthusiasm to such a degree that he would fall into ecstasy at the drop of a hat. While in a trance-like state he would utter "prophecies." He could be compared to Edgar Casey of our own times. He soon gathered followers, especially two women who left their husbands and supported him with their sizable wealth. He named them as prophetesses and began his own church. He was excommunicated by the local bishop.
This ancient "holyroller" began to claim a new revelation from God. Forbade the sacrament of confession for certain sins and forbade second marriages for widows or widowers.