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The Arian Heresy Revisited

9/17/2004 - 6:00 AM PST

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Now is the Time

By Rene Henry Gracida
Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi
©Catholic Online 2004

When I was a freshman in High School, I enrolled in a class to learn typing. An effective way of acquiring the manual dexterity to become a speed typist was to type a sentence over and over again. One such sentence was: Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country. That sentence not only improved my typing skill, it also imprinted in my mind the patriotic idea it expresses. Subconsciously over the years that idea contributed to my commitment to fight for my country in the Second World War. Now, that idea surfaces in my consciousness and contributes to my commitment to fight for my Church in a new way, even in retirement. Words are signs of unseen realities. Sometimes what those word-signs conceal exert a powerful influence on our thoughts and actions.

There are some words that most people are reluctant to pronounce in polite society because those word-signs are filled with meaning that is disturbing. Even with the breakdown of restraints on radio and television it is still not acceptable to speak some words, and not just four letter words, in polite conversation. That is not surprising. What is surprising is that there are some perfectly good words which are never spoken in some social settings. Say the word heresy or heretic while speaking with bishops or priests and you will notice a stiffening in body language which indicates that the hearers are now uncomfortable with the conversation. Why is that? It is because these word-signs carry a lot of historical baggage, and not all of it is good.

These word-signs acquired that baggage during times when the Church was under attack. The Church is under attack today both from persons within the Church and outside the Church. It is not just the institutional Church that is under attack, it is the Faith of the Church, what the Church believes and teaches, that is under attack. But it can be said that what the Church believes and teaches has always been under attack, in every century, by someone or by some group, and that is true.

Sometimes the attacks were mostly arguments advancing some idea in conflict with Church teaching. Often the attacks were more the pushing of some point of view with excessive passion rather than formal dissent from Church teaching. But sometimes individuals and groups have crossed the line and separated themselves from the Body of Christ by adhering to positions which became subject to magisterial condemnation. Then the name which one does not like to pronounce became implicitly connected with that which had been condemned. The name is: heresy.

We Catholics tend to become very defensive about the word “heresy.” Often when the subject of heresy and heretics comes up accusations are leveled in which the name of the Inquisition is invoked. Even today, one frequently reads a news item about the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the secular press in which the Congregation is identified as “the former Holy Office in charge of the Inquisition.”

Critics of the Spanish Inquisition, over the centuries, have made categorical and stereotypical errors by falsely holding the Catholic Church responsible for certain atrocities. That which men in the Church were guilty of during the Spanish Inquisition, and that which the Church of that time is falsely accused of, are irrelevant to the reality of heresy per se. There is no need to shy from the reality of heresy because of abuses committed in its name, or abuses which the state, and not the Church was guilty of. We have become reluctant to admit to ourselves that heresy can be a reality in these modern times.

What does the secular world understand heresy to be? Here is the definition found in the Third Edition of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1992: “An opinion or a doctrine at variance with established religious beliefs, especially dissension from or denial of Roman Catholic dogma by a professed believer or baptized church member.” What does the Church understand heresy to be? Heresy, according to Canon 751 of the Code of Canon Law, is the pertinacious denial or doubt of an infallible dogma of Divine and Catholic Faith committed by a baptized Catholic. A Dogma of Divine and Catholic Faith, according to Canon 750-1, is (1) a doctrine contained directly within either Sacred Scripture or Sacred Tradition, and (2) proposed as revealed by either (a) the Solemn Magisterium, i.e. Ecumenical Council, or (b) the Ordinary Universal Magisterium, i.e. unanimously by the Pope in union with the Bishops in their day-to-day teaching.

Among the various heresies extant today, there is one which has grown to such huge proportions as to assume an importance which demands the attention of the bishops ...

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