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On Punching Heretics Print E-mail
By Fr. Dwight Longenecker   
Sunday, 04 May 2014

Editor’s Note:The Catholic Thing has never aspired to be the hammer of the heretics – though the temptation, as Fr. Longenecker explains today, to reply with violence to soul-destroying falsehood is strong. We do make use, however, of every one of the strong weapons of spirit, soul, and intelligence. And we sorely need your help just now to keep up this spiritual struggle. As many of you know, I’ve been away on a walking pilgrimage this week along the Camino to the Cathedral of Saint James of Compostela in Spain. (I’ll tell you a bit about the experience in a few days.)  I’ve carried along on every step of that journey intentions for all of us associated with TCT – including you the readers. This funding period has been promising, but we still need to continue a bit longer to reach our Spring goals. Please, if it is at all possible for you at this point, go the extra mile (you see I have distance on the mind). There aren’t many places on the whole world-wide web where you will find as consistently incisive and reliable commentary on the Faith and the world as The Catholic Thing. – Robert Royal
 

There was an odious man named Frank in our fundamentalist church when I was a boy who had a brood of badly behaved children. When one of them would act up, Frank would haul the miscreant out of the sanctuary and wallop him. When he would re-appear with the unfortunate sprog, Frank would mutter sanctimoniously, “Sometimes we need to administer love to our children.”

The memory brings to mind another fracas at church in an earlier time. At the Council of Nicea, Bishop Nicholas of Myra punched the heretic Arius in the face. Arius had been asked to defend his doctrine that Jesus Christ was only a created being and not God incarnate. The future Santa Claus, fed up with this nonsense, got up and administered some love. St. Nicholas is also known as Nicholas the Wonderworker. Some work. Some wonder.

Nicholas was not the only one of the Fathers inclined to physical expressions of orthodoxy. St. John Chrysostom was so troubled by Christians who advocated teetotalism that he preached a homily encouraging the faithful to revolt: 

Paul is not ashamed. . .in writing to Timothy, to bid him take refuge in the healing virtue of wine drinking. Not to drink wine?  God forbid! For such precepts belong to heretics. . . .Should you hear any one in the public thoroughfare, or in the midst of the forum, blaspheming God; go up to him and rebuke him; and should it be necessary to inflict blows, spare not to do so. Smite him on the face; strike his mouth; sanctify your hand with the blow, and if any should accuse you, and drag you to the place of justice, follow them, and when the judge. . .calls you to account, say boldly that the man blasphemed the King of angels!

Most of us would hesitate to follow John Chrysostom’s robust advice. Explaining to the sheriff that we had struck the progressive Christian because he had “blasphemed the King of Angels” is not our style. Our new beatitude is “blessed are the milquetoast for they shall inherit a peaceful life.” We prefer to do battle with words, not swords, for we are sure that fingers tapping keyboards are more effective than fists striking faces.

Nevertheless, virulent, vituperative, and even violent attitudes towards heretics are part of Scripture itself. St. Paul inveighed against the legalists who insisted that the Gentile converts should be circumcised, saying that he wished they would go the whole way and castrate themselves. (Gal.5:12)

          Nicholas strikes Arius: detail from a fresco depicting the Council of Nicea
        (Holy Monastery of Panagia Soumela in Turkey)

Meanwhile St Peter wrote these choice words about heretics:

There will be false teachers among you, who will introduce destructive heresies. . .Many will follow their licentious ways, and because of them the way of truth will be reviled. In their greed they will exploit you with fabrications. . .these people, like irrational animals. . .revile things that they do not understand. . .thinking daytime revelry a delight, they are stains and defilements as they revel in their deceits while carousing with you. Their eyes are full of adultery and insatiable for sin. They seduce unstable people, and their hearts are trained in greed. Accursed children!. . .These people are waterless springs. . .for them the gloom of darkness has been reserved. . . .What is expressed in the true proverb has happened to them, “The dog returns to its own vomit,” and “A bathed sow returns to wallowing in the mire.” (2 Peter)

Indeed, while the New Testament sings sweetly of the joys of following Christ, it also echoes with the most severe imprecations against both legalistic and licentious false teachers. The apostles may not condone physical violence against heretics, but they certainly have no time for compromise, weasel words, ignoring immorality. and sentimental half-truths that paper over lies and pretend divisions do not exist.

Without becoming Westboro Baptists, our lily-livered age could use the odd theological pugilist. Few of us will take the risk of punching a heretic, but what are the options? First is clarity. There is such a thing as false teaching because there is such a thing as true teaching. The Catholic faith is true. Therefore it is dogmatic. It has boundaries. Not everything goes. It is possible to be outside the Church, and we come to know the boundaries through solid and substantial catechesis.

If we are clear that there are boundaries, then we are also clear that false teachers blur the boundaries, water down the faith, and obscure the truth. They do so in both doctrine and morals. If we are clear that heresy exists, then we must also hate it. We hate false teaching because the fate of souls is at stake. False teaching leads to bad beliefs and bad behaviors, and bad beliefs and behaviors propel souls on that broad way that leads to destruction.

Clarity is first. Charity is second. In the second chapter of the Book of Revelation St. John recounts Christ’s words to the believers in Ephesus. He says, “You have this in your favor. You hate the works of the Nicolaitans which I also hate.” (The Nicolaitans were a sect notorious for their sexual profligacy and false teaching.) Notice however, that gentle St. John says he hates the works of the Nicolaitans. So then, hate the heresy, love the heretic.

Clarity, then charity, and I would add a spice of hilarity. Chesterton was an effective warrior for the faith because he was a happy warrior. Heretics are rarely happy. Good humor, therefore, is often the best antidote to the sour-faced and self-righteous seriousness of heresy.

Unfortunately, the heretics are often as odious as the heresy. It is not easy to disentangle sin from the sinner, and it is not easy to sift the heresy from the heretic. The temptation to slap remains and therefore our prayer also remains, “Lead us not into temptation,” and teach us to administer love in better ways.

 
Read Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s blog, browse his books, and be in touch at dwightlongenecker.com

 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (17)Add Comment
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written by Carlos Caso-Rosendi, May 03, 2014
Most of the present ills of the Church come from putting caritas before veritas. Presently the blows seem to come from those who advocate being "nice" to anyone but those who uphold orthodoxy. Now, administering physical punishment to heretics would give a whole new meaning to "there is more joy in giving than in receiving."
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written by Jack,CT, May 04, 2014
Thanks Father a wonderful Sunday read-
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written by Jim Soriano, May 04, 2014
Just to point out that St Nicholas' throttling of Arius was an elite-on-elite confrontation, which, in a manner of speaking, is of a different order from, say, an elite-on-the-faithful confrontation, or even a contretemps among the faithful themselves and the not so faithful. The latter two cases are out of bounds. In the context of contemporary America today, a very public verbal take-down of a heretical Catholic public official by a bishop would be worth many St Nicholas slaps.
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written by John Rooney, May 04, 2014
I've heard both priest in my parish say things privately that were totally wrong: nfp in unrealistic, the Divine Mercy message goes against the gospel, asked me to vote for a pro abort president, said the past Popes ( dictatorial in style) and Cardinals are out of touch, etc. At parish missions and studies, I hear prominent parishoners say they don't believe in hell, and other nutty stuff. False ideas do effect us, we have few volunteers, and never meet DSA goals. I feel like such an outsider for believing what the Catechism teaches.
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written by Manfred, May 04, 2014
Thank you for the research you accomplished for your column, Father. Thank you also for reminding us there were MEN in the Church centuries ago. They are sorely missed.

Unfortunately, we are led by effeminates and sodomites who are incapable of following Canon 915 and forbidding catholics "who persist in grave sin" from receiving Communion. The hierarchy from the very top on down is an absolute disgrace. A small percentage of the laity as well as a small percentage of priests, as well as a bishop or two, are all that is left of the Church. It is they who will suffer persecution as they raise their children against aggressive secularism.
A Jewish friend of mine, a man of scholarship who is friendly toward the Church, remarked recently that he could not understand how the U.S. Church could accommodate Itself to abortions in this country. When it "rolled over" on the sodomite "marriage" issue, he and I agreed it could accommodate itself to ANYTHING. It is just another commercial enterprise which fears alienating its revenue sources..
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written by schm0e, May 04, 2014
I feel better already.
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written by Tony, May 04, 2014
I've read a splendid account in the old Triumph Magazine of a confrontation in DC, when abortion laws were being "liberalized" there. A young woman on the stage was inveighing against Catholics, and then made the dire mistake of speaking contemptuously of the Virgin Mary. At that point, the wife of Brent Bozell (the elder) strode up to the stage and slapped the woman in the face. She was so stunned, she could say nothing more.

We know what happens when bad children are not corrected. They grow worse -- and they are never happy; and the parents cannot claim mildness as an excuse. See the priest Eli.
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written by Daniel Nichols, May 04, 2014
I do not think that the bishops who went to Nicholas' room to inform him that he was being expelled from the Council for striking Arius understood what they saw: yes, the Virgin had wrapped him in her cloak. But no, this was not an endorsement of his behavior. Rather, based upon what we know of the sweetness of his character, it is more likely that St Nicholas was near despair over his anger and violence and She was comforting him.

Your nostalgia for the days when we used violence against the 'heretics', and the comments following, are misplaced. You do not know of what manner of spirit you are.
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written by Martha, May 04, 2014
So that explains "lead us not into temptation" in the Our Father.
Those who claim to be Roman Catholics, but choose not to follow ALL the Church's teachings, are protesting and therefore are Protestants. They should join a Protestant church if they don't agree with the tenets of Roman Catholicism.
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written by John, May 04, 2014
Fr. Corapi tried this and was hoodwinked by SOLT. The church no longer wants men, it wants weasels who will do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing. Now go back to sleep with the weasels.

How long have you been a Freemason?
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written by Thomas J. Hennigan, May 04, 2014
What can we do when we have cardinals against cardinals, one of whom was invited by the Pope himself to give a lecture to the rest of them. It is well known for many years that this cardinal is in favor of giving Holy Communion to divorced and now in civil marriages which are considered no more than concubinage by the Church. Later he was highly praised by the same Pope. Then severl other cardinals, also well versed in the matter, have come out against this. In fact, the Spanish Bishops Conference has published a series of links in its website where one can find all the teaching of the Church which clearly rejects the posibility of giving communion to divorced and civilly remarried. The Pope hmself in an interview seems to argue that one thing is the doctrine and another the specific cases where "mercy" is required. How can the ordinary Catholic make sense of all of this? I cannot see how pastoral practice or "mercy" can be in disagrement with the teaching of the Church. Ater all Jesus told the woman caught in adultery go "go and sin no more". He didn't propose any fuzzy "pastoral solution" or "internal forum soluction", which is what others are taling about.
Also it seems to me that the problems of the family are far broader than this particulary issue which is of interest to Europeans and Northamericans. Where I live in Latin America, this is not a problem at all. The problem is that a large percentage never even marry in the first place. Then adultery is rampant, sex among adolescents and a whole slew of other problms. Then we had the recent confusing reports about a phone conversation by the Pope with an Argentine woman in such a situation and supposedly telling her to go to communion in another parish, as the local priest is not in agreement. How much more confusion of the laity are we going to get?
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written by Paul, May 04, 2014
One person's heretic is an others prophet.
Sadly, many have been killed, are being killed and will be killed for the crime of heresy.
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written by Andy, May 04, 2014
Didn't the Catholic Church burn enough people already? To talk about violence and heretics without mentioning the egregious sins of our forebears in this regard seems disingenuous.
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written by Graham, May 04, 2014
I've heard a number of "ideas" (which abuses the term) issuing from the pulpit (or rather the wandering around the sanctuary as if at a TED lecture) that invites the use of that old British tradition of "putting the stick about." Inclusion and Obamacare are often the inspiration for such banalities and theological if-iness. Still apparently it is humour and especially ridicule and satire that enrages Mr. Scratch and puts him off his diabolical game rather than the rod. But it is the heretics who invoke much uglier disciplines. In the secular realm it is the word "hate" that ends any discussion or opposition; in the ecclesiastical setting it is the word "love." That last word is a truly violent reaction -- but then heretics seem to understand how high the stakes are better than the faithful at times. I can think of one particular sly libel used in the secular realm -- the term "demographic nostalgia" invoked often by a prominent fellow of the Brookings institution. A clever euphemism for "racism."

This is what we are up against in the civic and sacred spaces.
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written by Ray, May 05, 2014
I'll admit that the only time I truly feel this way is when I deal with rabid evangelicals who attack the Church. I'm not talking about fervent evangelicals who love Christ as they've been taught and don't attack the faith. I'm talking about the ones that claim that the Catholic Church is the church of satan, etc.
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written by kelso, May 05, 2014
Excellent post. Only love can afford to be severe. How few Catholics can say that they have always "had the Faith." Many of us were liberals, picking and choosing certain things over others. How many Catholics even believe the defined dogma that there is no salvation outside the Church. They invent all kinds of evasions in their effort to dilute the dogma into what Pius XII, in Humani Generis, called "meaninglessness."
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written by Patti Day, May 06, 2014
I find the Catechism to be ambiguous on the dogma of salvation outside the Catholic Church. I don't wish to evade the issue, quite the opposite, I would like it to be as clear today as it was in my elementary school days, when we knew that there was absolutely no salvation for protestors and pagans, and many Masses and rosaries were offered up that all may be as one.

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