St. Edmund Campion Catechism Group - Series 2 Lesson 20


Podcast: Heresies Attacking Christ
Podcast: Notes

Magisterium: Council of Nicea 325, First Council of Constantinope 381

Penny Catechism: Q31-51
Catechism of the Council of Trent (The Roman Catechism): The Creed Art.2, Art.3
Catholic Encyclopedia: Heresy
Aquinas 101: Jesus Christ: True God and True Man
Frank Sheep: Map of Life p45-9, Theology & Sanity p201-2
Summa Theologica: Secunda Secundae Q10, Q11, Q12
Companion to the Summa: Vol IV

Heresies attacking Jesus Christ

  1. Introduction:

    - Faith: Faith is the supernatural virtue which renders the intellect entirely obedient to the will when God reveals a truth, because of the authority of God revealing.

    - Reason: The act by which the conclusion of a demonstration is reached.

    Knowledge of God: We can know God by faith and reason.

       - Divine Revelation (Scripture and Tradition) is the source of the knowledge of God by faith.

       - Observation of the natural world gives us knowledge of God by reason.

       - Theology (Divine Revelation unpacked by reason) gives us knowledge of God by both faith and reason.

     - Nature of God: God is defined as ipse esse subsistens (subsistent being existing of Himself) or Actus Purus (Pure Act). God is in potential to nothing because He is everything: "I am Who am."

     - The Holy Trinity: the term used to express the central doctrine on the Christian religion: the truth that in the unity of the Godhead there are Three Persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, these Three Persons being truly distinct from one another. There is one being, with one nature and there are Three Persons.

     - The Person of Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. The hypostasis is Jesus Christ which bears the Divine Nature (as do the Father and the Holy Ghost), and also a human nature. 

  2. 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 in all that truly belongs to His teaching. There are, therefore, two ways of deviating from Christianity:

     i) the one by refusing to believe in Christ Himself, which is the way of infidelity, common to Pagans and Jews;

     ii) the other by restricting belief to certain points of Christ's doctrine selected and fashioned at pleasure, which is the way of heretics.

  3. Heresy versus apostacy

    Heresy differs from apostasy. The apostate from the faith abandons wholly the faith of Christ either by embracing Judaism, Islamism, Paganism, or simply by falling into naturalism and complete neglect of religion; the heretic always retains faith in Christ.  

  4. Heresy versus schism

    Heresy also differs from schism. Schismatics, says St. Thomas, in the strict sense, are they who of their own will and intention separate themselves from the unity of the Church. It is possible (though rare) to be a schismatic without being a heretic. Heretics sin against faith, schismatics sin against charity.

  5. Christological heresies

    There appears to be every possible logical error concerning the divinity and humanity of Christ which manifests itself as heresy (see Christological Heresies). Here is table that illustrates the imaginative and seemingly inexhaustible possibilities for heresy:


Heresy Description 2nd Person

of Trinity





Ebionism Christ not God - Monotheism N Y N Y Y Y
Docetism/Gnosticism Christ not man - no real human body Y Y Y N N N
Arianism Christ not consubstantial with the Father Y Y N Y Y Y
Semi-Arianism Christ semi-divine Y Y ~ Y Y Y
Apollinarianism Logos replaces rational soul, but not sensitive soul Y Y Y Y Y N
Nestorianism Two persons in Christ Y N Y Y Y Y
Monotheletism Christ has only divine will Y Y Y ~ Y Y
Sabellianism No distinction of persons in God N N Y Y Y Y


G.K. Chesterton's "The Thrilling Romance of Orthodoxy"

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 fulfillment 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 be 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)