But while men were asleep, his enemy came, and oversowed cockle among the wheat, and went his way. (Mt 13:25)
My dear brethren,
Definition of Heresy
St. Thomas (II-II:11:1) defines heresy: "a species of infidelity in men who, having professed the faith of Christ, corrupt its dogmas".
The right Christian faith consists in giving one's voluntary assent to Christ to all that truly belongs to His teaching. There are, therefore, two ways of deviating from Christianity:
- the one by refusing to believe in Christ Himself, which is the way of infidelity, common to Pagans and Jews;
- the other by restricting belief to certain points of Christ's doctrine selected and fashioned at pleasure, which is the way of heretics.
Sinfulness of Heresy
Heresy is a sin because, of its nature, it is destructive of the virtue of Christian faith. Its malice is to be measured therefore by the excellence of the good gift of which it deprives the soul. Now faith is the most precious possession of man, the root of his supernatural life, the pledge of his eternal salvation. Privation of faith is therefore the greatest evil, and deliberate rejection of faith is the greatest sin.
Heresy in the history of the Church
Arianism is the first heresy that gained a strong footing in the Church and seriously endangered its very nature and existence. Arius appeared on the scene when theologians were endeavouring to harmonize the apparently contradictory doctrines of the unity of God and the Divinity of Christ. Instead of unravelling the knot, he simply cut it by bluntly asserting that Christ was not God like the Father, but a creature made in time.
Here are the major heresies in the Church:
- Arianism: Christ was not God (4th until 6th century)
- Nestorians: Two persons, two hypostases, two natures. Christ participated most perfectly in the Logos (5th century, still present)
- Monophysites: Christ was not man. One person, one hypostasis, one nature. (5th century until the Middle Ages)
- Protestantism: Revelation: sola scriptura, Justification: sola fides, Priesthood: universal
The Modern Heresy
The heresy that is the summit of all heresies is modernism because is does not attack one or several dogmas of the faith, it destroys all dogma; it destroys all objective truth and reduces faith to the level of a sentiment.
This heresy manifests in a spirit of complete emancipation from ecclesiastical authority:
- the emancipation of science, which must traverse every field of investigation without fear of opposition from the Church;
- the emancipation of the State, which should never be hampered by religious authority;
- the emancipation of the private conscience whose inspirations must not be overridden by papal definitions or anathemas;
- the emancipation of the universal conscience, which, although changing, can justify anything (murdering babies wholesale).
The heresy of modernism manifests itself in a spirit of movement and change, with an inclination to a sweeping form of evolution such as abhors anything fixed and stationary.
The heresy of modenism also manifests itself in a spirit of reconciliation among all men through the feelings of the heart rather than truth. Many and varied are the modernist dreams of an understanding between the different Christian religions, nay, even between religion and a species of atheism, and all on a basis of agreement that must be superior to mere doctrinal differences.
It seems that many in the Church today are modernist:
- they want to destroy natural law (concerning marriage and homosexuality);
- they want to destroy justice by condoning living outside of God’s order, by forgiveness without repentance, by mercy without justice (which is metaphysically impossible - like a duet with only one singer);
- they want to destroy the sacraments of the Eucharist, Marriage and Penance (Amoris laetitia);
- they want to destroy the one holy, Catholic and apostolic Church and replace it with a one-world religion;
- they want to destroy those faithful to the Church (the Franciscans of the Immaculate, Knights of Malta and the Society of St. Pius X).
Despite the turbulence in the Church as it suffers the assaults of the Modernist heresy, we must hope, and we must pray - pray especially the rosary. Hope is an essential part of holiness, for it is a theological virtue. Hope will make us persevere in confidence, hope will make us strong in the fight against modernism by the way we lead our own lives and by the witness we bear to the truth. To finish this sermon, here are a few words to excite the virtue of hope from the jolly, erudite and holy G.K. Chesterton:
The Thrilling Romance of Orthodoxy
(extract from Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton)
The Church could not afford to swerve a hair's breadth on some things if she were to continue her great and daring experiment of the irregular equilibrium. Once let one idea become less powerful and some other idea would become too powerful. It was no flock of sheep the Christian shepherd was leading, but a herd of bulls and tigers, of terrible ideals and devouring doctrines, each one of them strong enough to turn to a false religion and lay waste the world. Remember that the Church went in specifically for dangerous ideas; she was a lion tamer. The idea of birth through the Holy Spirit, of the death of a divine being, of the forgiveness of sins, or the fulfilment of prophecies, are ideas which anyone can see, need but a touch to turn them into something blasphemous or ferocious.... A sentence phrased wrong about the nature of symbolism would have broken all the best statues in Europe. A slip in the definitions might stop all the dances; might wither all the Christmas trees or break all the Easter eggs. Doctrines had to be defined within strict limits, even in order that man might enjoy general human liberties. The Church had to be careful, if only the world might be careless.
This is the thrilling romance of Orthodoxy. People have fallen into the foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. It was sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad. It was the equilibrium of man behind madly rushing horses, seeming to stoop this way, and to sway that, yet in every attitude having the grace of statuary and the accuracy of arithmetic. The Church in its early days went fierce and fast with any warhorse; yet it is utterly unhistoric to say she merely went mad along one idea, like a vulgar fanaticism. She swerved to left and to right, so as exactly to avoid enormous obstacles. She left on one hand the huge bulk of Arianism, buttressed by all the worldly powers to make Christianity too worldly. The next instant she was swerving to avoid orientalism, which would have made it too unworldly. The orthodox Church never took the tame course or accepted the conventions; the orthodox Church was never respectable. It would have been easier to accept the earthly power of the Arians. It would have been easy, in the Calvinistic seventeenth century to fall into the bottomless pit of predestination. It is easy to be a madman: it is easy to be a heretic. It is always easy to let the age have its head, the difficult thing is to keep one's own. It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob. To have fallen away into anyone of those open traps of error and exaggeration which fashion after fashion and sect after sect along the historic path of Christendom - that would have indeed been simple. It is always simple to fall; there are infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would have indeed been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect. (G.K.Chesterton Orthodoxy Chp vi 182-5)
Let us commend ourselves to the Blessed Virgin Mary and pray that we may not sleep at this dangerous hour so as not to allow the enemy to sow cockle in our midst, the midst of our hearts, so that, ever faithful to the Divine Word, we may store up everlasting fruit in the barns of heaven.
Rev. Robert Brucciani