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Prelates and priests alike are skirting around Catholic Church doctrine to avoid being declared proper heretics. Bishops like Cdl. Joseph Tobin of Newark, Cdl. Blase Cupich of Chicago and the German Bishops' Conference throw away Catholic teaching on sexual morality.
It is why they so outwardly oppose the Vatican's recent statement denouncing the blessing of homosexual unions. These improper heretics, for lack of a better term, are just as dangerous as the proper ones. They are perhaps even more dangerous.
The Church, luckily, has millennia of experience in dealing with heretics — dating all the way back to the early Church. One of the first widespread heresies was Arianism. It taught Jesus Christ wasn't divine and was unequal to the Father. At the Council of Nicaea in AD 325, then-priest Arius argued his position so arrogantly Bp. St. Nicholas allegedly struck him.
This debate was so involved that new catechumen and Emperor Constantine had to step in to keep the peace. By the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the iron will of St. Athanasius of Alexandria, the council settled on Christ's divinity and Arianism was officially denounced.
The Nicene Creed codified the denunciation into doctrine saying, "I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father."
In the 1500s heresy made another major comeback with Fr. Martin Luther. This time it was attacking corruption in the Church, specifically, the sale of indulgences. That's what they say, at least. What many don't know is that Luther was acting like a revolutionary three years before his excommunication in 1521.
He wrote, "To speak plainly, my firm belief is that the reform of the Church is impossible unless the ecclesiastical laws, the papal regulations, scholastic theology, philosophy and logic as they at present exist are thoroughly uprooted."
The Church's lackluster response and constant attempts to reconcile with Luther led to a mass revolt against Christendom, permanently upended the Church's authority in Europe and resulted in the loss of more than 5 million Catholics.
The Holy See needs to figure out how to handle the improper heresies coming from clerics today. These deviant shepherds still need to be rooted out and eliminated from the Church. And who better to go to for a solution than the Doctors of the Church?
Saint Augustine offered a solution.
"By no means should we accuse of heresy those who, however false and perverse their opinion may be, defend it without obstinate fervor, and seek the truth with careful anxiety, ready to mend their opinion when they have found the truth," directed Augustine.
When approaching heresy this way, it's far easier to differentiate the sheep from the goats. Augustine offers a valuable clarification — one St. Thomas Aquinas eventually used as a springboard for an even deeper dive into the question of heretics:
There is mercy which looks to the conversion of the wanderer, wherefore she condemns not at once, but "after the first and second admonition," as the Apostle directs: After that if he is yet stubborn, the Church no longer hoping for his conversion, looks to the salvation of others, by excommunicating him ... and furthermore delivers him to the secular tribunal to be exterminated thereby from the world by death.
Before anyone jumps to conclusions: No, we shouldn't execute heretics. Aquinas' comments should be viewed in historical context. Recognize first that Church and state were unified in Christendom when this was written. This is a time when heresy equated to treason against the State, which is why executions were handled by secular authorities.
So, removing the capital punishment aspect, Aquinas offers two important nuggets of truth. Give them two chances — the first to prove they're incorrect and the second to prove they are obstinate. If rebuke fails, then a heretic must be treated as an enemy. They must be removed from the Body of Christ for the sake of saving other souls from moral corruption.
Finding a demarcation of justice and mercy is, perhaps, the biggest task for the Church at this point in Her history. There is a happy medium between executing heretics and capitulating to them.
To learn more, watch today's episode of The Download — Heretic Clerics.