“Heresy is an archaism”. Many today would agree with this statement and would not in the least be disturbed by it. For them the concept of heresy is an irrelevant curiosity stored in the Museum of History. Many others, however, are unaware of the term just as they are aware of the word ‘orthodoxy’.
This morning six of our grandchildren are attending CCD classes at their parish. Regardless of the effectiveness of these classes these youngsters are blessed to be receiving them and their parents are to be praised for providing them. It remains to be seen how their understanding of the faith will develop as they mature, but at least they are getting a good start.
How many self-identified Christians have had the benefit of a religious education? Those who have and who choose to accept it are faithful. Are others who have learned it and reject it heretical? The word itself comes from the Greek word for choice. Those who haven’t had the benefit of an orthodox education cannot be accused of heresy because they cannot reject an understanding they never possessed. Religious illiteracy is not heresy, but it is equally detrimental.
Whether traditional beliefs are knowingly or unknowingly jettisoned their rejection and disappearance are dangerous for civilization. Tradition is to the advance of civilization what parental supervision is to the successful rearing of children. This is especially so when tradition treats religious belief.
Western Civilization – as it was so called – was formed, nourished and sustained by Christianity. The cavalier abandonment of its tenets today forebodes a dark future for our once civil society. When everyone decides for himself what is right or wrong – or indeed if there is a right and wrong – the edifying elements of tradition are ignored in favor of the perceived ‘liberalization’ of ‘anything goes’. “Things fall apart, the center cannot hold. Anarchy is loosed upon the world” (Yeats).
Like C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape, heresy is most insidious when its existence is denied. The heresy of Arianism plagued the Church in her early centuries and was declared anathema at the Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. This intellectually appealing theology posited that Jesus Christ was created by his Father and consequently not himself God. The eternal divinity of Christ, the integrity of the Trinity, and the validity of the Incarnation were all called into question. The heresy is reappearing today as we yield to the seductive creedlessness of homegrown religions or succumb to the militancy of social secularism.
Recently in a conversation I was having with a young professional acquaintance the topic of faith came up. When she asked me, I replied that I am Catholic. Her response jolted me: “I’m not Catholic, I’m Christian”. I wondered what for her being Christian (capital C) means?
Today the dogmas of the divinity of Christ, the Trinity, and the Incarnation are not so much denied as they are unlearned. How many of us who call ourselves Christians consider Jesus as an extraordinarily exemplary human being – like Socrates, Confucius or the Buddha – but pay no attention to his divinity? Ignorant of his divinity what obliges us to follow him as the Way, the Truth and the Life?
And, if we continue to believe what we want to believe and ignore the beliefs that have brought us this far, how with the center hold? How with the Kingdom advance?