Heresy! What is it? Why Does it Matter?

In this blog I would like to discuss the topic of heresy; what it is, what it is not, and why it is no trivial matter.

What Heresy is and is Not

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that “heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same” (CCC 2089).

For this reason movements such as Jehovah’s witnesses, Mormonism, Islam and others which either do not baptize or baptize invalidly are not considered heresies but separate religions.

A person unaware that what he teaches is heresy and who is willing to be corrected is not to be considered a heretic. St. Augustine writes:

“Those are by no means to be accounted heretics who do not defend their false and perverse opinions with pertinacious zeal (animositas), especially when their error is not the fruit of audacious presumption but has been communicated to them by seduced and lapsed parents, and when they are seeking the truth with cautious solicitude and ready to be corrected.”

To those who commit formal heresy, that is knowingly and deliberately, the Church has this to say:

“Most firmly hold and in no way doubt that every heretic or schismatic is to have part with the Devil and his angels in the flames of eternal fire, unless before the end of his life he be incorporated with, and restored to the Catholic Church.”

People often confuse heresy with incredulity, apostasy, or schism. For that reason let me briefly define each.

Incredulity is committed when one neglects revealed truth or willfully refuses to assent to it.

Apostasy is committed when one abandons his faith in Christ entirely.

Schism is committed when one, still retraining his faith in Christ, willfully separates himself from the unity of the church. Schism can, but does not necessarily, imply the heresy of denying the dogma of papal infallibility.
One can only believe that Heresy is a trivial matter, in as much as he thinks his faith the same. The original Catholic encyclopedia explains why heresy is so grave a sin:

In the constitution of the Church there is no room for private judgment sorting essentials from non-essentials: any such selection disturbs the unity, and challenges the Divine authority, of the Church; it strikes at the very source of faith. The guilt of heresy is measured not so much by its subject-matter as by its formal principle, which is the same in all heresies: revolt against a Divinely constituted authority.

Later this week I will write a blog entitled, 5 heresies every Catholic should know – Stay tuned.

10 thoughts on “Heresy! What is it? Why Does it Matter?

    1. What about the heresies in the RCC that deny the gospel? Doctrines such as purgatory, indulgences and the Marian dogmas and not to mention Trent’ denial that a man is saved by faith alone in Christ alone.

      1. Ted, good to hear from you. You’ve raised 5 issues. Let me first try and articulate your concern: If the Catholic Church has added to the deposit of “faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3), then she cannot claim to be the true Church.

        If you would like to take it one issue at a time I’d be happy to. For now, let me point out that you seem to be working from the false premise that the Bible is the sole rule of faith for the believer. A doctrine which the the Bible never teaches.

    1. Probably the idea that artificial contraception is a matter of personal choice rather than intrinsically evil. That is clearly an “obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed” for many people.

  1. Are the heresies all theological in nature? I mean, what does catechism 2089 mean by referring to “divine and catholic faith.” Are there any moral heresies? Suppose someone said, “adultery is not a sin.” The statement goes against the sixth commandment but does such a belief oblige by either divine or Catholic faith and make all contrary statements heresies? Is it incredulity? Is it heresy?

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